Thursday, April 5, 2007

King Immanuel as the Branch of King David's Hope

Palm branch on Coin of Judea

Above the head of Jesus and fixed to His cross was a sign written in three languages (Hebrew, Greek, and Latin). His "crime" the text declared: "This is Jesus the Natsarene the King of the Jews"

A Millennium before the Sign

"Now these are the last words of David.
David the son of Jesse declares, The man who was raised on high declares, The anointed of the God of Jacob, And the sweet psalmist of Israel, 2 "The Spirit of the LORD spoke by me, And His word was on my tongue. 3 "The God of Israel said, The Rock of Israel spoke to me, 'He who rules over men righteously, Who rules in the fear of God, 4 Is as the light of the morning when the sun rises, A morning without clouds, When the tender grass springs out of the earth, Through sunshine after rain.' 5 "Truly is not my house so with God? For He has made an everlasting covenant with me, Ordered in all things, and secured; For all my salvation and all my desire, Will He not indeed make it grow? 6 "But the worthless, every one of them will be thrust away like thorns, Because they cannot be taken in hand; 7 But the man who touches them Must be armed with iron and the shaft of a spear, And they will be completely burned with fire in their place."
[2 Samuel 23:1-7, NAS]

When King David was on his death bed, he spoke of the focus of his desire for the future. This focus was regarding the eternal kingdom promised to him and as such was messianic.

King David's rhetorical question in verse five concerning the future of his throne ("For all my salvation and all my desire, Will He not indeed make it grow?") calls for the unreserved affirmative response, "Surely He will." It is the root of the word "cause it to grow" (yatsmiyach from the root tsamach) in Hebrew that lays the foundation for the messianic allusion of the psalmist (132:17) and of the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah.

In one of these allusions to this messianic vein of prophecy, Isaiah used the word netser, meaning branch, shoot, sprout to refer to the Messiah (Isaiah 11:1).

Jesus the Nazarene does not signify "Nazarite"—because it is not a "z." The Greek equivalent to "z" leads us at first to think of Hebrew "z" = zayin. While Hebrew has a "z," Greek did not have a "ts" consonant. Hence in Greek they rendered the Hebrew "ts" (tsade) as the Greek "z" (zeta). Hence we read in English, "He shall be called a Nazarene" when it should be understood, "He shall be called Natsarene [i.e. "the Branch"]."

Isaiah 4:2 (The Beautiful Branch)

Isaiah 6:13 (The Branch from the stump of the felled tree of Judah)

Isaiah 11:1 (The Branch from Jesse's household)
(On the community of the Branch see Isa. 60:21 & 61:3)

Jeremiah 23:5-6 (The Righteous Branch)

Jeremiah 33:15-16 (The Righteous Branch)

Ezekiel 29:21 (The horn that will "sprout")
Zechariah 3:8 (My Servant the Branch)

Zechariah 6:12 (The man whose name is "The Branch")

Psalm 132:17 (The horn of David that will "sprout")

Matthew 2:23 (He shall be called a Natsarene)

Acts 24:5 (The sect of the Natsarenes)

Far from being a recent discovery, this apparent relationship between netser and Nazareth was proposed by Eusebius' (260-341 AD) Onomasticon and Jerome's (345-420 AD) Ad Marcellam, Epist. 46:13. From Jerome's Letter XLVI, Paula and Eustochium to Marcella, Paragraph 13: "If only you will come, we shall go to see Nazareth, as its name denotes, the flower of Galilee." So strong was this association, early on the followers of Jesus were called Nazaraioi (Branches, or implying followers of the Branch).

The Branch and Isaiah 53

Of whom does Isaiah speak? He speaks of the Messiah, as many rabbis of the distant past concluded. The second verse of Isaiah 53 makes it clear. The figure grows up as "a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground." The shoot springing up is a reference to the Messiah, and it is a common Messianic reference in Isaiah and elsewhere.

The Davidic dynasty was to be cut down in judgement like a felled tree, but it was promised to Israel that a new sprout would shoot up from the stump (Isaiah 6:13, Isaiah 11). The Messiah was to be that sprout. Several related words in Hebrew were used to refer to this Messianic image.

Isaiah 11, which virtually all rabbis once agreed referred to the Messiah, used the words "shoot" (hoter) and branch (netser) to describe the Messianic King. Isaiah 11:10 called Messiah the "Root (shoresh) of Jesse," Jesse being David's father. Isaiah 53 described the suffering servant as a root (shoresh) from dry ground, using the very same metaphor and the very same word as Isaiah 11. We also see other terms used for the same concept, such as branch (tsemach) in Jeremiah 23:5, in Isaiah 4:2 and also in the prophecies of Zechariah 3:8 and 6:12.

Rabbi Moses Maimonides: "What is the manner of Messiah's advent....there shall rise up one of whom none have known before, and signs and wonders which they shall see performed by him will be the proofs of his true origin; for the Almighty, where he declares to us his mind upon this matter, says, `Behold a man whose name is the Branch, and he shall branch forth out of his place' (Zech. 6:12). And Isaiah speaks similarly of the time when he shall appear, without father or mother or family being known, He came up as a sprout before him, and as a root out of dry earth, the words of Isaiah, when describing the manner in which kings will harken to him, At him kings will shut their mouth; for that which had not been told them have they seen, and that which they had not heard they have perceived." (From the Letter to the South (Yemen), quoted in The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters, Ktav, 1969, Vol. 2, pp. 374-5).