The Orthodox Pages



15th November 2007





















































































































































ast week we finished with Abraham and the Sacrifice of Isaac. Continuing from there we begin this week with Isaac and his descendants. There isn’t much to say about Isaac. The Bible tells us how Abraham sent his servant to choose a wife for Isaac from his brother’s family and how God revealed to the servant that Rebecca should be Isaac’s wife. Rebecca and Isaac had twins - Esau and Jacob. Esau was born first so he was the rightful inheritor of all that Isaac had. The twins were completely different in character; Esau was the outdoor type who loved hunting and was his father’s favourite while Jacob was content to stay at home and cook and was his mother’s favourite. One day Esau came home fainting from hunger and pleaded with Jacob to give him something to eat. Jacob took this opportunity to sell his food in exchange for Esau’s birthright. Esau thought that if he didn’t eat something he would die and then what would his birthright profit him so he agreed and gave away his birthright for a bowl of lentils. When Isaac their father was very old and almost blind, he asked Esau to go hunting and bring him some savoury game to eat and after that he would bless him. Rebecca heard what Isaac told Esau and while he was out hunting, she prepared the meat from the livestock and told Jacob to take it to his father and pretend that he was Esau so that he instead would receive the blessing, and so for the second time he tricked Esau out of his birthright and became the inheritor of the Messianic promise.
Isaac sent Jacob to find himself a wife from his Mother’s Brother’s family. On his journey he stopped at a certain place to sleep and fell into a dream. He saw a ladder reaching from the earth to heaven and angels ascending and descending on it. Standing above the ladder was the Lord who made his covenant with Jacob telling him that his seed would spread throughout the earth and that from his seed all the families of the earth would be blessed. On waking he set up a pillar on the spot where he slept saying that there was the house of God and the gate to heaven and called the place Bethel which means the house of God. Jacob’s ladder is a foreshadowing of the Mother of God. She became the ladder joining earth to heaven by which God descended and became man and through whom all the earth is blessed. The story continues how he came to his uncle Laban’s household and there met Rachel who he fell in love with. He told Laban that he would work for him without wages for seven years and then he was to give his younger daughter to him as a wife. Laban agreed and after the seven years were up, Jacob asked for Rachel. A wedding took place, but Jacob couldn’t see who the bride was, as she was probably covered from head to toe in veils. In the morning he saw that he had been deceived and the bride next to him was Leah, Rachael’s older sister. He was told by Laban that it was not their custom to marry the younger daughter before the older, but he could also have Rachel if he worked for him another seven years. So Jacob married Rachel also and worked another seven years.
Leah gave Jacob the sons Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun and a daughter called Dinah. Rachel was barren so she gave her maid Bilhah to Jacob so that she could have children through her. Remember we saw this surrogate arrangement with Sarah, Abraham’s wife when she was also barren. It was accepted that as the maid belonged to the wife then any offspring also belonged to the wife. Bilhah gave Jacob the sons Dan and Naphtali. Then Leah gave her maid Zilpah to Jacob and bore the sons Gad, and Asher. Then as it says in scriptural language, “God remembered Rachel, and God hearkened to her, and opened her womb and she gave birth to Joseph. Now after working for Laban for 20 years, Jacob decided to leave his father in law’s house and return to his own land. He set off with his entire household to return but was afraid off meeting his brother Esau. They had been as enemies ever since Jacob deceived him of his birthright. When Esau heard that Jacob was returning he set off with 400 men to meet him. Jacob thought that he was coming to wage war so he divided his household into two and sent them in different directions so that if Esau killed the one party the other would escape. That night Jacob was by himself and he had a vision that he was wrestling with a man which continued until dawn. At daybreak the man asked him to let him go, but Jacob wouldn’t let go until the other blessed him. The other man was God and told him that from that moment on his name would no longer be Jacob but Israel. And that is how the nation of Israel received its name and the 12 sons of Jacob are the 12 tribes of Israel. When Esau saw Jacob, he ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept. He wasn’t coming for war but to welcome his twin brother who he hadn’t seen for more than 20 years.
Rachel again fell pregnant, but she had a difficult labour and died giving birth. The child lived and was called Benjamin. Rachael was buried in a place called Bethlehem. Of course you all know the place Bethlehem because that was where Jesus was born. In the Gospel according to Matthew we read in the second chapter that deals with Christ’s nativity a quote from a prophecy by the prophet Micah: “And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.” (Matth. 2: 6) Matthew doesn’t quote the prophecy word for word but just refers to it in general because it was well known among the Jews. The Septuagint version of the Book of Micah reads: “And thou, Bethlehem, house of Ephratha, art few in number, to be reckoned among the thousands of Juda, yet out of thee shall one come forth to me, to be a ruler of Israel, and his goings forth were from the beginning even from eternity.” (Micah 5:2) This is a very important prophecy because it mentions that Christ existed before his birth: “his goings forth were from the beginning even from eternity.” Further down after the slaughter of the innocent children by Herod, Matthew quotes another prophecy; this time from the Prophet Jeremiah: “Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.” (Matth. 2: 17-18). Rama means a high place and was a hill on the outskirts of Bethlehem. The prophecy mentions Rachel weeping for her children and presents her as a mother representing all the mothers who wept and mourned for their children because Bethlehem was given to Benjamin, the youngest son of Israel and Rachael was his mother who was also buried on that high place in Bethlehem.
Now let us see the most touching and emotional story of the Old Testament: the story of Jacob’s favourite son Joseph. I used to read this story as a young child from the children’s picture Bible and would always end up with tears in my eyes. Even today when I read it I still swell up inside ready to burst into tears. The Church reads the story of Joseph during the services of the last week of Lent and Holy Week because his life, his sufferings, his innocence and sinless life are an image and type of Christ. Holy Monday is also dedicated to Righteous Joseph the All-Good as the Church refers to him (Ιωσήφ του Παγκάλου).
Jacob loved Joseph more than all his other sons because as it says “he was the son of his old age” but also because he was Rachel’s firstborn and he always loved Rachael from the first time he saw her. Jacob showed his favouritism towards Joseph and made him a coat of many colours. This made his brothers hate him and were always hostile to him. As already said Joseph is an image and type of Christ. Their two lives have many common elements. One of these is the fact that they were both hated by their brethren: Joseph by his blood brothers and Jesus by his brethren the Jews. One day he told them a dream that he had, which with interpretation said that he would reign over them and that they would bow down to him. He should have kept quiet because now they hated him even more. One day Jacob sent Joseph to find his brothers who were out tending to the flock. When they saw him afar off, some of them conspired against him to slay him. Reuben the eldest heard what they were planning to do and persuaded them not to shed blood, but rather just cast him into a pit. He planned to help him out afterwards and deliver him to his father. When Joseph came they stripped him of his coat of many colours and cast him into an empty pit. A little later they saw a company of Ishmaelites on their way to Egypt and Judah suggested to sell Joseph rather than kill their own brother. So Joseph was sold for 20 pieces of silver. Again another similarity with Jesus who was betrayed for thirty pieces of silver. Reuben was not with the others when they sold him and returned to the pit to help him out. When he saw that he wasn’t there, he returned to his brethren, and said, Joseph is not there where can I go? In other words, how could he return to his father without Joseph? He was the eldest and therefore responsible for Joseph’s wellbeing. The brothers decided to kill a goat and dip Joseph’s coat in the blood. They took the coat to their father telling him that they had found it. Jacob recognized the coat and said that an evil beast hath devoured him. Joseph is without doubt rent in pieces. Thus Jacob wept and mourned for his beloved son.
So Joseph now in Egypt was bought by an officer of Pharaoh named Potiphar. Potiphar saw that Joseph was a righteous person and that God blessed everything he did so he made him overseer over his house. Alas the devil had to stir up his trouble. Potiphar’s wife took a fancy to Joseph and wanted him to sleep with her. Joseph of course refused but she continued to tempt him. One day when they were alone she came and caught him by his garment, but Joseph left his garment and run away naked. She felt insulted that Joseph rejected her advances that she accused him of trying to rape her and Potiphar had him cast into prison. He accepted his sentence without opening his mouth to defend himself. Again here we see a similarity with Christ who was also falsely accused and kept silent. On Holy Monday we sing a hymn which compares Potiphar’s wife as a second Eve: “The Serpent found a second Eve in the Egyptian woman, and with words of flattery he sought to make Joseph fall. But, leaving his garment behind him, Joseph fled from evil; and like the first man before his disobedience, though naked he was not ashamed. At his prayers, O Christ, have mercy upon us.” (Glory of Mattins)
In prison Joseph found favour with the prison guard and was put in charge of all the other prisoners. Time passed and Pharaoh’s butler and chief baker were cast into prison in the same place where Joseph was. One day they both had a dream and Joseph interpreted the dreams saying that in three days the butler would be restored to his position but the baker would be hanged. And so it was that the butler was reinstated but forgot about Joseph in prison.
After two years Pharaoh had a dream and then another dream and all the wise men in Egypt couldn’t interpret their meaning. The butler then remembered how Joseph interpreted his dream and that everything he said came to pass. Pharaoh sent for Joseph and told him the dreams. Joseph interpreted the dreams and told Pharaoh that there would be seven years of good harvest which would then be followed by seven years of famine. He then advised Pharaoh to set someone trustworthy to collect, from all over the land, a fifth of all the grain to be saved for the years of famine. Pharaoh decided that there was no one more trustworthy than Joseph so he set him over all the people and only Pharaoh himself would be above him. Joseph received glory for his patience, he suffered and withstood everything that came his way, trusting in God and not losing hope. Now his suffering was rewarded and he was raised to such a position that people now bowed down to him. His time in prison is symbolic of Christ’s death and his newfound glory symbolic of Christ’s resurrection.
Joseph was given wealth and a wife called Asenath who bore him two sons Manasseh and Ephraim. He began his mission to gather the food together from the seven prosperous years. After this the famine came and all the lands of the Middle East suffered greatly. Jacob, his father, heard that there was corn in Egypt and sent all his sons except Benjamin the youngest to buy some. Benjamin was the only son he had left from Rachel after losing Joseph. When Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt, they came and bowed down before him not recognizing who he was and Joseph remembered the dream he had many years before that his brothers would bow down to him. Not wanting to reveal himself straight away, he accused them of being spies. They denied it and told him that they were 12 brothers, the sons of one man, the youngest was with their father and one other doesn’t exist any more. Joseph insisted that they were spies and the only way to prove their innocence was to keep one of them in prison until they went back home and returned with the youngest brother Benjamin. So Joseph filled their sacks with corn and secretly placed the money they paid for the corn in the sacks together with the corn. On returning, each found his money returned to him and feared at what this could mean. They told their father that they had to return with Benjamin so that the other brother Simeon, who was cast into prison, would be released. Jacob refused: he lost Joseph; he was not going to lose Benjamin also.

But the famine continued and they ran out of corn. Jacob told his sons to go again into Egypt and buy more corn, but his sons reminded him that they would not receive any unless Benjamin went with them. Jacob realized that that was the only way his clan would survive and with reluctance allowed them to take Benjamin, but also insisted they take gifts and double money and also the money they found in the sacks. So they returned to Egypt and again stood before Joseph. He commanded the ruler of his house to take them home and that they were to dine with him at noon. They of course didn’t know the reason why they were taken to Joseph’s house and thought it was to punish them because of the money they previously found in their sacks. The ruler of the house told them not to worry and that he was responsible for the money. He brought out Simeon and gave them water to wash. When Joseph came home they bowed before him and gave him the presents they brought for him. He asked them about their father if he was well and alive and then asked if the person with them was their younger brother Benjamin. At this Joseph couldn’t constrain himself and had to separate himself from them. The Bible text reads: “And Joseph made haste; for his bowels did yearn upon his brother: and he sought where to weep; and he entered into his chamber, and wept there. And he washed his face, and went out, and refrained himself, and said, Set on bread.” So they sat down to eat and after the meal he had their sacks filled with corn and had a silver cup placed in Benjamin’s sack. They left to return home but Joseph sent his steward to accuse them that they had stolen a silver cup. They insisted on their innocence and said that with whomsoever it would be found, let him die, and the rest of us will become the lord’s slaves. So all the sacked were searched and when it came to Benjamin’s sack there it was. They were taken back to Joseph who told them that they could all go, but Benjamin was to be his servant. They tried to explain that they couldn’t return without Benjamin cause that would be the end of their Father Jacob. They pleaded with him to except one of the other brothers instead of Benjamin. Joseph couldn’t constrain himself any longer and wept aloud. He then revealed that he was Joseph their brother whom they sold into Egypt, but told them not to fear or grieve because it was all done with God’s providence so that he could preserve life. In other words he told them that he had forgiven them and held no evil against them. Christ on the Cross said “forgive them for they know not what they do.” Here also they had no idea how their evil deed against Joseph would by God’s providence become their salvation. Joseph was sold for twenty pieces of silver and cast into prison for the good of mankind, Christ was betrayed for thirty pieces of silver and crucified for the good of mankind. Joseph kissed and embraced his brothers and they all wept upon each other.
Joseph explained how God in his providence had made him prosperous and a ruler of Egypt and told them to return to their father, to tell him that he was alive and to bring all of Israel, man and stock to Egypt and he would take care of them because there was still another five years of famine. Pharaoh heard that his brothers had come and ordered that wagons should be sent with them to help carry the women and children. And so it was that Jacob left the land of Canaan with his entire household, which numbered 70 people, and travelled to Egypt to be near his son Joseph who he thought was dead. Pharaoh commanded that they be given the best of the land, in the land of Rameses and that was how Israel came to be in Egypt. Before Jacob died he made Joseph promise that he would not bury him in Egypt but in the land of his fathers, in the cave where Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca and Leah were buried. When He died the Egyptians mourned him for 70 days which reflects how much they loved Joseph and owed him their lives for saving them from the famine. After the 70 days of mourning Joseph set of for Canaan to bury Jacob and all the elders of the land of Egypt went with him to honour the father of their saviour. When Joseph died, he was put in a coffin in Egypt, but before his death he told Israel that one day God would bring them back again to the land of their fathers and that on that day they should take his bones with them. Here with Joseph’s death ends the Book of Genesis and a new chapter begins in the history of the Israelites with the Book of Exodus.
Exodus begins telling us that Joseph died and all his brothers and all that generation. The Children of Israel were fruitful and increased and multiplied abundantly and Egypt was filled with them. Israel had become a force to be reckoned. A new King who didn’t know of Joseph was concerned at the numbers of the Israelites and feared they would become mightier than the Egyptians. He set over them taskmasters and worked them as slaves in the fields and wherever hard work was involved as in making bricks to build cities like Pithom and Raamses. The new Pharaoh made their lives bitter with hard bondage. But the more the Israelites were afflicted, the more they multiplied and grew. Pharaoh then called the Hebrew midwives and told them that when they deliver a boy they must kill it but if a girl to let it live. The midwives, fearing God didn’t obey Pharaoh’s command, but he then ordered his people to cast every male child born into the river. A woman from the house of Levi gave birth to a son and hid him for three months. When she realized that she couldn’t hide him anymore she put him in a basket which she made waterproof and placed it in the river. Pharaoh’s daughter was bathing in the river and saw the basket and the baby inside and realized it was a Hebrew child, but not wanting to kill it decided to adopt the baby as her own son. She named the child Moses and thus he grew up in Pharaoh’s palace as a Prince of Egypt. Moses is probably the most well known of all the Old Testament personages. He is considered the Author of the first five Books of the Old Testament which is verified by Christ who said: “Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust. For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me; for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?” (John 5: 45-47)

The story of Moses was made famous throughout the world in 1956 with the epic movie “The Ten Commandments” starring Charlton Heston as Moses and Yul Brynner as Rameses II. For a 1956 film the visual effects of the parting of the sea were so realistic that it is considered the most miraculous visual effects scene in film history. But I don’t want to stay on the film or on the miracles performed to persuade Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go, but rather on those events that foreshadow the New Testament. So I will assume that you all know the story of how Israel was set free and crossed the Red sea; let’s leave that to one side and go directly to the events that are more important for us to remember as Christians. The first of these is the burning bush. When Moses killed an Egyptian, he left Egypt and settled in the land of Midian where he married Zipporah the daughter of the priest of Midian. One day while he was out tending to the flock he saw a bush that was on fire, but not burning. He went to investigate this strange phenomenon and heard a voice from the bush telling him to take off his shoes because the place he was standing on was holy ground. The voice said to him, “I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” He continues to tell Moses that he must return to Egypt and persuade Pharaoh with words and miracles to let Israel go so that they can return to the land of their fathers, which God had given them. But Moses thought, how was he going to persuade the children of Israel that their God had sent him? Why should they believe him and what if they asked for the name of this God that sent him, what would he say? “And God said to Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.” But what does I AM mean? The Greek ‘Εγώ ειμί ο ων’ is more properly translated “I AM THE BEING.” Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, THE BEING hath sent me. In giving us His name as I AM THAT I AM, or I AM THE BEING, God tells us that He is the ‘ABSOLUTE BEING’ that has no beginning or end, there is no one greater than him. I AM from before creation and ever shall be. I AM the life of all things, I AM THE BEING that sustains all creation. If we look at Icons of Christ we see inscribed on the Cross within the halo the letters ‘O WN’ which form the Greek words meaning ‘THE BEING’, or ‘I AM THAT I AM’, and it is the same name for God which was revealed to Moses from the burning bush. But why do we write this on Icons of Christ? On all icons which show Christ we see two inscriptions, the “I AM” that we have mentioned and “IC XC” which is in abbreviation for the Greek name of Jesus Christ (Ιησούς Χριστός). With the two names of “O WN” and “IC XC”, we testify that Christ is both God and Man. O WN testifies to his divinity, that he was before all creation and ever shall be. And IC XC testifies to his humanity, that he became as one of his creatures – a human being: One person, but two natures Divine and human. The burning bush has another meaning in the Orthodox Church. It prefigures the Virgin’s womb for as the burning bush was not consumed by the fire so also the Virgin’s womb was not consumed when it receive God who is fire as we say in a prayer before receiving Holy Communion: “Behold I draw near to divine Communion, O Creator, let me not be destroyed thereby; for Thou art fire to consume the unworthy. The rather do Thou cleanse me from all that defileth.”
Our next stop must be the Jewish Passover. After God sent every kind of plague upon Pharaoh he still wouldn’t let Israel go but God sent one more plague that made Pharaoh want to see the back of the Israelites. God told Moses to tell the people of Israel to prepare for that last night. Each household was to kill an unblemished lamb and take from the blood and strike it on the two side posts of their doors. The lamb was to be roasted with fire in other words barbequed and was to be eaten on that night with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. They had to eat it quickly and be dressed and ready to go because it’s was the Lord’s Passover. The Passover had two meanings, the first was that that night the Lord passed through the land of Egypt and smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt. As he went, he passed over all the houses that had the blood on the doorposts and the firstborn of the Israelites were saved. The second meaning is the passing over of the Red sea which is a sign of the deliverance from evil, the travelling from death to a new life. The event is celebrated by the Jews even to this day according to the instructions by God that they were to celebrate it and never forget how he delivered Israel from bondage and led them to the land of milk and honey.

The word Passover in Greek is Pascha and in the New Testament it is celebrated with a new meaning. It means the passing over of Christ’s body from death to the Resurrection: The passing over of man from this life of bondage to the devil to the heavenly land of milk and honey; to Paradise. This for us is the New Passover, Pascha or Easter, the feast of all feasts where man is delivered from the evil that had him in bondage until Christ set us free through his death on the cross and his Resurrection. Notice that the Jews had to kill an unblemished lamb and put the blood on the doorposts. For us the unblemished lamb that is sacrificed is Christ himself and his blood is not painted externally on our doorposts but within us who are according to St. Paul the temple of the Holy Spirit. Our mouth is the door of this temple as is expressed in another prayer before Holy Communion: “I am not worthy, Lord and Master, that Thou shouldest come under the roof of my soul; But for that Thou desirest, O Lover of mankind, to dwell in me, I make bold to draw near. Thou biddest me to open the doors that Thou, my Creator, mayest enter in with mercy proper to Thee, and bring light to my darkened mind.”
Now how did Moses divide the Red Sea so that the Israelites passed over to the other side as though on dry land and how did he close again the divided sea after them so that the Egyptians drowned and Israel was delivered from the enemy? It says in the Bible that God told him to lift up his rod and stretch out his hand over the sea. The movement of his hand made a vertical line with the rod. To close the sea again, he held up the rod and made a horizontal line. Thus Israel was saved through the sign of the cross. Through the Cross the waters parted and the people crossed over from death to a new life in the Promised Land. Did not the Cross do the same for us in the New Testament? Did not Christ’s death on the Cross open for us the passage from this life of death to eternal life in Paradise?
After travelling for three days in the wilderness the people were thirsty for water. They came to a place of water called Marah, but the water was bitter and undrinkable. God showed Moses a log of wood and told him to throw it into the water. Miraculously the water became sweet and the people drank of it. Now the miracle was by God and not by some natural or magical power belonging to the wood, but the Church Fathers see in this another foreshadowing of the wood of the cross that sanctifies, blesses and sweetens the bitterness’s we encounter as we journey through our earthly life. After this they came to a refreshing Oasis called Elim where there were twelve wells of water, and seventy palm trees: and they camped by the waters. This again is symbolically seen by the fathers as representing the 12 Apostles and the 70 Apostles.
The next miracle we see on the Israelites journey to reach the Promised Land is the food of quail that covered the camp in the evening, which was for their evening meal, and the manna, the bread that rained down upon them from heaven, which was their morning meal. The word manna in Hebrew literally means, “What is this?”, because when they saw it that is what they said, “What is this.” It looked similar to coriander seed, but white in colour; and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey. It miraculously appeared every morning and sustained the Israelites for forty years until they reached Canaan. It could not be preserved: whatever they collected in the morning had to be eaten on the same day. If they tried to keep some over for the next day it filled with maggots and stank. If they were greedy and collected a lot it was not enough and if they collected less it fulfilled their need.
Now in the Gospel of St. John we read that the Jews wanted a sign from Christ to prove that he was from God. It says: “What sign shewest thou then, that we may see, and believe thee? what dost thou work? Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat. Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. So we see that Christ himself sees in the manna that he sent to the Israelites a foreshadowing of the true bread of life which is his very own flesh.
The Israelites journey to the promise land was not an easy journey. It was full of trials and temptations which God sent upon them to test their faith and worthiness to be called his chosen people. They had the miracles of the plagues he sent to the Egyptians, the parting of the Red Sea, the two columns of cloud and fire which went before them and showed them the way, the bitter waters made sweet, the quail, the daily manna, but still they did not have complete trust in God to deliver them from every occasion. When they were out of water a second time they did not remember all the good things God had bestowed upon them, but murmured against Moses that it would have been better if they had remained in Egypt in spite of all their suffering than die of thirst in the wilderness. Moses cried unto the LORD, saying, What shall I do unto this people? they be almost ready to stone me. God answered him saying: Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. St Paul in his first epistle to the Corinthians, speaking on the things that the Israelites experienced says: “Brethren, I do not want you to be unaware, that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And all were baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; all ate the same spiritual food; And all drank the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted.” 1 Cor. 10: 1-6)
There is still much to say about Moses which we don’t have time to look at in detail and I want to finish with him today so that we can progress to newer things. There are two more events that prefigure the Cross. The first is during their war with the Amaleks. Moses held his hand up forming a cross with his body. As long as his hands were up the Israelites prevailed, when he tired and let down his hands the Amaleks prevailed. To keep winning, Aaron and Hur held up his hands until the battle was fought and they were victorious. The sign of the cross was even in the Old Testament a sign of victory. The second event we find not in Exodus, but in the Book of Numbers. Around the time the people started to complain of not having bread and water and that they were sick of eating the light bread of manna that God sent them, its says that God “sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died. Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD, and against thee; pray unto the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looks upon it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived. The fiery serpent on the pole foreshadows Christ on the cross for he himself used this image to describe his crucifixion. In the Gospel of St. John Christ says: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
The rest of Exodus mainly deals with the receiving of the law. Firstly the Ten commandants followed by hundreds of other laws and ordinances they had to observe which dealt with everything on worship, on sacrifices, on servant’s rights, on how to live with their neighbours, how to receive strangers, on cursing, on what to do if someone’s animal harmed someone else, what punishments were to be applied for stealing various items, for killing premeditated or accidentally, for causing a fire that destroys another’s crops, for trespassing, and many other laws that we have to this day but with different punishments. What is interesting are the ordinances that had to be observed for the garments of the priesthood which was assigned to Aaron and the house of Levi. It goes into so much detail for their preparation using only the finest materials and precious stones as emerald, sapphire, diamond, topaz, onyx, jasper, amethyst and others. We Orthodox priests are often accused of having richly decorated vestments saying that Christ didn’t have such luxuries and riches so why do we fill our churches with the best money can buy. The answer is that if we look at what a priest or monk wears during the day there is nothing fancy or rich in his black cassock. The black garments represents his tomb, a reminder that he must be dead to the passions and sin. This is his personal life, a continual reminder of death, but in public and liturgical life a priest represents Christ the high priest. If God told Moses to pay such meticulous detail to the vestments, vessels and the temple of the Old Testament which were a shadow of that which was to come, doesn’t he expect from us who have received better than the shadow, also to offer, if not better, then at least the same. Yet our offerings are not the same. They may look rich, but our gold is not real gold but plated metal, our stones are not precious but just coloured glass, our materials are rarely of the finest materials but cheap polyesters and cottons. Yet all these can be expensive not because they are expensive materials, but because they are made to order and not mass produced.