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!”

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