The Manifestation of Messiah Necessitates Law

“Behold!  My Servant whom I uphold My Elect One in whom My Soul delights!  I have put My Spirit upon Him.  He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles.  He will not Cry out, nor raise His voice, nor cause His voice to be heard in the street.  A bruised reed he will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench; He will bring forth justice for truth.  He will not fail nor be discouraged, till He has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands shall wait for His Law.” (Isaiah 42:1-4)

 

     No real question that this passage refers to Messiah.  The New Testament quotes it in Matthew chapter 12 with reference to Jesus.  The Jewish Targums reference it to Messiah.  Hence, it would seem appropriate to break this verse down to examine its deep meaning.

     What one will notice immediately when comparing the Old Testament passage with the New Testament is an apparent discrepancy in translation.  Mainly, that the Septuagint, which is quoted in Matthew 12, has a seemingly different translation than that of the Masoretic text of the Old Testament. (the Hebrew manuscript used for just about all English translations) The passage in the New Testament is this:  “Behold!  My Servant whom I have chosen, My Beloved in whom My soul is well pleased!  I will put my Spirit upon Him, and He will declare justice to the Gentiles, He will not quarrel nor cry out, Nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets.  A bruised reed he will not break, and smoking flax, He will not quench Till he sends forth justice to victory; And in His name Gentiles will trust.” (Matthew 12:18-21 NKJV)   The bulk of the passage seems to be congruent.  However, it is verse 4 that comes into question.  There is a huge difference between, “The coastlands will wait for His Law.”  And, “In His name, the Gentiles will trust.”   Or do they?  While discrepancies between the Septuagint and the Masoretic do exist, this particular passage, if examined closely, doesn’t seem to be one of those occasions.  Let’s examine this latter part of verse four from the Hebrew and then the Greek, and we will arrive at a consensus of meaning but not of wording.

     The Hebrew here is “oooWljy mya WjrWtlO” which is roughly translated. “And on His Law the coastlands will hope.”  The Greek of the Septuagint reads, “Kai epi tw onomati autou eqnh elpison.” Which is also roughly translated, “And upon His Name, Gentiles will hope.”  Again, here are the verses linguistically, now let’s dissect their meanings and I believe we will arrive at a consensus of ideas if not of words.

     First, we will begin with the Hebrew.  The first word of the verse is “WjrWtlO” Let the dissection begin.  The “O” in the beginning of the word is called the conjunctive vav and it is the most frequently occurring word in all of the Old Testament (over 50,000 times).  Its meaning is “and, even, but, or also.” The Hebrew student will notice that this is also a vowel called a “shoorook” which makes the sound “oo”.  It is different from the consonant vav but when the conjunctive vav is attached, it oftentimes will become a “shoorook” which changes it pronunciation but does not change its translation. The “l” which follows is called an inseparable preposition.  They are called inseparable prepositions because they attach to the root word and become part of that word.  With the lamid “l”, the meaning is “to, toward, for.”  The next part of the word is “hrWt” and is pronounced “torah.”  One need not be a Hebrew scholar to determine the meaning of this word, it is “law.”  Lastly, the “W” on the end of the root word is called a pronominal suffix.  Its meaning is simply third person or “His.”  So, to summarize all that encompasses this first word, “And for His Law” is the literal translation.  The next word “mya” is an obscure Hebrew word.  It is roughly translated,, “regions or coastlands.”  However, we must consider what this word would have meant to the Jewish people of the 1st century and the subsequent time previous, particularly, to the time when the rabbis where translating the Septuagint.  All the “regions” surrounding Israel were bordered by the Mediterranean Sea.  The passage must be referring to the peoples of those coastlands that they would be the ones hoping or trusting in His Law.  The rabbis of the Septuagint translated that word “eqnh” in the Greek.  The Greek meaning of this word is actually “race; people, or the Gentiles.”  From the Jewish perspective the people of the coastlands would be considered the “eqnh” of the coastlands.  This is evident in the New Testament with the writing of Paul. He refers to the Gentile Christians as “eqnh” (please see Romans 10:13, 15:27, 16:4, Gal 2:12)  so, our first discrepancy is resolved.  The coastlands and the Gentiles are really referring to the same group of people.  To reiterate, the Masoretic text and the Septuagint are using different words but they are saying the same things.  Now, what we have from the Hebrew so far is, “And for His Law, the Coastlands (or the peoples dwelling therein, namely the Gentiles).”  The final Hebrew word is “ljy”.  This is a fantastic Hebrew word.  The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament explains it much better than I could.  It states, “This “yahal” is not a pacifying wish of the imagination which drowns out troubles, nor is it uncertain, but rather “yahal” is the solid ground of expectation for the righteous.  As such it is directed towards God…no greater testimony to such confident expectation is given than when Job cries out, “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.” (Job 13:15).” (1)  This type of “hope” for the Gentiles can only come through the Messiah of Israel.  Without Him, we are a lost cause.  Hence, the passage in question is strongly Messianic and refers particularly to the ministry of Jesus to the Gentiles.  Let’s put this together:  “And for His Law, the coastlands (the people dwelling therein, the Gentiles) will hope.” This seems to reconcile any apparent discrepancies between Gentiles and coastlands,  However, there is another discrepancy that needs to be cleared up.  Mainly, Law vs Name.

     The Greek reads, ““Kai epi tw onomati autou eqnh elpison.”  Again, this is roughly translated, “And upon His name, the gentiles will hope.”  Having cleared up the issue of the Gentiles, let us move into “the name.”  The Greek word “onomati” means “fame, reputation, character, and the sum of all a person is.”  The rabbis who translated the Septuagint, used this word as a reference to the Messiah (This is my own supposition.)  Meaning, that in His character and Person will all the nations hope.  Here is the first point of the verse.  That the character of Messiah would be such that it would usher in order and good government which the nations of the world would confidently place all their expectations.  In His complete character comes Law.  Here is the second point, for the ministry of the messiah to establish a system of lawlessness would be outside of the bounds of His character.   Modern theologians would have us believe that Messiah would come and “do away with the Law” and establish a system of lawlessness. This doesn’t seem to make much sense for two reasons.  First, Jeremiah testifies, “Why does the land perish and burn up like a wilderness, so, that no one can pass through it?  And the LORD said, ‘Because they have forsaken My law which I set before them, and have not obeyed My voice, nor walked according to it, but they have walked according to the dictates (“Imaginations” in Hebrew) of their own hearts and after the Baals, which their father taught them.” (Jeremiah 9:12-13) For the Messiah to come and “do away with the law” and establish a system of lawlessness, would not make any sense.  Why would God send Messiah to reconcile us so that we can live a lifestyle that is exactly like the lifestyle of the children of Israel when he sent them into exile?  Secondly, Paul clarifies this in the New Testament.  He writes, “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?”  What the apostle is saying is that it makes no sense for Messiah to “set us free to commit sin or break the Law” because this would make us slaves of sin.  Messiah has set us free for obedience out of love and not out of fear.  Thus, Paul clarifies, “And having been set free form sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” And again, “But now having been set free form sin, and having become slaves of God you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life.” (Romans 5:16-18-22)  For pastors and theologians to tell us that Messiah has nailed the law to the cross is simply not acceptable.  The character and nature of God is to establish order and government.  This must have been the intention of the rabbis translating the Septuagint.  Torah finds its ultimate fulfillment in Messiah.  The very character and nature of Messiah and His ministry towards us establishes order and government by making the goals and proposals of the law possible.  Through Jesus, it’s possible to consistently love God and love your neighbor as yourself.  The Law without the Messiah is an incomplete system.  This is why the Old covenant needed to be updated with something New.  However, Messiah without Torah makes no sense either.  It creates a lawless system.  The Messiah establishes upon the earth a system of good government by making the demands of the law an achievable reality in the life of all who believe in His name, both Jew and Gentiles, through the Holy Spirit.

     All of these principles find agreement in the first part of the passage. In the passages quoted at the beginning of the article, the word “justice” is mentioned three times.  It is something that Messiah is going to “establish.”  The Hebrew word for justice is the word “tpvm” which is pronounced, “mishphat.”  Justice doesn’t quite effectively convey the essence of this Hebrew word.  An example of what it means may readily explain what it means.  Solomon, when he prays for wisdom, asks God to give him wisdom so that he can “misphat” the children of Israel.  Mishphat means to establish an order.  The establishment of the correct understanding of order or government.  The essence is the establishment of an order where justice is the normal function of the established system.  This word has also been translated as manner or custom meaning that the system that is established yields a social more or law that all are expected to order their lives according too.  Mainly, that of Torah, according to this passage.  The Greek word that is used in the Septuagint carries a very similar meaning but also carries the idea of separation.  This implies that judgment will separate the people of justice from the people of lawlessness.  This is exactly the function of a life ordered around the torah, it separates from the world making one holy.

Another Possibility

.  In all fairness, there may be another explanation for the discrepancies in the text.  We may be seeing a corruption of the Septuagint by pro-anti-nominal Christian (anti-nominal means without law or torah) scribes.  This is a possibility for two distinct reasons.  First, the Greek word for torah is very similar to the Greek word for name.  The Greek word for Torah is “nomos” pronounced “nomos.”  The Greek word used in the passage for name is “onomos.”  The simple addition of an “o” can completely negate the role of law and replace it with name.  It is a faulty theology, as we have already established that God would not establish a system of lawlessness for this is out of order with His character.  Secondly, the other manuscripts of the Old Testament (The Dead Sea Scrolls, The Latin Vulgate, the Aramaic Peshitta, the Masoretic text) all use the word law.  This points to an issue with the Greek of the Septuagint.  Even if the passage has been corrupted, we can still obtain its original meaning, as we have demonstrated above. Isaiah is telling us here that Messiah would establish a system of government for the Jews and the Gentiles that are hoping and trusting in His name.  That system of order would be His law or, the Torah. It was long held by Jewish rabbis that Messiah would come and completely explain the Law of Moses.  This is so evident with Jesus in his “Sermon on the mount” and in the “Sermon on the plain.” 

     In conclusion, the Messiah of Israel will establish a system of justice and order.  The torah finds its ultimate fulfillment in the Messiah.  The believer that accepts Torah as a standard of holiness and orders their life according to it by the power of the Holy Spirit, will find fulfillment of all the promises that the law has given.  It is the way of “life” and it is beautiful.

 

 

 

Endnotes

  1. Harris, Laird R., Archer, Gleason L., Waltke, Bruce K., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament.” Moody Publishers, Chicago, IL, 1980, page 373.
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