ARBITRARY BRUSHING ASIDE OF EARLY PROPHECIES
DR. JOSEPH KLAUSNER, Professor Emeritus of Hebrew Literature and Jewish History, of the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, State of Israel, is one of the most prominent and outstanding Hebrew scholars in Israel today. He is the author of a number of works, among which are Jesus of Nazareth, From Jesus to Paul, and The Messianic Idea in Israel. In the last of these three volumes, he states that Jewish scholars, as well as Christians, have sought to find Messianic prophecy in its embryonic form in early prophecies in the first Books of the Bible. He calls attention, for instance, to the fact that both Jewish and Christian scholars have interpreted Genesis 3:14,15, as well as Genesis 9:26,27, Deuteronomy 18:15-19, and Job 19:25, as references to the Messiah. Dr. Klausner denies that these passages are genuine Messianic prophecies, but asserts: "All these examples, and very many more like them, are theological interpretations, which it is fitting merely to mention before we pass on to the matter of genuinely Messianic Biblical passages" (The Messianic Idea in Israel, p. 27 ).¹
Why pass by and ignore these passages? Dr. Klausner does not give a logical reason for doing so. Because they are in the early Books of the Bible, does he, like some scholars, consider them to be merely echoes of myths that were floating around in the atmosphere of the ancient Orient? If one is to reject a passage because it is in the early chapters of the revelation of God, then, of course, he shall have to reject the first statement of the Scriptures: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." Is this sublime utterance taken from some myth of the Sumerians, Babylonians, or Assyrians; or is it a sober statement of an actual historical fact? I believe that Dr. Klausner and every scholar who has any respect for the sacred Scriptures as being the Word of the living God will accept this declaration as being a true statement of fact. If not, why not? Notwithstanding the brushing aside of certain early prophecies, Dr. Klausner accepts such passages as Genesis 12:1-3, Genesis 26:4, and Genesis 28:14. These passages, he tells us, contain the germinal thoughts which, under the proper influence, were developed into Messianic oracles and contributed to the formation of the Messianic idea in Israel.
To Abraham God made the following promise:
12 Now Jehovah said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto the land that I will show thee: 2 and I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and be thou a blessing: 3 and I will bless them that bless thee, and him that curseth thee will I curse: and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed (Gen. 12:1-3).
Why accept this passage at its face value and reject the others? This original promise made to Abraham, God reaffirmed to Isaac: "... I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven, and will give unto thy seed all these lands; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed" (Gen. 26:4).
According to these passages, God will bless all nations in Abraham and in his seed. The word translated seed is in the singular number and naturally refers to an individual in certain contexts, but in others it is used as a collective noun. One must distinctly note this fact. Taken at its literal specific meaning, the word undoubtedly refers to the Messiah. When, on the other hand, it is used as a collective noun, as is often the case, it refers to the literal offspring of Abraham (Gen. 15:5).
Let us now consider Genesis 3:14,15: "14 And Jehovah God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, cursed art thou above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: 15 and I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed: he shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel." Though the language of this passage seems a bit obscure, the general outline is clearly discernible. Here is foretold a conflict between two individuals: the "seed of the woman" and the "seed of the serpent." They engage in a mighty struggle. What the seed of the serpent does to his opponent is compared to a bruise on the heel, whereas what the seed of the woman does to his opponent is compared to a crushing blow upon the head. This passage contains the promise of a world redeemer. New ideas were added to this embryonic promise from time to time, until it developed into a clear lifesize portrait of the one and only Messiah, the Redeemer of mankind. When an artist paints a portrait, he first blocks it out. With each stroke of the brush he adds to the development of the portrait until finally it is completed. Thus the prophets were word artists, and each contributed his part in painting the portrait of King Messiah in the Old Testament.
Dr. Klausner states that Christian theologians actually believe that they find a hint of the Messiah in Deuteronomy 18:15-19:
15 Jehovah thy God will raise up unto thee a prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken; 16 according to all that thou desiredst of Jehovah thy God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, Let me not hear again the voice of Jehovah my God, neither let me see this great fire any more, that I die not. 17 And Jehovah said unto me, They have well said that which they have spoken. 18 I will raise them up a prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee; and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. 19 And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him.
With one bold brief sentence Dr. Klausner brushes aside, arbitrarily, the idea that Messiah is promised in this wonderful passage. The reason that Christian theologians find in this passage the promise of the Messiah is that it is there and clearly expressed. When God spoke from the heights of Sinai to the assembled congregation of Israel in the plain beneath, they urged Moses to have God speak to him, and not to them any more, lest they die. In this passage God stated that He would grant their request by raising up a prophet like Moses, who would speak to them. In a special manner God had spoken at Sinai directly out of the clouds. In this promise He implied that He would speak to them directlythrough a prophet. The implication of this passage is that He would speak to them in a way different from that in which He would speak through the regular prophets. Yet this one is called a prophet. This passage is, therefore, clearly a Messianic prediction.
One should be very careful in handling the Scriptures and not brush aside any passage because it does not accord with his own ideas. The Word of God means what it says and says what it means. One must accept it upon that basis and explain it according to the Golden Rule of Interpretation, as seen in Chapter V.
¹ Joseph Klausner, The Messianic Idea in Israel from Its Beginning to the Completion of the Mishnah (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1955), quoted by permission of The Macmillan Company.