We have all of these wonderful hopes cascading together throughout the various texts, thee core hope of which is the coming of YHWH to Zion. In other words, and while all of these expectations within the OT story were important, some of them were more important than others. One of them, in fact, constituted the ultimate expectation of the OT story – the coming of YHWH to Zion.
Also, within these various expectations and hopes, we can talk about two major streams of expectation.
For pedagogic purposes we’ll address these seven different primary expectations within the OT story: the hope of the new Exodus, the new covenant, the Davidic kingship, the resurrection of the dead, the hope of the renewal and restoration of all Creation, the coming of YHWH to Zion and the inclusion of the nations. These wonderful and various promises cascade through the many oracles of the prophets. We read about them all through the Psalms. And, as we move through the OT, we see that eventually all of the promises we read about in the OT were gathered together into one of two major streams of expectation. In other words, within all of these different expectations in our Hebrew Bible (our OT) there were two key, dominant, major streams of expectation, streams into which all of the rivulets of all of the other expectations ultimately run. Thus, all of these rivulets (prophetic promises) converge and flow into one or the other of these two key streams.
Additionally and importantly, these two streams of expectation were, of course, connected but they were also separate and distinct from one another in ancient Jewish thought. Ancient Israelites did not confuse or conflate these two streams of expectation. The ancient Israelites kept them separate because they viewed them as being distinctly different and separate streams of expectation! And we must as well. Let’s now investigate how these two streams were similar yet uniquely distinct from one another.
- The first major stream of hope / expectation was that of the coming of the human Davidic Messiah, (the ultimate Davidic king) and of his coming rule and reign. [We see this, for example, in Ek 37 24 My servant David will be their king. … See also discussion in Jd 8 22-23 regarding the tension inherent in this Davidic kingship.]
Theologians call this stream of expectation the messianic expectation. According to Scripture the ultimate Davidic king figure would fulfill the promises of the everlasting Davidic throne in his person – in his human person, this Davidic Messiah.
Of course, the ultimate Davidic king would be the heir of David and come from David’s line, but this king would be human and human only! Don’t be misled by the fact that sometimes the ultimate Davidic king could be called the Son of God or the everlasting father or the prince of peace, etc. That language was understood as functional. [See also “functional” discussion in the royal psalm, Ps 2 6-12.]
Functional v. ontological language: as, for example, with the phrase Son of God
* A functional use for son of God (as we see in Ps 2 6-12) indicates the place of the Davidic king in God’s plan just as you could, for example, call the Israelites children and sons of God. It’s not that they were divine but that they had a special place in God’s heart. It simply means that the Israelites had a special relationship with God. Used this way the son of God was a functional description which did not imply that they were YHWH. Therefore, it didn’t mean they shared the essence and identity of God. As such, because of his closeness to and importance for God’s purposes and plans in the kingdom, this ultimate Davidic king was this human figure who was spoken of as the son of God, as one who had a special place in God’s plans.
* On the other hand, calling of the human Davidic king “ontologically” the Son of God meant that the Davidic king was actually thee divine Son of God. Doing so identified the Davidic king with YHWH. Ontic means really and truly. That is, in the ontic sense the Davidic king really and truly was the divine Son of God, YHWH. He was YHWH’s true son in the sense that he was somehow identified with YHWH, the one, true God.
In other words, the people of Israel were not awaiting a Messiah who would be God because the Messiah they were awaiting was going to be a human! [Further, when you talked about the ultimate Davidic king – such as we see in Is 11 – you talked about things like the renewal and restoration of all Creation, the inclusion of the nations, etc. These also fit into the larger theme of the coming of the ultimate Davidic king.]
We see in the OT how important this expectation of the ultimate Davidic king was because the psalter itself was structured by Psalms that looked forward to the coming of the ultimate Davidic king. [For another expectation related to the ultimate Davidic king, see Dn 7.]
What follows in this paragraph is an important understanding of how the OT viewed this hope of the Davidic Messiah. First, the word Christ comes from the Greek word Cristo.j (transliterated as Christos) and means the same thing as Messiah, which comes from the Hebrew word meshiah. Christ and Messiah mean the same thing; it’s not a name but a title. From a NT perspective we current day Christians tend to think of the messianic hope, the hope of the Christ must be central to the OT story. In fact, it’s not. True, within the OT this Davidic Messiah hope is one of the two great streams of expectation, and therefore the messianic hope is very important. BUT, as seen all through the OT the central hope is the coming of YHWH to Zion. It’s true that the people of Israel waited for the Messiah but they waited much more so for the climax and crown of all the hopes, the coming of YHWH to Zion. The coming of God himself to Zion.
Further, the people of Israel did not confuse nor conflate these two streams. These two streams were kept separate and distinct. YHWH was going to come and dwell with them in a way so ineffably magnificent that they could not even conceive of it. How could it be that God could dwell more fully with them than God had in the time of the temple? They didn’t know how that would be but they believed it would be. Therefore, when we get to the gospels, it’s most important that you understand how the people of Israel in the time of Jesus and beyond looked at these things. That’s the way it is in the OT. That’s the way it is in the prophetic oracles. The two streams of expectation.
- The second major stream of hope / expectation was that of the coming of YHWH to Zion. [We see this, for example, in Ek37; Is 40] [YHWH is the personal name of God. Wherever you see LORD in the OT, that means YHWH in the Hebrew. We’ll talk more about this later in the text.] In other words, the Scriptures tell us that in some way beyond their imaging, the people of Israel expected that God would one day come and dwell among them in a way infinitely greater than his dwelling had been in the old temple.
Now, regarding these two streams of expectation that we see all throughout our OT, the coming of YHWH to Zion is always the most important of the two. Always! Every Jew anticipated and awaited the coming of YHWH to Zion, just as every Christian is to be awaiting, one day being in the full time presence of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit … for ever … in life eternal.
But the question in the minds of all the faithful remnant was, “How was God going to come?” In fact, the prophets never said. “How was YHWH going to reveal himself and come to Israel in a way more wondrous than even under the first covenant and first Exodus?” The people of Israel did not know. The people of Israel just knew that in some wondrous, unexpected way God was going to come and dwell among them forever, in a way far transcending his presence in the time of the first Exodus.
Therefore, in summary, the people of Israel understood:
- The messianic (human) king would come and
- YHWH (God) himself would come.
Thus, the people of Israel were waiting for both a human Davidic king and for their own divine God YHWH to come. Again, and importantly, when you read the various texts about these two streams of expectation, both in our OT and in the extrabiblical Jewish literature, the central, more important expectation by far was the coming of YHWH to Zion.
Unfortunately, many people get these two different streams of expectation confused and therefore miss the real excitement and grandeur of the story being told in our Old and New Testaments. Some mistakenly think that the Messiah was at the heart of everything. Sure, it’s very true that the Messiah was an important hope in the OT but the messianic hope took second place to the central hope – the coming of YHWH to Zion.
In other words, some people just assume that “when people say Messiah, they are talking about God or Son of God or something like that.” In fact, often popular readers of the Bible assume that the central expectation of the OT must be the coming of the Messiah = the coming of the ultimate Davidic king = the coming of the Christ. While that is very important, that, however, is incorrect thinking because when you talk about the Messiah in Hebrew Scriptures, you’re talking about the ultimate Davidic king, the messianic Davidic king, the Messiah, the human figure. Whenever the OT talked about the Messiah (= the ultimate Davidic king, the messianic Davidic king), it was NOT talking about God himself. True, Jesus came and fulfilled both streams of expectation but in our Old Testament these two streams were always kept separate because before Jesus they had not the first clue that God was going to become human and fulfill both streams in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. God was and is divine. The messianic Davidic king was understood to be human in our OT. Two streams of expectation! And Jesus ultimately fulfilled both!
Therefore, while the people of Israel were expecting this all-important Messiah, this ultimate Davidic king, with great longing and hope, this messianic hope took a back seat to the larger, more important central hope – the coming of YHWH to Zion. Hence, their expectation of the coming of YHWH to Zion was attended by far greater fervor, love and joy. We see this all through the Scriptures.
We know this in a thousand ways, not the least of which is what we read in God’s oracles (“messages from God”). Within the oracles, the climactic part of all the promises and all the expectations usually cascade together – and in almost every case the climactic and final expectation is the coming of YHWH to Zion. We see this in texts such as in Ek 37 and in Is 40 – texts which actually say nothing about the ultimate Davidic king. Instead they both have a lot to say about the coming of YHWH to Zion. Therefore, many oracles will include the coming of YHWH to Zion but not the Davidic kingship at all because the Davidic kingship was not the absolutely central expectation. On the other hand, the coming of YHWH to Zion was thee central expectation.
the coming of YHWH to Zion
To repeat myself, this kingdom of God involves not only coming of an ultimate Davidic king but even more centrally it involves the coming of God himself to Israel, the coming of YHWH to Zion. Therefore, while both of these are important and while both appear repeatedly in our various story behind the Story texts, by far and away the more important, central of the two will always be the coming of YHWH to Zion. The very climax of Israel’s story, the center of the hopes and expectations of the Jewish people was the coming of YHWH to Zion. This hope usually climaxes all these oracles or is at the heart of them just as it is in Is 40. The coming of YHWH to Zion hope far outweighed in its centrality and importance the Davidic hope in the OT. As such, the Davidic hope, while very important, takes a distinct backseat in the OT texts to this central core hope of the coming of YHWH to Zion. [Later in the text we’ll investigate Is 40 3 to see just how distinct they are.]
As you might imagine, we have within these two key streams a mysterious tension point between the concept of a messianic Davidic king and God because how can you have a human king when YHWH is your king? You see, giving the people of Israel a king created a tension point, a mystery within the two streams of expectation point of view. For instance, since YHWH was coming to Zion, why did you even need a Davidic king? This tension point runs throughout the whole of the story behind the Story.
In fact, there were all sorts of Jewish interpreters interpreting Scripture and looking into these mysteries of their story, for instance, the mystery of the suffering servant song and of Is 40 and so on. None of these interpreters, prior to the founding events of the Incarnation … none of these interpreters said that this Messiah they were expecting was going to be divine. Instead, they all held that they were expecting a Messiah who would be human, and, they were expecting the divine God to come. These were two separate and distinct expectations.
This is not for discussion now, but we know this tension will be resolved with the Incarnation in the gospels when we find out that the Davidic king, the human king, is Israel’s God. In the Incarnation we will see how the promises of God of the Davidic Messiah and of the coming of YHWH to Zion are both fulfilled in the Incarnation. We will see that both expectations were ultimately fulfilled by one person, Jesus of Nazareth. Notice also that even then – with the concept of the Incarnation and the Trinity – great mysteries and tensions will continue.
the OT figures
As we read through our Hebrew Scriptures, alongside these two key streams of expectation we will also see other figures and mysteries unfold, people and things who are lesser than the Messiah figure but yet who are still expected as a part of this fulfillment time. Each of these is discussed in greater detail further along in the text. For example, we will learn about:
- the ultimate Davidic king figure, the Messiah of the four messianic (royal) oracles of Is as found in Is 9, 11, 16 and 32.
- the servant figure of the four servant songs of Is 421-9; 491-6, 50 and 53.
- the Son of Man figureof Dn 7 13-14, Ek 2, 17, & Enoch.
- the prophet-like-Moses figure of Dt 1815
- the priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek of Ps 110 1-4, Ge 14 17-20 and [He 7]
- the messenger figure (fulfillment-time Elijah)of Ma 3 1 and 4 5-6 (the eschatological Elijah) as it echoes Is 40 3.
These two streams of expectation and these various biblical figures were all part of the eschatological biblical story that the ancient Jewish people had in mind in the first century. This was what they were looking forward to. This was on everyone’s heart and mind, and, further, this was unique to the Jewish people.
In spite of these things, there still are those people who come to the Bible expecting this timeless message about ethics or about how one should live in this world – in this world that has always been the same and which is never going to be any different in their view. True, you get that message but, more importantly, you get a far greater and infinitely more important message in Scripture.
Instead, the biblical narrative tells us the story about this Creator God, the God of Israel, and his people, a story about God’s Creation, a Creation that got out-of-whack because of fallen humanity, a Creation that God is going to bring back to himself – a Creation that God is in the process of restoring. The biblical narrative tells us this story about this incredible expectation of nothing less than this wondrous new Exodus which will far transcend the old Exodus – resulting in life from the dead and the renewal and restoration of all Creation. In fact, that’s the story that every devout Jew of the first century had on their heart and mind. Therefore, when we read the NT, it’s this same eschatological biblical story which we must also use so that this story behind the Story will illumine everything for us as well as it was intended to. Sadly, those who don’t know this biblical story, this story behind the Story, will miss much within the most important events and concepts of our NT.
Once we read our NT in this aforementioned manner, we will ultimately find – and, of course, what we already know – that in the NT Jesus will say something different than what anyone else had ever said before. That is, Jesus will tell us that in his first coming this expectation of the coming of YHWH to Zion had now come, that the fulfillment time had now begun and that it was here. In fact, from Mk 1 we have Jesus making this very point at the beginning of his ministry in Galilee: 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
Once we finish with the story behind the Story and begin our study of the NT, we will see that the whole message of Mk – the entire Markan narrative – is all about this time of fulfillment that Jesus announced in v 15. Then, through the course of our reading of the NT, in conjunction with our understanding of the story behind the Story – within all of these surprises and twists that come with the biblical story – we will learn that the Davidic Messiah himself was none other than the coming of YHWH to Zion. That is, looking at the two key streams of expectation we discussed just above, we will find that both streams of expectation – both that of the coming of the Davidic Messiah and that of the coming of YHWH to Zion – … we will find that both streams of expectation will be unexpectedly fulfilled in this one person, Jesus of Nazareth.
Then, as we read our NT looking through the lenses of this story behind the Story, we will find that the kingdom of God will come in an unexpected, mysterious two stage manner. We will find that with Jesus’ first advent the kingdom of God came in what scholars call the inaugurated stage of the kingdom of God. Then, with Jesus’ second advent at some time in the future, the kingdom of God will come in the yet-to-be fully fulfilled, consummated stage of the kingdom of God. Thus, in the course of our study of the story behind the Story we will see that this OT biblical story is at the heart of everything. If we let this story behind the Story enter us and serve as the metaphorical beating heart which is at the very core of the NT, everything we read and study in the NT will have a fuller meaning for each of us, a meaning which it would not otherwise have.