|THE MESSIAH WHO WILL BREAK DOWN THE
HEDGE AROUND THE LAW
The search for the OT roots of the Christian faith is somewhat reminiscent of diving for pearls in the depths of the ocean. The diver first brings up a great quantity of shells from the sea bed and deposits them on the beach. The bystander sees only these outer casings until the shells are opened, upon which some may reveal a precious pearl hidden inside. Reading the old Jewish literature can be very frustrating since, for the most part, it concerns itself with the exposition of the religious ritual law, which is really of interest only to the Orthodox Jew. The spiritual and psychological dimensions so characteristic of the OT prophets are conspicuous by their almost total absence. Not infrequently, nevertheless, the tightly closed shell may yield up a rare pearl.
Although the Rabbis find 'mysteries' in the OT in far greater abundance than that to which the Christian church is accustomed, they still frequently stress the words of Deut. 29:29: "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children for ever."
Mental and spiritual concepts must, by their very nature, be described figuratively. We cannot explain precisely what, for example, 'faith', 'hope', or 'love' is. By the same token, the Messianic mystery has, as it were, created its own secret code, which must be "cracked" before it will be understood. One of the toughest nuts is Gen.38:29 on the son of Judah and Tamar:
The 'Seal of the Midrashim', R. Tanhuma Bar Abba, speaks again and again of the Messiah in connection with Perez. "He is the final saviour, the Messiah-King." Tanhuma states that there are sinners who through their falling have sustained great loss, and those who have benefitted from their misdemeanours.
The Midrash Rabbah discusses this verse at greater length. Firstly the half-humorous observation is made that,
It is important to take note of the Bible passages mentioned above.
They illustrate a method by which weakly founded Messianic prophecies
are set in their larger context. We see furthermore that the Targums
and Midrashim generally speak of the 'Messiah-King', and not so much of
some nebulous 'Messiah concept'.
What would 'those who are wise' understand, and what is meant by 'breaking through the hedge'? Historically this well depicts what happened when Christianity broke out of the Judaic mould, as we can see from the following.
The Rabbis speak a great deal about the 'hedge of the Law'. Galatians 4:4--5 says that Jesus "was born under law" and "redeemed those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons." "It is for freedom," Paul continues, "that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery"(5:1). "If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law"(5:18). From being a gift, the Law in Judaism can become an enslaving yoke.
In the Judaism of today there are officially 613 commands and prohibitions. It would appear that the development into a religion of law took place at a very early stage. The prophet Isaiah wrote ca. 700 years before Christ that instead of being the 'word of repose' religion had become a demand:
Jesus, in his teaching, was forced to speak about this very misapplication. Referring to the words of Isaiah quoted above, he added that:
Moses, when he instituted the commandments, said to the people,
Paul spoke about this 'hedge around the Law' in Ephesians 2:14--15;
Isaiah 8:14, which the Talmud interprets as signifying "the Messiah, Son of David"23 , describes this same 'breaking through', which is connected with the Perez illustration: "He will be a sanctuary, a rock of offence and stone of stumbling to both the houses of Israel, a snare and a trap to the inhabitants of Jerusalem." All of these features are well applicable to Jesus: he was "the first-born through the power of the Most High", he unintentionally created a breach between the mother and daughter religions, and he became "the stone which the builders rejected".
Midrash Rabbah attaches the 'Messiah Ben Phares' illustration to the prophecy in Micah 2:13: "One who breaks open the way will go up before them... the LORD will be at their head." RaSHI, Rabbi Shlomo Yitshak (1040--1105), who expounded in his writings the whole Talmud and OT, said of Perez that he is "their saviour, the one who will break open the way". RaDaQ, Rabbi David Qimhi, declares that "the one who breaks open the way is Elijah, and their king is the Branch, the Son of David". Micah's reference to the concept of the 'one who will break open the way' is natural since the Hebrew word for this, porets, is derived from the same root as Perez.
The Christian will no doubt understand well this constant reference in much of the Jewish literature to the herald of the Messiah who will prepare the way for him. The Metsudat David, a popular 17th century Jewish exposition of the Prophetic and Historic books, explains the prophecy of Micah as meaning that:
19. Midrash Tanhuma, Bereshit va-Yeshev. Isaiah 61:1-3.
20. Midrash Bereshith Rabbah, par. 85
21. Mikraot Gedoloth, corresponding section.
22. See Deut. 4:1-2, Proverbs 31:6 and joshua 1:7
23. Sanhedrin 38a.
24. Mikraoth Gedoloth on Micah 2:13