The Messiah as the New Moses
Early rabbinic Messianic interpretation merits re-examination. Very much of their interpretation of Messianic prophecy is, allowing for the difference created by the rejection or acceptance of Jesus as Messiah, the same as that of the New Testament and early Church. But in certain features there is a striking difference. There is no positive evidence that Ps. cx was understood Messianically by the rabbis before the second half of the third century A.D. similarly the concept of a suffering Messiah can hardly be traced earlier than the middle of the second century A.D. Because the influence of Hebrew Christian propaganda, which must have been felt for at least two centuries after the resurrection, has been underestimated by most modern scholars, we have failed to realize how impossible it will have been for the rabbis to adopt Christian interpretations of prophecy, unless indeed they had been there all the time. It is insufficiently realized that the Talmudic and midrashic literature before 250 A.D. is far more eclectic than the later literature. By the middle of the third century Hebrew Christianity had lost its dynamic power and was rapidly becoming a sect despised by Jew and Gentile Christian alike. It was therefore possible to allow traditional interpretations of prophetic scripture once again to be taught.
If any think that this is an impossible reconstruction of events, I need point only to the mediaeval Jewish interpretation of Is. liii. By this time Gentile Christianity with its compulsory disputations between clergy and rabbis had become dangerous to the bodies, if not to the convictions of Jews. So we find both Rashi and Ibn Ezra openly acknowledging that the traditional interpretation of Is. liii was Messianic, but they would interpret it of Israel. In other words, expediency had its part to play in rabbinic exegesis.
I am not suggesting that the dominant interpretation of Ps. cx or Is. liii in the first half of the first century A.D. was Messianic, but that we need not look on the interpretation given by our Lord or His apostles as necessarily novel; they will certainly have been held by some, even if only by a few.
In the light of this it is the more remarkable that there seems to be no trace at all of Moses' prophecy of 'a prophet like unto me' being interpreted Messianically in rabbinic literature. In the New Testament it is used almost casually, as though its Messianic meaning would be accepted without cavil (Acts iii. 22, vii. 37); indeed its use by Stephen almost demands the supposition on his part that his hearers would accept it Messianically. This argument is not affected by a denial of the historicity of the early chapters of Acts. Even if we were to reject them, we should still have valuable testimony to Jewish belief in the later 1st century A.D. In addition it is claimed that there are several implicit references to it in the Gospels of a type which could only mean the wide knowledge of the Messianic use of the passage. Schoeps has shown that the conception of Jesus as the new Moses was central to Ebionite Christianity. All this can have only one explanation. If Moses' promise of 'a prophet like me' is never referred to the Messiah in rabbinic literature, if indeed it is seldom referred to at all, then it can mean only that the rabbis saw in the Christian interpretation something so dangerous that every reference to it had to be suppressed, even when the main danger of Christian propaganda had passed.
This is obviously the case. The rabbis never thought through the relationship of the Messiah to the Law. Some believed that in the days of the Messiah certain laws would be abrogated, but the Messiah even then is the keeper of the Law and its enforcer, not its abolisher. But if the Hebrew-Christians were correct in saying that Jesus of Nazareth was not merely the Messiah but also a new Moses, it meant inevitably that a new revelation and the abolishing of the old had become possible.
The position of Moses is virtually unique in the Old Testament. I have already referred to the fact that in Dt. xxxiii. 5 he is called king; though he will have hardly borne the title, he was in fact Israel's first king. This is virtually affirmed by Stephen in Acts vii. 35. In addition he was Israel's first priest. At the solemn conclusion of the Sinaitic covenant he is the priest (Ex. xxiv. 3-8). The twelve young men who kill the sacrificial oxen are merely the representatives of the people, for the sacrifices were normally killed not by the priest, but by the persons bringing the sacrifice. It is Moses who performs the priestly task of manipulating the blood. Equally it is Moses who consecrates Aaron and his sons to their priestly office. It is Moses who finds fault with Aaron when he does not carry out his tasks to the full (Lv. x. 16-20). Most significant of all, it is Moses, not Aaron, who passes on the high-priesthood from Aaron to Eleazar on Mount Hor. In other words, though after the consecration of Aaron Moses did not act as priest, he had only delegated the office.
Finally Moses was the prophet par excellence (Dt. xxxiv. 10), the perfect spokesman and revealer of God. With one exception, whom I shall refer to in a minute, the prophets had no power of enforcing their message. Personally I am not convinced that Dt. xxxiv. 10 forces me to assume that no prophet of the Old Testament revealed the mind and will of God as perfectly as Moses did, or that Nu. xii. 6-8 implies that no later prophet ever enjoyed the communion with God that Moses had or obtained as clear a revelation. But the prophet was prophet. He might be priest as well, but we have no evidence for any one of high standing in the priesthood being a regular prophet. David was prophet as well as king, but it is clear that his prophesying was exceptional. Even as kingship and priesthood were separated so that man should look to the future to the one who should unite them, so prophecy is separated from the other offices that represent God.
There is one exception to this. We normally think of Samuel as prophet, but it is quite clear that it was normal for him to function as priest on occasion, and it may well be regularly. In addition, if we can in any sense look on the judges as kings, as suggested above, then Samuel had probably more claim to the title than any since the days of Joshua. It is in the light of this fact that we can best understand Samuel's reaction to the request that he should appoint a king (1 Sa. viii. 6). It is worth noting too, that it seems to be taken for granted among the people that the only one who can give them a king is Samuel.
Though it does not concern our subject, I do not think it out of place to say that it is one of my convictions that the underestimation of Samuel is one of the major errors of Old Testament scholarship. Though I am far from accepting all their views, I believe that scholars like Edward Robertson and R. Brinker have a far truer understanding of Samuel's position than most. I look on him as in many senses the re-founder of the Israelite nation which explains why he alone has a status comparable to that of Moses.
While there is no doubt that Dt. xviii. 15-19 refers in the first place to the succession of prophets that God would raise up in Israel, yet because they were not like unto Moses, because in a vital respect they missed what he had, I believe that the promise was from the first intended to refer to the coming one, who should perfectly unite in his person every aspect of God's representative. So then the long line of prophets that are the most striking feature of Israel's religion not merely speak of the Messiah, but by their very incompleteness bear witness to the necessity for his coming.
It is to be noted that some at any rate, and I believe correctly, see in the figure of the Servant of Yahweh in Is. xlix. 1-9 the new Moses. Though there are only few exegetes who have seen king, prophet and priest combined in the Servant of Yahweh, yet taking modern exegesis as a whole, it is striking that each of the three offices has been clearly recognized by one or another who has written on the Servant.
Questions for Reflection / Discussion:
Discuss the significance of 2nd / 3rd centruy AD Rabbinic interpretation for understanding Old Testament Messianic prophecy. What do you make of Ellison's description of the influence 'Hebrew Christian propaganda' had on Rabbinic interpretations of Messianic prophecies?
In what way(s) does Moses represent God to His people? How might a Messiah who is 'a prophet like unto' Moses represent God in His kingdom to come?
In what ways is Jesus like Moses? (Think law, liberation, and formation of God's people).
What significance is there in Jesus bringing together the offices of prophet, priest, and king in the way that they had once been joined in Moses?
 Strack-Billerbeck, op. cit., IV, pp. 452 seq.
 Strack-Billerbeck, op. cit., II, pp. 273 seq.; H. H. Rowley, The Servant of the Lord, chapter 2.
 E. Robertson, The Old Testament Problem; R. Brinker, The Influence of Sanctuaries in Early Israel.
 E.g. A. Bentzen, op. cit., p. 51.