Sunday, March 31, 2013

Mashiach/Messiah Part 1 - Why We Need To Know This Stuff

Everyone is always curious about the future; their personal future, that of loved ones and the future of their beloved home or country. Millions of dollars are spent annually throughout many cultures utilizing a myriad of divination methods, new age approaches, gurus, soothsayers, palm and tarot card readers and so on. Most of these avenues are as old as humanity itself. Another source for prognostication is religious zealots and those commonly called prophets. All religions have them and at times their accuracies can be quite uncanny, depending of course on how they are interpreted by those hearing or reading their musings. Not all prophets are religiously-oriented, strictly speaking. Examples of these would be people like Nostradamus, a 16th century French physician. A modern day prophet would be the likes of Edgar Cayce, an American seer who could barely read but whose predictions and healing sessions proved quite remarkable. Cayce died in 1945.

What all these prognosticators had in common was their ability, whether real or manufactured, to gaze into a future. Most prophets, if they are wise, never try to explain that future they envision but simply tell what they saw and leave it up to the future itself to either prove them a false prophet or the genuine article.

My concern over the next several articles I will be addressing has to do mainly with a certain type of prophetic utterance that relates to a specific political and spiritual individual who is expected by billions of people on planet Earth. This person has been called by many different names but the most common title attributed to him is the Jewish term mashiach (messiah), which literally means “one who is anointed” for a special mission. The whole concept of a mashiach was created by and is grounded in Jewish thought. Over time it has also filtered into the thinking of Christians, Muslims and the secular world as well. However, there is a deep chasm in the understanding of the role of this mashiach between these divergent groups and since the whole idea sprang from the Jewish mind then this is where I will focus my attention in the following articles.

In order to give an accurate description of this mashiach we will need to go to the source of the information about him which is the prophetic writings of the Jewish people. One of the most prolific Jewish prophets who spoke about a mashiach and his special role to the State of Israel, the Jewish people and the rest of the world population was a priest named Isaiah. He lived in Judah (the Southern portion of the Land of Israel) during the 8th Century BCE (Before the Common Era). This series of articles will look at several of Israel’s prophets as they gave their ideas of the mashiach but we will start with Isaiah, considered the supreme expert on the subject. I will be using several different translations of the Hebrew text of the Tanakh (mistakenly referred to as the Old Testament), including the 2nd Edition of the Jewish Publication Society-JPS, the Complete Jewish Bible by David Stern, limited Haftorah portions from The Living Torah by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, and my own translation of Hebrew texts.

May you find the unfolding revelation of the mashiach as enlightening and exciting to your life as I have over the last 50 years of my own.

This is the word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Y'hudah (Judah) and Yerushalayim (Jerusalem):

In the days yet to come the mountain of G-d's house will be established as the most important mountain. It will be regarded more highly than the other hills, and all the Goyim (Gentiles - the non-Jewish population of the world) will stream there. Many peoples will go and say, "Come, let's go up to the mountain of the L-rd, to the house of the G-d of Ya'akov (Jacob)! He will teach us about his ways, and we will walk in his paths." For out of Tziyon (Zion) will go forth Torah, the word of G-d from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations and arbitrate for many peoples. Then they will hammer their swords into plow-blades and their spears into pruning-knives; nations will not raise swords at each other, and they will no longer learn war.

Descendants of Jacob, come! Let's live in the light of G-d! For you have abandoned your people the house of Jacob. Now they are filled from the east, full of sorcerers, like the Philistines; even the children of foreigners are enough for them! Their land is full of silver and gold; they have no end of treasures. Their land is full of horses; they have no end of chariots. Their land is full of idols; everyone worships the work of his hands, what his own fingers have made. A person bows down, a man lowers himself - don't forgive them! Come into the rock, hide in the dust to escape the terror of G-d and the glory of his majesty. The proud looks of man will be humiliated; the arrogance of men will be bowed down; and when that day comes, G-d alone will be exalted. Yes, Adonai-Tzva'ot (L-rd of Hosts) has a day in store for all who are proud and lofty, for all who are lifted high to be humiliated; for all cedars of the Lebanon that are high and lifted up, for all the oaks of the Bashan; for all the high mountains, for all the hills that are lifted up; for every high tower, for every fortified wall; for every Tarshishian ship, for every luxurious vessel. The pride of man will be bowed down, the arrogance of men will be humiliated, and when that day comes, G-d alone will be exalted. The idols will be completely abolished. People will enter cracks in the rocks and holes in the ground to escape the terror of G-d and his glorious majesty, when he sets out to convulse the earth. On that day a man will take hold of his idols of silver and idols of gold, which they made for themselves to worship, and fling them away to the moles and bats! Then they will enter the cracks in the rocks and the crevices in the cliffs to escape the terror of the L-rd and his glorious majesty, when he sets out to convulse the earth. Stop relying on man, in whose nostrils is a mere breath - after all, he doesn't count for much, does he?

This is the first really detailed outline from a prophetic source that gives an opening account of the kind of times the world will be experiencing before and after the mashiach comes into his own. First, to better understand what Isaiah is talking about it might be good to have a Jewish understanding of just what or who this expected mashiach is and what his duties will be.

Unlike the Christian and Muslim ideology of a messiah, the original Jewish concept, was an outcropping, or byproduct of a long ago blessing given by Jacob to his son Judah. That blessing, can be found in Bereshit (Genesis) Chapter 49: “You, O Judah, your brothers shall praise; your hand shall be on the nape of your foes; your father’s sons shall bow low to you. Judah is a lion’s whelp; on prey, my son, have you grown. He crouches, lies down like a lion, like the king of beasts, who dare rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet; so that tribute shall come to him and the homage of peoples be his. He tethers his ass to a vine, his ass’s foal to a choice vine; he washes his garment in wine, his robe in blood of grapes. His eyes are darker than wine; his teeth are whiter than milk.”

This entire death bed speech from Jacob to his son Judah has a huge mix of Jewish idiom and imagery in it but basically it was a promise from the patriarch to his son that the Jewish royal line of kingship and princely anointing would always be the main part of Judah’s bloodline and would never be cut off or depart from that line. Which meant that from King David (who was the first king of the line of Judah) onward, the mashiach would come from that particular ancestry. It would strictly be a human lineage, not a god, a superman, a demigod or some kind of supernatural being, but simply and purely a human being born from the coupling of a human man and human woman for the task of being a great political and military leader that would lead the Jewish people, first back to its spiritual temple-worship roots and then politically unite the entire world under the banner of the one true creator G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and his torah teaching.

It is obvious from some of the things that Isaiah said that prior to the days of the mashiach’s rule over Israel and the nations there will be a time of war and great suffering. So much so that people will literally be trying to wedge themselves into cracks or clefts of rock sides to avoid the disaster(s). This is also reflected by another prophet named Ezekiel (Chapters 37-39). He lived during a time of great sorrow for the Jewish people. In the 6th Century BCE he saw the fall of the southern kingdom (Judah) at the hands of the Babylonians. He and many thousands of others were led off into captivity while many other thousands of his countrymen and women lay dead in the now vacated streets of the cities and towns of Israel. As he was led off he watched the flames and smoke rise above the ruins of one of the wonders of the world, Solomon’s Temple. Yet, in the midst of all this great tragedy he foresaw a time of great joy, as well as even greater calamity for his people and the rest of the world. In one of his foretelling visions he saw a great and mighty army of Israelites rise up out of the ashes of their despair. He literally saw a valley of dried, dead bones come to life, become reanimated with flesh and muscle and sinew and stand once again in what is now known as the Land of Israel. What he saw came to fruition on May 14, 1948 with the rebirth of the State of Israel. However, his moment of joy was quickly averted to a time of anguish as he witness this newly formed State come under some future attack. He sees a great military force led by someone called Gog. This will take place in a period of time referred to as taking place in Ezekiel’s far distant future, a period beyond the prophet's comprehension. Yet it is after this same time of great calamity that the mashiach would be revealed. “From that time on, the House of Israel shall know that I the L-rd am their G-d...I will never again hide My face from them, for I will pour out My spirit upon the House of Israel...” “I will manifest my glory among the nations of the Earth and they shall see the judgment that I executed and the power I wielded against them.”

In Part 2 of these articles about the mashiach I will take a closer look at the character and personality of this human being that will one day rule the entire Earth from his headquarters located in Jerusalem.

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