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It is quite a feat to squeeze out of the Old Testament proofs of Messianic themes in order to make it fit for Christian reading. Of course, this premise will sound right and legitimate if indeed the Old Testament canon has its own theme that is totally different from what occupies the minds of the New Testament writers. Unless it is proven correct that Jesus Christ is in fact the overall motif of the Old Testament which is in all respect true, and verified by Walter C. Kaiser Jr. in his book “The Messiah in the Old Testament.”
Like the Gospel of Matthew, Kaiser, in his book, seem to be addressing a Jewish audience in that it argues for the validity of Jesus’ Messiahship, and he argued this through the continuity of the promised “blessing.” The book though is unlike Matthew in that it is not directed primarily with Jewish audience in mind. In its strategy of highlighting the Messianic theme and how the same subject runs through the different books of Old Testament, the threat of preconceived difficulty because of the presumed complexity for factors such as different authors, dates of writings, and the work of piecing together all the data is minimized, if not totally eliminated.
The approach applied by Kaiser was upbeat and in a perspective that follows prophecies/promises to their fulfillments. Thus, the book is very insightful. One of the author’s keen arguments is the nature of the prophecies/promises. He noted that Old Testament authors had no single meaning in mind in terms of fulfillment to what they prophesied. They, in fact, were seeing “multiple” fulfillments. At times, they see fulfillment and application during their time, but also they could see farther to the future and there realization of the promise is to a degree that is more complete and exact.
The book clarifies for its readers the fact that the Old Testament authors were all aware of the theme of what they were writing. The progressive revelation of God was unfolding within each period and generation where the inspired writers were either recording or writing or the scribes were copying (putting into inscription) prophecies or the history of God’s people. A marked difference between Kaiser and other authors who have worked on the same intent of relating the Old Testament to its fulfillment in the New Testament is his highlighting on the authorial intents or the overall intention of their message. The result for the readers was a reading that understands the full context of the Old Testament – with its background and the future fulfillment of particular promises.
If one might state in one sentence the gist of the book, it is the legitimacy or the rightness of the expectation of the coming Messiah. Following the presumed intention of God from the very beginning, the focus went from the “seed of the woman” to the unfolding of the “blessing” to Abraham until it would reach its fulfillment in the New Testament and beyond - until the Parousia.
Kaiser sought to lay down a thorough discussion on the Jewish theology of the Old Testament with concentration on the Jewish author’s intent and even the intent of the message within which the context was written. The “promise of blessing” is an overarching concept, and this Kaiser never missed to elaborate and remind his audience of the mind of God.
Other books may have been light on these topics but may be accused as lacking in scholarly authority the way this book espouses. However, the length and breadth of the author’s treatment will suffice any serious researcher and student but will still doze off due to the substantial material that it is composed of.
The primary audience that the writer took time off to explain his premise and supporting ideas comprise of the solemn investigator whose immediate motivation is to understand in-depth the intentions of the Jewish authors. Knowing that a meticulous procedure must be pursued in order for the different nuances of the commands, traditions and messages to be obeyed or heeded by particular tribes or sub-groups, the author made elaborate efforts to make his audience aware to the intentions of Jewish authors.
For example, in the section which the author calls “Prolegomena to the Promise” (Pre-patriarchal Era), he pointed out four key elements of promise underscored by the Scriptures. What he referred to, by the way, in “Pre-patriarchal Era” is the first eleven chapters of Genesis (Genesis 1-11). The first key element is the “blessing” part. God commanded the first couple to “Be fruitful and multiply” (1:22). This promised blessing is repeated in verse 28 of the same chapter to the couple Adam and Eve. The second key part of the promise is the promised “seed.”
The scenario of blessing which God wanted to create about His people (to multiply and care for them) is somewhat stymied by three major events in this particular period – the Fall, the Flood, and the Tower of Babel. Nevertheless, in spite of these obstacles, God stuck to His design and elucidated to His people the “Promise.” As early as Genesis 3:15, God articulated to Adam and Eve that a woman’s “seed” would crush the Serpent’s head and that though for a time the “Seed” would be bruised, He will eventually triumphed for He will destroy the serpent by crushing its head.
The third element of God’s promise is the “race.” Second to the Fall as obstacle to the promise is the Flood. In Genesis 9:25-27, the promise in Genesis 3:15 was elaborated and increased in that it was stated in a way that “details” were added to it. In this reiteration of the promise, God promises that His presence would dwell in the tents of Shem. It is therefore made clear that the “Seed” would come through the lineage of Shem. The fourth element of the promise is the “gospel.” After the event of the Tower of Babel, God gave His word of promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3. In this particular word from God, He made clear that through this “Seed” the promised “blessing” would be enjoyed eventually by all nations. This is the Gospel.
In summary, the overall content and slant of the book is excellent. Readers will benefit extensively and gain a lot of insights to the flow of the whole message of the Old Testament. Because Kaiser sticks to the Scriptures’ Messianic theme the result is a profound and scholarly work, yet simplified and contextually sound approach of the materials. The book has many strengths, but because its treatment requires a lot of digging of the past culture and history, inevitably, it launches with details that if not only necessary could be done away with. If one would look for the book’s weakness/es, it can be found in the first portion.
The first part (where these details and backgrounds are contained, chapters 1-3) has become its own weakness. Meanings and details have unintentionally stolen the book’s entertainment value. In the second portion of the book, the flow of the momentum has set in that the reader unknowingly is glued to the material whereas with the first three chapters the reader is dragged to embrace more than 3,000 years of past culture (manners & customs) of the ancient people. Chapter titles include: The Study of Messianism, The Messaiah in the Pentateuch, The Messiah Before & During the Davidic Monarchy, The Messiah in Psalms, Isaiah, The Messiah in the 9th and 8th Century Prophets, Exegesis, Biblical Theology, and Jesus, etc.
Kaiser, Walter C. The Messiah in the Old Testament. 1995.
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