A Prophecy, a Donkey, a Psalm

Zechariah’s Messiah prophecy about a donkey is one of those prophetic rarities that is so specific, there is no way to explain it away – it either happens or it doesn’t.[1] It could only be seconded by Micah’s prophecy that the future Ruler of Israel would be born in Bethlehem Ephrathah.[2]

Zech 9:9 “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.”(NKJV) 

Riding on a lowly donkey, not just any donkey – a colt which is a male; a foal which is under a year old – that was unridden, unbroken. Donkeys are known for their unruly and difficult behavior especially in unfamiliar and frightening scenarios, yet the King bringing salvation to Jerusalem was prophesied to ride one such unbroken donkey colt.[3]

Written between 520 – 518 BC, the prophecy was issued about 80 years after the last king of Israel, Jeconiah, sat on the Throne of David that ended when he was taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar’s army in 597 BC.[4] The king was deported to Babylon along with “the most distinguished men of the land, and the most valuable treasures of the Temple and the palace.”[5]

Decrees  issued by Persian rulers Cyrus the Great and Darius the Great to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem is the Hebrew history backdrop when the prophecy was issued by Zachariah.[6] His prophecy, based on the timing, could only be referencing a future King who would bring salvation to Israel.

Scrolling forward 550 years sets the stage when Jesus of Nazareth was reaching the end of his 3-year ministry. Outside of Jerusalem, oddly some Pharisees warned Jesus that Tetrarch Herod wanted to kill him. Jesus brushed off the warning saying that surely no prophet is killed outside of Jerusalem referring to its historical reputation for killing or trying to kill prophets of God.[7]

Telling the Pharisees to send a message back to Herod implying he wasn’t worried, Jesus said he would be busy for the next three days healing and casting out demons, but then…  Jesus predicted the next time they would see him, it would be under special circumstances:[8]

LK 13:35 “… I say to you, you shall not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’”(NKJV)

If Jesus was to fulfill Zechariah’s specific Messiah prophecy saying the King would arrive on a male donkey foal, he just made the prophetic event even more specific and challenging to fulfill. Quoting from Psalms 118:26, Jesus prophesied the next time he came to Jerusalem the people would be rejoicing:

PS .118:26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We have blessed you from the house of the LORD.”(NKJV)

Psalms 118 is one of several referencing salvation.[9] Jewish sage Rabbi Rashi’s commentary of Micah’s Bethlehem prophecy refers to the Psalm saying it is written about: “the Messiah, son of David, and so Scripture says (Ps. 118:22): ‘The stone the builders had rejected became a cornerstone.’”[10] Ironically, the Rabbi omits the Messiah reference in his direct commentary of Psalms 118.[11]

A few days later before entering Jerusalem while approaching the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples into the village ahead telling them they would find a tethered donkey colt with its mother that had never been ridden and to bring it back to him.[12] If anyone were to ask why they were taking the donkeys, they were to say “the Lord has need of it.”[13] Not knowing where to look nor the owner’s identify, they found the colt with its mother and its owner who asked the question just as predicted.

Sunday beginning Passover week, Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time. Matthew and Luke wrote about Jesus riding on the donkey colt. All four Gospel authors write about that day, known as Palm Sunday, of which the eyewitness, John, wrote:[14]

JN 12:12-13  “The next day a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out:

“Hosanna! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ The King of Israel!””(NKJV)

Shouting “Hosanna!” people of the crowd quoted Psalms 118:26 praising Jesus, laying down their outer garments and placed palm branches in his path.[15] In its reference article entitled “Hosanna,” the JewishEncyclopedia.com cites the Gospel of John and references Matthew 21:42 which quotes Psalms 118:22-23: 

“According to John xii. 13…which has the story preserved in its original form, the same cry was raised by the multitude on the occasion of Jesus’ arrival at Jerusalem. They “took branches of palm-trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord”—that is, the verse following “Anna Adonai hoshi’ah-nna” in the Hallel psalm— and then called him “the King of Israel.” … The Psalm verses recited have been interpreted by the Rabbis also as referring to the advent of the Messiah (see Midr. Teh. to Ps. cxviii. 17, 21, 22; comp. Matt. xxi. 42).”[16]

“Hosanna” is a shortened version of the Hebrew saying “Anna Adonai hoshi-‘ah-nna.” The word is a customary cry of joyful celebration tracing to ancient times when a marching procession would wave branches of palm, myrtle and willow each day of the Sukkot festival.[17]

Last of the three annual Hebrew pilgrimage feasts, Sukkot – the Feast of Tabernacles or the Feast of Booths – is a dual celebration of the harvest festival and the Hebrews emerging from 40 years in the wilderness after Sinai when God temporarily dwelled in the Tabernacle tent.[18] Seventh day of the festival called “Hoshaana Rabbah” meaning “Great Salvation” closes the period of judgment which began during the festival on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.[19]

Coming full circle back to the prophecies of Zechariah and by Jesus days earlier, riding into Jerusalem on the back of an unbroken male donkey foal, people hailed Jesus as their King of salvation quoting from Psalms 118. Was this no more than a multi-faceted coincidence – or was Palm Sunday the multiple fulfillment of Messiah prophecies?

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

References:

[1]  Bugg, Michael. “Types of Prophecy and Prophetic Types.”  Hebrew Root. n.d.  <http://www.hebrewroot.com/Articles/prophetic_types.htm
Brooks, Carol. “Prophecy.” InPlainSite.org. <http://www.inplainsite.org/html/old_testament_prophecy.html
> Micah 5:2 (Jewish Bible Michah v.1).
[3] “Understanding Donkey Behavior.” The Donkey Sanctuary. 2018. <https://www.thedonkeysanctuary.org.uk/sites/sanctuary/files/document/142-1404405754-donkey_health_and_welfare_19.pdf>
[4] Ryrie Study Bible.  Ed. Ryrie Charles C.  Trans. New American Standard. 1978. “Introduction to the Book of Zechariah.”
 
[5] Jewish Encyclopedia.  2011.  “Captivity, or Exile, Babylonian.” <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/4012-captivity
[6] Ezra 1:1-3, 4:4-6, 6:14-15; Nehemiah 6:15; 12:45. Josephus, Flavius.  Antiquities of the Jews. 1850. Book XI, Chapter II. The Complete Works of Josephus. Trans. & commentary by William Whitson.  <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>  “Cyrus the Great.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2018.  <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Cyrus-the-Great> “Darius I.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2018.  <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Darius-I>
[7] Matthew 23:19-39. Luke 13:31-35.  I Kings 18:13-15; 19:14. 2 Chronicles 24:19-22; Jeremiah 26:7-16, 18-19, 20-23; 38:1-13.
[8] Matthew 23:37-39. Luke 13:31-35.
[9] “Salvation.” Jewish Encyclopedia.  2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/13051-salvation>
[10] The Complete Jewish Bible – with Rashi Commentary. “Michah – Micah – Chapter 5.” v1. <https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16191#showrashi=true>
[11] The Complete Jewish Bible – with Rashi Commentary. “Tehillim – Psalms – Chapter 118.” v122. <https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16339#showrashi=true>
[12] Luke 19:28-37. CR Matthew 21:1-7.
[13] NASB, NKJV.
[14] Matthew 21:2-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-40; John 12:12-16.
[15] Matthew 21:8; Luke 19.36.
[16] “Hosanna.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/7893-hosanna>
[17] “Hosanna.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. 
[18] Rich, Tracey R. “Sukkot.”  JewFAQ.org. n.d.  <http://www.jewfaq.org/holiday5.htm>
[19] “What is Sukkot.”  Chabad.org. 2014. <http://www.chabad.org/holidays/JewishNewYear/template_cdo/aid/4784/jewish/What-is-Sukkot.htm>

The Catch 22 of Psalms 22 – a Crucifixion Prophecy?

Is Psalms 22 one of the prophecies depicting a crucifixion, even that of the Messiah? 

Typically not straightforward nor easy to understand, a prophecy is often not fully or clearly understood until full realization after a future event has transpired or is clarified by other prophecies.[1]

Psalms 22 is retrospectively seen by Christians as a foreshadowing prophecy consistent with Isaiah’s and Zechariah’s prophecies of a Messiah who is pierced. Judaism does not consider the Psalms to be a book of prophecy like Isaiah or Zechariah. Jewish sage Rabbi Rashi; however, did twice see prophetic characteristics tied to David and the Messiah.

“Why have you forsaken me?” Rashi commented, “David recited this prayer for the future.” Later in verse 27 commenting on the phrase “The humble shall eat,” the Rabbi said this meant “at the time of our redemption in the days of our Messiah.”[2]

Psalm 22 was written at a time when the Roman Empire did not yet exist meaning any specific prophecy about a “Roman-style crucifixion” would need to rely on prophetic details precise enough to avoid conjecture. Challenging, given Rome’s well-honed crucifixion process designed to extend death as long as possible while inflicting maximum pain and humiliation.

Josephus described an occasion where he was traveling with the Roman military and came upon three Jewish acquaintances among many being crucified along the road to Thecoa, not far from Bethlehem.[3] Struck with compassion, he pleaded personally to Titus Caesar to have mercy on them. Titus commanded them to be take down from their crosses and treated by Roman physicians, but still only one survived.

“I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me.  My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.  Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet.  I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me.” (NIV)

Quoted not by Josephus nor was it quoted by any other Roman historians who documented Roman crucifixions. It was written by King David in Psalms 22:14-17 centuries before the Romans perfected this tortuous form of execution, yet the depiction matches in precise detail that of a Roman-style crucifixion.[4]  Coincidence?

If the portrayal of suffering were to include the specific actions taken by those at the scene inflicting the suffering, would this additional detail decrease the likelihood of a coincidence if both sets of circumstances were to come true? Ramp it to a factor of five – three actions already described where the men are gathered around the victim, laid him on the ground and pierced his hands and feet, then two more very unusual actions:

PS 22:18 “They divide my clothes among themselves and throw dice for my garments.” (NIV)

Now, if the Psalms 22 scenario added the actual words spoken by those at the scene, would the bar be raised to the highest degree of complexity thereby all but eliminating the possibility of coincidence?

PS 22:7-8 “But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads:  “He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.”” (NIV)

Inflicted extreme suffering, specific and unusual actions, and spoken words in Psalms 22 are amazingly similar to the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. A montage of Gospel verses reflects the close similarities:

MT 27:36 “And sitting down, they kept watch over him there.”

MK15:24 “And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.”

LK 23:35-36 “The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One. The soldiers also came up and mocked him.”

JN19:28 “…Jesus said, “I am thirsty.”” (NIV)

One more quote, word-for-word, from the opening of Psalms 22 might tip the scales. Shortly before he died on the cross, Jesus cried out these words:

Ps 22:1 “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (NIV)

MT 27:45-46, MK 15:33-34 “Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land.  And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’” (NIV)

By the time Jesus wailed out these words he had already endured severe flogging, exposed raw flesh, severe blood loss, acute dehydration, exposure to the weather, hanging by nails from the cross, labored and painful breathing and in a state of shock. In his excruciating misery and naked humiliation, he would have seen and heard the gawking and sneering crowd with their taunts and insults.

Near death, if Jesus was a fraud who still had the presence of mind in the face of his enemies to seize the moment by quoting from Psalms 22 to advance a false Messiah legacy, to do so would have been fully dependent on the prophetic nature of Psalms 22.

Catch 22.

If Psalms 22 is not a Messiah prophecy, then these words quoted by Jesus in his dying moments on the cross were no more than happenstance. But there is more to consider than just these words…

Could a mortal man plan ahead to perpetrate such a fraud without any foreknowledge of the lethal circumstances about to happen to him by forces outside of his control – Jews in the most unlikely collusion with their hated Roman enemies – covering 18 hours from his arrest, trial, flogging, and crucifixion up to the point of breathing his last on the cross?

Was it merely the probability of chance that the three sets of circumstances in Psalms 22 – multiple points of suffering, five separate actions taken by those present and the words spoken by the mockers as well as by Jesus – all matched the documented details in the four Gospel accounts of the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth?

Or is it easier to believe that the circumstances of Psalms 22 matching the four Gospel accounts were a Messiah prophecy fulfilled by the crucifixion of Jesus?

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

REFERENCES:

[1] Bugg, Michael. “Types of Prophecy and Prophetic Types.” Hebrew Root. n.d. <http://www.hebrewroot.com/Articles/prophetic_types.htm> Brooks, Carol. “Prophecy.” InPlainSite.org. <http://www.inplainsite.org/html/old_testament_prophecy.html>
[2] The Compete Jewish Bible – with Rashi Commentary. K’tuvim – Scriptures | Tehillim – Psalms, Chapter 22.  <http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/63255/jewish/The-Bible-with-Rashi.htm>
[3] Josephus, Flavius. The Life of Flavius Josephus. #75. The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850.  http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>  “Thecoa.” Bible History Online. 2017. <http://www.bible-history.com/geography/ancient-israel/thecoa.html>
[4] Hotznagel, Fritz and Hehn, Paul. “King David Biography.” Who2.com. 2014.  <http://www.who2.com/kingdavid.html>

Maimonides and Jesus of Nazareth – the Messiah?

Messiah or stumbling block? Famed Medieval Rabbi Maimonides had an opinion about Jesus of Nazareth on this question as well as his lineage, supernatural powers, and a comparison to the Messiah prophecies.

Affectionately known as Rambam in Jewish circles, he brought clarity to Jewish Law with some calling him “the second Moses.” Born in 1135, Moses Ben Maimon, later becoming known as Maimonides, authored Mishneh Torah. Considered a monumental Jewish work, it formulated the 13 principals of Jewish faith.[1]

Two chapters, sometimes called “The Laws Concerning King Moshiach,” focused on Messiah characteristics – what would identify the Messiah and what would disqualify anyone purporting to be the Messiah.[2] Controversial statements to the point they became a victim of the Censor .

King David’s lineage is a key requirement for the Messiah cited in multiple prophecies, by renowned Rabbi Rashi and by Maimonides who went further adding anyone who denies the Messiah is denying the prophets, Moses, and the Scriptures:

“In the future, the Messianic king will arise and renew the Davidic dynasty, restoring it to its initial sovereignty.”

“Anyone who does not believe in him or does not await his coming, denies not only the statements of the other prophets, but those of the Torah and Moses…”

Calling out Balaam’s (Bilaam) prophecy as messianic, unlike Rashi who stopped short, Maimonides explicitly referred to “Mashiach,” Hebrew for the Messiah:

“Reference to Mashiach is also made in the portion of Bilaam who prophesies about two anointed kings: the first anointed king, David, who saved Israel from her oppressors; and the final anointed king who will arise from his descendants and save Israel in the end of days. That passage Numbers 24:17-18 relates:

‘I see it, but not now’ – This refers to David;

‘I perceive it, but not in the near future;” – This refers to the Messianic king;

‘A star shall go forth from Jacob’ – This refers to David;

‘and a staff shall arise in Israel’ – This refers to the Messianic king…

Maimonides then addressed the supernatural powers of performing miracles, wonders, and resurrection of the dead without directly mentioning the Gospels or Jesus of Nazareth:

“One should not presume that the Messianic king must work miracles and wonders, bring about new phenomena in the world, resurrect the dead, or perform other similar deeds. This is definitely not true.”

Paying close attention to what the Rabbi said … his view was that performing supernatural abilities would not definitively distinguish the Messiah; however, he did not deny that such miracles had occurred. Pivoting, he went on to describe characteristics that would identify the Messiah:

“If a king will arise from the House of David who diligently contemplates the Torah and observes its mitzvot as prescribed by the Written Law and the Oral Law as David, his ancestor, will compel all of Israel to walk in (the way of the Torah) and rectify the breaches in its observance, and fight the wars of God, we may, with assurance, consider him Mashiach.”

Next, he described things that would disqualify anyone who might otherwise be viewed as the Messiah. Maimonides pointedly called out Jesus of Nazareth by name:

“If he did not succeed to this degree or was killed, he surely is not the redeemer promised by the Torah. Rather, he should be considered as all the other proper and complete kings of the Davidic dynasty who died. God caused him to arise only to test the many, as Daniel 11:35 states: ‘And some of the wise men will stumble, to try them, to refine, and to clarify until the appointed time, because the set time is in the future.'”

“Jesus of Nazareth who aspired to be the Mashiach and was executed by the court was also alluded to in Daniel’s prophecies, as ibid. 11:14 states: ‘The vulgar among your people shall exalt themselves in an attempt to fulfill the vision, but they shall stumble.'”

“Can there be a greater stumbling block than Christianity?”

With a key prophetic requirement that the Messiah must be born in the royal lineage of David, Maimonides did not disqualify Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah on that basis. He easily could have, if it were true, using the meticulous Jewish genealogy records maintained in the Temple.[3] Instead, in denouncing “Jesus of Nazareth who aspired to be the Mashiach,” Maimonides acknowledged that Jesus was born in the House of David.[4]

Mishneh Torah launched Maimonides into celebrity status prompting Jews to send letters with questions. His response letters, known as Responses (Responsa or Teshuvot), have become additional important texts of Maimonides’ Scriptural interpretations.[5]

One response to Yeminite Rabbi Jacob al-Fayumi is known as the “Epistle Concerning Yemen.” In it, Maimonides established the “My Servant” parashah of Isaiah 52:13-53:12 as a messianic prophecy by citing Isaiah 52:15 and 53:2 saying the Messiah could be identified by his origins and his wonders:[6]

“What is to be the manner of Messiah’s advent, and where will be the place of his first appearance?

…there shall rise up one of whom none have known before, and the signs and wonders which they shall see performed by him will be the proofs of his true origin; for the Almighty where he declares to us his mind upon this matter, says, ‘Behold a man whose name is the Branch, and he shall branch forth out of his place’ (Zech. Vi. I2). And Isaiah speaks similarly of the time when he will appear, without his father or mother or family being known, He came up before him, and as a root out of the dry earth, etc.”

“Jesus of Nazareth” as a name broke from traditional Jewish family name association where he would have been called “Jesus ben Joseph,” meaning Jesus son of Joseph.[7] Instead of being known by his family association, he is known for his standalone reputation and image as Jesus of Nazareth devoid of any family association. Moreover, born in the lineage of King David in his home town of Bethlehem, the name of Jesus of “Nazareth” belies his family heritage.

“But the unique phenomenon attending his manifestation is, that all the kings of the earth be thrown in terror at the fame of him – their kingdoms be in consternation, and they themselves will be devising whether to oppose him with arms, or to adopt some different course, confessing, in fact their inability to contend with him or ignore his presence and so confounded at the wonders which they will see him work, that they will lay their hands to their mouth; in the words of Isaiah, when describing the manner in which the kings will hearken to him, At him kings will shut their mouth; for that which had not been told them have they seen, and that which they had not heard they have perceived.

All four Gospels report Jesus performed many wonders and miracles; diligently taught the people of Israel to walk in the way of God; despised and reacted to the exploitations of the Temple and the Scriptures by its keepers. The circumstances of his birth and life are consistent with the Messiah prophecies recognized by both Rabbis and Christian authorities.

Was Jesus of Nazareth a fulfillment of the Messiah prophecies or merely a stumbling block test sent by God?

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

REFERENCES:

[1] Maimonides.  Mishneh Torah.  Moznaim Publications.  Jewish year 4937 (1177 AD). Chabad.org.  2015. “Sefer Shoftim” > “Melachim uMilchamot.” <http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/682956/jewish/Mishneh-Torah.htm>  Rich, Tracey R.  “Jewish Beliefs.”  JewFAQ.org. n.d. <http://www.jewfaq.org/beliefs.htm>  “Moses Ben Maimon.” Jewish Encyclopedia.  2011.  <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/11124-moses-ben-maimon> Furst, Rachel.  “The Mishneh Torah.”  MyJewishLearning.com. 2010.  <http://mobile.myjewishlearning.com/texts/Rabbinics/Halakhah/Medieval/Mishneh_Torah.shtml>  Seeskin, Kenneth.  “Maimonides.”  Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2006, revised 2017.  <https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/maimonides>
[2] Maimonides.  Mishneh Torah.
[3]  Josephus, Flavius. Against Apion. Book 1 #6-7. The Complete Works of Josephus.  <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>
 [4] Mangel, Nissen. “Responsa.” Publisher:  Kehot Publication Society. 2008. Chabad.org. 2014.  <http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/107783/jewish/Responsa.htm>
 [5] Mangel. “Responsa.”
 [6] Maimonides, “Letter to the South (Yemen)”. p374.  Neubauer and Driver.  The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters.  <https://books.google.com/books?id=YxdbAAAAQAAJ&pg=PP1&hl=en#v=onepage&q=advent&f=false>
[7] Rich, Tracey R. “Jewish Surnames.” Judaism101. 2011. <http://www.jewfaq.org/jnames.htm>  Weiss, Nelly. “The origin of Jewish family names : morphology and history.” p15. 2002. <https://www.scribd.com/doc/170261214/The-Origin-of-Jewish-Family-Names-Morphology-and-History-ebooKOID>