*Disclaimer: In the next weeks, I begin a series covering concepts in Judaism. It is not exhaustive, but it is meant to go over in a general way what are Jewish beliefs and where they are found in the Hebrew Bible (What Christians call the “Old Testament”).
These articles are for education purposes only. If you have further questions, you should ask your religious leader, or you can email me, for further information. (End of Disclaimer)*
This week we go over the concept of Messiah in Judaism. To completely go over this concept would literally take volumes. I will cover the basics and the word origin found in the Torah (5 books of Moses).
First, we have to understand what the word Messiah means. The word Messiah comes from the Hebrew word “Moshiach” which literally means “Anointed (with oil) for a purpose” The first time we see this in the bible is found in Genesis 28:18, the word in Hebrew is “Shemin” or oil being poured on to sanctified a place as special/Separate (Holy). The whole aspect of having items “Shemin” like stones, Utensils, etc., is to make it stand out from the commonplace. When we get to the establishment of the Tent of Meeting (Temple),(Exodus 30:25-30) we get the Hebrew word “Moshah”(Ex.30:25) as to the actual oil that was used for sanctifying those items and ultimately the Kohenim (Priests of Aaron). Yet, that Moshah, has nothing to do with a title.
When we get to Samuel’s accounts (Book of Samuel 1&2) the same oil that was used to anoint priests, was now used to anoint kings, of Israel. First there was Saul, in 1st Samuel 10:1 anoints or (‘Moshah-chaw’) with oil. Only Melech (King) is the title of Saul, David, Solomon, and all the kings of Israel.
There is only one place where a king is mentioned in the Hebrew bible as a “Messiah”, that is King Cyrus of Persia, by the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 45:1. The Hebrew phrase “L’Moshicho” is used in reference that G-D anointed him (Cyrus) for the purpose of returning the Jews to Israel after the Babylonian captivity.
Again, it is not a title but a ‘calling’ from G-D to fulfill a promise.
As Jews, we don’t see the messiah as a superhero. In fact we pray that “The offspring of YOUR servant David may YOU speedily cause to flourish, and enhance his pride (children) through YOUR (G-D’s) Salvation all day long” (Artscroll Siddur, Morning prayer, weekdays)
We pray this as part of our 18 benedictions (blessings) three times a day, every day.
Yet, we anticipate the return of a king’s family and offspring, not a resurrection of a person who will not grow old or die.
Messiah is not a person, but a people. Messiahs, in Judaism, are leaders that will reign in peace; whose reigns will be just and wise.
In Israel, we pray that David’s line will reign there as G-D promised (2nd Samuel 7:13).
In Judaism, messiah is not a ‘superman’ who will take our sins away.
Since sins can only be carried by the person who committed that sin (Exodus 23:21, 32:32-33), and G-D forgives sins by our sincere asking forgiveness, and change of behavior (Teshuvah), (Ezekiel 18:20, Psalm 32:5).
Messiah is and has always been people, who as leaders protected all people regardless of status or nationality. Those great examples in the Hebrew Scriptures of gentile leaders, like King Cyrus, as a liberator of the Jewish people found in Isaiah; and Jewish leaders like David and Solomon; who were fair and wise are our guideposts for leadership.
Messiah and the hope of Messiah is a promise for a just and peaceful leadership.
That is what it’s all about, from the Hebrew Scriptures point of view. It’s also what Jewish people believe as a model righteous leader.
May that day (of Peace) come in our lifetime.
Next week: What are the Hebrew Scriptures?
Dir. Rel. Ed and History