With this article, we will begin exploring the Messianic figure-type of Anointed King, which is probably what most people think of when they hear the term “Messiah”—a future ruler from the line of David who will “restore the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6). However, as I have already discussed and demonstrated at length, Messianic thought and belief at the time of Jesus cannot be limited to this particular figure-type. When we see the term “Anointed (One)” (xristo/$, christós) in the Gospels, we ought not to assume that it necessarily means a Davidic King, though in subsequent Jewish tradition it did come to carry this meaning almost exclusively. Even by the time of the New Testament, however, the expectation of such an end-time Anointed Ruler was relatively widespread, and, by the end of the 1st-century A.D. was probably the dominant Messianic figure-type, with other traditions having merged into it. Because of the scope and complexity of the subject, it will be necessary to spread it out over three parts:
- Part 1: Overview and Background
- Part 2: Detailed Analysis, examining specific passages from Jewish writings and the New Testament
- Part 3: “Son of David”—the use of the title in the Gospels and its application to Jesus in early Christian belief
Old Testament Background
It is necessary to begin with the Old Testament Scriptures which provide the foundation for the expectation of a coming Davidic Ruler at the end-time. As I pointed out in the Introduction, kings in the Ancient Near East were consecrated through the ritual/ceremonial act of anointing (with oil). This is recorded numerous times in the Old Testament, typically with the verb jv^m* (m¹šaµ, “rub, smear, apply [paint etc]”)—Judg 9:8, 15; 1 Sam 9:16; 10:1; 15:1, 17; 16:3, et al. The noun j^yv!m* (m¹šîaµ, “anointed [one]”) is used of the reigning/ruling king in 1 Sam 2:10, 35; 16:6; Psalm 2:2; 20:7; 84:10 (also Psalm 28:8; Hab 3:13 ?), and specifically of kings such as Saul (1 Sam 24:7, 11; 26:9, 11, 16, 23; 2 Sam 1:14, 16, 21 [?], cf. also 1 Sam 12:3, 5), and especially David (and/or the Davidic line, 2 Sam 19:22; 22:51; 23:1; Psalm 18:51; 89:39, 52; 132:10, 17, including Solomon in 2 Chron 6:42). David and his son Solomon were the greatest of Israel’s kings, and under their rule the kingdom reached by far its greatest extent of territory, sovereignty (over vassal states), wealth and prestige. It is only natural that, following the decline and fall of the kingdom(s) of Israel/Judah in the 8th-6th centuries, Israelites and Jews in the Exile, and for generations thereafter, would look to David as the ideal king, especially when judged in terms of political and military power.
Even in the Old Testament itself, we see the promise of a future Davidic ruler, and its development can generally be outlined as follows:
- In the time of David and Solomon, a specific royal (Judean) theology grew up around the kingship, expressed and preserved in specific Psalms which would have enormous influence on subsequent Jewish (and Christian) thought. Two Psalms in particular—Psalm 2 and 110—set around the enthronement/coronation/inauguration of the (new) king, draw upon ancient Near Eastern language and symbolism, depicting the reigning king as God’s appointed, chosen representative (figuratively, his “son” [Ps 2:7])
- This same theology crystalized in the Scriptural narrative, associated with a particular oracle by Nathan the prophet, regarding the future of the Davidic dynasty (2 Samuel 7:8-16). The critical and interpretive difficulties regarding this section are considerable, and cannot be delved into here. The prayer of David following in 2 Sam 7:18-29 must be read in context, along with the parallel(s) in Psalm 89 (cf. also 2 Sam 22:44-51 / Ps 18:44-51).
- The so-called Deuteronomic history (Judges–Kings) uses an ethical and narrative framework, comparing the good and wicked kings, according to the extent to which they followed the way of the Lord—defined, in part, in terms of the example of David (“as David his Father did”, 1 Kings 9:4; 11:4-6, 33-34, etc). David thus serves, in many ways, as the model/ideal ruler. Historical circumstances clearly showed that the promise regarding the Davidic dynasty was conditional—his descendants would maintain rule only so far as they remained faithful and obedient to God (cf. 1 Kings 11:9-13, 31-39). Thus the oracle of Nathan would be (re)interpreted to allow for a (temporary) end to Davidic kingship.
- The Davidic promise is given new form in the oracles of the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel, in the historical context of the fall of Judah and the Babylonian exile. Jer 23:5ff declares that God will raise for David “a righteous sprout [qyD!x* jm^x#]” who will rule as king. The same expression and message is found in Jer 33:14-16ff. That these prophecies point to the future, in contrast to the historical circumstances in the prophet’s own time, is indicated by the surrounding context (cf. Jer 22:30; 33:19-26). In Ezekiel 34:23-24, there is a similar promise that God raise up for Israel “one shepherd, my servant David”; cf. also Ezek 37:24-25.
- In the early post-Exilic period, Zerubbabel appears to have been seen as a fulfillment of the restoration of Davidic rule (Haggai 2:21-24; Zechariah 4:6-14, cf. also 3:8; 6:11-14). Ultimately, of course, the true fulfillment had to wait for a future coming King, as indicated in the (later) oracle Zech 9:9-10ff.
There are several other Scripture passages which would play a key role in the development of Messianic expectation:
- Genesis 49:10—part of the blessing of Jacob over his sons, specifically for Judah (vv. 8-12), where it is stated:
“The (ruling) staff will not turn aside from Judah, nor the engraved rod from between his feet, until the (time/point) which shîloh comes, and the obedience of the peoples will be(long) to him.”
The exact meaning of hýyv! (šîlœ, shiloh) remains uncertain and problematic. Among many commentators today, the element yv is read as a relative particle attached to a suffixed preposition (i.e. “…until he comes to whom it [i.e. the staff] belongs”). The JPS Torah Commentary (N. Sarna on Genesis , pp. 336-7), following earlier Rabbinic interpretation, reads it as the noun yv^ (šay, “gift, homage, tribute”) attached to the preposition, resulting in the attractive poetic line “…until tribute comes to him, and the homage/obedience of the peoples be(long) to him”. However, by the time of Jesus, shiloh had already come to be understood as a Messianic title, as seen in the (pesher) Commentary on Genesis from Qumran (4Q252 frag. 1, col. 5); and so it would often be interpreted subsequently in the Targums as well as in Jewish (and Christian) tradition.
- Numbers 24:17-19—in the fourth oracle of Balaam (Num 24:15-24), we find the famous line: “…a star will march/tread (forth) from Jacob, and staff will stand (up) [i.e. rise] from Israel” (v. 17). The first verb (Er^D*) can also be understood in terms of (exercising) dominion; that the seer speaks of a conquering/ruling king is clear from the following verses (“and from Jacob he will [come and] tread [them down]”, v. 19a). Verse 17a ambiguously sets this prophecy in the future: “I see him/it, but not (yet) now; I observe him/it, but not (yet) near”. This passage was understood as a Messianic prophecy by the time of Jesus (cf. the references below), as well as in the Targums (Onkelos, Jonathan); famously it was applied to the quasi-Messianic revolutionary leader Ben-Kosiba (“Bar-Kokhba” = “Son of the Star”), cf. j. Ta’anit 68d.
- Isaiah 11:1-9—the prophecy begins with the declaration “A branch will go out from the stem of Jesse, a fresh/green (sprout) will grow (out) from his roots”. This passage, along with Psalm 2, would be extremely influential in associating the coming Davidic ruler with the defeat/subjugation of the nations and the end-time Judgment. Here also we find the idea of Judgment (vv. 3-4) followed by a new Age of peace (vv. 6-9), common to much Messianic thought. In relation to Jesus, we may note the reference to the Holy Spirit resting upon him (cf. Isa 61:1 / Lk 4:18ff; and the description of his Baptism, Mk 1:10 par).
- Amos 9:11-15—a promise for the (future) restoration of Israel/Judah, which begins with God declaring: “On that day I will make stand up (again) [i.e. raise] the hut of David th(at) has fallen…” Here the ‘hut’ (i.e. a covering, presumably woven with branches) represents the “house of David”, his kingdom/dynasty. By the time of Jesus, this passage had come to be understood in a Messianic sense, as indicated by the Qumran text 4QFlorilegium [4Q174]; cf. also in the Damascus Document [CD 7, manuscript A] and the citation in Acts 15:16-18.
- Micah 5:2-5 [Hebrew 5:1-4]—famous from Matthew 2:1-12, this prophecy refers to a coming (Davidic) ruler, who will restore/reunite the kingdom of Israel (cf. also Mic 4:8), establishing a reign of peace and security.
- Zech 3:8; 6:12-13—references to the “sprout” or “branch” [jm^x#] (cf. above).
- Daniel 9:25-26—the famous and controversial reference to an “Anointed leader/ruler [dyg]n` j^yv!m*]”, set in the context of the prophecy of Seventy Weeks (cf. Jer 25:11-12; 29:10; Dan 9:2). The exact identity of this Anointed figure, in the original historical/literary context, remains much debated. The term dyg]n` generally refers to a prominent leader/ruler, etc.—often specifically of a military commander, but it can also be used of religious leaders (i.e. priests) and various kinds of dignitaries. This passage will be discussed, by way of a supplementary note, in a subsequent article.
The Messiah-King figure in Judaism
Here it is best to begin with a survey of references from the Qumran (and related) texts, most of which can be dated from sometime in the 1st century B.C.
j^yv!m* (m¹šîaµ), “Anointed”
We find the specific expression “the Anointed (One) of Israel” in the Damascus Document (CD 12:23-13:1; 14:19 [= 4Q266 10 i 12]; 19:10-11; 20:1), as well as the Qumran 1QS 9:11 (passage apparently missing from 4Q259 1 iii 6); 1QSa 2:14-15, 20-21; and also 4Q382 16 2. In most of these passages it is the role as future leader of the Community that is emphasized, though the end-time Judgment on the wicked is also implied. Several of these references are to “the Anointed (One)s of Aaron and Israel“, indicating the expectation of an Anointed Priest-figure (to be discussed in an upcoming article). Though not specified, “Anointed (One) of Israel” presumably refers to a (Davidic) Ruler (cf. below); the simple “Anointed (One)” in 1QSa 2:11-12; 4Q381 15 7; 4Q458 2 ii 6 probably refers to the same figure. In 4Q252 5:3-4, the “Anointed (One) of Righteousness” is identified as the “branch [jm^x#] of David”.
ayc!n` (n¹´î°), “Prince/Leader”
The term ayc!n` literally means “(one who is) lifted up”, i.e. raised/lifted over the other people as ruler or leader, often translated “Prince”. In the Qumran texts, it appears to be used often in a Messianic sense, likely inspired by Ezek 34:24; 37:25. Presumably it refers to a (Davidic) ruler-figure also called “the Anointed of Israel” (above, cf. 4Q496 10 3-4). The texts generally mention him in the context of his role as leader/commander over the Community, expressed especially by the larger expression “Prince of (all) the congregation” (hduh [lk] aycn)—CD 7:19-20; 1QSb 5:20; 1QM 5:1; 4Q161 2-6 ii 19; 4Q266 3 iii 21; 4Q285 4 2, 6; 5 4; 6 2; 4Q376 1 iii 1. In CD 7:19-20, he is identified as the ruler’s staff [fbv] that will arise from Israel in Num 24:17 (cf. above), and with the “branch of David” in 4Q285 5 4. In the War Rule [1QM] he participates in the defeat and judgment of the nations (cf. also 4Q285 4 6).
dyw]d` jm^x# (ƒemaµ D¹wîd), “Branch of David”
This expression is derived from Jer 23:5; 33:15 (also Isa 11:1; Zech 3:8; 6:12, cf. above), and clearly refers to a coming Davidic ruler. His end-time appearance is interpreted as a fulfillment of several of the Old Testament Scriptures outlined above. The expression is found in the following Qumran texts: 4Q161 7-10 iii 22; 4Q174 1-3 i 11 (on 2 Sam 7:14); 4Q252 5:3-4 (on Gen 49:10); and 4Q285 5 3,4 (executing judgment on the wicked/nations).
Other references in the Qumran texts
In light of the Messianic interpretation of the “staff” [fbv] from Gen 49:10 and Num 24:17 (in CD 7:19-20 [4Q266 3 iv 9]; 1QM 11:6-7 and 4Q175 12), we might also mention the occurrence of the word in the fragmentary texts 4Q161 2-6 ii 19 [restored] and 4Q521 2 iii 6.
Also, given the association of the Anointed (Davidic) ruler as God’s “Son” (/B#) in 2 Sam 7:14; Psalm 2:7 and related tradition (cf. the interpretation of 2 Sam 7:14 in 4Q174), we should also mention 4Q246, referenced in previous notes and articles, which refers to the future rising of a (Messianic?) King who is given the titles “son of God” and “Son of the Most High” (col. 2, line 1, cf. Luke 1:32, 35). Note also the apparent reference to a particular figure as God’s “firstborn [rwkb] (son)” in the uncertain fragments 4Q369 1 ii 6; 4Q458 15 1.
Other Jewish Writings from the 1st centuries B.C./A.D.
Several of these passages will be discussed in more detail in the next article; I list the most relevant references here, in summary/outline form:
- Sirach 47:11, which mentions the exaltation of David’s horn (by contrast, cf. 45:25; 49:4-5); note also the Hebrew prayer following Sir 51:12 (8th line)—”give thanks to him who makes a horn to sprout for the house of David…” [NRSV translation].
- The 17th and 18th of the so-called Psalms of Solomon, especially the reference to David in Ps Sol 17:21, to the “Anointed” of God in Ps Sol 17:32; 18:5, 7, and the influence of Psalm 2 and Isa 11:4ff throughout (cf. 17:21-25ff; 18:6-8).
- The Apocalypse of Baruch (2 Baruch) 29:3; 30:1; 39:7; 40:1; 70:9; 72:2 [Syriac]; and note esp. the context of chs. 72-74, which describe the coming Messiah, judgment of the nations, and the establishment of the (Messianic) Kingdom of God on earth.
- 2/4 Esdras (4 Ezra)—the core of the book (chapters 4-13, esp. 7, 11-12, 13:3-14:9) assumes an eschatological framework similar that of 2 Baruch (both books are typically dated from the end of the 1st century A.D.). The “Messiah” is specifically referred to in 7:28-29 (called God’s “Son”) and 12:32 (identified as the offspring of David).
- The prophecy by Balaam (Num 24:17) is given a Messianic interpretation in the Testament of Levi 18:3ff and Testament of Judah 24:1-6. The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs as we have them are Christian (2nd cent. A.D.?) expansions/adaptations of earlier Jewish material, such as we seen in the Aramaic Levi text [4QTLevi] from Qumran.
The Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71) make mention numerous times of the “Righteous/Elect One” and “Son of Man”—a heavenly figure who functions as judge and ruler over the nations, and is presumably the one called God’s “Anointed” in 1 Enoch 48:10; 52:4—however the promise of the restoration of Davidic rule plays little or no part in the book. Nor does the idea of a Davidic Messiah-figure have any importance in the writings of Josephus and Philo. The quasi-Messianic figures described in Antiquities 18.85-87, 20.97-8, 169-72 and Wars 7.437ff seem to represent end-time wonder-working Prophets according to the type of Elijah or Moses, rather than a Davidic king. However, Josephus claims that the war against Rome (66-70 A.D.) was fueled by a prophecy (perhaps the oracle of Balaam, Num 24:15-29 [cf. above]) that one coming from Judea would rule the world (Wars 6.312f, cf. also Tacitus Hist. 5.13.2; Suetonius Vespasian 4.5). Somewhat later, such an interpretation (of Num 24:17) certainly played a role in the Bar-Kokhba rebellion (132-135 A.D.), and Messianic expectation perhaps influenced the revolt of 115-117 A.D. in Egypt and Cyrenaica as well.
For a convenient collection of many of the Qumran references cited above, I have found most useful the article by Martin G. Abegg and Craig A. Evans, “Messianic Passages in the Dead Sea Scrolls” in Qumran Messianism: Studies on the Messianic Expectations in the Dead Sea Scrolls, eds. James H. Charlesworth, Hermann Lichtenberger, and Gerbern S. Oegema (Mohr Siebeck: 1998), pages 191-203.