What faith Noah had! Our Father had told him, “Make yourself an ark of gopher wood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch. This is how you are to make it: the length of the ark three hundred cubits, its breadth fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. Make a roof for the ark, and finish it to a cubit above; and set the door of the ark in its side; make it with lower, second, and third decks” Gen 6:14–16.
The original Hebrew for “ark” here is tevah. It means saved in water, but can also mean saved by water, or saved from water. In all the Torah there is only one other tevah, the basket made of bulrushes in which Jochebed placed her son Moses to save his life. These two tevot remind Catholics as well of the Barque of Peter, sailing across the centuries giving living water to its crew and passengers.
Noah’s tevah was about four hundred fifty feet in length. Noah had only himself and his three sons to build it, probably from thousands of trees using primitive tools. Such a large effort must have been visible for miles around. We can imagine the corrupted men of Seth’s line and the corrupt men of Cain’s line mocking Noah day after day for building a great boat in the middle of dry land.
The ark was to carry “seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and his mate; and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and his mate” Gen 7:2. Noah knew that big animals prey on one another, and on man, but he had faith that our Father would keep them peaceful during the voyage. “Noah and his sons, Shem and Ham and Japheth, and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons with them entered the ark” Gen 7:13.
Our Father purified the earth with the first pre-figure of baptism. “The flood continued forty days upon the earth; and the waters increased, and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth.… And the waters prevailed so mightily upon the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered; the waters prevailed above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep” Gen 7:17–20.
So vast a torrent of water could not have come from any ordinary rainstorm. “God made the firmament” Gen 1:7. Did our Father send down the waters above the firmament to purify the earth, as water from heaven? We continue to see the firmament mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures as the expanse above the earth, but never again in connection with water Gen 1:14–17, 20; Ps 19:1; 150:1; Sir 43:1; Ezek 1:22–28; 10:1; Dan 12:3.
In this vast torrent of purifying water, our Father had a powerful lesson for us. He began to prepare his children for the mikva, ritual cleansing in water. But the mikva itself was only a preparation for Rabbi Yeshua’s baptism. Rabbi Kefa wrote, “God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” 1 Pet 3:20–21. The Catechism confirms it § 1219 “The Church has seen in Noah’s ark a pre-figuration of salvation by Baptism, for by it ‘a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.’”
And there is more. Rabbi Paul taught us: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” Rom 6:3. The Catechismexplains § 1225 “In his Passover Christ opened to all men the fountain of Baptism. He had already spoken of his Passion, which he was about to suffer in Jerusalem, as a Baptism with which he had to be baptized. The blood and water that flowed from the pierced side of the crucified Jesus are types of Baptism and the Eucharist, the sacraments of new life. From then on, it is possible to be born of water and the Spirit in order to enter the Kingdom of God.”
Rabbi Yeshua told the Pharisees, “You are from below, I am from above” Jn 8:23. Baptism brings us into Rabbi Yeshua’s family. Rabbi Yokhanan ben Zevdi assures us that in baptism we too are born from above. His original Greek was, “dei hymas gennethenai anothen.” Literally, word-by-word, “it-is-necessary you to-be-born from-above.” We are born from above by hydatos kai pneumatos, literally, “water and spirit.” The flood was a clear foreshadow: Baptism consecrates, purifies, and washes away sin.
Our Father taught another lesson: There must be a crucifixion before there can be a resurrection. With all those animals in a tightly shut ark for several months, the stench must have been unbearable. But once he emerged, “Then Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the Lord smelled the pleasing odor, the Lord said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease’” Gen 8:20–22.
God promised Noah, “Never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth” Gen 9:11. Ever since then, when God sends his gentle rains upon the earth to give us water to drink and to irrigate the farmers’ fields, he sometimes adds a rainbow. Every rainbow repeats God’s promise and reminds us: baptism washes away sin.
Our Fatherhad given Adam and Woman only plants to eat, fruits and vegetables, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food” Gen 1:29. With a reservation: “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat” Gen 2:17. But He told Noah and his sons, “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything” Gen 9:3. Again there was a reservation: “Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood” Gen 9:4. At that time the tree of life had only recently been closed. From the beginning he withheld flesh with its blood until, thousands of years later, the Mashiakh would open the tree of life for us Lk 23:43.
Noah’s Seven Simple Laws
The Torah describes Noah as the tzadik, righteous man, of his generation Gen 7:1. Our Father gave him, and his family and their descendants, some simple rules, the seven Noahide laws, that all men should live by. These early commandments were the basis of natural law, binding on all men. Our Father told Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh” Gen 9:12–15.
Every time we see a rainbow, we recall seven simple laws that our Father gave us near the beginning of time: Worship God alone. Do not blaspheme against God. Do not murder. Do not have illicit sexual relations. Do not steal. Do not take flesh from a live animal. Establish courts of justice. Mishna Sanhedrin 56b teaches that all seven of these laws come from one verse: “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden’” Gen 2:16. These are derived through several hermeneutics.
Although divinely revealed and therefore divine law, even societies that did not know Godmight recognize them as natural common sense, and so we also call them natural law. The Catechism explains § 1954: “The natural law is written and engraved in the soul of each and every man, because it is human reason ordaining him to do good and forbidding him to sin.… But this command of human reason would not have the force of law if it were not the voice and interpreter of a higher reason to which our spirit and our freedom must be submitted.”
At the Council of Jerusalem Rabbi Kefa required only this simple body of natural law, as the rabbis taught it, for Gentile Christians: “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity” Acts 15:28–29.
Good And Evil Spread Across the Earth
“Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil” Gen 3:22. The Book of Genesis tells us that Noah’s son Ham “saw the nakedness of his father” Gen 9:22, a Hebrew euphemism for maternal incest: “You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father, which is the nakedness of your mother; she is your mother, you shall not uncover her nakedness” Gen 18:7. Ham had usurped his father’s authority by taking what belonged to his father, as Adam had usurped his Father’s authority. Noah, discovering what Ham had done, cursed Ham’s son Canaan Gen 9:25.
Noah had two good family members. Shem represented the name of the Lord. In Hebrew, shem means “name.” Shem’s son Enosh called upon the name of the Lord Gen 4:26. Noah prophesied, “Blessed by the Lord my God be Shem; and let Canaan be his slave” Gen 9:26. Noah also prophesied, “And let [Japheth] dwell in the tents of Shem” Gen 9:27, a prophecy of God’s Shkhina glory dwelling in the tabernacle tent.
All of Shem’s descendants are called Shemites or Semites, including Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and all the twelve tribes of Israel. Ham’s sons were Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan. Cush became the father of Nimrod, who built a kingdom in Babel, later Babylon, now in Iraq. Its people said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves” Gen 11:4. A tower with its top in the heavens was an echo of Satan’s, “You will be like God” Gen 3:5. The “name for ourselves,” was a “shem for ourselves” a line opposed to Shem’s holy line. They had been one people speaking one language, but because they had tried to “be like God” Gen 3:5, God confused their speech Gen 11:7. Nimrod also went into Assyria and built Nineveh Gen 10:11. Egypt’s line became the Egyptians and the Philistines Gen 10:13; 12:10. Canaan’s line included the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Hivites, and so many other pagan tribes that fought the Israelites in the land of Canaan Gen 10:15; Ex 3:8.
The Eternal Election
God gave Abram the eternal election for himself and his descendants. “Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves’” Gen 12:1–3.
In his command, “Go from your country” Gen 12:1, the original Hebrew for “go” is lekh lekha, move yourself. Our Father could have commanded lekh, go or move. Adding lekhaat the natural level indicates “yours,” that is, with all your people, your herds, all that you own. At the supernatural level it means “yourself,” move yourself, on an interior journey to holiness. They called him ha’ivri, “the Hebrew” Gen 14:13, the one who crossed, from la-avor, to cross, as on a journey. The Hebrew root is avr. The Septuagint translates ha’ivrias ho perátes, the one from beyond. This is what it means to be a Hebrew, one who has crossed over from doing his own will to doing God’s will. “Not my will, but thine, be done” Lk 22:42. God called the Hebrew people on a journey to interior holiness.
The journey to interior holiness is a journey to God. In the eternal election God bound Abram and his descendants, the people Israel, to himself. “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.… For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.… You are my witnesses … and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he” Is 43:1–10.
God told Abram that he would “be a blessing” Gen 12:2. It follows from lekh lekha. We are born God’s image and likeness and we die God’s image and likeness. But on the journey to interior holiness we come closer to our true nature, to who and what we are. This is why we so often experience intense joy when we are closest to God and why sin so often leaves us with a sense of interior discord.
God added, “By you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves” Gen 12:3. All the families of the earth. In these words our Father elected, chose, Abram and all his descendants to witness to him, and to his work in the world. God’s covenant with Abram seeks a world in which all men live as God’s image and likeness Gen 1:26. Abram and his descendants were to be “a light to the nations” Is 42:6.
Shall bless themselves. This Hebrew word v’nivrekhu, from the root brk, is better translated as a passive, “Shall be blessed because of you” Gen 12:3. That is also more consistent with the teaching of Mishna Sanhedrin 4:5 that God created the world for our benefit. Rashi, in his commentary on Genesis 12, also observed that Abram’s journey to interior holiness was for his own benefit, as ours is for us. We set aside the shallow and discordant impulses of our fallen nature to let God fulfill our deepest needs.
“Abram went, as the Lord had told him” Gen 12:4. At that time he was seventy-five years old, a wealthy married man living in Haran. He was not an Israelite, a descendant of Jacob-Israel. He was not a Jew, a descendant of Jacob-Israel’s son Judah. He was a Hebrew, a convert to God’s will. In this Abram foreshadowed Shimeon and Andrewcasting a net into the sea when they heard the Son say, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” Mt 4:19. Neither Abram nor the fishermen knew where the journey would lead, but both followed in faith on an interior journey to holiness.
The Abrahamic Covenant
Then He told Abram, “I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess” Gen 15:7. But Abram still asked, “O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” Gen 15:8. Our Father is so patient. He told Abram, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a she-goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon” Gen 15:9. Then Abram offered a sacrifice. “And he brought him all these, cut them in two, and laid each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two” Gen 15:10. “When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites’” Gen 15:17–21. In Hebrew literature this event is called ha-b’rit bein ha-betarim, “The covenant between the pieces.”
These two promises, that Abram’s descendants would be a great multitude, and that they would inherit the land of Canaan, are inseparable. If there is a great multitude, there must be a land for them to live in. And if there is a land for them, they need a great multitude to conquer its pagan inhabitants.
Our Father, represented by the flaming torch and the smoking firepot, walked side by side with Abram between the larger animals, symbolizing Abram’s willingness, and the willingness of his descendants, to suffer the fate of the animals if they broke the covenant. The JPS Torah Commentary on Genesis states: “The cutting of the animals is thus a form of self-imprecation in which the potential violator invokes their fate upon himself”1 JPS adds, “The principal party, here God, passes between the pieces. He is represented by the smoke and the fire, which are frequent symbols of the Divine Presence.”2 Our Father set the example for us, as Rabbi Yeshua did when he asked John the Baptizer to baptize him, explaining, “Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Abram and his descendants would receive the fate of the animals if they broke this covenant.
Our far-seeing Father described the promised land as “a land flowing with milk and honey” Ex 3:8. This was a metaphor for heaven, but he immediately also described it as “ the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites” Ex 3:8. Abram’s descendants were to have the land flowing with milk and honey if they would clean out the pagans and live as a holy people.
When Abram prostrated himself, as Catholics today prostrate themselves when receiving the Sacrament of Holy Orders, our Father “ordained” Abram by changing his name to Abraham. “No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.” In Hebrew, avram had meant “father of a multitude of nations,” from av, father, r for rav, multitude, and am, nation. But avraham meant “father of a multitude of nations under God.” Jewish tradition says the added Hebrew letter hay represents “under God.” When we speak to av, father, it becomes aba. Rabbi Yeshua addressed his Father as Aba.
Our Father added, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her, and she shall be a mother of nations” Gen 17:15–16. In Hebrew, sarai comes from sar, prince, which gives us saraf, seraph. Sarai had meant “my princess.” Our Father had changed her name to sarah, “princess under God.” The added hay in Sarah’s name also represents “under God.” She was no longer Abraham’s “princess,” but the Hebrew nation’s “princess” under God, who would bear a miraculously conceived son willing to be sacrificed on Mt. Moriah, a foreshadow of Mary of Nazareth, who would also bear a miraculously conceived Son willing to be sacrificed on Mt. Moriah, and later become the Queen of Heaven.
Our Father chose Abraham among all his fallen race, and further explained the covenantbetween them: “I will establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. And I will give to you, and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God” Gen 17:7–8. With these words our Father completed the election of his chosen people as his witnesses.
The covenant included, “Every male among you shall be circumcised” Gen 17:10. Circumcision was an indelible mark on the man’s body, visible to his wife, and to other men in the mikva, the place of purification by water, that identified him as part of the Hebrew covenant. We may speculate that the pain and blood of circumcision were also an atoning sacrifice for Abram’s loss of faith in our Father with Hagar, fulfilled in RabbiYeshua’s Final Sacrifice on the Cross for the loss of Adam’s faith in our Father.
Circumcision, the visible sign of the election, foreshadowed baptism, the indelible mark on a man’s soul, visible only to God, that identifies him as part of the Mashiakh’s new and everlasting covenant. In a sense, baptism is the mikva without the pain and blood which our Redeemer suffered for us.
The Talmud teaches that circumcision is the final step in the creation of a man, that an uncircumcised man is not quite complete, and therefore that God calls us to complete the creation of a man by circumcising him. The Torah says, “Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant” Gen 17:14. The completion was entry into the Hebrew community. In the same way, an unbaptized person is not complete; he has not entered into the Christian community.
Maimonides taught that one purpose of circumcision was to reduce sexual pleasure.3 In the b’rit milah, the covenant of circumcision, a man willingly offered some of his sexual pleasure as a sacrifice to God, much as Catholic priests and religious offer celibacy.
Abram’s journey to holiness foreshadowed all of salvation history. The eternal election was, and remains, “an everlasting covenant” Gen 17:7, “for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” Rom 11:29. This is why Rabbi Yeshua told us, “Salvation is from the Jews” Jn 4:22 and Rabbi Paul explained, “For if you have been cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these natural branches be grafted back into their own olive tree” Rom 11:24.
Isaac as the Lamb
“The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived, and bore Abraham a son” Gen 21:1–2, a foreshadow of, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” Lk 1:35. Our Father told Abraham, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go [lekh lekha] to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering upon one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” Gen 22:2.
Abraham could become the Father’s witness to the Israelite people only if he could sacrifice as the Father would, by giving his only son. The test did not merely require that Abraham gather himself for a momentary act of will. He had to sustain his resolve over the three-day journey Gen 22:4. That three-day trial of faith pre-figured the three-day trial of the shlikhim from the Mashiakh’s crucifixion to his rising from the dead.
Isaac carried the wood for the offering, just as Rabbi Yeshua carried his own Cross to the place of sacrifice. Calvary is one of the hills of Mt. Moriah. Did God lead Abraham and Isaac to Calvary hill? We do not know, but it is certainly possible.
When Isaac asked where is the lamb for a burnt offering, Abraham replied, “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering” Gen 22:8. The original Hebrew is vayomer avraham, Elohim yire-lo haseh leola. Literally, word-by-word, “and-said Abraham, God will-see-to-himself the-lamb for-burnt-offering” The key is yire-lo, see-to-himself, in this context see-to-it-himself.4 More colloquially, God himself will see to it that there is a lamb.
Yireh, “see,” is occasionally used to mean “provide,” in the sense of “God will see to it that they get food.” Since it is a rare use, and since noten, an entirely different Hebrew word meaning “give” or “provide,” is much more common, we will here use the RSV2CEtranslation but understand it by following the ArtScroll Stone Edition of the Tanakh, translating Adonai yireh as “God will be seen” Gen 22:14.
“When they came to the place of which God had told him, 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. Then Abraham put forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son” Gen 22:9–10. Our Father stopped Abraham at the last moment, and said, “Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven” Gen 22:16–17.
“And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son” Gen 22:13. The original Hebrew word for “thicket” was svakh, a dense tangle of branches. Most of the desert plants near Jerusalem have thorns.
St. Ambrose saw all this, and more.
- Whom does the ram represent, if not him of whom it is written, ‘He has raised up a horn for his people’ (Ps 148:14).… Christ: It is He whom Abraham saw in that sacrifice; it was his passion he saw. Thus our Lord himself says of Abraham: “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day; he saw it and was glad” (Jn 8:56). Therefore Scripture says: “Abraham called the name of that place ‘The Lord will provide,’” so that today one can say: the Lord appeared on the mount, that is, he appeared to Abraham revealing his future passion in his body, whereby he redeemed the world; and sharing, at the same time, the nature of his passion when he caused him to see the ram suspended by his horns. The thicket stands for the scaffold of the cross.
Since the ram was caught by its horns, we may see it impaled on a crown of thorns. Horns have long been a Hebrew sign of authority and power. We may see in the sacrificed ram authority and power crowned with thorns.
Abraham’s name for the place of the intended sacrifice, Adonai yireh, “God will be seen,” was an extraordinary prophecy. Our Father would later tell Moses, “You cannot see my face; for man shall not see me and live” Ex 33:20. The gate of paradise was closed. Yet we would see the living Son of God open heaven on the tree of life at Calvary Hill on Mt. Moriah.
Abraham’s intended sacrifice of Isaac was on Mt. Moriah. Moriah comes from the Hebrew moree, “My teacher,” and ya, an abbreviation for Yod-Hay-Vav-Hay. It means, “God is my teacher.” Yeshua the Son of God was called Rabbi, teacher.
Mt. Moriah was in the city of Salem. Melchizedek had named his holy city shalem, completion. The city would later be called Jerusalem. Abraham had named the place of the intended sacrifice yireh, will be seen. Bereshit Rabbah, the midrash on Genesis, tells us that our Father put them together to make the name yiru-shalem, “They will see completion.” In Jerusalem, the Mashiakh would one day complete the revelation that even Moses would receive only in centuries to come.
Isaac And the Old And New Covenants
Abraham had two sons, but only Isaac, the one by a Hebrew woman, could be part of the covenant with Abraham. Our Father told Abraham, “As for Ishmael … I will make him a great nation. But I will establish my covenant with Isaac” Gen 17:20–21. Sarah told Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac” Gen 21:10. Our Father told Abraham, “Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your descendants be named” Gen 21:12. God three times called Isaac, “your only son” Gen 22:2, 12, 16, foreshadowing, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” Jn 3:16. It was on Mount Moriah, where the son of David would build the ancient Temple 2 Chron 3:1, and where the Son of David would become the new and eternal temple Jn 2:21.
When Isaac was forty years old he took Rebekah for his wife. Our Father opened Rebekah’s womb with twins, and told her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples, born of you, shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, and the elder shall serve the younger” Gen 25:23. The children were Esau and Jacob.
When the boys grew into young men, one day Esau was hungry. “Once when Jacob was boiling pottage, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. And Esau said to Jacob, ‘Let me eat some of that red pottage, for I am famished!’” Gen 25:29–30. Esau is often called Edom, a Hebrew word meaning “red” as a sign of the red pottage he traded for his birthright, his line are called Edomites. To this day Israel’s “Red Cross” is called Magen David Adom, Red Shield of David.
Esau sold Jacob his birthright. “Esau said, ‘I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?’ Jacob said, ‘Swear to me first.’ So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentils, and he ate and drank” Gen 25:32–34. They did not tell Isaac, who would have grieved for his beloved son Esau.
Rebekah then set out to deceive Isaac, so that he would bless Jacob instead of Esau. Isaac blessed Jacob, “May God give you of the dew of heaven … be lord over your brothers” Gen 27:28–29. When Isaac discovered the deception he trembled violently. He could not take back the blessing, and so he blessed Esau, “Behold, away from the fatness of the earth shall your dwelling be … and you shall serve your brother … but when you break loose you shall break his yoke from your neck” Gen 27:39–40. Even when we try to live according to God’s law, without Rabbi Yeshua’s grace we so often become entangled in sin.
At the same time, our Father knew that the continuity of salvation history could not pass through Jacob by stealth. Isaac again blessed Jacob, this time intentionally. “God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. May he give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your descendants with you, that you may take possession of the land of your sojournings which God gave to Abraham!” Gen 28:3–4.
Esau wanted to kill Jacob, recalling Lamech of the line of Cain. Esau also knew that Isaac did not want him to marry Canaanite women. Although he already had taken several Canaanite wives and thereby removed his line from the covenant, in a deliberate act of rebellion, Esau went to Ishmael and married his daughter Mahalath Gen 28:9. Yet our loving Father, who did not abandon Ishmael’s line Gen 17:20, also did not abandon Esau’s line. Moses later commanded the people Israel, “You shall not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother; you shall not abhor an Egyptian, because you were a sojourner in his land. The children of the third generation that are born to them may enter the assembly of the Lord” Deut 23:7–8.
Our Father told Jacob, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land … I will give to you and to your descendants … you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south … Behold I am with you and will keep you wherever you go” Gen 28:13–15. The Son would one day tell his shlikhim, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations … teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always” Mt 28:19–20.
Traveling from Beersheba to Haran, Jacob “dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven” Gen 28:12. Awakening, he declared, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” Gen 28:17.
Jacob’s ladder foreshadowed the Tabernacle and the First and Second Temples. Sts. Matthew, Mark and Luke all describe the Temple as the house of God. The Mashiakhhimself would one day call the Temple “my Father’s house” Lk 2:49; Jn 2:16 and also call heaven “my Father’s house” Jn 14:2. But, much more, it foreshadowed Rabbi Yeshua’s Final Sacrifice, which would also occur on Mt. Moriah to open heaven for us Lk 23:43. Rabbi Yeshua’s body became the new and eternal Temple Jn 2:21.
Jacob’s Temporal Punishment
Our Father in heaven could have opened Rebekah’s womb with Jacob, but he allowed Jacob to take the birthright by deception to teach us that, even when our sins are forgiven, we still have to experience temporal punishment and re-balance the moral order through an indulgence.
Isaac had sent Jacob to the land of Aram to marry a daughter of his uncle Laban. There Jacob worked for Laban for seven years to marry the beautiful Rachel. Laban, however, placed the weak-eyed Leah in the darkened marriage tent. Jacob, like Isaac, could not see who he would bless. Once Jacob entered into Leah, consummating the marriage, it was irrevocable.5 In the morning, when Jacob awoke and saw Leah in his bed, we may speculate that he understood Isaac’s consternation at having his irrevocable blessing stolen. Jacob had received the temporal punishment for his deception of Isaac. That became even clearer when Laban explained to Jacob, “It is not so done in our country, to give the younger before the first-born” Gen 29:26. For his indulgence, Jacob had to work for Laban another seven years to get Rachel as well.
Our Father had commanded Abram, “Go from your country,” Gen 12:1 lekh lekha. Now He told Jacob, “Return to the land of your fathers” Gen 31:3. From the Hebrew root shov, return, our Father’s command to Jacob was “shuv to the land of your fathers.” The same root gives us teshuva, repentance, or return to the community of faith.
Jacob Becomes Israel
The Hebrew word yakov, Jacob, meant “supplanter.” Jacob had replaced Esau to receive Isaac’s blessing Gen 27:19–29. His appearance remained unchanged, but his substance, and therefore his name, were transformed. But when Jacob experienced a change of heart, he received a change of life. We remember when Jacob said, “I am not worthy of the least of all the steadfast love and all the faithfulness which thou hast shown to thy servant” Gen 32:10.
Our Father was pleased by Jacob’s humility. That night Jacob wrestled with an angel appearing as a man. “When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and Jacob’s thigh was put out of joint as he wrestled with him” Gen 32:25. The angel told him, “Your name shall no more be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed” Gen 32:28. This name Israel means “struggle with God.” In Hebrew, isra is struggle. El is a short form for God.
Isra-el is the people who struggle to carry out the 613 Torah mitzvot but were never able to keep the covenant. § 578. The struggle is always to rise above our fallen nature toward Rabbi Yeshua in his New and Eternal Covenant.
East of Eden, our Father had imposed a constant striving against pride as spiritual exercise to strengthen his children’s souls. Jacob’s wrestle was a foreshadow that our Father would soon greatly increase his children’s striving against concupiscence by giving them a great body of law with which to wrestle. His limp was a foreshadow that our Father knew his people Israel could not follow it completely but would be spiritually strengthened by striving to follow it, and humbled by falling short.
Later our Father would confirm that the Torah was spiritual exercise. “For thou hast no delight in sacrifice; were I to give a burnt offering, thou wouldst not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” Ps 51:16–17.
Still later, the Mashiakh would raise the spiritual exercise much higher. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you” Mt 5:3–12.
Birth of the Twelve Tribes of Israel
Learning God’s ways can take generations. Eve had gotten a son with the help of the Lord but had emphasized her own role by naming him Cain Gen 4:1. Mothers are the first and primary teachers of their children, so Eve’s emphasis on herself led to raise a sinful son. Sarai made great trouble by giving Abram her servant Hagar Gen 16:3. Rachel and Leah also focused on themselves, which led them to raise sons who would commit a great sin, selling their brother Joseph, who was of the Abrahamic election, as a slave to Ishmaelites who were not of the election Gen 37:28. What a sharp contrast with Mary of Nazareth, the New Eve, who told the archangel Gabriel, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” Lk 1:38. Her Son and his twelve shlikhimwould one day inherit the blessing of the twelve tribes of Israel.
Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah, but our Father loves all his children. “When the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb; but Rachel was barren” Gen 29:31. Now Rachel told Jacob, “Here is my maid Bilhah; go in to her … that I may have children through her” Gen 30:3. Then Leah “took her maid Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife” Gen 30:9. From all of this pride-driven sexual sin came the twelve sons who would one day become patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Ephraim, Manasseh, Benjamin, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher Gen 35:23–25.
That They May Be One
Jacob prayed, “Deliver me, I pray thee, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, lest he come and slay us all” Gen 32:11. “Jacob lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, Esau was coming, and four hundred men with him” Gen 33:1. Jacob was fearful, but our Father showed that he would be merciful if Jacob would pray for help. Near the end of his life, after years of hiding and running, Jacob finally reconciled with Esau. “Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him” Gen 33:4.
Our Mashiakh centuries later would give us one Church, and prayed, “That they may be one, even as we are one” Jn 17:11. We could not keep it one either. But pagan Esau’s return foreshadowed a time when the Mashiakh’s followers would again be one, and even of Rabbi Paul’s prophecy that “all Israel will be saved” Rom 11:26 when God’s prodigal sons come home.
Reuben’s Temporal Punishment
“Reuben went in and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine; and Israel heard of it” Gen 35:22. Now he would experience temporal punishment. Israel declared, “Reuben, you are my first-born, my might, and the first fruits of my strength, pre-eminent in pride and pre-eminent in power” Gen 49:3. Sounds like the man who would get the next great mission. But Israel continued, “You shall not have pre-eminence because you went up to your father’s bed; then you defiled it” Gen 49:4.
God would one day command the people of Israel, “Consecrate to me all the first-born” Ex 13:2. but simply being the “chosen son” would not be enough; he had to be obey his Father in heaven. Our Father had three times passed over a prideful first-born son and blessed his obedient younger brother, taking Abel over Cain, Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, and now Joseph over Reuben, foreshadowing a time when the prideful nation of Israel, which our Father called “my first-born son” Ex 4:22, would be set aside Is 6:9–10 for followers of the Father’s obedient “first-born son” Lk 2:7, Israel’s younger brothers in faith, the New Israel.
God alone knows all the consequences of our sins! When the sons of Israel sold Joseph into slavery they sold their own descendants into slavery as well. If the sons of Israel had treated their brother Joseph as a brother, the family might have remained in Canaan, the land to which our Father had led Abram, the famine prophecy by which our Father brought Joseph up from the dungeon to be second in all Egypt might never have occurred, the famine itself might never have occurred, and the children of Israel might never have settled in Egypt where the “new king over Egypt who did not know Joseph” Ex 1:8 could fear and enslave them. But the new king told his people, “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply” Ex 1:9–10.
The Gemara, Sotah 11a, tells us that Egypt’s oppression of the Israelites took away their dignity. Their task was to build storehouses, whole cities of storehouses, that would collapse before they were completed. In some cases the Egyptians gave them inadequate construction materials, and in others the land was not firm enough to support building. “What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains for ever” Eccles 1:3–4.
But, as always, our loving Father had a larger plan. He made the Israelite people his witnesses to salvation history. To bring good from evil he used their slavery to show that he alone was God, infinitely more powerful than all the Egyptian idols, a necessary preparation for the law he would soon give them.
Our Father taught his children charity. “You shall not oppress a stranger; you know the heart of a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” Ex 23:9. Rabbi Yeshua, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, freely chose to become closer to us in the same way. “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” Heb 4:15. And, “Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant” Phil 2:5–7.
And our Father had a larger purpose. “God created man in his image” Gen 1:27. Our Father was preparing his Israelite people for a time when they would see God’s image and likeness par excellence, his only Son. It began with a grim foreshadow. Pharaoh commanded, “Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live” Ex 1:16. His order to kill all the male Hebrews foreshadowed: “Herod … sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem” Mt 2:16. And it foreshadowed Hitler’s “final solution.”
Moses And Pharaoh
Moses and Pharaoh were a striking contrast. During their confrontation Moses, pre-figuring the true God-man, spoke humbly for our Father: “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go’” Ex 5:1. Rabbi Yeshua said, “I have not spoken on my own authority; the Father who sent me has himself given me commandment what to say and what to speak” Jn 12:49.
Pharaoh, the false god-man, was filled with pride, the original sin. He constantly built monuments to himself, put his own name on his predecessors’ monuments, and even put his name on any building he repaired. The Greek historians called him Ozymandias. The English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) brilliantly depicted him in historical perspective:
“I met a traveler from an antique land who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand, half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown, and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, tell that its sculptor well those passions read which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things the hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed. And on the pedestal these words appear: ‘My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings: Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair!’ Nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare, the lone and level sands stretch far away.”
The Ten Plagues
The Lord said to Moses, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for with a strong hand he will send them out, yea, with a strong hand he will drive them out of his land” Ex 6:1.
The first plague was enough to convince any sensible leader that our Father was prepared to destroy his land if he did not let the Israelites go. But our Father intended to destroy all of the Egyptian gods, especially the idolatry that each pharaoh was a god, in the sight of his people Israel. “On all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments” Ex 12:12. This is why he hardened Pharaoh’s heart. God used every plague to demonstrate his power over the Egyptian “gods.”
Satan always seeks to destroy us, even while pretending friendship. When God brought the first plague upon the Egyptians, one would think the magicians might ask Satan to take it away. But Satan demonstrated his power by adding to the plague. “The magicians of Egypt did the same by their secret arts” Ex 7:22. Human power could not have changed water to blood or produced frogs. Only God or Satan could have done it. God allowed these actions, but did not perform them. The “secret arts” could only have been invocations of Satan.
“Upon their gods also the Lord executed judgments” Num 33:4. These are the ten plagues:
Blood Ex 7:20 The blood humbled Egypt’s Nile River gods. The first plague was the blood that ran in the Nile and then all of Egypt’s water. The duration of this plague, a full week, made it clear that this was not a natural occurrence.
Frogs Ex 8:6 The frogs humbled Ptha, Egypt’s frog-head god of resurrection and fertility.1Our Father’s second plague showed how much faster he could make them reproduce. English translations say, “I will plague all your country with frogs” Ex 8:2, but the original Hebrew is tzfardea, singular, one frog. It started from one frog, but the frogs multiplied so fast that it was obviously a miracle. Our Father’s purpose was clear. Moses told Pharaoh that the frogs had come, “That you may know that there is no one like the Lord our God” Ex 8:10.
Gnats Ex 8:17 The gnats humbled Egypt’s god of insects and earth. In hot Eastern countries such as Egypt gnats naturally embitter life. The Egyptians had made life bitter for the Israelites, and so with this plague our Father filled the air with these very small and insignificant but fierce insects. This time the magicians could not duplicate the plague, and exclaimed, “This is the finger of God” Ex 8:19.
Flies Ex 8:24 The flies humbled Egypt’s gods of flies and beetles. Our Father showed his power by sending many different kinds of flies to chastise the Egyptians, “that you may know that I am the Lord in the midst of the earth” Ex 8:22.
Cattle Ex 9:6 This plague humbled Egypt’s gods of cattle and rams. The Egyptians worshiped useful animals, such as the ox, the cow, and the ram, and built temples for them. Our Father again showed his power by striking down the Egyptians’ cattle.
Boils Ex 9:10 The boils humbled Egypt’s gods of healing and medicine. But this time there was more. The Egyptians had used the furnace to oppress the Israelites. “But the Lord has taken you, and brought you forth out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people of his own possession, as at this day” Deut 4:20. God now used it to chastise the Egyptians. “So they took ashes from the kiln, and stood before Pharaoh, and Moses threw them toward heaven, and it became boils breaking out in sores on man and beast” Ex 9:10.
Hail Ex 9:23 The hail and fire humbled Egypt’s sky god and goddess. In the Egyptian delta rain occasionally falls between January and March. This was around March, just before the Passover. “That you may know that there is none like me in all the earth” Ex 9:14, “There was hail, and fire flashing continually in the midst of the hail” Ex 9:24. Most readers assume that lightning was present in the hailstorm, but Midrash Rabbahsuggests that there was fire inside the hailstones. It is said that God brought the fire and ice, normally opposites, together to show his power.
Locusts Ex 10:13 The locusts humbled Egypt’s agriculture god and goddess. “For they covered the face of the whole land, so that the land was darkened, and they ate all the plants in the land and all the fruit of the trees which the hail had left; not a green thing remained, neither tree nor plant of the field, through all the land of Egypt” Ex 10:15.
Darkness Ex 10:22 The darkness humbled Egypt’s sun god, Ra. This darkness affected only the Egyptians; the Israelites could see. “There was thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days; they did not see one another, nor did any rise from his place for three days; but all the people of Israel had light where they dwelt” Ex 10:22–23. Perhaps the darkness was not on the land but in the eyes of the Egyptians, a faint foreshadow of Shaul ha-Tarsi, who also oppressed God’s chosen people.
Death of the First-Born Ex 12:29–30. Our Father protected the faithful Israelites from his terrible sentence, “All the first-born in the land of Egypt shall die” Ex 11:5. The people he saved were holy. He commanded Moses, “Consecrate to me all the first-born [Hebrew: bekhor]; whatever is first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine” Ex 13:2.
Above all, the Egyptians worshiped Pharaoh as a god. His first-born son was “made divine” in a special ceremony. Our Father completed his destruction of the Egyptian gods by killing Pharaoh’s first-born son. Pharaoh had ordered the death of all Israel’s male children. “When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women, and see them upon the birth stool, if it is a son, you shall kill him; but if it is a daughter, she shall live” Ex 1:16. God returned the punishment. “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get” Mt 7:2. “About midnight I will go forth in the midst of Egypt; and all the first-born in the land of Egypt shall die, from the first-born of Pharaoh who sits upon his throne, even to the first-born of the maidservant who is behind the mill; and all the first-born of the cattle. And there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there has never been, nor ever shall be again. But against any of the people of Israel, either man or beast, not a dog shall growl; that you may know that the Lord makes a distinction between the Egyptians and Israel” Ex 11:4–7.
On that terrifying night the air was filled with the piercing shrieks of mourners. “At midnight the Lord smote all the first-born in the land of Egypt, from the first-born of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the first-born of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the first-born of the cattle. And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where one was not dead” Ex 12:29–30.
Finally, Pharaoh knew. “And he summoned Moses and Aaron by night, and said, “Rise up, go forth from among my people, both you and the people of Israel; and go, serve the Lord, as you have said. Take your flocks and your herds, as you have said, and be gone; and bless me also!” Ex 12:31–32.
But our far-seeing Father used this occasion to teach us all a lesson about pride. He told Moses, “And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host; and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord” Ex 14:4. Pharaoh had seen our Father’s awesome power. His country lay in ruins, all its first-born were dead. He knew. Yet his pride drove him to pursue Israel until his army lay under the Red Sea Ex 14:28.
Israel walked out of Egypt, crossing the Red Sea and onto the desert. Jewish tradition holds that as God’s people Israel migrated across the desert they kept the Tabernacle at the center, with three tribes ahead, three to the north, three to the south, and three to the rear. From the air, the procession must have looked like a Cross moving toward Mt. Sinai.
Soon after the Israelites had eaten the first Passover sacrifice, our Father continued preparing them for the arrival of their Messiah.
“And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as hoarfrost on the ground.… And Moses said to them, ‘It is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat’” Ex 16:14–15. “Now the house of Israel called its name manna; it was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey” Ex 16:31.
He prepared us for the Messiah’s lesson on how to resist temptation, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” Mt 4:4. The Word of God. And the Word Made Flesh. “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh” Jn 6:48–51.
Even after receiving the manna, at Rephidim the Israelites grumbled that there was no water for them to drink. When they complained, Moses cried out, and our Father told him: “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel; and take in your hand the rod with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, that the people may drink” Ex 17:5–6. And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel.” Moses called the place massah (Hebrew: testing) and meribah (Hebrew: quarreling).
Why would God use a rock to give his people water to sustain their lives in the desert? Perhaps as part of their preparation for the living water he would one day offer them through Kefa, the rock Mt 16:18, and his successors? Rabbi Paul affirmed it: “I want you to know, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same supernatural food and all drank the same supernatural drink. For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ” 1 Cor 10:1–4.
Soon afterward, “Then came Amalek and fought with Israel at Rephidim” Ex 17:8 By attacking our Father’s children as he led them out of Egypt to the promised land, Amalek acted as Satan, who attacks us as God leads us on the second exodus from slavery on earth to the promised kingdom of heaven.
Moses sent Joshua to lead Israel against Amalek. As Joshua began the fight, Moses, Aaron and Hur went up to the top of a hill. When Moses held out his hands in the form of a crucified man, Israel prevailed. When Moses lowered his hands, Amalek prevailed. Moses grew weary, so Aaron and Hur took a stone and put it under him so he could sit down. Aaron and Hur held up Moses’ hands, one on each side, so they remained steady in a cruciform position.
Joshua, Yehoshua, a foreshadow of Yeshua who would lead all Israel to the promised land of heaven, “mowed down Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword” Ex 17:13. Yehoshua is pronounced ye-ho-SHU-a, with the accent on the third syllable. The ho, God, is absent from Rabbi Yeshua’s name because He IS. “I and the Father are one” Jn 10:30. But we may understand Yeshua as “God saves” because salvation comes only from God.
When the battle was over, our Father told Moses: “Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven” Ex 17:14. In our time we see Amalek as a figure of Satan. No memory remains of him as a man in history.
Moses proclaimed, “The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation” Ex 17:16. Joshua led Israel into the Holy Land across the Jordan River Josh 3:14. The living God, present in the Ark of the Covenant as the Shkhina, was with them Josh 3:17. Twelve centuries later Rabbi Yeshua entered into his divine mission in the Jordan River Mt 3:13–17. The war against Amalek continued. “Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus” Rev 12:17.