There is chatter these days coming out of Israel on the part of rabbis who think that the Messiah is about to appear. I follow this with great interest while not treating their pronouncements with total acceptance. We who read the New Testament and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ understand that the Messiah has already been here once and is coming again. So we approach the subject from different perspectives, but despite that I hope they are right. They say the various developments among the nations and in Israel are pointing to that result.
Christmas is a good time to consider this, because many of what we call the Christmas passages of the Bible have prophecies to that effect. Today I wish to draw attention to a verse written about 700 years before Christ which does not have a particular Christmas focus and yet promises the Messiah. It is Isaiah 16:5:
“Then a throne will be established in steadfast love, and on it will sit in faithfulness in the tent of David one who judges and seeks justice and is swift to do righteousness” (English Standard Version).
Before we look closely at the verse itself, note that it says nothing about nations besides Israel. But the context does. So this is not just an Israeli reality--it includes others. In fact there are statements of others coming to the Messiah in Jerusalem. That’s why we have included ‘for the world’ in our title.
The Hebrew has a way of emphasizing certain words that is not widely recognized in English. The words of emphasis are placed first in a clause, and that is true in our verse. “Established in steadfast love” comes first in the first clause. That sounds good to our ears, and after we have heard that we discover that it refers to a throne, a center of governmental power. What head of government can you cite today that is established in steadfast love? There is an entire history behind that phrase in that God established His relationship with Israel in exactly that context. You might spend some time meditating on the thought of a head of government who exudes love. The more likely setting to date has been that of power.
There is repetition of the emphatic form in the second clause. First in the second clause comes literally the word order (even slightly different than the ESV) “sit on it in faithfulness in the tent of David.” We need to read on to see that this refers to one judging, namely, the Messiah.
“Faithfulness” in Hebrew is the same word as ‘truth.’ This really clashes with our current milieu in that we are surrounded with fake news; one does not know what to believe. And the “tent of David” is significant as it implies that this one judging is in the dynasty of David. The Bible has portions devoted to the fact that the Messiah will be a descendant of King David, and that limits the possibilities for his identity. But this descendant of David will not have time for fake news and will not be deceived by it. He operates in reality.
In this Messiah sitting as judge, He does more than merely fulfill a position. He executes the epitome of what judging is. Judging really is all about applying justice, but not just some idea of fairness any one of us might have. The inclusion of righteousness at the end of the verse tells us that the standard in this court is the character of God. It will be the fairest application of judicial power ever in that all will be treated the same according to God’s standard for human behavior.
I am amazed at how much can be included in such a short statement. It even includes the idea of swift justice. Sometimes I think the long time spent waiting for the court to act is cruel and unusual. Of course, we do need to be careful in our society; we cannot sometimes act with certitude because we may even have the wrong person. He will not have that problem. So there will be that deterrent.
I wonder what you think about such a ruler. To me it is an exciting prospect, and I expect to see it. I don’t think I have ever associated love that reaches me with the leader of my country, or state, or even on a more local level. That will be special indeed. And Jesus promised that He is that One.
Arlie Rauch has retired from forty-one years as a pastor, is anticipating Christmas with family, and can be reached at email@example.com.