The Puzzle of the Psalm 22 Prophecy

A few years ago a work colleague, J, wandered to my desk. J was smart and educated – and definitely not a follower of the gospel.  But he was somewhat curious so we had some warm and open conversations between us. He had never really looked at the Bible so I had encouraged him to investigate it.

One day he came into my office with a Bible to show that he was taking a look. He had opened it randomly in the middle. I asked him what he was reading. Our conversation went something like this.

“I am reading in Psalm chapter 22”, he said

“Really”, I said. “Any idea what you are reading about?”

“I guess I am reading about the crucifixion of Jesus”, J replied.

“That’s a good guess”, I laughed. “But you are about one thousand years too early. Psalm 22 was written by David around 1000 BC. Jesus’ crucifixion was in 30’s C.E. one thousand years later”

J did not realize that the Psalms were not the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life written by his contemporaries.  Psalms were sacred Hebrew hymns written 1000 years before Jesus by inspired sages.  J had only heard some stories about Jesus, including his crucifixion, and randomly opening his Bible, read what seemed to describe the crucifixion. Not knowing any better, he just assumed it was the story of the crucifixion which is remembered around the world annually on what is called Good Friday.  We had a chuckle over his first mis-step in Bible reading.

Psalms are ancient Hebrew hymns and were written by Rsi David 3000 years ago.

Then I asked J what he saw in Psalm 22 that made him think he was reading about Jesus’ crucifixion. Thus began our little study. I invite you to consider some of the similarities J noticed by placing the passages side-by-side in a table. To help I have color matched the texts that are similar.

Comparison of Gospel accounts of the Crucifixion with the details in Psalm 22

Crucifixion details from the eye-witness GospelsPsalm 22:  1000 BC
(Matthew 27:31-48) ..Then they led him (Jesus) away to crucify him…. 39 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads 40and saying, “… save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” 41In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. 42 “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him,…About the ninth hour Jesus cried…“My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” …48 Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. (Mark15:16-20)16 The soldiers led Jesus away… They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. 18 And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” 19 Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. 20 And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him…37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.(John19:34) they did not break his legs…, pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.…they crucified him… (John20:25) [Thomas] unless I see the nail marks in his hands ,…”…(John20:23-24) When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining…Let’s not tear it”, they said,”Let’s decide by lot who gets it”1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
2 My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest…7 All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
8 “He trusts in the Lord,” they say,
“let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him.”9 Yet you brought me out of the womb;
you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.
10 From birth I was cast on you;
from my mother’s womb you have been my God.11 Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.12 Many bulls surround me;
strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
13 Roaring lions that tear their prey
open their mouths wide against me.
14 I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
it has melted within me.
15 My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me in the dust of death.16 Dogs surround me,
a pack of villains encircles me;
they pierce my hands and my feet.
17 All my bones are on display;
people stare and gloat over me.
18 They divide my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.

That J made the logical but wrong conclusion that Psalm 22 was an eye-witness account of the Good Friday crucifixion, should make us ask a question.

How do we explain the similarity between the crucifixion accounts and Psalm 22?

Is it coincidence that the details match so precisely as to include that the clothes would be divided (seamed clothes were split along the seams and divided among the soldiers) AND have lots cast (if torn the seamless garment would be ruined so they gambled for it). Psalm 22 was written before crucifixion was invented but it still describes its various details (piercing of hands and feet, bones being out of joint – by being stretched as the victim hangs). In addition, the Gospel of John states that blood and water flowed out when the spear was thrust in Jesus’ side, indicating a fluid buildup around the heart.  Jesus thus died of a heart attack.  This matches the Psalm 22 description of ‘my heart has turned to wax’.

Psalm 22 was written as if Jesus’ crucifixion was being seen.  But how so, since it was composed 1000 years beforehand?

God-Inspired Explanation for Psalm 22

Jesus, in the Gospels, argued that these similarities were prophetic. God inspired Old Testament prophets hundreds of years prior to Jesus’ life to predict details of his life and death so that we can know that this was all in the plan of God. Prophetic fulfillment would be like having a Divine signature on these events of Good Friday since no human could foresee the future in such detail.  This is evidence of God’s work and intervention in history.

Naturalistic Explanation for Psalm 22

Others argue that the similarity of Psalm 22 with crucifixion events of Good Friday is because the Gospel writers made up the events to ‘fit’ the prophecy.  But this explanation totally ignores the testimony of historians from that time outside of the Bible.  Josephus and Tacitus respectively tell us that:

“At this time there was a wise man … Jesus. … good, and … virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned Him to be crucified and to die.”

Josephus. 90AD. Antiquities xviii. 33   Josephus was a Jewish Historian

“Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius”

Tacitus. 117 AD. Annals XV. 44.  Tacitus was a Roman Historian

Their historical testimony agrees with the gospels that Jesus was crucified. This is important because many of the details in Psalm 22 are simply particulars of the act of being crucified. If the gospel writers were going to make up the actual events to make them ‘fit’ Psalm 22 then they would basically have had to make up the whole crucifixion.  Yet no one from that time denied his crucifixion, and the Jewish historian Josephus explicitly states that this is how he was executed.

Psalm 22 and Jesus’ legacy

Also, Psalm 22 does not end at v.18 as in the table above. It continues on. Note the triumphant mood at the end –after the person is dead!

The poor will eat and be satisfied;
    those who seek the Lord will praise him—
    may your hearts live forever!

27 All the ends of the earth
    will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
    will bow down before him,
28 for dominion belongs to the Lord
    and he rules over the nations.

29 All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
    all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
    those who cannot keep themselves alive.
30 Posterity will serve him;
    future generations will be told about the Lord.
31 They will proclaim his righteousness,
    declaring to a people yet unborn:
    He has done it!

Psalm 22:26-31

This is not talking about the details of events of this person’s death. Those details were dealt with in the beginning of the Psalm. The psalmist is now addressing the legacy of that person’s death with ‘posterity’ and ‘future generations’ (v.30).

Who would that be?

That is us living 2000 years after Jesus’ crucifixion.  The Psalmist tells us that ‘posterity’ which follows this ‘pierced’ man who died such a horrible death will ‘serve’ him and be ‘told about him’.  Verse 27 predicts the geographic scope of the impact – going to the ‘ends of the earth’ and among ‘all families of nations’ to cause them to ‘turn to the LORD’.  Verse 29 predicts that ‘those who cannot keep themselves alive’ (since we are mortal that means all of us) will one day kneel before him. The righteousness of this man will be proclaimed to people who were not yet alive (the ‘yet unborn’) at the time of his death.

Psalm 22’s conclusion has nothing to do with whether the gospel accounts borrowed from it or made up the crucifixion events because it is now dealing with a much later era – that of our time. The gospel writers, living in the 1st century could not ‘make up’ the impact of the death of Jesus down to our time.  They did not know what that impact would be.

One could not make a better prediction of the legacy of Jesus than Psalm 22 does. Even simply noting the annual worldwide Good Friday celebrations remind us of his global impact two thousand years after his death.  These fulfill the conclusion of Psalm 22 as precisely as the earlier verses predicted the details of his death.

Who else in world history can make a claim that details of his death as well as the legacy of his life into the distant future would be predicted 1000 years before he lived?

Perhaps, like my friend J, you will take the opportunity to consider Psalm 22 in light of Jesus’ crucifixion. It will take some mental effort. But it is worthwhile because the man Psalm 22 foresaw promised:

I have come that they may have life and have it to the full

John 10:10

Here is the entire gospel account for Good Friday that Psalm 22 foresaw and here its gift for you is explained.

The Branch: Sprouting Exactly in time to be … ‘cut off’

We have been exploring the Branch theme in the Old Testament prophets. We saw that Jeremiah in 600 BC continued the theme (which Isaiah began 150 years earlier) and declared that this Branch would be a King. Previously we saw that Zechariah, following from Jeremiah predicted that this Branch would be named Jesus and that he would combine the roles of King and Priest into one – something that had never happened previously in Israelite history.

Daniel’s riddle of the scheduled arrival of the Anointed One

Now to Daniel. He lived in the Babylonian exile, being a powerful official in the Babylonian and Persian governments – and a Hebrew prophet.

Daniel shown in timeline with other prophets of the Old Testament

In this book, Daniel received the following message:

while I was still in prayer, Gabriel, the man I had seen in the earlier vision, came to me in swift flight about the time of the evening sacrifice. 22 He instructed me and said to me, “Daniel, I have now come to give you insight and understanding. 23 As soon as you began to pray, a word went out, which I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed. Therefore, consider the word and understand the vision:

24 “Seventy ‘sevens’ are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the Most Holy Place.

25 “Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. 26 After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed.

Daniel 9:21-26

This is a prophecy of the ‘Anointed One’ (= Christ = Messiah) predicting when He would come. It would begin with the decree ‘to restore and rebuild Jerusalem’. Though Daniel was given and wrote this message (ca. 537 BCE) he did not live to see the start of this countdown.

The Decree to Restore Jerusalem

But Nehemiah, almost one hundred years after Daniel, saw this countdown begin. He writes in his book that

In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before, so the king asked me, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.”

I was very much afraid, but I said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?”

The king said to me, “What is it you want?”

Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it.”

Then the king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked me, “How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?” It pleased the king to send me; so I set a time.

Nehemiah 2:1-6

I went to Jerusalem, and after staying there three days

Nehemiah 2:11

This records the order “to restore and rebuild Jerusalem” that Daniel had prophesied would start the countdown. It was in the 20th year of the Persian Emperor Artaxerxes, well-known in history as starting his reign in 465 BCE. Thus his 20th year would place this decree in the year 444 BCE. Almost a hundred years after Daniel, the Persian Emperor issued his decree, starting the countdown that would bring the Christ.

Seven ‘Sevens’ and Sixty-two ‘Sevens’

Daniel’s prophecy indicated that after “seven ‘sevens’ and sixty-two ‘sevens’” the Christ would be revealed.

What is a ‘Seven’? 

In the Law of Moses there was a cycle of seven years where the land was to be rested from agricultural cultivation every seventh year. It was stated in the following way

“Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the Lord. For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the Lord. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards.

 Leviticus 25:2-4

The context of Daniel’s statement is ‘years’, so by ‘sevens’ he means these cycles of seven years. In that case the Seven ‘Sevens’ and Sixty-two ‘Sevens’ can be stated arithmetically as (7+62) * 7 = 483 years.

A 360-Day year

We have to make one little calendar adjustment. As many ancients did, the prophets used a 360 days long year. There are different ways to track a ‘year’ in a calendar. The modern one (based on solar revolution) is 365.24 days long, the Muslim one is 354 days (based on cycles of moon). The one that Daniel used was half-way at 360 days. So 483 ‘360-day’ years is 483*360/365.24 = 476 solar years.

The Scheduled Arrival of the Christ

With this information it is now fairly simple to calculate when the Christ was to arrive according to Daniel’s prophecy. 483 years with 360 days/year will give us:

483 years * 360 days/year = 173 880 days

In our modern calendar this would give us 476 solar years with 25 days left over.

(173 880/365.24219879 = 476 remainder 25).

King Artaxerxes decreed Jerusalem’s restoration:

In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year…

In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before,

Nehemiah 2:1

Nisan 1 is in mind since it started the Jewish and Persian New Year, giving reason for the King to talk to Nehemiah in the celebration.  Nisan 1 would also mark a new moon since they used lunar months.  With modern astronomy we know when that new moon marking Nisan 1, 444 BC occurred.  Astronomical calculations place the crescent moon of Nisan 1 of the 20th year of Persian Emperor Artaxerxes at 10 PM on March 4, 444 BC in the modern calendar[[i]]. 

… to the day of Palm Sunday

Adding the 476 years of Daniel’s prophesied time to this date brings us to March 4, 33 CE, as explained above.  Adding the 25 remaining days of Daniel’s prophesied time to March 4, 33 CE, gives us March 29, 33 CE.  March 29, 33 AD, was SundayPalm Sundaythe very day that Jesus entered Jerusalem on the donkey, claiming to be the Christ.[ii] 

Start – Decree IssuedMarch 4, 444 BCE
Add the solar years (-444+ 476 +1)March 4, 33 CE
Add the remaining 25 days of the ‘sevens’March 4 + 25 = March 29, 33 CE
March 29, 33 CEPalm Sunday Entry of Jesus to Jerusalem

By entering Jerusalem on March 29, 33CE, mounted on a donkey, Jesus fulfilled both the prophecy of Zechariah and the prophecy of Daniel – to the day. 

The Timeline of Daniel’s prophecy of ‘sevens’ culminating in Jesus Triumphant entry

Triumphant Entry of Jesus – That Day

This is Palm Sunday, the very day we remember the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. With the assumptions that we have done above and using some basic arithmetic, we find that Daniel’s riddle of the ‘sevens’ lands us exactly on this day. This is the day that Jesus was presented as the King or Christ to the Jewish nation. We know this because Zechariah (who had predicted the name of the Christ) had also written that:

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
    Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
    righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

 Zechariah9:9
Zechariah and others who foresaw the Coming King’s Entry into Jerusalem

The long awaited King would be revealed riding into Jerusalem on a colt with an attending crowd of shouting and rejoicing people. On the day of the Triumphant Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem – that very same day predicted by Daniel in his riddle of the ‘sevens’ – Jesus did ride into Jerusalem on a colt. Luke records the account:

As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

Luke 19:41-44

Jesus weeps because the people did not recognize the very day predicted both by Zechariah and Daniel. But because they did not recognize this day that the Christ was revealed, something totally unexpected would happen. Daniel, in the very same passage where he gave the riddle of the ‘sevens’, predicted that:

After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing.[a] The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed. 27 He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’[b] In the middle of the ‘seven’[c] he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And at the temple[d] he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him. 

Daniel 9:26-27

Instead of taking the throne to rule, the Christ would be ‘cut off’ and would have ‘nothing’. In using this phrase ‘cut off’ (some Bibles just translate it ‘will die’) Daniel refers to ‘the Branch’, that shoot from the stump of Jesse, prophesied first long before by Isaiah, elaborated by Jeremiah, the name predicted by Zechariah and now the time and foreseen by both Daniel and Zechariah. This Branch would be ‘cut off’.  Then the city (Jerusalem) would be destroyed (which happened in 70AD).  But how would this Branch be ‘cut off’? We return to Isaiah next to see a vivid description.


[i] Dr. Harold W.Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ.  1977. 176pp.

[ii] The coming Friday was Passover, and Passover was always on Nisan 14.  Nisan 14 in 33 CE was April 3.  Being 5 days before Friday April 3, Palm Sunday was March 29.

The Branch: Named hundreds of years before his birth

We saw how Isaiah used the image of The Branch.  A ‘he’ from the fallen dynasty of David, possessing wisdom and power was coming.  Jeremiah followed up by stating that this Branch would be known as the LORD (the Old Testament name for God) himself.

Zechariah continues The Branch

The prophet Zechariah lived 520 BC, just after the Jewish people returned to Jerusalem from their first exile to Babylon.  At that time, the Jewish people were rebuilding their destroyed temple.  The High Priest then was a man named Joshua, and he was re-starting the work of priests. Zechariah, the prophet, was partnering with his colleague Joshua, the High Priest, in leading the Jewish people. Here is what God – through Zechariah- said about this Joshua:

‘”Listen O High Priest Joshua and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant the Branch.” …, says the LORD Almighty, “and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day”.’ (Zechariah 3:8-9)

The Branch!  Started by Isaiah 200 years before, continued by Jeremiah 60 years earlier, Zechariah carries on further with ‘The Branch’.  Here the Branch is also called ‘my servant’.  In some way the High Priest Joshua in Jerusalem at 520BC, colleague of Zechariah, was symbolic of this coming Branch.  But how? It says that in ‘a single day’ the sins will be removed by the LORD. How would that happen?

The Branch: Uniting Priest and King

Zechariah explains later. To understand we need to know that the roles of Priest and King were strictly separated in the Old Testament. None of the Davidic Kings could be priests, and the priests could not be kings. The role of the priest was to mediate between God and man by offering animal sacrifices to God for atonement of sins, and the job of the King was to rule with justice from the throne. Both were crucial; both were distinct. Yet Zechariah wrote that in the future:

‘The word of the LORD came to me: “…Take the silver and gold and make a crown, and set it on the head of the high priest Joshua. Tell him this is what the LORD Almighty says, ‘Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the LORD… and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two’’ (Zechariah 6:9-13)

Here, against all previous rules, the high priest in Zechariah’s day (Joshua) is to put on the kingly crown symbolically as the Branch. Remember Joshua was ‘symbolic of things to come’.  Joshua, the High Priest, in putting on the kingly crown, foresaw a future uniting of the King and Priest into one person – a priest on the King’s throne.  Furthermore, Zechariah wrote that ‘Joshua’ was the name of the Branch. What did that mean?

The name ‘Joshua’ is the name ‘Jesus’

To understand this we need to review the history of Old Testament translation. In 250 BC the Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek. This translation is still in use today and is called the Septuagint (or LXX). The title ‘Christ’ was first used in this Greek translation, making ‘Christ’=’Messiah’=’Anointed One’. (You can review this here ).

joshuajesus-diagram
‘Joshua’ = ‘Jesus’. Both come from the Hebrew name ‘Yhowshuwa’

As you can see in the figure Joshua is an English transliteration of the original Hebrew name ‘Yhowshuwa’ which was a common Hebrew name that meant ‘Jehovah saves’.  This (shown in Quadrant #1) is how Zechariah wrote ‘Joshua’ in 520 BC.  It is transliterated to ‘Joshua’ when the Old Testament is translated into English (bottom half labelled #3).  The translators of the LXX in 250 BC also transliterated Yhowshuwa when they translated the Old Testament into Greek. Their Greek transliteration was Iesous (Quadrant #2). Thus ‘Yhowshuwa’ of the Old Testament was called Iesous in the LXX. Jesus was called Yhowshuwa when people spoke to him, but when the New Testament writers wrote the Greek New Testament, they used the familiar ‘Iesous’ of the LXX to refer to him. When the New Testament was translated from the Greek to English (#2 -> #3) ‘Iesous’ was transliterated (again) to our well-known English ‘Jesus’ (bottom half labelled #3). Thus the name ‘Jesus’ = ‘Joshua’. Both Jesus of the New Testament, and Joshua the High Priest of 520BC were called ‘Yhowshuwa’ in their native Hebrew. In Greek, both names were ‘Iesous’. A reader of the Greek Old Testament LXX would recognize the name of Iesous (Jesus) as a familiar name in the Old Testament. It is harder for us to see the connection since the name ‘Jesus’ seems to appear as brand new.  But the name Jesus does have an Old Testament equivalent – Joshua.

Jesus of Nazareth is the Branch

Now the prophecy of Zechariah makes sense. This is a prediction, made in 520 BCE, that the name of the coming Branch would be ‘Jesus’, pointing directly to Jesus of Nazareth.

This coming Jesus, according to Zechariah, would unite the King and Priest roles. What was it that the priests did? On behalf of the people they offered sacrifices to God to atone for sins. The priest covered the sins of the people by sacrifice. Similarly, the coming Branch ‘Jesus’ was going to bring a sacrifice so that the LORD could ‘remove the sin of this land in a single day’ – the day Jesus offered himself as the sacrifice.

Jesus of Nazareth is well-known outside the gospels.  The Jewish Talmud, Josephus and all other historical writers about Jesus, both friend and enemy, always referred to him as ‘Jesus’ or ‘Christ’, so his name was not invented in the Gospels.  But Zechariah predicted his name 500 years before he lived.

Jesus comes ‘from the stump of Jesse’ since Jesse and David were his ancestors. Jesus possessed wisdom and understanding to a degree that sets him apart from others.  His shrewdness, poise and insight continue to impress both critics and followers.  His power through miracles in the gospels is undeniable. One may choose not to believe them; but one cannot ignore them.  Jesus fits the quality of possessing exceptional wisdom and power that Isaiah predicted would one day come from this Branch.

Now think of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. He certainly claimed to be a king – The King in fact. This is what ‘Christ‘ means.  But what he did while on earth was actually priestly. The priest’s job was to offer acceptable sacrifices on behalf of the Jewish people.  The death of Jesus was significant in that, it also, was an offering to God, on our behalf. His death atones for the sin and guilt for any person, not just for the Jew. The sins of the land were literally removed ‘in a single day’ as Zechariah had predicted – the day Jesus died and paid for all sins. In his death he fulfilled all the requirements as Priest, even as he is mostly known as ‘The Christ’ or The King.  He did bring the two roles together. The Branch, the one that David long ago called the ‘Christ’, is the Priest-King.  And his name was predicted 500 years before his birth by Zechariah.

The Sign of the Branch: The Dead Stump Reborn

Jesus had critics who questioned his authority.  He would answer them by pointing to the prophets that came before, claiming that they foresaw his life.  Here is one example where Jesus said to them:

… These are the very Scriptures that testify about me… (John 5:39)

In other words, Jesus claimed that he was prophesied in the Old Testament, which preceded him by hundreds of years. The Old Testament prophets claimed that God inspired their writings. Since no human can predict with certainty hundreds of years into the future, Jesus said this was evidence to check if he had really come as God’s plan or not. It is a test to see if God exists and if He speaks.  The Old Testament is available for us to examine and consider this same question for ourselves.

First some review.  Jesus’ coming was hinted at the very beginning of the Old Testament.  Then we saw that Abraham’s sacrifice foretold the spot where Jesus was to be sacrificed while the Passover foretold the day in the year that it would occur.  We saw that Psalm 2 was where the title ‘Christ’ was used foretell a coming King.  But it did not end there.  Much more was written looking to the future using other titles and themes. Isaiah (750 BC) began a theme that later Old Testament books developed – that of the coming Branch.

Isaiah and the Branch

The figure below shows Isaiah in a historical timeline with some other Old Testament writers.

isaiah-in-timeline
Isaiah shown in historical timeline. He lived in the period of the rule of the Davidic Kings

You will see from the timeline that Isaiah’s book was written in the period of David’s Royal dynasty (1000 – 600 BC). At that time (ca 750 BC) the dynasty and the kingdom was corrupt. Isaiah pleaded that the Kings return back to God and the practice and spirit of the Mosaic Law. But Isaiah knew that Israel would not repent, and so he also prophesied that she would be destroyed and the royal dynasty would end.

He used a specific metaphor, or image, for the royal dynasty, picturing it like a great tree. This tree had at its root Jesse, the father of King David. On Jesse the Dynasty was started with David, and from his successor, Solomon, the tree continued to grow and develop.

isaiah-tree
The image Isaiah used of the Dynasty as a tree

First a Tree … then a Stump … then a Branch

Isaiah wrote that this ‘tree’ dynasty would soon be cut down, reducing it to a stump. Here is how he began the tree image which then he turned into the riddle of a stump and Branch:

“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 understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge.” (Isaiah 11:1-2)

stump
Dynasty pictured as a Stump of Jesse – father of David

The cutting down of this ‘tree’ happened about 150 years after Isaiah, around 600 BC, when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and dragged its people and king to Babylon in exile (the red period in the timeline above). Jesse was the father of King David, and so was the root of David’s Dynasty. The ‘stump of Jesse’ was therefore a metaphor to the coming shattering of David’s dynasty.

The Branch: A coming ‘him’ from David possessing wisdom

shoot-and-stump
Shoot from the dead stump of Jesse

But this prophecy also looked further into the future than just the cutting down of the kings. Isaiah predicted that though the ‘stump’ would look dead (as stumps do), one day in the far future a shoot, known as the Branch, would emerge from that stump, just like shoots can sprout from tree stumps. This Branch is referred to as a ‘him’ so Isaiah is talking about a specific man, coming from the line of David after the dynasty would be cut down. This man would have such qualities of wisdom, power, and knowledge it would be as if the very Spirit of God would be resting on him.

Jesus … A ‘him’ from David possessing wisdom

Jesus fits the requirement of coming ‘from the stump of Jesse’ since Jesse and David were his ancestors. What makes Jesus very unusual is the wisdom and understanding he possessed.  His shrewdness, poise and insight in dealing with opponents and disciples continue to impress both critics and followers ever since.  His power in the gospels through miracles is undeniable. One may choose not to believe them; but one cannot ignore them.  Jesus fits the quality of possessing exceptional wisdom and power that Isaiah predicted would one day come from this Branch.

Jeremiah and The Branch

It is like a signpost laid down by Isaiah in history. But it did not end there. His signpost is only the first of several signs. Jeremiah, living about 150 years after Isaiah, when David’s dynasty was actually being cut down before his very eyes wrote:

“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“. (Jeremiah 23:5-6)

Jeremiah expands on the Branch theme of David’s dynasty started by Isaiah 150 years earlier. The Branch will be a King who reigns. But this is exactly what the Psalm 2 prophecy said of the coming Son of God/Christ/Messiah. Could it be that the Branch and the Son of God are one and the same?

The Branch: The LORD our Righteousness

But what is this Branch to be called? He would be called the ‘LORD’ who will also be ‘our’ (that is – us humans) Righteousness. As we saw with Abraham, the problem for humans is that we are ‘corrupt’, and so we need ‘righteousness’.  Here, in describing the Branch, we see a hint that people in Jeremiah’s future would get their needed ‘righteousness’ by the LORD – YHWH himself (YHWH is the name for God in the Old Testament).  But how would this be done?  Zechariah fills in further details for us as he develops further on this theme of the Coming Branch, predicting even the name of Jesus – which we look at next.

The Precision and Power of Pentecost

The Day of Pentecost is always on a Sunday.  It celebrates a remarkable day, but it is not only what happened that day but when and why it happened that reveals the hand of God, and a powerful gift for you.

What happened on Pentecost

If you heard of ‘Pentecost’, you probably learned that it was the day when the Holy Spirit came to indwell the followers of Jesus.  This is the day that the Church, the “called-out ones” of God, was born.  The events are recorded in Acts chapter 2 of the Bible. On that day, the Spirit of God descended on the first 120 followers of Jesus and they started speaking loudly in languages from around the world.  It created such a commotion that thousands who were in Jerusalem at the time came out to see what was happening.  In front of the gathered crowd, Peter spoke the first gospel message and ‘three thousand were added to their number that day’ (Acts 2:41). The number of gospel followers has been growing ever since that Pentecost Sunday.

That day happened 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection. It was during these 50 days that Jesus’ disciples became convinced that Jesus had risen from the dead. On Pentecost Sunday they went public and history was changed. Whether you believe in the resurrection or not, your life has been affected by the events of that Pentecost Sunday.

This understanding of Pentecost, though correct, is not complete.  Many people want a repeat of that Pentecost Sunday through a similar experience.  Since the first disciples of Jesus had this Pentecostal experience by ‘waiting for the gift of the Spirit’, today people hope that likewise by ‘waiting’ He will come again in a similar way.  Therefore, many people plead and wait for God to bring about another Pentecost.  To think this way assumes that it was the waiting and praying that moved the Spirit of God back then. To think this way is to miss its precision – because the Pentecost recorded in Acts Chapter 2 was not the first Pentecost.

Pentecost from the Law of Moses

‘Pentecost’ was actually an annual Old Testament festival. Moses (1500 BC) had established several festivals to be celebrated through the year. Passover was the first festival of the Jewish year.  Jesus had been crucified on a Passover day festival. The exact timing of his death to the sacrifices of the Passover lambs was meant as a sign.

The second festival was the feast of Firstfruits, and the Law of Moses stated it was to be celebrated on the ‘day after’ Passover Saturday (=Sunday).   Jesus rose on Sunday, so his resurrection occurred exactly on the Firstfruits Festival.  Since his resurrection happened on ‘Firstfruits’, it was a Promise that our resurrection would follow later (for all those who trust him).  His resurrection is literally a ‘firstfruits’, just as the festival name prophesied.

Precisely 50 days after the ‘Firstfruits’ Sunday the Jews celebrated Pentecost (‘Pente’ for 50.  It was also called Feast of Weeks since it was counted by seven weeks).  Jews had been celebrating Pentecost for 1500 years by the time the Pentecost of Acts 2 happened.  The reason that there were people from all over the world that Pentecost day in Jerusalem to hear Peter’s message was precisely because they were there to celebrate the Old Testament Pentecost.  Today Jews still celebrate Pentecost but call it Shavuot.

We read in the Old Testament how Pentecost was to be celebrated:

Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the LORD. From wherever you live, bring two loaves made of two-tenths of an ephah of the finest flour, baked with yeast, as a wave offering of firstfruits to the LORD. (Leviticus 23:16-17)

Precision of Pentecost: Evidence of a Mind

There is a precise timing of the Pentecost in Acts 2 since it occurred on the same day of the year as the Old Testament Pentecost (Feast of Weeks).  The crucifixion of Jesus occurring on the Passover, the resurrection of Jesus occurring on FirstFruits, and the Pentecost of Acts 2 occurring on the Jewish Feast of Weeks, points to a Mind coordinating these through history.  With so many days in a year why should the crucifixion of Jesus, his resurrection, and then the coming of the Holy Spirit happen precisely on each day of the three spring Old Testament festivals, except if they were planned?  Precision like this happens only if a mind is behind it.

Events of New Testament occurred precisely on the three Spring Festivals of the Old Testament
Events of New Testament occurred precisely on the three Spring Festivals of the Old Testament

Did Luke ‘make up’ Pentecost?

One might argue that Luke (the author of Acts) made up the events of Acts 2 to ‘happen’ on the Feast of Pentecost. Then he would have been the ‘mind’ behind the timing. But his account does not say that Acts 2 is ‘fulfilling’ the Feast of Pentecost, it does not even mention it. Why would he go to such trouble of creating these dramatic events to ‘happen’ on that day but not help the reader see how it ‘fulfills’ the Feast of Pentecost? In fact, Luke did such a good job of reporting events rather than interpreting them that most people today do not know that the events of Acts 2 fell on the same day as the Old Testament Feast of Pentecost.  Many people think that Pentecost simply began at Acts 2. Since most people today are not aware of the connection between them, Luke would be in the impossible situation of being a genius to invent the connection but utterly inept in selling it.

Pentecost: A New Power

Instead, Luke points us to a prophecy from the Old Testament book of Joel predicting that one day the Spirit of God would pour out on all peoples.  The Pentecost of Acts 2 fulfilled that.

One reason that the Gospel is ‘good news’ is that it provides power to live life differently – better. Life is now a union between God and people. And this union takes place through the indwelling of the Spirit of God – which began on the Pentecost Sunday of Acts 2.  The Good News is that life can now be lived on a different level, in a relationship with God through His Spirit. The Bible puts it like this:

And now you Gentiles have also heard the truth, the Good News that God saves you. And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago. The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him. (Ephesians 1:13-14)

The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you. (Romans 8:11)

Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:23)

The indwelling Spirit of God is another firstfruits, because the Spirit is a foretaste – a guarantee – of completing our transformation into ‘children of God’.

The gospel offers an abundant life not through possessions, pleasure, status, wealth and all the other passing trifles pursued by this world, which Solomon had found to be such an empty bubble, but by the indwelling of the Spirit of God.  If this is true – that God offers to indwell and empower us – that would be good news.  The Old Testament Pentecost with the celebration of fine bread baked with yeast pictured this coming abundant life.  The precision between the Old and New Pentecosts is perfect evidence that it is God that is the Mind behind these events and this power of an abundant life.

The unique Love story of Ruth & Boaz

If you were to name some classic love stories you might suggest Helen of Troy & Paris (igniting the Trojan War dramatized in the Iliad), Cleopatra and Mark Antony (whose love entwined Rome in a civil war with Octavian/Augustus Caesar ), Romeo & Juliet, Beauty & the Beast, or perhaps Cinderella & Prince Charming.  In them, history, pop culture and romantic fiction come together in offering passionate love stories that captivate our hearts, emotions and imaginations.

Ruth & Boaz Love Story

Amazingly, the love that sparked between Ruth & Boaz has proved far more enduring and noble than any of these love affairs, and in fact, still affects the lives of all the billions of us living today – more than three thousand years after these lovers met.  Their romance is also a picture of a mystical and spiritual love offered to you and me.  The story of Ruth and Boaz deals with cross-cultural & forbidden love, immigration and the relationship between a powerful man and a vulnerable woman – applicable in today’s #MeToo era.  It becomes a blueprint for us on how to establish a healthy marriage.  By any of these measures the love story of Ruth & Boaz is worth knowing.

Their love is recorded in the Book of Ruth in the Bible.  It is a short book – only 2400 words long – and is well worth reading (here).  It is set about 1150 BCE, making this the oldest of all recorded love stories.  It has been made into several films.

Hollywood movie depicting the Ruth Love story

The Love Story of Ruth

Naomi and her husband with their two sons leave Israel to escape drought and settle in the nearby country of Moab (today’s Jordan).  After marrying local women the two sons die, as does Naomi’s husband, leaving her alone with her two daughters-in-law.  Naomi decides to return to her native Israel and one of her daughters-in-law, Ruth, chooses to accompany her.  After a long absence, Naomi is back in her native Bethlehem as a destitute widow accompanied by Ruth, a young and vulnerable Moabite immigrant.

Ruth & Boaz meet

Bereft of income, Ruth goes out to gather grain left behind by the local harvest crews in the fields.  The Law of Moses, as a social safety net, had ordained harvesters to leave some grains behind in their fields so the impoverished could gather food.  Randomly it would seem, Ruth finds herself picking grains in the fields of a wealthy landowner named Boaz.  Boaz notices Ruth among the others working hard to gather up the grains left behind by his work crews.  He instructs his foremen to leave extra grain behind in the field so that she could gather more.

Ruth & Boaz meet. Much art has been done depicting their meeting
Ruth & Boaz meet. Much art has been done depicting their meeting

Because she can gather plentifully in his fields, Ruth comes back to Boaz’s fields every day to gather left-over grain.  Boaz, ever the protector, ensures that Ruth is not harassed or molested by any of his crews.  Ruth and Boaz are interested in each other, but because of differences in age, social status, and nationality, neither makes a move.  Here Naomi steps in as match-maker.  She instructs Ruth to boldly lay down by Boaz’s side at night after he has celebrated the harvest gathering.  Boaz understands this as a marriage proposal and decides to marry her.

Kinsman Redeemer

But the situation is more complicated than simply love between them.  Naomi is a relative of Boaz, and since Ruth is her daughter-in-law, Boaz and Ruth are kin by marriage.  Boaz must marry her as a ‘kinsmen redeemer’.  This meant that under the Law of Moses he would marry her ‘in the name’ of her first husband (Naomi’s son) and so provide for her.   This would entail that Boaz purchase Naomi’s family fields.  Though that would prove costly to Boaz it was not the biggest obstacle.  There was another closer relative that had first rights to buy Naomi’s family’s fields (and also thus marry Ruth).  So the marriage of Ruth to Boaz hung on whether another man wanted the responsibility to care for Naomi and Ruth.  At a public meeting of the city elders this first-in-line declined the marriage since it put his own estate at risk.  Boaz was thus free to purchase and redeem Naomi’s family estate and marry Ruth.

Legacy of Ruth & Boaz

In their union they had a child, Obed, who in turn became the grandfather of King David.  David was promised that ‘a Christ’ would come from his family.   Further prophecies were given and finally Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem, the same town that Ruth and Boaz had met in long before.  Their romance, marriage and family line resulted in offspring that today is the basis for our modern calendar, and global holidays like Christmas & Easter – not bad for a romance in a dusty village over 3000 years ago.

Picturing a Greater Love Story

The chivalry and respect with which the rich and powerful Boaz treated Ruth, the destitute foreign woman, is a model contrasting the harassments and exploitations now common in our #MeToo day.  The historical impact of the family line which this romance and marriage produced, detectible every time we note the date on our devices, gives this love story an enduring legacy.  But the Ruth & Boaz love story is also a picture of an even greater love – one you and I are invited into.

The Bible describes us in a manner evoking Ruth when it says:

I will plant her for myself in the land;
I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.’

Hosea 2:23

The Old Testament prophet Hosea (ca 750 BC) used the reconciliation in his own fractured marriage to picture God reaching out to us with His love.  Like Ruth who entered the land as one unloved, but then was shown love by Boaz, He desires to show His love even to those of us who feel far from His love.  This is quoted in the New Testament (Romans 9:25) to show how God reaches wide to love those far from Him.

How is His love shown?  Jesus, that descendant offspring from Boaz & Ruth, is God come-in-the-flesh and is thus our ‘kinsman’, just as Boaz was to Ruth.  Jesus paid our debt of sin to God on the cross, and thus he

gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Titus 2:14

As Boaz was a ‘kinsman-redeemer’ who paid a price to redeem Ruth, Jesus is our ‘kinsman-redeemer’ who paid (with his life) to redeem us.

A Model for our marriages

The way Jesus (and Boaz) paid to redeem and then win his bride models how we can build our marriages.  The Bible explains how we establish our marriages:

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wifeas he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Ephesians 5:21-33

As Boaz and Ruth established their marriage on love and respect, and Jesus’ care for the church is a model for husbands to love their wives sacrificially, so we do well to build our marriages on these same values.

A Wedding Invitation for you and me

As in all good love stories, the Bible concludes with a wedding.  Just as the price that Boaz paid to redeem Ruth paved the way for their wedding, the price that Jesus paid has paved the way for our wedding.  That wedding is not figurative but real, and those accepting his wedding invitation are called ‘The Bride of Christ’.  As it says:

Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. 

Revelation 19:7

Those who receive Jesus’ offer of redemption become his ‘bride’.  This heavenly wedding is offered to all of us.  The Bible ends with this invitation for you and me to come to His wedding

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.

Revelation 22:17

The relationship between Ruth & Boaz is a model of love that is still making itself felt today.  It is a picture of the heavenly romance of God who loves us.  He will marry as His Bride all who accept His marriage proposal.  As with any marriage proposals, His offer should be weighed to see if you should accept it.  Start here with the ‘plan’ laid out in the beginning from the beginning of human history and follow its development. Notice how it is all predicted long beforehand to prove it really is God’s Proposal.

Another adaptation of the Book of Ruth in film

Moses’ Farewell Speech: History marching to the beat of its drum

Moses’ Blessings & Curses in Deuteronomy

Moses lived about 3500 years ago and he wrote the first five books of the Bible – known as the Pentateuch or the Torah. His fifth book, Deuteronomy, contains his last proclamations made just before he died. These were his Blessings to the people of Israel – the Jews, but also his Curses.  Moses wrote that these Blessings and Curses would shape history and should be noticed, not just by the Jews, but also by all other nations. So this was written for you and me to think about. The complete Blessings and Curses are here. I summarize the main points below.

The Blessings of Moses

Moses began by describing the blessings that the Israelites would receive if they obeyed The Law.  The law been given in the earlier books and included the Ten Commandments.  The blessings were  from God and would be so great that all other nations would recognize His blessing. The outcome of these blessings would be that:

Then all the peoples on earth will see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they will fear you. (Deuteronomy 28:10)

… and the Curses

However, if the Israelites failed to obey the Commands then they would receive Curses that would match and mirror the Blessings. These Curses would be seen by the surrounding nations so that:

You will become a thing of horror, a byword and an object of ridicule among all the peoples where the LORD will drive you. (Deuteronomy 28:37)

And the Curses would extend through history.

They will be a sign and a wonder to you and your descendants forever. (Deuteronomy 28:46)

But God warned that the worst part of the Curses would come from other nations.

The LORD will bring a nation against you from far away, from the ends of the earth, like an eagle swooping down, a nation whose language you will not understand, a fierce-looking nation without respect for the old or pity for the young. They will devour the young of your livestock and the crops of your land until you are destroyed … until you are ruined. They will lay siege to all the cities throughout your land until the high fortified walls in which you trust fall down. They will besiege all the cities throughout the land. (Deuteronomy 28:49-52)

It would go from bad to worse.

You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess. Then the LORD will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other. … Among those nations you will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There the LORD will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart. (Deuteronomy 28:63-65)

These Blessings and Curses were established by a covenant (an agreement) between God and the Israelites:

…to confirm you this day as his people, that he may be your God as he promised you and as he swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I am making this covenant, with its oath … also with those who are not here today. (Deuteronomy 29:12-15)

In other words this covenant would be binding on the children, or future generations. In fact this covenant was directed at future generations – both Israelites and foreigners.

Your children who follow you in later generations and foreigners who come from distant lands will see the calamities that have fallen on the land and the diseases with which the LORD has afflicted it. … nothing planted, nothing sprouting, no vegetation growing on it. … All the nations will ask: “Why has the LORD done this to this land? Why this fierce, burning anger?”

And the answer will be:

“It is because this people abandoned the covenant of the LORD, the God of their ancestors, the covenant he made with them when he brought them out of Egypt….Therefore the LORD’s anger burned against this land, so that he brought on it all the curses written in this book. … the LORD uprooted them from their land and thrust them into another land, as it is now.” (Deuteronomy 29:21-27)

Did The Blessings and Curses happen?

Nothing neutral about them. The Blessings were delightful, but the Curses were utterly severe. However, the most important question we can ask is: ‘Did they happen?’ The answer is not hard to find. Much of the Old Testament is the record of the history of the Israelites and from that we can see what happens in their history. Also we have records outside the Old Testament, from Jewish historians like Josephus, Graeco-Roman historians like Tacitus and we have found many archeological monuments. All of these sources agree and paint a consistent picture of the Israelite or Jewish history. A summary of this history, given through the building of a timeline is given here.  Read it and assess for yourself if the Curses of Moses came to pass.

The Conclusion to Moses’ Blessings and Curses

But this Farewell Speech of Moses did not end with the Curses. It continued. Here is how Moses made his final pronouncement.

When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come on you and you take them to heart wherever the LORD your God disperses you among the nations, and when you and your children return to the LORD your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you. Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the LORD your God will gather you and bring you back. He will bring you to the land that belonged to your ancestors, and you will take possession of it. He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors (Deuteronomy 30:1-5)

After Moses, successive writers in the Old Testament continued with this promise that he first stated – that there would be a restoration after the Curses.  Ezekiel used the image of dead zombies coming to life to paint a vivid picture of this for us. These later writers made bold, troubling and detailed predictions. Together they make an astounding set of predictions that are happening today.

Passover Sign of Moses

After Abraham died his descendants were called Israelites.  500 years later they have become a large tribe.  But they have also become slaves  of the Egyptians.

The Exodus

The Israelite leader is Moses. God had told Moses to go to Pharaoh of Egypt and demand that he free the Israelites from slavery.   This began a struggle between Pharaoh and Moses producing nine plagues against Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Even so, Pharaoh had not agreed to let the Israelites go free so God was going to bring a deadly 10th plague. The full account of the 10th Plague in the Bible is linked here.

The 10th plague was that every firstborn son in the land would die that night from God’s Angel of Death – except those who remained in houses where a lamb had been sacrificed and its blood painted on the door frames of that house. If Pharaoh did not obey, his firstborn son and heir to the throne would die. Every house in Egypt that did not sacrifice a lamb and paint its blood on the doorposts would lose a firstborn son. So Egypt faced a national disaster.

In Israelite (and Egyptian) houses where a lamb had been sacrificed and its blood painted on the doors the promise was that everyone would be safe. The Angel of Death would pass over that house. So this day was called Passover.

Passover – A Sign for who?

People think that the blood on the doors was only for the Angel of Death. But notice what the Bible says

The LORD said to Moses … ” … I am the LORD. The blood [of the Passover lamb] will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. (Exodus 12:13)

Though the LORD was looking for the blood on the door, and if He saw it Death would pass over, the blood was not a sign for Him. It says that the blood was a ‘sign for you’ – the people, including you and me.

But how is it a sign? After this happened the LORD commanded them to:

Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for generations to come. When you enter the land … observe this ceremony… It is the Passover sacrifice to the LORD’ (Exodus 12:27)

The Remarkable Passover Calendar

In fact we see at the beginning of this story that this 10th plague began the ancient Israelite (Jewish) calendar.

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt,  “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year… (Exodus 12:1-2)

Starting at this time, the Israelites began a calendar that celebrated Passover on the same day every year.  For 3500 years Jewish people have been celebrating Passover every year to remember how their ancestors were saved from death.  Since the Jewish calendar year is a little different from the Western calendar, the Passover day moves each year on the Western calendar.

Jesus and Passover

This is a modern-day scene of Jewish people preparing to celebrate Passover in memory of that first Passover 3500 years ago.
This is a modern-day scene of Jewish people preparing to celebrate Passover in memory of that first Passover 3500 years ago

If we follow Passover celebrations in history we will realize something remarkable. Notice when the arrest and trial of Jesus happened:

 

 

 

“Then the Jews led Jesus … to the palace of the Roman governor [Pilate]… to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover” … [Pilate] said [to Jewish leaders] “…But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?” They shouted back, “No not him…” (John 18:28, 39-40)

Jesus was arrested and executed on Passover of the Jewish calendar – the same day all Jews were sacrificing a lamb to remember those lambs in 1500 BC that caused Death to pass over.  Remember from Abraham’s Sacrifice, one of the titles of Jesus was:

The next day John (i.e. John the Baptist) saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world… ’”. (John 1:29)

Jesus, the ‘Lamb of God’, was sacrificed on the very same day that all the Jews alive then were sacrificing a lamb in memory of the first Passover that started their calendar.  This is why the Jewish Passover  occurs at the same time as Easter.  Easter is to remember the death of Jesus and since that happened on the Passover, Easter and Passover happen close together.  (Since the Western calendar is different they are not on the same day, but usually in the same week).

Signs, Signs, Everywhere are Signs

Think back to that first Passover in Moses’ day where the blood was a ‘sign’, not only for God, but also for us.  Think what signs do by considering these signs.

Signs are pointer in our minds to get us to think about the thing the sign points to
Signs are pointer in our minds to get us to think about what the sign points to

When we see the ‘skull and crossbones’ sign it makes us think of death and danger. The sign of the ‘Golden Arches’ makes us think about McDonalds. The ‘√’ on Nadal’s bandana is the sign for Nike. Nike wants us to think of them when we see this on Nadal. Signs are made to direct our thinking not to the sign itself but to something it points to.

God had said to Moses that the first Passover blood was a sign.  So what was God pointing to with this sign?  With the remarkable timing of lambs being sacrificed on the same day as Jesus, the ‘Lamb of God’, it is a sign pointing to the coming sacrifice of Jesus.

It works in our minds like I have shown in the diagram here about me.

The Passover is a Sign in that it points to Jesus through the remarkable timing of Passover with Jesus' crucifixion
The Passover is a Sign in that it points to Jesus through the remarkable timing of Passover with Jesus’ crucifixion

The sign is to point us to think about the sacrifice of Jesus. In the first Passover the lambs were sacrificed and the blood painted so that death would pass over the people .  This sign pointing to Jesus is to tell us that  ‘The Lamb of God’ was also sacrificed and his blood spilt so death would pass over us.

With Abraham’s sacrifice the place where the ram died so Isaac could live was Mount Moriah – the same place where Jesus was sacrificed 2000 years later.  That was given so we could ‘see’ the meaning of his sacrifice by pointing to the location. Passover is also pointing to Jesus’ sacrifice, but by using a different sign – by pointing to the day of the calendar – the calendar started by the first Passover.  In two different ways the most important stories in the Old Testament are pointing directly to the death of Jesus using sacrificed lambs. I cannot think of any other person in history whose death (or life achievement) is so foreseen in two such dramatic ways. Can you?

These two events (Abraham’s sacrifice and Passover) should show us that it is reasonable to consider that Jesus is the center of a Divine Plan.

But why has God placed these Signs in ancient history to predict the crucifixion of Jesus?  Why is that so important?  What is it about the world that requires such bloody symbols?  And is it important to us today?  To answer these questions we need to start at the beginning of the Bible to understand what happened at the start of time.

Abraham: How God will Provide

Abraham lived 4000 years ago, traveling to modern-day Israel.  He was promised a son that would become a ‘great nation’, but he had to wait until he was very old to see his son born.  Jews and Arabs today come from Abraham, so we know the promise came true and that he is an important person in history as the father of great nations.

Abraham was now very happy to watch his son Isaac grow up into a man.  But then God tested Abraham with a difficult task.   God said:

“Go get Isaac, your only son, the one you dearly love! Take him to the land of Moriah, and I will show you a mountain where you must sacrifice him to me on the fires of an altar.” (Genesis 22:2)

This is hard to understand!  Why would God ask Abraham to do this?  But Abraham, who had learned to trust God – even when he did not understand

… got up early the next morning … and left with Isaac and two servants for the place where God had told him to go. (Genesis 22:3)

After three days travel they reached the mountain. Then

…when they reached the place that God had told him about, Abraham built an altar and placed the wood on it. Next, he tied up his son and put him on the wood. He then took the knife and got ready to kill his son. (Genesis 22: 9-10)

Abraham was ready to obey God.  Just then something remarkable happened

But the Lord’s angel shouted from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am!” he answered.

“Don’t hurt the boy or harm him in any way!” the angel said. “Now I know that you truly obey God, because you were willing to offer him your only son.”

Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in the bushes. So he took the ram and sacrificed it in place of his son. (Genesis 22: 11-13)

At the last moment Isaac was saved from death and Abraham saw a male sheep and sacrificed it instead.  God had provided a ram and the ram took the place of Isaac.

Here I would like to ask a question.  At this point in the story is the ram dead or alive?

Why do I ask?  Because Abraham will now give a name to the place, but most people miss its importance.  The story continues…

Abraham named that place “The Lord Will Provide.” And even now people say, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”  (Genesis 22:14)

Another question: Is the name that Abraham gave to that place (“The Lord Will Provide”) in the past, present or future tense?

Looking to the future, not the past

It is clearly in the future tense.  Many people think that Abraham, when naming that place, was thinking of the ram provided by God by getting caught in the thicket and then sacrificed in place of his Isaac.  But when Abraham gave the name that ram was already dead and sacrificed.  If Abraham was thinking of that ram – already dead and sacrificed – he would have named it ‘The LORD has provided’ – in the past tense.  And the closing comment would read ‘And even now people say “On the mountain of the LORD it was provided”’.  But the name looks to the future, not the past. Abraham is not thinking of the already dead ram.  He is naming it for something else – in the future.  But what?

Where is that place?

Remember where this sacrifice occurred, told at the beginning of the story:

(“Go get Isaac, …. Take him to the land of Moriah”)

This happened at ‘Moriah’. Where is that?  It was wilderness in Abraham’s day (2000 BC), with only some bushes, a wild ram, and Abraham & Isaac on that mountain.  But one thousand years later (1000 BC) King David built the city of Jerusalem there, and his son Solomon built the First Jewish Temple there. We read later in the Old Testament that:

Then Solomon began to build the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah… (2 Chronicles 3:1)

Mount Moriah became Jerusalem, the Jewish city with the Jewish Temple. Today it is a holy place for the Jewish people, and Jerusalem is the capital city of Israel.

The Sacrifice of Abraham and Jesus

Let us think a little about the titles of Jesus.  Jesus’ most well-known title is ‘Christ’. But he had other titles, like

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. (John 1:29)

Jesus was also called ‘The Lamb of God‘. Think about the end of Jesus’ life. Where was he arrested and crucified? It was in Jerusalem (which is the same as ‘Mount Moriah’). It is very clearly stated that:

He [Pilate] learned that Jesus was under Herod’s authority. Herod was in Jerusalem at that time, so Pilate sent Jesus to him. (Luke 23:7)

The arrest, trial and death of Jesus was in Jerusalem (= Mount Moriah).  The timeline shows the events that have happened at Mount Moriah.

timeline of major events at Mount Moriah
Major events at Mount Moriah

Back to Abraham.  Why did he name that place in the future tense ‘The LORD will provide’?  Isaac had been saved at the last moment when a lamb was sacrificed in his place.  Two thousand years later, Jesus is called ‘Lamb of God’ and he is sacrificed at the same location – so you & I could also live.

A Divine Plan

It is like a Mind has connected these two events that are separated by 2000 years of history.  What makes the connection unique is that the first event points to the later event by the name in the future tense.  But how would Abraham know what would happen in the future?  No human knows the future, especially that far into the future.  Only God can know the future.  Foreseeing the future and having these events happen at the same place is evidence that this is not a human plan, but a plan from God.  He wants us to think about this like below

Abraham's sacrifice at Mount Moriah is a sign pointing to sacrifice of Jesus
Abraham’s sacrifice at Mount Moriah is a sign pointing to sacrifice of Jesus

Good News for all nations

This story also has a promise for you. At the end of this story God promises to Abraham that:

“…and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed because you have obeyed me” (Genesis 22:18)

If you belong to one of the ‘nations on earth’ then this is a promise to you for a ‘blessing’ from God.

So what is this ‘blessing’?  How do you get it?  Think of the story.  Just like the ram saved Isaac from death, so Jesus the Lamb of God, by his sacrifice at the same place, saves us from the power of death.  If that is true it would certainly be good news.

The sacrifice of Abraham on Mount Moriah is an important event in ancient history.  It is remembered and celebrated by millions around the world today.  But it is also a story for you living 4000 years later.  Its theme is continued with Moses.

Getting Righteousness – Abraham’s example

Previously we saw that Abraham obtained righteousness simply by believing. This was stated in the little sentence:

Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)

Belief is not about the existence of God

Think what ‘believe’ means.  Many people think that ‘believe’ means believing that God exists.  We think that God just wants us to believe that He is there.  But the Bible states it differently.  It says,

You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. (James 2:19)

Here the Bible is using sarcasm to say that simply believing God exists makes us as good as the Devil.  It is true that Abraham believed in God’s existence, but that is not the point of his righteousness.  God had promised Abraham that He would give him a son.  It was that promise that Abraham had to choose to believe or not – even while he knew that he was in his 80’s and his wife was in her 70’s.  He trusted that God would somehow fulfill that promise to him. Belief, in this story, means trust. Abraham chose to trust God for a son.

When Abraham chose to believe that promise of a son then God also gave him – ‘credited’ him– righteousness. In the end Abraham got both the fulfilled promise (a son from whom a great nation would come) and also righteousness.

Righteousness – not from merit or effort

Abraham did not ‘earn’ righteousness; it was ‘credited’ to him. What is the difference? If something is ‘earned’ you work for it – you deserve it. It is like receiving wages for the work you do. But when something is credited to you, it is given to you. It is not earned or merited, but simply received.

We think that doing more good things than bad things, doing good deeds, or meeting obligations allows us to deserve or merit righteousness.  Abraham proves this idea false. He did not try to earn righteousness. He simply chose to believe the promise offered to him, and righteousness was given to him.

Abraham’s Belief: He bet his life on it

Choosing to believe in this promise of a son was simple but it was not easy.  When he was first promised a ‘Great Nation’ he was 75 years old and he had left his home country and traveled to Canaan.  Almost ten years have now passed and Abraham and Sarah still do not have a child – let alone a nation! “Why has God not already given us a son if he could have done so”?, he would have wondered.  Abraham believed the promise of a son because he trusted God, even though he did not understand everything about the promise, nor did he have all his questions answered.

Believing the promise required active waiting. His whole life was  interrupted while living in tents waiting for the promise. It would have been much easier to make excuses and return home to Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) that he had left many years earlier, and where his brother and family still lived. Life was comfortable there.

His trust in the promise took priority over normal goals in life – security, comfort and well-being.  He could have disbelieved the promise while still believing in the existence of God and continuing with religious activities and good deeds.  Then he would have maintained his religion but not been ‘credited’ righteousness.

Our Example

The rest of the Bible treats Abraham as an example for us.  Abraham’s belief in the promise from God, and the crediting of righteousness, is a pattern for us. The Bible has other promises that God makes to all of us.  We also have to chose whether we will trust them.

Here is an example of such a promise.

But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. 13 They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. (John 1:12-13)

Today we know that the promise to Abraham came true.  It is undeniable that the Jewish people today exist as that nation that came from Abraham.  But like Abraham we face a promise today that seems unlikely and raises some questions.  Like Abraham, we choose to trust this promise – or not.

Who pays for Righteousness?

Abraham showed that righteousness is given as a gift.  When you get a gift you do not pay for it – otherwise it is not a gift.  The giver of the gift is the one who pays.  God, the giver of righteousness, will have to pay for righteousness.  How will He do it?  We see in our next article.