God’s Path of Salvation in the Old Covenant

1 Introduction

In the fallen human race, God continually finds someone in whom he is pleased, people through whom he passes on the hope of salvation: Noah, later Abraham, then Joseph, whom God chose to keep his family alive during a time of famine. As God’s chosen one, he experienced much rejection, humiliation and suffering. In all these situations, he remained faithful to God, who eventually exalted him.

Moses, who delivered the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt and led them to the Promised Land, was also faced with similar difficulties. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, mentions Joseph and Moses in his defence speech when he confronts his accusers with the fact that they also rejected Jesus—just as their forefathers did to Joseph and Moses—and even killed him. Stephen sealed his testimony with his blood:

Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered. (Acts 7:52)

On this path of suffering, God ever more deeply reveals his love for us human beings, the salvation he has prepared for us. So we progress from the promises made to David to the words of the prophets that speak of the suffering servant of God. All these promises are fulfilled in Jesus.

2 From Paradise to Egypt

God has mercy even on mankind after the Fall. Not even sin can extinguish his caring love. This is expressed in the following passage, which speaks about the situation after the Fall:

And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them. (Genesis 3:21)

However, people do not appreciate this love, but with their sins have worsened the avalanche set in motion by the first sin.

2.1 Noah—Comfort After the Flood

Despite the rapid increase in sin, God “finds” a man: Noah, who found favour in his eyes:

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favour in the eyes of the Lord. These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God. (Genesis 6:5–9)

If we read the story of the Flood through the eyes of faith, we see God’s message that the path of sin leads to destruction. But God is love. He responds to even the smallest good thing. He “finds” a God-fearing person. In this way, redemption continues on the narrow path of hope through a handful of people in history. God makes a covenant with mankind in the symbol of the rainbow.

God’s first response to the wickedness of mankind was the Flood. As a consequence of sin, it stands as a warning sign for all time. But then God also made the rainbow a sign of the covenant and hope.

“Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you…” 

“When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.” (Genesis 9:9, 16–17)

2.2 Abraham—In Whom the Nations are Blessed

The hope continued. Again God “found” a man in whom he was well pleased, whom he called to give him a new promise of the coming deliverance. God called Abram:

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonours you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” So Abram went, as the LORD had told him… (Genesis 12:1–4)

Yes, there was a man who was prepared to leave his relatives, his “security” behind1 and set off towards an “uncertain” future. Simply because he believed and trusted God. This is how the childless Abram2 received the promise that he would become the father of many children, that he would become Abraham3 (see Genesis 17:5).

God said to him: “Walk before me, and be blameless” (Genesis 17:1). This expresses Abraham’s faith. This faith and love can also be seen in the fact that he was prepared to sacrifice the most precious thing he had, the son promised to him, his only son, Isaac, whom he loved4.

He (i.e. God) said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” (Genesis 22:12)

This is the attitude that pleases God. This is a sacrifice that pleases him! That is why God renewed the promise to him:

“… and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” (Genesis 22:18)

Paul explains who this offspring is:

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings”, referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring”, who is Christ. (Galatians 3:16)

The promise given to Abraham already gives us a glimpse of the awaited one who will be willing to “render himself as a guilt offering” so that he may “see his offspring” (see Isaiah 53:10 NASB), just as the grain of wheat that dies gives new life to many (see John 12:24–25). Like Abraham’s sacrifice, God also sees in Jesus’ willingness to devote himself a sacrifice in a similar way. God blesses this and gives him many sons, whom he leads to glory5.

In this way, Abraham becomes the father of faith for all those who not only name themselves after him6 but also follow his works of faith.

Abraham7 was able to see in Isaac, the son of the promise, the beginning of the fulfilment of the promise.

We then encounter a situation in which the sovereign God deems it good that the path of salvation should not continue through Esau, the elder son of Isaac, in accordance with the birthright, but that his younger brother Jacob should be the heir to the birthright blessing8.

2.3 Joseph—The Despised Deliverer

Following the path of the patriarchs, we arrive in Egypt, where the story of Joseph, one of Jacob’s sons, teaches us a great deal about God’s love. Joseph, who was chosen by God (see Genesis 37:1–11; Deuteronomy 33:16), was hated by his brothers. When he sets out to visit them at his father’s request, they plan to kill him9.

It pleased God to make him their deliverer, the one to whom they would turn for food at the time of famine in Egypt. Joseph, whom they intend to kill, is there waiting for them as their saviour. That’s what God is like. He turns evil to good.

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about10 that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. (Genesis 50:20)

A profound truth already appears here, which takes on its true meaning in the fullness of time:

Joseph, the chosen one, sets out to visit his brothers. They do not see him as the chosen one, they do not recognise him as the one sent by God. They reject him and want to kill him. Nevertheless, God saves them from the famine through him. In the same way, when the Light came to his own, to his brothers according to the flesh, his own did not accept him. Nevertheless, he became the author of salvation to those who accept him (see John 1:9–13, Hebrews 5:9). Just as the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone, so he became the rock of salvation for those who believe, and stumbling block for those who do not believe.11

Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him. He cried, “Make everyone go out from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept aloud, so that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence. So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life… And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. (Genesis 45:1–8)

We find an interesting parallel here that is worth reflecting on. It is interesting because it expresses the basic truth that God turns evil into good (Genesis 50:20). It is obvious that God never wants evil!

… God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one… Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:13, 16–17)

Even the shadow of evil is far away from God. Then it is also clear that God did not want his chosen one, Joseph, to be killed or sold by his brothers. For that was wickedness. Nevertheless, Joseph himself expresses in the above-mentioned passage that it was God who sent him to Egypt.

It is as if we are faintly hearing the words of Peter here, who would later proclaim:

“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:36)

“But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.” (Acts 3:14–15)

Joseph said that God wanted it that way, and so it is. But we can understand what this means from the passage already quoted in Genesis 50:20: “But God meant it for good.”

As we have already mentioned: God does not want evil, but he can turn it to good. God wanted to save Jacob from the famine. But how this happened also depended on the sons of Jacob. God takes into account the decisions of his creatures, who have an influence on his plan of salvation in this way.

So God’s presence permeates history in an invisible yet very real way. He is both the sovereign Almighty and the humble servant. He allows himself to be “influenced”, he “adapts”, that is, he respects the will of his creatures. Nevertheless, he is able to carry out his plan. This is a miracle that leads us to awe and wonder, a miracle that often surpasses our understanding.12

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable his ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counsellor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory for ever. Amen. (Romans 11:33–36)

A new chapter in the history of salvation begins in Egypt with Moses, and with the nation chosen by God.


3 Israel, the People of the Covenant

3.1 Moses—Deliverance from Egypt

Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak,
and let the earth hear the words of my mouth.
… ascribe greatness to our God!
The Rock, his work is perfect,
for all his ways are justice.
A God of faithfulness and without iniquity,
just and upright is he.
They have dealt corruptly with him;
they are no longer his children because they are blemished;
they are a crooked and twisted generation.
Do you thus repay the Lord,
you foolish and senseless people?
Is not he your father, who created you,
who made you and established you?
… But the Lord’s portion is his people,
Jacob his allotted heritage.
He found him in a desert land,
and in the howling waste of the wilderness;
he encircled him, he cared for him,
he kept him as the apple of his eye.
Like an eagle that stirs up its nest,
that flutters over its young,
spreading out its wings, catching them,
bearing them on its pinions,
the Lord alone guided him,
no foreign god was with him.
He made him ride on the high places of the land,
and he ate the produce of the field … (Deuteronomy 32:1–14)

This is a song about God’s love for his people. He cared for them, preserved them like the apple of his eye, like an eagle hovering protectively over its young. But at the same time, there are also painful overtones:

But Jeshurun13 grew fat, and kicked;
you grew fat, stout, and sleek;
then he forsook God who made him
and scoffed at the Rock of his salvation.
They stirred him to jealousy with strange gods;
with abominations they provoked him to anger.
They sacrificed to demons that were no gods,
to gods they had never known,
to new gods that had come recently,
whom your fathers had never dreaded.
You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you,
and you forgot the God who gave you birth. (Deuteronomy 32:15–18)

Again, we see in the history of Israel what is also characteristic of the history of humanity.

In the Acts of the Apostles (see Acts 7:17–53) we can read how Stephen, more than a thousand years later, assesses what was anticipated in the Song of Moses with the eyes of faith. We would like to highlight here what he said about Moses in verses 25 and 35:

He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand. (Acts 7:25)

This Moses, whom they rejected, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’—this man God sent as both ruler and redeemer by the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush. (Acts 7:35)

Verse 35 confirms what we have already seen in the story of Joseph: God has sent him, whom his brothers rejected, as “ruler and redeemer”. In his speech, Stephen draws an obvious parallel between Moses and Jesus: Moses did not come to be rejected, but so that they would listen to him. What he proclaims to them is God’s word for their own good.

Moses was the archetype of the coming Messiah to whom he pointed:

The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen. (Deuteronomy 18:15; Acts 3:22–26)

Unfortunately, they did not listen to him.

But let us now return to Egypt with Stephen:

This man led them out, performing wonders and signs in Egypt and at the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years. (Acts 7:36)

God has made his power manifest.14 So God brought his people out of slavery without paying a ransom for them or owing it to himself. God did this for free, out of his grace, because he is love. His love is the only basis of redemption.15
God led his people into the desert and made a covenant with them.

He chose and called Israel, he cared for them and preserved them for the benefit of all people. In and with Israel He prepared the way of salvation. He did this for all people through many struggles and pains! God wanted them to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation so that through them, all nations might come to know God.16

… while Moses went up to God. The Lord called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” (Exodus 19:3–6)

But that is not how it turned out. God planted a choice vine. But it only yielded wild grapes.

Let me sing for my beloved
my love song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.
He dug it and cleared it of stones,
and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
and hewed out a wine vat in it;
and he looked for it to yield grapes,
but it yielded wild grapes. (Isaiah 5:1–2)

Despite all the care they received, they acted like Adam because they followed their own will and not God’s will.

3.2 David—The King and Shepherd of Israel

God mercifully and patiently carried his people in the desert and during the time of the judges. Then the people demanded a king (see 1 Samuel 8:4–7). They did not want Yahweh to be their king. Despite their defiance, God remained faithful.

Here again we can see God’s infinite humility. He “adapted” to them.

And all the people said to Samuel, “Pray for your servants to the LORD your God, that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil, to ask for ourselves a king.” And Samuel said to the people, “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart… For the LORD will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the LORD to make you a people for himself.” (1 Samuel 12:19–20, 22)

And God “finds” David, who found favour in the sight of God (see Acts 7:46), who by his faith followed in the footsteps of Abraham when he attributed his strength and his victories not to himself but to God (see 1 Samuel 17:37, 45).

The psalmist called him the shepherd of his people:

He chose David his servant
and took him from the sheepfolds;
from following the nursing ewes he brought him
to shepherd Jacob his people,
Israel his inheritance.
With upright heart he shepherded them
and guided them with his skilful hand. (Psalm 78:70–72)17

He is the prototype of the Good Shepherd who was to come when the time was fulfilled. In him, the prophetic word would take on its full meaning. God himself comes to his flock!

“For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out… I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.” (Ezekiel 34:11, 15–16)

He who is to come will be born of a virgin as a descendant of David, whose name is Immanuel, that is, God is with us (see Isaiah 7:14).

The light comes to those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shined…

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and for evermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:2, 6–7)

The one on whom the Spirit of the Lord rests will come.

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide disputes by what his ears hear,
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,
and faithfulness the belt of his loins. (Isaiah 11:1–5)

One who is on the throne of David will come who will build the temple of the Lord and whose reign will be without end.

When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. (2 Samuel 7:12–13)

Even though this initially refers to Solomon, the direct descendant of David, who was to build the temple in Jerusalem, this prophecy of Nathan subsequently points to the “Son of David”. From the perspective of the New Testament, we see that the Messiah has built another, eternal house for God, which, like his kingship, will last forever.

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? (1 Corinthians 3:16)

And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope. (Hebrews 3:6)

God is not concerned with temples, cathedrals, basilicas, houses of prayer, kingdom halls, … which are built of stone, but not of love. The house of God is the temple, which Scripture also calls the body of Christ18 , the community of Christians, the bride waiting for her bridegroom19. For this is the goal of redemption: communion with God and with one another in holiness and love. This fellowship already begins here on earth.

But let us return to David, or rather to Stephen. In his speech, Stephen makes special reference to the temple. In doing so, he touched on a sensitive point and events accelerated. But we are still a millennium away from the fulfilment of the promise made to David, that is, that the Messiah would be his descendant (which is why Jesus is often called the Son of David).

We can see what happened during these thousand years in the Song of Moses and in Stephen’s speech.

The prophet Hosea summarised this beautifully:

When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
The more they were called,
the more they went away;
they kept sacrificing to the Baals
and burning offerings to idols.
Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk;
I took them up by their arms,
but they did not know that I healed them.
I led them with cords of kindness,
with the bands of love,
and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws,
and I bent down to them and fed them.
They shall not return to the land of Egypt,
but Assyria shall be their king,
because they have refused to return to me.
The sword shall rage against their cities,
consume the bars of their gates,
and devour them because of their own counsels.
My people are bent on turning away from me,
and though they call out to the Most High,
he shall not raise them up at all.
How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils within me;
my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my burning anger;
I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and not a man,
the Holy One in your midst,
and I will not come in wrath. (Hosea 11:1–9)

3.3 The Time of the Prophets—Light in the Darkness

During the centuries of kingship, when most kings after David did not walk with God, the people continued their unfaithfulness, their many sins, their idolatry under the leadership of their political and religious rulers. Along with their continued idolatry, they also continued the temple worship. The blood of sacrifices flowed in torrents and festivals were celebrated. God admonished the people through the words of the prophets, he called his people unceasingly to repentance.

The ox knows its owner,
and the donkey its master’s crib,
but Israel does not know,
my people do not understand. (Isaiah 1:3)

Hear the word of the LORD,
you rulers of Sodom!
Give ear to the teaching of our God,
you people of Gomorrah!
“What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?“
says the LORD;
“I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
and the fat of well-fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
or of lambs, or of goats.
When you come to appear before me,
who has required of you
this trampling of my courts?
Bring no more vain offerings;
incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—
I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.
Your new moons and your appointed feasts
my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
When you spread out your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
I will not listen;
your hands are full of blood.
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
learn to do good;
seek justice,
correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless,
plead the widow’s cause.” (Isaiah 1:10–17)

“For from the least to the greatest of them,
everyone is greedy for unjust gain;
and from prophet to priest,
everyone deals falsely.
They have healed the wound of my people lightly,
saying, ‘Peace, peace’,
when there is no peace.
Were they ashamed when they committed abomination?
No, they were not at all ashamed;
they did not know how to blush.
Therefore they shall fall among those who fall;
at the time that I punish them, they shall be overthrown,”
says the LORD.
Thus says the LORD:
“Stand by the roads, and look,
and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way is; and walk in it,
and find rest for your souls.
But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’” (Jeremiah 6:13–16)

However, the people did not listen to the prophets which is why they announced judgement. However, their admonitions only provided temporary relief. The prophets had to explain to them that it was because of their sins that they would be crushed and subjugated, that they would have to go into exile. Not because God is weak, nor because of the sins of their ancestors, but because they themselves have followed in the footsteps of their fathers!20

God is waging a life-and-death struggle for his people through the prophets: will they remain his people or will they all become idolaters? During such a dark time, even the unwavering prophet Elijah was shaken:

Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” … There he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He said, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” (1 Kings 19:3–4, 9–10)

And what does God do?

And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”… “Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” (1 Kings 19:11–13, 18)

He speaks and comforts in a soft, gentle voice: “Elijah, you are not alone. There is a small remnant of people who have remained faithful. Through them, the path of salvation will continue.”

God speaks gently to those who call out to him, who are tormented by the many sins and injustices they see. But for those who worship God only with their mouth but whose heart is far from God (Isaiah 29:13; Matthew 15:7–9), there is a wind that tears mountains apart and shatters rocks, earthquakes and fire as a sign of the coming judgement.

This dark period of time was also a great challenge for the prophet, just as there have always been dark, challenging periods in the course of history, as there are today in the “Christian West”, where sin runs its course, as do the celebrations, the church services …

The prophetic word came like a bolt of lightning into this darkness: it will not always remain dark!

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shined. (Isaiah 9:2)

For the promised Saviour is coming! Who he will be, when he will come, what he will be like—that was a mystery the prophets pursued with great longing.

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and enquired carefully, enquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. (1 Peter 1:10–11)

But they announced what had been given to them. The word of the prophets is the instrument of salvation.
But the time had not yet come.

Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel (God with us). (Isaiah 7:14)

Who would have dared to believe that the true God would come to us in the one in whom this promise finds its complete fulfilment!

He who is to come “shall not judge by what his eyes see… but with righteousness he shall judge…” (see Isaiah 11:1–5).

He is the king, the shoot from the tribe of David, the one who is anticipated in the fairy tales and legends of the peoples of the world — without any real hope of this wish being fulfilled (indeed, it becomes apparent that people have a vague image of a righteous king deep in their hearts).

But here is a prophet of the people of Israel speaking, a herald of the word of God! Hear, O nations! He will not only be the saviour of Israel!

He says:
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6)

The one about whom the Lord has spoken will come:

“You are my Son; today I have begotten you.” (Psalm 2:7)

One will come whom they will call the Son of David, but who will nevertheless be the David’s Lord.21

But how can this happen? In Jewish thinking, the descendant cannot be the Lord of the predecessor. This was also discussed at the time of Jesus (see Matthew 22:41–46). So the figure of the Messiah remains hidden, but it can be surmised that he will be greater than David.22

And when he really comes as king, will he judge the nations immediately? People will obey a king who comes with power all the more easily!

This is what was expected, but it did not turn out that way.

3.4 The Prophecies about the Servant of God

A servant has come, or rather, a king who has come to serve! It is in keeping with God’s nature that he demonstrates his power primarily in his love.

Nor was it hidden. The prophets already spoke about it.

But will people recognise the king in the servant? Will the vinedressers recognise the son of the owner of the vineyard?23 Or will they deal with him as they did with the servants sent before him, namely the prophets?24

These are troubling questions which the prophets addressed. At the time of their fulfilment, all who have ears to hear will understand and believe.
The book of Isaiah shows us the Messiah as the servant of God who, like the very prophets who announced his coming, himself will be rejected, indeed will suffer and die.

Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be discouraged
till he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his law. (Isaiah 42:1–4)

But I said, “I have laboured in vain;
I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity;

yet surely my right is with the LORD,
and my recompense with my God.”
Thus says the LORD,
the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One,
to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nation,
the servant of rulers:
“Kings shall see and arise;
princes, and they shall prostrate themselves;
because of the LORD, who is faithful,
the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.” (Isaiah 49:4, 7)

The Lord GOD has opened my ear,
and I was not rebellious;
I turned not backwards.
I gave my back to those who strike,
and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard;
I hid not my face
from disgrace and spitting.

But the Lord GOD helps me;
therefore I have not been disgraced… (Isaiah 50:5–7)

Behold, my servant shall act wisely;
he shall be high and lifted up,
and shall be exalted.
As many were astonished at you—
his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,
and his form beyond that of the children of mankind…
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not…
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth…
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous25(from Isaiah 52:13–53:12)

Perhaps it is no coincidence that these prophetic words were spoken at a time when Israel, instead of ruling over the nations, was in Babylonian captivity. Their temple was destroyed, Jerusalem devastated. Through their sins they had destroyed the temple of God.26 Being in captivity taught them to abandon their idols. However, it also taught them that in this world, which had fallen because of sin, something new, pure and good can only emerge victorious through the path of struggle and suffering.27 But this is not because God wanted it that way from the beginning.

These words of the prophets are followed by long centuries of waiting. No one had a greater desire for the coming of the Saviour than God himself. Nevertheless, he waited patiently until the time had come.

Only we humans hurry ahead, everything has to happen quickly for us. Where is he now? What is God doing? Why is he not coming? Why is he not acting? This is how many people thought at the time of Jesus. We have to act, to accelerate the coming of the kingdom of God by force of arms. That’s how the Zealots thought. They trusted in their own wisdom.28

Let us turn to two more passages from the last book of the Old Testament:

Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. (Malachi 3:1—2)

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction. (Malachi 4:5—6)

God also helped by sending his messenger just before the Saviour. God sent John the Baptist so that people would recognise through him that the coming of someone greater and more significant than John was near.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1, 14)

A king who comes as a servant mounted on a donkey will not be as easily recognised as one who is carried on a throne and is preceded by his forerunners. The goal is clear, only the realisation does not correspond to our ideas, especially if the forerunner also appears as a servant in poor clothing. But is this not precisely what man needs in order to understand that when the King comes in the form of a servant, he himself cannot rule over himself and others? God calls us to humility and to serve others.

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45)

This is what God teaches us!

But this teaching cannot be understood with the mindset of a Zealot, a Pharisee, a theologian-scribe or a high priest.

In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.” (Luke 10:21)

Our journey through the Old Testament, in which God prepared the coming of the Saviour, has come to an end. We can only partially succeed in portraying the love, joy, patience, endeavour and pain with which God prepared the miracle of redemption over many centuries. He did this by including people with their weaknesses and sins.

Perhaps it has also become clear from the above that the Old and New Testaments cannot be separated from each other. Just as a flower emerges from the dry earth, just as a shoot bursts forth from a tree stump that already appeared dead, so the New Covenant blossomed out of the soil of the Old Covenant through our Lord Jesus Christ.

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. (Isaiah 11:1)

It is God’s work, which he prepared before eternity as a unique and unrepeatable miracle:

God became man.

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Footnotes
  1. Because they were idolators, see Joshua 24:1–2 
  2. Abram means exalted father 
  3. Abraham means father of a multitude 
  4. see Genesis 22:1–18 
  5. see Hebrews 2:10 
  6. There were and are many who claim to be Abraham’s physical or spiritual children, Jews, Muslims and people who call themselves Christians. Among the latter, there are those who, referring to Abraham’s faith, teach that man is saved by faith alone without works. Others refer to Peter and consider themselves his successors. Because people in Jesus’ time also liked to refer to themselves as Abraham’s children in this way, Jesus clearly said that those who do the works of Abraham are Abraham’s children (John 8:39). He called those who only refer to Abraham the children of another father (John 8:31–47). Jesus would also say something similar to those who make a claim on Peter. Paul, guided by the Spirit, also expressed something similar: ‘But if you call yourself a Jew (a Christian) …’ (Romans 2:17–29). More on this here: Faith and Works and What Does it Mean to be a Christian? 
  7. Genesis 18:19 — Abraham did not want Isaac to return to his relatives, who worshipped idols, but rather to distance himself from godlessness — Genesis 24:6–8 
  8. Here we get a glimpse of the mystery of how God intervenes in history. He gives man free will. Nevertheless, it is God who continues the story with his almighty will. In this case by choosing Jacob. He does not do this on the basis of his merits, but according to his sovereign will. It is not a question of Jacob being chosen for salvation and Esau for damnation. No, he called Jacob to take the place in salvation history that God intended for him according to his will. Here we see the sovereignty of God, who does not act according to human expectations. Unfortunately, Romans 9:10–13 has been misunderstood in an extreme way. This leads to a distortion of the truth and to a false doctrine. More on this: Predestination
  9. see Genesis 37:12–18 
  10. In the story of Joseph, we can already sense something of what is so often echoed in the New Testament or in the words of Jesus: ‘This has happened so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled.’ If we understand just this one example, we can see that when Jesus or the apostles spoke about Scripture in this way, they did not understand Scripture like a screenplay. Further events will show how the biblical authors understood this fulfilment of Scripture. (One thing is certain in any case: God hides these things from the wise and understanding, but reveals them to little children — cf. Matthew 11:25). Therefore, we do not need to adapt the events to the Scriptures, but we should see the real events of history with the eyes of faith and thus recognise how God works in history. 
  11. Matthew 21:42–44 
  12. Unfortunately, there are people who, in their concern about God’s sovereignty, deny man’s free will. But God’s power is much more recognisable when man has free will. What is the greater honour? To dominate an enemy who is bound with chains or to overcome a person in full battle gear through love. God’s sovereignty can also only be properly understood in the light of his love. 
  13. ‘Jeshurun’ is a poetic name for the people of Israel. 
  14. That is also part of the story. How does God do that? So that certain natural processes happen right then and there (according to God’s will, of course), or through supernatural processes? That usually remains hidden. It is quite likely that those who argue about this will miss the point. That is not the essential question, but the point is that the believer sees the working God behind the event. For those who do not believe will not be helped by a miracle either. Or, in Jesus’ words, he will not believe even if someone rises from the dead (Luke 16:31). God has created a real world in which the laws of nature are at work. He did not do this in order to constantly change them. For a miracle is a supernatural and rare event. God has given such miracles as confirming signs at significant times in the history of salvation. This is particularly important in the history of Israel. For the experience that God delivered his people from Egypt with a mighty hand and made a covenant with them remains a sign for the people forever. The Israelites refer to this for centuries and pass it on to their children even at times when no miracles occur. Their God-fearing children believe this. Perhaps we can also sense a parallel here to the people of God under the new covenant, when many miracles took place at the time the new covenant was established, especially through Jesus and the apostles. These were written down so that we might believe. These miracles do not need to be repeated for us to know that God is the same faithful, mighty and strong God now and forever. 
  15. see Isaiah 43:25 — I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins. 
  16. “I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Isaiah 49:6, cited in Acts 13:47. 
  17. see also Ezekiel 37:24 
  18. see 1 Corinthians 12 
  19. cf. 2 Corinthians 11:2 
  20. cf. Isaiah 59:1–2 — Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear. 
  21. The LORD says to my Lord… (Psalm 110:1; cf. Luke 20:41–44). 
  22. This is confirmed even more by the mysterious Son of Man in the Book of Daniel (Daniel 7:13–14). 
  23. cf. Matthew 21:33–46. 
  24. cf. Matthew 23:34–35. 
  25. Or “instruct many in righteousness” (Darby). 
  26. compare the words of Jesus about this in John 2:19–21. 
  27. In certain cases, suffering leads to death. See, for example, Socrates’ struggle for virtue when he was condemned to death because of his teaching. If he flees, his teaching loses its seriousness if he does not seal it with his life. 
  28. Since then, and even today, many have been impatient and unbelieving. They proclaim that Jesus will return at such and such a time and with him the end of the world will come. They say he is already at the door. They also describe exactly how everything will be. But unfortunately, many forget one thing: to live as if Jesus were coming today.