Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

The Messiah in the Jewish Traditions Pt. 3

The Witness of the Old Greek Version of the Hebrew Bible

Sam Shamoun

We resume our examination of some of the specific Jewish traditions concerning the coming and person of the Messiah. We will be focusing on the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible which was produced by Jews before the time of Christ. This particular version is commonly known as the Septuagint [LXX], or the translation of the seventy since tradition has it that there were seventy Jewish scribes who worked independently on translating the Hebrew Bible, specifically the Pentateuch.

The LXX isn’t simply a translation of the Hebrew, but an interpretation that gives us a look into the specific beliefs and understanding of the particular Jewish scribes who produced this version. It gives us an idea of what they believed concerning the nature of God, the role and function of angels, the mission and work of the Messiah etc. Thus, it is a vitally important witness to how some of the Jews explained and interpreted specific OT passages which have been accepted as Messianic prophecies.

With this in mind we now turn our attention to the LXX.

A King who lives and reigns forever

To begin with, the Greek version supplies evidence that the scribes believed that the Messiah existed before creation, before the constellations were made. They also affirmed that his dominion is eternal, which indicates that they believed that this particular figure would live forever. After all, one cannot rule over an eternal kingdom if s/he isn’t eternal.

For instance according to the following Psalm the Davidide King endures as long as the sun and moon, from generation to generation:

“God, give the king your judgment, and your righteousness to the son of the king, to judge your people with righteousness and your poor with justice… And he will endure along with the sun, and before (pro) the moon, generations of generationsAnd all kings shall worship/do obeisance (proskynesousin) to him; all nations shall be subject to him… Let his name be blessed forever/through the ages. His name shall endure before (pro) the sun, and all the tribes of the earth will be blessed in him. All the nations will declare him happy.” Psalm 71[Eng. 72]:1-2, 5, 11, 17

Not only does this particular translation point to the eternal nature of the King, in that he himself will rule forever without someone succeeding him, it may also be hinting at his preexistence. The phrase, “his name shall endure before the sun,” may suggest that this specific Ruler either existed before the sun was formed or that his rule was foreordained from the very beginning. However, since the passage speaks of the future, not the past, it seems more likely that this is saying that his reign will last and endure as long as the sun and the moon, meaning indefinitely.

Yet this fact didn’t stop some of the Jews from interpreting the Hebrew version of this specific text as alluding to either the personal or conceptual preexistence of the Messiah, just as renowned Jewish Messianic scholar Dr. Michael L. Brown notes in his explanation of Micah 5:2:

“In this light, the commentary of Rashi on Micah 5:2[1] takes on added significance, since (1) he reads it as a clear Messianic prophecy; (2) he makes reference Psalm 118:22, which says that the stone rejected by the builders has become the chief cornerstone (a verse quoted several times in the New Testament with reference to Yeshua, who was rejected by the leaders of his people but chosen by God); and (3) he interprets the end of the verse as pointing to the preexistence of the Messiah (or, at least, of his name) rather than as pointing only to Bethlehem as the ancient city of David (which is made clear at the beginning of the verse). Here is Rashi’s commentary (words in bold indicate Scripture text):

1 And you Bethlehem Ephrathah whence David emanated, as it is stated (1 Sam. 17:58): ‘The son of your bondsman, Jesse, the Bethlehemite.’ And Bethlehem is called Ephrath, as it is said (Gen. 48:7): ‘On the road to Ephrath, that is Bethlehem.’ you should have been the lowest of the clans of Judah You should have been the lowest of the clans of Judah because of the stigma of Ruth the Moabitess in you. from you will emerge for Me the Messiah, son of David, and so Scripture says (Ps. 118:22): ‘The stone the builders had rejected became a cornerstone.’ and his origin is from of old Before the sun his name is Yinnon’ (Ps. 72:17).

“This is certainly a noteworthy interpretation…” (Dr. Michael L. Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus – Messianic Prophecies Objections [Baker Books, Grand Rapids MI, 2003], Volume 3, 4.4. Isaiah 9:6[5] does not speak of a divine king (or Messiah), p. 39; underline emphasis ours)


103. Note that Psalm 72 is widely recognized as a Messianic Psalm (at the least, based on principle 2 in the appendix), giving added weight to the fact that Rashi cites it here, especially since verse 17 seems to speak of eternal origins (“before the sun,” meaning either literal preexistence or conceptual preexistence). Interestingly, Rashi’s actual comment on Psalm 72:17 in his commentary on the Psalms seems to contradict his application of the verse in his commentary on Micah, since he applies it to Solomon and explains, “before the sun, his name will be magnified All the days of the sun, his name will be magnified.” See also above, n. 86, where it is noted that Yinnon is recognized as a name of the Messiah in the Rabbinic writings. (Ibid., p. 211; underline emphasis ours)

We will have more to say concerning the meaning and implication of Micah 5:2 shortly.

One thing is for certain; this Psalm affirms that the Messiah – or at least a particular descendant of David – would rule forever, or for as long as the sun and moon remain standing.

According to the NT, it is the Lord Jesus who reigns forever as King by virtue of possessing an indestructible life as a result of his physical, bodily resurrection from the dead on the third day:

“The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.’ Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.’ ‘How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’ The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.’” Luke 1:28-35

“Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that his soul was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his flesh see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.” Acts 2:30-33

“Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” Romans 8:34

“For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life… Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Such a high priest meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.” Hebrews 7:14-16, 23-26

“and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” 2 Peter 1:11

David’s Preexistent Lord

If there was any uncertainty whether Psalm 72:17 affirmed the preexistence of the Davidic King the following Psalm leaves absolutely no doubt that the LXX scribes believed that God’s Anointed Ruler personally existed (and not just conceptually as in the foreknowledge of God) even before the heavenly host were made:

“A Psalm of David. The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit on my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’ A rod of you power the Lord shall send out from Sion. And exercise dominion in the midst of your enemies. With you is rule on a day of your power, among the splendours of the holy ones (ton hagion): From the womb, before the Morning-star (pro heosphorou), I brought you forth/begot you.” Psalm 109 [Eng. 110]:1-3

David’s Lord not only sits at God’s right hand to rule over his enemies he was also begotten or brought forth from the womb before the formation of the Morning-star! The language suggests that this exalted Figure (identified as the Messiah in the NT) existed with God before the stars were formed and/or the angels were created.

That the Morning-star may be a reference to a spirit being is borne out by the following reference:

“And it shall be on that day that God will give you rest from your pain and wrath and your hard slavery with which you were subject to them. And you will take up this lament against the king of Babylon, and you will say on that day… How is fallen from heaven the Morning-star (heosphoros), which used to rise early in the morning rising! He has been crushed into the earth who used to send [light] to all the nations! You said in your mind, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will set my throne above the stars (asteron) of God; I will sit on a lofty mountain, upon the lofty mountains towards the north; I will ascend above the clouds; I will be like the Most High.’ But now you will descend into Hades and into the foundations of the earth.” Isaiah 14:3-4, 12-15

The fall of the king of Babylon is described as the Morning-star falling from heaven. In context it seems that Yahweh is likening the destruction of the king to the judgment that had fallen on a majestic spirit being, one who thought he could set himself above the stars of God and make himself equal to the Most High.

According to the NT, Satan is such a being since he is depicted as falling like lightning from heaven and sweeping a third of the stars of heaven with him:

“The seventy-two returned with joy and said, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.’ He replied, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’” Luke 10:17-20

“Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth… And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: ‘Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.’” Revelation 12:3-4, 7-12

It also seems probable that the stars in Isaiah are a reference to angels, since there is evidence from the NT that angels are called stars:

“The fifth angel sounded his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from the sky to the earth. The star was given the key to the shaft of the Abyss… They had as king over them the angel of the Abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek, Apollyon.” Revelation 9:1, 11 NIV

“And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time.” Revelation 20:1-3 NIV

This suggests that the Morning-star may have been a heavenly creature that wanted to rule over the angels and become greater than them in status and honor.

In light of the preceding factors it seems quite plausible to understand from Psalm 109:3 that David’s Lord existed before the angels were created since he was begotten before the Morning-star. Even if one rejects the association of stars with angels it is still clear from the Psalm that this particular Being existed before the constellations were made.

In either case the Greek version of Psalm 109 attests that David’s Sovereign Master existed before the world was created since the stars (as well as the angels) were made before the world was fashioned:

“Where were you when I was laying the earth’s foundation? Now tell me, if you are endowed with understanding. Who determined its measures, if you know? Or who was it that stretched a line upon it? On what have its rings been fastened? And who is he that cast a cornerstone upon it? When the stars (astra) were born, all my angels (pantes angeloi mou) praised me with a loud voice.” Job 38:4-7

The translation from the Hebrew of Job 38:7 reads:

“when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” NASB

Once again, this perfectly agrees with the NT teaching that the prehuman Christ existed with the Father before the world was created:

“And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed... Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” John 17:5, 24 NIV

And that he is David’s Lord who reigns at God’s right hand:

“While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, ‘What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he? ‘The son of David,’ they replied. He said to them, ‘How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him “Lord”? For he says, “The Lord said to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”’ If then David calls him “Lord,” how can he be his son?’” Matthew 22:41-45

“… The high priest said to him, ‘I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.’ ‘Yes, it is as you say,’ Jesus replied. ‘But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.’” Matthew 26:63b-64

“… That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” Ephesians 1:19b-23

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” Colossians 3:1

“After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven ... To which of the angels did God ever say, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet’?” Hebrews 1:3, 13

“The point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man.” Hebrews 8:1-2

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2

“… It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God's right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.” 1 Peter 3:21b-22

The Eternal One from Bethlehem

It also comports with the following OT citation which speaks of the Davidic Ruler coming forth from of old, or from eternity, in order to reign over David’s throne forever:

“And you, Bethleem, house of Ephratha, are very few in number to be among the thousands of Ioudas; one from you shall come forth for me to become a ruler in Israel, and his goings forth are from the beginning (ap’ arche), from days of eternity (ek hemeron aionos).” Micah 5:2

The reason that God brings this Ruler out of Bethlehem is because this is the ancestral place of king David:

“The LORD said to Samuel, ‘How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.’ … Samuel did what the LORD said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, ‘Do you come in peace?’ … So he asked Jesse, ‘Are these all the sons you have?’ ‘There is still the youngest,’ Jesse answered, ‘but he is tending the sheep.’ Samuel said, ‘Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.’ So he sent and had him brought in. He [David] was ruddy, with a fine appearance and handsome features. Then the LORD said, ‘Rise and anoint him; he is the one.’” 1 Samuel 16:1, 4, 11 NIV

“Now David was the son of an Ephrathite named Jesse, who was from Bethlehem in Judah. Jesse had eight sons, and in Saul's time he was old and well advanced in years. Jesse's three oldest sons had followed Saul to the war: The firstborn was Eliab; the second, Abinadab; and the third, Shammah. David was the youngest. The three oldest followed Saul, but David went back and forth from Saul to tend his father's sheep at Bethlehem.” 1 Samuel 17:12-15 NIV

Thus, the reference to Bethlehem connects this verse with God’s promise to David, being a prophecy that God will send a Ruler to fulfill the Divine oath that one of David’s descendants will reign on Yahweh’s throne forever.

“And I shall make you grow, and the Lord will build you a house. And it shall be, when your days are fulfilled, and you lie down with your fathers, also I will raise up your seed after you, he who shall be of your belly, and I will establish his kingdom. It is he who shall build me a house, and I will set his throne forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. And I will not withdraw my mercy from him as I withdrew it from those before you. And I will confirm him in my house and in his reign forever. And his throne shall be established forever.” 1 Chronicles 17:10b-14

What makes this particular Potentate unique is that he is said to come from the days of eternity and has been active from the very beginning. This is precisely what the OT says concerning Yahweh!

For instance, Yahweh has been with the very first generations of his people and announces things to come from the very beginning even before they occur,

“Who has wrought and done these things? The one calling her from the beginning of generations (apo’ geneon arches) has called her. I, God, am first, and for the things that are coming, I am.” Isaiah 41:4

“Gather together and come! Consult together, you who are being delivered from the nations! They did not know– those who lift up the wood, their graven image, and pray as if to gods that do not save. If they will declare it, let them draw near so that they may know together who made these things heard from the beginning (ap’ arche). Then it was declared to you. Am I not the Lord God? There is no other besides me – just and a deliverer. There is none besides me.” Isaiah 45:20-21

Since he has been there from the very beginning, from eternity itself:

Are you not from the beginning (suchi su ap’ arches), O Lord, my holy God? So we shall not die. O Lord, you have appointed him for judgment, and he has formed me to examine his chastening.” Habakkuk 1:12

“Lord, you became a refuge to us, in generation and generation. Before mountains were brought forth and the earth and the world were formed, and from everlasting to everlasting you are (kai apo tou aionos heos tou aionos su ei).” Psalm 89[Eng. 90]:1-2

Dr. Michael Brown’s comments concerning the meaning and implication of Micah 5:2 are worth quoting here:

“… Also noteworthy is the commentary of this verse by two of the most respected contemporary scholars of the Hebrew Bible, David Noel Freedman and Francis Anderson:

… the person spoken of here has some connection with the remote past. ‘One whose origin is from of old, from ancient times’ (NJPS). A legitimate sensus plenior [i.e. fuller meaning in the light of unfolding scriptural revelation] is that this Ruler will be a superhuman being, associated with God from the beginning of time. Psalm 2:7 speaks of the king as the one whom God ‘sired’ (by adoption). Psalm 110 places the king on God’s right hand. At the least the language suggests that the birth of the Messiah has been determined, or predicted in the divine council, in primal days. Micah 4-5 thus has time points in the Beginning and the End as well as the Now. Even if mosa’ot means no more than an oracle expressing the divine determination, it does not require a great shift in conceptuality to move to the Son of Man figure of the later apocalypses – the Urmensch – and to the classical Christology of the ecumenical creeds or heaven-created Adam of the Quran or the Metatron of the Jewish mystics. So Christians did not abuse this text when they found Jesus in it. Or to put it more cautiously in a negative way, this mysterious language relates to the mosel whose outgoings have been from olden days to God (li) in a special way. He will rule ‘for’ Yahweh.

“So, then, Micah 5:2[1] can also be understood as pointing to Messiah’s eternal nature, undergirding our reading of Isaiah 9:6[5] as pointing to the Messiah’s divinity.” (Brown, pp. 39-40; underline emphasis ours)


104. Francis I. Anderson And David Noel Freedman, Micah: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday, 2000), 468. Interestingly, Santala points out that David Kimchi actually states that the Messiah is ’el – God! – in his comments on Micah 5:2[1]. However, since Kimchi did not believe in the Messiah’s divinity, one must wonder what point he was trying to make; see Santala, The Messiah in the Old Testament in Light of Rabbinical Writings, p. 115. There is also some fascinating, relevant speculation in Pirkey HaMashiach (in Midreshei Ge’ulah) on the new Messiah of God and on the Messiah as Yahweh… (Ibid., p. 212; underline emphasis ours)

Thus, the passage from Micah clearly envisions an eternal Being who will come to rule on David’s throne forever.

In light of this does it come as a surprise to learn that Jesus was born in Bethlehem in perfect fulfillment of Micah’s prophecy?

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.’ When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written: “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.”’” Matthew 2:1-6

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Luke 2:1-7

And here is how one early Church Father explained Micah 5:2:

20. For godliness it suffices you to know, as we have said, that God has One Only Son, One naturally begotten; who began not His being when He was born in Bethlehem, but Before All Ages. For hear the Prophet Micah saying, And thou, Bethlehem, house of Ephrata, art little to be among the thousands of Judah. Out of you shall come forth unto Me a Ruler, who shall feed My people Israel: and His goings forth are from the beginning, from days of eternity. Think not then of Him who is now come forth out of Bethlehem , but worship Him who was eternally begotten of the Father. Suffer none to speak of a beginning of the Son in time, but as a timeless Beginning acknowledge the Father. For the Father is the Beginning of the Son, timeless, incomprehensible, without beginning. The fountain of the river of righteousness, even of the Only-begotten, is the Father, who begot Him as Himself only knows. And would you know that our Lord Jesus Christ is King Eternal? Hear Him again saying, Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it, and was glad. And then, when the Jews received this hardly, He says what to them was still harder, Before Abraham was, I am. And again He says to the Father, And now, Father, glorify Thou Me with Your own self, with the glory which I had with You before the world was. He says plainly, before the world was, I had the glory which is with You. And again when He says, For You loved Me before the foundation of the world, He plainly declares, The glory which I have with you is from eternity.

21. We believe then In One Lord Jesus Christ, the Only-Begotten Son of God, Begotten of His Father Very God Before All Worlds, by Whom All Things Were Made. For whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers, all things were made through Him, and of things created none is exempted from His authority. Silenced be every heresy which brings in different creators and makers of the world; silenced the tongue which blasphemes the Christ the Son of God; let them be silenced who say that the sun is the Christ, for He is the sun's Creator, not the sun which we see. Silenced be they who say that the world is the workmanship of Angels , who wish to steal away the dignity of the Only-begotten. For whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions, or anything that is named, all things were made by Christ. He reigns over the things which have been made by Him, not having seized another's spoils, but reigning over His own workmanship, even as the Evangelist John has said, All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made. All things were made by Him, the Father working by the Son. (Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture 11; underline emphasis ours)

The Angel of the Great Council

According to the Hebrew version of Isaiah 9:6-7, a Child will be born to rule on David’s throne forever who shall be called the Mighty God:

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given. The government shall be upon his shoulders and he shall be called, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.”

However, the Greek version reads differently in that it identifies this Child as an Angel or Messenger:

“because a child was born for us, a son also given to us, whose sovereignty was upon his shoulder, and he is named Messenger/Angel of Great Counsel (megales boules angelos): for I will bring peace upon the rulers, peace and health to him. His sovereignty is great, and his peace has no boundary upon the throne of Dauid and his kingdom, to make it prosper and to uphold it with righteousness and with judgment from this time onward and forevermore (kai ton aiona). The zeal of the Lord Sabaoth will do these things.” Isaiah 9:5-6 (Eng. 9:6-7)

The words megales boules angelos can also be rendered as “Angel/Messenger of Great Council,” which would identify this Child as a member of God’s heavenly council. As one author noted in his study of the LXX of Isaiah 9:6,

boule can mean ‘council’ as well as ‘counsel’, so that, for readers of the LXX, megales boules angelos would suggest the angelic council of I Kings 22.” (Joseph Trigg, “The Angel of Great Counsel: Christ and the Angelic Hierarchy in Origen’s Theology,” JTS 42:1 (April 1991), pp. 35-51)

In support of reading boules as council we have the LXX version of Psalm 88:6-8 (Eng. 89:5-7),

“The heavens will acknowledge your wonders, O Lord, indeed, your truth in an assembly of holy ones (en ekklesia hagion), because who in the clouds shall be deemed equal to the Lord? And who among divine sons shall be compared with the Lord? God is glorified in a council of holy ones (en boule hagion), great and awesome to all that are around him.”

Thus, it seems reasonably certain that the translators understood the title Mighty God to mean that this Child is a Divine Angel, specifically the Angel of God who appears quite often throughout the OT. In fact, in many passages this particular Messenger is even called God:

“But the Lord God’s Angel found her by the spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Sour. And the Angel of the Lord said to her, ‘Hagar, slave-girl of Sara, where ar you coming from, and where are you going?’ And she said, ‘I am running from the presence of my mistress Sara.’ But the Angel of the Lord said to her, ‘Return to your mistress, and humble yourself under her hands.’ The Angel of the Lord also said to her, ‘I will multitudinously multiply your offspring, and it will not be counted for multitude.’ And the Angel of the Lord said to her, ‘See, you are pregnant and shall bear a son and shall call his name Ishmael. For the Lord has given heed to your humiliation. He shall be a rustic man; his hands shall be against all, and the hands of all against him, and he shall live facing all his kinfolk.’ And Hagar called the name of the Lord who was speaking to her, ‘You-are-the-God-who-looks-upon-me (su ho theos ho epidon me),’ because she said, ‘For truly I saw him face to face when he appeared to me.’ Therefore she called the well, ‘Well-of-the-one-whom-I-saw-face-to-face’; see, it is between Kades and between Barad.” Genesis 16:7-14

“And it came about when the sheep were coming into heat, that when I saw them with my eyes in my sleep, and see, the male goats and the rams–pure white and variegated and ash-colored spotted–were mounting the sheep and the female goats. And the Angel of God said to me during sleep, ‘Iakob.’ And I said, ‘What is it?’ And He said, ‘Look up with your eyes, and see the male goats and the rams– pure white and variegated and ash-colored spotted–mounting the sheep and the female goats, for I have seen how much Laban is doing to you. I am the God (ego eimi ho theos) that appeared to you in the place of God, there where you anointed a stele to me and made a vow to me there…’” Genesis 31:10-13

“And Manoe said to the Angel of the Lord, ‘What is Your name so that we may glorify you (doxasmen se) when your word comes?’ And the Angel of the Lord said to him, ‘Why do you ask this, my name? Even by itself it is wonderful/amazing (esti thaumaston)?’ And Manoe took the kid of goats and the sacrifice and offered it on the rock to the Lord, to the Lord who works wonders, and Manoe and his wife were looking on. And it came about, when the flame went up above the altar toward the sky, that the Angel of the Lord ascended in the flame, and Manoe and his wife were looking on, and they fell on their face to the ground. And the Angel of the Lord did not add still to appear to Manoe and to his wife. Then Manoe knew that it was the Angel of the Lord. And Manoe said to his wife, ‘We shall die by death, for we have seen God (theon).’ And his wife said to him, ‘If the Lord had desired to kill us, he would not have accepted a whole burnt offering and a sacrifice from our hands, and he would not have enlightened us about all these things, and he would not have made them audible to us.’” Judges 13:17-23

“And Iakob was left alone; and a man was wrestling with him until morning. And he saw that he was not powerful against him, and he touched the flat part of his thigh, and the flat part of Iakob’s thigh became numb as he wrestled with him. And He said to him, ‘Send me away, for the dawn has come up.’ But he said, ‘I will not send you away, unless you bless me.’ And he said to him, ‘What is your name?’ And he answered, ‘Iakob.’ Then he said to him, ‘Your name shall no longer be called Iakob, but Israel shall be your name, because you have prevailed with God (hoti enischusas meta theou), and with humans you are powerful.’ Then Iakob asked and said, ‘Tell me Your name.’ And he said, ‘Why do you ask this, my name, which is wonderful (ho esti thaumaston)?’ And there he blessed him. And Iakob called the name of that place the Sight of God/Form of God/Divine Form (eidos theou), ‘For I have seen the God (ton theon) face to face, and my life has been preserved.’” Genesis 32:24-30

It should be pointed out that certain manuscripts (MSS) such as the Complutensian Polyglot omit the phrase “which is wonderful.”

According to the prophet Hosea the Man whom Jacob wrestled with and identified as God was actually the Angel of God!

“And the Lord has a judgment against Ioudas, to punish Iakob according to his ways, and will he repay him according to his deeds. In the womb he kicked his brother with the heel and in his struggles prevailed towards/with God (kai enischusen pros theon). And he prevailed with the Angel (enischusen meta angelou) and predominated. They wept and implored me; they found me in the house of On, and there a word was spoken to them. But the Lord God Almighty shall be his memorial.” Hosea 12:2-5

Moreover, even if one were to read this as the Angel of Great Counsel this would still serve to equate the Child with the Angel of Yahweh since the latter had become renown for his wise counsel, his wisdom. In fact, his wisdom and knowledge were such that those who were seen possessing great wisdom and understanding were likened to him, such as in the case of king David:

“And the woman said, ‘May the word of my lord the king indeed be as an offering, for as a divine Angel/Angel of God, so is my lord the king, to hear the good and the evil, and the Lord your God shall be with you! … In order to get around the façade of this thing, your slave Ioab made up this tale: and my lord is wise like the wisdom of the Angel of God, to know all things that are in the earth.” 2 Samuel 14:17, 20

Thus, by identifying the Child of Isaiah 9 as this specific Angel the LXX scribes were making it clear that the Son who would be given was a heavenly, preexistent Divine Being.

What this basically means is that they weren’t trying to demote the Child’s Divine status by omitting from their translation the titles Mighty God and Everlasting Father. Rather, they were seeking to emphasize his personal distinction from Yahweh God, the One whom the inspired prophet calls the Mighty God and Israel’s Father,

“And it shall be on that day that what remains of Israel will no more be added, and those of Iakob who have been saved will no more trust in those who have wronged them but will trust in God, the Holy One of Israel, in truth. And what remains of Iakob will be to the Mighty God.” Isaiah 10:20-21

“For you are our father, because Abraham did not know us and Israel did not recognize us, but you, O Lord, are our father; deliver us; from the beginning your name has been upon us.” Isaiah 63:16

“And, now, Lord, you are our Father, and we are clay; we are all the work of your hands.” Isaiah 64:8

The translators may have wanted to drive home the point that this Son who would be given is not Yahweh the Father, even though he is fully Divine like Yahweh, but was actually the Father’s heavenly Messenger coming to rule on David’s throne forever.

This leads us to our final section.

Further Evidence from Isaiah that the LXX translators believed that the Angel of Yahweh is God

We are told in the Hebrew version of Isaiah 63 that the Angel of Yahweh’s Presence/Face redeemed Israel out of Egypt:

“In all their distress he too was distressed, and the Angel of his Presence saved them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.” Isaiah 63:9 NIV

However, the LXX reading denies that an angel delivered the people of God:

“And he said, ‘Are they not my people – children will deal falsely?’ And he became to them salvation out of all affliction. It was no ambassador or a messenger/angel (angelos) but the Lord himself that saved them, because he loved them and spared them; he himself ransomed them and took them up and lifted them up all the days of old. But they disobeyed and provoked his Holy Spirit; therefore he turned to them in enmity, and he himself warred against them. Then the one who brought up from the land the shepherd of the sheep remembered the days of old: Where is the one that put within them his Holy Spirit, who led Moyses with his right hand? Where is his glorious arm? He overcame the water from before him, to make for himself an everlasting name. He led them through the deep like a horse through a wilderness, and they did not become weary, and like cattle through a plain, the Spirit came down from the Lord and guided them. Thus you lead your people, to make for yourself a glorious name.” Isaiah 63:8-14

The above rendering either implies that the translators were uncomfortable with ascribing Israel’s redemption to an angel or that they wanted to emphasize the fact that the Angel of Yahweh’s Presence who saved them wasn’t a created entity. Rather, Yahweh was that Angel, i.e. the Angel of God is a fully Divine Person who is both personally distinct from and yet identical to Yahweh.

The context supports the latter view since the scribes mention Yahweh’s Holy Spirit whom Yahweh placed among the people to guide them and whom they disobeyed and provoked.

The translators also kept all the references in the Pentateuch or Torah to the Angel of Yahweh delivering Israel out of Egypt and bringing them into the Promised Land:

“But Moyses said to the people, ‘Take courage! Stand, and see the deliverance from God that he will perform for you today. For as you have seen the Egyptians today, you shall not ever again see them time without end. The Lord will fight for you, and you will be quiet.’ Then the Lord said to Moyses, ‘Why are you crying out to me? Speak to the sons of Israel, and let them break camp. And you, raise your rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea, and break it apart, and let the sons of Israel enter into the midst of the sea on what is dry. And look, I will harden the heart of Pharao and all the Egyptians, and they will enter in after them. And I will be glorified in Pharao and in all his army and in his chariots and in his horses. And all the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, as I am being glorified in Pharao and in his chariots and his horses.’ Then the Angel of God, who was going before the camp of the sons of Israel, rose up and went behind them. Now the pillar of the cloud also rose up from before them and stood behind them. And it went in between the camp of the Egyptians and between the camp of Israel. And there was darkness and gloom, and the night elapsed, and they did not mix together with one another during the whole night. But Moyses stretched out the hand over the sea, and the Lord drew off the sea with a strong south wind during the whole night, and he made the sea dry, and the water was divided. And the sons of Israel entered into the midst of the sea on the dry ground, and the water became a wall for them on the right and a wall on the left. Then the Egyptians pursued, and all of the cavalry of Pharao and the chariots and the riders went in after them into the midst of the sea. And it happened in the early morning watch that the Lord looked at the camp of the Egyptians in the pillar of fire and cloud, and he threw the camp of the Egyptians into disarray. And he bound together the axles of their chariots, and led them violently. And the Egyptians said, ‘Let us flee from Israel! For the Lord fights the Egyptians for them!’ Then the Lord said to Moyses, ‘Stretch out your hand over the sea, and let the water return cover up the Egyptians, both the chariots and the riders.’ So Moyses stretched out the hand over the sea, and the water returned near day to its place. Now the Egyptians fled under the water, and the Lord shook off the Egyptians in the middle of the sea. And when the water had returned, it covered the chariots and riders and all the host of Pharao that entered after them into the sea. Not even one of them remained! But the sons of Israel went across dry ground in the midst of the sea, and the water was for them a wall on the right and a wall on the left. And the Lord rescued Israel in that day from the hand of the Egyptians. And Israel saw the Egyptians dead along the shore of the sea. So Israel saw the great hand, which things the Lord had done to the Egyptians. And the people feared the Lord and trusted God and Moyses his attendant.” Exodus 14:13-31

“And look, I am sending my Angel in front of you in order guard you in the way in order to bring you into the land which I prepared for you. Mind yourself, and listen to him, and do not disobey him. For he shall not hold you in undue awe, for my name is upon him. If by paying attention you will listen to my voice and do all that I tell you, I will be an enemy to your enemies and will resist those who resist you. For my Angel will go, leading you, and will bring you in to the Amorite and Chettite and Pherezite and Chananite and Gergesite and Heuite and Iebousite, and I will destroy them.” Exodus 23:20-23

“But now go, and lead this people to the place that I told you. Look, My Angel will go before your face. But on whichever day I concern myself, I will bring upon them their sin.” Exodus 32:34

“And Moyses sent messengers from Kades to the king of Edom, saying, ‘This is what your brother Israel says: You understand about all the trouble that has found us, and our fathers went down into Egypt, and we lived as sojourners in Egypt for rather many days, and the Egyptians mistreated us and our fathers. And we cried to the Lord, and the Lord listened to our voice, and having sent an Angel he led us out of Egypt; and now we are in Kades, a town on the edge of your borders.” Numbers 20:14-16

These examples corroborate the fact that the translators of the LXX didn’t think for a moment that a single Divine Person was responsible for the salvation of Israel from Egypt. The above verses demonstrate that the scribes were aware that both God’s Holy Spirit and the Angel of Yahweh were fully involved in Israel’s redemption.

In light of this it seems reasonably certain that the translators of Isaiah 63:9 weren’t denying that an Angel delivered Israel, but that a mere created spirit messenger did, since Yahweh’s Angel isn’t a creature. Rather, the Angel of God who saved Israel is a fully Divine Agent. Thus, God did indeed save his people, and not some mere angelic creature or ambassador.

In fact, the early Church fathers used the Greek version of Isaiah 63:9 to prove that this OT Angel wasn’t a created being, but a fully Divine Person distinct from God the Father, namely the prehuman Christ. As one Christian author wrote in reference to 2nd century Christian apologist Irenaeus’ use of Isaiah 63:9:

“Although he used the traditional title Angel, Irenaeus was very clear that Christ was not a created Angel. Christ was not by nature an angel but only functioned as a messenger’ or ‘teacher’ in God’s ‘economy.’ A verse that he adduces to underscore this crucial point is Isaiah 63:9. According to the LXX text favored by the Fathers, this verse says that it was God himself—and not a created angel—who came to save his people. God, in other words, does not delegate the task of salvation. This verse was widely quoted by the Fathers and applied to Christ. In particular, it was the Fathers who used and promoted the title Angel (e.g., Tertullian, Cyprian, Origen, Eusebius, Athanasius, etc.) who cited this text often. This is conclusive proof, were it needed, that when the Fathers ascribed the title Angel to Christ they did not mean that he was a created spirit. Irenaeus refers to Isa 63:9 on four separate occasions:

On this account, therefore, the Lord Himself, who is Emmanuel from the Virgin, is the sign of our salvation, since ‘it was the Lord Himself who saved them,’ because they could not be saved by their own instrumentality… ‘He will come Himself and will save us.’ … Again, that it should not be a mere man who should save us, nor [one] without flesh—for the angels are without flesh—[the same prophet] announced, saying, ‘neither an elder, nor angel, but the Lord Himself will save them because He loves them and will spare them: He will Himself set them free.’ (Adv. Haer. 3.20.3–4)

And Isaiah says that those who served God are in the end to be saved through His name… And that He was Himself to bring about these blessings in person, Isaiah declared in the words: ‘Not an intercessor, nor an angel, but the Lord Himself has given them life, because He loves them and has pity on them; He Himself redeemed them.’ (Dem. 88)

So through the new calling a change of heart comes about in the Gentiles, through the Word of God, when He became incarnate and tabernacled with men, as also His disciple John says: ‘and His Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.’ For this reason, too, the Church bears fruit in so great a number of saved, for it is no more by an intercessor, Moses, or by Elijah’s angel, that we are saved, but by the Lord Himself. (Dem. 94)

“Thus what appears to be a contradiction at the purely verbal level, and an antithetical juxtaposition of texts and versions, is actually a profound synthesis of traditional and biblical material. Christ is the Mighty God. And though he is rightly called Angel, he is emphatically not a created angel.” (Günther Juncker, “Christ As Angel: The Reclamation Of A Primitive Title,” Trinity Journal 15:2 (Fall 1994), pp. 243-245: underline emphasis ours)

We even have a liberal critical NT scholar going so far as to say that the Angel is not a distinct Divine Messenger sent by Yahweh, but is the same Person as Yahweh!

“More important is ‘the angel of Yahweh’, especially in view of [2nd century Christian apologist] Justin’s identification of the angel of Yahweh with the pre-existent Christ (above p. 132). Yet to understand the angel of Yahweh as a being somehow independent of Yahweh is basically to misunderstand what the ancient writers intended. For it is clear enough even from a cursory study of the passages in question that ‘the angel of Yahweh’ is simply a way of speaking about Yahweh himself. Thus, after the angel of the Lord has appeared and spoken to Hagar the narrative continues: ‘So she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing”; for she said, “Have I really seen God and remained alive after seeing him?”’ (Gen. 16.13). Similarly in the other version of the same tale the angel of God speaks in the first person as God (21.17f.). In Jacob’s dream the angel of God says, ‘I am the God of Bethel’ (31.11-13). In the theophany in the burning bush he who appears to Moses is described both as ‘the angel of the Lord’ and ‘the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’ (Ex. 3.2-6). Finally we might note Judg. 2.1, where ‘the angel of the Lord’ says ‘I brought you up from the land of Egypt… I will never break my covenant with you…’. Clearly in all of these cases it is impossible to distinguish between the angel of Yahweh and Yahweh himself; they are obviously one and the same person. And the same is most probable true of the other passages where it is a ‘man’ who appears to Abraham (Gen. 18 – ‘the Lord’), to Jacob (Gen. 32.24-30 – ‘I have seen God face to face’) and to Joshua (Josh. 5.13-15). Somewhat more ambiguous is the status of the angel who led Israel through the exodus and wilderness wanderings (Ex. 14.19; 23.20, 23; 32.34; 33.2f.; Num. 20.16), but in fact the same equation seems to hold, since the divine presence in the pillar of fire and of cloud is thought of both as ‘the angel of God’ and as ‘the Lord’ in Ex. 14:19f., 24. In other words, in these instances too the ‘angel’ is a way of describing the presence and saving power of Yahweh.

“In short, this angel talk seems to have been an early, still unsophisticated attempt to speak of God’s immanent activity among people and within events on earth without either resorting to straightforward anthropomorphism or abandoning belief in his holy otherness…” (James D. G. Dunn, Christology in the Making – A New Testament Inquiry into the Origins of the Doctrine of the Incarnation [William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Grand Rapids, MI; Second edition 1989], V. Spirit or Angel?, 20. The angel of the Lord, p. 150; underline emphasis and comments within brackets ours)

Although we reject the notion that the Angel isn’t a distinct Person from Yahweh – since it is clear from the OT that he is – we do agree with Dunn, however, that this particular Messenger is identified as Yahweh himself, just as all of the above references conclusively showed. What this means is that we have clear evidence that the Hebrew Bible doesn’t teach unitarianism. The OT data concerning the Angel of Yahweh proves beyond any reasonable doubt that the inspired OT writers knew that God’s eternal Being was so infinitely complex so as to be shared by more than one Divine Person.

Concluding Remarks

Our analysis of the Septuagint provided evidence that the translators of this particular version of the Hebrew Bible didn’t think that the Anointed King who would come to fulfill God’s promise to David was a mere human being. Their translation of specific passages that have traditionally been accepted as Messianic in nature reveals that they actually believed that this specific Ruler was a preexistent heavenly Being. In fact, not only did they speak of this Anointed One as originating from eternity itself they also taught that he was none other than the Angel of Yahweh, the heavenly Messenger who happens to be fully Divine in nature like Yahweh himself.

Thus, the NT depiction of Jesus the Messiah as One who is both fully Divine and fully human is not only faithful to the inspired teachings of the Hebrew Bible, it also fits right in with the beliefs and views of the Jews who translated the Septuagint!

Amen! Come Lord Jesus, come! You are the Eternal One of God who came down from heaven to Bethlehem to reign on the throne of David forever and ever! We love you and eagerly await your return in glory, O blessed Angel of Yahweh and beloved Son of God! Amen.

Related Articles