The Branch: Named hundreds of years before his birth

We saw how Isaiah used the image of The Branch.  A ‘he’ from the fallen dynasty of David, possessing wisdom and power was coming.  Jeremiah followed up by stating that this Branch would be known as the LORD (the Old Testament name for God) himself.

Zechariah continues The Branch

The prophet Zechariah lived 520 BC, just after the Jewish people returned to Jerusalem from their first exile to Babylon.  At that time, the Jewish people were rebuilding their destroyed temple.  The High Priest then was a man named Joshua, and he was re-starting the work of priests. Zechariah, the prophet, was partnering with his colleague Joshua, the High Priest, in leading the Jewish people. Here is what God – through Zechariah- said about this Joshua:

‘”Listen O High Priest Joshua and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant the Branch.” …, says the LORD Almighty, “and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day”.’ (Zechariah 3:8-9)

The Branch!  Started by Isaiah 200 years before, continued by Jeremiah 60 years earlier, Zechariah carries on further with ‘The Branch’.  Here the Branch is also called ‘my servant’.  In some way the High Priest Joshua in Jerusalem at 520BC, colleague of Zechariah, was symbolic of this coming Branch.  But how? It says that in ‘a single day’ the sins will be removed by the LORD. How would that happen?

The Branch: Uniting Priest and King

Zechariah explains later. To understand we need to know that the roles of Priest and King were strictly separated in the Old Testament. None of the Davidic Kings could be priests, and the priests could not be kings. The role of the priest was to mediate between God and man by offering animal sacrifices to God for atonement of sins, and the job of the King was to rule with justice from the throne. Both were crucial; both were distinct. Yet Zechariah wrote that in the future:

‘The word of the LORD came to me: “…Take the silver and gold and make a crown, and set it on the head of the high priest Joshua. Tell him this is what the LORD Almighty says, ‘Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the LORD… and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two’’ (Zechariah 6:9-13)

Here, against all previous rules, the high priest in Zechariah’s day (Joshua) is to put on the kingly crown symbolically as the Branch. Remember Joshua was ‘symbolic of things to come’.  Joshua, the High Priest, in putting on the kingly crown, foresaw a future uniting of the King and Priest into one person – a priest on the King’s throne.  Furthermore, Zechariah wrote that ‘Joshua’ was the name of the Branch. What did that mean?

The name ‘Joshua’ is the name ‘Jesus’

To understand this we need to review the history of Old Testament translation. In 250 BC the Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek. This translation is still in use today and is called the Septuagint (or LXX). The title ‘Christ’ was first used in this Greek translation, making ‘Christ’=’Messiah’=’Anointed One’. (You can review this here ).

joshuajesus-diagram
‘Joshua’ = ‘Jesus’. Both come from the Hebrew name ‘Yhowshuwa’

As you can see in the figure Joshua is an English transliteration of the original Hebrew name ‘Yhowshuwa’ which was a common Hebrew name that meant ‘Jehovah saves’.  This (shown in Quadrant #1) is how Zechariah wrote ‘Joshua’ in 520 BC.  It is transliterated to ‘Joshua’ when the Old Testament is translated into English (bottom half labelled #3).  The translators of the LXX in 250 BC also transliterated Yhowshuwa when they translated the Old Testament into Greek. Their Greek transliteration was Iesous (Quadrant #2). Thus ‘Yhowshuwa’ of the Old Testament was called Iesous in the LXX. Jesus was called Yhowshuwa when people spoke to him, but when the New Testament writers wrote the Greek New Testament, they used the familiar ‘Iesous’ of the LXX to refer to him. When the New Testament was translated from the Greek to English (#2 -> #3) ‘Iesous’ was transliterated (again) to our well-known English ‘Jesus’ (bottom half labelled #3). Thus the name ‘Jesus’ = ‘Joshua’. Both Jesus of the New Testament, and Joshua the High Priest of 520BC were called ‘Yhowshuwa’ in their native Hebrew. In Greek, both names were ‘Iesous’. A reader of the Greek Old Testament LXX would recognize the name of Iesous (Jesus) as a familiar name in the Old Testament. It is harder for us to see the connection since the name ‘Jesus’ seems to appear as brand new.  But the name Jesus does have an Old Testament equivalent – Joshua.

Jesus of Nazareth is the Branch

Now the prophecy of Zechariah makes sense. This is a prediction, made in 520 BCE, that the name of the coming Branch would be ‘Jesus’, pointing directly to Jesus of Nazareth.

This coming Jesus, according to Zechariah, would unite the King and Priest roles. What was it that the priests did? On behalf of the people they offered sacrifices to God to atone for sins. The priest covered the sins of the people by sacrifice. Similarly, the coming Branch ‘Jesus’ was going to bring a sacrifice so that the LORD could ‘remove the sin of this land in a single day’ – the day Jesus offered himself as the sacrifice.

Jesus of Nazareth is well-known outside the gospels.  The Jewish Talmud, Josephus and all other historical writers about Jesus, both friend and enemy, always referred to him as ‘Jesus’ or ‘Christ’, so his name was not invented in the Gospels.  But Zechariah predicted his name 500 years before he lived.

Jesus comes ‘from the stump of Jesse’ since Jesse and David were his ancestors. Jesus possessed wisdom and understanding to a degree that sets him apart from others.  His shrewdness, poise and insight continue to impress both critics and followers.  His power through miracles in the gospels is undeniable. One may choose not to believe them; but one cannot ignore them.  Jesus fits the quality of possessing exceptional wisdom and power that Isaiah predicted would one day come from this Branch.

Now think of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. He certainly claimed to be a king – The King in fact. This is what ‘Christ‘ means.  But what he did while on earth was actually priestly. The priest’s job was to offer acceptable sacrifices on behalf of the Jewish people.  The death of Jesus was significant in that, it also, was an offering to God, on our behalf. His death atones for the sin and guilt for any person, not just for the Jew. The sins of the land were literally removed ‘in a single day’ as Zechariah had predicted – the day Jesus died and paid for all sins. In his death he fulfilled all the requirements as Priest, even as he is mostly known as ‘The Christ’ or The King.  He did bring the two roles together. The Branch, the one that David long ago called the ‘Christ’, is the Priest-King.  And his name was predicted 500 years before his birth by Zechariah.

The Sign of the Branch: The Dead Stump Reborn

Jesus had critics who questioned his authority.  He would answer them by pointing to the prophets that came before, claiming that they foresaw his life.  Here is one example where Jesus said to them:

… These are the very Scriptures that testify about me… (John 5:39)

In other words, Jesus claimed that he was prophesied in the Old Testament, which preceded him by hundreds of years. The Old Testament prophets claimed that God inspired their writings. Since no human can predict with certainty hundreds of years into the future, Jesus said this was evidence to check if he had really come as God’s plan or not. It is a test to see if God exists and if He speaks.  The Old Testament is available for us to examine and consider this same question for ourselves.

First some review.  Jesus’ coming was hinted at the very beginning of the Old Testament.  Then we saw that Abraham’s sacrifice foretold the spot where Jesus was to be sacrificed while the Passover foretold the day in the year that it would occur.  We saw that Psalm 2 was where the title ‘Christ’ was used foretell a coming King.  But it did not end there.  Much more was written looking to the future using other titles and themes. Isaiah (750 BC) began a theme that later Old Testament books developed – that of the coming Branch.

Isaiah and the Branch

The figure below shows Isaiah in a historical timeline with some other Old Testament writers.

isaiah-in-timeline
Isaiah shown in historical timeline. He lived in the period of the rule of the Davidic Kings

You will see from the timeline that Isaiah’s book was written in the period of David’s Royal dynasty (1000 – 600 BC). At that time (ca 750 BC) the dynasty and the kingdom was corrupt. Isaiah pleaded that the Kings return back to God and the practice and spirit of the Mosaic Law. But Isaiah knew that Israel would not repent, and so he also prophesied that she would be destroyed and the royal dynasty would end.

He used a specific metaphor, or image, for the royal dynasty, picturing it like a great tree. This tree had at its root Jesse, the father of King David. On Jesse the Dynasty was started with David, and from his successor, Solomon, the tree continued to grow and develop.

isaiah-tree
The image Isaiah used of the Dynasty as a tree

First a Tree … then a Stump … then a Branch

Isaiah wrote that this ‘tree’ dynasty would soon be cut down, reducing it to a stump. Here is how he began the tree image which then he turned into the riddle of a stump and Branch:

“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him–the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge.” (Isaiah 11:1-2)

stump
Dynasty pictured as a Stump of Jesse – father of David

The cutting down of this ‘tree’ happened about 150 years after Isaiah, around 600 BC, when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and dragged its people and king to Babylon in exile (the red period in the timeline above). Jesse was the father of King David, and so was the root of David’s Dynasty. The ‘stump of Jesse’ was therefore a metaphor to the coming shattering of David’s dynasty.

The Branch: A coming ‘him’ from David possessing wisdom

shoot-and-stump
Shoot from the dead stump of Jesse

But this prophecy also looked further into the future than just the cutting down of the kings. Isaiah predicted that though the ‘stump’ would look dead (as stumps do), one day in the far future a shoot, known as the Branch, would emerge from that stump, just like shoots can sprout from tree stumps. This Branch is referred to as a ‘him’ so Isaiah is talking about a specific man, coming from the line of David after the dynasty would be cut down. This man would have such qualities of wisdom, power, and knowledge it would be as if the very Spirit of God would be resting on him.

Jesus … A ‘him’ from David possessing wisdom

Jesus fits the requirement of coming ‘from the stump of Jesse’ since Jesse and David were his ancestors. What makes Jesus very unusual is the wisdom and understanding he possessed.  His shrewdness, poise and insight in dealing with opponents and disciples continue to impress both critics and followers ever since.  His power in the gospels through miracles is undeniable. One may choose not to believe them; but one cannot ignore them.  Jesus fits the quality of possessing exceptional wisdom and power that Isaiah predicted would one day come from this Branch.

Jeremiah and The Branch

It is like a signpost laid down by Isaiah in history. But it did not end there. His signpost is only the first of several signs. Jeremiah, living about 150 years after Isaiah, when David’s dynasty was actually being cut down before his very eyes wrote:

“The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD our Righteousness“. (Jeremiah 23:5-6)

Jeremiah expands on the Branch theme of David’s dynasty started by Isaiah 150 years earlier. The Branch will be a King who reigns. But this is exactly what the Psalm 2 prophecy said of the coming Son of God/Christ/Messiah. Could it be that the Branch and the Son of God are one and the same?

The Branch: The LORD our Righteousness

But what is this Branch to be called? He would be called the ‘LORD’ who will also be ‘our’ (that is – us humans) Righteousness. As we saw with Abraham, the problem for humans is that we are ‘corrupt’, and so we need ‘righteousness’.  Here, in describing the Branch, we see a hint that people in Jeremiah’s future would get their needed ‘righteousness’ by the LORD – YHWH himself (YHWH is the name for God in the Old Testament).  But how would this be done?  Zechariah fills in further details for us as he develops further on this theme of the Coming Branch, predicting even the name of Jesus – which we look at next.