Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Old Testament Typology: Epiphany

What is the typological interpretation of Scripture? There are various ways it could be explained, but I think the best is to say that typology refers to the way the truths of the New Testament are foreshadowed or "hidden" in the Old Testament, to use St. Augustine's famous dictum.

It is the way in which Isaac carrying the wood up Mount Moriah to his own sacrifice signifies Christ carrying the cross; the way in which the waters of the great Flood signify baptism, or the valley of Hinnom outside Jerusalem symbolizes Hell. The Old Testament is replete with examples in which persons, things and events signify New Testament realities in the same manner a shadow signifies the real thing by which the shadow is cast.

Please note that typology is not the same thing as prophecy; in prophecy, prophets reveal what God is doing or will do in a time to come - a telling or a foretelling. In typology, we have no foretelling but more of a signification, a symbolic affinity that helps us shed light on the mysteries of the New Testament in light of the Old and vice versa.

Two years ago we looked at the Feast of Epiphany as found in the prophetic texts of the Old Testament. This article explained Epiphany as the revelation of the Messiah to the Gentiles and examined many prophecies from the major and minor prophets which foretold this event. The following year we did an article examining the most famous of these prophecies in depth, that of Micah 5, which is the well-known Bethlehem Prophecy ("But thou, O' Bethlehem Ephratha...").

Today we shall again revisit this theme of Epiphany by examining the typological signs of the inclusion of the Gentiles throughout the Old Testament - that is, looking at persons and events of the Old Testament that signify the inclusion of the Gentiles into the household of God, which is at the core of this great Feast.

In the Book of Genesis, the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth are the fathers of the nations and hence representative of the diversity the human race. Shem of course will be the father of the Hebrews and all the Semitic races. Japtheth, because he settled in the western isles, is typically symbolic of the Gentiles. In Noah's prophecy after he discovers Ham has seen him naked, he says:

"May God enlarge Japheth, and may he dwell in the tents of Shem, and Canaan be his servant" (Gen. 9:27).

That God will "enlarge" Japheth by making him "dwell in the tents of Shem" is signified that at some point the Gentile descendants of Japheth will be grafted into the house of Shem, which is what is inferred by saying they will "dwell in the tents" of Shem's descendants; i.e., the Gentiles will be grafted in to Israel (cf. Rom. 11:11-24).

Later in the Book of Genesis, we see Abraham, after returning from the victory over the five kings, pays homage to Melchizedek of Salem and offers him tithes (Gen. 14:17-20). This Melchizedek is a Gentile king who nevertheless has knowledge of the true God - at least that is the Catholic Tradition.* In Hebrews 7, St. Paul uses this historical episode to demonstrate the superiority of the New Covenant priesthood over the old, since in Abraham's submission there is a figurative submission of the Levitical order to the priesthood of Melchizedek. Now the priesthood of Melchizedek is one composed of Jews and Gentiles - of all who acclaim the Messiah. Therefore the episode of Abraham paying homage to Melchizedek demonstrates that the future priesthood will include the Gentiles, signified by the Gentile King Melchizedek.

In the Old Testament, especially in Genesis, we frequently see strife between the older and younger sibling with the theme of the younger supplanting the older. The Ishmael-Isaac, Esau-Jacob, and Joseph-Brothers stories all contain this element. Jesus Himself draws on this theme in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15). In this parable of our Lord the younger brother represents the Gentiles while the older brother represents the Jews; the older brother is indignant about the Father's forgiveness and restoration of the prodigal son just as the Jews were envious an indignant at the inclusion of the Gentiles into the early Church. That the Gentiles have been grafted in while the Jews have persisted in unbelief is signified by the supplanting of the older sons by the younger in the Genesis patriarchal stories.

In 1 Kings 10 and 2 Chronicles 9, we see that the Queen of Sheba comes to visit King Solomon with a very great retinue laden with all sorts of gifts. She has traditionally represented the nations, and the medievals saw a connection between her gifts to Solomon and the Magi's gifts to Christ. The Queen of Sheba came from the "ends of the earth" (cf. Luke 11:31) to present gifts to the Son of David and hear his wisdom; the Magi came from the ends of the earth to present gifts to the Son of David and learn the wisdom of God. Thus, the homage the Queen of Sheba pays to Solomon is a figure of the Gentiles being drawn into the Church of God, which is what Isaiah prophesied when he said:

'Many peoples will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
    so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
    the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.' (Isa. 2:3).

We also should note that the genealogy of Jesus contains several references to Gentile's being grafted in to the messianic line. The genealogy of Christ, which is read at the Easter Vigil, contains references to four women, all of whom are Gentiles. These women are Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Rahab.

Tamar (Gen. 38) was a Canaanite woman who was wed to two of Judah's sons and eventually, by ruse, became impregnated by Judah himself and gave birth to Perez, who was an ancestor of Jesus.

Rahab is best known as the Canaanite harlot who hid the twelve spies from Joshua in the episode of Jericho. But what is less well known is that after the fall of Jericho she was wed to Salmon of the house of Judah (Matt. 1:4-5) and would subsequently become the mother of Boaz.

Ruth was a Moabite woman who, through her attachment to her mother-in-law Naomi, came to dwell among the people of Israel and wed Boaz, and thus became the great-grandmother of David, and an ancestor of Christ.

Bathsheba, mentioned in the genealogy of Christ as "she who had been the wife of Uriah" (Matt. 1:14), was either a Hittite or a Jebusite. She is particularly important, as she is the Mother of the Son of David (Solomon) and hence a type of Mary (which we see in her intercessory role depicted in 1 Kings 2) as well as the Church. With the Gentile Bathsheba grafted into the royal House of David, we have the most perfect figure of the Gentiles being grafted in to the Church.

In each case we have a Gentile woman who is not only taken into the house of Israel in the Messianic line but who also serves to advance salvation history. None of these women are passive; they are active in the affairs of their day in one way or another and as such serve as instruments of God's Providence by which the Messiah is given to the world. This signifies the centrality of the inclusion of the Gentiles into the New Covenant, which is signified by the centrality Gentile women have played in the affairs if Israel throughout salvation history.

Our Lord also makes mention of some Gentiles in the Old Testament that were recipients of special favors from God:

Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way" (Luke 4:24-30).

Why the anger of the Jews? The widow of Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian were both Gentiles. Elijah's miracle of the widow and the cleansing of Naaman both signify the inclusion of the Gentiles in God's covenant, especially the latter, which is a type of baptism. The Jews react with the same envious anger of the older brother in the Prodigal Son or the workers in the vineyard who were indignant that those hired later will receive the same pay as those who have worked all day. Our Lord suggests that because of unbelief, His message will be of greater news to the Gentiles than to unbelieving Jews, just as the miracles of Elijah and Elisha were done for pagans.

The inclusion of the Gentiles in the covenant is not an accidental aspect of the New Testament, but is central to it, something that St. Paul says is a mystery whose revelation had to wait the coming of Christ:

"In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 3:4-6).

This incorporation of the Gentiles into God's family is part of the birthright of the Messiah. God, speaking of the Messiah, says in the prophet Isaiah: "You are My servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified," but then goes on to say, "It is too light a thing that you should be My servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and restore the preserved of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that My salvation may reach to the ends of the earth" (Isa. 49:3,6).

It is this light, this revelation of God to the Gentiles and their subsequent incorporation into the Kingdom of Christ that we celebrate today on the Feast of Epiphany.

Epiphany in the Prophets
The Bethlehem Prophecy of Micah

*Jewish tradition, unable to affirm that Father Abraham would pay tithes to a Gentile, has Melchizedek being none other than Shem himself under another name.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Boniface!

I read your review of Heralds of the Second Coming and watched your video on Catholic eschatology. I share your view of the problems with the literature out there. It's why I recently published the book, The Five Beasts of St. Hildegard: Prophetic Symbols of Modern Society.

I hope you visit my blog and have a look at the book. I will send you a copy if your interested in considering it for a review.

Thank you for your work!

...reid j turner