Jewish Messianic Expectations (2/4)

The Messiah – Different Thoughts from Biblical Sources

Becker says that the messianic expectation idea was not widespread.  It was limited to the Southern kingdom and only Micah and Isaiah were involved in this messianic idea.  It is not mentioned in Hosea, Amos, Zephaniah, Nahum, or Habakkuk.  He concludes his argument by saying that “A pre-exilic messianism is almost a contradiction of terms, since the savior king is in fact present.”[1]  Why would Israel be looking for a king to deliver them from oppression and set up a kingdom when they already have one?  Becker does concede that some text might be messianic in a broad sense expressing the desire for an ideal king.  But, the “conviction of the writers were not messianic in the usual sense.”[2]

Clement possibly solves this problem when he says that there is a traditional way to view many messianic prophecies as having a double meaning.  He says messianic prophecy has been seen as having “an original literal one which the fuller messianic significance of the message would not have been known and a later ‘spiritual’ meaning which would only become plain in the passage of time.”[3]  Many historical passages eventually became messianic in nature because they were interpreted differently through the passage of time.[4]  So, it is possible to think that some passages were not messianic when they were written but they came to be seen as messianic as time went on.

2 Samuel 7:16 is a major prophecy by Nathan that is at the foundation of the messianic tradition.[5]  This point cannot be emphasized enough.  This passage is the genesis of all future messianic prophecies.  This verse says, “Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me, your throne shall be established forever.”  This verse along with 2 Samuel 7; 23:1-3, 5 was the basis for the hope that David and his descendants would rule over Israel until the end of time.[6]  After the Northern and Southern kingdoms were divided there started a hope for a reunited monarchy and a restoration of the splendor of the past.[7]  The prophets kept looking forward to a time when things would be changed to how they used to be when God’s man was on the throne and peace and prosperity were in abundance.  Although this verse did not start out messianic, it developed over time into a major pillar for the belief of a restored Israel of the future.[8]  The reestablishment of the honor and prestige of the Davidic kingdom was essential to the messianic idea in Judaism.[9]  “During the centuries and millennia the Jews in their liturgical prayers would ask the Lord to, ‘render close the Messiah,’ to ‘restore in Jerusalem the throne of David, the servant of the Lord,’ to ‘make flourish again the posterity of David, the servant of the Lord, and to bring his horn of salvation.’”[10] 

There are two trains of thought when looking at post-exilic messianism.  Some saw the monarchy as being restored while others had unrealistic expectations thinking that the new monarchy would be perfect and they would live in an utopian society.  Schiffman describes the two different forms of messianism well:

Restorative [messianism] seeks to bring back the ancient glories, whereas the utopian constructs a view of an even better future, one which surpasses all that ever came before.  The restorative can be described as a much more rational messianism, expecting only the improvement and perfection of the present world.  The utopian is much more apocalyptic in character, looking forward to vast catastrophic changes in the world with the coming of the messianic age.[11]

Early after the exile people were not looking for a messiah but for a restored monarchy.[12]  They were not looking for anything miraculous to happen they only wanted things to be the way they use to be.  Some of them wanted to go back to a theocracy such as they had in the Judges.[13]  They thought they could go back to the times when God was their king and God would give them peace and keep them from harm.  Others wanted “the kingship of God with a restored monarchy.”[14]

The Israelites recognized that restoring their kingdom to its former state would not be enough to get rid of all the influence that the pagans had had on them.  He says that is when they envisioned more of an apocalyptic messiah that would be able to purify the land of the pagans and punish them and then set up a perfect kingdom with peace all around.[15]  This view is typical of the utopian and apocalyptic ideas.[16]  Regardless of what kind of messiah the exiled Jews were looking for, Jeremiah prophesied in Jeremiah 23:1-6 of a David like figure coming to rescue and bring back God’s people:  verses 5-6 say, “’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.  In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety.  This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness.’”[17]  These prophecies describe a golden age for Israel when a new David will be inaugurated in the not so distant future.[18]  It is difficult to discern whether Jeremiah had in mind a restorative or utopian monarchy.  Much of it depends on the extent of the reforms of the Davidic king.


[1] Joachim Becker, Messianic Expectation in the Old Testament Translated by David E. Green (Philadelphia:  Fortress Press, 1977), 38.

[2] ibid

[3] Clement, 7.

[4] Eamonn O’Doherty, “The Organic Development of Messianic Revelation,”  Catholic Biblical Quarterly 19 (1957):  20.

[5] Clement, 12.

[6] Schiffman, 236.

[7] ibid

[8] Clement, 13.

[9] Schiffman, 235.

[10] Chouraqui, 338.

[11] Schiffman, 236.

[12] Becker, 49-51.

[13] Becker, 48-49

[14] ibid

[15] Eugene H. Maly, “Messianism in Ose,.”  Catholic Biblical Quarterly 19 (1957), 219.

[16] Schiffman, 237.  Isser says that apocalyptic Messianism probably borrowed some of their ideas from Persia, Babylonian, and Chaldean sources.  Isser, 65-66.

[17] Cf. Ezekiel 34:23-24.

[18] O’Doherty, 19.

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