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Yesha'yahu/Isaiah 11:1 And a branch shall go forth from the stump of Jesse and a shoot from his root shall bear fruit.
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It has long been the Jewish tradition that Messiah will come at Pesach. This is supported by the section of the Hagaddah where we talk about Elijah the Prophet. At the end of the book of Malachi, the prophet says, "Behold, I am sending My messenger to clear the way before Me" (Malachi 3:1, JPS), echoing the text from Isaiah, "A voice is calling, 'Clear the way for the L-RD in the wilderness; make smooth in the desert a highway for our G-d. Let every valley be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; and let the rough ground become a plain, and the rugged terrain a broad valley'" (Isaiah 40:3-4, NASB). But who is this messenger or voice to be? After talking about the great and terrible Day of the L-rd, Malachi continues: "Lo, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before the coming of the awesome, fearful day of the L-RD. He shall reconcile parents with children and children with their parents, so that, when I come, I do not strike the whole land with utter destruction. Lo, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before the coming of the awesome, fearful day of the L-RD" (Malachi 3:23-24, JPS). Ancient Jewish tradition from before the time of Yeshua joins the start and end of the passage to conclude that the messenger who will come to prepare the way for Messiah will be Elijah. Elijah did not die but was taken up into heaven while he was talking with his disciple Elisha: "Behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven" (2 Kings 2:11, ESV). This is why at the end of every Pesach Seder one of the children will go and open an outside door to see if Elijah is there, before everyone closes with the wish, "Next Year in Jerusalem!"
Hundreds of years later, when Israel was under Roman rule and longing for Messiah to come to set them free and to restore the Davidic kingdom and lineage, a son was born to an elderly priest and his wife. Unusually, the parents refused to follow the custom of naming their new child by one of the family names, but insisted that he should be called Yochanan - John - according to the instructions given to the father by an angel in the Temple. John's father, who been struck dumb by the angel for the duration of his wife's pregnancy, prophesied over the child, using very familiar words: "And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways" (Luke 1:76, ESV), prophetic words that would be borne out when John was a man, approaching his thirtieth year. This John, known as John the Baptist because he baptised people in the Jordan river as a sign of their repentance and turning to G-d, preached a challenging message to the people of Judea, about the approach of the kingdom of G-d, being ready for Messiah. Yeshua later said of John, "This is he of whom it is written, 'Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.' ... For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come" (Matthew 11:10-14, ESV).
John's words about Yeshua seem quite aggressive - "I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will clear His threshing floor, gathering His wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire" (Matthew 3:11-12, NIV) - until you remember that one of the themes of Passover is the removal of chametz, leaven, from the houses and cities of Israel. Moshe's instructions are quite clear: "on the very first day you shall remove leaven from your houses ... in all your settlements you shall eat unleavened bread" (Shemot 12:15,20, JPS) and "Let no yeast be found in your possession in all your land for seven days" (D'varim 16:4, NIV). The whole land is to be cleared of yeast and yeast products. Water is an obvious cleaner, washing through pots and bowls, washing out houses. During the morning of the 14th Nissan, all the remaining bread, crumbs and yeast are ceremonially burned to complete the purging of chametz. Given the traditional use of chametz as a symbol for sin, it is easy to see the connection between Passover and its clearing of chametz from the Land with Messiah's purging of the people from their sin, burning up the chaff as the yeast is burned.
This year is unusual in that the week of Matzah - Unleavened Bread - starts on a Shabbat. This means that by custom the extra day allowed for the festival in the Diaspora also falls on Shabbat so that the eighth day readings1 are read in synagogue. It is therefore only infrequently that the Jewish people as a whole hear the passage from Isaiah starting with the text above being read. The text is full of messianic expectation; it picks up G-d's promise to David, "If your sons pay close attention to their way, to walk before Me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul, you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel" (1 Kings 2:4, ESV), originally conditional but made unconditional by Jeremiah: "For thus says the L-RD: David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel" (Jeremiah 33:17, ESV). Jesse - the son of Obed, the son of Boaz and Ruth - is also the father of King David. In that position, although in fact he did have a number of other (older) sons, he is seen as the physical source of the Davidic line, so the text is speaking about another King David. This scion, however, coming afresh from the same root as David, would be free of the deterioration that spoiled so many of David's descendants as kings of Judah, starting with David himself who, although a man after G-d's heart, nevertheless sinned in a number of ways (e.g. with Bathsheba); it would be true to David's root and G-d's original plan for the king of Israel.
Jeremiah too speaks of the coming Messiah: "In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and He shall execute justice and righteousness in the land" (Jeremiah 33:15, ESV). The stump of Jesse and David had been summarily truncated by the Babylonians and although some of the leaders of the return in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah were of Davidic descent, they never gained the stature or importance of their forebears. During the time of the Hasmoneans, power was in the hands of a Levitical family; things were very quiet in David's family. Yet, G-d says, "I will cause a righteous branch to spring up"; how was this to be? The key lies in the first few words of the verse: "In those days and at that time". This was to be something that G-d would bring out when the time was right, when the days had reached their fullness. Our people spent exactly 430 years in Egypt - "At the end of 430 years, on that very day, all the hosts of the L-RD went out from the land of Egypt" (Shemot 12:41, ESV) - no more and no less. Our people returned to the Promised Land according to the schedule G-d had given Avraham: "And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete" (B'resheet 15:16, ESV). In the vision that Daniel was given of the end times, G-d again clearly sets time limits of His own: "In the latter part of their reign, when the evildoers have become as evil as possible, there will arise an arrogant king skilled in intrigue" (Daniel 8:23, CJB). No surprises then about Yeshua: "When the fullness of time had come, G-d sent forth His Son" (Galatians 4:4, ESV)!
In these days, as we celebrate the festivals of Pesach and Matzah, remembering the Exodus from Egypt and the way that G-d had His hand on our people, leading us out of bondage and through the desert towards our promised inheritance, we need to recall that G-d still has a plan; He has purposed to bring this plan about in Messiah Yeshua. Rav Sha'ul glimpses this when he talks about "the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Messiah as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth" (Ephesians 1:9-10, ESV). G-d is going to bring everything together in Messiah Yeshua. This will happen when the day and hour come - no sooner and no later - and G-d's timing is exact. During this festival, as we finish eating matzah - the bread that symbolises freedom from sin, remember how close we now are: "And this do, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night is almost gone, and the day is at hand. Let us therefore lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light" (Romans 13:11-12, NASB).
Chag Matzah Sameach!
1. - By definition, the eighth day readings themselves are also a product of the Diaspora; in Israel the festival of Matzah is only celebrated for seven days.
Further Study: 1 Peter 4:7; 2 Peter 3:9-11; Hebrews 10:25
Application: Are you getting ready to welcome Yeshua back to this earth? Now is the time to prepare your heart and feel the excitement of the Spirit as we see G-d's plans unfolding around us.
© Jonathan Allen, 2012
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