It was a time of sectarian violence, of political intrigue and of the loss of Israel’s mission to the world. God had been silent for hundreds of years and no prophets filled the land. The Temple was rebuilt, but the people were conquered, the heroes of the past figments of the imagination. David was dust, Solomon gone, Josiah with his fathers, and Judah’s kingdom a Roman province. Judaism was suffering on the enterprise of Hellenistic philosophers, with Jews adopting it or coming so close as not to know the difference.
But, some began to look inward, and began to see the words of the Prophets speaking of servants and of the son of David as a triumphal King, coming to restore the Kingdom to Israel, to lift off the heavy boot of the oppressor, igniting an age in which Israel would one day become the light of the world to draw all of humanity to God.
Thus, we arrive at Messianic Expectation, the most important field of study in 2nd Temple Judaism – one which all flow from and all flow to in order to better understand the Pharisees, reformed, who wrote much of the New Testament.
As we have discussed above, Resurrection was seen as a type of vindication of the righteous over the sinners. This helps to set the stage of the one who will vindicate. Much cannot be discussed here without the inclusion of Wisdom. In the first chapters of that book, the Righteous Man is given vindication over his enemies during his resurrection. While the chapter 2 through 6 of Wisdom entail a larger study, we will note two passages relevant,
But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them. In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be an affliction, and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace. For though in the sight of men they were punished, their hope is full of immortality. Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good, because God tested them and found them worthy of himself; like gold in the furnace he tried them, and like a sacrificial burnt offering he accepted them. In the time of their visitation they will shine forth, and will run like sparks through the stubble. They will govern nations and rule over peoples, and the Lord will reign over them for ever. Those who trust in him will understand truth, and the faithful will abide with him in love, because grace and mercy are upon his elect, and he watches over his holy ones. (RSV Wisdom 3.1-9)
But the righteous man, though he die early, will be at rest. For old age is not honored for length of time, nor measured by number of years; but understanding is gray hair for men, and a blameless life is ripe old age. There was one who pleased God and was loved by him, and while living among sinners he was taken up. He was caught up lest evil change his understanding or guile deceive his soul. For the fascination of wickedness obscures what is good, and roving desire perverts the innocent mind. Being perfected in a short time, he fulfilled long years; for his soul was pleasing to the Lord, therefore he took him quickly from the midst of wickedness. Yet the peoples saw and did not understand, nor take such a thing to heart, that God’s grace and mercy are with his elect, and he watches over his holy ones. The righteous man who had died will condemn the ungodly who are living, and youth that is quickly perfected will condemn the prolonged old age of the unrighteous man. (RSV Wis. 4.7-17)
In the chapters notes above, the Righteous Man becomes the Righteous (plural) and vice verse. There is in these passages the start of an individual figure which will represent the group. While the group, tormented, will experience vindication, the individual will die at the hands of the sinners, but due to God’s ‘taking him’ early. Then this individual assumes the judgeship of the sinners and in him can be found the hope of the entire community.
Like Wisdom, the PssSol has a line of demarcation drawn between the righteous and the sinners. There are no redeeming qualities of the sinners with no hope of redemption. For the righteous, however, while they have sinned and transgressed against God, they will be redeemed through chastening and then experience vindication, regardless of their current state in life, or the manner of their death.
In the year 63 BC, the small Palestinian kingdom established by Judas Maccabeus, had erupted into a civil war between two brothers who lead two religious sects – the Sadducees and the Pharisees. The Pharisees had been in power controlling the government and the priesthood, but under Roman might, the Sadducees came to power, displacing the Pharisees. When Pompey came to power, he killed over 12,000 Jews, raided the Temple, entered the Holy of Holies, but allowed the worship of the Israelite deity to continue – under the priesthood of the Sadducees. These are the sinners of the Psalms of Solomon, and indeed very likely the book of Wisdom.
Examining Psalms 17, which is very much a reaction to history, we read of the battle with Pompey in religious terms, through the eyes of the Psalmist. In the climax of the alien man (v 13) the pious fled,
And the children of the covenant in the midst of the mingled peoples surpassed them in evil. There was not among them one that performed in the midst of Jerusalem mercy and truth. They that loved the synagogues of the pious fled from them, as sparrows that fly from their nest.
Springs were stopped (that sprang) perennial(ly) out of the deeps, (that ran down) from lofty mountains. For there was none among them that perform righteousness and justice. From the chief of them to the least (of them) all were sinful. The king was a transgressor, and the judge disobedient, and the people (were) in sin. (PssSol 17.15-20 OPE)
They wandered in deserts that their lives might be saved from harm. And precious in the eyes of them that lived abroad was any that escaped alive from them. Over the whole earth were they scattered by lawless (men). For the heavens withheld the rain from dropping upon the earth.
But, in this moment of desperation, the Psalmist writes a plea to God which encompasses the rest of the Psalm (17.21-43). We will examine it apart from Psalm 18, which is a Psalm dedicated to the Messiah rather than about the Messiah.
|21 Behold, O Lord, and raise up to them their king, the son of David, at the time, in the which you choose, O God, that he may reign over Israel your servant.||The phrase, Son of David, figures prominently in the NT, as a signal to Christ’s position as Messiah. A great deal of scholarly work as well as theological is available.|
|22 And gird him with strength, that he may shatter unrighteous rulers. And that he may purge Jerusalem from nations that trample (her) down to destruction.||Cf v30. We should connect both of these passages to Luke 19.41-44 (v22, 30) and Luke 19.45-48 (23) in which Christ comes to Jerusalem in the Visitation, and proceeds to the Temple to rid it of the ‘moneychangers.’|
|23 In the wisdom of righteousness he will thrust out sinners from (the) inheritance, He will destroy the pride of the sinner as a potter’s vessel.|
|24 With a rod of iron he will break in pieces all their substance. He will destroy the godless nations with the word of his mouth.||The phrase ῥάβδῳ σιδηρᾷ is found in four places in the Scriptures, Ps. 2.9 (which is a key Messianic psalm), Rev. 2.27; 12.5; 19.15. Special attention is given to the phrase ‘word of his mouth,’ orλόγῳ στόματος αὐτου . See v36|
|25 At his rebuke nations will flee before him. And he will reprove sinners for the thoughts of their heart.||Cf Luke 1.51; In Mary’s Magnificat, she mentions the arm of God, connected to the Logos, with the same phraseology.|
|26 And he will gather together a holy people, whom he will lead in righteousness. And he will judge the tribes of the people that has been sanctified by the Lord his God.|
|27 And he will not suffer unrighteousness to lodge any more in their midst, nor will there dwell with them any man that knows wickedness. For he will know them, that they are all sons of their God.||Cf John 1.12|
|28 And he will divide them according to their tribes upon the land. And neither sojourner nor alien will sojourn with them any more.|
29 He will judge peoples and nations in the wisdom of his righteousness. Selah.
|30 And he will have the heathen nations to serve him under his yoke. And he will glorify the Lord in (a place) well known (above) all the earth. And he will purge Jerusalem, making it holy as of old,||For yoke, see interpretations on Matthew 11.29-30 which could indicate a set of teachings. In the latter, I am reminded of the story which seems to take a measure of precedence in John’s gospel of the Temple purging. (John 2.14-15)|
|31 so that nations will come from the ends of the earth to see his glory, bringing as gifts her sons who had fainted, and to see the glory of the Lord, with which God hath glorified her.|
|32 And he (shall be) a righteous king, taught of God, over them. And there will be no unrighteousness in his days in their midst, for all will be holy and their king the Lord’s Messiah.||The bold phrase is found in the LXX in three places, Proverbs 2-.8, 29.4, and in Isaiah 32.1. Only later can refer to a Messianic figure; however, the phrase appears in both Philo (Leg All 3.79) and in Josephus (Ant. 1.180) both in connection to Melchisedek. It is not far off from the usage in Hebrews 7.2, in which that author notes that the ancient High Priests name is the King of Righteousness then going to draw out that Christ is a priest after his order. It is worth noting the connection to Psalm 110.4 (Targum)|
|33 For he will not put his trust in horse and rider and bow, nor will he multiply for himself gold and silver for war, nor will he build confidence in a multitude for the day of battle.||In this, I can see quite allusions to the Gospels when Jesus would warn His followers not to tell anyone of His works or deeds (Matthew 16.20) and a strong connection to John 18.36, as well as much of the civil disobedience found in the Passion narratives.|
|34 The Lord himself is his king, the hope of him that is mighty through (his) hope in God. All nations (shall be) in fear before him,|
35 for he will smite the earth with the word of his mouth forever. He will bless the people of the Lord with wisdom and gladness,
36 And he himself (will be) pure from sin, so that he may rule a great people. He will rebuke rulers, and remove sinners by the might of his word.
|The word of the Messiah is referenced several times in this Psalm. Regarding the ‘word of His mouth,’ we can see the connection in v35 and Wis. 18.14-16 in which the All Powerful Word is sent from God’s throne to smite the sinners. Here, the word of power is placed in the mouth of the Messiah. In looking at v24, 35-36, we see a strong connection to Isaiah 11.4; Heb 4.12, Rev. 1.16|
|37 And (relying) upon his God, throughout his days he will not stumble, for God will make him mighty by means of (his) holy spirit, and wise by means of the spirit of understanding, with strength and righteousness.||Cf. Isaiah 11.2-4 and Luke 3.22 in which Christ is given God’s holy Spirit.|
|38 And the blessing of the Lord (will be) with him. He will be strong and will not be weak.|
39 His hope (will be) in the Lord: who then can prevail against him?
|40 (He will be) mighty in his works, and strong in the fear of God. (He will be) shepherding the flock of the Lord faithfully and righteously, and will suffer none among them to stumble in their pasture.||Cf. 1st Peter 2.25, 1st Peter 5.4; Rev 7.17 and in some way Acts 20.28.|
|41 He will lead them all in equality, and there will be no pride among them that any among them should be oppressed.||Cf Matthew 18.1|
|42 This (will be) the majesty of the king of Israel whom God knows. He will raise him up over the house of Israel to correct him.||Cf Hebrews 3.1-6|
|43 His words (shall be) more refined than costly gold, the choicest. In the assemblies he will judge the peoples, the tribes of the sanctified. His words (shall be) like the words of the holy ones in the midst of sanctified peoples.|
It should be noted that the Sadducees did not believe in an afterlife while the Pharisees did.