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As I give this overview of some key Messianic prophecies in this lesson I will be doing so via Biblical Theology.  Rather than examining Messianic prophecies separately I will show the development of Messianic prophecies that build upon Genesis 3:15.  Here is a basic definition of biblical theology to explain this approach by Geerhardus Vos,

“Biblical Theology deals with the material from the historical standpoint, seeking to exhibit the organic growth or development of the truths of Special Revelation from the primitive pre-redemptive Special Revelation (Revelation prior to the recording of Scripture, prior to Moses) given in Eden to the close of the New Testament canon[1]”.

Biblical theology is distinguished from systematic theology because it seeks to show the development of a doctrine or motif in scripture progressively i.e. Paul’s theology of Justification in the Pauline epistles, whereas Systematic Theology organizes theology by doctrine logically rather than tracing the development of the doctrine gradually with progressive revelation compared to Biblical theology.  The analogy of a seed developing into a tree helps to give a mental picture to understand what Biblical Theology is as a discipline in Theology,

“The organic process is from seed-form to the attainment of full growth; yet we do not say that in the qualitative sense the seed is less perfect than the tree.  The feature in question explains further how the soteric (salvific) sufficiency of the truth could belong to it in its first state of emergence: in the seed-form the minimum of indispensable knowledge was already present.  Again, it explains how revelation could be so closely determined in its onward movement by the onward movement of redemption…But redemption, as is well known, is eminently organic in its progress.  It does not proceed with uniform motion, but rather is ‘epochal’ in its onward stride (it isn’t a straight line of development, but has sharp peaks at certain points i.e. Isaiah 53)[2]”.

This is not a novel approach to studying scripture, but is well attested by Reformed Confessions demonstrating that reformed theologians didn’t study theology only systematically, but also observed the progressive nature of revelation as the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith explains covenant theology via the progressive revelation of the covenant of grace as first promised in Genesis 3:15 and inaugurated by the shed blood of Christ in the new covenant,

1689 LBC Chapter 7 Paragraph 3: This Covenant is revealed in the Gospel; first of all to Adam in the promise of Salvation by the5 seed of the woman, and afterwards by farther steps, until the full6 discovery thereof was compleated in the New Testament; and it is founded in that* Eternal Covenant transaction, that was between the Father and the Son, about the Redemption of the Elect; and it is alone by the Grace of this Covenant, that all of the posterity of fallen Adam, that ever were7 saved, did obtain life and a blessed immortality; Man being now utterly uncapable of acceptance with God upon those terms, on which Adam stood in his state of innocency[3]”.

Before proceeding to examine some Messianic prophecies I need to define a few important terms for studying Messianic prophecies, you may not use all of these terms in evangelism, but they are important to know for doing any research on Messianic prophecies.  The Old Testament was written in Hebrew with a few small portions in Aramaic, during about the 7th century the Masoretes added vowel points to the Hebrew Text, which was passed down orally and is what you will find in a Hebrew Bible today.  Related to this is an important point on textual criticism for the Old Testament called the Qere (what is read) and Ketib (what is written).  Textual criticism is the study of comparing ancient manuscripts of a document to examine places in which the manuscripts differ (textual variants), so that the original text can be derived from the manuscripts and distinguished from scribal errors i.e. minor spelling errors of similar letters.  This is significant for some Messianic prophecies as I will discuss later with the Shiloh prophecy in Genesis 49:10; here is a basic definition of the qre and ktib from the renown Hebraist and Arabist Joshua Blau,

“In some cases, words in the text of the Bible [Old Testament] are unvocalized (called ktib, i.e. “written” in Aramaic), because the version represented by them has been rejected by the Masoretes (as אסור Genesis 39:20).  The version preferred to that of the ktib, called qre (i.e. “read” in Aramaic), is written, fully vocalized [with vowels], on the margin of the Biblical text (as אֲסִ֯ורֵ֥י ibid).  As ill-fortune would have it, in many Bibles the ktib is exhibited in the text with the vowels of the qre (!) (as אֲסִ֯ורֵ֥י ibid), and the unvocalized qre on the margin (as אסירי ); yet one has always to bear in mind that only the vocalization of the qre is traditionally transmitted, whereas the proper vocalization of the ktib can only be surmised[4]”.

In addition to the Hebrew Old Testament, the Masoretic text (sometime abbreviated as MT) there is also the Septuagint (abbreviated as LXX), a Jewish ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament dated between 200-400 BC.  Lastly, there are the Aramaic Targums, Jewish paraphrases/translations of the Old Testament, this was important for Jews at the time because by about 2,000 BC Aramaic was the language of international trade in the ancient world, hence the need for Aramaic paraphrases/translations of the Old Testament after the exile when many Jews had forgotten Hebrew and were more familiar with Aramaic.

Genesis 3:15 occurs within the context of God’s judgment upon Adam and Eve having broken His command not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17), but in the midst of God’s pronouncement of judgment comes a glimpse of hope with the promise of a coming seed of the woman that will crush the serpent’s head, as God pronounces judgment on the serpent (Genesis 3:14-15) often called the “first Gospel”:  “And enmity I will place between you and between the woman and between your seed and between her seed, he himself will crush you (2ms) (on the) head and you (2ms) yourself will strike him (on the) heel”.

Jewish objections to this passage include viewing the curse on the serpent as referring to the natural hatred that women have of serpents such as Nahum Sarna suggests,

“This curse seeks to explain the natural revulsion of humans for the serpent. Clearly, when it entered into conversation with the woman, it could not have been so regarded; indeed, it posed as her friend, solicitous of her interests[5]”.

However this ignores the common usage of ’ēbāh in the MT, which according to HALOT means, “enmity or hostile disposition[6]”.

The use of this word both in Genesis 3:15 and its other occurrences in the OT suggests that this refers to more than merely a dislike of snakes but a real adversarial enmity with the serpent.  The second common objection is that seed is used collectively and therefore cannot refer to the Messiah in this passage, but this ignores other uses of zera’ as HALOT says it can refer to both descendents and a descendent[7], also the seed that will crush the serpent is described using the third person masculine pronoun in this passage hū’ in both the MT and Targum Onkelos, and autos in the LXX, if the seed were collective in this passage then a plural pronoun would have been used instead of a third person singular pronoun.  Paul commenting on this passage in Galatians 3:16, he applies this text to Christ specifically as the seed prophesied in the text.

The second major messianic prophecy in the Pentateuch is Genesis 49:10, a prophecy for the tribe of Judah given before Jacob passed away giving both patriarchal blessings and curses to his sons, which translated from the Masoretic Text is: “A scepter will not depart from Judah nor a scepter from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him belongs the obedience of the peoples.”  Nahum Sarna gives two predominant Jewish interpretations of Shiloh,

“The present rendering, that of the Yalkut and Lekaḥ Tov, takes shiloh as a combination of shai, “tribute,” and loh, “to him.” Several ancient versions understand it as in late Hebrew shello, “that which belongs to him[8],” that is, until he obtains the monarchy,[9]” and the second view is that Shiloh is a messianic reference, “An early tradition, found in texts from Qumran, in the Targums, and in rabbinic literature, sees in shiloh a messianic title, although no biblical passage supports this. It has even been noted that the numerical value of the consonants y-b-ʾ sh-y-l-h, “Shiloh will come,” is equal to that of mashiaḥ, “messiah”: 358 [the Rabbinic references he gives in the footnote are: 4QGe[10]n. 49:10, Sanh. 98b, Gen. R. 98:13, Lam. R. 1:16. [11]][12].”

There are two messianic interpretations of this passage; the first is given by E.W. Hengsetnberg, a well known 19th century conservative OT Lutheran theologian.  He observes the similarity of Shiloh with Solomon’s name in Hebrew and argues that Shiloh is an adjective meaning peace based off of his view that Shiloh comes from the noun Shilon for rest,

“The analogy of the name shlmh which is formed after the manner of shīlh, indicates that it has here an adjective signification, and, like Solomon, Shiloh denotes “the man of rest,” corresponds to the “Prince of Peace” in Is. 9:5, and, viewed in its character of a proper name, is like the German “Friedrich’ = Frederick, i.e., “rich in peace,” “the Peaceful one[13]”.

I side with the messianic view of Geerhardus Vos and others who view Shiloh as composed of three parts, translated together as “he to whom it belongs”, Vos explains this position well,

“I resolve the word Shiloh, after leaving off the vowels, into the three characters sh-l-oh.  Then sh- is taken as the abbreviated form of the relative asher; l-, I take as the preposition lamedh; the –oh at the end of the word is the suffix of the third-person singular bearing the possessive sense of “his.”  Taken cumulatively, this yields the rendering “he to whom[14].”

This interpretation is also supported by an intertextuality with Ezekiel 21:27,

“That this is not an arbitrary or prejudicial explanation appears from the passage in Ezekiel that must evidently be accounted for as a conscious echo of the Jacob-blessing…the mysterious characters sh-l-oh reappear here.  It is true, the subject to which, in each case, the relative belongs differs as between Genesis and Ezekiel; but it differs only in form, not in substantial meaning  In Genesis it is the scepter and the judge’s staff held by Judah, while in Ezekiel, it is designated as “the government[15]”.

In addition to this, the translation of Shiloh as “to whom it belongs” is supported by the qre of this passage is shīlō[16], which supports the translation “to whom it belongs” explaining that the final he in Shiloh is used to mark a vowel, rather than being consonantal, so the messianic view of “to whom it belongs” is supported by the Hebrew Text, whereas you have to change the Hebrew root to shlmh to defend Hengstenberg’s position.

The last prophecy that will be examined concerning the Messiah in the Pentateuch is Numbers 24:17-19.  This messianic prophecy comes in the last of Balaam’s three blessings that he gives to Israel instead of the curses that King Balak of Moab had commanded Balaam to call upon the nation of Israel.  All of the New Testament references to Balaam describe him as wicked warning believers not to follow in his ways (Jude 11, 2 Peter 2:15, Revelation 2:14).  Even in spite of Balaam’s greedy motives to curse Israel to gain a great reward from King Balak of Moab (Numbers 22:15,), in the Lord’s providence Balaam’s curses become blessings to Israel (Nehemiah 13:2) and Balaam utters a messianic prophecy  despite the fact that Balaam by no means is a prophet.  Numbers 24:17 translated from the Masoretic Text: “I see him, but not now, I see him but (he) is not near, A star will come from Jacob, and a scepter will rise from Israel, and he will smash the corners of Moab, and he will tear down all the sons of Seth.”

Baruch Levine in the JPS commentary series gives the Jewish interpretation of this passage, arguing that it refers to David rather than Christ because of the parallelism between kokāb “star” and šēbeṭ “staff”,

“some commentators have taken their cue from kokāb “star,” and sought a parallel meaning for šēbeṭ, citing Aramaic šebiṭ, “the name of a star,” referring to a meteor or shooting star that leaves a “tail” in its wake, having the appearance of a staff or scepter (Babylonian Talmud, Berakot 58b, Levy IV, 496, s.v. šebîṭ), extending the usual meaning of Hebrew šēbeṭ.  Alternatively, one could take a cue from šēbeṭ in its figurative connotation of “sovereign, head,” namely, one who bears a scepter.  Thus Genesis 49:10: “The ‘scepter’ (šēbeṭ) shall not depart from Judah, nor the magistrate (meḥoqeq) from the issue of his loins[17]”.

This interpretation still runs into the same dilemma as Genesis 49:10, that the conquest described in this passage exceeds the size of what David’s kingdom ever was, and Levine’s second interpretation does support a messianic view of the passage connecting it to Genesis 49:10. By comparing other ancient translations it is clear that this is a messianic prophecy in addition to the clear allusions to Genesis 3:15 and 49:10, according to the LXX the Hebrew word šēbeṭ (scepter/tribe) is replaced with anthrōpas (man), and Targum Onkelos has mɘshīḥā’ (the messiah)[18].

The root mḥts occurs in Numbers 24:17 to describe the Messiah crushing Moab which is similar to Genesis 3:15 which describes the Messiah crushing the head of the serpent using the Hebrew verb shūp. James Hamilton suggests that one of the problems avoiding connecting Genesis 3:15 with similar passages (such as Numbers 24:17) is the word-concept fallacy, that because a word isn’t used therefore the concept isn’t present, and applied to Genesis 3:15 because the word shūp is used exclusively in Genesis 3:15 to describe the defeat of the serpent’s seed, therefore it can’t be connected to other passages using a different Hebrew word[19].  If that method were employed for basing messianic passages solely on the occurrence of the noun for Messiah, then the only messianic prophecies in the Old Testament would be Psalm 2:2 and Daniel 9:25,26, but the Messiah is clearly mentioned in other prophecies without having to use the Hebrew word māshīaḥ.  Hamilton lists several occurrences of the root mḥts which allude to Genesis 3:15 showing that it is within the semantic domain of shūp: Judges 5:26 uses the root mḥts to describe Jael crushing Sisera’s head[20], in Habakkuk 3:13 it describes salvation coming by your Messiah (’et-mɘshīḥekā) who crushed the head of the house of the wicked[21], In Psalm 68:22 [English 68:21] Yahweh’s triumph over his enemies is described, “Surely God will crush  the heads of his enemies…[22]”, and Psalm 110:6, “He has shattered (the) head over a broad country”.

One last overlooked OT text in this trajectory of the first messianic prophecy of the skull crushing seed of the woman is Psalm 110:6, most likely due to its traditional translation (heads/chief) which blunts the significance of this messianic prophecy.

David uses the word head (singular in Hebrew) to describe the federal head of the wicked one, referring to Satan as the federal representative of the evil seed, just as John describes Cain as being from the seed of the Devil in 1 John 3:10-12.  Hengstenburg, a conservative Lutheran OT Theologian and commentator sees the connection with the singular head in Hebrew with other Old Testament passages, building his biblical theology based on intertextuality (similar occurrences of the same phrase in other verses in the Bible),

“That the rōsh [head] is used in its proper sense and cannot be translated: a head over great lands, is clear not from the ’al [upon/on]—against the assertion that it must necessarily have been rbh v‘sh ‘rts [רבה ואש ארץ] [this is an argument from liberal scholars that the Hebrew is corrupted here and Hengsetnberg is providing their proposed emendation/correction] comp. Ps. 47:2—but from the clause, “he shall raise the head,” in ver. 7, and from the parallel passage, Ps. 68:21, “God smites the head of his enemies, the hairy head of him who walketh in his sins,” and Hab. 3:13,—comp. ver. 14, rōsh māḥats  occurs in like manner in the sense of a breaker of heads.   On our verse we should compare the expanded description in Rev. 19:11 ss., comp. 16:1, ss.[23]

Although Hengstenberg missed the Messianic reference alluding back to Genesis 3:15 with the same language of crushing the head of the serpent Martin Luther (an Old Testament scholar by his academic training) did observe this motif in his lectures on the Psalms and understood Psalm 110:5-6 as referring to Christ crushing Satan, the federal representative of the wicked,

“Behold, in that He (Christ) preserves the soul, He is at his right hand, but in that He delivers him into the other’s hand, Satan comes to be at his left hand. Again, the devil stands at the right hand of the ungodly (Ps. 109:6), because he possesses them according to the soul and hinders them in the things that are for the salvation of the soul, though he may advance them on the left hand, that is, in temporal things[24]”.

Some commentators although not acknowledging the Messianic reference in verse 6 have shown some parallels between Psalm 110:5-6 with Psalm 2, which prophesies about Christ’s kingly office,

“Of special importance are the traditions that make their appearance in vv. 5* and 6*. Here Psalm 2 is to be considered an explanatory parallel. Corresponding to the melachim [kings] we have melache-erets [the kings of the earth] in Ps. 2:2*. Beside bǝyōm-appō yādin [in the day of his anger he will judge] we are to place the explanation of Ps. 2:5a*: az yedabber’ ēlēmō bǝappō [then he will speak to them in his anger][25]”.

These brief observations on Psalm 110:6 show that verses 5-6 have important messianic implications testifying to the Kingship of Christ, so when we observe the New testament quoting Psalm 110 we have a better foundation to understand that Psalm 110 refers to both Christ’s office as a Priest after the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:1-4), but also a conquering King (Psalm 110:5-6).

It has been demonstrated that the Messianic witness of the Pentateuch testifies to an organic nature of Messianic Prophecy in the Old Testament starting with Genesis 3:15 as each messianic prophecy cumulatively builds and expands upon previous messianic prophecies providing stronger evidence for the Messiah than viewing each messianic prophecy in isolation.  As the case is with Numbers 24:17, it demonstrates there is much stronger evidence for this prophecy to be viewed as messianic when it is compared with Genesis 3:15 and Genesis 49:10, and Psalm 100:5-6, along with other OT passages building on similar motifs of the Messiah,  being fulfilled in the person of Christ: the skull crushing seed of the woman, Shiloh, he to whom the scepter of the tribe of Judah belongs, the star and scepter who has dominion over all nations, the King at God’s right hand, and the head crusher of the evil one, Satan.

[1] Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1975), v-vi

[2] Ibid, 7

5 Gen. 3:15.

6 Heb. 1:1.

* 2 Tim. 1:9; Tit. 1:2.

7 Heb. 11:6, 13; Rom. 4:1, 2, etc. Act. 4:12; Joh. 8:56.

[3] W. J. McGlothlin, Baptist Confessions of Faith (Philadelphia; Boston; Chicago; St. Louis; Toronto: American Baptist Publication Society, 1911), 239

[4] Joshua Blau, A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew (Gottingen, Germany: Porta Linguarem Orientalium, 1976), 21-22; for more resources on OT textual criticism a useful introduction is: Kelley, Page H., Daniel S. Mynatt, and Timothy G. Crawford. The Masorah of Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia: Introduction and Annotated Glossary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998), and a more thorough and technical treatment is: Emmanuel Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible 3rd Edition Expanded & Revised (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012)

[5] Nahum M. Sarna, Genesis, The JPS Torah Commentary (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989), 27

[6] HALOT, 39

[7] HALOT, 283; Walter Kaiser explains how both the individual and collective aspect of the seed can be taken into account with the principle of corporate solidarity, “However, the very fact that the noun “seed” is a collective  singular deliberately provides for the fact that it may include  the one who represents the whole group as well as the group itself.  The fact that there is such a one specified in this text as a male descendent of the woman opens up this text to its messianic possibilities.” Walter Kaiser, The Messiah in the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995), 39

[8] Also Alfred Ralph’s LXX translates Shiloh as τὰ ἀποκείμενα αὐτῷ, “whose it is.”

[9] Nahum M. Sarna, Genesis, The JPS Torah Commentary (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989), 336

4QGen Manuscript of Genesis from Qumran, cave 4, “Qumran text 4Q Patr. 3f (Lohse Qumran 246, 247): עד בוא משיח הצדק צמח דויד “until the one anointed with righteousness comes, the scion (offshoot) of David.” HALOT, 1478

Sanh. Sanhedrin

Gen. R. Genesis Rabba

Lam. R. Lamentations Rabba

[11] Nahum M. Sarna, Genesis, The JPS Torah Commentary (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989), 336

[12] ibid, 337

[13] E.W. Hengsetnberg, Christology of the Old Testament. Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1956), 69

[14] Ibid, 99; Walter Kaiser argues for the same interpretation of Shiloh as Vos, and adds that both the LXX and Targum Onkelos support this translation of Shiloh. Walter Kaiser, The Messiah in the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995), 51.  HALOT after giving the three possibilities of what Shiloh refers to sides with Vos and Kaiser’s position viewing Shiloh as referring “to whom it belongs” and points out that the Qere in the Masoretic Text is שִׁילוֹ HALOT, 1478

[15] Geerhardus Vos, Edited by James T. Dennison Jr, The Eschatology of the Old Testament (Philsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2001), 99

[16] שִׁילוֹ

[17] Baruch A. Levine, Numbers 21-36, The Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday, 2000), 200

[18] Jame Kugel provides some additional ancient translations of Numbers 24:17: the translation of Targum Neophyti of Numbers 24:17, “A king is destined to arise from the house of Jacob and a savior and ruler from the house of Israel,” and the Peshitta, “A star shines forth from Jacob and a leader from Israel.”  James L. Kugel, The Bible As it Was (Cambridge; Massachusets: Harvard University Press, 1997), 489

[19] Hamilton, James, “The Skull Crushing Seed of the Woman: Inner-Biblical Interpretation of Genesis 3:15”,The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 10.2 (2006), 34

[20] ibid, 35

[21] ibid, 37

[22] ibid, 37, this is my own translation of Ps. 68:22 from the MT

[23] E. W. Hengstenberg, John Thomson, and Patrick Fairbairn, Commentary on the Psalms, vol. 3 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1869), 340–341

[24] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 11: First Lectures on the Psalms II: Psalms 76-126, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 11 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1955), 369–370;   Henry Ainsworth takes a similar view, but views the head as referring to the Antichrist who will be overthrown or as a more generic term equivalent to the plural as in evil rulers, “the Head,] Antichrist, the man of sin, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, 2 Thes. 2:3,8, or head for heads, and land for lands, that is, all wicked governors wheresoever”.  Henry Ainsworth, Annotations on the Pentateuch or the Five Books of Moses; The Psalms of David  and the Song of Solomon (Ligoner, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, republished in 1991 [1612]), Vol. II: 632

[25] Hans-Joachim Kraus, A Continental Commentary: Psalms 60–150 (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1993), 352