Is God the Messiah? Looking at Messianic Prophecy | The Word Made Flesh, part 2 of 4

Mark & Judy Theology

Recap from the last section…

In the last section, we started with a stroll through the Hebrew Scriptures to see if there is any credence to the idea that there are multiple emanations or aspects to God. We needed to see if the Hebrew Scriptures allowed for such a perspective or if there was only room for God to be an absolute singular entity.

What we found was the Scriptures not only allow for distinction within God’s unity, but many times they declare it outright.

To recap, here’s what we covered last week:

  • “Echad” in Deuteronomy 6:4 is not a statement of the complex unity of God. It is also not a statement of extreme singularity, as pointed out by Maimonides. This leaves room for a compound unity.
  • The first thing Adonai tells us about Himself is that He is a compound unity: let Us make man in Our image.
    • He reiterates this a few times, specifically in Genesis 11 and Isaiah 6.
    • He uses the singular form together with the plural in these passages to denote His oneness with His compound unity.
  • Adonai simultaneously both makes a distinction between and equates the Angel of the Lord and Himself.
    • The Angel is both distinct from God and part of the “us” God refers to Himself as.
  • The Spirit of the Lord is also a distinctly defined part of God. It’s not a stretch to include the Spirit of the Lord, including the various facets of His Spirit, such as those outlined in Isaiah 11:2.
  • We’ve seen in Isaiah 48 that there are at least three aspects of God.

We have established that there absolutely IS complexity and distinction within the unity of Hashem.

In this section, we’re going to explore whether there is room in Judaism for the promised Messiah to be of exalted and, possibly, deific origin.

Immanuel & the Virgin

We’re going to start out by looking at two passages from the book of Isaiah:

Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign: the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

For a child is born unto us, a son is given unto us; and the government is upon his shoulder; and his name is called Pele-yoEtz-el-gibbor-Abi-ad-sar-shalom;  that the government may be increased, and of peace there be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it through justice and through righteousness from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts doth perform this.

Now, let’s go back through and discuss this a bit. Jewish anti-missionaries are quick to point out that the word in this verse, עַלְמָה (almah), doesn’t only mean “virgin.” It could also mean “young woman” or “maiden.” They say there’s another word, בְּתוּלָה (betulah), which would have been used if the “virgin” in this verse was really a virgin and not simply a young woman.

The problem is that every time the word almah is used in Scripture, it’s used to refer to a virgin. And almost always when the word betulah is used to refer to a virgin the text also explicitly describes her as a virgin.

An example of betulah:

…Also for his virgin (betulah) sister, who is near to him because she has had no husband; for her he [the priest] may defile himself.  (Leviticus 21:3, emphasis mine)

He shall take a wife in her virginity. A widow, or a divorced woman, or one who is profaned by harlotry, these he may not take; but rather he is to marry a virgin (betulah) of his own people.

There are several examples of almah, and they all imply virginity:

Genesis 24:42-44 – Abraham’s servant prays to find an almah for Isaac.

Exodus 2:8 – Miriam, an almah, is sent to fetch her mother to care for baby Moses.

Proverbs 30:18-19 – The way of a man with an almah.

Song of Solomon 1:3, 6:8 – The almot love him – these are obviously not married women.

These passages, together with the ones from Isaiah above, constitute every instance where alma is used in the Tanakh.

The Bible doesn’t bother us with the mundane. If the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 only referred to a young woman, why bring up the fact that she will conceive if she was to conceive naturally? Wouldn’t the text simply talk about the child being born, knowing that we would naturally assume this child is born by natural means?

The fact that the alma will conceive is, in itself, miraculous and of key importance to the prophecy.

One last note: According to the Oxford English Dictionary, one of the meanings of “maiden” is “virgin”.

Almah” does equal virgin.

King Hezekiah and the Messiah

Let’s look again at Isaiah 9:6-7 (verses 5-6 in the JPS Tanakh):

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this.

Many times, prophecy in Scripture (Messianic and otherwise) has more than one meaning and more than one fulfillment. Prophecy often talks both about something that is near and something that is far. This passage in Isaiah is an example of this.

This prophecy applies directly and specifically to King Hezekiah, though it was not fully fulfilled in him. This prophecy also applies directly and specifically to the promised Messiah of Israel.

This section of Scripture is attributed to the Messiah by Jews, Messianic Jews, and Christians. The idea of this passage pointing to the promised Messiah of Israel is not an idea that originated within Christianity.

“Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end.”

R. Tanhum said: “Bar Kappara expounded in Sepphoris, ‘Why is every mem in the middle of a word open, whilst this is closed?  — The Holy One, blessed be He, wished to appoint Hezekiah as the Messiah, and Sennacherib as Gog and Magog; whereupon the Attribute of Justice said before the Holy One, blessed be He, ‘Sovereign of the Universe! If Thou didst not make David the Messiah, who uttered so many hymns and psalms before Thee, wilt Thou appoint Hezekiah as such, who did not hymn Thee in spite of all these miracles which Thou wroughtest for him?’ Therefore it [sc. the mem] was closed.’

Straightway the earth exclaimed: ‘Sovereign of the Universe! Let me utter song before Thee instead of this righteous man [Hezekiah], and make him the Messiah.’ So it broke into song before Him, as it is written, ‘From the uttermost part of the earth have we heard songs, even glory to the righteous.’

Then the Prince of the Universe said to Him: ‘Sovereign of the Universe! It [the earth] hath fulfilled Thy desire [for songs of praise] on behalf of this righteous man.’ But a heavenly Voice cried out, ‘It is my secret, it is my secret.’”

Bar Kappara clearly saw that Hezekiah fell short of the Messianic aspirations of this verse, though he didn’t understand why. The point remains: it is a prophecy about Hezekiah and the Messiah both – one was near (Hezekiah) and one was far (the promised Messiah).

For this prophecy to apply only to Hezekiah, the rest of the verse, and the preceding verse, would also have to apply to him fully. We know that there was an end to the peace of Hezekiah’s government. According to this prophecy, and others, the reign of Messiah will be forever. Hence, one reason for ascribing this prophecy to the Messiah.

Also, Hezekiah was not the “Everlasting Father.” No person is ever referred to as “everlasting” in the Scriptures. The only one who is referred to as “Everlasting” throughout the Scriptures is God Himself. A quick search through a concordance or online Bible search tool will validate this.

The title “Everlasting Father” is not referring to a man.
Also, the title “Mighty God” is clearly referring to God Himself.

Other Titles for Messiah

Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted.

The Hebrew words for “high and lifted up” are the same words used earlier in Isaiah 6 when the prophet encounters the Lord sitting on His throne. This can be seen as a parallel, equating the “servant” with God.

Let’s consider another set of Scriptures.

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord, “When I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’”

Why is the name of Jerusalem called “Adonai Tzidkeinu,” “The Lord is our Righteousness?”

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord, “When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’”

The righteous Branch, which is a euphemism for the promised Messiah, is ruling from Jerusalem. And His name, the Messiah’s name, is “Adonai Tzidkeinu.” The name of the city is named after its king.

There are many places throughout the Tanakh where rulers are called after names for God. But there’s something unique about this ruler’s name. No other kings, rulers, or prophets are called by the Tetragrammaton, the sacred name of HaShem. God says that He won’t share His glory with another (see Isaiah 48:11 above). As part of His glory, He doesn’t share His personal name with others, either.

The name of Jerusalem is called after its ruler, who is Adonai Himself.

Even the Talmud agrees with this:

Rabbah in the name of R. Johanan further stated: “The righteous will in time to come be called by the name of the Holy One, blessed be He; for it is said: ‘Every one that is called by My name, and whom I have created for My glory. I have formed him, yea, I have made him.’”

R. Samuel b. Nahmani said in the name of R. Johanan: “Three were called by the name of the Holy One; blessed be He, and they are the following: The righteous, the Messiah and Jerusalem. [This may be inferred as regards] the righteous [from] what has just been said. [As regards] the Messiah — it is written: ‘And this is the name whereby he shall be called, The Lord is our righteousness.’ [As regards] Jerusalem — it is written: ‘It shall be eighteen thousand reeds round about; and the name of the city from that day shall be ‘the Lord is there.’ Do not read, ‘there’ but ‘its name’.”

So, the Talmud indicates that the Messiah Himself is called by God’s holy, unpronounceable name.

The One Who is Pierced

Let’s move on to the last portion of Scripture we’re going to review in this section. But before we do, I want to give some back story to lead up to it.

What we’re about to look at has been a controversial section of Scripture for a long, long time. The controversy is that rabbinic Judaism has claimed that Christianity changed the Scriptures in order to bend them to reflect what they wanted to say. Christians meanwhile vehemently deny any such thing. But before it was controversial and rejected by Judaism, it was accepted by them – long before Christianity ever existed.

Mainstream, rabbinic Judaism relies heavily on a scriptural text called the Masoretic text. The Masoretic text is a Hebrew text which contains the vowel points with the consonants. It’s a version of the Scriptures which was completed around the year 800 CE or so. (For anyone who might not know, when you read out of a Torah scroll, there aren’t any vowels. It’s just consonants & the reader provides the vowels. This means the reader needs to be sufficiently fluent in the Hebrew language to do this. The Masoretic text, however, includes all the vowels.) This is also the Hebrew most English translations are based on. The problem is there are many places in the Tanakh where changing some vowels completely changes the meaning of the word in question.

This debate might still be undecided if the Dead Sea Scrolls hadn’t been found. These scrolls were written sometime between 250 BCE and 70 CE, when the Second Temple was destroyed. The Dead Sea Scrolls “just happened” to contain a fragment in Hebrew with the entirety of the verse in question on it. This was hundreds of years before the Masoretic text or the life of Yeshua. Most of the writings are in Hebrew (~80%).

Lastly, there’s one more layer to the text we’re about to read: This section of Scripture is also readily available in the LXX (Greek Septuagint). The LXX was produced by a group of approximately 70-72 Jewish scholars of Hebrew and Greek, beginning about the 200 BCE timeframe. It was accepted both as canon and as authoritative by the Judaisms of the Second Temple era. This is a very important point because the Septuagint closely lines up with the versions of the Tanakh which have been in wide circulation among Christians for nearly the past 1,800 years.

With that said, here is the passage:

On that day the Lord will protect the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the feeblest among them on that day shall be like David, and the house of David shall be like God, like the Angel of the Lord, going before them. And on that day I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem. And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn. On that day the mourning in Jerusalem will be as great as the mourning for Hadad-rimmon in the plain of Megiddo. The land shall mourn, each family by itself: the family of the house of David by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Nathan by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Levi by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the Shimeites by itself, and their wives by themselves; and all the families that are left, each by itself, and their wives by themselves.

In verse 10, we see God saying the inhabitants of Jerusalem will look upon God, on Him whom they’ve pierced, and shall mourn for Him as one mourns for an only (yachid) child.

Reading this, it seems pretty plain that God is both the Redeemer and the One who is pierced and dies. But He also rises from the grave because death has no hold on Him. Starting in the next chapter, God who was pierced by and for His people cuts off idolatry from the land and delivers His holy people, Israel, from her enemies. Now let’s narrow our focus just a bit.

Here’s how Zechariah 12:10 reads in the Septuagint:

And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and compassion: and they shall look upon me, because they have mocked me, and they shall make lamentation for him, as for a beloved, and they shall grieve intensely, as for a firstborn son.

So, that version is very close to the version in our Bibles. Particularly in connecting “him” with God Himself.

Rabbinic Judaism says this is a “Christian” interpretation. If that’s true, I imagine we wouldn’t find anything like it in Jewish literature. Especially not widely accepted Jewish literature.

“And the land shall mourn, every family apart; the family of the house of David apart, and their wives apart.” Is it not, they said, a fortiori argument? If in the future when they will be engaged in mourning and the Evil Inclination will have no power over them, the Torah nevertheless says, men separately and women separately, how much more so now when they are engaged in rejoicing and the Evil Inclination has sway over them. What is the cause of the mourning (mentioned in the last cited verse)?

R. Dosa and the Rabbis differ on the point. One explained, “The cause is the slaying of Messiah the son of Joseph [The precursor of the Messiah ben David, the herald of the true Messianic age]”, and the other explained, “The cause is the slaying of the Evil Inclination.” It is well according to him who explains that the cause is the slaying of Messiah the son of Joseph, since that well agrees with the Scriptural verse,

“And they shall look upon me because they have thrust him through, and they shall mourn for him as one mourneth for his only son”(Zechariah 12:10)

So, we see that the Babylonian Talmud agrees with the “Christian” position that this refers to the Messiah.

It is also very obvious that it refers to God Himself! God is speaking. God says He will deliver the Jewish people. He will destroy all the nations which will come up against Jerusalem. Then in the next breath God says He will pour out a spirit (His Spirit) of grace and pleas for mercy and they will mourn for Him whom they pierced as one mourns an only child.

This is a clear and unmistakable reference to Yeshua.

It’s a clear and unmistakable reference to the day when the Jewish people as a whole finally realize that Yeshua, whom they pierced, truly is the promised Messiah of Israel.

And, even more important, the Messiah is God Himself.

Now, what was all that talk about Masoretic, Septuagint, and Dead Sea texts all about?

Rabbinic Judaism claims that our reading of this passage is wrong and they base that claim on the Masoretic text – a text that is many centuries newer than either the Septuagint or Dead Sea scrolls.

But both the widely accepted canonical text of the Septuagint and the Dead Sea Scrolls agree with what we just read. The reliable texts say that this is God speaking, who dies and is mourned by the inhabitants of Jerusalem before He completely delivers them from all their enemies.

Zechariah 12 is unmistakable. You cannot look at the text honestly and come away with another conclusion: God Himself is the Messiah of Israel. He is the One who would be born of a virgin and called “Eternal Father.” He is the one who ransomed Himself in Isaiah 53 for the good of many.

Behold, a day is coming for the Lord, when the spoil taken from you will be divided in your midst.  For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses plundered and the women raped. Half of the city shall go out into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be cut off from the city. Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle. On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward. And you shall flee to the valley of my mountains, for the valley of the mountains shall reach to Azal. And you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him… And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day the Lord will be one and his name one.

God is the suffering servant, Messiah, Son of Joseph. He not only gave His own life as a ransom for His people Israel and the world, but will also return in glory and power, delivering Israel from all her enemies and ushering in the Messianic Era.