Trace the development of messianic thought in Israel in the period from Hezekiah to Zerubbabel.
As with most of biblical studies finding reliable information for a given time period is difficult since we are relying on texts that reached final form long after the events they purport to convey. During this period, however, “messianic thought” did not use the term māšîaḥ to designate a future savior/redeemer or one who would usher in a new eschatological age. This idea formed in later Judaism of the 2nd century but has its roots in the ideology of kingship during the pre-exilic and early post-exilic periods. Most of the references are to present or near future Davidic monarchs are within the prophetic corpus at this time, though there are important sources in the historical books and the psalms that inform us about the ideology of kingship. This essay will discuss and analyze the important passages about kingship ideology, the Davidic covenant that reflects and sets up future messianic expectations, and the actually oracles that date from Hezekiah to Zerubbabel.
A messiah (māšîaḥ) is one anointed with oil. In the Hebrew Bible, it is mostly two groups that were anointed, kings and priests (this occurs in the P source), although Elisha, a prophet, is said to be anointed by Elijah. In the historical books “anointing” is performed by the “people of the land” as well as prophets. In either case it is assumed that “anointing” is indicative of being chosen by Yahweh, or Yahweh’s anointed. Similar to the judges, anointing was accompanied by an onrush of the spirit of Yahweh, as seen clearly in the example of Saul and Elijah. The royal psalms provide further information about royal ideology, especially Psalm 2, 45, and 110. Kings were considered to be the “son of God” as seen in Psalm 2 similar to divine kingship in Egypt, where Pharaoh was considered the son of Re. The king is frequently referred to has Yahweh’s anointed. In Psalm 45, the king is referred to as ʾĕlōhîm though subordinated to God. Psalm 110 mentions that the king is enthroned at Yahweh’s right hand and a priest after the order of Melchizedek.
An important scene in the DH that gives voice to the explicit royal ideology behind the Davidic dynasty can be seen in 2 Samuel 7. Even if this is exilic, is probably still reflects views of any earlier time period, and if exilic it would fall into the time period we are interested. Yahweh tells David through Nathan that he will establish his dynasty forever, that his descendants will be Yahweh’s sons, and though he will punish them for their sins, his will not forsake David as he did Saul. If this comes from the exilic period, this expresses the expectation of a renewal of the Davidic line on the throne. This covenant was an important catalyst for later expectations of a messiah in later Judaism.
Messianic Expectations in the ProphetsEdit
Although Isaiah is famously known for his oracle in Isaiah 7 that a son would be born to a young woman, it is not entirely sure if this was a royal son. It may have been king Ahaz’s son or it might have been Isaiah’s own. Additionally, the oracle in Isa 9:6 is unclear who is being referred to but it could be Hezekiah himself as part of enthronement, where is considered a child and son who has all the trappings of divine kingship. The most unambiguous oracle for coming of future king is found in Isa 11:1-9 in which a rod (ḥōṭēr) would come from the stump of Jesse and a branch (ṣēmer) from its roots and he would usher in a new age in which even the animals would be at peace. The direct referent for this oracle is not known but it is clear that Davidic dynasty has suffered a setback, since the tree has been felled. It could have been Josiah after Amon’s assassination or it could refer the results of the Babylonian conquest.
Micah 5:2 tells of a birth of a ruler (mōšēl) out of Bethlehem. As for more prophetic utterances the historical context is unclear. It might be critique of a current king, calling for a return to the roots of Davidic kingship, or it might be a reference to a new Davidic king after the dynasty ended with the Babylonian invasion.
Jeremiah 23:5-6 preserves an oracle in “coming days” in which the Yahweh would raise a branch (ṣemaḥ) of righteousness who would bring peace and justice and that the king’s name would be “Yahweh is our righteousness.” The last part of the oracle may refer to Zedekiah, and it is probably that this might be in reference to a later king who would actually live up to the name of the current king. This oracle is reiterated in Jer 33:14-16 almost verbatim, perhaps with a further emphasis on the future, and this second oracle is not in the LXX, and may reflect a later addition.
Ezekiel includes oracles concerning “David,” a continuator of the Davidic line, but instead of calling him king, he is a prince (see Ezek 34:24; Ezek 37:25). His role in Ezekiel’s temple vision is fairly circumscribed, mostly as someone who ensures offerings for temple service (Ezek 45:17).
With the return of some Jews from Babylon, there became to be expectation for the restoration of Davidic kingship in the figure of Zerubbabel, a descendent of David. We hear about these hopes in the oracles of Haggai and Zechariah. In Hag 2:20-23, Yahweh tells Haggai that he will shake the heavens and the earth, overthrow kingdoms, and has chosen Zerubbabel and set him as his signet ring. Zechariah declares that Yahweh is “about to bring forth my servant, the branch (ṣemaḥ)(Zech 3:8). It stops short of naming Zechariah, though most scholars agree this is who is implied. This seems a reference to the prophecy of Jeremiah, thought one could argue on the dependency. It may be that when future hopes were dashed this lead to a tempering of earlier statements. The mention of “sons of oil” in Zech 4:14, though having no messianic expectations along with them, no doubt refers to Joshua and Zerubabbel, and later became important in the Dead Sea Scrolls, where two messiahs, a priestly and kingly were envisioned.
The development of thought along a timeline is difficult since many passages from Isaiah or Jeremiah may very well be dated to the exile or early post-exile, and even the references in Ezekiel, Haggai, and Zechariah are problematic as far as date goes. However, it is clear that what became later messianic expectations has its roots in the many promises and oracles for a future Davidic ruler would make things right. Isaiah 11, is perhaps the clearest example since this envisioned not only freedom from oppression but an entirely new order of things. Zerubabbel himself may have been the catalyst for much of the messianic fervor that is heard within the prophetic corpus, whether these were written in expectation of his rise or in disappointment in his failure. The promises of eternal kingship that were the hallmarks of a self-stabilizing royal ideology became the foundation pieces for expectation of deliverance through future idealized rulers.
Collins, John J. “Messiah, Jewish.” New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Abingdon.
De Jonge, Marinus. “Messiah.” Anchor Bible Dictionary IV, 1992.