Interpretations of the Rabbis – the Messiah Prophecies

Tenakh and Old Testament Scriptures originate essentially from the same Hebrew texts, but when it comes to Messiah prophecies, interpretations vary widely. Christianity and Judaism disagree on any prophecy about the Messiah deemed to be fulfilled by Jesus of Nazareth.

Among the authorities of Judaism, the Rabbi sages are not always in agreement on which prophecies point to the Messiah. Christianity is no exception where differences exist on such topics as baptism, worship, confessions – even salvation.

Some Rabbi sages  became known for their views documented in commentaries, letters or published works. Other Rabbis expressed themselves through their contributions to the Babylonian Talmud in its various Gemaras.

Rabbi Rashi is esteemed for his Scriptural commentaries. So much so, a mainstream Jewish Bible is named the Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commentary.[1]

Fondly called Rambam, Rabbi Maimonides authored the Mishneh Torah known for formulating the Law into the 13 principals of Jewish faith.[2] The work is regarded for codifying the halakhah or Jewish Law.[3]

Rabbi Jose the Galilean is known both for his quoted contributions in Talmud Gemaras as well as for his independent commentaries. He was a distinguished Rabbi leader as an authority on sacrifices and the Temple.

Moshe Kohen ibn Crispin was a renowned twelfth century Rabbi and poet from Spain. His acclaimed contribution to Judaism is his Jewish work entitled Sefer ha-Musar meaning the Book of Instruction.[4]

Renaissance era Rabbi David Kimchi aka RaDaK is highly regarded by Jewish authorities of whom it is said “Where there is no Kimchi, there is no law.”[5] The Prophets edition of the Torah reveals RaDaK’s commentaries written in the margins.

Rabbi Dr. I. Epstein during the first half of the last century served as Editor for the Soncino Babylonian Talmud edition intended to reproduce a “clear and lucid” literal English translation in the restored, uncensored version.[6] Under his Editorship, bracketed words were added to clarify the text.[7] Censored or removed content was restored either in the body of the text or reintroduced within the footnotes. A Glossary and an Abbreviation table added even more clarity.[8]

One of the oldest Messiah prophesies is Jacob’s blessing of Judah in Genesis, recognized by Rashi as establishing the foundation for the future Messiah. The blessing foretells his son’s descendants, the Tribe of Judah, would become a like a lion where the “scepter” would remain until the coming of “Shiloh.”

Rashi identified “Shiloh” as the “King Messiah, to whom the kingdom belongs” and that the “scepter” refers to the royal lineage of “David and thereafter.”[9] Translated from the Hebrew word shebet as “scepter” or “staff,” it is the same word that appears in Balaam’s prophecy:[10]

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)

Providing more insight to the meaning of shebet, Rashi remarked the Messiah is one who “shoots out like an arrow” from Jacob and uproots the sons of Sheth or Seth (the son of Adam).[11]Maimonides, in the Mishneh Torah, expounded on Balaam’s prophecy. The Rabbi interpreted it to be referring to “King Moshiach” (Messiah) who would come from the lineage of David.[12]

“My Servant” in the Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12 parashah or passage is viewed by Christianity predicting the suffering, death and Resurrection of the Messiah, a prophecy fulfilled by Jesus of Nazareth. Judaism generally treats “My Servant” as a metaphor of a single man representing the nation of Israel.[13] Yet Rabbi sages, going back to the days of the Talmud, pointed to 5 different Messiah prophecies within the parashah.

Sanhedrin 98b quotes Isaiah 53:3 as the basis for one of the names of the Messiah.[14] Independently, Rabbi Jose the Galilean wrote the Messiah would be wounded for our transgressions quoting from Isaiah 53:5 and 53.7.[15] In a responsa letter from Maimonides, he referred to Isaiah 53:2 and 52:15 writing that the Messiah would be identified by his origins and his wonders.[16]

Rabbi Moshe Kohen ibn Crispin said in a counterview opinion that “My Servant” in the Isaiah 52-53 parashah refers to “King Messiah” while admitting his interpretation is in conflict with the prevailing Jewish position. In Sefer ha-Musar, Crispin gave surprisingly bold verse by verse commentaries defining expectations for the Messiah. [17]

Frequently seen during Christmas season in western cultures is Isaiah 9:6 foretelling a son who would bear the full responsibility for the government; one to be known by many names. Judaism generally disagrees it is 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)

One name, the “Prince of Peace,” is addressed by Rabbi’s in a Talmud Gemara found in “The Chapter on Peace.” Rabbi Jehoshua asserted the Prince was the “Holy One…called “Adonay-shalom” Rabbi Jose the Galilean declared “Peace” is the name of the Messiah, “as it is written ‘The prince of peace.’” Rashi viewed the prophecy to be about Kings David and Hezekiah.[18]

Micah 5:2 seemingly unambiguously predicts the birthplace of the future ruler of Israel, yet it is challenged by some Jewish authorities.[19] Rashi interpreted the verse to be foretelling the Messiah would come from Bethlehem, the son of Jesse, the son of King David.[20] Quoting Psalms 118:22, “The stone the builders had rejected became a cornerstone,” Rashi then revealed another name for the Messiah, “Yinnon,” who is older than the sun referring to Psalms 72:17.

Zechariah 12:10 predicts the Messiah is to be killed, the open question between Judaism and Christianity is the interpretation of the Hebrew word daqar as “pierced” or “thrust through.” Some Rabbis in the Talmud Gemara Sukkah 52a believed it to be a Messiah prophecy, but not all. Rashi offered a third interpretation saying the prophecy is about Zerubbabel while acknowledging others view it to be about the Messiah.[21]The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commentary and other Jewish Bibles interprets daqar as “thrust through.”

Psalms 22, along with the Isaiah 52-53 passage, is a preeminent Messiah prophecy recognized by Christianity predicting in detail the circumstances of the death of Jesus of Nazareth by crucifixion. Judaism, on the other hand, focuses solely on the second verse “Why have you forsaken me?” as the basis for the Psalm being about the nation of Israel.

Rashi interpreted the verse this way: “They are destined to go into exile, and David recited this prayer for the future.” Later in verse 27, “The humble shall eat and be sated; they shall praise the Lord, those who seek him; your hearts shall live forever,” the Rabbi remarked about its meaning: “at the time of our redemption in the days of our Messiah.”[22]

Studying and researching the Bible using the ancient Hebrew texts is one good way to determine the true meaning of the Messiah prophecies. Which prophecies point to the Messiah that, in turn, set the requirements and expectations for the Messiah?

 

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REFERENCES:

[1] The Complete Jewish Bible – with Rashi Commentary. <http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/63255/jewish/The-Bible-with-Rashi.htm>
[2] Maimonides. Mishneh Torah. Trans. Eliyahu Touger.  <http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/682956/jewish/Mishneh-Torah.htm>
[3] Rich, Tracey R. “Jewish Beliefs.” JewFAQ.org. n.d. <http://www.jewfaq.org/beliefs.htm>
[4] Crispin, Moshe Kohen ibn.  “Sefer ha-Musar.”  Neubauer, Driver & Rolles.  The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters. pp 99-100.  <https://books.google.com/books?id=YxdbAAAAQAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false>
[5] “Kimhi” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/9320-kimhi>  Marlowe, Michael.  Editions of the Hebrew Text of the Bible. Bible Research. “The Incunabula.” 2012. <http://www.bible-researcher.com/hebrew-editions.html>  Rosenau, William. Jewish Biblical Commentators. pp 87-91 n.d. <http://www.archive.org/stream/jewishbiblicalco00rose/jewishbiblicalco00rose_djvu.txt>  Mindel, Nissan. “Rabbi David Kimchi – RaDaK.” Chabad.org. 2020. <http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/111880/jewish/Rabbi-David-Kimchi-RaDaK.htm>
[6] Epstein, Dr. Isador, Editor. Soncino Babylonian Talmud. “Introduction to Seder Nezikin:  General Character and Contents.” 1935-1948. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/talmud/nezikin.html>
[7] Epstein, Dr. Isador, Editor. Soncino Babylonian Talmud. “Come and Hear.”1935-1948. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/talmud/index.html>
[8] Epstein. “Come and Hear.” “Soncino Talmud Glossary” and “Abbreviations Used in the Soncino Talmud.”
[9] Rashi. The Compete Jewish Bible – with Rashi Commentary. Genesis 49:10 Rashi commentary. <https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/8244/showrashi/true>  Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 98a.
[10] Numbers 24:17. NetBible.org. Hebrew text shebet <07626> <http://classic.net.bible.org/strong.php?id=07626>
[11] Rashi. The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commentary  Numbers 24:17 Rashi commentary. <https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/9952/showrashi/true>
[12] Maimonides. “The Law Concerning Moshiach.”  
[13] The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commentary. Isaiah 53:3-4 Rashi commentary. <https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/15984/jewish/Chapter-53.htm/showrashi/true>  Neubauer, Driver & Rolles.  The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters. p 37.  Gold, Moshe “Israel’s Messenger, The Suffering Servant of Isaiah – A Rabbinic Anthology.” Israel’s Messenger. 2009. Jewish Awareness Ministries. <http://www.jewishawareness.org/the-suffering-servant-of-isaiah-a-rabbinic-antholo>
[14] Isaiah 53:3. Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Sanhedrin 98b, footnote #31. CR Neubauer, Driver & Rolles. The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters. pp 12-16. <https://books.google.com/books?id=YxdbAAAAQAAJ&pg=PP1#v=snippet&q=Galilean&f=false>
[15] Neubauer, Driver & Rolles. The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters. p 11. 
[16] Maimonides. “Letter to the South (Yemen)”. p 374. Neubauer and Driver. The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters
[17] Crispin, Moshe Kohen ibn. “Sefer ha-Musar.” Neubauer, Driver & Rolles. The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters. pp 99-101.
[18] The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi’s Commentary.  Isaiah 9:6.  Rashi commentary. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/10777-micah-book-of>  The Babylonian Talmud. Trans. Michael L. Rodkinson. 1918. Book 5: Tractate  Derech  Eretz-Zuta, “The Chapter >on Peace.”  Internet Sacred Text Archives. 2010. <http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/talmud.htm> CR Judges 6:24. NetBible.org. Hebrew text “Y@havah shalowm” <03073>.
[19] “Micah, Book of.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. “Contents and Unity.” <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/10777-micah-book-of>
[20] The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi’s Commentary.  Micah 5:1 Rashi commentary. <https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16191/showrashi/true>
[21] The Complete Jewish Bible – with Rashi Commentary. Zechariah 6:12 Rashi commentary. <https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16210/showrashi/true>
[22] The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi’s Commentary.  Psalms 22. Rashi commentary. <https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16243/showrashi/true>

Jeremiah – (Don’t Kill) the Messenger

Jeremiah was tasked by God to deliver bad news to kings and the people of Jerusalem at a time when it was not out of the question to kill the messenger if the news was not welcome.[1] It didn’t matter that sprinkled in were reassuring prophecies about the coming Messiah and the regathering in Jerusalem of the scattered, broken nation.

First, while Josiah was king of Judah, Jeremiah’s prophecy foretold Jerusalem would meet the judgement of total destruction – some taken captive, many killed and treasures lost – because the people willfully and repeatedly broke the Covenant they agreed to uphold when God gave it to them at Mt. Sinai.[2] Death plots, even by his own family, were in play to kill Jeremiah.[3]

Chief of security for the priests, Passhur, had Jeremiah flogged and put in stocks near the Temple.[4] Jeremiah forewarned Passhur the manner of his death and that of his family, specifically by “the king of Babylon,” would strike terror in his friends.[5]

Continuing their defiance and evil ways, such as sex with pagan gods and sacrificing their own children to them, drew the wrath of God setting the scene for the curse of Jeconiah (aka Jehoiachin).[6] God’s message to both Jeconiah and his father Jehoiakim, son of Josiah and now king of Judah – death for Jehoaikim and for Jechoniah, it would be like he was childless, his children would not prosper and none would sit on the throne of David.[7]

Just five verses later, Jeremiah makes clear that in-spite-of Jeconiah’s curse, David’s royal lineage had not ended.[8] God explicitly promised another king would be raised up from the Branch of David:

Jer 23:5 “”Behold, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch; And He will reign as king and act wisely And do justice and righteousness in the land.”(NASB)

Nebuchadnezzar’s army attacked Jerusalem fulfilling the prophecy wreaking havoc and destruction while taking captives.[9] One of those captives with special skills and pedigree was indeed King Jeconiah…and another future high-profile Biblical figure – Daniel.[10]

Over the next 10 years, Nebuchadnezzar’s puppet king, Zedekiah, learned nothing from the judgment of his father and brother continuing to ignore and offend both King Nebuchadnezzar and God.[11] Having had enough, Nebuchadnezzar took action against Jerusalem once again.

Meanwhile, Irijah, captain of the Guards in Jerusalem, accused Jeremiah of being a traitor and was arrested, tried, flogged and thrown into a dungeon.[12] Jeremiah’s nemesis, Pashhur, along with three others approached Zedekiah advising the King that the prophet should be killed because his prophecies were demoralizing the troops.[13] The King allowed them to do as they wanted with Jeremiah whereupon the prophet was lowered into an old cistern deep with mud and left to starve to death.[14]

Ebed Melech, an Ethiopian official at the palace, heard of Jeremiah’s plight. While Zedekiah was conducting royal business at the Benjamin Gate away from the strict protocols of the palace, Ebed took the opportunity to inform the King. Zedekiah quietly instructed Ebed how to secretly rescue the prophet from the cistern. Jeremiah was then moved to an outdoor prison yard and given a scarce daily ration of bread.[15]

Zedekiah came to realize the truthfulness of Jeremiah’s prophecies when Nebuchadnezzar again besieged Jerusalem. The King secretly questioned the prophet seeking his guidance, but it was too late.[16] The King was given a choice – surrender to the Babylonians and live, or fight and die.[17]

During his confinement, to address worries that God had rejected Israel and Judah, God sent another message that the throne of David would never end. Jeremiah foretold that the nations would one day be regathered and restored while issuing a second Branch of David prophecy:

Jer. 33:14-15, 17 “‘The days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will fulfil the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah.  In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land… For thus says the LORD, ‘David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel…” (NASB)

A hundred years earlier, Isaiah had prophesied about “My Servant” who would sprout out of dry ground.[18] A century after Jeremiah’s Branch prophecy, the prophet Zechariah identified “My Servant” as “the Branch,” twice prophesying he would come to rebuild the Temple and rule from his throne:

Zech 3:8 “‘Listen, O high priest Joshua and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant, the Branch.’”(NIV)

Zech 6:12-13 “Tell him this is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the LORD. It is he who will build the temple of the LORD, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two.’”(NIV)

Renowned Jewish sage Rabbi Maimonides identified “the Branch” as the Messiah citing Zechariah 6:12 further validating Jeremiah’s two Branch prophecies. Maimonides also cited from the Isaiah 52-53 parashah verses 52:15 and 53:3 as prophecies about the Messiah building a prophetic profile that the Messiah is “My Servant” who would be called “the Branch.”[19]

Remaining imprisoned in the court yard during the seige, Jeremiah was finally rescued by none other King Nebuchadnezzar! His renowned reputation as a prophet had become known to the Babylonian King.[20] Nebuchadnezzar ordered his top commander, Nebuzaradan, to find Jeremiah during their attack of Jerusalem, protect him and do whatever he asked.[21] Jeremiah was released in Gedaliah, given food and a gift.[22]

Emphasizing the trustworthiness of His promise to Israel and Judah, God did not offer a typical promise with a limited guarantee or a warranty – it was unconditionally ironclad:

Jer. 33:20-21 “”Thus says the LORD, ‘If you can break My covenant for the day and My covenant for the night, so that day and night will not be at their appointed time, then My covenant may also be broken with David My servant so that he will not have a son to reign on his throne, and with the Levitical priests, My ministers.” (NASB)

Jer. 33:25-26 “”Thus says the LORD, ‘If My covenant for day and night stand not, and the fixed patterns of heaven and earth I have not established, then I would reject the descendants of Jacob and David My servant, not taking from his descendants rulers over the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But I will restore their fortunes and will have mercy on them.’” (NASB)

An indisputable analogy was used as assurance of God’s promise – if anyone can change the fixed laws of nature that He created, such as the rising and setting of the Sun, only then should anyone worry about God breaking his promise to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David.

The Book of Jeremiah provided many detailed prophecies to consider, many that came true in a single lifetime – are the future promises of God issued through Jeremiah reliable prophecies about the Messiah and the regathering of Judah and Israel back in Jerusalem?


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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

REFERENCES:

[1] Jeremiah 1; 37:17;
[2] Jeremiah 3:6; chapters 1-15.
[3] Jeremiah 11-12.
[4] Jeremiah 17-18, 20, 26.
[5] Jeremiah 20:4-6. “Jehoiakim.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/8562-jehoiakim>  “Jehoiachin.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/8543-jeconiah>
[6] CR II Chronicles 36:11-14; Jeremiah 3:2; 7:22-26, 31.
[7] CR Jeremiah 36:30-32.
[8] Irenaeus of Lyons. Against Heresies. Philip Schaf, ed. Ante-Nicene Fathers. Volume I. 2005.  Early Christina Writings. Book III, Chapter XXI.9-10, Chapter XXII.1-4.  <http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/irenaeus-book3.html>
[9] Jeremiah 24; 29; Daniel 1:4.
[10] Daniel 1.
[11] Chronicles 36:12; Jeremiah 27:20; 32:2; 37:1-2.  Bakon, Shimon. “Zedekiah: The Last King of Judah.” Jewish Bible Quarterly. Vol. 36, No. 2, 2008.   <http://jbq.jewishbible.org/assets/Uploads/362/362_zedekiah.pdf>
[12] Jeremiah 37:13-16; 38:6, 13, 24-28.
[13] Jeremiah 38:1-6.
[14] Jeremiah 14:3; 38:5-6, 9.
[15] Jeremiah 37:21.
[16] Jeremiah 37:17; 38:14. CR 37:3-10.
[17] Jeremiah 38:17.
[18] Isaiah 53:2.
[19] Neubauer, Adolf, and Driver, Samuel Rolles.  The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters. 1877. Moses Maimonides.  “Letter to the South (Yemen).” pp 374-375. <http://books.google.com/books?id=YxdbAAAAQAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q=advent&f=false>
[20] Jeremiah 40:2-3.
[21] Jeremiah 39:11-4; 40:1, 43:6.
[22] Jeremiah 40:5.