Rabbi Rashi and the Messiah Prophecies
Rashi, one of Judaism’s greatest interpreters of the Talmud, emerged at a time when the Dark Ages were transitioning from rule by barbarian tribes like the Huns, Goths and Franks into the feudal era when kings, queens, knights & lords ruled Europe. In the year 1040, Shelomoh Yitzha was born in Troyes, France.
As a Rabbi, Rashi was renowned for his wisdom and interpretation of the Talmud in simple terms. Jewish academies widely accepted and valued Rashi’s commentaries mostly captured and documented by his students.
Gen 49:8-10 “Judah, [as for] you, your brothers will acknowledge you. Your hand will be at the nape of your enemies, [and] your father’s sons will prostrate themselves to you. A cub [and] a grown lion is Judah. From the prey, my son, you withdrew. He crouched, rested like a lion, and like a lion, who will rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the student of the law from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him will be a gathering of peoples.” – The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commentary
Rashi’s interpretation of Jacob’s prophecy included three prophetic aspects. Judah like a lion foreshadowed David who would become like a lion when the people made him their king. The scepter represents the royal lineage of “David and thereafter.” Shiloh refers specifically to the “King Messiah, to whom the kingdom belongs.” The Rabbi also commented on other well-known Messiah prophecies.
Moabite King Balak repeatedly pressed the Gentile prophet Balaam to place a curse on the approaching Hebrew nation as an alternative means to military confrontation. Balaam’s response was a prophecy doing just the opposite:
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
Hebrew text translations vary between Christian and Jewish Bibles. “I see him, but not now” is translated as in the Jewish version as “I see it, but not now.” Hebrew text does not contain the pronoun for “him” which is inferred by the remainder of the prophecy of a king, a male. Rashi’s commentary says the opening phrase refers to the “greatness of Jacob” at a future time.
Hebrew word shebet is translated in the Jewish version as “staff” whereas the same word is translated as “scepter” in Jacob’s prophecy. Consistently, the Rabbi’s commentary likewise says shebet represents “a king who rules dominantly.” While Balaam’s prophecy has strong Messiah implications, Rashi does not explicitly say it such as he did in his commentary on Jacob’s prophecy.
Micah 5:2 appears as verse 1 in the Jewish Bible, a prophecy making specific reference to Bethlehem Ephrathah, home town of King David, and a future ruler of Israel:
Mich 5:1 (or v.2) “And you, Bethlehem Ephrathah – you should have been the lowest of the clans of Judah-from you [he] shall emerge for Me, to be a ruler over Israel; and his origin is from of old, from days of yore.” – The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commentary
Micah’s prophecy is understood by Rashi to mean the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem Ephrathah in the royal lineage of King David which stands opposed to some critics, including Jewish, who challenge the interpretation. His remarkable phrase-by-phrase breakdown:
“And you, Bethlehem Ephrathah”: [Rashi]: “whence David emanated, as it is stated (I Sam. 17:58): “The son of your bondsman, Jesse the Bethlehemite.” And Bethlehem is called Ephrath, as it is said (Gen. 48:7): “On the road to Ephrath, that is Bethlehem.”
“you should have been the lowest of the clans of Judah”: [Rashi]: You should have been the lowest of the clans of Judah because of the stigma of Ruth the Moabitess in you.
“from you shall emerge for Me”: [Rashi]: the Messiah, son of David, and so Scripture says (Ps. 118:22): “The stone the builders had rejected became a cornerstone.”
“and his origin is from of old”: [Rashi]: “Before the sun his name is Yinnon” (Ps. 72:17).
The Rabbi expressed his distaste of Ruth, a Gentile, being in the prophetic lineage of the Messiah, facts unsavory to a Hebrew lineage. He cites “the stigma of Ruth the Moabitess” as the reason Bethlehem is called “the lowest of the clans of Judah.”
Another Gentile appears in the lineage of David and the Messiah. Rahab, the prostitute, was spared from death after she helped the two Hebrew spies escape the Jericho King’s posse. Rahab then married a Hebrew, their grandson being Boaz who married Ruth, the Moabite daughter-in-law of Naomi whose inheritance was redeemed by Ruth’s marriage. Boaz and Ruth were the grandparents of Jesse, great grandparents of King David.
Leaving no doubt his interpretation is that of a messianic prophecy, Rashi explicitly said the future ruler of Israel would be “the Messiah, Son of David” citing Psalms 118:22 as another messianic prophecy. The Messiah’s divine characteristic, “and his origin is from of old,” is called Yinnon by Rashi, a Hebrew epithet meaning “be continued.”
Zechariah 12:10 is a prophecy foretelling the Messiah’s manner of death, according to Rashi. Siding with the split view of Talmud contributors in Sukkah 52, he commented, “And our Sages expounded this in tractate Sukkah (52a) as referring to the Messiah, son of Joseph, who was slain.”
Christianity’s relatively close agreement with Rashi on the Messiah prophecies of Jacob, Balaam, Micah and Zechariah parts company on another prophecy, Isaiah 7:14. Rashi taught Isaiah’s prophecy was not about a virgin birth, rather it referred to Manoah’s wife, mother of Sampson, the Biblical strongman.
As a Rabbi, Rashi obviously did not believe Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah due in part to a particular disqualification – the fact that Jesus was killed. Specifically, according to JewishEncyclopedia.com citing Rashi, it is the circumstances of his death:
“The very form of his punishment would disprove those claims in Jewish eyes. No Messiah that Jews could recognize could suffer such a death; for “He that is hanged is accursed of God” (Deut. xxi. 23), ‘an insult to God’ (Targum, Rashi).”
Crucifixion of Jesus as a historical fact is undisputed by Judaism. The birth of Jesus in Bethlehem in the royal lineage of the House of David are also undisputed facts by Judaism. The ultimate question between Christianity and Judaism remains…what are the odds Jesus was a fulfillment of the Messiah prophecies?
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