The Righteous Branch

Many prophecies of the Old Testament concur that the future king of the world—that is, the Messiah, or Christ (the Greek term for Messiah)—will be a descendant of David, the first great king of Israel, who reigned about 1000 B.C. (1 Chron. 17:11-14; Psa. 89; 132; Isa. 9:6-7). Jeremiah called the Messiah a branch of David.

Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth.

Jeremiah 23:5

Similarly, Isaiah spoke of the Messiah as a branch from the root of Jesse, David's father (Isa. 11:1). Later prophets simplified the image and called Him just the Branch (Jer. 33:15; Zech. 3:8; 6:12; Psa. 132:17, where "bud" is the same word as "Branch" in Jer. 23:5).

Even in much older prophecies, there are glimpses of Christ's ancestry. A student of the Messianic prophecies should view them as an unfolding picture, indefinite at first but giving fuller information in each succeeding revelation.

From the Human Race

God first announced Christ soon after Adam and Eve, the parents of the human race, fell into sin. Satan, the angelic prince whose pride had already made him an enemy of God, had taken the form of a serpent and approached Eve, tempting her to eat luscious forbidden fruit, the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. This was the only food that God had denied the man and woman when He placed them in the Garden of Eden. But, at Satan's urging, Eve ate the fruit, then persuaded Adam to eat also. Later, when God sought fellowship with Adam and his wife, He found them in hiding, ashamed of their disobedience. He called them to Himself and immediately pronounced judgment on all three wrongdoers—on Adam, Eve, and Satan. He said to Satan,

And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.

Genesis 3:15

This decree is known as the Protevangelium, which signifies "first announcement of the gospel." The serpent's seed includes all who follow Satan's path of rebellion against God (John 8:44). The woman's seed is denoted "it," but a more precise translation is "he" (1). Thus, the One who would someday come to battle Satan is an individual man. He would be a man born of woman, a member of the human race. He would Himself suffer injury, but He would crush Satan.

The prophecy foresees Christ's death on a cross to deliver us from the curse of sin and death. We will return to the Protevangelium later to draw out an implication of great significance. Here, it is enough to say that the prophecy clearly specifies that Christ would arise from human lineage.

From Abraham

About two thousand years after Adam and Eve fell into sin, God chose a particular man, Abraham, to be the progenitor of Christ.

1 And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.

2 And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.

3 And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him.

4 Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off.

5 And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.

6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together.

7 And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?

8 And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.

9 And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood.

10 And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.

11 And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I.

12 And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.

13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son.

14 And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovah-jireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen.

15 And the angel of the Lord called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time,

16 And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son:

17 That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies;

18 And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.

19 So Abraham returned unto his young men, and they rose up and went together to Beer-sheba; and Abraham dwelt at Beer-sheba.

Genesis 22:1-19

This chapter records that when Abraham was an old man, the Lord commanded him to give his son Isaac as a sacrificial offering (2). Obediently, Abraham took Isaac to the appointed place, a distant mountain, and laid him upon an altar. But before he could plunge a knife into his son's heart, the Lord called out from heaven and ordered him to stop. The Lord in mercy then provided a ram to die instead of Isaac.

As a reward for courageous obedience (v. 16), the Lord declared that Abraham would have an illustrious "seed" (singular masculine in the Hebrew) who would overcome "his" enemies (v. 17) and who would bring great blessing to all nations (v. 18) (3). Thus, the seed of Abraham is evidently one man, like the seed of the woman. But who is he? It must be understood that Abraham's reward was a kind of reciprocity. What Abraham was willing to do out of love for God, God was no less willing to do out of love for Abraham and for the whole world. The phrase, "thy son, thine only son," applied to Isaac no less than three times (vv. 2, 12, 16), is an important clue to the larger significance of Abraham's ordeal. The prophetic message is that just as Abraham gave his son, his only son, to die for God's sake, so also God the Father would give His Son, His only begotten Son (John 3:16), to die for man's sake. The seed who would bless all nations is, therefore, the Son of God. The New Testament teaches that the man who is both Abraham's seed and God's Son is Jesus (Gal. 3:16).

A strong intimation that Abraham's seed would come to die appears in the conversation between Abraham and Isaac as they climbed the mountain. Abraham must have been filled with dread of what he must do, but he was not in despair, for God had promised him that He would raise up a great nation from Isaac. Therefore, Abraham believed that God would not leave Isaac dead, but would restore him to life. When he departed from his servants, he said, "I and the lad will . . . come again to you" (v. 5). The New Testament affirms,

17 By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son,

18 Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called:

19 Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.

Hebrews 11:17-19

Yet, as Isaac walked along with his father, he at first had no glimmer of his father's intentions. He asked, "Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" (v. 7). His father answered, "My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering" (v. 8). Abraham was not expecting God to excuse him from sacrificing his son. He was not foreseeing that God would substitute a ram for Isaac. The lamb that Abraham envisioned was not the same as the ram that would suddenly appear in the thicket. In Hebrew, "lamb" is seh, denoting a very young sheep, whereas "ram" is ayil, specifying a mature, horned male (4). Lest we miss the distinction, the text openly informs us that the ram in the thicket possessed horns (v. 13). What, then, did Abraham mean when he said that God would provide a lamb? The lamb he was thinking of was Isaac. Notice the word order in the Hebrew. "God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son" (5). "My son" is juxtaposed to "offering." Thus, Abraham was indirectly and gently telling Isaac that God wanted the burnt offering to be "my son," Isaac himself.

As they walked along together, his father's meaning must have settled like winter's cold upon Isaac's heart. Yet when they came at last to the place of sacrifice, Isaac submitted willingly. He probably could have resisted. His ability to carry the wood for his father indicates that he was well grown. Also, he was bearing the heavier load, so perhaps he was the stronger of the two. No doubt he willingly lay on the altar because he shared his father's confidence that God would soon raise him from the dead.

When Abraham declared that God would provide a lamb, he was speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the meaning of the utterance transcended his own thoughts. He was referring to his own son. Yet the Holy Spirit was referring to Christ. The utterance pointed to Christ as the Lamb who would come to die for the sins of the world.

After he had offered the ram upon the altar, Abraham realized that the incident was prophetic. He called the place of sacrifice Jehovah-jireh, which means, literally, "Jehovah sees" (v. 14) (6). The writer, probably Moses, connects this name with a common saying in his day, "In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen" (v. 14). Actually, the word for "seen" here is the very word incorporated in the name Jehovah-jireh and translated "provide" in Abraham's earlier promise, "God will provide himself a lamb" (7). Another way to translate Jehovah-jireh is, "God will provide." The name must refer to the lamb that God would someday provide as a burnt offering. Since, after mentioning this provision (v. 14), the text immediately focuses on the seed who would bless all nations (vv. 16-18), the provision and the seed are unmistakably the same person. Abraham's seed would be the Lamb, and the Lamb would bless all nations through His sacrificial death.

The prophecy that "it [the lamb] shall be seen" was fulfilled when Christ hung on a cross. No death is more of a public spectacle than crucifixion. Christ was seen by the religious leaders of His day, by many of His own followers, by jeering masses, and, in the eye of imagination, by everyone down through history who has read the vivid accounts of His last hours.

The Land of Moriah

The writer of Genesis 22 states that the mountain of sacrifice was located in "the land of Moriah" (v. 2). A mountain by the same name, in Jerusalem, was the site of Solomon's Temple (2 Chron. 3:1). Thus, some scholars argue that the Genesis account was written more than a thousand years after Abraham to legitimize the Temple then in existence. But if they are correct, why does the writer give the name Moriah to the surrounding territory rather than to the mountain of sacrifice itself, and why does he leave us with only an extremely vague picture of its location?

The name of Mt. Moriah doubtless expresses an ancient belief that this was where Isaac was sacrificed. A tradition linking the Temple site with the events of Genesis 22 was current when Josephus wrote his Antiquities (8). In harmony with this tradition, the mountain of sacrifice was less than three days removed from Beer-sheba (v. 4), about the same distance away as Jerusalem. But perhaps the actual place where Abraham went was the hill later known as Calvary. Calvary, a lower eminence adjacent to Mt. Moriah, was where Jesus was crucified.

From Isaac and Jacob

The Old Testament narrows down Christ's line of descent still more. When speaking to Isaac, Abraham's second son, God said,

And I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give unto thy seed all these countries; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.

Genesis 26:4

God later transferred the same promise—the promise of a special seed from whom all mankind would derive benefit—to Isaac's second son, Jacob.

And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.

Genesis 28:14

From Judah

The Messianic line passed from Jacob to his fourth son, Judah. The first announcement of Judah's place in this exalted heritage came when Jacob gathered his sons to hear his last blessing upon them.

The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.

Genesis 49:10

A clearer translation of "unto him shall the gathering of the peoples be" is, "To him shall be obedience of peoples" (9). The meaning of the obscure word "Shiloh" has been endlessly debated. A similar word in Akkadian suggests that it is a poetic term for "ruler" (10).

We find an explanation for the term in the prophecies of Ezekiel.

25 And thou, profane wicked prince of Israel, whose day is come, when iniquity shall have an end,

26 Thus saith the Lord God; Remove the diadem, and take off the crown: this shall not be the same: exalt him that is low, and abase him that is high.

27 I will overturn, overturn, overturn, it: and it shall be no more, until he come whose right it is; and I will give it him.

Ezekiel 21:25-27

Ezekiel prophesied that the Lord would take the crown from the present king of Israel, a wicked prince, and withhold it from any successor "until he come whose right it is." The prophet is apparently referring to the same ruler foreseen in Genesis 49:10, but instead of using the unusual word "Shiloh," he paraphrases it "he whose right it [the crown] is."

However Genesis 49:10 is translated, the general idea is clear. The kingly line would arise in Judah, and from this line would come a man who has the right to rule all nations. Other Old Testament prophecies refer to that man as the Messiah.

From Jesse and David

The first Israelite king from the house of Judah was David, son of Jesse. When David asked the Lord for permission to build Him a temple, the Lord refused, but rewarded his devotion by making an everlasting covenant with him and his descendants.

And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever.

2 Samuel 7:16

The psalmist's elaboration of this covenant is more explicit.

His seed shall endure for ever, and his throne as the sun before me.

Psalm 89: 36

Unlike similar prophecies, this one is unique in stating that both David's seed and his throne would be perpetual. Later, we will show why the distinction is important.

"His seed [singular]" who would possess an eternal kingdom is Christ (11). The expectation that Christ would descend from the line of David is a recurrent theme in the literature of Old Testament prophecy. As we showed at the outset of this section, several prophets identify the coming Messiah as a branch of King David.


  1. Jay P. Green, Sr., The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew/English, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1983), 1:7.
  2. Although the Lord wished to test Abraham's obedience and to create a picture of future redemption, He intervened to spare Isaac's life. Never again did He require human sacrifice. In the law of Moses, He forbade it (Deut. 18:10).
  3. Green, 1:52; Benjamin Davidson, The Analytical Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon, 2d ed. (London: Samuel Bagster & Sons, 1850; repr., Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House, n.d.), 244.
  4. Gesenius, Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon (repr., Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1979), 37.
  5. Green, 1:51.
  6. Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, The New Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon with an Appendix Containing the Biblical Aramaic (n.p., 1906; repr., Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1979), 907.
  7. H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Genesis, 2 vols. (n.p.: Wartburg Press, 1942; repr., Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1987), 2:626, 631-632.
  8. Josephus Antiquities 1.13.2.
  9. Leupold, 2:1178.
  10. Gerard Van Groningen, Messianic Revelation in the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1990), 175.
  11. Green, 3:1474; Davidson, 243.