Reflections of redemption in Nisan, Part 4

Receiving the King - Nisan 10


We saw in Parts 2 and 3 how Yeshua fulfilled the composite picture portrayed by the Lambs of Nisan. Now we will see how the Passover lamb relates to Yeshua as Israel’s King, in a double fulfillment of Nisan traditions. But first, a look at how other kings foreshadowed the welcome He received in Jerusalem.

The Mishnah began its list of the “four new years” with Nisan 1, “the new year for kings and festivals” (Rosh Hashana 1:1). This custom, the sages taught, set Israel’s kings apart from the kings of other nations, whose reigning years were counted from the Seventh Month, or Tishrei. For God’s people, the king’s rule would always be renewed with Passover in view.

An Earth-Splitting Response

There was unusual joy at the coronation of Solomon: “And they blew the shofar and all the people proclaimed, ‘Long live King Solomon!’ And all the people went up after him, and the people were piping with pipes and rejoiced with great joy, so that the earth was split with their sound.” (1 Kings 1:39-40)  

There was no report of the earth being “split” when David became king. So, even if we take that comment as a metaphor, the crowning of David’s son was considered more glorious than that of David. In fact, David’s own servants blessed the event by saying to him, “May your God make the name of Solomon better than your name, and his throne greater than your throne!” And David himself bowed in reverent agreement (1 Kings 1:47).

But notice that Solomon had initially been rejected as king (1 Kings 1:5-27). The reversal of that near-disaster, thanks to his father’s intervention, may have sharpened the people’s joy. Interestingly, Scripture tells of only one other outburst like this. It was a similar situation, when Jehoash, the sole survivor of David’s royal line after Athaliah’s bloody takeover, was brought out of hiding and crowned (2 Kings 11:12-13). And like Solomon’s experience, it was Jehoash’s adoptive father who restored him to the throne.

These are prophetic pictures of that greater Son of David, whom David himself called “my Lord”. (Ps.110:1) The apostles apply this prophecy repeatedly to Yeshua (Matt.22:44, Mark 12:36, Luke 20:42, Acts 2:34). As rightful King, He also waits patiently until God, His Father, subdues His enemies (Ps.2:7-9). To this we can add what Zechariah foresaw (Zech.14:3-4): When Messiah comes from heaven as YHVH and King, and His feet touch the Mount of Olives, the mountain will greet Him by splitting. Yet here again, Zechariah notes (11:13, 12:10) that His kingship is initially rejected. One of Yeshua’s parables also included this element (Luke 19:11-14).

Nevertheless, when He came to Jerusalem days before His crucifixion, the crowd temporarily acknowledged Him as Israel’s king: “A great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Yeshua was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him” (Jn.12:12-14) in expressions of joy similar to those that greeted Solomon. They cried out: “Hosanna! [Hebrew: Hoshiya-Nah – Save us, please!] Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD – the King of Israel!”

Another gospel records them also calling: “Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that comes in the name of the LORD!” (Mark 11:10) They recognized Him as David’s royal son and may have remembered Solomon’s jubilant coronation.

As it was with Solomon, and as it will be at Messiah’s return, the land around Jerusalem at this time recognized the presence of its rightful King. When some Pharisees objected to the crowd’s acclamation, Yeshua told them, “If these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out.” (Luke 20:40) And later, when Yeshua finished giving His life for us, men were silent and the stones did react – once again “the earth was split” (Matt.27:51).

The Nisan Gospel in Psalm 118

The crowd’s “Hoshiya-Nah” salutation came from a Hallel Psalm associated with Passover and the other Feasts: “O YHVH, do save, we beseech You; O YHVH, we beseech You, do send prosperity! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of YHVH; we have blessed you from the house of YHVH” (Ps.118:25-26). It uses God’s Personal Name four times, twice in a direct appeal – which is likely why the Pharisees were bothered by the crowd applying it to Yeshua. (It wasn’t that they rejected the idea of Messiah as YHVH; on the contrary, they rejected the idea that Messiah could be so completely human as Yeshua was – see Jn.7:27, 10:33.)

As we know, Yeshua prophesied that Jerusalem will not see Him again until she again greets Him in this fashion (Matt.23:39). But the passages in Psalm 118 before and after this famous salutation are also important; they describe how Jerusalem will by then understand the Good News to the Jews.

Before the “Hoshiya-Nah” (v.21-24) is this: “You [YHVH] have become my Salvation. The stone which the builders rejected has become head of the corner [Heb: Rosh Pina]. This was from YHVH; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day YHVH has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” Earlier in this series we saw that the Corner Stone is the “Head” of God’s “New Things” to be honored on Nisan 1. Here the Corner Stone is celebrated as the highest of Israel’s kings, whose reigns are likewise measured by Nisan 1.

Specifically, we see that this “stone” which is “from YHVH” shares the experience of Israel’s first three kings: all were chosen by God but were temporarily rejected. “The stone which the builders rejected” is repeatedly applied to Yeshua being rejected by Israel’s shepherds, in His own words and in the apostles’ teaching (Matt.21:42, Mark 12:10, Luke 20:17, Acts 4:11, 1 Pet.2:4,7).

After the “Hoshiya-Nah” (v.27-28) comes this: “God [El] is YHVH, and He will give us light. Bind a festive sacrifice with cords out to the horns of the altar! You are my God and I will thank You; my God, I will lift You up”. The Hebrew of “and He will give us light is one word, ya’er”: the same verb as in the Aaronic blessing (Num.6:25), where it is usually translated, “May the Lord make His Face shine on you.” Together they tell of God’s Face becoming a visible Light to/for us.

It’s logical to respond to that with: “You are my God and I will thank You…” But the Light and the Thanks are strangely interrupted by a graphic call to “bind a festive sacrifice” to the altar.

Several elements add greatly to the strangeness:

(1) The word translated as “festive sacrifice” – “chag – is used this way in only two other places (Exod.23:18, Exod.34:25), which are repeating the same command. In one verse God refers to “My chag, and in the other it’s chag Ha-Pesach – the Passover lamb. What does this lamb have to do with God’s Light?

(2) The word for “cords” is avotim, which can also mean “thick tree branches” (Exek.19:11, 31:3, 31:14); they were used specifically for restraining prisoners (Judges 15:13, Ps.2:3). Why this word instead of the usual words for “cords” (“hevelim” or “meitarim”)?

(3) God’s sacrifices were never bound to the altar, much less stretched “out to the horns” (the four corners). The Hebrew word’s root, assar, is not merely to “tie” but to “hold captive.” Yet these sacrifices were already slaughtered before being laid on the altar; they didn’t need to be restrained.

(4) Last but not least, the Passover sacrifice was not placed on the altar at all. After its blood was spilled on the altar, it was taken home to be roasted and eaten.

Not surprisingly, the rabbis consider this verse especially difficult to understand.

We, however, can see here a hidden reference to the Cross becoming a sacrificial Altar. Since the word in עד קרנות המזבח can be read as either ad (“out to”) or ed (“witness”), an alternate reading might be: “Bind the Passover Offering on tree beams, a witness of the horns of the Altar.” In other words, the Tree on which Yeshua was bound as God’s Pesach Lamb would testify of the Temple altar, whose horns were anointed with the blood from the sacrifices (Lev.4). Indeed, the ends of the two crossed beams created four “horns” that were stained with the blood from His head, hands and feet.

Yeshua also hinted at this symbolism, using imagery from Psalm 118:27-28:

“And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” [“My God, I will lift you up.”] But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die. [“Bind the Passover Offering on tree beams.”]

The crowd then answered Him, “We have heard out of the Law that the Messiah is to remain forever; and how can You say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this Son of Man?”

So Yeshua said to them, “For a little while longer the Light is among you [“He will give us light.”]; walk while you have the Light…. While you have the Light, believe in the Light, so that you may become sons of Light.” (Jn.12:32-36)

The rabbinic commentary on Psalm 118 is remarkable. Rabbi Akiva said that it was a song given by the Holy Spirit for Israel to sing as they crossed the Red Sea (Nisan 7). Rabbis Yehudah Bar Simon and Shmuel Bar Rav Yitzhak (Amoraim in Israel, 290-320 AD) envisioned this song being dedicated to Messiah: “The prophets have commanded Israel that on the day of their salvation they are to sing this [Psalm] to their savior.”

The Zohar (Shemot 54a) takes that idea further: “There is a reference here [Ps.118:26] to the ‘One who is to come’. Therefore, Israel is to sing this to Him who will come. And God will once more extend His hand to save the remnant of His people. Then they who died through the serpent’s beguiling [Adam’s sin] will arise [from the dead], and they will become the advisors of the Messiah-King.”

The Charge to Receive the Lamb

Only John’s gospel pinpoints the day when Jerusalem celebrated the arrival of her King with the “Hoshiya-Nah”. It was five days before the Passover (John 12:1,12). Since the Pesach was slaughtered on the second half of Nisan 14, this day was Nisan 10 (in Jewish reckoning, partial days are counted as days).

This reminds us of God’s unexplained command that the people were to choose the Pesach lamb on Nisan 10, even though it wouldn’t be sacrificed until Nisan 14:

“Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying: On the tenth of this month they are each one to take a lamb for themselves, according to their fathers’ households, a lamb for each household…. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month; then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel is to slaughter it at twilight.” (Exod.12:3-6)

Among the Messianic hints in this passage is the phrase translated in the NASB, “they are each one to take a lamb for themselves.” The literal Hebrew –ויקחו להם איש שה  – actually says: “and they shall take for themselves a man, a lamb.” The next command translated as, “You shall keep it until the 14th day…,” is really about the Lamb and not us: literally, “And it [or, He] will be a charge entrusted to you until the 14th day….” The rabbis teach that this command was a requirement only for that first Passover, giving it prophetic significance as a unique event. (“The deeds of the fathers are a sign for the children.” – Nachmanides)

Lastly, we see that while each household has its own lamb, all of Israel participates in killing this singular lamb entrusted to their keeping: “the whole assembly” is to slaughter “it” – or “Him” (the Hebrew pronouns are masculine-singular). Even the narrow time window on the 14th for sacrificing both Nisan lambs, the Tamid and the Pesach (between the 6th and 9th hours, confirmed in the Talmud, Pesachim 58a), was met by Yeshua. That detail is considered essential in the gospels (Matt.27:45, Mark 15:33, Luke 23:44, Jn.19:14).

The Charge to Receive the Second Circumcision

A parallel event on Nisan 10 was Israel crossing the Jordan River (Josh.4:19), which split miraculously to open the way into the Promised Land. In the following days before celebrating the first Passover in their inheritance, God commanded Joshua (5:2) to “circumcise the sons of Israel again a second time.” Why “a second time” when Scripture clearly says (v.7) that they hadn’t been circumcised even once?

This is a prophetic picture of the Second Circumcision, that of the heart. In a paradox seldom discussed, God commanded Israel to perform it on themselves (Deut.10:16) and rebuked them for failing to do so (Jer.4:4), yet He knew that He Himself would do it for them in the end (Deut.30:5). Those entering Canaan had been physically delivered from Egypt, but they needed to be delivered from “the reproach of Egypt” (Josh.5:9) before they could claim their inheritance. This was accomplished between Nisan 10 and 14.

In the same way, the Jewish people had their sins covered by physical offerings, but they needed to have their “consciences cleansed from dead works to serve the living God” (Heb.9:14) before they could “receive the promise of the eternal inheritance” (v.15). The provision was made between Nisan 10 and 14. Yeshua arrived in Jerusalem to finish the Father’s plan. He opened the way for the Holy Spirit to perform this spiritual circumcision on both Jews (Rom.2:29) and Gentiles (Col.2:11), so that we might inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Lowliest of Kings

We know Yeshua’s deliberate choice of a donkey and colt as His transportation into the city was to fulfill the promise made to the “daughter of Zion” in Zech.9:9: “Behold, your King will come to you, He is just and saved; lowly and riding on a donkey, and on a colt the foal of a donkey.” This conflicts with another Messianic prophecy, portraying the King coming in the clouds of heaven (Dan.7:13), leading the Talmudic sages to conclude that Messiah’s mode of arrival would depend on Israel’s worthiness to receive Him:

“R. Alexandri said: ‘R. Joshua contrasted two verses: it is written, “And behold, one like the son of man came with the clouds of heaven,” while [elsewhere] it is written, [“Behold, thy king cometh unto thee…] lowly, and riding upon an ass!”  — If they are meritorious, [he will come] with the clouds of heaven; if not, lowly and riding upon an ass.’” (Sanhedrin 89a)

The rabbinic solution is problematic, however, for it implies the unthinkable – that one prophecy or the other will be left unfulfilled. Yeshua resolved the dilemma completely: after fulfilling the Zechariah prophecy, He promised to fulfill the Daniel prophecy when He returns (Matt.24:30).

Besides the Zechariah passage being a widely recognized Messianic sign, its imagery led to the expectation that Messiah will be simultaneously the most exalted and the most humbled of men, just as King David was “lightly esteemed” when he danced before the Ark (2 Sam.6). One rabbinic teaching site used this Scripture to suggest that Messiah Son of David is to be both the “head” and the “feet” of the people:

“This experience [David dancing before the Ark] is the hallmark of the Mashiach. Though he will be the head of the Jewish people, he will also identify completely with the people of lowest stature – the people who are like the heels of the corpus of the nation. For this reason, the Mashiach’s generation is known as the ‘heels of the Mashiach’ – ikveta demesheecha in Aramaic.” (“The Month of Nisan: Head Over Heels,” Gal Einai Institute)

Messiah did demonstrate this character at the Last Supper: “Yeshua, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands,” went down on His knees to perform the chore of a lowly servant in washing His disciples’ feet. He then commanded us to do likewise: “For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.” (Jn.13:3-15) If we follow Him in His example, we are blessed (v.17).

(to be continued…)