The Trinity in the Old Testament (Part 2): The Deity of Israel’s Messiah

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In a previous article, I began a series exploring the nature of God in the Old Testament, and the continuity of the Jewish Scriptures with God’s revelation in the New Testament. We looked at several texts that communicate a plurality of divine persons within the being of God. In this article, I want to consider the deity of Israel’s Messiah. Numerous texts could be brought to bear on establishing the deity of the Messiah from the Hebrew Bible, and justice cannot possibly be done to all of them here. However, I will consider a few examples.

The Trinity in the Old Testament part II

The Deity of the Son of Man 

Our first text concerns the Son of Man figure to whom we are introduced in Daniel 7:13-14:

13 “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. 14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.

Two divine figures are clearly in view here in Daniel’s vision. This is especially evident from Daniel 7:9, in which we read of thrones (plural) being set in place and the Ancient of Days taking His seat. The other throne remains unoccupied, but then we read of the entry of the Son of Man figure, for whom the other throne is apparently intended. There are multiple clues in the text that the Son of Man figure is, in fact, a divine-human figure. The first is that it is said of the Son of Man in verse 14 that “his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” Compare this description with that given of the God of Daniel by King Darius after Daniel is delivered from the lion’s den (Daniel 6:26):

…for he is the living God, enduring forever; his kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion shall be to the end.

As can be seen, the Son of Man in Daniel 7:14 is spoken of in the very terms that Yahweh was spoken of in Daniel 6:26.

But there are yet further clues. It is striking that the Greek Septuagint translation of Daniel 7:14 uses the Greek word latreuo when describing the service that is to be rendered to the “Son of Man.” latreuo denotes the very highest form of worship and religious service, a kind that is to be ascribed only to Yahweh. In the original Aramaic, the term used is palach, which, when used elsewhere in the book of Daniel, is always used when speaking of service or worship to a deity (Daniel 3:12,14,17-18,28; 6:17,21). This again suggests that the “Son of Man” refers to more than a mere human being.

There is yet a further clue to the deity of the Son of Man figure. As scholars, such as John J. Collins, have rightly pointed out, certain literary parallels exist between the “son of man” vision of Daniel 7:13-14 and the Canaanite Baal myth. For example, Baal is referred to frequently as “rider of the clouds”, which resembles the manner in which, in Daniel’s vision, the “son of man” was seen to come on the clouds of heaven. Moreover, the high god El is depicted as an aged deity who is often referred to as the “father of years”, similar to the title ascribed to Yahweh in Daniel 7:13-14 – the “ancient of days”. Further, the “son of man” is portrayed in Daniel 7:13-14 as being in functional subordination to the “ancient of days”, which also parallels the Canaanite myth in which Baal, the subordinate deity, receives kingship from the high god El following the defeat of the god Yamm in battle. Yahweh, the God of Israel, is ascribed the title of cloud rider on several occasions in the Old Testament:

  • Isaiah 19:1: “Behold, the Lord is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt; and the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence, and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them.”
    Deuteronomy 33:26: “There is none like God, O Jeshurun, who rides through the heavens to your help, through the skies in his majesty.”
  • Psalm 68:33: “To him who rides in the heavens, the ancient heavens; behold, he sends out his voice, his mighty voice.”
  • Psalm 104:3: “He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters; he makes the clouds his chariot; he rides on the wings of the wind;”

The Biblical prophets thus appear to have taken this title – a title that was widely recognized as an official title of Baal – and applied it to Yahweh in some capacity. The fact that the son of man is described as being the cloud rider in Daniel 7:13-14 suggests his identification with the same essence as Yahweh Himself, and yet being a person separate and distinct from the “ancient of days” (a concept that prefigures the New Testament revelation of the Trinity).

Why might the Hebrew prophets have borrowed from the Baal myth to communicate truths about the God of Israel? In the northern kingdom of Israel, Jeroboam’s religion had borrowed from Baal worship and it may have begun to look as though there was no difference between Baal and the God of Israel. It is thus hardly surprising that the prophets at times counted on the familiarity with Baal to present their argument that it was, in fact, Yahweh, not Baal, who is the king of heaven. This is most plainly seen in their giving credit to Yahweh for sending the rain and making the crops grow – things for which the Baal cycle would give credit to Baal. 1 Kings 17-18 even portrays a duel between the two rain-givers, Yahweh and Baal, observed by Elijah and the prophets of Baal – a duel which Yahweh demonstrates his superiority over Baal.

The Deity of the Messianic Servant of Isaiah

One of the most fascinating Messianic texts in the Hebrew Bible is Isaiah 52:13-53:12, which gives an in-depth look at the mission of Israel’s Messiah. Isaiah 53 constitutes profound evidence that the Scriptures truly are God-breathed. Even a cursory reading of Isaiah 53 suggests that the most natural way to read the text is as a description of Christ Jesus, a man who would not be born until 700 years after Isaiah penned this text. If you have never taken time to read Isaiah 53, I suggest setting aside some time to read it and ask yourself whether this text could be more suitably applied to anyone else. When one plunges into the depths of the text, the evidence becomes even more clear. Unfortunately, space does not allow me to offer an in-depth analysis of the text here. However, here I want to offer a few arguments for the individual being spoken of here being a divine person.

One of the most intriguing things about this passage is the exaltation language that is applied to the suffering servant in 52:13:

Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted.

This is the very same exaltation language that is used exclusively of Yahweh elsewhere in the book of Isaiah. Consider, for example, Isaiah 6:1:

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up.

Or consider Isaiah 33:5,10:

The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high…“Now I will arise,” says the Lord, “now I will lift myself up; now I will be exalted.”

Or Isaiah 57:15:

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.”

In case any readers were wondering whether this exaltation language of being “high and lifted up” can be applied to anyone who is not Yahweh, Isaiah 2:11-17 sets the record straight:

11 The haughty looks of man shall be brought low, and the lofty pride of men shall be humbled, and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day. 12 For the Lord of hosts has a day against all that is proud and lofty, against all that is lifted up—and it shall be brought low; 13 against all the cedars of Lebanon, lofty and lifted up; and against all the oaks of Bashan; 14 against all the lofty mountains, and against all the uplifted hills; 15 against every high tower, and against every fortified wall; 16 against all the ships of Tarshish, and against all the beautiful craft. 17 And the haughtiness of man shall be humbled, and the lofty pride of men shall be brought low, and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day.

Thus, we see, that the language that Isaiah 52:13 applies to the suffering servant can only be used of a divine person. However, we see further evidence in the suffering servant song of a divine Messiah.

Consider again Isaiah 53:11-12:

11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors, yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.

Thus, we read that the servant will justify many and make intercession for sinners. But here is the thing. We read in Isaiah 45:24-25 that Israel will be justified in Yahweh alone:

24 “Only in the Lord, it shall be said of me, are righteousness and strength; to him shall come and be ashamed all who were incensed against him. 25 In the Lord, all the offspring of Israel shall be justified and shall glory.”

To further consolidate this point, consider Isaiah 59:16 that,

He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then his own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him.

Thus, there was nobody found worthy enough to intercede or bring about salvation — so Yahweh did it Himself using His very own arm. And yet we see in Isaiah 53:11-12 that the servant shall intercede. How can He do so if nobody besides Yahweh is worthy? The answer, of course, is that He is Yahweh.

But there is yet further evidence for the deity of the suffering servant in Isaiah 53. Consider Isaiah 11:1-5,10:

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. 2 The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord— 3 and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; 4 but with righteousness, he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips, he will slay the wicked. 5 Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist… 10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.

This text is indisputably speaking of the Messiah — the descendant of David (and therefore of his father, Jesse). This means that this text connects with Isaiah 9:6-7, which speak of a divine Messiah (who is afforded the title of “Mighty God,” a title used elsewhere, e.g., in Isaiah 10:21 of Yahweh) reigning from David’s throne. While the title Elohim is sometimes used of figures who are not God (e.g., Exodus 7:1), the title El (used in Isaiah 9:6) is never used in any sense other than that of absolute deity.

The conclusion that Isaiah 11 is speaking of the same individual as Isaiah 9 is further supported by the statement that “with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth”, which resembles what is said of the child born in Isaiah 9 (verse 7):

Of the increase of his government and of peace, there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Thus, the Messiah spoken of in Isaiah 11 is the same individual as that spoken of in Isaiah 9:6-7. The Hebrew word used in Isaiah 11:10 for “root” (verse 1 uses the same word in the plural) is sheresh, the very same word used of the suffering servant in Isaiah 53:2:

For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground.

The idea in both of those texts is that the Davidic dynasty, though it would fade away into obscurity, would one day bring forth a shoot from its stump, or root out of its dry ground.

We can further confirm the connection between Isaiah 53 and 9 & 11 by looking at Isaiah 42:2-7, which speaks of the same servant as that described in Isaiah 53:

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations. 2 He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. 3 A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; 4 he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his teaching, the islands will put their hope.” 5 This is what God the Lord says— the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out, who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it: 6 “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, 7 to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

Thus, like the Messiah of Isaiah 9 and 11, the servant is going to “bring justice to the nations” (verse 1) and “establish justice on the earth” (verse 4). God also says “I will put my Spirit on him.” Compare with Isaiah 11:2 (“And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him…”).

Moreover, the servant is going to “open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.” But that is exactly what we read of the divine child in Isaiah 9:1:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has a light shone.

He is also to be a “light for the Gentiles”, just as we saw in Isaiah 11:10:

In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.

We also see these texts being connected to Isaiah 49:1-7, yet another Messianic text:

Listen to me, O coastlands, and give attention, you peoples from afar. The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name. 2 He made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow; in his quiver, he hid me away. 3 And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” 4 But I said, “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my right is with the Lord, and my recompense with my God.” 5 And now the Lord says, he who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him— for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord, and my God has become my strength— 6 he says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” 7 Thus says the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nation, the servant of rulers: “Kings shall see and arise; princes and they shall prostrate themselves; because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”

This text portrays the servant as the true Israel (verse 3), an individual who regathers and redeems national Israel (verse 5) (note also the comparison of the righteous servant in Isaiah 42:1-9 with the unrighteous servant, Israel, in Isaiah 42:18-25). The servant also — just as we saw in our other texts — is a light for the gentiles (verse 6). There is also a striking parallel in verse 7 to Isaiah 52:15:

so shall he sprinkle many nations. Kings shall shut their mouths because of him, for that which has not been told them they see, and that which they have not heard they understand.

Notice also that the servant in Isaiah 52:15 sprinkles the nations, which is consistent with the mission statement assigned to the servant in Isaiah 9, 11, 42 and 49. This, among other clues, indicates that the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 is the same individual as is spoken of in these other texts by Isaiah. As an aside, the reference to the servant “sprinkling” the nations suggests a priestly office, since it was the role of the priest to sprinkle the blood from the sacrifice upon the mercy seat. The servant from Isaiah 53 thus appears to have a sacrifice. As one continues reading through Isaiah 53, it becomes evident that the sacrifice He offers is Himself, and that He is vindicated by the resurrection from the dead.

Since Isaiah 42 & 49 refer to the same servant of Isaiah 53 and since Isaiah 42 & 49 connect with Isaiah 9 & 11, this in turn again connects Isaiah 53 with 9 & 11. Thus, Isaiah 53 connects with Isaiah 11 and in turn with Isaiah 9, providing us with yet another reason to take the suffering servant as no less than a divine person, who is identified in Isaiah 9:6 by the title of El Gibor, or “Mighty God”. Given the considerations above, there can be no question that the servant of Isaiah 53 is a divine-human person, who lays down His life for the sins of His people.

Interestingly, in Isaiah 53:2, the suffering servant is also distinguished from Yahweh:

For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of the dry ground…

So, is the righteous servant of Isaiah Yahweh or not Yahweh? The answer is “Yes.” The servant is Yahweh, but in another sense, He is distinguished from Yahweh. This is a concept that makes sense in view of a Trinitarian concept of God which views God as multi-personal.

The Deity of King Messiah, According to Zechariah

Our text is from Zechariah 9:9-11, a well-known text which foretells of Israel’s king coming to Jerusalem with salvation, mounted on a donkey.

9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. 10 I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. 11 As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.

The individual of whom Zechariah speaks in this passage is clearly the same individual of whom Isaiah spoke. Notice the parallels. Just as we saw in Isaiah, this individual establishes worldwide justice and peace on the earth, and his rule extends from shore to shore, including to the gentiles. We also have a reference to prisoners being set free from the waterless pit, which bears striking parallels to Isaiah 9:2 (“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone”) and Isaiah 42:7 (“…to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness”).

In this text, we see that Israel’s king (the same individual as spoken of by Isaiah), who is to come and establish peace on the earth, is to be a human who rides on a donkey (to ride on the back of a donkey, he must be physical). But Zechariah also tells us something else that is very important in relation to Israel’s coming king. Turn over to Zechariah 14:1-9:

Behold, a day is coming for the Lord when the spoil taken from you will be divided in your midst. 2 For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses plundered and the women raped. Half of the city shall go out into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be cut off from the city. 3 Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle. 4 On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward. 5 And you shall flee to the valley of my mountains, for the valley of the mountains shall reach to Azal. And you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him. 6 On that day there shall be no light, cold, or frost. 7 And there shall be a unique day, which is known to the Lord, neither day nor night, but at evening time there shall be light. 8 On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea. It shall continue in summer as in winter. 9 And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day the Lord will be one and his name one.

This refers to a time yet future when all nations will be gathered for battle against Jerusalem, but God Himself will intervene against Israel’s enemies. Verse 4 states something very intriguing: the feet of Yahweh will stand upon the Mount of Olives. For Yahweh’s feet to stand upon the mount of olives, He must join to Himself a physical body — for a non-material being has no feet. It seems that this allusion is intended to be taken literally rather than metaphorically since the feet touching the mount of olives is responsible for the mountain literally being split in two from east to west. Thus, here we see a picture of Yahweh himself clothed with a physical body. Verse 9 further tells us that on that day “the Lord will be king over all the earth.” Thus, the king of Zechariah 9:9-10, whom we read of coming to Jerusalem with salvation, physically mounted upon a donkey, appears to be Yahweh Himself. Here we thus see a foreshadow of the incarnation where, in the person of Christ, God will take upon Himself human flesh.

Summary

Once more, we have only scratched the surface of this fascinating topic. Many more clues to the Messiah’s divine nature can be gleaned from the Hebrew Bible. Indeed, much more could be said about the few texts we have briefly surveyed in this article. In the next post in this series, we will consider the character of the messenger of Yahweh, a divine person who, we shall see, is one and the same as Israel’s Messiah.

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