The Old Testament Messianic Hope

 

H.P. Liddon

 


 

There is one element or condition, of national life with which no nation can dispense. A nation must have its eye upon a future, more or less defined but fairly within the apparent scope of its grasp. Hope is the soul of moral vitality; and any man, or society of men, who would live, in the moral sense of life, must be looking forward to something.

It is a shallow misapprehension which represents the Messianic belief as a sort of outlying prejudice or superstition, incidental to the later thought of Israel, and to which Christianity has attributed an exaggerated importance, that it may the better find a basis in Jewish history for the Person of its Founder. The Messianic belief was in truth interwoven with the deepest life of the people. The promises which formed and fed this belief are distributed along nearly the whole range of the Jewish annals; while the belief rests originally upon sacred traditions which carry us up to the very cradle of the human family, although they are preserved in the sacred Hebrew books. It is of importance to inquire whether this general Messianic belief included any definite convictions respecting the personal rank of the Being who was its object.

In the gradual unfolding of the Messianic doctrine three stages of development may be noted within the limits of the Hebrew canon, and a fourth beyond it:

I. The Seed of the Woman

II. Kingdom to David Forever

III. Messianic Prophecy

IV. A Jewish Caesar Expected

 

I. The "Seed of the Woman"

1. Of these the first appears to end with Moses. The Protevangelium contains a broad indeterminate prediction of a victory of humanity over the evil principle that bad seduced man to his fall. The "seed of the woman" is to bruise the serpent's head (Gen. 3.15). With the lapse of years this blessing at first so general and indefinite, is narrowed down to something in store for the posterity of Shem (Gen. 9.26), and subsequently for the descendants of Abraham (Gen. 22. 18). In Abraham's seed all the families of the earth are to be blessed. Already within this bright but generally indefinite prospect of deliverance and blessing we begin to discern the advent of a personal Deliverer. Paul argues, in accordance with the Jewish interpretation, that "the seed" is here a personal Messiah (Gal. 3.16); the singular form of the word denoting His individuality, while its collective force suggests the representative character of His human nature. The characteristics of this personal Messiah emerge gradually in successive predictions. The dying Jacob looks forward to a Shiloh as One to whom of right belongs the regal and legislative authority (Gen. 49.10), and to whom the obedient nations will be gathered. Balaam sings of the star that will come out of Jacob and the Sceptre that will rise out of Israel (Num. 24.17). This is something more than an anticipation of the reign of David: it manifestly points to the glory and power of a Higher Royalty. Moses (Deut. 18. 18, 19) foretells a Prophet who would in a later age be raised up from among the Israelites, like unto himself. This Prophet accordingly was to be the Lawgiver, the Teacher, the Ruler, the Deliverer of Israel.

 

II. Kingdom to David Forever

The second stage of the Messianic doctrine centers in the reigns of David and Solomon. The promise of a kingdom to David and to his house for ever (2 Sam. 7.16), a promise on which, we know, the great Psalmist rested at the hour of his death (2 Sam. 23.5), could not be fulfilled by any mere continuation of his dynasty on the throne of Jerusalem. It implied, as both David and Solomon saw, some Superhuman Royalty. Of this Royalty the Messianic Psalms present us with a series of pictures, each of which illustrates a distinct aspect of its dignity, while all either imply or assert the Divinity of the King. In the second Psalm, for instance, Messiah is associated with the Lord of Israel as His anointed Son, while against the authority of both the heathen nations are rising in rebellion. Messiah's inheritance is to include all heathendom; His Sonship is not merely theocratic or ethical, but Divine. All who trust in Him are blessed; all who incur His wrath must perish with a sharp and swift destruction. In the first recorded prayer of the Church of Christ (Acts 4.25, 26), m. Paul's sermon at Antioch of Pisidia (Acts 13.33), in the argument which opens the Epistle of the Hebrews (Heb. 1.5 ; cf., Rom. 1.4), this Psalm is quoted in such senses that if we had no Rabbinical textbooks at hand, we could not doubt the belief of the Jewish Church respecting it. The forty-fifth Psalm is a picture of the peaceful and glorious union of the King Messiah with His mystical Bride, the Church of redeemed humanity. Messiah is introduced as a Divine King reigning among men. His form is of more than human beauty; His lips overflow with grace; God has blessed Him for ever, and has anointed Him with the oil of gladness above His fellows. But

 

Messiah is also Direcdy Addressed as God

He is viewed as seated upon an everlasting throne. Neither of these Psalms can be adapted without exegetical violence to the circumstances of Solomon, or to any other king of ancient Israel ; and the New Testament interprets the picture of the royal epithalamium, not less than that of the royal triumph over the insurgent heathen, of the one true King, Messiah (Heb. 1.8). In another Psalm the character and extent of this Messianic Sovereignty are more distinctly pictured (Psa. 72). Solomon, when at the height of his power, sketches a Superhuman King ruling an empire which in its character and in its compass altogether transcends his own. The extremist boundaries of the kingdom of Israel melt away before the gaze of the Psalmist. The new kingdom reaches "from sea to sea, and from the flood unto the world's end." It reaches from each frontier of the Promised Land to the remotest regions of the known world in the opposite quarter. From the Mediterranean it extends to the ocean that washes the shores of Eastern Asia ; from the Euphrates to the utmost West. At the feet of its mighty Monarch all who are most inaccessible to the arms or to the influence of Israel hasten to tender their voluntary submission. The wild sons of the desert, the merchants of Tarshish in the then distant Spain, the islanders of the Mediterranean, the Arab chiefs, the wealthy Nubians, are foremost in proffering their homage and fealty.

 

All Kings to Bow Down to Him

But all kings are at last to fall down in submission before the Ruler of the new kingdom; all nations are to do Him service. His empire is to be coextensive with the world: it is also to be coenduring with time. His empire is to be spiritual; it is to confer peace on the world, but by righteousness. The King will Himself secure righteous judgment, salvation, deliverance, redemption to His subjects. The needy, the afflicted, the friendless will be the especial objects of His tender care. His appearance in the world will be like the descent of "the rain upon the mown grass; "the true life of man seems to have been killed out, but it is yet capable of being restored by Him. He Himself, it is hinted, will be out of sight; but His Name will endure for ever; His Name will "propagate," and men shall be blessed in Him to the end of time. This King is immortal; He is also all-knowing and all-mighty. "Omniscience alone can hear the cry of every human heart; Omnipotence alone can bring deliverance to every human sufferer."

 

David's Son is David's Lord

Take another representation of this Royalty, that to which our Lord referred in dealing with His Jewish adversaries (Matt. 22.41-45 ; Psa. 110.1). David describes his great descendant Messiah as his "Lord " (Psa. 110.1). Messiah is sitting on the right hand of Jehovah as the Partner of His dignity. Messiah reigns upon a throne which impiety alone could assign to any human monarch; He is to reign until His enemies are made His footstool; He is Ruler now, even among His unsubdued opponents. In the day of His power, His people offer themselves willingly to His service; they are clad not in earthly armor, but "in the beauties' of holiness." Messiah is Priest as well as King. He is an everlasting Priest of that older order which had been honored by the father of the faithful. Who is this everlasting Priest, this resistless King, reigning thus amid His enemies and commanding the inmost hearts of His servants? He is David's descendant; the Pharisees knew that truth. But He is also David's Lord. How could He be both if He was merely human? The belief of Christendom can alone answer the question which our Lord addressed to the Pharisees. The Son of David is David's Lord because He is God; the Lord of David is David's Son because He is God Incarnate.

 

III. Messianic Prophecy

The third period extends from the reign of Uzziah to the close of the Hebrew Canon in Malachi, Here Messianic prophecy reaches its climax ; it expands into the fullest particularity of detail respecting Messiah's human life . it mounts to the highest assertions of His Divinity. Isa'iah is the richest mine of Messianic prophecy in the Old Testament. Messiah; especially designated as "the Servant of God," is the central figure in the prophecies of Isaiah. Both in Isaiah and in Jeremiah the titles of Messiah are often and pointedly expressive of His true humanity. He is the Pruit of the earth (Isa. 4.2); He is the Rod out of the stem of Jesse (Isa. 11. 1); He is the Branch or Sprout of David the Zemach (Jer. 23.5; 33.15; Zech.3. 8;6.12). He is called by God from His mother's womb (Isa. 49. 1) ; God has put His Spirit upon Him (Isa. 42.1). He is anointed to preach good tidings to the meek, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captive (Isa. 61.1). He is a Prophet ; His work is greater than that of any prophet of Israel. Not merely wrn He come as a Redeemer to them that turn from transgression in Jacob (Isa. 59.20), and to restore the preserved Israel (Isa. 49. 6). He is also given as a Light to the Gentiles, as the Salvation of God unto the end of the earth. Such is His spiritual power as Prophet and Legislator that He wrn write the law of the Lord, not upon tables of stone, but on the heart and conscience of the true Israel. In Zechariah as in David He is an enthroned Priest, but it is the kingly glory of Messiah which predominates throughout the prophetic representations of this period, and in which His superhuman nature is most distinctly suggested. According to Jeremiah the Branch of Righteousness, who is to be raised up among the posterity of David, is a King who will reign and prosper and execute judgment and justice in the earth. According to Isaiah this expected King, the Root of Jesse, "will stand for an ensign of the people ; " the Gentiles will seek Him ; He will be

The Rallying–point of the World's Hopes

the true centre of its government, for is it not written, "Kings will see and arise, princes also will worship " in deep religious awe, "kings will shut their mouths at Him " (Isaiah 52. 15). Righteousness, equity, swift justice, strict faithfulness will mark His administration ; He will not be dependent like a human magistrate upon the evidence of His senses ; He will not judge after the sight of His eyes, nor reprove after the hearing of His ears ; He will rely upon the infallibility of a perfect moral insight. Beneath the shadow of His throne all that is by nature savage, proud, and cruel among the sons of men will learn the habits of tenderness, humility, and love. "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid ; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together ; and a little child shall lead them." The reign of moral light, of spiritual graces, of innocence, of simplicity will succeed to the reign of physical and brute force. The old sources of moral danger will become harmless through His protecting presence and blessing ; "the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice' den " (Isa. 11. 8); and in the end "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea." Daniel is taught that at the "anointing of the Most Holy "-after a defined period-God will "finish the transgressions," and "make an end of sins," and "make reconciliation for iniquity," and "bring in everlasting righteousness " (Dan. 9. 24). Zachariah, too, especially points cut the moral and spiritual characteristics of the reign of King Messiah. The founder of an eastern dynasty must ordinarily wade through blood and slaughter to the steps of his throne, and must maintain his authority by force. But the daughter of Jerusalem beholds her King coming to her, "Just and having salvation, lowly and riding upon an ass." "The chariots are cut off from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem ; " the King "speaks peace unto the heathen ; " the "battlebow is broken ; " and yet His dominion extends "from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth " (Zech. 9.9, 10).

The Suffering Messiah

In harsh and utter contrast, as it seems, to this representation of Messiah as a Jewish King, the moral conqueror and ruler of the world, there is another representation of Him which belongs to the Davidic period as well as to that of Isaiah. Messiah had been typified in David persecuted by SauL and humbled by Absalom, no less truly than He had been typified in Solomon surrounded by all the glory of his imperial court. li Messiah reigns in the forty-fifth or in the seventy-second Psalms, He suffers, nay, He is pre-emment among the suffering, in the twenty-second. We might suppose that the suffering Just One, who is described by David, reaches the climax of anguish ; but the portrait of an archetypal sorrow has been even more minuteky touched by the hand of Isaiah. In both writers, however, the deepest humiliations and woes are confidently treated as the prelude to an assured victory. The Psalmist passes from what is little less than an elaborate programme of the historical circumstances of the crucifixion to an announcement that by these unexampled sufferings the heathen will he converted, and all the kindreds of the Gentiles will be brought to adore the true God (Psa. 22. 1-21). The prophet describes the Servant of God as " despised and rejected of men " (Isa. 53); His sorrows are viewed with general satisfaction ; they are accounted a just punishment for His own supposed crimes. Yet in realitv He bears our infirmities and carries our sorrows ; His wounds are due to our transgressions ; His stripes have a healing virtue for us. His sufferings and death are a trespass-offering ; on Him is laid the iniquity of all. If in Isaiah the inner meaning of the tragedy is more fully insisted on, the picture itself is not less vivid that than of the Psalter. The suffering Servant stands before His judges ; "His visage is so marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men ; " like a lamb, innocent, defenceless, dumb, He is led forth to the slaughter ; "He is cut off from the land of the living." Yet the prophet pauses at His grave to note that He "shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied," that God "will divide Him a portion with the great," and that He will Himself "divide the spoil with the strong." And all this is to follow" because He hath poured out His soul unto death. " His death is to be the condition of His victory ; His death is the destined instrument whereby He will achieve His mediatorial reign of glory.

The Redeemer is the Creator

We will not lay stress upon the fact that in Isaiah the Redeemer of Israel and of men is constantly asserted to be the Creator, who by Himself will save His people. Significant as such language is as to the bent of the Divine mind, it is not properly Messianic . But in that great prophecy the "Son " who is given to Israel receives a fourfold name. He is a Wonder-Counsellor, or Wonderful, above all earthly beings ; He possesses a nature which man cannot fathom, and He thus shares and unfolds the Divine Mind. He is the Father of the Everlasting Age or of Eternity. He is the Prince of Peace. Above all, He is expressly named the Mighty God. Conformably with this, Jeremiah calls Him Jehovah Tsidkenu, as Isaiah had called Him Emmanuel. Micah speaks of His eternal pre-existance as Isaiah had spoken of His endless reign. Daniel predicts that His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away. Zechariah terms Him the Fellow or Equal of the Lord of Hosts, and refers to His incarnation and still more clearly to His passion as being that of Jehovah Himself. Haggai implies His Divinity by foretelling that His presence will make the glory of the second temple greater than the glory of the first. Malachi points to Him as the Angel of the Covenant, as Jehovah whom Israel was seeking, and who would suddenly come to His temple, as the Sun of Righteousness.

A Messiah Divine as Well as Human

Read this language as a whole ; read it by the light of the great doctrine which it attests, and which in turn illuminates it, the doctrine of a Messiah, Divine as well as human. All is natural, consistent, full of point and meaning. But divorce it from that doctrine in obedience to a foregone and arbitrary placitum of the negative criticism, to the effect that Jesus Christ shall be banished at any cost from the scroll of prophecy-how full of difficulties does such language forthwith become, how overstrained and exaggerated, how insipid and disappointing!

 

IV. A Jewish Caesar Expected

The last stage of the Messianic doctrine begins only after the close of the Hebrew Canon. Among the Jews of Alexandria the hope of a Messiah seems to have fallen into the background. Among the peasantry, and in the schools of Palestine, the Messianic doctrine lived on. The literary or learned form of the doctrine, being based on and renewed by the letter of Scripture, was higher and purer than the impaired and debased belief which gradually established itself among the masses of the people. The popular degradation of the doctrine may be traced to the later political circumstances of the Jews, acting upon the secular and materialised element in the national character. They dwelt more and more eagerly upon the pictures of His world-wide conquest and imperial away, and they con strued those promises of coming triumph in the most earthly and secular sense ; they looked for a Jewish Alexander or for a Jewish Caesar. The New Testament exhibits the popular form of the Messianic doctrine as it lay in the minds of Galileans, of Samaritans, of the men of Jerusalem. It is plain how deeply, when our Lord appeared, the hope of a Deliverer had sunk into the heart both of peasant and townsman ; yet it is equally plain how earthly was the taint which had passed over the popular apprehension of this glorious hope since its first full proclamation in the days of the prophets. Doubtless there were saints like the aged Simeon, whose eyes longed sore for the Divine Christ foretold in the great age of Hebrew prophecy. But generally speaking, the piety of the enslaved Jew had become little else than a wrong-headed patriotism. The Apostles themselves, at one time, looked mainly or only for a temporal prince, and the people who were willing to hail Jesus as King Messiah and to conduct Him in royal pomp to the gates of the holy city had so lost sight of the real eminence which Messiahship involved that when He claimed to be God they endeavoured to stone Him for blasphemy, and this claim of His was in point of fact the crime for which their leaders persecuted Him to death.

The Jews Reject their Messiah

And yet when Jesus Christ presented Himself to the Jewish people He did not condescend to sanction the misbelief of the time, or to swerve from the tenor of the ancient revelation. He claimed to satisfy the national hopes of Israel by a prospect which would identify the future of Israel with that of the world. He professed to answer to the full, unmutilated, spiritual expectations of prophets and righteous men. They had desired to see and had not seen Him, to hear and had not heard Him. Long ages had passed, and the hope of Israel was still unfulfilled. Psalmists had turned back in accents wellnigh of despair to the great deliverance from the Egyptian bondage when the Lord brake the heads of the dragons in the waters and brought fountains out of the hard rock. Yet when at last in the fullness of time He came, that He might satisfy the desire of the nations, He was rejected by a stiff-necked generation because He was true to the highest and brightest anticipations of His Advent. A Christ who had contented Himself with the debased Messianic idea of the Herodian period might have precipitated an insurrection against the Roman rule, and might have antedated, after whatever intermediate struggles, the fall of Jerusalem. Jesus of Nazareth claimed to be the Divine Messiah of David and of Isaiah and therefore He died upon the Cross to achieve, not the political enfranchisement of Palestine, but the spiritual redemption of humanity.

The Lord our God is One Lord

(a) Permit me to repeat an observation which has already been hinted at. The several lines of teaching by which the Old Testament leads up to the doctrine of our Lord's Divinity are at first sight apparently at issue with that primary truth of which the Jewish people and the Jewish Scriptures were the appointed guardians. "Hear, 0 Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord. " That was the fundamental law of the Jewish belief and polity. How copious are the warnings against the surrounding idolatries in the Jewish Scriptures ! With what varied, what delicate, what incisive irony do the sacred writers lash the pretensions of the most gorgeous idol-worships while guarding the solitary Majesty and the unshared prerogatives of the God of Israel. And yet this discriminating and fundamental truth does but throw out into sharper outline and relief those suggestions of personal distinctions in the Godhead ; that personification of the wisdom, if indeed the wisdom be not a person ; those visions in which a Divine Being is so closely identified with the angel who represents Him; those successive predictions of a Messiah personally distinct from Jehovah, yet also the Saviour of men, the Lord and Ruler of all, the Judge of the nations, Almighty, Everlasting, nay, One whom prophecy designates as God. How was the Old Testament consistent with itself, how was it loyal to its leading purpose, to its very central and animating idea, unless it was in truth entrusted with a double charge ; unless, besides teaching explicitly the Creed of Sinai, it was designed to teach implicitly a fuller revelation, and to prepare men for the Creed of the day of Pentecost?

Minute Prediction that Cannot be Denied

(b) It may be urged that the Old Testament might conceivably have set forth the doctrine of Christ's Godhead in other and more energetic terms than those which it actually employs. Even if this should be granted, let us carefully bear in mind that the witness of the Old Testament to this truth is not confined to the texts which expressly assert that Messiah should be Divine. The human life of Messiah, His supernatural birth, His character, His death, His triumph, are predicted in the Old Testament with a minuteness which utterly defies the rationalistic insinuation that the argument from prophecy in favour of Christ's claims may after all be resolved into an adroit manipulation of sundry more or less irrelevant quotations. No amount of captious ingenuity will destroy the substantial fact that the leading features of cur Lord's human manifestation were announced to the world some centuries before He actually came among us. Do I say that to be the subject of prophecy is of itself a proof of Divinity ? Certainly not. But at least when prophecy is so copious and elaborate, and yet withal so true to the facts of history which it predicts, its higher utterances, which lie beyond the verification of the human senses, acquire corresponding significance and credit. If the circumstances of Christ's human life were actually chronicled by prophecy, prophecy is entitled to submissive attention when she proceeds to assert, in whatever terms, that the Christ whom she has described is more than man. With His hand upon the Jewish Canon, Jesus Christ could look opponents or disciples in the face and bid them" Search the scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life, and they are they which testify of Me."


The Divinity of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. H.P. Liddon. Pickering & Inglis LTD. London, no date; pages 39-50.