How to Determine if an Old Testament Scripture is Prophetic

COPYRIGHT WARNING

What is the criteria that is considered in determining whether a particular Old Testament Scripture is prophetic in nature and a possible candidate for fulfillment by the Messiah? Many obscure verses of the Old Testament appear at first glance–to have little or no relevance to Messiah. It is interesting that Peter made use of a particular method of interpreting Old Testament references in light of what Jesus said and did–which has been used by Rabbi’s for thousands of years.

Exegetical principles

According to the second Midrashic exegetical rule, called the Middot, originated by Rabbi Hillel: where the same words or concepts appear in two separate scriptures, we are to give the same consideration in applying both scriptures to the same subject[2].

The method that Peter used in interpreting the Old Testament prophecies fulfilled by Jesus is very similar to the Middot, called, a Pesher.

The word Pesher originates from the Hebrew word Peser, which means “interpretation.”[1] In the Peser interpretation and application of an Old Testament prophecy, the importance is placed on the fulfillment, and not on the exegesis of the technical points of the prophecy that it is interpreting. This technique comes to us with tremendous support from the early Rabbi’s who possessed great proficiency in their interpretation of the Hebrew scriptures.

Peter’s Interpretation of Joel’s Prophecy

When the prophet Joel penned the verse in chapter 2 of his famous prophecy describing the last days, we were all surprised to learn that this new Spirit-filled Peter declared that Joel’s prophecy was fulfilled on the first day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were present and Jesus’ church was born.

Joel 2:28-29 “And it shall come to pass afterward That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your old men shall dream dreams, Your young men shall see visions. 29 And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.”

Peter not only attributed verses 28 and 29 of Joel Chapter 2 to the birth of the church, he also ascribed the entire text of Joel’s prophecy to the birth of the church.

Acts 2:14-21 But Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words. 15 For these are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. 16 But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:17 “And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh;Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your young men shall see visions, Your old men shall dream dreams. 18 And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; And they shall prophesy. 19 I will show wonders in heaven above And signs in the earth beneath: Blood and fire and vapor of smoke. 20 The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD. 21 And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the LORD Shall be saved.

Verses 19-21 would appear to be applicable only to the seven-year Tribulation Period, but Peter here describes this part of Joel’s prophecy as being applicable to the birth of the church in Acts Chapter 2.

It is this technique whereby we can rightly attribute Old Testament prophecies which do not, at first glance, seem to be attributable to the Messiah–as applicable to Him. As we compare their text with the New Testament verses which appear to be a fulfillment of those Old Testament predictions, we learn that they have a valid application. The Pesher is a method of interpretation, which I have made use of in several instances where I could not see the Messianic application of certain verses, which I included in my Book: “365 Prophecies,” until after I gave further diligent study. Once an Old Testament verse becomes a possible candidate for Messianic application, a search must be made to find whether there is a New Testament counterpart which can be rightly attributable to the Old Testament verse in question. In many of the Old Testament verses which are included in 365 Prophecies, this was this exegetical technique that I used. It was through these well tested methods of Biblical interpretation that I determined the validity of the Hebrew prophecies of the Messiah.

How Peter determined prophetic validity

In Peter’s sermon, in Acts Chapter 2 verse 17, the Apostle uses the phrase, And it shall come to pass in the last days…, whereas Joel actually said: (Joel 2:28) And it shall come to pass afterward

By changing “afterward” to “in the last days,” Peter is using the Pesher formula to interpret Joel’s meaning of his prophecy. In the Septuagint manuscripts of MT and LXX, afterwards is ahare ken, meta tauta. This is the same Greek phrase used in the Book of Revelation Chapter 4, where John is describing the church and the things of the church, John states in chapter 3: After these things (meta tauta—after the things of the church, John was Raptured to heaven to see the visions Jesus showed him).

Joel was prophesying about the last days and specifically events that would concern the coming of the Messiah, His ministry and the events of His wrath, as described in the Book of Revelation which would occur during the seven-year Tribulation Period.

We learn a great deal about the way that the early Christian leaders interpreted the Old Testament prophecy and the way in which we should also interpret certain Old Testament prophecies when finding their New Testament fulfillment. Peter understood that what Joel predicted was what God had said. Although at times what God has said through the Old Testament prophet is quite mysterious and puzzling, when we also search for a possible New Testament fulfillment as I have done, we see the deeper meaning and revealed mystery of these Old Testament prophecies.

Applying exegetical principles to Peter’s interpretation

Since the events which occurred at Pentecost—50 days after Jesus resurrection, were of such great similarity to the descriptions of Joel’s prophecy, it is reasonable to conclude that they were one and the same. This is in keeping with the Pesher form of interpretation used by Peter in Acts chapter 2 and other notable places in the New Testament.

The origin of Biblical interpretation

The term “Midrash,” came from the first use of the Hebrew word “darish” in the Old Testament—defined as “the seeking after knowledge, to search out, consult, inquire or study, for the purpose of discovering the deeper meaning,” as written in Ezra 7:10.[4]

For Ezra had set his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it…” —Ezra 7:10

Ezra was “searching out” the true meaning of the Law of God so that he might teach it to the people. This began a long standing tradition amongst the earliest Hebrew scholars in understanding what God meant by each particular verse of scripture, in context with other similar verses, which described homologous concepts.

Also called “the Midrashim,” this form of Biblical interpretation is a method by which any person may understand what the specific meaning of a story or illustration is intending, from the mind and heart of God.

By a correct understanding of what God intended, we gain specific knowledge of how and why God placed these illustrations in the scriptures for us to discover.

In order to be able to correctly understand the prophecies of the Messiah from the Old Testament, certain rules should be observed to determine how much liberty a person may take in obtaining a correct understanding of the particular scriptures.

Of greater importance in regard to the Hermeneutical methods utilized by these rules, is the fact that in the Midrashim, the Rabbi’s are not limited by the sequential reading of the text. As is so often the case, many of the prophecies of the Messiah in the Old Testament are distributed within text that frequently have nothing to do with the prophecy itself.[5]

Today, many Bible readers assume that the narrative of the scriptures are written in chronological order. In antiquity, Hebrew scholars paid little attention to the flow of the stories, while placing great emphasis on the related topics that are interspersed throughout the scriptures themselves. There is an allusion to this important principle in the New Testament:[6]

2 Timothy 2:15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. –2 Timothy 2:15

In the earliest form of the oral traditions of the scriptures, scholars committed the entire body of God’s word to memory. When a particular passage was recited, it would remind the listener of several other places in the scriptures where a similar passage spoke or illustrated a comparable principle.[7] It was through this method that early scholars divided the Hebrew Bible into sections. It was not until many years later that verses were added to delineate the text within the books of the Bible.

In the same manner, I have sought to rightly divide the scriptures. An Old Testament prophecy must have a similar counterpart of fulfillment in the New Testament, which exhibits similar characteristics to the Old Testament verse. The writers of the New Testament used this method themselves in determining which scriptures Jesus fulfilled from the Old Testament. They would often define these verses and their fulfillment by stating; “this was done,” or “this was said, that it might be fulfilled which was written by the prophet…”

Matthew 4:14 ...that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying:

It is by these techniques whereby we can rightly attribute Old Testament prophecies that do not at first glance—seem to be attributable to the Messiah—as absolutely relevant to a correct understanding of any Old Testament prophecy.

Rules and Liberty

In order to be able to correctly understand the prophecies of the Messiah from the Old Testament, certain rules should be observed to determine how much liberty a person may take in obtaining a correct understanding of the particular scriptures. Many people do not realize that there is no uniform agreements among scholars for how Biblical scriptures should be interpreted to produce the Midrashim. The two primary thesis for correct interpretation come from Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Ishmael b. Elisha. The differences between these two great men are substantial. Akiva is concerned with the smallest part of the text, which he believes can contain hidden meaning. Therefore, every letter is capable of producing a new law. Ishmael takes a more conservative view—believing that the Torah is written in the language of human beings and is intended for the common, ordinary person, as well as the scholar. Therefore, there are no hidden meanings in the text, only what is immediately perceived.[8]

A few of the Midrashic methods:

The most ancient of the Midrashim, called “the Baraita of Rabbi Ishmael,” began by Rabbi Hillel as seven specific rules to follow in order to properly clarify the Torah and to make correct deductions from the Laws of God.[9] These seven were later expanded to thirteen by Rabbi Ishmael.

Baraita of Rabbi Ishmael

1. Kal va-chomer: The principle of “from the simple to the complex, and the complex to the simple.” Conclusions regarding a particular word or passage of scripture are made from the simple to the complex or vice versa, depending on the nature of conclusion that the verse of scripture requires. This law is the same as the first rule of Hillel.[10]
2. Gezerah shavah: The principle of similar laws for similar verdicts. This is an argument by similarities of certain scriptures in parallel or likeness. A legal determination for one verse will also remain true for a second similar verse of scripture.[11]
3. Binyan ab: The principle of a standard being set by one verse of scripture, being the basis for a correct interpretation of many other scriptures. Where a principle is true of one verse, it will remain true for other verses which have characteristics in common. This rule is a combination of Hillel’s third and fourth rules.[12]
4. Kelal u-perat: The principle of the general and particular, which defines a verse by the limitations of it’s general use in any particular case.[13]
5. U-perat, u-kelal: The principle of the particular and the general, which defines a verse by the general use of a particular meaning.[14]
6. Kelal u-perat, u-kelal: The principle of the general, particular, and general, which derives an interpretation of a verse or story only from other cases which also resemble the particular verse of illustration.[15]
7. The general which requires clarification by the particular, and the particular which requires an explanation by the general.[16]

A. The particular implied in the general and excepted from it for instructional purposes clarifies the general as well as the particular.[17]
B. The particular implied in the general and excepted from it on account of the special regulation which corresponds in concept to the general, is thus isolated to decrease rather than to increase the rigidity of its application.[18]
C. The particular implied in the general and excepted from it on account of some other special regulation which does not correspond in concept to the general, is thus isolated either to decrease or to increase the rigidity of its application.[19]
D. The particular implied in the general and excepted from it on account of a new and reversed decision can be referred to the general only in case the passage under consideration makes an explicit reference to it.
E. A conclusion based on the context.[20]
F. When two biblical passages contradict each other the contradiction in question must be resolved by reference to a third passage.[21]

Perhaps of even greater importance in regard to the Hermeneutical methods utilized by these rules, is the fact that in the Midrashim, the Rabbi’s are not limited by the sequential reading of the text. As is so often the case, many of the prophecies of the Messiah in the Old Testament, are distributed within text that frequently have nothing to do with the prophecy itself.[22]

The ancient to understand the present

By using an ancient Hebrew method of validation, in is by searching the New Testament narrative of Jesus words and actions that a revelation of a particular reference is validated.

In the Book of Numbers, chapter 24, verse 8, we read the verse: “God brings him out of Egypt.

that we discover a fascinating parallel with an event which occurred during the ministry of Jesus.

Numbers 24:8 “God brings him out of Egypt; He has strength like a wild ox; He shall consume the nations, his enemies; He shall break their bones And pierce them with his arrows.”

New Testament fulfillment:

Matthew 2:13-15 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.” When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”

The Book of Numbers Chapter 24 gives us the account of Balaam, who is acting in the capacity of a prophet of God by making a prophetic prediction about the tribe of Judah, from where the Messiah will one day come. Balaam states that God will bring him out of Egypt.

It has always amazed me that Balaam could act in the capacity of a prophet of God while doing so with evil intentions towards God’s people and his own selfish ambition and greed. The information that he passed along to the Midianites eventually led to the downfall of Israel. Later in the New Testament, Balaam is listed among those who are described as false prophets and are condemned for their actions by God.

2 Peter 2:15 They have forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness

In Matthew Chapter 2:13-15, the angel of the Lord warns Joseph that Herod will seek to kill Jesus at His birth. Matthew writes that Joseph and Mary departed for Egypt, and that this action was in fulfillment of this 38th Old Testament Prophecy found in Numbers 24:8.

There are many of the 365 prophecies which are given in this book, that when read from the Old Testament, seem at first to be vague.

Numbers 24:8 “God brings him out of Egypt…”

We might never have known that this verse from the Book of Numbers was a prophecy that concerned the coming Messiah, unless the Lord revealed it to us in Matthew’s gospel. This is an important fact of Bible prophecy: We often do not know that a particular verse of scripture was written prophetically until after the event takes place. I am sure that Matthew was not aware that Numbers 24:8 or Hosea 11:1 were speaking of the Messiah, until he had learned that the angel had warned Joseph to take Jesus and flee to Egypt not long after His birth. Matthew remembered the words from Hosea 11:1 and Numbers 24:8, as the Holy Spirit brought them to his remembrance. He recorded the fulfillment of this prophecy of the Messiah for us in his gospel.

This is why we should continually read the Bible over and over and become familiar with all of the verses of Scripture. The Holy Spirit can only bring to our remembrance the words of God which we have already read and studied. There have been several occasions when I was speaking to a person about Jesus, or teaching the word of God before a group of people, and the Holy Spirit would remind me of a particular verse of Scripture. Often, it is not a verse that I had really studied extensively. Because I had placed the verse in my mind by reading the word of God, the Holy Spirit was able to bring these verses to my remembrance and allow me to use them in teaching the Bible to someone else.

John 14:26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.

An important principle to consider in prophetic interpretation:

Becoming a diligent student of Bible prophecy requires that we read a verse of Scripture from the Old Testament, with the assumption that it is prophetic. The entire purpose of the scriptures is to point us to the Messiah. Therefore, all of the stories, people and events should be carefully scrutinized for their possible application to the Messiah, who is Jesus Christ.

John 5:39 (Jesus speaking) You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.

Jesus is making the assertion that the entire Bible is about Him. Therefore, it is always possible that a particular verse which does not appear at first to be predictive, may have indeed a prophetic application. No one would have believed that Joel Chapter 2 was applicable to the birth of the church in Acts Chapter 2, unless Peter revealed this to us. See Prophecy 318.

Although this verse from Numbers 24:8 does not seem to be prophetic at first glance, when we take the time to study the verse and compare it with other verses of similar context, we see that it is speaking of the future Messiah.

If we were going to look for a verse to match Matthew’s prophetic declaration that the Messiah will come out of Egypt, we would first be led to Hosea 11:1, Prophecy 315.

The verses from Matthew and Hosea are a perfect match:

Matthew 2:15 “…that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.

Hosea 11:1 “When Israel was a child, I loved him, And out of Egypt I called My son.”

Notice that Hosea refers to Israel as being a child who will be called out of Egypt. If we examine Balaam’s prophecy of Israel, in Numbers Chapter 24:8, he uses similar language in describing the many blessings that God will give Israel through the Messiah. Balaam uses the same phrase in verse 24:8 in speaking of Israel being called out of Egypt, that Hosea uses of Israel.

Numbers 24:8 “God brings him out of Egypt…”

Examine the entire context of Numbers Chapter 24:

Numbers 24:8-9 God brings him out of Egypt; He has strength like a wild ox; He shall consume the nations, his enemies; He shall break their bones And pierce them with his arrows. 9 He bows down, he lies down as a lion; And as a lion, who shall rouse him?

Clearly, Balaam’s prophecy is speaking of the Messiah who will consume the nations and is also called the Lion. These are both descriptions of Jesus which are revealed in the Book of Revelation.

Revelation 19:15 Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.

Revelation 5:5 But one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals.”

The point of this exercise is to demonstrate that a verse of Scripture that many scholars might define as non-prophetic or non-Messianic can certainly be true on both accounts.

In all of the scholarly commentaries that I read concerning Numbers 24:8, not one found an application of this verse to the declaration of Matthew 2:15. When all of the evidence is examined, it is clear that both Hosea and Balaam are speaking of Israel who will come out of Egypt. Both prophets are using the example of Israel to speak of the future Messiah.

This careful scrutiny was necessary for several verses that are included in these 365 Old Testament Prophecies. It took a great amount of work to determine whether a particular verse should be included in this book, or excluded. Instead of trying to look for verses to put in this book, I took the opposite approach to exclude a verse until it could be proven a prophetic-Messianic verse that can be validated by a New Testament fulfillment.

In your own study of Bible prophecy, you will notice that great scholars often disagree over a particular verse. This is not only normal; it is healthy to the validation of the prophetic word.

A person might read an Old Testament verse and think: “This is not a prophecy.” I have often reached this same conclusion myself. Only after I was able to discover a New Testament fulfillment did any verse from the Old Testament become credible and a part of this book.

This 38th prophecy of the Old Testament is in parallel with several other prophecies describing this event in Matthew’s gospel. From His birth, Jesus was under the threat of death.

Prophecy 294

Jeremiah 31:15 Thus says the LORD: “A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation and bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children, Refusing to be comforted for her children, Because they are no more.

Jeremiah’s prophecy deals with a conspiracy that satan had orchestrated against God’s desire to bring His Son into the world. Because the Lord knows all things, He was aware of the plans of satan which he would seek to carry out at the time Jesus would be born. The prophet Micah records the fact that the Son of God would be born in Bethlehem. Prophecies 321, 322, 323

Micah 5:2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting.”

Jeremiah’s prophecy is that when the Messiah is born in Bethlehem, an attempt will be made by satan to kill Him while He is still young and defenseless. The prophecy speaks of Lamentation and bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children. See Prophecy 294.

The king of Israel was one of the most paranoid individuals of all time. Herod was said to be so afraid that someone would conspire to take his throne, that he had his wife and sons murdered. One of the common expressions of that time was: “It is safer to be Herod’s pig than to be his son.”[23]

Herod became aware of Micah’s prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem who will be the King of Israel. When the wise men came from the east, crossing the borders of Israel, Herod sent word to their caravan to come to his palace and tell him where this new king was located so that he could “worship” him. Of course, Herod had no intention of worshipping any would-be-king who would take his throne. Herod dispatched soldiers to Bethlehem and ordered the execution of every child under the age of two. Jeremiah’s prophecy vividly records not only the vicious acts of Herod’s soldiers but also the very words of sorrow and great grief the mothers of these precious babies felt when their infants were killed before their eyes.

Matthew 2:1-8 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: 6 ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’ ” 7 Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.”

Jeremiah and Micah both wrote these prophecies of the Messiah about six hundred years before Jesus was born. Their predictions contain two of the most extraordinary prophecies in the Bible: In their predictions, the Lord informed us of His plans to bring His Son into the world, despite a satanic agenda that worked through the mind and heart of Herod who sought the death of the Son of God.

We learn that God had a plan to spare His Son from death and bring Him to safety before the soldiers arrived. Mary and Joseph would take Jesus to Egypt until the death of Herod.

Matthew 2:12-15 Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way. 13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.” 14 When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, 15 and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”

In completing His warning to Mary and Joseph that they should depart for their own country another way…, God brought to fulfillment this 38th Old Testament Prophecy that the Messiah will come out of Egypt, as predicted in the Book of Numbers 24:8 and Hosea 11:1.

Numbers 24:8 “God brings him out of Egypt…”

These are time-tested and reliable Exegetical and Hermeneutical principles of Biblical interpretation that allow the reader to correctly understand a valid interpretation of all Hebrews prophecies related to the Messiah.


NOTES:
[1] From Strong’s Hebrew Concordance, word # 1875, “darish,” to inquire, study, seek after.”
[2] Sion, Avi (2010), “Talmudic Hermeneutics”, in Schumann, Andrew, Logic in religious discourse, Frankfurt, M. [i.e.] Heusenstamm [u.a.]: Ontos-Verl., p. 105, ISBN 978-3-86838-061-3
[3] As described by the Expositional Bible Commentary on Acts 2:25. Both quotations have “at my right hand” and thus are deliberately treated together (cf. v. 33). In addition, both quotations are used in pesher fashion (cf. comments on v. 16), for it is a pesher understanding that evokes the introductory statement “David said about him” and that applies the quotations wholly to Jesus.
[4] From Strong’s Hebrew Concordance word# 1875, “darkish.”
[5] Ibid
[6] Ibid
[7] The Midrash, History, Content, and Purpose of a Major Genre of Jewish Exegetical Texts. kehillatisrael.net See also: “Rabbinic Midrash Methodologies (Exegetical Rules)” http://kehillatisrael.net/docs/learning/txt/m_RabbinicMidrash.html
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid
[10] Ibid
[11] Ibid
[12] Ibid
[13] Ibid
[14] Ibid
[15] Ibid
[16] Ibid
[17] Ibid
[18] Ibid
[19] Ibid
[20] Ibid
[21] Ibid
[22]Ibid
[23] Ambrosius Theodosius Macrobius c. 395-423, Saturnalia, book II, chapter IV:11: “Cum audisset inter pueros quos in Syria Herodes rex Iudaeorum intra bimatum iussit interfici filium quoque eius occisum, ait: Melius est Herodis porcum esse quam filium,”

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