And yet, just as Zacharias may be described as the representative of the good and the true in the Priesthood at that time, so the family of Nazareth as a typical Israelitish household. We feel, that the scantiness of particulars here supplied by the Gospels, was intended to prevent the human interest from overshadowing the grand central Fact, to which alone attention was to be directed. For, the design of the Gospels was manifestly not to furnish a biography of Jesus the Messiah, but, in organic connection with the Old Testament, to tell the history of the long-promised establishment of the Kingdom of God upon earth. Yet what scanty details we possess of the 'Holy Family' and its surroundings may here find a place.
The highlands which form the central portion of Palestine are broken by the wide, rich plain of Jezreel, which severs Galilee from the rest of the land. This was always the great battle-field of Israel. Appropriately, it is shut in as between mountain-walls. That along the north of the plain is formed by the mountains of Lower Galilee, cleft about the middle by a valley that widens, till, after an hour's journey, we stand within an enclosure which seems almost one of Nature's own sanctuaries. As in an amphitheatre, fifteen hill-tops rise around. That to the west is the highest - about 500 feet. On its lower slopes nestles a little town, its narrow streets ranged like terraces. This is Nazareth, probably the ancient Sarid (or En-Sarid), which, in the time of Joshua, marked the northern boundary of Zebulun.
Climbing this steep hill, fragrant with aromatic plants, and bright with rich-colored flowers, a view almost unsurpassed opens before us. For, the Galilee of the time of Jesus was not only of the richest fertility, cultivated to the utmost, and thickly covered with populous towns and villages, but the center of every known industry, and the busy road of the world's commerce. Northward the eye would sweep over a rich plain; rest here and there on white towns, glittering in the sunlight; then quickly travel over the romantic hills and glens which form the scenes of Solomon's Song, till, passing beyond Safed (the Tsephath of the Rabbis - the 'city set on a hill'), the view is bounded by that giant of the far-off mountain-chain, snow-tipped Hermon.
Westward stretched a like scene of beauty and wealth - a land not lonely, but wedded; not desolate, but teeming with life; while, on the edge of the horizon, lay purple Carmel; beyond it a fringe of silver sand, and then the dazzling sheen of the Great Sea. In the farthest distance, white sails, like wings outspread towards the ends of the world; nearer, busy ports; then, centers of industry; and close by, travelled roads, all bright in the pure Eastern air and rich glow of the sun. But if you turned eastwards, the eye would soon be arrested by the wooded height of Tabor, yet not before attention had been riveted by the long, narrow string of fantastic caravans, and curiosity roused by the motley figures, of all nationalities and in all costumes, busy binding the East to the West by that line of commerce that passed along the route winding around Tabor.
And when, weary with the gaze, you looked once more down on little Nazareth nestling on the breast of the mountain, the eye would rest on a scene of tranquil, homely beauty. Just outside the town, in the north-west, bubbled the spring or well, the trysting-spot of townspeople, and welcome resting-place of travellers. Beyond it stretched lines of houses, each with its flat roof standing out distinctly against the clear sky; watered, terraced gardens, gnarled wide-spreading figtrees, graceful feathery palms, scented oranges, silvery olive-trees, thick hedges, rich pasture-land, then the bounding hills to the south; and beyond, the seemingly unbounded expanse of the wide plain of Esdraelon!
And yet, withdrawn from the world as, in its enclosure of mountains, Nazareth might seem, we must not think of it as a lonely village which only faint echoes reached of what roused the land beyond. With reverence be it said: such a place might have suited the training of the contemplative hermit, not the upbringing of Him Whose sympathies were to be with every clime and race. Nor would such an abode have furnished what (with all due acknowledgment of the supernatural) we mark as a constant, because a rationally necessary, element in Scripture history: that of inward preparedness in which the higher and the Divine afterwards find their ready points of contact.
Nor was it otherwise in Nazareth. The two great interests which stirred the land, the two great factors in the religious future of Israel, constantly met in the retirement of Nazareth. The great caravan-route which led from Acco on the sea to Damascus divided at its commencement into three roads: the most northern passing through Caesarea Philippi; the Upper Galilean; and the Lower Galilean. The latter, the ancient Via Maris led through Nazareth, and thence either by Cana, or else along the northern shoulder of Mount Tabor, to the Lake of Gennesaret - each of these roads soon uniting with the Upper Galilean. Hence, although the stream of commerce between Acco and the East was divided into three channels, yet, as one of these passed through Nazareth, the quiet little town was not a stagnant pool of rustic seclusion.
Men of all nations, busy with another life than that of Israel, would appear in the streets of Nazareth; and through them thoughts, associations, and hopes connected with the great outside world be stirred. But, on the other hand, Nazareth was also one of the great centers of Jewish Temple-life. It has already been indicated that the Priesthood was divided into twenty-four 'courses,' which, in turn, ministered in the Temple. The Priests of the 'course' which was to be on duty always gathered in certain towns, whence they went up in company to Jerusalem, while those of their number who were unable to go spent the week in fasting and prayer. Now Nazareth was one of these Priest-centers, and although it may well have been, that comparatively few in distant Galilee conformed to the Priestly regulations - some must have assembled there in preparation for the sacred functions, or appeared in its Synagogue. Even the fact, so well known to all, of this living connection between Nazareth and the Temple, must have wakened peculiar feelings. Thus, to take the wider view, a double symbolic significance attached to Nazareth, since through it passed alike those who carried on the traffic of the world, and those who ministered in the Temple.
We may take it, that the people of Nazareth were like those of other little towns similarly circumstanced: with all the peculiarities of the impulsive, straight-spoken, hot-blooded, brave, intensely national Galileans; with the deeper feelings and almost instinctive habits of thought and life, which were the outcome of long centuries of Old Testament training; but also with the petty interest and jealousies of such places, and with all the ceremonialism and punctilious self-assertion of Orientals. The cast of Judaism prevalent in Nazareth would, of course, be the same as in Galilee generally. We know, that there were marked divergences from the observances in that stronghold of Rabbinism, Judea - indicating greater simplicity and freedom from the constant intrusion of traditional ordinances. The home-life would be all the purer, that the veil of wedded life was not so coarsely lifted as in Judea, nor its sacred secrecy interfered with by an Argus-eyed legislation. The purity of betrothal in Galilee was less likely to be sullied, and weddings were more simple than in Judea - without the dubious institution of groomsmen, or 'friends of the bridegroom' whose office must not unfrequently have degenerated into utter coarseness. The bride was chosen, not as in Judea, where money was too often the motive, but as in Jerusalem, with chief regard to 'a fair degree;' and widows were (as in Jerusalem) more tenderly cared for, as we gather even from the fact, that they had a life-right of residence in their husband's house.
Such a home was that to which Joseph was about to bring the maiden, to whom he had been betrothed. Whatever view may be taken of the genealogies in the Gospels according to Matthew and Luke - whether they be regarded as those of Joseph and of Mary, or, which seems the more likely, as those of Joseph only, marking his natural and his legal descent from David, or vice versâ - there can be no question, that both Joseph and Mary were of the royal lineage of David. Most probably the two were nearly related, while Mary could also claim kinship with the Priesthood, being, no doubt on her mother's side, a 'blood-relative' of Elizabeth, the Priest-wife of Zacharias. Even this seems to imply, that Mary's family must shortly before have held higher rank, for only with such did custom sanction any alliance on the part of Priests. But at the time of their betrothal, alike Joseph and Mary were extremely poor, as appears - not indeed from his being a carpenter, since a trade was regarded as almost a religious duty - but from the offering at the presentation of Jesus in the Temple. Accordingly, their betrothal must have been of the simplest, and the dowry settled the smallest possible.
Whichever of the two modes of betrothal may have been adopted: in the presence of witnesses - either by solemn word of mouth, in due prescribed formality, with the added pledge of a piece of money, however small, or of money's worth for use; or else by writing (the so-called Shitre Erusin) - there would be no sumptuous feast to follow; and the ceremony would conclude with some such benediction as that afterwards in use: 'Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the World, Who hath sanctified us by His Commandments, and enjoined us about incest, and forbidden the betrothed, but allowed us those wedded by Chuppah (the marriage-baldachino) and betrothal. Blessed art Thou, Who sanctifiest Israel by Chuppah and betrothal' - the whole being perhaps concluded by a benediction over the statutory cup of wine, which was tasted in turn by the betrothed. From that moment Mary was the betrothed wife of Joseph; their relationship as sacred, as if they had already been wedded. Any breach of it would be treated as adultery; nor could the band be dissolved except, as after marriage, by regular divorce. Yet months might intervene between the betrothal and marriage.
Five months of Elizabeth's sacred retirement had passed, when a strange messenger brought its first tidings to her kinswoman in far-off Galilee. It was not in the solemn grandeur of the Temple, between the golden altar of incense and the seven-branched candlesticks that the Angel Gabriel now appeared, but in the privacy of a humble home at Nazareth. The greatest honor bestowed on man was to come amidst circumstances of deepest human lowliness, as if the more clearly to mark the exclusively Divine character of what was to happen. And, although the awe of the Supernatural must unconsciously have fallen upon her, it was not so much the sudden appearance of the mysterious stranger in her retirement that startled the maiden, as the words of his greeting, implying unthought blessing.
" . . . the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, To a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the lineage of David; and the name of the virgin was Mary. And after coming to her, the angel said, 'Hail, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you; blessed are you among women.'
"But when she saw him, she was greatly perplexed at his message, and was considering what kind of salutation this might be. Then the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, because you have found grace with God; And behold, you shall conceive in your womb and give birth to a son; and you shall call His name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God shall give Him the throne of David, His forefather; And He shall reign over the house of Jacob into the ages, and of His kingdom there shall be no end.'" (Luke 1:26-33, Holy Bible in Its Original Order - A Faithful Version (HBFV))
The designation of 'highly favored' came upon her with bewildering surprise, perhaps not so much from its contrast to the humbleness of her estate, as from the self-conscious humility of her heart. And it was intended so, for of all feelings this would now most become her. Accordingly, it is this story of special 'favor' or grace, which the Angel traces in rapid outline, from the conception of the Virgin-Mother to the distinctive, Divinely-given Name, symbolic of the meaning of His coming; His absolute greatness; His acknowledgment as the Son of God; and the fulfillment in Him of the great Davidic hope, with its never-ceasing royalty, and its never-ending, boundless Kingdom.
In all this, however marvellous, there could be nothing strange to those who cherished in their hearts Israel's great hope, not merely as an article of abstract belief, but as matter of certain fact - least of all to the maiden of the lineage of David, betrothed to him of the house and lineage of David. So long as the hand of prophetic blessing rested on the house of David, and before its finger had pointed to the individual who 'found favor' in the highest sense, the consciousness of possibilities, which scarce dared shape themselves into definite thoughts, must at times have stirred nameless feelings - perhaps the more often in circumstances of outward depression and humility, such as those of the 'Holy Family.' Nor was there anything strange even in the naming of the yet unconceived Child. It sounds like a saying current among the people of old, this of the Rabbis, concerning the six whose names were given before their birth: Isaac, Ishmael, Moses, Solomon, Josiah, and 'the Name of the Messiah, Whom may the Holy One, blessed be His Name, bring quickly in our days!' But as for the deeper meaning of the name Jesus, which, like an unopened bud, enclosed the flower of His Passion, that was mercifully yet the unthought-of secret of that sword, which should pierce the soul of the Virgin-Mother, and which only His future history would lay open to her and to others.
Thus, on the supposition of the readiness of her believing heart, and her entire self-unconsciousness, it would have been only the glorious announcement of the impending event, which would absorb her thinking - with nothing strange about it, or that needed further light, than the how of her own connection with it. And the words, which she spake, were not of trembling doubt, that required to lean on the staff of a 'sign,' but rather those of enquiry, for the further guidance of a willing self-surrender. The Angel had pointed her opened eyes to the shining path: that was not strange; only, that She should walk in it, seemed so. And now the Angel still further unfolded it in words which, however little she may have understood their full meaning, had again nothing strange about them, save once more that she should be thus 'favored;' words which, even to her understanding, must have carried yet further thoughts of Divine favor, and so deepened her humility.
For, the idea of the activity of the Holy Spirit in all great events was quite familiar to Israel at the time, even though the Individuation of the Holy Spirit may not have been fully apprehended. Only, that they expected such influences to rest exclusively upon those who were either mighty, or rich, or wise. And of this twofold manifestation of miraculous 'favor' - that she, and as a Virgin, should be its subject - Gabriel, 'the might of God,' gave this unasked sign, in what had happened to her kinswoman Elizabeth.
The sign was at the same time a direction. The first, but also the ever-deepening desire in the heart of Mary, when the Angel left her, must have been to be away from Nazareth, and for the relief of opening her heart to a woman, in all things like-minded, who perhaps might speak blessed words to her. And to such an one the Angel himself seemed to have directed her. It is only what we would have expected, that 'with haste' she should have resorted to her kinswoman, without loss of time, and before she would speak to her betrothed of what even in wedded life is the first secret whispered.
It could have been no ordinary welcome that would greet the Virgin-Mother, on entering the house of her kinswoman. Elizabeth must have learnt from her husband the destiny of their son, and hence the near Advent of the Messiah. But she could not have known either when, or of whom He would be born. When, by a sign not quite strange to Jewish expectancy, she recognized in her near kinswoman the Mother of her Lord, her salutation was that of a mother to a mother - the mother of the 'preparer' to the mother of Him for Whom he would prepare. To be more precise: the words which, filled with the Holy Spirit, she spake, were the mother's utterance, to the mother, of the homage which her unborn babe offered to his Lord; while the answering hymn of Mary was the offering of that homage unto God. It was the antiphonal morning-psalmody of the Messianic day as it broke, of which the words were still all of the old dispensation, but their music of the new; the keynote being that of 'favor,' 'grace,' struck by the Angel in his first salutation: 'favor' to the Virgin; 'favor,' eternal 'favor' to all His humble and poor ones; and 'favor' to Israel, stretching in golden line from the calling of Abraham to the glorious future that now opened. Not one of these fundamental ideas but lay strictly within the range of the Old Testament; and yet all of them now lay beyond it, bathed in the golden light of the new day.
Miraculous it all is, and professes to be; not indeed in the connection of these events, which succeed each other with psychological truthfulness; nor yet in their language, which is of the times and the circumstances; but in the underlying facts. And for these there can be no other evidence than the Life, the Death, and the Resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. If He was such, and if He really rose from the dead, then, with all soberness and solemnity, such inception of His appearance seems almost a logical necessity. But of this whole narrative it may be said, that such inception of the Messianic appearance, such announcement of it, and such manner of His Coming, could never have been invented by contemporary Judaism; indeed, ran directly counter to all its preconceptions.
Three months had passed since the Virgin-Mother entered the home of her kinswoman. And now she must return to Nazareth. Soon Elizabeth's neighbors and kinsfolk would gather with sympathetic joy around a home which, as they thought, had experienced unexpected mercy - little thinking, how wide-reaching its consequences would be. But the Virgin-Mother must not be exposed to the publicity of such meetings. However conscious of what had led to her condition, it must have been as the first sharp pang of the sword which was to pierce her soul, when she told it all to her betrothed. For, however deep his trust in her whom he had chosen for wife, only a direct Divine communication could have chased all questioning from his heart, and given him that assurance, which was needful in the future history of the Messiah.
Brief as, with exquisite delicacy, the narrative is, we can read in the 'thoughts' of Joseph the anxious contending of feelings, the scarcely established, and yet delayed, resolve to 'put her away,' which could only be done by regular divorce; this one determination only standing out clearly, that, if it must be, her letter of divorce shall be handed to her privately, only in the presence of two witnesses. The humble Tsaddiq of Nazareth would not willingly have brought the blush to any face, least of all would he make of her 'a public exhibition of shame.' It was a relief that he could legally divorce her either publicly or privately, whether from change of feeling, or because he had found just cause for it, but hesitated to make it known, either from regard for his own character, or because he had not sufficient legal evidence of the charge. He would follow, all unconscious of it, the truer manly feeling of R. Eliezar, R. Jochanan, and R. Zera, according to which a man would not like to put his wife to shame before a Court of Justice, rather than the opposite sentence of R. Meir.
The assurance, which Joseph could scarcely dare to hope for, was miraculously conveyed to him in a dream-vision. All would now be clear; even the terms in which he was addressed ('thou son of David'), so utterly unusual in ordinary circumstances, would prepare him for the Angel's message. The naming of the unborn Messiah would accord with popular notions; the symbolism of such a name was deeply rooted in Jewish belief; while the explanation of Jehoshua or Jeshua (Jesus), as He who would save His people (primarily, as he would understand it, Israel) from their sins, described at least one generally expected aspect of His Mission, although Joseph may not have known that it was the basis of all the rest. And perhaps it was not without deeper meaning and insight into His character, that the Angel laid stress on this very element in His communication to Joseph, and not to Mary.
The fact that such an announcement came to Him in a dream, would dispose Joseph all the more readily to receive it. 'A good dream' was one of the three things popularly regarded as marks of God's favor; and so general was the belief in their significance, as to have passed into this popular saying: 'If any one sleeps seven days without dreaming (or rather, remembering his dream for interpretation), call him wicked' (as being unremembered of God ). Thus Divinely set at rest, Joseph could no longer hesitate. The highest duty towards the Virgin-Mother and the unborn Jesus demanded an immediate marriage, which would afford not only outward, but moral protection to both.
Viewing events, not as isolated, but as links welded in the golden chain of the history of the Kingdom of God, 'all this' - not only the birth of Jesus from a Virgin, nor even His symbolic Name with its import, but also the unrestful questioning of Joseph, - 'happened' in fulfilment of what had been prefigured. The promise of a Virginborn son as a sign of the firmness of God's covenant of old with David and his house; the now unfolded meaning of the former symbolic name Immanuel; even the unbelief of Ahaz, with its counterpart in the questioning of Joseph - 'all this' could now be clearly read in the light of the breaking day. Never had the house of David sunk morally lower than when, in the words of Ahaz, it seemed to renounce the very foundation of its claim to continuance; never had the fortunes of the house of David fallen lower, than when a Herod sat on its throne, and its lineal representative was a humble village carpenter, from whose heart doubts of the Virgin-Mother had to be Divinely chased. And never, not even when God gave to the doubts of Moses this as the sign of Israel's future deliverance, that in that mountain they should worship - had unbelief been answered by more strange evidence.
But as, nevertheless, the stability of the Davidic house was ensured by the future advent of Immanuel - and with such certainty, that before even such a child could discern between choice of good and evil, the land would be freed of its dangers; so now all that was then prefigured was to become literally true, and Israel to be saved from its real danger by the Advent of Jesus, Immanuel. And so it had all been intended. The golden cup of prophecy which Isaiah had placed empty on the Holy Table, waiting for the time of the end, was now full filled, up to its brim, with the new wine of the Kingdom.
The birth of John the Baptist
Meanwhile the long-looked-for event had taken place in the home of Zacharias. No domestic solemnity so important or so joyous as that in which, by circumcision, the child had, as it were, laid upon it the yoke of the Law, with all of duty and privilege which this implied. Even the circumstance, that it took place at early morning ( 64) might indicate this. It was, so tradition has it, as if the father had acted sacrificially as High-Priest, offering his child to God in gratitude and love; and it symbolized this deeper moral truth, that man must by his own act complete what God had first instituted. To Zacharias and Elizabeth the rite would have even more than this significance, as administered to the child of their old age, so miraculously given, and who was connected with such a future. Besides, the legend which associates circumcision with Elijah, as the restorer of this rite in the apostate period of the Kings of Israel, was probably in circulation at the time.
We can scarcely be mistaken in supposing, that then, as now, a benediction was spoken before circumcision, and that the ceremony closed with the usual grace over the cup of wine, when the child received his name in a prayer that probably did not much differ from this at present in use: 'Our God, and the God of our fathers, raise up this child to his father and mother, and let his name be called in Israel Zacharias, the son of Zacharias. Let his father rejoice in the issue of his loins, and his mother in the fruit of her womb, as it is written in Proverbs 23:25, and as it is said in Ezekiel 16:6, and again in Psalm 105: 8, and Genesis 21:4;' the passages being, of course, quoted in full. The prayer closed with the hope that the child might grow up, and successfully, 'attain to the Torah, the marriagebaldachino, and good works.'
Of all this Zacharias was, though a deeply interested, yet a deaf and dumb witness. This only had he noticed, that, in the benediction in which the child's name was inserted, the mother had interrupted the prayer. Without explaining her reason, she insisted that his name should not be that of his aged father, as in the peculiar circumstances might have been expected, but John (Jochanan). A reference to the father only deepened the general astonishment, when he also gave the same name. But this was not the sole cause for marvel. For, forthwith the tongue of the dumb was loosed, and he, who could not utter the name of the child, now burst into praise of the name of the Lord. His last words had been those of unbelief, his first were those of praise; his last words had been a question of doubt, his first were a hymn of assurance.
Strictly Hebrew in its cast, and closely following Old Testament prophecy, it is remarkable - and yet almost natural - that this hymn of the Priest closely follows, and, if the expression be allowable, spiritualises a great part of the most ancient Jewish prayer: the so-called Eighteen Benedictions; rather perhaps, that it transforms the expectancy of that prayer into praise of its realization. And if we bear in mind, that a great portion of these prayers was said by the Priests before the lot was cast for incensing, or by the people in the time of incensing, it almost seems as if, during the long period of his enforced solitude, the aged Priest had meditated on, and learned to understand, what so often he had repeated. Opening with the common form of benediction, his hymn struck, one by one, the deepest chords of that prayer, specially this the most significant of all (the fifteenth Eulogy),
'Speedily make to shoot forth the Branch of David, Thy servant, and exalt Thou his horn by Thy salvation, for in Thy salvation we trust all the day long. Blessed art Thou, Jehovah! Who causeth to spring forth the Horn of Salvation' (literally, to branch forth)
This analogy between the hymn of Zacharias and the prayers of Israel will best appear from the benedictions with which these eulogies closed. For, when thus examined, their leading thoughts will be found to be as follows: God as the Shield of Abraham; He that raises the dead, and causes salvation to shoot forth; the Holy One; Who graciously giveth knowledge; Who taketh pleasure in repentance; Who multiplieth forgiveness; Who redeemeth Israel; Who healeth their (spiritual) diseases; Who blesseth the years; Who gathereth the outcasts of His people; Who loveth righteousness and judgment; Who is the abode and stay of the righteous; Who buildeth Jerusalem; Who causeth the Horn of Salvation to shoot forth; Who heareth prayer; Who bringeth back His Shekhinah to Zion; God the Gracious One, to Whom praise is due; Who blesseth His people Israel with peace.
It was all most fitting. The question of unbelief had struck the Priest dumb, for most truly unbelief cannot speak; and the answer of faith restored to him speech, for most truly does faith loosen the tongue. The first evidence of his dumbness had been, that his tongue refused to speak the benediction to the people; and the first evidence of his restored power was, that he spoke the benediction of God in a rapturous burst of praise and thanksgiving. The sign of the unbelieving Priest standing before the awe-struck people, vainly essaying to make himself understood by signs, was most fitting; most fitting also that, when 'they made signs' to him, the believing father should burst in their hearing into a prophetic hymn.
But far and wide, as these marvellous tidings spread throughout the hill-country of Judea, fear fell on all - the fear also of a nameless hope. The silence of a long-clouded day had been broken, and the light which had suddenly riven its gloom, laid itself on their hearts in expectancy: 'What then shall this Child be? For the Hand of the Lord also was with Him!'
What Messiah did the Jews expect?
It were an extremely narrow, and, indeed, false view, to regard the difference between Judaism and Christianity as confined to the question of the fulfillment of certain prophecies in Jesus of Nazareth. These predictions could only outline individual features in the Person and history of the Messiah. It is not thus that a likeness is recognized, but rather by the combination of the various features into a unity, and by the expression which gives it meaning. So far as we can gather from the Gospel narratives, no objection was ever taken to the fulfillment of individual prophecies in Jesus. But the general conception which the Rabbis had formed of the Messiah, differed totally from what was presented by the Prophet of Nazareth. Thus, what is the fundamental divergence between the two may be said to have existed long before the events which finally divided them. It is the combination of letters which constitute words, and the same letters may be combined into different words. Similarly, both Rabbinism and - what, by anticipation, we designate - Christianity might regard the same predictions as Messianic, and look for their fulfillment; while at the same time the Messianic ideal of the Synagogue might be quite other than that, to which the faith and hope of the Church have clung.
The most important point here is to keep in mind the organic unity of the Old Testament. Its predictions are not isolated, but features of one grand prophetic picture; its ritual and institutions parts of one great system; its history, not loosely connected events, but an organic development tending towards a definite end. Viewed in its innermost substance, the history of the Old Testament is not different from its typical institutions, nor yet these two from its predictions. The idea, underlying all, is God's gracious manifestation in the world - the Kingdom of God; the meaning of all - the establishment of this Kingdom upon earth. That gracious purpose was, so to speak, individualized, and the Kingdom actually established in the Messiah. Both the fundamental and the final relationship in view was that of God towards man, and of man towards God: the former as expressed by the word Father; the latter by that of Servant - or rather the combination of the two ideas: 'Son-Servant.' This was already implied in the so-called Protevangel; and in this sense also the words of Jesus hold true: 'Before Abraham came into being, I am.'
But, narrowing our survey to where the history of the Kingdom of God begins with that of Abraham, it was indeed as Jesus said: 'Your father Abraham rejoiced that he should see My day, and he saw it, and was glad.' For, all that followed from Abraham to the Messiah was one, and bore this twofold impress: heavenwards, that of Son; earthwards, that of Servant. Israel was God's Son - His 'first-born;' their history that of the children of God; their institutions those of the family of God; their predictions those of the household of God. And Israel was also the Servant of God - 'Jacob My Servant;' and its history, institutions, and predictions those of the Servant of the Lord. Yet not merely Servant, but Son-Servant - 'anointed' to such service. This idea was, so to speak, crystallised in the three great representative institutions of Israel. The 'Servant of the Lord' in relation to Israel's history was Kingship in Israel; the 'Servant of the Lord' in relation to Israel's ritual ordinances was the Priesthood in Israel; the 'Servant of the Lord' in relation to prediction was the Prophetic order. But all sprang from the same fundamental idea: that of the 'Servant of Jehovah.'
One step still remains. The Messiah and His history are not presented in the Old Testament as something separate from, or superadded to, Israel. The history, the institutions, and the predictions of Israel run up into Him. He is the typical Israelite, nay, typical Israel itself - alike the crown, the completion, and the representative of Israel. He is the Son of God and the Servant of the Lord; but in that highest and only true sense, which had given its meaning to all the preparatory development. As He was 'anointed' to be the 'Servant of the Lord,' not with the typical oil, but by 'the Spirit of Jehovah' 'upon' Him, so was He also the 'Son' in a unique sense. His organic connection with Israel is marked by the designations 'Seed of Abraham' and 'Son of David,' while at the same time He was essentially, what Israel was subordinately and typically: 'Thou art My Son - this day have I begotten Thee.' .
Hence also, in strictest truthfulness, the Evangelist could apply to the Messiah what referred to Israel, and see it fulfilled in His history: 'Out of Egypt have I called my Son.' And this other correlate idea, of Israel as 'the Servant of the Lord,' is also fully concentrated in the Messiah as the Representative Israelite, so that the Book of Isaiah, as the series of predictions in which His picture is most fully outlined, might be summarized as that concerning 'the Servant of Jehovah.' Moreover, the Messiah, as Representative Israelite, combined in Himself as 'the Servant of the Lord' the threefold office of Prophet, Priest, and King, and joined together the two ideas of 'Son' and 'Servant.' And the final combination and full exhibition of these two ideas was the fulfillment of the typical mission of Israel, and the establishment of the Kingdom of God among men.
Thus, in its final, as in its initial, stage it was the establishment of the Kingdom of God upon earth - brought about by the 'Servant' of the Lord, Who was to stricken humanity the God-sent 'Anointed Comforter' (Mashiach ha-Menachem): in this twofold sense of 'Comforter' of individuals ('the friend of sinners'), and 'Comforter' of Israel and of the world, reconciling the two, and bringing to both eternal salvation. And here the mission of Israel ended. It had passed through three stages. The first, or historical, was the preparation of the Kingdom of God; the second, or ritual, the typical presentation of that Kingdom; while the third, or prophetic, brought that Kingdom into actual contact with the kingdoms of the world. Accordingly, it is during the latter that the designation 'Son of David' (typical Israel) enlarged in the visions of Daniel into that of 'Son of Man' (the Head of redeemed humanity). It were a onesided view to regard the Babylonish exile as only a punishment for Israel's sin. There is, in truth, nothing in all God's dealings in history exclusively punitive. That were a merely negative element. But there is always a positive element also of actual progress; a step forward, even though in the taking of it something should have to be crushed. And this step forward was the development of the idea of the Kingdom of God in its relation to the world.
This organic unity of Israel and the Messiah explains how events, institutions, and predictions, which initially were purely Israelitish, could with truth be regarded as finding their full accomplishment in the Messiah. From this point of view the whole Old Testament becomes the perspective in which the figure of the Messiah stands out. And perhaps the most valuable element in Rabbinic excommentation on Messianic times is that in which, as so frequently, it is explained, that all the miracles and deliverances of Israel's past would be re-enacted, only in a much wider manner, in the days of the Messiah. Thus the whole past was symbolic, and typical of the future - the Old Testament the glass, through which the universal blessings of the latter days were seen. It is in this sense that we would understand the two sayings of the Talmud: 'All the prophets prophesied only of the days of the Messiah,' and 'The world was created only for the Messiah.'
In accordance with all this, the ancient Synagogue found references to the Messiah in many more passages of the Old Testament than those verbal predictions, to which we generally appeal; and the latter formed (as in the New Testament) a proportionately small, and secondary, element in the conception of the Messianic era. This is fully borne out by a detailed analysis of those passages in the Old Testament to which the ancient Synagogue referred as Messianic. Their number amounts to upwards of 456 (75 from the Pentateuch, 243 from the Prophets, and 138 from the Hagiographa), and their Messianic application is supported by more than 558 references to the most ancient Rabbinic writings. But comparatively few of these are what would be termed verbal predictions. Rather would it seem as if every event were regarded as prophetic, and every prophecy, whether by fact, or by word (prediction), as a light to cast its sheen on the future, until the picture of the Messianic age in the far back-ground stood out in the hundredfold variegated brightness of prophetic events, and prophetic utterances; or, as regarded the then state of Israel, till the darkness of their present night was lit up by a hundred constellations kindling in the sky overhead, and its lonely silence broken by echoes of heavenly voices, and strains of prophetic hymns borne on the breeze.
Of course, there was the danger that, amidst these dazzling lights, or in the crowd of figures, each so attractive, or else in the absorbing interest of the general picture, the grand central Personality should not engage the attention it claimed, and so the meaning of the whole be lost in the contemplation of its details. This danger was the greater from the absence of any deeper spiritual elements. All that Israel needed: 'study of the Law and good works,' lay within the reach of every one; and all that Israel hoped for, was national restoration and glory. Everything else was but means to these ends; the Messiah Himself only the grand instrument in attaining them.
Thus viewed, the picture presented would be of Israel's exaltation, rather than of the salvation of the world. To this, and to the idea of Israel's exclusive spiritual position in the world, must be traced much, that otherwise would seem utterly irrational in the Rabbinic pictures of the latter days. But in such a picture there would be neither room nor occasion for a Messiah-Savior, in the only sense in which such a heavenly mission could be rational, or the heart of humanity respond to it. The Rabbinic ideal of the Messiah was not that of 'a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of His people Israel' - the satisfaction of the wants of humanity, and the completion of Israel's mission - but quite different, even to contrariety. Accordingly, there was a fundamental antagonism between the Rabbis and Christ, quite irrespective of the manner in which He carried out His Messianic work. On the other hand, it is equally noteworthy, that the purely national elements, which well nigh formed the sum total of Rabbinic expectation, scarcely entered into the teaching of Jesus about the Kingdom of God. And the more we realize, that Jesus so fundamentally separated Himself from all the ideas of His time, the more evidential is it of the fact, that He was not the Messiah of Jewish conception, but derived His mission from a source unknown to, or at least ignored by, the leaders of His people.
But still, as the Rabbinic ideas were at least based on the Old Testament, we need not wonder that they also embodied the chief features of the Messianic history. Accordingly, a careful perusal of their Scripture quotations shows, that the main postulates of the New Testament concerning the Messiah are fully supported by Rabbinic statements. Thus, such doctrines as the pre-mundane existence of the Messiah; His elevation above Moses, and even above the Angels; His representative character; His cruel sufferings and derision; His violent death, and that for His people; His work on behalf of the living and of the dead; His redemption, and restoration of Israel; the opposition of the Gentiles; their partial judgment and conversion; the prevalence of His Law; the universal blessings of the latter days; and His Kingdom - can be clearly deduced from unquestioned passages in ancient Rabbinic writings. Only, as we might expect, all is there indistinct, incoherent, unexplained, and from a much lower standpoint. At best, it is the lower stage of yet unfulfilled prophecy - the haze when the sun is about to rise, not the blaze when it has risen. Most painfully is this felt in connection with the one element on which the New Testament most insists.
There is, indeed, in Rabbinic writings frequent reference to the sufferings, and even the death of the Messiah, and these are brought into connection with our sins - as how could it be otherwise in view of Isaiah 53. and other passages - and in one most remarkable comment the Messiah is represented as willingly taking upon Himself all these sufferings, on condition that all Israel - the living, the dead, and those yet unborn - should be saved, and that, in consequence of His work, God and Israel should be reconciled, and Satan cast into hell. But there is only the most indistinct reference to the removal of sin by the Messiah, in the sense of vicarious sufferings.
The details of the story of man's "fall," as told by the Rabbis, need not be here repeated, save to indicate its consequences. The first of these was the withdrawal of the Shekhinah from earth to the first heaven, while subsequent sins successively led to its further removal to the seventh heaven. This, however, can scarcely be considered a permanent sequel of sin, since the good deeds of seven righteous men, beginning with Abraham, brought it again, in the time of Moses, to earth. Six things Adam is said to have lost by his sin; but even these are to be restored to man by the Messiah. That the physical death of Adam was the consequence of his sin, is certainly taught. Otherwise he would have lived forever, like Enoch and Elijah. But although the fate which overtook Adam was to rest on all the world, and death came not only on our first father but on his descendants, and all creation lost its perfectness, yet even these temporal sequences are not universally admitted.
It rather seems taught, that death was intended to be the fate of all, or sent to show the folly of men claiming Divine worship, or to test whether piety was real, the more so that with death the weary struggle with our evil inclination ceased. It was needful to die when our work was done, that others might enter upon it. In each case death was the consequence of our own, not of Adam's sin. In fact, over these six - Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, and Miriam - the Angel of Death had had no absolute power. Nay, there was a time when all Israel were not only free from death, but like the Angels, and even higher than they. For, originally God had offered the Law to all Gentile nations, but they had refused to submit to it. But when Israel took on themselves the Law at Mount Sinai, the description in Psalm 82:6 applied literally to them. They would not have died, and were 'the sons of God.' But all this was lost by the sin of making the golden calf - although the Talmud marks that, if Israel had continued in that Angelic state, the nation would have ceased with that generation. Thus there were two divergent opinions - the one ascribing death to personal, the other tracing it to Adam's guilt.
When, however, we pass from the physical to the moral sequences of the fall, our Jewish authorities wholly fail us. They teach, that man is created with two inclinations - that to evil (the Yetser ha-ra), and that to good; the first working in him from the beginning, the latter coming gradually in the course of time. Yet, so far from guilt attaching to the Yetser ha-ra, its existence is absolutely necessary, if the world is to continue. In fact, as the Talmud expressly teaches, the evil desire or impulse was created by God Himself; while it is also asserted that, on seeing the consequences, God actually repented having done so. This gives quite another character to sin, as due to causes for which no blame attaches to man. On the other hand, as it is in the power of each wholly to overcome sin, and to gain life by study and works; as Israel at Mount Sinai had actually got rid of the Yetser ha-ra; and as there had been those, who were entirely righteous - there scarcely remains any moral sequence of Adam's fall to be considered. Similarly, the Apocrypha are silent on the subject, the only exception being the very strong language used in II. Esdras, which dates after the Christian era.
In the absence of felt need of deliverance from sin, we can understand, how Rabbinic tradition found no place for the Priestly office of the Messiah, and how even His claims to be the Prophet of His people are almost entirely overshadowed by His appearance as their King and Deliverer. This, indeed, was the ever-present want, pressing the more heavily as Israel's national sufferings seemed almost inexplicable, while they contrasted so sharply with the glory expected by the Rabbis. Whence these sufferings? From sin - national sin; the idolatry of former times; the prevalence of crimes and vices; the dereliction of God's ordinances; the neglect of instruction, of study, and of proper practice of His Law; and, in later days, the love of money and party strife. But the seventy years' captivity had ceased, why not the present dispersion? Because hypocrisy had been added to all other sins; because there had not been proper repentance; because of the half-heartedness of the Jewish proselytes; because of improper marriages, and other evil customs; and because of the gross dissoluteness of certain cities. The consequences appeared not only in the political condition of Israel, but in the land itself, in the absence of rain and dew, of fruitfulness and of plenty; in the general disorder of society; the cessation of piety and of religious study; and the silence of prophecy.
As significantly summed up, Israel was without Priesthood, without law, without God. The world itself suffered in consequence of the destruction of the Temple. In a very remarkable passage, where it is explained, that the seventy bullocks offered during the Feast of Tabernacles were for the nations of the world, R. Jochanan deplores their fate, since while the Temple had stood the altar had atoned for the Gentiles, but who was now to do so? The light, which had shone from out the Temple windows into the world, had been extinguished. Indeed, but for the intercession of the Angels the world would now be destroyed. In the poetic language of the time, the heavens, sun, moon and stars, trees and mountains, even the Angels, mourned over the desolation of the Temple, and the very Angelic hosts had since been diminished. But, though the Divine Presence had been withdrawn, it still lingered near His own; it had followed them in all their banishments; it had suffered with them in all their sorrows.
It is a touching legend, which represents the Shekhinah as still lingering over the western wall of the Temple - the only one supposed to be still standing. Nay, in language still bolder, and which cannot be fully reproduced, God Himself is represented as mourning over Jerusalem and the Temple. He has not entered His Palace since then, and His hair is wet with the dew. He weeps over His children and their desolateness, and displays in the heavens tokens of mourning, corresponding to those which an earthly monarch would show.
All this is to be gloriously set right, when the Lord turneth the captivity of Zion, and the Messiah cometh. But when may He be expected, and what are the signs of His coming? Or perhaps the question should thus be put: Why are the redemption of Israel and the coming of the Messiah so unaccountably delayed? It is here that the Synagogue finds itself in presence of an insoluble mystery. The explanations attempted are, confessedly, guesses, or rather attempts to evade the issue. The only course left is, authoritatively to impose silence on all such inquiries - the silence, as they would put it, of implicit, mournful submission to the inexplicable, in faith that somehow, when least expected, deliverance would come; or, as we would put it, the silence of ever-recurring disappointment and despair. Thus the grand hope of the Synagogue is, as it were, written in an epitaph on a broken tombstone, to be repeated by the thousands who, for these long centuries, have washed the ruins of the Sanctuary with unavailing tears.
Why delayeth the Messiah His coming? Since the brief and broken sunshine of the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, the sky overhead has ever grown darker, nor have even the terrible storms, which have burst over Israel, reft the canopy of cloud. The first capitivity passed, why not the second? This is the painful question ever and again discussed by the Rabbis. Can they mean it seriously, that the sins of the second, are more grievous than those which caused the first dispersion; or that they of the first captivity repented, but not they of the second? What constitutes this repentance which yet remains to be made? But the reasoning becomes absolutely self-contradictory when, together with the assertion that, if Israel repented but one day, the Messiah would come, we are told, that Israel will not repent till Elijah comes. Besides, bold as the language is, there is truth in the expostulation, which the Midrash puts into the mouth of the congregation of Israel: 'Lord of the world, it depends on Thee that we repent.' Such truth, that, although at first the Divine reply is a repetition of Zechar.1:3, yet, when Israel reiterates the words, 'Turn Thou us unto Thee, O Lord, and we shall be turned,' supporting them by Psalm 85:4, the argument proves unanswerable.
Other conditions of Israel's deliverance are, indeed, mentioned. But we can scarcely regard the Synagogue as seriously making the coming of Messiah dependent on their realization. Among the most touching of these is a beautiful passage (almost reminding us of Hebrews 11.), in which Israel's future deliverance is described as the reward of faith. Similarly beautiful is the thought, that, when God redeems Israel, it will be amidst their weeping. But neither can this be regarded as the condition of Messiah's coming; nor yet such generalities as the observance of the Law, or of some special commandments. The very variety of suggestions shows, how utterly unable the Synagogue felt to indicate any condition to be fulfilled by Israel. Such vague statements, as that the salvation of Israel depended on the merits of the patriarchs, or on that of one of them, cannot help us to a solution; and the long discussion in the Talmud leaves no doubt, that the final and most sober opinion was, that the time of Messiah's coming depended not on repentance, nor any other condition, but on the mercy of God, when the time fixed had arrived. But even so, we are again thrown into doubt by the statement, that it might be either hastened or retarded by Israel's bearing!
In the category of guesses we must also place such vague statements, as that the Messiah would come, when all were righteous, or all wicked; or else nine months after the empire of Rome had extended over the whole world; or when all the souls, predestined to inhabit bodies, had been on earth. But as, after years of unrelieved sufferings, the Synagogue had to acknowledge that, one by one, all the terms had passed, and as despair settled on the heart of Israel, it came to be generally thought, that the time of Messiah's Advent could not be known beforehand, and that speculation on the subject was dangerous, sinful, even damnable. The time of the end had, indeed, been revealed to two sons of Adam, Jacob and David; but neither of them had been allowed to make it known. In view of this, it can scarcely be regarded as more than a symbolical, though significant guess, when the future redemption of Israel is expected on the Passover Day.
We now approach this most difficult and delicate question: What was the expectation of the ancient Synagogue, as regarded the Nature, Person, and qualifications of the Messiah? In answering it - not at present from the Old Testament, but from the views expressed in Rabbinic literature, and, so far as we can gather from the Gospel-narratives, from those cherished by the contemporaries of Christ - two inferences seem evident.
First, the idea of a Divine Personality, and of the union of the two Natures in the Messiah, seems to have been foreign to the Jewish auditory of Jesus of Nazareth, and even at first to His disciples. Secondly, they appear to have regarded the Messiah as far above the ordinary human, royal, prophetic, and even Angelic type, to such extent, that the boundary-line separating it from Divine Personality is of the narrowest, so that, when the conviction of the reality of the Messianic manifestation in Jesus burst on their minds, this boundary-line was easily, almost naturally, overstepped, and those who would have shrunk from framing their belief in such dogmatic form, readily owned and worshipped Him as the Son of God. Nor need we wonder at this, even taking the highest view of Old Testament prophecy. For here also the principle applies, which underlies one of Paul's most wide-reaching utterance: 'We prophesy in part'. In the nature of it, all prophecy presents but disjecta, membra, and it almost seems, as if we had to take our stand in the prophet's valley of vision (Ezekiel 37.), waiting till, at the bidding of the Lord, the scattered bones should be joined into a body, to which the breath of the Spirit would give life.
These two inferences, derived from the Gospel-narratives, are in exact accordance with the whole line of ancient Jewish teaching. Beginning with the Septuagint rendering of Genesis 49:10, and especially of Numbers 24:7,17, we gather, that the Kingdom of the Messiah was higher than any that is earthly, and destined to subdue them all. But the rendering of Psalm 72:5, 7; Psalm 110:3; and especially of Isaiah 9., carries us much farther. They convey the idea, that the existence of this Messiah was regarded as premundane (before the moon, before the morning-star ), and eternal, and His Person and dignity as superior to that of men and Angels: 'the Angel of the Great Council,' probably 'the Angel of the Face' - a view fully confirmed by the rendering of the Targum.
The silence of the Apocrypha about the Person of the Messiah is so strange, as to be scarcely explained by the consideration, that those books were composed when the need of a Messiah for the deliverance of Israel was not painfully felt. All the more striking are the allusions in the Pseudepigraphic Writings, although these also do not carry us beyond our two inferences. Thus, the third book of the Sibylline Oracles - which, with few exceptions, dates from more than a century and a half before Christ - presents a picture of Messianic times, generally admitted to have formed the basis of Virgil's description of the Golden Age, and of similar heathen expectations. In these Oracles, 170 years before Christ, the Messiah is 'the King sent from heaven' who would 'judge every man in blood and splendor of fire.' Similarly, the vision of Messianic times opens with a reference to 'the King Whom God will send from the sun.' That a superhuman Kingdom of eternal duration, such as this vision paints, should have a superhuman King, seems almost a necessary corollary.
Even more distinct are the statements in the so-called 'Book of Enoch.' Critics are substantially agreed, that the oldest part of it dates from between 150 and 130 B.C. The part next in date is full of Messianic allusions; but, as a certain class of modern writers has ascribed to it a post-Christian date, and, however ungrounded, to Christian authorship, it may be better not to refer to it in the present argument, the more so as we have other testimony from the time of Herod. Not to speak, therefore, of such peculiar designations of the Messiah as 'the Woman's Son,' 'the Son of Man,' 'the Elect,' and 'the Just One,' we mark that the Messiah is expressly designed in the oldest portion as 'the Son of God' ('I and My Son'). That this implies, not, indeed, essential Sonship, but infinite superiority over all other servants of God, and rule over them, appears from the mystic description of the Messiah as 'the first of the [now changed] white bulls,' 'the great Animal among them, having great and black horns on His head' - Whom 'all the beasts of the field and all the fowls of heaven dread, and to Whom they cry at all times.'
Still more explicit is that beautiful collection of eighteen Psalms, dating from about half a century before Christ, which bears the name of 'the Psalter of Solomon.' A chaste anticipation of the Messianic Kingdom is followed by a full description of its need and its blessings, to which the concluding Psalm forms an apt epilogue. The King Who reigns is of the house of David. He is the Son of David, Who comes at the time known to God only, to reign over Israel. He is a righteous King, taught of God. He is Christ the Lord.
'He is pure from sin ,' which qualifies Him for ruling His people, and banishing sinners by His word. 'Never in His days will He be infirm towards His God, since God renders Him strong in the Holy Spirit,' wise in counsel, with might and righteousness ('mighty in deed and word'). The blessing of the Lord being upon Him, He does not fail. 'This is the beauty of the King of Israel, Whom God hath chosen, to set Him over the house of Israel to rule it.' Thus invincible, not by outward might, but in His God, He will bring His people the blessings of restoration to their tribal possessions, and of righteousness, but break in pieces His enemies, not by outward weapons, but by the word of His mouth; purify Jerusalem, and judge the nations, who will be subject to His rule, and behold and own His glory. Manifestly, this is not an earthly Kingdom, nor yet an earthly King.
If we now turn to works dating after the Christian era, we would naturally expect them, either simply to reproduce earlier opinions, or, from opposition to Christ, to present the Messiah in a less exalted manner. But since, strange to say, they even more strongly assert the high dignity of the Messiah, we are warranted in regarding this as the rooted belief of the Synagogue. This estimate of the Messiah may be gathered from IV Esdras, with which the kindred picture of the Messiah and His reign in the Apocalypse of Baruch may be compared. But even in strictly Rabbinic documents, the premundane, if not the eternal existence of the Messiah appears as matter of common belief. Such is the view expressed in the Targum on Isaiah 9:6, and in that on Micah 5:2. But the Midrash on Proverbs 8:9 expressly mentions the Messiah among the seven things created before the world. The passage is the more important, as it throws light on quite a series of others, in which the Name of the Messiah is said to have been created before the world. Even if this were an ideal conception, it would prove the Messiah to be elevated above the ordinary conditions of humanity. But it means much more than this, since not only the existence of the Messiah long before His actual appearance, but His premundane state are clearly taught in other places.
In the Talmud it is not only implied, that the Messiah may already be among the living, but a strange story is related, according to which He had actually been born in the royal palace at Bethlehem, bore the name Menachem (Comforter), was discovered by one R. Judan through a peculiar device, but had been carried away by a storm. Similarly, the Babylon Talmud represents Him as sitting at the gate of Imperial Rome.
In general, the idea of the Messiah's appearance and concealment is familiar to Jewish tradition. But the Rabbis go much farther back, and declare that from the time of Judah's marriage, 'God busied Himself with creating the light of the Messiah,' it being significantly added that, 'before the first oppressor [Pharaoh] was born, the final deliverer [Messiah, the son of David] was already born.' In another passage the Messiah is expressly identified with Anani, and therefore represented as pre-existent long before his actual manifestation. The same inference may be drawn from His emphatic designation as the First. Lastly, in Yalkut on Isaiah 60., the words 'In Thy light shall we see light' (Psalm 36:9) are explained as meaning, that this is the light of the Messiah, - the same which God had at the first pronounced to be very good, and which, before the world was created, He had hid beneath the throne of His glory for the Messiah and His age. When Satan asked for whom it was reserved, he was told that it was destined for Him Who would put him to shame, and destroy him. And when, at his request, he was shown the Messiah, he fell on his face and owned, that the Messiah would in the future cast him and the Gentiles into Gehenna Whatever else may be inferred from it, this passage clearly implies not only the pre-existence, but the premundane existence of the Messiah.
But, indeed, it carries us much farther. For, a Messiah, preexistent, in the Presence of God, and destined to subdue Satan and cast him into hell, could not have been regarded as an ordinary man. It is indeed true that, as the history of Elijah, so that of the Messiah is throughout compared with that of Moses, the 'first' with 'the last Redeemer.' As Moses was educated at the court of Pharaoh, so the Messiah dwells in Rome (or Edom) among His enemies. Like Moses He comes, withdraws, and comes again. Like Moses He works deliverance. But here the analogy ceases, for, whereas the redemption by Moses was temporary and comparatively small, that of the Messiah would be eternal and absolute. All the marvels connected with Moses were to be intensified in the Messiah.
The ass on which the Messiah would ride - and this humble estate was only caused by Israel's sin - would be not only that on which Moses had come back to Egypt, but also that which Abraham had used when he went to offer up Isaac, and which had been specially created on the eve of the world's first Sabbath. Similarly, the horns of the ram caught in the thicket, which was offered instead of Isaac, were destined for blowing - the left one by the Almighty on Mount Sinai, the right and larger one by the Messiah, when He would gather the outcasts of Israel (Isaiah 27:13). Again, the 'rod' of the Messiah was that of Aaron, which had budded, blossomed, and burst into fruit; as also that on which Jacob had leaned, and which, through Judah, had passed to all the kings of Israel, till the destruction of the Temple. And so the principle that 'the later Deliverer would be like the first' was carried into every detail. As the first Deliverer brought down the Manna, so the Messiah; as the first Deliverer had made a spring of water to rise, so would the second.
But even this is not all. That the Messiah had, without any instruction, attained to knowledge of God; and that He had received, directly from Him, all wisdom, knowledge, counsel, and grace, is comparatively little, since the same was claimed for Abraham, Job, and Hezekiah. But we are told that, when God showed Moses all his successors, the spirit of wisdom and knowledge in the Messiah equalled that of all the others together. The Messiah would be 'greater than the Patriarchs,' higher than Moses, and even loftier than the ministering Angels. In view of this we can understand, how the Midrash on Psalm 21:3 should apply to the Messiah, in all its literality, that 'God would set His own crown on His head,' and clothe Him with His 'honor and majesty.' It is only consistent that the same Midrash should assign to the Messiah the Divine designations: 'Jehovah is a Man of War,' and 'Jehovah our Righteousness.'
One other quotation, from perhaps the most spiritual Jewish commentary, must be added, reminding us of that outburst of adoring wonder which once greeted Jesus of Nazareth. The passage first refers to the seven garments with which God successively robed Himself - the first of 'honor and glory,' at creation; the second of 'majesty,' at the Red Sea; the third of 'strength,' at the giving of the Law; the fourth 'white,' when He blotteth out the sins of Israel; the fifth of 'zeal,' when He avengeth them of their enemies; the sixth of 'righteousness,' at the time when the Messiah should be revealed; and the seventh 'red,' when He would take vengeance on Edom (Rome).
'But,' continues the commentary, 'the garment with which in the future He will clothe the Messiah, its splendor will extend from one end of the world to the other, as it is written: "As a bridegroom priestly in headgear." And Israel are astounded at His light, and say: Blessed the hour in which the Messiah was created; blessed the womb whence He issued; blessed the generation that sees Him; blessed the eye that is worthy to behold Him; because the opening of His lips is blessing and peace, and His speech quieting of the spirit. Glory and majesty are in His appearance (vesture), and confidence and tranquillity in His words; and on His tongue compassion and forgiveness; His prayer is a sweet-smelling odor, and His supplication holiness and purity. Happy Israel, what is reserved for you! Thus it is written: "How manifold is Thy goodness, which Thou hast reserved to them that fear Thee."' Such a King Messiah might well be represented as sitting at the Right Hand of God, while Abraham was only at His left; nay, as throwing forth His Right Hand, while God stood up to war for Him.
It is not without hesitation, that we make reference to Jewish allusions to the miraculous birth of the Savior. Yet there are two expressions, which convey the idea, if not of superhuman origin, yet of some great mystery attaching to His birth. The first occurs in connection with the birth of Seth. 'Rabbi Tanchuma said, in the name of Rabbi Samuel: Eve had respect [had regard, looked forward] to that Seed which is to come from another place. And who is this? This is Messiah the King.' The second appears in the narrative of the crime of Lot's daughters: ' It is not written "that we may preserve a son from our father," but "seed from our father." This is that seed which is coming from another place. And who is this? This is the King Messiah.'
That a superhuman character attached, if not to the Personality, yet to the Mission of the Messiah, appears from three passages, in which the expression, 'The Spirit of the Lord moved upon the face of the deep,' is thus paraphrased: 'This is the Spirit of the King Messiah.' Whether this implies some activity of the Messiah in connection with creation, or only that, from the first, His Mission was to have a bearing on all creation, it elevates His character and work above every other agency, human or Angelic. And, without pressing the argument, it is at least very remarkable that even the Ineffable Name Jehovah is expressly attributed to the Messiah. The whole of this passage, beginning at p. 147 b, is very curious and deeply interesting. It would lead too far to quote fact becomes the more significant, when we recall that one of the most familiar names of the Messiah was Anani - He Who cometh in the clouds of heaven.
In what has been stated, no reference has been made to the final conquests of Messiah, to His reign with all its wonders, or to the subdual of all nation - in short, to what are commonly called 'the last things.' This will be treated in another connection. Nor is it contented that, whatever individuals may have expected, the Synagogue taught the doctrine of the Divine Personality of the Messiah, as held by the Christian Church.
On the other hand, the cumulative evidence just presented must leave on the mind at least this conviction, that the Messiah expected was far above the conditions of the most exalted of God's servants, even His Angels; in short, so closely bordering on the Divine, that it was almost impossible to distinguish Him therefrom. In such circumstances, it only needed the personal conviction, that He, Who taught and wrought as none other, was really the Messiah, to kindle at His word into the adoring confession, that He was indeed 'the Son of the Living God.' And once that point reached, the mind, looking back through the teaching of the Synagogue, would, with increasing clearness, perceive that, however ill-understood in the past, this had been all along the sum of the whole Old Testament. Thus, we can understand alike the preparedness for, and yet the gradualness of conviction on this point; then, the increasing clearness with which it emerged in the consciousness of the disciples; and, finally, the unhesitating distinctness with which it was put forward as the foundation of Christianity.