Throughout my Christian life, the way God has communicated special truths to me is through my mind in the first thoughts of the day. This morning He led me to understand why He named His son “Joshua,” which is the direct English translation of the Hebrew “Yeshua” (or Yehoshua). In contrast, “Jesus” is the indirect English translation of the Latin “Iesus,” which is in turn a translation from “Iesous,” which is the Greek version of Yeshua. While all these names identify Yeshua as Messiah (Christ) the persistent preference for “Jesus” over “Joshua” in English-language Bibles has enormous ramifications that are related to what I have called “The Most Important Forgotten Truth of Christianity:” the ancient separation and still-future reunification of the two Hebrew houses.
The path to understanding this revelation begins in Matthew 1:18-25 with God’s intervention in the naming of His Son. An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to embrace Mary as your wife, for the One conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a Son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus [Joshua], because He will save His people from their sins. All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet [in Isaiah 7]: ‘Behold, the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call Him Immanuel” (which means, ‘God with us’).”
How mysterious that the angel would cite Isaiah’s prophecy that the child would be called “Immanuel” to explain the command to name Him “Joshua,” instead. The names Yeshua (deliverer) and Immanuel are NOT synonymous, but are instead descriptive of different aspects of His role and purpose. In my experience with the Bible, this is a giant “TAKE NOTICE” sign. Some are tempted to dismiss the sign by trying to distinguish “called” from “named,” but that doesn’t work because ALL Hebrew names are intended to be descriptive of traits and/or roles.
So why the special designation “Yeshua?” As usual context is critical. Isaiah 7 recounts God’s deployment of the Prophet Isaiah to King Ahaz of Judah to tell him not to fear the military alliance of Israel and Syria which has marched against him. The chapter’s dominant theme is the shocking treachery of the House and Kingdom of Israel in joining with a heathen nation against the House and Kingdom of Judah.
In the 2 Kings 16:5-6 summary of this incident we find the very first use of the term “Jew” in the Bible (short for Judean): “Then Rezin king of Syria and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel came up to Jerusalem to war: and they besieged Ahaz, but could not overcome him. At that time Rezin king of Syria recovered Elath to Syria, and drove the Jews from Elath: and the Syrians came to Elath, and dwelt there unto this day.”
Compare to Isaiah 7:1-2 “Now it came to pass in the days of Ahaz…king of Judah, that Rezin king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, went up to Jerusalem to make war against it, but could not prevail against it. And it was told to the house of David [led by Ahaz], saying, ‘Syria’s forces are deployed in Ephraim.’ So his heart and the heart of his people were moved as the trees of the woods are moved with the wind.”
Note that the Isaiah version emphasizes the two Hebrew houses: the “house of David” (a Judean) represents Judah while Ephraim represents Israel (Jeremiah 31:9). Now look at the immediate context of the Immanuel prophecy in Isaiah 7:13-17 “Hear now, O house of David!…the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel…The Lord will bring the king of Assyria upon you and your people and your father’s house—days that have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah.”
When did “Ephraim depart from Judah?” When God split King David’s united kingdom in two parts because of the sins of his son Solomon. Jeroboam the Ephraimite led ten of the twelve Hebrew tribes in secession from Judah’s rule, creating the Kingdom of Israel, while Solomon’s son Rehoboam kept two tribes Judah and Benjamin, preserving the Kingdom of Judah .
Isaiah 7 was prophesying the then-imminent conquest of the Kingdom of Israel by Assyria, which was the consequence of Israel’s grave rebellion against God under Ahab and Jezebel. For that sin, God “divorced” Israel (but not Judah) and banished Israel from His presence. But He also promised she would one day be restored to Him as a wife. That story is told in the Book of Hosea (in allegory form), Jeremiah 3, Ezekiel 37, and is summarized in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (in which the older son is Judah and the younger is Israel).
The key to the story is that under God’s law, a divorced wife cannot remarry her husband, but if the husband dies, she is free to re-marry. Enter “Jesus” Christ, whose mission was “to seek and to save that which was lost” (i.e. the “lost sheep of the House of Israel”) – upon whose death and resurrection everyone believing in Him becomes the “Bride of Christ” awaiting the still-future “Wedding Feast of the Lamb” when they will be (re)married to God. Israel (but not Judah) became defined by Christianity.
How does the name Yeshua, or Joshua, enter into this equation? Joshua the Ephraimite, disciple and successor of Moses, is the first biblical use of this name. Joshua was the first Commander of the independent but united twelve tribes in the Holy Land, who established and presided over the first home of the Ark of the Covenant, in Shiloh, in the territory of Ephraim. Joshua was the first political head and first prophet of the Hebrews there, who “saved his people from their sins” (Joshua 5:2-9, 24:14-27).
Joshua was an Ephraimite precursor and prototype of the later united Davidic Monarchy, and in many ways Joshua was the better man. His leadership system was chosen by God while David’s monarchy was a system chosen by the Hebrews in rejection of God (1 Samuel 8:7). Under Joshua, the religious system was centered on God’s tabernacle in Shiloh, while David’s religious system centered on a Jerusalem Temple which God did not ask for (2 Samuel 7:4-7).
Jumping to the New Testament, Joshua/Yeshua/Jesus the Christ was the “son” of the Judean Joseph and the Levite Mary (Luke 1:5, 35-36) named for the most important Ephraimite in Hebrew history. His earthly ministry began exclusively to the House of Israel, and then quickly expanded to the House of Judah and “all the nations of the earth.” And during His ministry he cited Isaiah more than any other prophet. Joshua the Christ IS the child conceived by the virgin in the Isaiah 7 prophecy, and He IS the deliverer who both restores Israel and will reunite the two Hebrew houses. By calling Him Jesus instead of Joshua, all those important facts are obscured.
Perhaps the best solution is just to drop the English, Greek and Latin variants and stick with His actual Hebrew name, Yeshua.
How many other deep Bible truths are we missing by thinking like Romans instead of Hebrews?
Pastor Scott Lively is the founder of First Century Bible Church which studies the Scripture from the Hebrew cultural perspective of the Apostles and the Prophets. For more information on the theme of this article, read Pastor Scott’s book The Prodigal Son Prophecy on this website.