Thursday, April 12, 2007

Abraham and Moses Prefigure Christ

Alice C. Linsley

Christianity develops out of a tradition that was well developed in Abraham's time: the Nilotic expectation of the coming of the Son of God. As God's son, he would rule the universe and his kingdom would never end. The advent of the Son of God would mean deliverance from death and the restoration of Paradise.

Abraham and Moses prefigure the Son of God in many ways. Both were said to be the LORD's friends. For these men salvation was personal and embodied. Their relationship with God was so unlike most people’s that their faith is remembered throughout the Old and New Testaments.

For Jewish Christians living in the first decades, Father Abraham’s faith represented both imputed righteousness and the necessity of faithful works. It depends on who you read. “Abram put his faith in Yahweh and this was credited to him as righteousness.” (Gen. 15:6) For Paul this text proves that righteousness depends on faith, but James cites this text when he argues that faith without works is dead. James writes: “Was not Abraham our father justified by his deed, because he offered his son Isaac on the altar? So you can see that his faith was working together with his deeds; his faith became perfect by what he did. In this way the scripture was fulfilled: Abraham put his faith in God, and this was considered as making him upright; and he received the name ‘friend of God’.” (James 2: 21-23)

For both Paul and James it is clear that to be a son of Abraham meant to have faith like the Father. On the other hand, to be a disciple of Moses required keeping all the Law. For James there seems not to be a conflict here, but Paul sets these up as a dichotomy. For Paul the wife, Sarah, represents imputed righteousness or grace while the bondservant, Hagar, represents the Law. (Gal. 4: 21-31) Paul writes, “There is an allegory here: these women stand for the two covenants.” The Apostle strikes a contrast in order to teach the superiority of the covenant of grace which he understood to be fulfilled in the Person of Jesus Christ. But did all early Jewish Christians think of these figures this way? Isn’t it likely that they also saw similarities between Abraham and Moses that spoke to them of the Person of Jesus Christ?

Abraham and Moses had contact with the rulers of Egypt. They have much in common when it comes to Egypt. Moses married a Kushite wife and Egypt was united for the first time by Kushite rulers.  The Pharaoh desired Sara because she was very beautiful in his eyes.  That likely means that she had a Nilotic skin tone.

Consider these other similarities between Abraham and Moses:

• Both came into Pharaoh’s presence by water: Abraham because of lack of it in Canaan, and Moses as a baby floating in a basket.

• Neither Abraham nor Moses had offspring in Egypt. In terms of progeny, Egypt was not a fertile place for them (as compared to Joseph).

• In Egypt both men’s natural relationships became distorted. Abraham was estranged temporarily from his wife (also his half-sister). Moses was not raised as his parents’ son, but as a prince in Pharaoh’s household.

• Both leaders left Egypt with greater authority and wealth.

• Both were princes yet foreigners among the people.

• Both were blessed and counseled by noblemen priests: Abraham by Melchizedek, and Moses by Jethro (his future father-in-law).

• Both met their wife at wells: Abraham married Keturah in Beersheba (well of Sheba) and Moses met Zipporah, his future wife, at a Midianite well.

Now we remember that Jesus fled to Egypt with his parents and came out of Egypt.
As we consider Abraham and Moses prefigure Christ, we find a pattern. Here are some threads of the pattern:

• The Prophet Hosea tells us that God called His Son out of Egypt. Since both Abraham and Moses were led out of Egypt, this cannot apply to Israel. Were it so, the prophecy would speak of “sons.” Clearly this prophecy speaks of the Son, Jesus Christ.

• Jesus’ is revealed at his Baptism in the Jordan. Instead of the waters parting, the heavens part.

• Jesus had no progeny. (Sorry Dan Brown.)

• On earth, Jesus’ natural relationship with the Father is distorted in that moment when He cries: “Why hast Thou forsaken me?”

• Jesus victorious rose from the grave, Almighty God.

• Jesus was a Prince whose royal lineage was not recognized by his own people. John reminds us that He came into the world but the world did not recognize or “receive” him.

• Jesus was blessed by noblemen sages (priests and prophets?) at His revealing by the Bethlehem star.

• Jesus met his archetypical “bride” in the woman at Jacob’s well. She was the first female evangelist, and according to tradition, Photini and all her children were martyred. Photini means “Illumined One” and she represents the Church, the Bride of Christ.

The revelation of Jesus Christ is seen in the pattern of both Abraham and Moses, and since the pattern is the same, how can we speak of these figures as opposites? The Person of Jesus Christ is foreshadowed throughout the Bible. Nothing in the Scriptures is extraneous to the Person of Jesus Christ. Salvation is an embodied reality and has types which prefigure the fulfillment of the Edenic Promise (Gen. 3:15).

No one was saved under the Law. “Salvation belongs to the Lord” (as it says in Jonah). The Bible points to Jesus as the Heir of God's Kingdom. Paul makes the point that the Law is not extraneous to Jesus Christ, but acts as a schoolmaster to prepare us for Christ and His eternal kingdom.

In posing a dichotomy between Grace and Law, Paul tells us that he is using an allegory, and allegories are to instruct. Paul instructs his readers about the superiority of the Gospel of Jesus Christ by showing that Abraham and Moses prefigure the One who would be their greater, the Son of God who was anticipated by their Horite people.

Related reading: Who Were the Horites?Archaic Rulers, Ascendancy and the Foreshadowing of Christ; Esau in Yoruba Tradition; The Substance of Abraham's Faith


Living the Biblios said...

Fascinating. Love the comparisons. Indeed, Jesus is the revelation anticipated and fulfilled!

Alice C. Linsley said...

Amen! And this comapring shows us that the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well who spoke face to face with Jesus is a type of the Church: the bride of Christ. Lots to be explored there.

St. Luke is said to have painted the first icon of the Virgin Mary. This icon was preserved by the Copts. As you know, Luke's gospel is the only one that records Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan.