…and ransom captive Israel!
In the remaining three weeks of Advent we will continue to focus on the meaning of the Incarnation in Scripture, Tradition, and our own lives. As we light the second purple candle on our Advent wreath we turn to Messianic prophecy in the Old Testament.
TRUTH. According to the Second Vatican Council, one of the primary motives for believing the Christian faith is the testimony of biblical prophecy (see Dei Verbum, 14-16). Throughout the prophetic writings, particularly Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, the image of the Messiah or “anointed one” is introduced through various images and metaphors. After a series of covenants with his people, mediated through Adam, Noah, Abraham, and Moses, the Lord made a promise to David of an everlasting kingdom, divine sonship, and a temple to show the world the Lord’s fidelity to Israel (cf. 2 Samuel 7). However, the kingdom was eventually split and conquered, and the People of God were dispersed through the Assyrian exile and Babylonian captivity. The Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament were particularly prevalent after the division and destruction of the Kingdom. The prophets all spoke of a Messiah who would restore the Kingdom and not only reunite the People of God but bestow universal blessing on the whole world.
Throughout the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel a number of attributes of this coming Messiah were pronounced. For example, the Messiah would be born among the people and from the line of David:
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 will rest upon him (Isaiah 11:1-2).
In that day the root of Jesse shall stand as an ensign of the peoples; him shall the nations seek, and his dwellings will be glorious (Isaiah 11:10).
In order to fulfill the promises God had made through all of his previous covenants the Messiah was expected to function as the New Adam, New Moses, and New David. As the New Adam, the prophets described the Messiah as ushering in a New Creation (cf. Isaiah 11, 65:17-25). In this New Eden (Ezek 26:33-38) the animals would be at peace, i.e., the wolf will dwell with the lamb, etc. Isaiah even prophesies that the suckling child shall play over the hole of the asp (Isaiah 11:6-9; cf. Gen 3:15). This New Creation would include a New Spirit for the people (Ezek 36:26-27).
As the New Moses, the Jews expected the Messiah to usher in a New Exodus and New Passover: And there will be a highway from Assyrian for the remnant which is let of his people, as there was for Israel when they came up from the land of Egypt(Isa 11:16; cf. Ezek 20:41-42; 36:26-27; 47-8 ). Most striking perhaps of the Messianic hopes was that of the Ingathering of the Nations and the Restoration of the Kingdom. This hope was to be accomplished by the Messiah as the New David:
In that day the Lord will extend his hand yet a second time to recover the remnant which is left of his people… [he] will assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth (Isa 11:11-12).
Finally, the Messiah would bring forth a New and Everlasting Covenant, surpassing and transforming the covenants of old:
Behold the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke, and I showed myself their master, says the Lord. But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God and they shall be my people (Jeremiah 31:31-33).
Despite the centuries separating these prophets from the Incarnation itself, we can see an undeniable connection between their writings and the coming of Christ.
REFLECTION. How familiar am I with the Old Testament? Read Isaiah 11. What can I learn about the coming Messiah from this passage? How can reading the Old Testament increase my faith? How can I use the Old Testament when I evangelize?