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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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.

 

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>