Torah Portion Shemot: Types And Symbols

In our Torah reading, we just finished the book of Genesis and are now entering the book of Exodus – entering, at the same time, a new year in our lives. I usually start a new series after the New Year – it always seemed a proper beginning for this time of new beginnings. However, this year I decided to stick with the Hebrew calendar and continue with the Torah Portions’ comments on these pages. 2020 was a very difficult year – but doesn’t that mean we have even more reason to listen to what God is saying to us? This transitional point, between Genesis and Exodus, is highly significant both in the Bible and in our lives: it feels like we are truly opening, not just a new page, but also a new book in our lives. The whole year and the whole book of God’s great miracles is before us – but as we read about Moses and his call in this  first portion of Exodus, Shemot, we can look both backward and forward, exactly as we do when years change. As we look back, we see things in the book of Genesis that symbolized and already pointed to this portion. On the other hand, as we look forward, with anticipation and hope, to the great miracles and great redemption of the book of Exodus, we will find types and symbols in these chapters that will be continued and developed in the New Testament.

“Ma’asei Avot, Siman Lebanim”

There is a literary feature in the Bible narratives defined by the rabbis as “ma’asei avot, siman l’banim” – “the deeds of the fathers are a sign to the sons”. This means that the stories about the patriarchs (in particular in the book of Genesis) tell us not only about the patriarchs, but also reveal things that would happen to their  descendants, the nation of Israel, in the future. These parallels, both thematic and lexical, are hidden in the text – but leave one speechless once discovered.

For example, the story of Abram and Sarai’s sojourn in Egypt (Gen. 12: 10– 13: 2), is not only about Abram and Sarai, but it also foreshadows the exodus of Israel that would happen 400 years later. In our discussions of the next portions, we will talk more about that; here, however, I want to show you things that we see in this portion.

An English reader would know that Noah and his family were saved in the Ark. The word ‘Ark’ here renders Hebrew word tevah. Surprisingly, we find the same word, tevah, in the story of Moses: baby Moses was put into a tevah. Yes, the Hebrew word translated as “ark” in the story of baby Moses, is the same Hebrew word as Noah’s Ark – moreover, these are the only two places in the entire Torah where this word is used (the ‘ark’ of the Covenant renders a completely different Hebrew word). Why would Torah use the word “ark” here, instead of the proper Hebrew word for basket? The answer is obvious:  to make an intentional link between the two stories. Noah prefigures Moses’ role as Israel’s redeemer.

These thematic and lexical parallels abound in the Torah. Just like Abram’s descent into Egypt and Noah’s rescue from the Flood in the Ark, there are many stories like these in the Torah, foreshadowing later events. However, while a shared plot (thematic parallels) could be seen in translation also, the shared words and phrases (lexical parallels) can mostly only be discovered in the Hebrew text. For instance, it is amazing to see the words that were used by Abimelech king of the Philistines when he was expelling Isaac and his family from his land. Abimelech said to Isaac, “Go away from us, for you have become far too big for us”[1], Atzamta mimenu meod. When read in Hebrew one realizes that this is exactly the same root that the new Pharaoh uses at the beginning of the book of Exodus: “Look, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we”[2], Rav veAtzum mimenu.  So, this would be the word that the Israelites probably heard in Egypt many times. If we remember that this generation of Exodus was actually the first audience of the book of Genesis, we would understand that all these prophetic connections and parallels spoke powerfully and loudly to the hearts of these people. They saw the handwriting of God in His word – and they saw the handwriting of God in their lives.

Reading Moses, Seeing Jesus[3]

We find yet another hermeneutical principle connected to the book of Exodus. In Christian interpretation, Moses is seen as a type of Jesus, and Moses’ life and ministry as foreshadowing in many ways the life and ministry of Jesus. et us see how this principle has been applied in the New Testament from the very beginning.

In the very first book of the New Testament, the Gospel of Matthew, we see a clear typological comparison between Jesus and Moses. Matthew begins showing these parallels from the very beginning of his Gospel, in the infancy narrative of Jesus. When we read that an evil tyrant, Herod tried to kill baby Jesus, we remember that an evil tyrant, Pharaoh, tried to kill baby Moses as well. More parallels follow. There is an additional interesting parallel, however, that not many Christian readers are aware of: we find a short commentary in a midrash saying that “Pharaoh cared only about the males, because his astrologers told him that a son was destined be born who would save them”.  Doesn’t that sound extremely familiar – as if we are reading Matthew 2, where the Magi are telling Herod that the King of Jews was born.

More parallels follow: Baby Moses was hidden from the Pharaoh; baby Jesus was hidden from Herod. Baby Moses was protected by Miriam, his sister; baby Jesus was protected by Miriam, his mother. Baby Moses was safe with the Egyptian princess; baby Jesus was taken to Egypt for safety.  It’s interesting, however, how Matthew completes this list of parallels in the infancy narrative—he quotes the prophetic words of Hosea, originally spoken concerning Israel and Israel’s exodus: This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son[4]and refers them to Jesus. Why? The answer is again as obvious as it was with Moses’ and Noah’s Arcs: to make an intentional link between the two stories. Moses prefigures Jesus’ role as redeemer.  By all the parallels between Jesus’ and Moses’ infancy narratives, and by these words of Hosea, Matthew makes sure his readers see Jesus as a new Moses. His Gospel conveys to his audience an important message: a new Deliverer is born and a new Exodus is coming! By the end of the infancy narrative, Jewish readers of the Gospel who knew Torah and the Prophets, would have discerned this message, anticipated a new Exodus, and expected this new deliverer to lead His people out of exile.

Are we ready to turn?

I would like to finish this post with an interesting detail that few people pay attention to.  When the Lord revealed Himself to Moses in the burning bush, upon seeing this bush, Moses said: I will now turn aside and see this great sight. And it is written: when the LORD saw that he turned aside to look, only then God called to him from the midst of the bush.[5]  Can you imagine? If Moses had not turned aside to see this great sight, he would not have become the one who led Israel out of Egypt—for only when Moses started to walk in the direction of God, and God saw that, only then did He speak to him. Maybe there is something that God wants us to hear as we enter the new year: He Himself chooses when to reveal Himself to us; He Himself intervenes and makes our hearts burn within us; He Himself calls us. But whether He remains with us depends on our response: are we ready to literally go out of our way – as Moses did – in order to listen and obey?

 

[1] Gen.26:16

[2] Ex.1:9

[3] This is actually a title of a Messianic book:  Reading Moses, Seeing Jesus: how the Torah fulfills its goal in Yeshua.

Postell, Seth D.; Bar,Eitan; Soref, Erez.

[4] Mat.2:14,15

[5] Ex.3:3,4

 

As we  continue with the Torah Portions’ comments on these pages, I  would like to remind you, my dear friends that eTeacher offers a wonderful course, where you can learn from Parashot Shavua commentaries along with their New Testament interpretation. As always, you are welcome to contact me for more information (juliab@eteachergroup.com) 

We live in the strange and sober times, and we all have a lot of questions. Maybe, you can find some answers in my books.   I believe,  especially the  book  “As though hiding His face” would  speak to many hearts in these turbulent times. You  can get  it here 

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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  1. Luis

    Thank you, Julia. As always your posts are very insightful. You made the point that it was only when Moses turned aside that God called out to him. In a similar way we Christians also responded to the Gospel and God accepted us as his own. There were many people present when I heard Pastor Luis Aguilar in Tijuana, Mexico reveal the Gospel. Not all responded, but even though I was only twelve years old, I heard the Gospel and answered the call. Perhaps most or maybe all that were present had already accepted Jesus into their lives previously. The point is that like Moses, one must respond to the Gospel to become God’s child.

    1. Julia Blum

      You are right, Luis, one must respond to God’s call. For me personally, one of the most graphic examples of the different responses is Abraham and his father Terah. There is a whole chapter about it in my book “Abraham had two sons”. “We all long to hear His voice; we all desire to have a Divine encounter, but make no mistake: It’s not the Divine encounter that defines our destiny, but what we do after this encounter. It’s not what He says to us that defines us, it’s how we respond to what He says!”

  2. shirley mary burek

    a song had been on my mind on and off recently, but I couldn’t remember any more words than, “day and night, night and day, let incense arise”. While researching the words to find the song, I “accidentally” clicked on this website and heard the short video from one of the online teachers. I progressed reading Julia Blum’s blogs from today, January 7th and December 31st. I’m fasting for 21 days currently (day 4) so my spirit really connected to writings. I love the way you write and simply reveal connections between the different scriptures. It fed my soul for the day. I will be back here doing some more reading! Thanks.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you, Shirley, for your kind words. I am so glad to hear that my writings help you in your spiritual quest. Many blessings on your journey!

  3. Nick

    Amen to Reid Corin’s comment. What we call G-d is bigger than Judaism or Christianity. In my humble opinion….
    Thanks Julia,
    Nick

  4. Reid Corin

    For almost two years now I have devoured the writings of Julia Blum. Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam for raising up Julia to bring together Jew and Gentile for His name’s sake. May G*d continue to bless you Julia by giving you the vision for more books and articles. May G*d bless Israel and all who live in her.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you, Reid, I am really touched by your generous words! Blessings!