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The Messiah Motif in the Tanakh

Why we can believe the Bible we have today with full confidence. Or, Why good Muslims should believe the Bible

by Scott Cherry

Thesis 2:

An analogy: The Bible is a matchless library of Hebrew books with great diversity, like in the varied instruments in a symphony orchestra or a machine with multiple parts. And yet it has a grand, meta-narrative replete with interconnected themes and motifs.  In literature, a meta-narrative is an over-arching story line with a master plot that controls all the sub-plots, as with those in a sophisticated novel, and even moreso with a novel series (such as the Lord of the Rings). Despite their diversity, both the symphony and complex machine function because they have a master purpose and plan, together with a master design and organization. All these elements require a master designer. The elements do not occur by accident. In terms of the symphony it’s the work of the composer and the conductor to bring the various players of instruments into unity and harmony. In terms of the complex machine it’s the combined work of the inventor and engineer, with the skilled craftsmen, the assemblers and the operators. When you observe a machine such as this there can be no doubt that it is the product of a Master Inventor. The Bible is like this machine in many ways, including the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament is by itself an intricate collection of literatures with varied authors spanning 1500 years, and yet they have both continuity and coherence. Its multiple yet complementary themes and motifs are brilliantly interwoven and brought to culmination.  Logically, this points to a Master Author and Editor-in-Chief.  When considered in these terms, Yahweh himself is the most reasonable Producer of the Bible who has preserved the integrity of this masterpiece to the present day.


Some Old Testament Themes

1. The Sovereignty/Wisdom of God

2. Creation, beauty and goodness

3. Life, happiness, blessing and joy

4. Sin and death, and consequences

5. Redemption and reconciliation

6. A people for God, holy nation

7. Exile and return, restoration

8. Rewards and punishments

*And many more


Thesis 3:

In literature, we see motifs when multiple themes merge together into a prevailing image that controls less dominant ones that serve it. In the Bible, the most prevailing motif is that of the Messiah (or it is at least one of the primary motifs). Even in the Old Testament alone, the Messiah motif is exactly that. Right from the beginning the Messiah figure is introduced and progressively reappears with ever more layers to his character, until the full complement of his attributes is displayed. Toward the end of the OT canon we can marvel at a fully developed Messiah figure. The New Testament, of course, presents us with a man who spectacularly fit the description, claimed the title, and could support it his claim with a host of enviable human qualities as well as otherworldly ones. Even if we postponed an examination of the New Testament, the Messiah of the Old Testament looms large enough. Although he was a mystery, his motif became well-known in Hebrew culture. When one-day he would appear, he would become the Savior of God’s people with a full spectrum of contrasting attributes. No disparate chain of mere human writers could have conceived of the Old Testament Messiah without divine revelation, and even the most gifted writers could not have inserted him so prophetically into the texts without divine oversight.


Messianic Motifs

These run throughout the Old Testament and continue into the New, from beginning to end.


1. Sacrifice, Offering, Atonement

2. Progressive Messianic Motifs

3. Elaborate Future Prophecies


1. Sacrifice, Offering and Atonement


Some Examples:


1.    Genesis 3:21                                                        Animal Skins for coverings

2.    Genesis 4:1-4                                                        Cain and Abel’s offerings

3.    Genesis 8:20                                                         Noah’s burnt offerings

4.    Genesis 15:7-21                                                     Abraham’s burnt offerings

5.    Genesis 22 (all)                                                           The near sacrifice of Isaac

6.    Exodus 12 (all)                                                            The Passover Sacrifice

7.    Exodus 24, Lev. 1-7                                               Laws re: animal sacrifices

2. Progressive Messianic Motifs


Some Examples:


1.    Genesis 3:15                                         The Proto-Evangelium (cf. Col. 2:15, 1 John 3:8)

2.    Genesis 14:17-20                                   Cameo of Melchizedek (cf. Hebrews 7:1-22)

3.    Genesis 22                                            The near sacrifice of Isaac (cf. John 1:29, 36; Rev. 5:6, 7:10, 17)

4.   Genesis 39-50                                      Joseph as Messianic figure (cf. Acts 7:13, 14, 18)

5.   Genesis 49:8-12                                   The blessing upon Judah (cf. Mic. 5:2; Matt. 1, 2:6; Heb. 7:14)

6.    The Exodus Saga                                  Moses as Messianic figure (cf. Hebrews 3:1-6)

7.    Numbers 24:15-19                              Balaam’s Messianic Oracle (cf. Matt. 2:2; Rev. 22:16)

8.    Deut. 18:15-19                                       The Prophet Like Moses (cf. John 1:45; 5:39-47; Acts 3:22-26)

9.    Job 19:25-27                                        The Living Redeemer (cf. 1 John 1:1-3; Luke 24:21; Titus 2:14)

10.   Psalm 2:7-12                                         Son of God (cf. Luke 1:32, 35; John 1:49, 5:25; Rev. 2:26-27)

11.    Psalm 22:1                                             Words of Jesus on the Cross (cf. Matt. 27:46, Mark 15:34)

12.    Psalm 72 (all)                                     A description of the Royal Son (cf. many NT passages)

13.    Psalm 110                                              Priest according to the order of Melchizedek

14.    Isaiah 9:6-7                                         A child is born; a son is given (cf. Luke 1:32; Matt. 21:9)

15.    Isaiah 11:1-10                                       The Rod and the Root of Jesse (cf. Rom. 15:12)

16.    Isaiah 35:5-6                                       The Messiah’s healing ministry (Matt. 11:2-6; Luke 7:20-23)

17.    Isaiah 42:1-3                                       Role of the Chosen Servant (cf. Matt. 12:18-21)

18.    Isaiah 52-53                                          Descriptive details of the Messiah’s full ministry

19.    Isaiah 55:3-4                                        Covenant; leader and commander to the people

20.    Isaiah 59:20                                          The Messiah will be a Redeemer to those in Zion

21.    Isaiah 61:1-4                                        The Spirit of God is upon me (Luke 4:16-19)

22.    Jer. 23:5-6; 33:15-17                              The Righteous Branch (godly extension) of Yahweh                   



3. Elaborate Prophecy Fulfillment

Some Examples:

1.     Genesis 3:15                                         The Proto-Evangelium (Col. 2:15; 1 John 3:8)

2.    Genesis 49:8-12                                     The blessing upon Judah (Matt. 1, 2:6; Heb. 7:14)

3.    Psalm 16:10                                           No corruption for holy one (Acts 13:5; Is. 55:3-4)

4.   Psalm 22:1                                              Words on the Cross (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34)

5.    Psalm 41:8-10                                        Betrayed by a friend (John 13:18; Mark 14:18)

6.    Psalm 69:21                                           Sour wine and gall (Matt. 27:34; Mark 15:23)

7.    Psalm 110                                              Priest according to the order of Melchizedek

8.    Isaiah 52-53                                           Descriptive details of the full role of Messiah

9.    Micah 5:2                                               Birthplace Bethlehem (cf. Matt. 2:2; Rev. 22:16)

  • 24 July 2018
  • Author: Scott Cherry
  • Number of views: 1308
  • Comments: 1

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1 comments on article "The Messiah Motif in the Tanakh"

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Steve Schlichter

8/2/2018 8:58 PM

Thanks Scott! I thoroughly enjoyed the talk on this subject.

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