There are various Hebrew words in the Old Testament that are translated as branch; zemorah; yowneqeth; kippah; qatsiyr; bane; netser; anaph; qaneh and tsemach. In most respects, the words carry a natural meaning, such as shoots, sprouts, twigs etc. But there is an exception.
The Hebrew word tsemach, translated as “Branch”, is used only five times in the Old Testament and on one of those occasions, Jeremiah 33:15, it is used only as a repetition of Jeremiah 23:5, so that the scriptures in fact, refer to the tsemach Branch only four times; Jeremiah 23:5-6; Zechariah 3:8; Zechariah 6:12-13 and Isaiah 4:2.
It is universally admitted that the Hebrew word used here means “son” in its literal and natural sense and in fact, Jeremiah 23:5 is the verse most quoted by Jews as evidence that the Messiah is to be the Son of David. In fact, each of these four scriptures is understood by Jews to refer to the Messiah and each teaches something of the Christ that has come.
There are four different pictures of Christ shown in the title of “Branch” that the prophetic scriptures of the Old Testament give to Him. In much the same way as a portrait painter might like to immortalise his royal subject by presenting him in a number of different guises – as statesman, family man, in military dress and in ceremonial robes – so the Holy Spirit gives prophetic glimpses of the Son in the Hebrew scriptures that reflect differing images of Him and point to the various ways in which these scriptures are to be fulfilled. These four prophetic images correspond to the differing revelations of Christ given in the four gospels. And just as in the gospels, though one feature of the Lord’s character is brought more prominently to the fore, His twofold nature, human and divine, is always kept in view, so it is also in the prophecies under consideration here.
“Behold, the days come, says Jehovah, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch and He shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In His days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely; and this is His name whereby He shall be called: Jehovah our righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:5-6).
The Branch of David, He is called here, foreshadowing the revelation of Christ in the gospel of Matthew. This gospel was written primarily for the Jews and for that reason, contains many instances of the way in which Christ fulfilled the prophetic scriptures. For that reason, too, the genealogy of Jesus presented in Matthew only goes back to Abraham, the father of faith, to whom God made the promises that were at the heart of the Jewish faith. As is the case with kings anywhere, whose genealogy is traced back to the founder of the dynasty, so too, Matthew traces Jesus, the king of the Jews, back to Abraham, the dynastic founder. The promises given by God to Abraham were renewed to David and it was in David’s line that they were to be fulfilled, so the opening of Matthew’s gospel begins; “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1). Here the claims of Christ are set out unambiguously.
While Jeremiah, in this passage speaks of Christ as the Son of David, thus dwelling more particularly on His human nature, he also declares Him to be God, by applying to Him the divine title of Jehovah, our righteousness. This describes His absolutely necessary function in relation to those who seek salvation in Him; “that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of mine own, even that which is of the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith” (Philippians 3:9). In this respect this righteous Branch of David was also prefigured by Melchisedec, who the writer to the Hebrews describes as King of Righteousness (Hebrews 7:2).
While this prophecy of Jeremiah pointed to the One who was and the One who is, it also points to the One who will be. The scriptures talk of the Son of David as He who will fulfill the everlasting covenant that God made with David; “When your days are fulfilled, and you shall sleep with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, that shall proceed from your inward parts, 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. I will be His father, and He shall be My Son….” (2 Samuel 7:12-14).
This clearly means that Christ will literally reign in Jerusalem over the Jewish nation. The angel Gabriel reinforced the promise to Mary when he said; “He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David” (Luke 1:32).
Now the only throne David had was the one in Jerusalem; not the throne in heaven, or the throne of God’s spiritual kingdom, for neither of these was ever occupied by David or could be inherited by Christ as Son of David. The throne intended therefore, must be that of the kingdom of Israel and the angel Gabriel testified to that, for having said The Lord God shall give Him the throne of His father David, he went on to say, “and He will reign over the House of Jacob forever” (Luke 1:33). The fact that Jesus did not ascend the throne of David is an objection to the Jews against His Messianic claims; but they overlook that while there is one Messiah, there are two comings and that Jesus of Nazareth, in His first coming, fulfilled the prophetic type of Messiah the son of Joseph, the suffering servant. There remains therefore, an aspect of this prophetic picture of the Branch of David that is yet to be fulfilled at His second coming as Messiah the glorious king.
“Hear then Joshua the great priest, you and those near you, those sitting before you, because they are men for a sign; for behold, I am bringing forth My servant the Branch” (Zechariah 3:8).
Zechariah 3 begins with a picture of Joshua, representing the people of God, standing before the altar and ministering to the Lord with Satan standing at his right hand, the traditional position of the prosecutor. We are not told what charge Satan was bringing against God’s people as represented by Joshua, but a clue is given in verse 3; Joshua was clothed in filthy garments, meaning defiled by sin. Isn’t that true of all of God’s people and isn’t this always the charge that Satan makes against us? Not that he hates evil since he is the author of it, but he uses this charge as a pretence against God’s chosen ones so as to accuse God of being unable to justly give sentence in favour of His people and in so doing, justifying the guilty.
But here is the divine reply; behold I will bring forth My Servant the Branch. That is how the righteous God can be both the just and the justifier of all who are chosen of Him in Christ (Romans 3:26).
In this way, Christ is represented to us as the Branch who is Jehovah’s servant prefiguring the revelation of Christ in the gospel of Mark. This gospel is not so much a record of the words of Jesus so much as His acts, hence it follows more minutely than do the others the services of Jehovah’s righteous servant of Whom it was written in the book; I delight to do Thy will O God:” (Psalm 40:8). This is the humble servant of God, of Whom Paul wrote; “who, being in the form of God, did not consider to be the same as God a thing to grasp, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, becoming in the likeness of men; and being found in outward form as a man, humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto the point of death, and the death of a cross” (Philippians 2:6-7).
Consistent with this presentation of Christ as the Servant of Jehovah, Mark presents no genealogy, because a servant requires no such consideration, being judged by His works alone. But while He is styled “servant” by Zechariah, it is the Branch who is introduced in that way and by this title we recognise not only the son of David, but the Son of God.
“Thus speaks Jehovah of hosts, saying, Behold, the man whose name is the Branch: and He shall grow up out of His place; and He shall build the temple of Jehovah; even He shall build the temple of Jehovah; and He shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon His throne; and He shall be a priest upon His throne; and the counsel of peace shall be between them both” (Zechariah 6:12-13).
“The man whose name is the Branch” is the picture of Christ revealed here. This parallels the revelation of Christ in the gospel of Luke as the Son of man, which means man, as man was meant to be. He is not only the representative man, but the true man, the second Adam, undertaking that in which the first Adam had failed and in which work He is the Saviour of all mankind. This gospel is universal in its application, ignoring race and class and appealing to all the children of Adam, to all of the “seed of the woman”, presenting Christ as both “A light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel” (Luke 2:32). It is particularly significant that this gospel was entrusted to a gentile rather than a Jew and also that Luke traces the genealogy of Jesus all the way back to Adam, the father of all mankind, all of whom are included in the redemptive plan, both Jew and gentile.
Zechariah calls us to see the man, but goes on to tell us that this Man shall not only rule and be Counsellor of peace but that He shall be priest upon His throne, thus combining in Himself two functions, priest and king, which belonged not only to two different persons but to two utterly distinct tribes. Man He might be, but also God in Zechariah’s prophecy.
If His divine nature could impart infinite value to the Blood that He shed for us, it was only as a man that He could shed it and it was only as a man that He could render perfect obedience to the Father for us and by His being perfected in obedience and suffering and death redeem us from the curse of the law by being a curse for us (Galatians 3:13). His task was to reveal the Father to His people and to teach them of His ways. Now, although as the Son of God alone could He know God perfectly – “for no man knows the Father save the Son (Luke 10:22) – yet only as the Son of man could He communicate that knowledge to the children of men. Not only that, but how else could He be an effective Advocate and Mediator in putting man’s case before the Father? “Wherefore it behoved Him in all things to be made like unto His brethren, that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17).
“In that day shall the Branch of Jehovah be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be excellent and comely for them that are escaped of Israel” (Isaiah 4:2).
This is Christ as the divine Son, “the Branch of Jehovah”, prefiguring the One who was to be more fully revealed in the gospel of John. His genealogy is not, as in Matthew, traced back to Abraham, because He could say of Himself; “Before Abraham was born, I am” (John 8:58). Nor was it, as in Luke, traced back to Adam because John reveals here Jesus not as the Son of Adam, but as the Son of God in Whose image Adam was created. So His pedigree is set forth by John throughout His gospel as, for example; “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). John reveals that although He became flesh and dwelt among us He was none other than the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. He was the One of Whose birthplace Micah wrote; “Beth-lehem Ephrathah, which art little to be among the thousands of Judah, out of thee shall one come forth unto Me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2). Here then, is the Branch of Jehovah, beautiful and glorious, whose divine fruit has satisfied the hungry and quenched the thirst of generations since.
While Isaiah emphasizes the divinity of Christ in this prophecy of Isaiah 4, describing Him as the Branch (Son) of Jehovah, he doesn’t neglect his humanity, declaring that He will be the fruit of the earth; that is, human. While he points to Christ, the beautiful and glorious, the fruit of the land, the passage also contains a promise of Israel’s restoration and favour; Isaiah goes on to write; And it shall come to pass, that he that is left in Zion, and he that remains in Jerusalem, shall be called holy, even every one that is written among the living in Jerusalem; when the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof, by the spirit of justice, and by the spirit of burning. (Isaiah 4:3-4).
Clearly, these events have yet to occur, although the pre-requisite of the gathering of Israel in its national restoration to Palestine has already taken place. Ezekiel prophesied thus; “For I will take you from among the nations, and gather you out of all the countries, and will bring you into your own land. And I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep mine ordinances, and do them. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God” (Ezekiel 36:24-28).
The gathering has been accomplished; the justification and sanctification remain to a time not far in the future.