Now, if YHWH really did establish ancient Israel, as the Bible says, and if there really is some kind of a divine plan, as I am suggesting, then what was the next stage of the plan? Through various prophets YHWH revealed the next step to them, but somewhat cryptically, in a way that would refine them and test the condition of their heart.
To Moses, God said in reference to Israel: “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers, and I will put my words in his mouth, and he will speak to them all that I will instruct him. And whoever does not listen to my words, which he will speak in my name, I will call him to account.” 1
Moses was commanded by YHWH to bring Israel out from under Egyptian slavery. He received the Law covenant on Mount Sinai, and mediated the covenant between YHWH and Israel. But since Israel broke that covenant multiple times, YHWH promised them a new covenant, different from the one he made with them after bringing them out of Egypt. This one would be written into their heart, and they would truly know God. 2 If Moses mediated the first covenant between God and Israel, perhaps the prophet like Moses would be mediator of the new covenant.
God also promised them a king, from the offspring of David, who would be “a righteous sprout.” 3 The prophet Isaiah foretold a sprout from the root of Jesse, King David’s father, who would “stand as a banner for the people. To him the Gentiles will inquire; and his resting place will be glory.” 4
Through the prophet Micah, a rough timetable was given for when this king would appear. First, Zion would be exiled to Babylon, and then return. Nations would desire to defile Zion, but she would thresh them, which would fit the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, and the Jewish line of Maccabees who defeated the king of Syria. Then, Zion would find herself under siege, which would fit the time when Roman general Pompey captured Jerusalem, and Judea became a province under Roman rule. During that time, Zion would cut herself, a form of self-harm.
In that volatile environment, Israel’s king would be born in Bethlehem, the birthplace of King David: “And you Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you will come out for me the one to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from everlasting, from the days of eternity.” 5
Curiously, according to this prophecy, the king “will give them up, until the time when she who is to give birth has given birth; and the rest of his brothers will return to the sons of Israel.” 6 The prophecy doesn’t specify why the king would give Israel up for a time, but once Zion has given birth, the king no longer gives them up. Instead, he would stand up in strength, and Israel would dwell in their land, because their king would be great to the ends of the earth. This prophecy has been examined in more detail in “Letter To The Jews.” 7
The prophet Isaiah also wrote extensively about this king of Israel. He foretold a son, a child who would be born to them, “and the rulership will be upon his shoulder. And his name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” 8
These names are really titles or descriptions of what this person would be. Although ancient Jews sometimes referred to their judges as gods, it is unlikely they would call a human son any of these things. To them, giving such titles to a person would verge on blasphemy! Therefore, this is a highly unusual prophecy, if it was merely an invention of their priests.
Isaiah continued: “Of the increase of his rulership and of peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and support it with judgment and justice, from now on and forever. The zeal of YHWH of hosts will do this.” 9
Through the prophet Malachi, God promised Israel a perfect priest, in contrast to the priests who were profaning the covenant. “The law of truth was in his mouth, and iniquity was not found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and in uprightness, and he restored many from sin. For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and they should seek law from his mouth, because he is the messenger of YHWH of hosts.” 10
In the same book, a series of rhetorical questions or statements are made, that Israel had been saying about God. One of them is, “Where is the God of judgment?”11 The Hebrew word here translated “judgment” is often translated as “justice,” so the question could also be phrased as, “Where is the God of justice?” A similar question is asked by many today, including atheists. They argue that, because there is injustice and suffering in the world, God therefore cannot exist.
According to the prophet, God’s reply to this question was: “Look! I am sending my messenger, and he prepares the way before me; and suddenly the Lord whom you are seeking will come to his Temple, and the messenger of the covenant in whom you take delight. Look! He is coming, says YHWH of hosts. But who will endure the day of his coming? And who will stand when he appears?” 12
I think God was basically saying to them here, “You want the God of justice? Sure, I’ll bring you the Lord of justice you are seeking. But will you be able to handle it?” The people of Israel criticized God for not acting justly, but they were acting unjustly towards one another.
For example, God accused them of covering his altar with tears and groaning, because of how they were treating their wives. “YHWH has testified between you and between the wife of your youth, whom you have betrayed, even though she is your partner and the wife of your covenant.” 13
It seems this criticism included both divorce and domestic abuse, for the prophet continued: “For he hates divorce, says YHWH the God of Israel, and he who covers his garment with violence, says YHWH of hosts; and you are to guard your spirit, and not be treacherous.” 14
No wonder God asked, in reference to his promise that the Lord would come to his Temple, “who will endure the day of his coming? And who will stand when he appears?” The coming of the Lord they were seeking, the God of justice, would not be as they expected. It would be a severe test for the nation of Israel.
1 Deuteronomy 18:18,19. 2 Jeremiah 31:31-34. 3 Jeremiah 33:15. 4 Isaiah 11:1,10. 5 Micah 5:2. 6 Micah 5:3. 7 See chapter 28 of “Letter To The Jews” at lettertothejews.com 8 Isaiah 9:6. 9 Isaiah 9:7. 10 Malachi 2:5-7. 11 Malachi 2:17. 12 Malachi 3:1,2. 13 Malachi 2:13,14. 14 Malachi 2:16.