Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Bethlehem Baby: Our Salvation and Peace; the Rabbis’ Headache

 What do the Rabbis say about the birthplace of the Messiah? The Gospel of Matthew claims that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the city of David:

  • After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him." (Matthew 2:1-2)
The Rabbis also had affirmed – and even the common people (John 7:41-42) - that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. When Herod was informed that the Magi were seeking to worship this newly born “King of the Jews,” he was greatly disturbed and consulted with the “chief priests and teachers of the law” about the child’s whereabouts (Mat, 2:4-6). They recited to Herod the evidently well-known prophecy about the birthplace of Messiah:

  • "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” [“everlasting;” KJV]. (Micah 5:2)
However, the present-day Rabbis do not agree with this assessment, although they acknowledge that, “This verse refers to the Messiah, a descendent of David” (Gerald Sigal, The Jew and the Christian Missionary, 76). Nevertheless, Sigal doesn’t believe that the Messiah will necessarily be born in this town:

  • The text does not necessarily mean the Messiah will be born in that town, but that his family originates from there. (76)
There are many problems with Sigal’s claim. For one thing, he offers no evidence for it. Secondly, the Micah verse literally tells us that “out of you” will come forth the Messiah, not David’s family! To claim instead that this is a reference, not to the Messiah, but to David’s family is not at all prophetic of what “will” happen. Besides, this prophecy indicates that the one who will come out of Bethlehem “will be ruler over Israel.” This can not be referring to David’s entire family. Instead, it would be redundant if Micah was merely saying that the family of David comes from Bethlehem – something everyone already knew.

Perhaps worst of all, Sigal contradicts the ancient authorities who informed Herod that the Messiah Himself would be born in Bethlehem.  For the priests, Bethlehem was not merely the home of His ancestors, but His very birth place.

Sigal then denies that this verse points to Messiah’s pre-existence:

  • From the ancient family of the house of David will come forth the Messiah, whose eventual existence was known to God from the beginning of time. (76)
Notice, Sigal doesn’t say that the Messiah’s existence was from “the beginning of time,” but rather that God omnisciently knew of Him from “the beginning of time.” However, whichever English translation we go with – “from ancient times” (NIV) or “from eternity” (KJV) – Micah informs us that Messiah’s “origins are from of old, from ancient times” and clearly pre-existent! Micah gives absolutely no support to Sigal’s contention that God merely knew of the Messiah “from of old.”

Sigal also quibbles that that only Matthew and Luke state unequivocally that Jesus was born in Bethlehem:

  • This is highly unusual and leads one to suspect that John did not agree with the assertion that Jesus was a Bethlehemite. He lets stand the opposing assertion that Jesus was really of Galilean origin (John 1:46, 7:41) (76)
However, the silence of the Gospels of John and Mark in regards to “Bethlehem” does not support Sigal’s charge that the Gospels do “not agree with the assertion that Jesus was a Bethlehemite.” Clearly, both Gospels weren’t concerned about providing another account of Jesus’ birth, as they both began their Gospels with John the Baptist’s ministry.

Sigal concludes:

  • In any case, being born in Bethlehem is of dubious value in establishing messianic credentials for Jesus. So many essential messianic qualities, as found in the Prophets, were not fulfilled by Jesus, that having been born in Bethlehem would be of no consequence whatsoever. (77)
Although Sigal doesn’t mention what these “essential messianic qualities” might be, judging from other Rabbinic writings, he probably was referring to the fact that Jesus had not established the promised messianic kingdom of peace and righteousness as had been prophesied (Isaiah 9:6-7)

In general, today’s Rabbis fail to acknowledge the two very distinct, Scriptural messianic portraits. One portrait prophesies that the Messiah would die for the sins of the people (Isaiah 52-53; Daniel 9:24-26; Psalm 22, 40, 69, 16, 2; Zech. 12:10). The other portrays the establishment of an everlasting kingdom (Isaiah 11:1-10)

However, the ancient Rabbis were aware of both portraits. The Babylonian Talmud (“sukkah”) even recognizes the possibility of two separate Messiahs, in order to explain these two divergent portraits:

  1. Messiah Ben Joseph (the suffering Messiah) Zech. 12:10: "And I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him, like the bitter weeping over a first-born.”
  1. Messiah Ben David (the conquering Messiah) Psalm 2:7-8: "I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD: “He said to Me, 'Thou art My Son, Today I have begotten Thee. Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Thine inheritance, and the very ends of the earth as Thy possession.’”
I love the way Micah’s prophecy concludes: “And he will be their peace” (Micah 5:5). As so many other messianic prophecies state, He will not only set up an everlasting righteous kingdom, but He Himself will be our righteousness (Jer. 23:6; Isaiah 45:24-25; 54:17; 61:10; Dan. 9:24). The endless and depressing struggle to prove ourselves to both God and man has ended! “It is finished!”

Monday, November 26, 2012

Sexism Rocks as Long as the Rock Fits into our Cultural Mosaic

Hypocrisy also rocks, or at least, it’s winked at. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg remarked at the 10th Circuit Bench & Bar Conference there will be enough women on the Supreme Court when all nine justices are female:

  • “So now the perception is, yes, women are here to stay. And when I’m sometimes asked when will there be enough [women on the Supreme Court]? And I say when there are nine, people are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that,” she said.
Meanwhile, if Justice Antonin Scalia had stated, “All the justices should be men,” he would understandably be tarred and feathered. How can Ginsberg inspire any confidence as a Supreme Court justice and a representative of justice with such a sexist agenda? Such language can only increase the polarization and fragmentation of the West. Even now, several states have introduced bills of succession from the Union.

What then makes certain forms of sexism acceptable and other forms not? Hypocrisy!

Some argue that past sexism justifies present sexism to compensate. However, the answer to sexism isn’t more sexism. Penalizing today’s males for the advantages accrued by past males isn’t justice; it’s victimization fueled by bitterness and jealousy.

While our universities, media and government trumpet their adherence to principles of truth, justice, equality and diversity – and these are principles around which we can all congregate – we are left wondering about their true motivating principles. Perhaps we need to prayer as Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni had just done:

  • “I stand here today to close the evil past, and especially in the last 50 years of our national leadership history and at the threshold of a new dispensation in the life of this nation. I stand here on my own behalf and on behalf of my predecessors to repent. We ask for your forgiveness…We confess these sins, which have greatly hampered our national cohesion and delayed our political, social and economic transformation. We confess sins of idolatry and witchcraft which are rampant in our land. We confess sins of shedding innocent blood, sins of political hypocrisy, dishonesty, intrigue and betrayal.”

Righteousness and Prayer Exalt a Nation even if many Don’t Agree

How far should our concept of “separation of church and state” take us? Should a president never mention anything about his personal faith? If so, then almost every politician has violated this principle. But should a president lead his nation in prayer? Evidently, the Ugandan president thinks that this is legitimate, even necessary:

  • The Ugandan newssite New Vision reports President Yoweri Museveni celebrated Uganda’s 50th anniversary of independence from Britain at the National Jubilee Prayers event by publicly repenting of his personal sin and the sins of the nation.
  • “I stand here today to close the evil past, and especially in the last 50 years of our national leadership history and at the threshold of a new dispensation in the life of this nation. I stand here on my own behalf and on behalf of my predecessors to repent. We ask for your forgiveness,” Museveni prayed.
  • “We confess these sins, which have greatly hampered our national cohesion and delayed our political, social and economic transformation. We confess sins of idolatry and witchcraft which are rampant in our land. We confess sins of shedding innocent blood, sins of political hypocrisy, dishonesty, intrigue and betrayal,” Museveni said.
  • “Forgive us of sins of pride, tribalism and sectarianism; sins of laziness, indifference and irresponsibility; sins of corruption and bribery that have eroded our national resources; sins of sexual immorality, drunkenness and debauchery; sins of unforgiveness, bitterness, hatred and revenge; sins of injustice, oppression and exploitation; sins of rebellion, insubordination, strife and conflict,” Museveni prayed.
Admittedly, I find Museveni’s pray so utterly refreshing and needful. But doesn’t such a prayer represent the establishment of a national religion? Clearly not! President Obama had Pastor Rick Warren pray at his commencement. In fact, Congress has never made a move to remove congressional prayer!

But wouldn’t such a prayer marginalize some of Uganda’s citizens? I’m sure it would! However, feelings of marginalization aren’t always measures of truth. Besides, doesn’t every presidential proclamation marginalize someone? Isn’t someone going to feel offended or slighted? Of course!

I certainly felt very marginalized in High School, having to attend their assemblies and pep rallies. I had felt that these “sacred” assemblies disaffirmed everything that I was about. I felt deeply offended – even before I could put it into the correct verbal form – having to mindlessly spout “Yea team,” when I didn’t care at all whether they won or lost.

Was the school wrong for coercing me to participate in behavior contrary to my honest inclinations? I see things differently now. Schools can only survive and fulfill their mandate if they have the authority to enforce a certain degree of conformity. Should the pep rally have been part of this mandate? I don’t think so, but I must admit that if the school enforced the program of my choice – “Why Christianity should be Banned” (at least, that’s the way I felt at that time) – others would have been offended. Besides, this programming wouldn’t have helped the school fulfill its mandate.

Well then, how are nations to fulfill their mandate to serve their citizenry? As a Christian, I think that there can be no better example than Museveni’s pray. This is the best way to acknowledge our need for Divine help and to position ourselves to receive it. It’s also the best way to pursue the welfare of our countrymen, even those who would oppose such a prayer.

Not everyone will approve of Museveni’s pray; nor should we expect otherwise in a democratic society. However, Ugandans mustn’t say “He has no right to invoke his faith in national matters.” After all, our faith and values govern almost all of our decisions. Instead, they have the ballot box, but before they cast their ballot, they should consider their own welfare – whether they have benefited under Museveni’s presidency.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Hypocrisy or Indoctrination: The Choice is Yours

These kinds of lawsuits have become very common and are symptomatic of the insanity that is now overtaking the West:

  • At issue is legislation passed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. A 2002 “legislative finding” said the “safety and security of the commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God.”
Does the First Amendment to our Constitution prohibit the use of such words or this expression of faith in the “Almighty God?”

Hardly! The “separation clause” merely reads:

  • Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
Does this clause - Almighty God - represent the “establishment of religion?” According to the American Atheists, it does:

  • “This new legislation should not be swept under the ceremonial deism rug, especially as it ostracizes atheists from politics,” wrote Kagin, the national legal director for American Atheists, in his petition to the U.S. Supreme Court. He was referring to the legal doctrine that a passing reference to God in official statements does not amount to a religious endorsement.
However, if this clause represents a violation of the First Amendment, so too does every single one of our 50 State constitutions, all of which mention God. For instance, the New Jersey 1844, Preamble to their constitution reads:

  • We, the people of the State of New Jersey, grateful to Almighty God for civil and religious liberty which He hath so long permitted us to enjoy, and looking to Him for a blessing on our endeavors.
However, on a deeper more important level, the position that the American Atheists are taking is incoherent. Almost every politician and even those who have brought this suit mention their source of trust. They mention this trust in a variety of ways, but it all comes down to an alternative faith:

  1. “I trust in the character and will of the American people.”
  2. “We need to trust in ourselves.”
  3. “Trust in science.”
  4.  “Using technology wisely, we can control our environment, conquer poverty, markedly reduce disease, extend our life-span, significantly modify our behavior, alter the course of human evolution and cultural development, unlock vast new powers, and provide humankind with unparalleled opportunity for achieving an abundant and meaningful life.” (The Humanist Manifesto II)
These are no less religious statements that statements that recommend a trust in God. If this is the case – and it clearly is – then the admonishment to trust in self is no less religious than the admonishment to trust in God. Therefore, if it is illegitimate to say “trust in God,” then it is also illegitimate to say, “trust in yourself” or “trust in science and humanity.” In other words, “We can express our faith, but your expression of faith is forbidden.”

We need to inquire why it is now OK to deify self or science, while it’s not OK to deify the Deity Himself. Is this hypocrisy or the product of a calculated strategy to close down both voice and mind of the opposition? The choice is yours.

A Virgin shall Conceive but not according to the Rabbis

"Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," which is translated, “God with us." (Matthew 1:23)

Arguably, Isaiah 7:14, prophesying a “virgin” giving birth, is the most contested verse in the Old Testament. Although Matthew unequivocally states that this prophecy was fulfilled by the birth of the Messiah, the Hebrew Scriptures seem to indicate that there was a fulfillment during the life of King Ahaz. Although this might seem like a contradiction, these two perspectives can be reconciled using the understanding of a “double fulfillment.” In other words, it was fulfilled initially for King Ahaz, and then it was fulfilled decisively through the birth of Jesus.

The Book of Matthew requires us to understand Isaiah 7:14 as a prophecy fulfilled by the birth of the Messiah Jesus to the Virgin Mary. However, the Rabbis raise four potent challenges against this interpretation:

1.      There is no imperative to take "Immanuel" ("God with us" in the Hebrew) as a description of the "child" as Christianity insists on understanding it – God actually with us in Jesus Christ. Instead, the Rabbis insist that "Immanuel" is merely a name like Daniel or Nathaniel ("El" always means "God" in Hebrew) and not a description of the nature of the person.

2.      The Rabbis correctly assert that the Hebrew word "almah," translated as "virgin" in Isaiah 7:14, can also be translated as "young maiden."  Furthermore, if Isaiah had wanted to unequivocally say "virgin," he could have used the unequivocal word, "betulah," in this context, not the equivocal “almah.” “Betulah” always means “virgin.”[1]

3.      The prophecy of 7:14 was given to King Ahaz (ca. 735 BC) as a divine sign of what God had promised him – that the two northern kings, Pekah (Israel) and Rezin (Syria), who were threatening his own nation of Judah, would soon be destroyed (Isaiah 7:1-16). The birth of Jesus, which took place over 700 years later, couldn't possibly have been a sign for Ahaz.

4.      Isaiah's prophecy seems to have already been fulfilled by the birth of his son. Isaiah had prophesied to Ahaz that the promised events of the demise of Damascus (Syria) and Samaria (the Northern kingdom of Israel) would precede the sign-child’s maturation:

·             “Curds and honey He shall eat, that He may know to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the Child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that you dread will be forsaken by both her kings” (Isaiah 7:15-16).

This same prophecy seems to be reiterated shortly afterwards when Isaiah’s wife gives birth to their own child, Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz:

·             “Then I [Isaiah] went to the prophetess, and she conceived and bore a son. Then the Lord said to me, ‘Call his name Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz; for before the child shall have knowledge to cry 'My father' and 'My mother,' the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be taken away before the king of Assyria’" (Isa. 8:3-4).

Here again, we find the same two elements—the destruction of both Damascus and Samaria preceding the child’s maturation. This seems to indicate that the prophecy had already been fulfilled 700 years before Christ. Therefore, by applying this prophecy to the birth of Christ and “illegitimately manipulating” Hebrew Scripture into saying what it never intended to say, the Christian has hidden behind an imaginative and self-serving invention.

Let's start with the last challenge first. If the birth of Isaiah's son had already fulfilled Isaiah 7:14, then this is a clear case of a multiple fulfillment. This concept suggests that a single prophetic message is sometimes fulfilled at different times and in slightly different ways. It acknowledges that the final fulfillment is often preceded by types, representations, or symbols. This is clearly visible in the New Testament, which understands the entire sacrificial system, with its holidays and offerings, as pre-figurements of Christ. But do the Hebrew Scriptures also provide evidence of this type of foreshadowing – that prophecies and objects are often pre-figurements or types of some ultimate realities yet to be revealed? Yes! For example, the prophet Zechariah sees the broken, assailed high priest Joshua as a type of the One to come.

·             “Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to oppose him. 2And the Lord said to Satan, ‘The Lord rebuke you, Satan...Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?’ Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and was standing before the Angel. Then He answered and spoke to those who stood before Him, saying, ‘Take away the filthy garments from him.’ And to him He said, ‘See, I have removed your iniquity from you, and I will clothe you with rich robes.’ And I said, ‘Let them put a clean turban on his head…Hear, O Joshua, the high priest, you and your companions who sit before you, for they are a wondrous sign; for behold, I am bringing forth My Servant the BRANCH…And I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day’” (Zech. 3:1-9).

This passage abounds in pre-figurements and types. Joshua and his companions are symbolic of what the Lord will ultimately do through the Messiah. The filthy garments are symbolic of the sins that God will remove “in one day!” This removal serves as a pre-figurement of a justification by grace through faith alone. Joshua was certainly sin-stained. God never corrected the damning accusations of Satan. They were probably true, but the righteous God did something Satan could never understand. He would remove sin through the undisclosed work of a mysterious individual, “the BRANCH!”

The identity of the “Branch” becomes clearer three chapters later where Zechariah is given another assignment regarding Joshua in his symbolic role:

·             “Take the silver and gold, make an elaborate crown, and set it on the head of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Then speak to him, saying, 'Thus says the Lord of hosts, saying: ‘Behold, the Man whose name is the BRANCH! From His place He shall branch out, and He shall build the temple of the Lord. Yes, He shall build the temple of the Lord. He shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule on His throne; so He shall be a priest on His throne’’” (Zech. 6:11-13).

This passage is also replete with types and symbols. A crown is placed upon the head of Joshua, ostensibly making this priest a king! However, Joshua never actually became a king nor was he supposed to. Israel already had a civil magistrate, Zerubbabel. If Joshua had become king, this would have brought him into direct conflict with Zerubbabel. However, we have no evidence that this ever happened. From all indications, they worked harmoniously together to build the Temple. Furthermore, a separation of powers had been strictly instituted in Israel. A priest couldn’t become a king and a king couldn’t become a priest. Only the Messiah was worthy of occupying both posts (Psalm 110). God was revealing through Joshua that He would ultimately bring the two offices together through the glorious BRANCH who would “sit and rule on His throne.” Thus, Joshua was merely a type or pre-figurement of Someone greater, who would ultimately fulfill the type.

Are we confronted with something similar in Isaiah 7? Could Isaiah’s child be a sign of a more glorious Child? Isaiah says as much!

·             “Here am I (Isaiah) and the children whom the Lord has given me! We are for signs and wonders in Israel from the Lord of hosts, who dwells in Mount Zion” (8:18).

Of what were they signs? Could Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz have prefigured the Messiah as Joshua did? The narratives regarding Joshua clearly point to a Person beyond Joshua. Does the Isaiah passage point beyond Isaiah’s son? To answer this question, it is imperative that we regard the broader context (Chaps. 7-12), where we find the same elements of the “Immanuel” prophecy recapitulated. These related narratives serve to place flesh and bones upon the original prophecy.

The term "Immanuel" (the conjunction of two very common words: "Immanu", with us; and "El", God) appears only three times in Hebrew Scripture. The first instance is found in Isaiah 7:14. The other two instances are both found in the next chapter. This alone would suggest that the three instances are related in Isaiah's mind (and in God’s)! Additionally, all three uses are unusual, provocative and thematically related.

"Immanuel" is encountered for the second time after a description of what Assyria will do to Judah after Assyria swallows up Syria (“Damascus,” “Aram”) and Israel (“Ephraim”) in 721 BC.

·             “Now therefore, behold, the Lord brings up over them the waters of the River, strong and mighty--the king of Assyria and all his glory; he will go up over all his channels And go over all his banks. He will pass through Judah, he will overflow and pass over, he will reach up to the neck; and the stretching out of his wings will fill the breadth of Your land, O Immanuel” [or “God with us”] (Isa. 8:7-8).

Assyria would conquer Judah "up to the neck" (8:8). This probably refers to Assyria's unsuccessful siege of Jerusalem in 701 BC, which was terminated when the angel of the Lord "put to death 185,000 men in the Assyrian camp" (37:36). The prophecy ends with the ejaculation, "O Immanuel,” seemingly an outcry for help to the same individual of 7:14.[2] However, in this latter context, Immanuel seems to be more than a mere human! It would be ridiculous to cry for help to a human in such a hopeless situation. Assyria’s victory had seemed assured without miraculous intervention. However, it was this very intervention that turned the tide.

The third instance of "Immanuel" is more striking. In the next two verses, Isaiah 8:9-10, a warning is issued against Assyria and the nations it had overwhelmed and incorporated within the Assyrian army:

·             "Be shattered, O you peoples, and be broken in pieces! Give ear, all you from far countries. Gird yourselves, but be broken in pieces; gird yourselves, but be broken in pieces. Take counsel together, but it will come to nothing; speak the word, but it will not stand, for God is with us [“Immanuel” in the Hebrew]" (8:9-10).

Despite the overwhelming superiority of the Assyrian army, it would not succeed against the wobbling and panic-stricken Jerusalem ("the neck") for one simple reason -- "for God is with us" (the third instance of "Immanuel")! What started out as a cry for help (8:8) now became a declaration of triumph (8:10)! "Immanuel" is clearly the cause of this triumph. Reading the account of the destruction of the Assyrian army (Isaiah 36-39), it is clear that "Immanuel" can't pertain to Hezekiah, nor to any mere mortal. "Immanuel" (appropriately translated here as "God is with us") holds the destiny of nations within His hands. It's interesting to observe that English translations justifiably render the Hebrew as "God is with us" rather than simply "Immanuel," which consistency among the two prior instances would ordinarily demand. These translators correctly understood that it would be God Himself who would oppose Assyria!

To suggest that these three "Immanuels" represent three different people is more than sound interpretation will bear, especially since they are all found in the same Biblical proximity. The more natural interpretation demands that the same titles or names pertain to the same person, God Himself!  Furthermore, this individual appears to be both human (a "child") and Divine! This conclusion will be born out as we track this “child” Immanuel in two subsequent and related contexts – Isaiah 9:6-7; 11:1-12.
Let's now look at another concept found in 7:14, which is also recapitulated within the context of chapters 7 through 12 and serves to unify them. This is the concept of the birth of a child:[3]
·             “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace here will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever…” (Isa. 9:6-7).

This prophecy is not only related to 7:14 by virtue of a birth of a special child, but also by divine names. In 7:14, we encountered a divine name or description designating a child. In 9:6 we encounter four divine titles. I don't say "names" because at this point, it should be clear that these can't be mere names – not all four! – but rather descriptive titles of the Child.[4] These four titles contain eight words—too cumbersome for actual names. It would be like naming a child “Anthony Robert Spencer Alan Thomas Arthur Andrew Timothy.” 

The first title, "Wonderful Counselor" ("Pele Yoetz" in Hebrew), is clearly divine. "Pele" might better have been translated "awesome" because this term only refers to God or to the wonders He miraculously brings into existence (for example, Exo. 15:11; Dan. 12:6).

"Mighty God" ("El Gibor") is also clearly a divine designation because "El" as a free-standing word always refers to God. In addition to this, note that "Immanu El" of 7:14 also carries the free-standing "El" (along with 8:8 and 8:10), establishing another parallel with 7:14. This also serves to rule against "Immanu El" as merely being a name as the Rabbis propose, instead of a description.

"Everlasting Father" is also a divine designation. Who can be everlasting apart from God Himself? Even "Prince of Peace" seems to be a divine reference, for it is God Himself who brings peace Lev. 26:6; Num. 6:26; 25:12). Jewish interpreters want to understand these divine names as mere reminders that it is God who is performing His works through this child. However, it is this very Child who is called these descriptive titles. Nowhere does the text suggest that He is given these divine titles in remembrance of God![5]

It strains credulity to say that the "child" of Isaiah 9:6 is different from the "child" of Isaiah 7:14. As the "Immanu El" of Isaiah 7:14 (8:8, 10) will reign supreme, so too will the "El Gibor" of  Isaiah 9:6. Are we looking at two reigning Deities or at one? The child of Isaiah 9:6 will set up a kingdom with “no end!” This leaves little room for any other divine children or kingdoms. There can only be One!

The context is not complete without chapter 11,[6] where we find another allusion to the Child:

·             “There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots. The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord. His delight is in the fear of the Lord, and He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes, nor decide by the hearing of His ears; but with righteousness He shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He shall slay the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of His loins, and faithfulness the belt of His waist. The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb… They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:1-9).

Here we find an enlargement of the portrait established earlier. We find the Child, at long last, reigning in His own kingdom. However, in chapter 11 this child is referred to with slightly different terms. Here He is a "Rod" and a "Branch," born from the "stump of Jesse" (11.1), the father of King David. Unmistakably, this is the same Child who "will reign upon the throne of David and over his kingdom" (9:7).

Other parallels are also clear. Both kingdoms "will have no end" (9:7), an idea which is expressed in Isaiah11:9. Both kingdoms will entail the establishment of "justice and righteousness" (9:6; compare with 11:3-5) and endless "peace" (9:7; 11:6-9). We are therefore beholding the same kingdom in both chapters.

The chapters build upon one another. In addition to the above elaborations upon the initial prophetic germ, the four divine titles (9:6; and the fifth of 7:14) seem to receive an expanded treatment in chapter 11: "Wonderful counselor" in Isaiah 11:2-5; "Prince of Peace" in Isaiah11:6-9. (Perhaps "El Gibor" and "Everlasting Father" are reflected within the entire prophecy of chapter 11 and the prayer of chapter 12.) These parallels each serve to demonstrate that these prophecies are closely related. If this is the case, then one prophecy is illuminated and enhanced by the others, and we must attempt to understand "Immanu El" and “child” (7:14) in a way that accords with the other above-mentioned prophecies.

The seed of a prophecy that Isaiah proclaimed in Isaiah 7:14, and enlarged in Isaiah 8:6-10, and then again in Isaiah 9:6-7, he trumpets out in chapter 11. This child is indeed the cause of all the world's rejoicing and it is only natural that this great revelation should culminate in a song of praise (chap. 12).
Isaiah’s song (chapter 12) has several interesting characteristics. There are three references to "salvation" (12:2-3; "Yeshua" in Hebrew), calling to mind Jesus’ likely Hebrew name:

·             Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; For Yah, the Lord, is my strength and song; He also has become my salvation. Therefore with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. (Isaiah 12:2-3)

Also, the chapter concludes with "the Holy One of Israel in your midst" (12:6). This seems to be a play on the similar "God with us" ("Immanu El"). The words are different but the theme is the same. All of this suggests that chapters 7 through 12 must be regarded together, as an inseparable prophetic utterance.

If  Isaiah 7:14 is part of a greater prophecy (chapters 7-12), then this verse must be understood within the context of this entire unified prophecy. Any word or phrase needs the context of the sentence, paragraph, and story to be truly understood. Understanding "Immanu El" as merely a human child who was born during the reign of King Ahaz fails to correctly interpret Isaiah 7:14 in its broader context. This is an interpretive failure that an unbiased eye would not make.

Many years before the advent of the Christ, the Rabbis translated the Hebrew Bible, including Isaiah, into Greek for the Jewish world of the Diaspora.  Hence, they had to confront Isaiah 7:14. If "almah" is equivocal and could be translated by either "virgin" or "young maiden," the Rabbis had an important choice to make.[7] If they translated it as "young maiden," it meant that they understood that the prophecy had been fulfilled in its totality at the time of Ahaz. If they translated "almah" as "virgin," then they understood that this referred to a miraculous birth that had not yet taken place, a fulfillment which was still awaiting its day. They translated "almah" as "parthenos" in the Greek, a term that unequivocally means "virgin!"[8] In light of this, Matthew was simply walking in the expectation of the Rabbis when he applied this prophecy to the birth of the Messiah, Yeshua.

Let's return to the third objection of the Rabbis--that the birth of Jesus (Yeshua) couldn't possibly be a sign for Ahaz, to whom the prophecy was addressed. However, a closer look at the text shows that the prophecy wasn't intended for Ahaz alone. The entire "house of David" was in view.

·             “Then he said, ‘Hear now, O house of David! Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord Himself will give you (plural) a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel’” (7:13-14).          

Isaiah recognized that the audience for his prophecy went beyond Ahaz. His message transcended its temporal boundaries, and he knew it! The prophecies constituted a sign of something far greater (8:18).

There is another reason why neither Hezekiah nor Isaiah's son could have fulfilled 7:14 in its entirety. A natural birth is hardly a “sign” (7:14). Young maidens are giving birth all of the time. There is nothing unusual about this, nothing that would have the persuasive weight to confirm a seemingly improbable prophecy. Only an unusual birth, a virgin birth, would constitute a legitimate sign, although an embarrassing one for the virgin herself. [9]

Clearly, this prophecy reaches beyond the person and time of Ahaz. In many ways it points to a divine Person standing at the headwaters of history, to a Person who holds the destiny of Israel in His hand. In the strongest terms, it cries out that this is the One for whom Israel has been waiting, the One who would fulfill all the promises of God seated upon "David's throne" (9:7). It would be this Child who would set up an everlasting kingdom (9:7, 11:9) in which there would be no end to peace and the knowledge of the Lord. Although there was a type or a shadow of fulfillment in Ahaz's time, the ultimate fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14 awaited the birth of our Messiah.

[1] Gerald Sigal, The Jew and the Christian Missionary: A Jewish Response to Missionary Christianity (New York: KTAV, 1981), 23. Citing Lev. 21:14; Deut. 22:15-19, 23, 28, Sigal argues that “betulah” unequivocally means “virgin.” However, this doesn’t seem to be the case: “Lament like a virgin [“betulah”] girded with sackcloth for the husband of her youth” (Joel 1:8). Virgins don’t have husbands!

[2] Even if this appearance of “Immanuel” doesn’t represent a cry for help, it does plainly demonstrate that “Immanuel” is a significant figure in the history of Israel.

[3] It would make perfect sense to examine the other passages in the Book of Isaiah where “almah” (7:14, “virgin”) is found. However, this is its only occurrence!

[4] Douglas Pyle, What the Rabbonim Say about Messiah (self-published, 2008) 25-26. Rambam (Maimonides, 1135-12-4) in “Letter to Yemen” ascribes these names to Messiah. Midrash Rabbah Deuteronomy (9th century AD) also ascribes this passage to the Messiah, along with other ancient Jewish commentators.

[5] Complete Tanach with Rashi, Commentary on Isaiah, CD ROM (Chicago: IL:Davka Corp.) Although many early Jewish commentators regard this passage as Messianic, Rashi (1040-1105) attributes the “son” to Ahaz’s son, King Hezekiah. Consequently, the divine names can’t refer to the “son.” However, this verse actually reads “and his [the “son’s”] name will be called…”

[6] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (McLean, Va: McDonald Publishing Co.), 723. Edersheim writes, “Isaiah 11, as readily will be believed, is Messianically interpreted in Jewish writings.”

[7] It should be noted that in each of the other six appearances of “almah” in the Hebrew Scriptures –         Genesis 24:43; Exodus 2:8; Psalm 68:25; Proverbs 30:19; Song 1:3; Song 6:8 – there is no compelling reason to not translate it as “virgin.” However, in the midst of my debate with Rabbi Yossi Mizrachi (, he argued that Proverbs 30:19 requires “young maiden”:

“There are three things which are too wonderful for me, yes, four which I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the air, the way of a serpent on a rock, the way of a ship in the midst of the sea, and the way of a man with a virgin” (or “young maiden”). (Proverbs 30:18-19)

Mizrachi argued that since the “eagle in the air,” the “serpent,” and the “ship” do not leave a sign that they had been there, likewise, the “young maiden” wouldn’t have left a bloody sign since she wasn’t a virgin. However, this interpretation entirely ignores the context! For one thing, this verse does not envision the “man” having sex with a “maiden.” For another thing, the four phenomena can be united in other ways more suitable to the context. It is more likely that Proverbs points to the writer’s fascination or “wonderment” with these four phenomena, in which case, “Virgin” be would a fitting translation.

[8] Sigal, 24. Sigal points to one instance in the Septuagint (LXX) where “parthenos” used to translate the Hebrew “naarah” (“young woman” in English):  Genesis 34:3: “…he [Shechem] loved the young woman (“naarah” in the Hebrew; “parthenos” in the LXX) and spoke kindly to the young woman (“naarah;” “parthenos” in the LXX). Sigal writes, “Here there is no controversy as to Dinah’s physical state [She had just been raped]! She was definitely not a virgin, yet the Greek word for ‘virgin’ (parthenos) is used.” However, the translators of the Hebrew Bible might have purposely used “parthenos” to emphasize the fact that Dinah had just been a virgin just minutes before Shechem’s odious crime?

[9] Sigal, 24. Against this understanding, Gerald Sigal protests that the Hebrew word for sign (“ot”) “pertains to a fulfillment of an event that is to take place in the near future…” However, even though he is correct for the most part, Sigal overstates his case. This term also designates long-lasting signs (Gen. 1:14; 9:12; Exodus 31:17; Joshua 4:6; Isaiah 55:13).

Friday, November 23, 2012

Doing Science: Are Christians too Locked into their own Beliefs?

A letter to a secularist/atheist:

First of all, let me respond to your charge that Christianity is a science-killer. On the contrary, it is Christianity that had provided the motivation and the presuppositions to investigate God’s creation. According to British scientist Robert Clark:

  • “However we may interpret the fact, scientific development has only occurred in Christian culture. The ancients had brains as good as ours. In all civilizations—Babylonia, Egypt, Greece, India, Rome, Persia, China and so on—science developed to a certain point and then stopped. It is easy to argue speculatively that, perhaps, science might have been able to develop in the absence of Christianity, but in fact, it never did. And no wonder. For the non-Christian world believed that there was something ethically wrong about science. In Greece, this conviction was enshrined in the legend of Prometheus, the fire-bearer and prototype scientist who stole fire from heaven, thus incurring the wrath of the gods.” ("Christian Belief and Science," quoted by Henry F. Schaefer, 14)
Christianity had providentially provided just the right presuppositions for the investigation of this word:

  1. A God who wants to be known and understood
  2. A God who values order
  3. A God who creates and operates by discoverable laws or principles
  4. A God who doesn’t change and therefore laws that do not change
  5. A God who encourages us to seek for wisdom and gives wisdom and knowledge to bless us
  6. A world that is not illusory, but one that is “very good” and worth understanding rather than transcending
  7. A world that was created by wisdom and not be chance – consequently, there are mysteries that are discoverable
  8. A world that we are directed to care for by first understanding it
Interestingly, secularism profitably partakes of the Christian presuppositions although its worldview cannot affirm them:

  1. Secularism has no rational foundation to believe in understanding and wisdom, just brain chemical reactions.
  2. Secularism has no basis to believe in truth, order and continuity in a world of molecules-in-motion, but relies upon the unchanging nature of the laws of physics, even though it lacks the presuppositions to account for such things.
  3. Secularism is committed to chance and non-design. Such presuppositions may prove highly unfruitful. It has committed much money and resources to the proposition that proteins and DNA self-assembled (along with the cell and life). However, there is not one stitch of evidence that a protein has ever self-assembled. However, their worldview requires them to go in this direction. One scientist put it this way: “The mathematical probability that the precisely designed molecules needed for the simplest bacteria could form by chance arrangements of amino acids is far less than 1 in 10 followed by 450 zeroes.” (Kleiss)
  4. Secularism has no intrinsic reason to search out an unchanging truth. Its basic motivation is pragmatic. It wants results that will make people happy. However, in the short run, lies will also make people happy. It is only the Christian commitment to truth that keeps secularism honest, for the time being. The history of radical secular experiments shows that truth is no more than a commodity to achieve certain ends – propaganda and the manipulation.
In light of the above, many have argued that secularism is parasitic of its despised host – Christianity. Once the host succumbs – and history shows us that Christianity is the only fruitful host – the parasite languishes and then dies.

Instead of contempt, secularism should respect its host. John Steinrucken writes,

  • The fact is, we secularists gain much from living in a world in which excesses are held in check by religion. Religion gives society a secure and orderly environment within which we secularists can safely play out our creativities. Free and creative secularism seems to me to function best when within the stable milieu provided by Christianity.     
These “excesses” are also displayed in the laboratory. Daniel James Devine reported:

  • The British Medical Journal [BMJ] reported that 13 percent of UK scientists say they’ve seen colleagues “inappropriately adjusting, excluding, altering or fabricating data,” indicating widespread research fraud. “The BMJ has been told of junior academics being advised to keep concerns to themselves to protect their careers, being bullied into not publishing their findings, or having their contracts terminated when they spoke out,” said BMJ editor. (World, Feb 11, 2012, 64)
And how many more instances of fraud haven’t been seen or at least acknowledged in the survey? As secularism advances, we might be seeing epidemic levels of fraud. And why not if fraud is just a means to a greater ends?