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Coin of Simon ben Kosiba, showing the Temple with the Messianic star on the roof and the Ark of the Covenant inside (British Museum)
|The Hebrew word mâšîah means 'anointed one' and may indicate Jewish priests, prophets and kings. During the sixth century BCE, the exiled Jews in Babylonia started to hope for a special Anointed One who was to bring them home; several written prophecies were fulfilled when the Persian king Cyrus the Great did in fact allow them to return. In the second century BCE, the Jews were again suffering from repression, and the old prophecies became relevant again. Some people were looking forward to a military leader who would defeat the Seleucid or Roman enemies and establish an independent Jewish kingdom; others, like the author of the Psalms of Solomon, stated that the Messiah was a charismatic teacher who gave the correct interpretation of Mosaic law, was to restore Israel and would judge mankind. Jesus of Nazareth was considered a Messiah; a century later, Simon bar Kochba. The idea of an eschatological king has been present in Judaism ever since.||
The Messianic Psalms
Micah and Isaiah
From Josiah to Cyrus
The Maccabaean revolt
The Messiah as military leader
The Messiah as sage
The Messiah as high-priest
The 'prophet like Moses'
The 'son of'-titles
The two Messiahs of Qumran
The eschatological king
From Messiah to Christ
Roots of the concept: Micah and IsaiahThe three prophets discussed in this part of this article and the next, Micah, Isaiah and Ezekiel, are not messianic prophets in the strict sense of the word.
and a southern kingdom Judah (capital: Jerusalem). The independence of
Israel came to an end when it was subjected by the Assyrians
in 724 BCE; in Judah, the Davidic dynasty continued to rule until Jerusalem
was taken by the Babylonian
Witness to the fall of the northern kingdom was the prophet Micah, who regarded the destruction of Samaria as God's punishment of the corrupt gentry. He predicted the fall of Jerusalem too, but he also announced the coming of a new David who would restore Israel's fortunes. (As a matter of fact, the king is not called 'from the house of David' in the following quote; the Davidic descent is implied in the new king's birth place Bethlehem.)
But you, Bethlehem in Ephratha, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times. Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor gives birth and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites. He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And he will be their peace.The prophecy was directed against the Assyrians, but in later times the first part of the text was quoted as proof that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. As it happened, the second prophecy was never fulfilled: the Assyrians renewed their attacks, but never were seven commanders sent out against them. It was unnecessary. In 612 BCE, the Assyrians were subjected by the Babylonians and their capitals were destroyed (more).
Hear now, you house of David! [...] The Lord will give you a sign: a young woman will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel ['God with us']. He will eat curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right.It is not known who Isaiah meant with this prophecy. The most likely explanation is that it refers to a son of Ahaz or another prince from the Davidic house. However this may be, in later centuries, the text was understood as messianic and was to play an important role in Christian theology. The text continues with a description of hard times and the return of the ten tribes of Israel under a descendant of David's father Jesse.
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him - the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord, and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash round his waist.After this beautiful poetical image about the future harmony in nature, Isaiah predicts several military victories of this descendant of David, culminating in the return of all exiled Jews and the restoration of Israel. This is remarkably similar to the prophecies of Micah.
Two final remarks should be made. (1) These texts were not messianic; but later generations interpreted them as such. (2) The motif of the 'branch' was common in the ancient Near East. It can also be found in Jeremiah 23.5-6.
'The days are coming,' declares the Lord, 'when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a king who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land.'It is not clear when these lines were written -they may have been added in the days of Zerubbabel-, but it is clear that the 'branch' was understood to be a descendant of David.
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