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.

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.