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:

    " 'So this is how you have broken out!' And he was named Perez."
We have already come across the discussion associated with the name of Perez, regarding the Messiah as the conqueror of death. Ben Parets, "son of Perez" is actually one of the best known cryptic Messiah epithets. In Matthew's genealogy of Jesus the name appears in the form 'Phares': "And Judah begat Phares." (Matt. 1:3 AV) Therefore Jesus was, in a sense the 'Son of Perez'.

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.

    "Thus Judah profited, because from him came forth Perez and Hezron from whom are descended David and the Messiah-King, he who will save Israel. Behold how great the difficulties the Holy One indeed gave until he was to raise up the Messiah-King from Judah, he of whom it is written, "And the spirit of the Lord will be upon him." 19

The Midrash Rabbah discusses this verse at greater length. Firstly the half-humorous observation is made that,

    "Judah was busy taking a wife, while the Holy One, blessed be He, was creating the light of the Messiah."20
One of the Rabbinic expository works known as "The Priestly Gift" says of this that, "The last Saviour is the Messiah, the Son of David, who is descended from Judah's son Perez," and the Midrash part continues, "This is the Messiah-King; as it is written, 'A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse' and 'The Lord will extend your mighty sceptre from Zion.' " (Is. 11:1 and Ps. 110:2) The Rabbis' explanation adds: "This is the Messiah, who will soon appear, because it is written of him that,'One who breaks open the way [Heb. porets, from the same root as Peres] will go up before them.' " (Micah 2:13)

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'.
RaMBaN (R. Moses Ben Nahman), who lived towards the end of the 13th century, describes the birth of Perez as follows:

    "He was encircled by a hedge, and he was enclosed within it. That is why it is said 'So this is how you have broken through the hedge and come out from within it'." Perez was the first-born, "The first-born through the power of the Most High, as it is written, 'I will give to him a first-born son'. This was written about the holy person who is to come, David, the King of Israel -- long may he live. Those who are wise will understand." 21

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:

    "Do and do, do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule; a little here, a little there -- so that they will go and fall backwards, be injured and snared and captured" (28:10--13),
and that the fear of God was nothing more than "rules taught by men" (29:13). The Targum of Jonathan explains that God made Man of 248 bones and 365 sinews, the number of days in the solar year (together = 613). In addition to these 'thou shalt' and 'thou shalt not' commands there was a separate group of ancillary commands which made up the 'hedge around the Law'. In the shelter of this fold the devout Jew had to live.

Jesus, in his teaching, was forced to speak about this very misapplication. Referring to the words of Isaiah quoted above, he added that:

    "They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men... Then the disciples came to him and asked, 'Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?' He replied, 'Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them alone' " (Matt. 15:8--14).
Thus Jesus truly broke through the hedge of the Law.

Moses, when he instituted the commandments, said to the people,

    "Hear now, O Israel, the decrees and laws I am about to teach you...  Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it!" 22
Jewish scholars have, of course, tried to give the taryag, the 613 precepts, a foundation in the Pentateuch, but in both these and in the seyag, the ancillary rules, there are elements which the Rabbis themselves would concede have no basis in the written law. Precisely these halakha or traditional precepts are one of modern Israel's most difficult internal problems.

Paul spoke about this 'hedge around the Law' in Ephesians 2:14--15;

    "For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has DESTROYED THE BARRIER, THE DIVIDING WALL of hostility, by ABOLISHING in his flesh the LAW WITH ITS COMMANDMENTS AND REGULATIONS. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace."
By this "dividing wall" and "law with its commandments and regulations" we can only understand 'the hedge around the Law'. Christ, by his sacrificial death, has broken it down. "And they who are wise shall understand", claimed RaMBaN.

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:

    "Elijah will come before the time of salvation to turn the hearts of Israel to their Heavenly Father in order to be a herald of salvation to them...  but by the 'king' is meant the Messiah-King, and the Lord will come before them all, because at that time he will also give back his Holy Spirit to Zion."24
It is amazing to see that in the writings of the most widely recognised Jewish exegetes there are thoughts associated with the name of Perez which can help us to understand the Plan of Salvation and some of Paul's more difficult teachings. Not infrequently, however, these pearls are buried deep in the ocean of tradition, concealed within a protective shell.
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


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