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Monday, February 1, 2016

Messianic Prophecy –Abraham, Judah

The Messiah in the Old Testament –Abraham, Judah

            In his book The Messiah in the Old Testament, Walter Kaiser, of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, notes 8 promises God made to Abraham.[i]  The seventh of these was that through Abraham, God would bless all the peoples of the earth (Genesis 12:3; 18:18; 22:18).  Kaiser feels this promise points to the heart of the Gospel.  Salvation comes as a gift given by God apart from human works.[ii]  In Galatians 3:8 & Romans 4:10-12, the Apostle Paul looks to this early expression of the Gospel in Abraham’s life.  The Messiah – Jesus – fulfills this promise by overcoming the divide between Jews (the Chosen People) and the gentiles (those without knowledge of God). 
            I find Kaiser’s identification of the anticipated Messiah in the promises made to Abraham to be very convincing.  The continuity from Genesis 3:15 and “the seed,” born of woman t0 Abraham to the promise to Jesus and then to Paul’s discourse on Jesus is easy for me to accept. 
I am not as inclined to follow Kaiser’s assertion that Abraham knew God would raise Isaac or provide a substitute when God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son (Genesis 22).[iii] I think for our ancestors in the faith, things were not as settled as for us with the benefit of hindsight.  I don’t know what Abraham knew or believed when he took Isaac up Moriah to be a human sacrifice.  That story is problematic and I find that it is unhelpful to try to dampen the cruelty and the lack of moral clarity in that story.  But it is quite easy to see the birth of a Messianic hope in the promise to Abraham. 
            This Abrahamic promise is specified four generations later when his great, great grandson Joseph is giving blessing to his 12 sons.  Jacob reserves the most important blessing not for the oldest, but for the fourth son, Judah. 

             Genesis 49:8-12New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons shall bow down before you.
Judah is a lion’s whelp; from the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He crouches down, he stretches out like a lion,
    like a lioness—who dares rouse him up?
10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and the obedience of the peoples is his.
11 Binding his foal to the vine and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine, he washes his garments in wine and his robe in the blood of grapes; 12 his eyes are darker than wine, and his teeth whiter than milk.

            The key word in this prophecy from Genesis 48 is in verse 10, ‘shiloh’ (translated ‘tribute’ in the NRSV).  This Hebrew word, based upon its usage in Ezekiel, means his ‘due,’ or that which is ‘rightfully his.’  Based on understanding ‘shiloh,’ this way, Kaiser understands Genesis 48:10 to mean Judah will govern until the Messiah comes at which point the Messiah (Jesus) will rule the world.[iv]  This is why we call Him King of Kings and Lord of the Lords.  The roots of this idea reach all the way back to Genesis and the constituting of the nation of Israel.

[i] W. Kaiser (1995).  The Messiah in the Old Testament.  Zondervan Publishing (Grand Rapids), p.46.
[ii] Ibid, p.47.
[iii] Ibid, p.50.
[iv] Ibid, p. 53.

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