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Book review: The Messiah in the Old Testament by Walter Kaiser, Zondervan, 1995.

I highly recommend this book to you. It is an academic book, but one that is accessible and readable to your everyday Christian. As with other academic books, the first chapter is a literature and research overview. Usually I find this chapter of such books to be the most technical, but after that the book can open up. So my point is, if you have picked up academic books in the past, and ceased before finishing the first chapter – you may have missed out on a good book! I’d encourage you to try again and don’t let the first chapter stop you.

Kaiser, in the introduction, divides Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament into 3 types: direct, typical, and applications. In this book, he focuses on the direct ones only. The book is divided into sections that consider the direct prophecies in each part of the Old Testament: the Pentateuch, before and during the Davidic monarchy, the Psalms, and then 4 sections that divide up the prophetic book time periods.

I was familiar, at least in a basic way, with about 75% of them, however I learned a great deal. At times you can wonder if seeing the Messiah in certain passages is a little stretched or contrived. However, Kaiser did an excellent job explaining the credibility. I found it particularly interesting when he cited Jewish sources indicating the Jews themselves saw the passage as pointing toward their coming Messiah. (My point is that this wasn’t just Christians – after the fact – imposing something on the passage.)

I think I found the Pentateuch passages the most fascinating. It reminds us that from the beginning God had a plan for this world, and this promise of a coming Savior can be traced throughout the Scripture. The Pentateuch passages covered were: Genesis 3:15, Genesis 9:25-27, Genesis 12:1-3 (etc), Genesis 49:8-12, Numbers 24:15-19, Deuteronomy 18:15,18.

In January, I had a post written by my dad where he pointed out Jesus in the Numbers 24 passage. Perhaps you read that and thought my elderly dad just had an odd idea and was imposing it on the passage. But here you have Walter Kaiser, a respected Bible scholar and seminary professor of the Old Testament, who says the same. So there! (haha)

Finally, it is sad how prophecy in the Scripture is not emphasized much anymore (except in certain conservative evangelical circles that focus on the end times) because Christians can fail to see the unity and wholeness of the Bible. Prophecy is more than end times -and- prophecy can help Christians feel confident in their faith as they see the unfolding plan God has for this world. I will close with this excerpt from the book that compares the unity of the Bible with the Muslim Koran or Buddhist Scriptures:

“The Koran, for instance, is a miscellany of disjointed pieces, out of which it is impossible to extract any order, progress, or arrangement. The 114 Suras or chapters of which it is composed are arranged chiefly according to length – the longer in general proceeding the shorter. It is the same with the Zoroastrian and Buddhist Scriptures. These are equally destitute of beginning, middle or end. They are, for the most part, collections of heterogeneous materials, loosely placed together. How different everyone must acknowledge it to be with the Bible! From Genesis to Revelation we feel that this book is in a real sense a unity. It is not a collection of fragments, but has, as we say, an organic character. It is one connected story to tell from beginning to end; we see something growing before our eyes: there is plan, purpose, progress; the end folds back on the beginning, and when the whole is finished, we feel that here again, as in primal creation, God has finished all his works, and behold, they are very good.” (page 26)
-James Orr as quoted in The Messiah in the Old Testament by Walter Kaiser

It is also sad that preachers or Bible teachers can fail to bring this in to their sermons or lessons. They may explain the text in its immediate context and pull out some helpful life application (which is good!) but not bring in its connection to the greater biblical story of God’s plan for this world. Christians can end up with disjointed views of the Scripture. Again, I recommend this book!

⇒ Another related book review here: A train without tracks? Book review: The Fulfillment, Jesus and the Old Testament

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