Interpretations of the Rabbis – the Messiah Prophecies
Hebrew texts serve as the basis for the Tenakh and the Old Testament Scriptures, but when it comes to Messiah prophecies, interpretations vary. Christianity and Judaism disagree on some Messiah prophecies, especially those deemed to be fulfilled by the life of Jesus of Nazareth.
Judaism’s interpretations are based primarily on the views of the Rabbi sages who are not always in agreement among themselves on which prophecies point to the Messiah. Differences in Christianity are no exception on such topics as baptism, worship, confessions – even salvation.
Some Rabbi sages became known for their prophecy interpretations documented in commentaries, letters or published works. Other views of Rabbis are expressed in contributions to Gemaras in the Talmud.
One of the oldest Messiah prophecies is Jacob’s blessing of Judah in Genesis 49:9-10. Jacob foretold that Judah’s descendants would become a “like a lion” and the “scepter” will not depart from them until Shiloh comes. The blessing is recognized by Rashi as a prophecy establishing the foundation for the future Messiah.
Gen. 49:8-10 “Judah, your brothers shall praise you; Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; Your father’s sons shall bow down to you. “Judah is a lion’s whelp; From the prey, my son, you have gone up. He couches, he lies down as a lion, And as a lion, who dares rouse him up? The sceptre will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.” (NASB)
Rashi identified “Shiloh” as the “King Messiah, to whom the kingdom belongs.” The Hebrew word shebet is translated as “scepter” or “staff” and, according to Rashi, refers to the future royal lineage of “David and thereafter.” The word shebet appears again in Balaam’s prophecy and Rashi interpreted it to mean “a king who rules dominantly” from the future lineage of David.
Another prominent Jewish sage is Rabbi Maimonides, also known as Rambam, who authored the Mishneh Torah revered for formulating the Law into the 13 principals of Jewish faith. His work is also regarded for codifying the halakhah or Jewish Law.
Maimonides interpreted Balaam’s prophecy to be referring to “King Moshiach” (Messiah) who would come from the lineage of David. Rashi believed this to be a prophecy about King David commenting he is one who “shoots out like an arrow” from Jacob and uproots the sons of Sheth or Seth (the son of Adam).
Num 24:17 “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; A star shall come forth from Jacob, A scepter shall rise from Israel, And shall crush through the forehead of Moab, And tear down all the sons of Sheth.” (NASB)
Micah 5:2 seemingly unambiguously predicts the place of origin for the future ruler of Israel, yet the prophecy is challenged by some Jewish authorities. Rashi interpreted the verse to be foretelling the Messiah would come from Bethlehem in the lineage Jesse and King David, then quoted Psalms 118:22, “The stone the builders had rejected became a cornerstone.”
Some Rabbis in the Talmud Gemara Sukkah 52a believed the Zechariah 12:10 prophecy refers to the death of the Messiah, others disagreed saying it had nothing to do with the Messiah. Rabbi Maimonides was silent in the prophecy while Rashi offered a third interpretation saying the prophecy is a metaphor about Israel.
Psalms 22 is a prominent Messiah prophecy recognized by Christianity as describing in detail the circumstances of the death of Jesus of Nazareth consistent with a Roman crucifixion a millennia later. Judaism focuses solely on the question in the second verse, “Why have you forsaken me?” as the interpretation basis for the Psalm being about the nation of Israel.
My Servant” in the Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12 parashah or passage is viewed by Christianity as predicting the suffering, death and Resurrection of the Messiah fulfilled by the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Judaism generally treats “My Servant” as a metaphor of a single man representing the nation of Israel; however, some Rabbi sages pose interesting piecemeal interpretations that are conflicting.
Rabbi sages going back to the days of the Talmud, pointed to 5 different Messiah prophecies within the Isaiah 52-53 parashah: Isaiah 52:13,15, 53:2, 5, 7. Adding a sixth reference, Talmud tractate Sanhedrin 98b quotes Isaiah 53:3 as the basis for one of the names of the Messiah.
Misheh Torah made Maimonides famous, even in those days receiving fan mail. His response letters, known as Responsa (or Teshuvot), have become additional important texts of Maimonides’ Scriptural interpretations. In one responsa letter, Maimonides, referenced Isaiah 52:15 and 53:2 predicting the Messiah would be identified by his origins and his wonders.
Rabbi Moshe Kohen ibn Crispin believed that “My Servant” in Isaiah 52:13 of the Isaiah 52-53 parashah refers to “King Messiah” while acknowledging his interpretation is in conflict with the prevailing Jewish position. He was from Spain and is a renowned twelfth century Rabbi and poet acclaimed in Judaism for his Jewish work entitled Sefer ha-Musar, the “Book of Instruction.” Still not believing that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, his book gave surprisingly bold verse by verse commentaries defining expectations for the Messiah.
Rabbi Jose the Galilean independently wrote the Messiah would be wounded for our transgressions quoting from Isaiah 53.7. He was a distinguished Rabbi leader and recognized authority on sacrifices and the Temple. The Rabbi’s is reputed for both for his quoted contributions in the Talmud Gemaras as well as for his independent commentaries.
“The name of the Messiah is also ‘peace;'”declared Jose the Galilean saying, ‘The prince of peace (Shalom); and as it is written [Is. ix. 5]: “The prince of peace.” Gemara contributor Rabbi Jehoshua concurred stating, “The name of the Holy One, blessed be He, is also “peace” (Shalom).”
Frequently seen during the Christmas season in western cultures is Isaiah 9:6, deemed a Messiah prophecy in Christianity. The verse foretells of a son who would bear the full responsibility for the government and would be known by many names. Judaism generally disagrees saying the verse it is not a Messiah prophecy:
IS 9:6 “For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (NKJV)
Interpretations and understandings of things said in the Bible, specifically prophecies, may or may not be what God intended. Paying close attention to the words and the fuller context can reveal true meaning. Which prophecies point to the Messiah that set the requirements and expectations for the Messiah?
Updated February 5, 2023.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
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