Hi, friends. Every Christmas and Easter, I publish a series of posts that glimpse at the stories behind old, beloved hymns, connecting them to a theme. As usual, this is the introductory post, and the “Story Behind” posts will come in the days leading up to Christmas. (12/17, 12/20, 12/24)
The theme for 2018 was angels, so I delved into the role they play in the nativity story and Christianity as a whole. This year, we will pay special attention to the expectation of a messiah among the Hebrews in the Old Testament. We will see how Jesus does and doesn’t live into this expectation as we move through the upcoming posts.
When God called Abraham, Hebrews in the Old Testament & the Babylonian Exile
God called Abraham to be the catalyst of humanity’s redemption (relatively) soon after Adam and Eve’s rebellion. God told Abraham that He would bless him with more offspring than stars in the sky, and He also assured ALL nations would be blessed through them eventually. Abraham’s offspring became the nation of Israel–God’s chosen people.
Tragically, the Hebrews, despite being God’s chosen people, were not less privy to temptation and falling away than we humans are today. Throughout the Old Testament, they stray from the path and disappoint and/or enrage God many times. He keeps trying to course-correct them…until, finally, He stops extending mercy and punishes them (detailed around the end of II Kings). The Hebrews are then resigned to the fate of an exile from the promised land God had given their ancestors.
[Because I may have inadvertently portrayed God as cruel/vindictive in the above paragraph, I want to point out that much of God’s wrath in this situation relates to the Hebrews failing to truly pursue God; as a result, they do not share His heart. Though sins like idolatry (worshiping other gods) do play a significant role, many of the prophets (like Amos) emphasize oppression, injustice, greed, arrogance, etc. as reasons God is angry.]
Messianic expectation after the Exile
I am only hitting the main plot points here because explaining everything in-depth would make this post the length of a book. Anyways, fast forwarding way past the exile, the Hebrews are finally given another chance, and they return to Israel (detailed in the Books of Nehemiah, Ezra). Fast forwarding again, the land of Israel is under Roman rule, and some of the prophets foretell that a messiah will come to liberate them (primarily in the Book of Isaiah).
Since the Hebrews were the one and only nation intimately connected to God for a long time, they either forgot or didn’t quite understand God would use them to bless all nations; therefore, they expect a messiah to come and liberate them from the Romans, just as God had liberated them from the Egyptians in the exodus (detailed in the Book of Exodus).
But this was a new era; something far greater than the exodus was about to happen. The statement that all nations would be blessed through Abraham was finally coming to fruition.
The mission of Jesus
God sent Jesus as the messiah for not just Israel but the whole world. Rather than liberating people from an unjust, earthly ruler/kingdom, Jesus transcended and redefined the idea of freedom by liberating people from sin and death itself.
We will contemplate the expectation vs. the reality of the promised messiah as we discuss these hymns:
- O Come O Come Emmanuel
- Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus
- Mary, Did You Know?
Thanks for reading! How are you doing–with shopping, decorating, preparing, cooking, and everything in between? Are you giving your stress to Jesus, whose yoke is light? Let me know in the comments.