It’s important to neither exaggerate nor diminish the importance of messianic hope in the times of Yeshua and the disciples. Exaggeration looks like this: Rome and the Herodians continually had to quell messianic pretenders and uprisings. Diminishing looks like this: there was virtually no messianic hope in Yeshua’s time and no one was looking for a king to lead a revoution. Both claims have been made.
In Michael Bird’s Are You the One Who Is to Come?: The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question, there is a helpful chart of some major messianic scriptures and references to the thought of the time about these texts. What kinds of things were people saying about Isaiah 11 in Second Temple Judaism? That will be our theme in this first installment.
To help those who might not have the patience to read through the examples below, what you will see is:
- The “Shoot from the Stump of Jesse” is definitely interpreted as a messiah-figure (king, warrior).
- There is an expectation of war against oppressing nations (Rome = Kittim, nations = gentiles).
- There are unclear hints in the Dead Sea fragments of the Shoot being one of several messianic figures working together (one of them is a priest of renown).
- The Shoot will lead the nation in a time of unparalleled righteousness and is even said in one place to be without sin.
- The excerpt from Testament of Levi sounds like Yeshua’s baptism (but these texts were almost certainly edited after the time of Yeshua with Christian involvement – so no big revelation here).
- One excerpt in the Dead Sea Scrolls sounds as if, possibly, the Shoot will be killed. But words are missing and I have not read commentary on this text, so I may be completely mistaken.
THE SCRIPTURE: Isaiah 11:1-6, RSV
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the girdle of his waist,
and faithfulness the girdle of his loins.
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
and the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
PSEUDEPIGRAPHA (Various Jewish Writings, from Charlesworth’s two-volume set).
1 Enoch 62:2
The Lord of the Spirits has sat down on the throne of his glory, and the spirit of righteousness has been poured out upon him. The word of his mouth will do the sinners in: and all the oppressors shall be eliminated from before his face.
Excerpts from Psalms of Solomon 17:22-37
Undergird him with strength to destroy the unrighteous rulers . . . to shatter all their substance with an iron rod; to destroy the unlawful nations with the word of his mouth . . . He will gather a holy people whom he will lead in righteousness . . . He will distribute them on their land according to their tribes . . . He will judge peoples and nations in the wisdom of his righteousness . . . And he will be a righteous king over them, taught by God. There will be no unrighteous among them in his days, for all shall be holy, and their king shall be the Lord Messiah . . . and he himself will be free from sin . . . and he will not weaken in his days (relying) upon his God, for God made him powerful in the holy spirit, and wise in counsel of understanding, with strength and righteousness.
Excerpts from Testament of Judah, chapter 24.
And after this there will arise for you a star from Jacob in peace . . . This is the Shoot of God Most High; this is the fountain for the life of all humanity . . . and from your root will arise the Shoot, and through it will arise the rod of righteousness for the nations, to judge and to save all that call on the Lord.
Excerpts from Testament of Levi, chapter 18.
And then the Lord will raise up a new priest to whom all the words of the Lord will be revealed . . . The heavens will greatly rejoice in his days and the earth shall be glad; the clouds will be filled with joy and the knowledge of the Lord will be poured out on the earth like the water of the seas . . . The heavens will be opened and from the Temple of Glory sanctification will come upon him, with a fatherly voice, as from Abraham to Isaac. And the glory of the Most High will burst forth upon him. And the spirit of understanding and sanctification shall rest upon him.
TARGUM (Aramaic Translation).
Excerpts from 11:1-6.
And a King shall come forth from the sons of Jesse, and from his children’s children the Messiah shall be anointed . . . And the righteous shall be round about him, and those that work in faith shall draw nigh unto him. In the days of the Messiah of Israel peace shall be multiplied on the earth.
DEAD SEA SCROLLS (simplified from the Florentino Garcia Martizez translation).
Excerpts from 4Q285 5:1-6, “4Q War Scroll.”
A shoot will emerge from the stump of Jesse [missing words] the bud of David will go into battle with [missing words] and the Prince of the Congregation will kill him, the bud of David [missing words] and with wounds. And a priest will command [missing words] the destruction of the Kittim.
Excerpts from 1QSb 5:22, 25, 26, “Rule of the Blessing.”
. . . to reproach the humble of the earth with uprightness,
to walk in perfection before him in all his paths . . .
May you strike the peoples with the power of your mouth . . .
May you kill the wicked.
Excerpts from 4Q161 3:18-25, “Isaiah Pesher.”
The interpretation of the word concerns the shoot of David which will sprout in the final days, since with the breath of his lips he will execute his enemies and God will support him with the spirit of courage . . .
He will not judge by appearances or give verdicts on hearsay. Its interpretation: [missing words] according to what they teach him, he will judge, and upon his mouth [missing words] with him will go out one of the priests of renown, holding clothes in his hand.