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The Hebrew Bible Testifies: The Messiah Is As Old As God is! Pt. 1

Sam Shamoun

In this article we are going to revisit one of the OT passages which we briefly addressed in this earlier paper in order to show from the Hebrew Bible that the true prophets of God testified that the Messiah is actually an eternal Person, e.g. God, who becomes a flesh and blood human being.

The passage we have in mind is the prophecy from Micah concerning a Ruler who would come forth from Bethlehem in order to lead Israel:

“Now, daughter who is under attack, you slash yourself in grief; a siege is set against us! They are striking the Judge/Ruler of Israel on the cheek with a rod. Bethlehem Ephrathah, you are small among the clans of Judah; One will come from you to be Ruler over Israel for Me. His going out/activities/appearances has/have been from ancient times (miqqedem), from the days of eternity (olam). Therefore, He will abandon them until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of His brothers will return to the people of Israel. He will stand and shepherd them in the strength of Yahweh, in the majestic name of Yahweh His God. They will live securely, for then His greatness will extend to the ends of the earth. He will be their peace…” Micah 5:1-5a

Rabbinic Judaism interpreted this as a prediction of the Messiah, as the late renowned Bible scholar and expositor John Gill explains:

[yet] out of thee shall he come forth unto me [that is] to be ruler in Israel; not Hezekiah, who very probably was now born at the time of this prophecy; nor was he born at Bethlehem, nor a ruler in Israel, only king of Judah: nor Zerubbabel, who was born in Babylon, as his name shows, was governor of Judah, but not of Israel; nor can it be said of him, or any mere man, what is said in the next clause: but the Messiah is intended, as the Targum, Jarchi, and Kimchi confess, and other Jewish writers. The Targum is,

“out of thee shall come forth before me the Messiah, that he may exercise dominion over Israel.”

Jarchi's note is,

“out of thee shall come forth unto me Messiah, the son of David;”

and so he says, "the stone which the builders refused"… (Psalms 118:22); plainly suggesting that that passage also belongs to the Messiah, as it certainly does. Kimchi's paraphrase is,

“although thou art little among the thousands of Judah, of thee shall come forth unto me a Judge, to be ruler in Israel, and this is the King Messiah.”

And Abarbinel F7, mentioning those words in (Micah 4:13); "arise, and thresh, O daughter of Zion", observes,

this speaks concerning the business of the King Messiah, who shall reign over them, and shall be the Prince of their army; and it is plain that he shall be of the house of David: and it is said, "O thou, Bethlehem Ephratah", which was a small city, in the midst of the cities of Judah; and "although thou art little in the thousands of Judah, out of thee shall come forth unto me" a man, a ruler in Israel, "whose goings forth are from the days of old"; the meaning is, the goings forth of the family of that ruler are from the days of old; that is, from the seed of David, and a rod from the stem of Jesse, who was of Bethlehem Judah.”

So Abendana F8, a more modern Jew, paraphrases the words thus,

“out of thee shall come forth unto me a Judge, that is to be ruler in Israel, and this is the King Messiah; for because he is to be of the seed of David, from Bethlehem he will be.”

To which may be added R. Isaac F9, who, having cited this passage, observes, and, he, the ruler in Israel, is the King Messiah, who shall come forth from the seed of David the king; who was of Bethlehem Judah, as in (1 Samuel 17:12). Wherefore Lyra, having quoted Jarchi, and given his sense of the passage, remarks, hence it is plain that some Catholics, explaining this Scripture of King Hezekiah, "judaize" more than the Hebrews. Though some of them object the application of it to Jesus, who they say ruled not over Israel, but Israel over him, and put him to death; which it is true they did; but God exalted him to be a Prince, as well as a Saviour, unto Israel, notwithstanding that, and declared him to be Lord and Christ; besides, previous to his death, and in the land of Israel, he gave abundant proof of his power and rule over universal nature, earth, air, and sea; over angels, good and bad; and over men and beasts: all creatures obeyed him; though indeed his kingdom is not of this world, but of a spiritual nature, and is over the spiritual Israel of God; and there is a time coming when he will be King over all the earth. Now out of Bethlehem was the King Messiah, the ruler in Israel, to come forth; that is, here he was to be born, as the phrase signifies; see (Genesis 10:14); and here our Jesus, the true Messiah, was born, as appears from (Matthew 2:8,11) (Luke 2:1-6,11,15,16); and this is not only certain from the evangelic history, but the Jews themselves acknowledge it. One of their chronologers F11 affirms that Jesus the Nazarene was born at Bethlehem Judah, a parsa and a half from Jerusalem; that is, about six miles from it, which was the distance between them: and even the author of a blasphemous book F12, pretending to give the life of Jesus, owns that Bethlehem Judah was the place of his nativity: and it is clear not only that the Jews in the times of Jesus expected the Messiah to come from hence, even both the chief priests and scribes of the people, who, in answer to Herod's question about the place of the Messiah's birth, direct him to this, according to Micah's prophecy, (Matthew 2:4-6); and the common people, who thought to have confronted the Messiahship of Jesus with it, (John 7:41,42); but others also, at other times. The tower of Edar being a place near to Bethlehem Ephratah, (Genesis 35:19,21); Jonathan ben Uzziel, in his Targum of (Genesis 35:19), says of the tower of Edar, this is the place from whence the King Messiah shall be revealed in the end of days; nay, some of them say he is born already, and was born at Bethlehem. An Arabian, they say F13, told a Jew,

“the King Messiah is born; he replied to him, what is his name? he answered, Menachem (the Comforter) is his name; he asked him, what is his father's name? he replied, Hezekiah; he said to him, from whence is he? he answered, from the palace of the king of Bethlehem Judah.”

This same story is told elsewhere F14, with some little variation, thus, that the Arabian should say to the Jew,

“the Redeemer of the Jews is both; he said to him, what is his name? he replied, Menachem is his name; and what is his father's name? he answered, Hezekiah; and where do they dwell? (he and his father;) he replied, in Birath Arba, in Bethlehem Judah.”

These things show their sense of this prophecy, and the convictions of their minds as to the births of the Messiah, and the place of it… The phrases are expressive of the eternity of his divine nature and person; Jarchi compares them with (Psalms 72:17); "before the sun was, his name was Jinnon"; that is, the Son, the Son of God; so as the former part of the text sets forth his human birth, this his divine generation; which, cause of the excellency and ineffableness of it, is expressed in the plural number, "goings forth". So Eliezer F15, along with the above mentioned passage in the Psalms, produces this to prove the name of the Messiah before the world was, whose "goings forth [were] from everlasting", when as yet the world was not created.

F7 Mashmiah Jeshuah, fol. 62. col. 2.
F8 Not. in Miclol Yophi in loc.
F9 Chizzuk Emuuah, par. 1. p. 279.
F11 R. David Ganz, Tzemach David, par. 2. fol. 14. 2.
F12 Toldos Jesu, p. 7. Ed. Wagenseil.
F13 T. Hieros. Beracot, fol. 5. 1.
F14 Echa Rabbati, fol. 50. 1.
F15 Pirke Eliezer, c. 3. fol. 2. 2.
(The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible; *; underline emphasis ours)

I will have more to say concerning the Messiah’s preexistence in rabbinic understanding a little later.

According to the NT, Jesus fulfilled this prophecy when his blessed mother gave birth to him in Bethlehem:

“And Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family line of David, to be registered along with Mary, who was engaged to him and was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. Then she gave birth to her firstborn Son, and she wrapped Him snugly in cloth and laid Him in a feeding trough—because there was no room for them at the lodging place. In the same region, shepherds were staying out in the fields and keeping watch at night over their flock. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: For to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be the sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in cloth and lying in a feeding trough.’ Suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people He favors!’ When the angels had left them and returned to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go straight to Bethlehem and see what has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.’” Luke 2:4-15


After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of King Herod, wise men from the east arrived unexpectedly in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.’ When King Herod heard this, he was deeply disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. So he assembled all the chief priests and scribes of the people and asked them where the Messiah would be born. ‘In Bethlehem of Judea,’ they told him, ‘because this is what was written by the prophet: “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the leaders of Judah: because out of you will come a leader who will shepherd My people Israel.”’” Matthew 2:1-6

No Ordinary Man

The language that the prophet used to describe this Ruler clearly shows that he is no ordinary human being. Notice the specific verse again as we quote it from the New King James Version of the Holy Bible:

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old (miqqedem), From everlasting (olam).”

The prophet refers to the Ruler’s goings forth (umowsa’otaw plural of motsaa), i.e. his activities, being from qedem, from olam itself. The implication here is that this Ruler has been quite active from the very beginning, from eternity itself, and therefore presupposes his preexistence.

In fact, these are some of the very same Hebrew words used to describe the uncreated nature and eternal existence of Yahweh God!

For instance, Yahweh is said to be the God of qedem and olam, meaning that he is the eternal God:

“Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beer-sheba, and there he called on the name of Yahweh, the God of eternity/Eternal God (el ‘olam).” Genesis 21:33

“Have you no known? Have you not heard? Yahweh is the Everlasting God (elohe ‘olam), the Creator of the whole earth. He never grows faint nor weary and strengthens the feeble.” Isaiah 40:28

“There is none like the God of Jeshurun, who rides the heavens to your aid, the clouds in His majesty. The God of ancient times/Eternal God (elohe qedem) is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms. He drives out the enemy before you and commands, ‘Destroy!’” Deuteronomy 33:26-27

It is interesting to note that Jesus is also said to ride the clouds of heaven:

“Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. He will send out the angels and gather His elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.” Mark 13:26-27

“But He kept silent and did not answer anything. Again the high priest questioned Him, ‘Are You the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?’ ‘I am,’ said Jesus, ‘and all of you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.’” Mark 14:61-62

In these passages, Jesus identifies himself with the divine figure that the prophet Daniel saw:

“I continued watching in the night visions, and I saw One like a Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was escorted before Him. He was given authority to rule, and glory, and a kingdom; so that those of every people, nation, and language should WORSHIP Him (yip’lachun). His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His kingdom is one that will not be destroyed.” Daniel 7:13-14 – cf. Isaiah 9:6-7; Luke 1:32-33; 2 Peter 1:11; Revelation 11:15

Hence, Jesus as this very divine Son of Man reigns forever just as Yahweh does, and even receives the same worship that Yahweh receives!

“Then the sovereignty, the dominion and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the Highest One; His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all the dominions will WORSHIP (yip’lachun) and obey Him.” Daniel 7:27 – cf. 3:12, 16-18, 28; 6:16, 20, 26; Psalm 22:27-30; 66:1-4; 86:8-10; Isaiah 66:23; Zechariah 14:16-17

The Hebrew Bible also teaches that it is Yahweh who is from qedem:

Are You not from eternity (miqqedem), Yahweh my God? My Holy One, You will not die. Yahweh, You appointed them to execute judgment; my Rock, You destined them to punish us.” Habakkuk 1:12

God my King is from ancient times (miqqedem), performing saving acts on the earth.” Psalm 74:12

And Yahweh is the One who has been God from olam to olam:

“Lord (Adonay), You have been our refuge in every generation. Before the mountains were born, before You gave birth to the earth and the world, from eternity to eternity (ume‘olam ad-‘olam), You are God.” Psalm 90:1-2

“Yahweh reigns! He is robed in majesty; Yahweh is robed, enveloped in strength. The world is firmly established; it cannot be shaken. Your throne has been established from the beginning; You are from eternity (me‘olam).” Psalm 93:1-2

The word ‘olam is even used to describe the duration of Yahweh’s reign as King over creation:

“On that day — this is the declaration of Yahweh — I will assemble the lame and gather the scattered, those I have injured. I will make the lame into a remnant, those far removed into a strong nation. Then Yahweh will rule over them in Mount Zion from this time on and forever (wa‘ad-‘olam).” Micah 4:6-7

“But Yahweh is the true God; He is the living God and eternal King (umelek ‘olam). The earth quakes at His wrath, and the nations cannot endure His rage.” Jeremiah 10:10

Your kingdom is an everlasting (‘olamim) kingdom; Your rule is for all generations. Yahweh is faithful in all His words and gracious in all His actions.” Psalm 145:13

Yahweh is King forever and ever (Yahweh melek ‘olam wa‘ed); the nations will perish from His land.” Psalm 10:16

This last passage is rather interesting since the very language used to describe the duration of Yahweh’s rule is expressly applied to the reign of the Davidic king, who is even called God or elohim!

Your throne, O God, is forever and ever (Kisaka elohim ‘olam wa‘ed); the scepter of Your kingdom is a scepter of justice. You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of joy more than your companions.” Psalm 45:6-7

The NT teaches that this Psalm finds its ultimate fulfillment in the risen and exalted Christ:

“But to the Son He says, ‘Your throne, God, is forever and ever, and the scepter of Your kingdom is a scepter of justice. You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; this is why God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of joy rather than Your companions.’” Hebrews 1:8-9

Interestingly, this same inspired NT writing even mentions some of the activities of the Son which have been from of old, from everlasting times, such as his work of creating and sustaining all things which have been made!

“Long ago God spoke to the fathers by the prophets at different times and in different ways. In these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son, Whom God appointed heir of all things and made the universe through Him. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact imprint/representation of His nature, sustaining all things by His powerful word. After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.… And, ‘In the beginning, Lord [the Son], You established the earth, and the heavens are the works of Your hands; they will perish, but You remain. They will all wear out like clothing; You will roll them up like a cloak, and they will be changed like a robe. But You are the same, and Your years will never end.’” Hebrews 1:1-3, 10-12

Now one may object to this by arguing that neither ‘olam nor qedem necessarily speak of eternal duration or a beginningless past, since there are instances where these terms are used for a specific period of time which has a definite beginning and/or end.

Although this is true, it ignores the fact that Micah 5:2 uses both of these terms to describe the activities of this Davidic Ruler.(1) The employment of both ‘olam and qedem in the same context makes it quite clear that the inspired author wanted to highlight the eternal preexistence, and therefore the uncreated nature, of this particular King.

Messianic Jewish scholar Dr. Michael Rydelnik explains it best:

“Additionally, Micah predicted that this king's origins would be from eternity past. The two Hebrew temporal nouns can speak of eternity when they stand alone, although this is not always the case. Used chronologically, qedem, 'antiquity,' can refer to ancient times as in 'long ago,' to the earliest imaginable times as when the mountains first came to be (Deut. 33:15), or to the 'eternal' God and His eternal dwelling place (Deut 33:27; Hab 1:12; Pss 55:19; 68:33). The second term 'olam, 'eternity,' usually refers to the distant or unending future (although sometimes within the context of one's lifetime). But it is also used of ancient times in the past (Ps 24:7) or of the beginning of creation (Ps 25:6; Joel 2:2) or before. According to Ps 93:2, God's 'throne has been established from the beginning [lit. 'from them']; /You are from eternity.' And Ps 90:2 declares, 'Before the mountains were born, /before You gave birth to the earth and the world, /from eternity to eternity, You are God.' When qedem and 'olam are used together, however, as in Prov 8:22-23, they ALWAYS denote eternity past (cf. Deut 33:27). In Mic 5:2, these words are placed together to emphasize the ruler's true origin, being far earlier than his arrival in Bethlehem or even antiquity. Rather, he comes from eternity past.15” (Rydelnik, The Messianic Hope: Is The Hebrew Bible Really Messianic? [B&H Publishing Group, Nashville, TN 2010] 7. Decoding the Hebrew Bible: How the New Testament Reads the Old, p. 98; bold emphasis ours)

And as Rydelnik mentions, this passage (among several others) may have been what led specific rabbinic sources to conclude that the Messiah is preexistent:

15 This is possibly the source of the Talmudic idea of a preexistent Messiah. See S. Goldman, "Micah," in the Twelve Prophets, Soncino Books of the Bible (London: Soncino, 1957), 175. However, while the Talmud recognizes the Messiah as preexistent, it does not see Him as eternal. (Ibid, pp. 98-99; bold emphasis ours)

More on this point in the third part of our analysis.

We, thus, have an explicit OT text which proclaims that the Messiah, though born in Bethlehem, is nevertheless a divine Being who has actually existed eternally!

In other words, the prophet Micah announced (obviously by inspiration from the Holy Spirit [cf. 1 Peter 1:10-12]) that the Messiah would actually be the God-man, i.e. God who becomes a human being in order to rule his people Israel in perfect peace forever. And yet, at the same time, Micah also testifies that the Messiah is personally distinct from God since the prophet refers to the Ruler shepherding and ruling his flock in the strength of Yahweh his God.

Hence, the Messianic King is God who becomes man, and is also distinct from the God who empowers him to reign over the nations!

“Micah’s prophecy of the Messiah affirms at least three things about him. (1) He will be an ancient Ruler, even though he arrives on the scene in times that are closer to our own day than Abraham's day. The clause, 'his going forth is from the beginning' (or, as the NIV has it, 'whose origins are from of old'), attests to the fact that he is eternal and not merely temporal. Modern translations and scholars are loathe to render umosa'otaw miqqedem mime 'olam straightforwardly as 'whose going forth is from of old, [even] from the days of eternity.' The Messiah has only two goings forth: one at the Incarnation and the other applied to his eternal generation. Since the temporal birth of the Messiah is still represented as being future to the time when this prophecy is given, the present clause must refer to his eternal generation. This, of course, harmonizes with other prophecies of the Messiah, where he is said to be God (Ps 2:7; 45:7; 110:3; Isa 9:6).

(2) This Ruler will be a unique person, for he will come forth 'for me.' This new David will not only be a man after God's own heart in a way that even surpasses David, he will do absolutely everything that the Father wants him to do.

(3) His birth and coming will signal a new day for God's people (Mic 5:4). His birth will mark the end of the days of abandonment (v. 3). When the woman who is with child (a reference that parallels Isa 7:14) gives birth, that coming Ruler will bring unity to his people as he stands and rules in their midst. The nation can count on peace, security, and success after he is installed as king over both his 'brothers' and all 'the ends of the earth' (vv. 3-4).

“The Messiah is the great Ruler who will come one day. According to his human heritage, he will descend from the family of David who lived in Bethlehem and will be born in that same town, even though he has a divine line of descent that takes him clear back to eternity. He will be both human and divine. What a mystery!” (Walter Kaiser, The Messiah In The Old Testament [Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI 1995], pp. 153-154; bold emphasis ours)

We come to the conclusion of this part. Time to move onto Part 2.


(1) These two Hebrew words are also used to describe the birth of God’s Wisdom:

“I, Wisdom, live with prudence and have knowledge and discretion… Yahweh begot me at the beginning of His ways, before (qedem) His works of long ago. From ancient times (me‘olam) I was begotten, from the beginning, before (miqadmeh) the earth began. I was birthed as with labor pains (cholalati) when there were no watery depths and no springs filled with water. I was delivered as in birth pangs (cholalati) before the mountains and hills were established, before He made the land, the fields, or the first soil on earth. I was there when He established the heavens, when He laid out the horizon on the surface of the ocean, when He placed the skies above, when the fountains of the ocean gushed out, when He set a limit for the sea so that the waters would not violate His command, when He laid out the foundations of the earth. I was a skilled craftsman beside Him. I was His delight every day, always rejoicing before Him. I was rejoicing in His inhabited world, delighting in the sons of men.” Proverbs 8:12, 22-31

The inspired author not only personifies God’s own attribute of Wisdom, he also depicts God begetting or bringing her forth from within himself, from his own mouth, so to speak, even before creation came into being in order to illustrate the importance of Wisdom:

“For Yahweh gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.” Proverbs 2:6

The point of the author is that if God himself does nothing without his own Wisdom, but employs it in everything he does, how much more should we then do nothing without her either?

Interestingly, the NT adopts the concepts and language associated with personified Wisdom to describe Christ as God’s preexistent divine Son. For a helpful discussion concerning this point we recommend the following article.

This simply further confirms that the NT depicts Jesus as an eternal divine Person who became a flesh and blood human being at a specific point in time.