By John Sanidopoulos
Many of the events in the Old Testament are interpreted within the tradition of the Church as a prophetic image of the events of the New Testament, and these are called "types" or "foreshadowed images".
The Fathers of the Church see the foreshadowing of the Cross of Christ in many events of the Old Testament. Indeed the hymnographers also, especially Kosmas the Melodist, who wrote the Canon for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Honorable Cross, associate these events with the Cross.
The foreshadowing of the Cross in the Old Testament can be seen in the following events:
1. At the crossing of the Red Sea by the Jews. Moses struck the sea horizontally ("straight") and the sea divided in two for the people to walk across. When the last Jew passed through, he struck the sea again vertically ("across"), thereby forming the sign of the Cross, and though he saved the persecuted, the persecuting tyrants drowned.
2. When Moses prayed in the desert. When the people of Israel were in danger from an attack of the Amalekites, Moses went up to a high place to be seen by all and there he prayed with outstretched arms, thus forming a Cross. As long as his arms were outstretched the people of Israel were winning, but as soon as he got tired and put his arms down they would begin to lose. For this reason he asked Aaron and Hur to keep his arms outstretched until they completely defeated the enemy.
3. The bronze serpent raised on the rod of Moses. When venomous snakes were biting the people of Israel in the desert, Moses was told by the Lord to raise a bronze serpent on his rod. As long as the Jews looked towards this bronze serpent nothing happened to them from the poisonous bites. The rod with the snake formed a Cross, as Christ Himself testifies. St. Gregory the Theologian gives a very interesting interpretation to the bronze serpent. He says that the bronze serpent was not a type but rather an anti-type of the Crucified Christ. That is, it did not depict Christ but rather the devil. And responding to those who asked if it is possible for the devil to save, he responds saying that he can save those who believe that "he who was portrayed as a serpent", the devil, was killed by Christ, for by looking towards the bronze serpent, the people acknowledged that the power of the devil had been killed and defeated.
4. The rod of Aaron that budded. The tribe of Levi was chosen to be a tribe of priests, and Aaron was chosen as the first representative when leaves and nuts miraculously budded from his rod. This is just as the dry and sterile "gentiles" budded when they embraced the Cross of Christ, "the fruit of life" being He Who was crucified on the Cross.
5. The rod of Moses and the rock that gushed forth water. When the people of Israel were complaining in the desert for their lack of water, Moses struck with his rod a rock and water began to gush out for them to drink. The Apostle Paul saw Christ in this rock, "for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ" (1 Cor. 10:4). The Old Testament says that Moses had to strike the rock twice, and the Fathers see in this expression the horizontal and vertical striking that forms a Cross.
6. The wood thrown into the bitter waters of Marah. When the thirsty people of Israel came upon the oasis of Marah in the desert, they found that the water was bitter. God then commanded Moses to throw wood into the bitter waters, and by this it was miraculously made sweet. Kosmas the Melodist says that this foreshadows the change of the gentiles from impiety to piety through the Cross. Cyril of Jerusalem and Theodoret also hold the same opinion.
7. When the Prophet Elisha went with others to the Jordan River to cut wood and make huts. As one of the prophets was cutting wood, the axe head fell into the water of the river. Then the Prophet Elisha threw into the river a stick that sunk to the bottom, bringing the heavy axe head up and they retrieved it. According to Kosmas the Melodist, the axe head with the stick of the Prophet formed a Cross, thus foreshadowing that the Cross of Christ cut off the error of delusion through baptism (the waters of Jordan), just as a pickaxe cuts wood.
8. The encampment of the people of Israel around the Tabernacle. God instructed Moses to arrange the twelve tribes of Israel so that three tribes were north of the Tabernacle, three south, three west and three east. This formation formed a Cross, and when Balaam saw this formation from the mountain, Scripture says the Spirit of God came upon him and he blessed the people of Israel, saying: ""How beautiful are your tents, O Jacob, your tabernacle, O Israel! Like valleys they spread out, like gardens beside a river, like aloes planted by the Lord, like cedars beside the waters. Water will flow from their buckets; their seed will have abundant water. Their king will be greater than Agag; their kingdom will be exalted." This prophecy in Numbers 24 refers to the Cross of Christ.
9. The prayer of Jonah in the belly of the big fish. Kosmas the Melodist says that Jonah in the belly of the big fish spread his palms in the form of a Cross and by this foreshadowed the Passion of Christ, and when after three days he emerged unharmed he prefigured the Resurrection. The Old Testament does not say anything about the palms of Jonah forming a Cross. The Melodist concludes this arbitrarily because this is how Moses, David and Solomon prayed during difficult moments.
10. The blessing of the Patriarch Jacob for his son Joseph, and his two grandsons Ephraim and Manasseh. Genesis says that Jacob at 140 years old was bent and without good vision, so his son Joseph brought his two sons Ephraim and Manasseh over to be blessed by their grandfather. Joseph placed Ephraim to the right of Jacob and Manasseh to the left. Jacob did not bless them by placing his right hand on Ephraim and his left hand on Manasseh, but conversely he did it crosswise to foreshadow the blessing of the Cross on the Church. Joseph thought that due to his old age he made a mistake, so he proceeded to place his father's right hand on Ephraim and left hand on Manasseh, but the old man resisted and prophesied that the younger brother will lead and the older brother will follow, which is a type of the gentiles who converted by the Cross of Christ after the Jews rejected it.
11. Jacob's veneration of the rod of his son Joseph. Genesis says that Jacob, being old, made Joseph vow to not leave his body in Egypt, but to transfer it to Hebron and bury it there with Abraham and Sarah and his father Isaac. Joseph indeed swore he would do this, and Jacob was so pleased that he leaned over and kissed the rod of Joseph. The Fathers see in this veneration a foreshadowing of the veneration given to the Cross of Christ.
12. The sacrificial wood carried by Isaac. When Isaac was young he went with his father unsuspectingly to be sacrificed by God's command, and he carried his own wood upon which he was to be sacrificed. This command by God was given in order to show the love of the Father for His Son when He was made a sacrifice on the Cross for the sins of the people.
13. The rod of Moses and the plagues of Egypt. The rod of Moses at this time turned the water to blood (signifying the blood of Christ which does not redeem the unrepentant), it changed into a serpent and swallowed the serpents of the Egyptians (signifying the power of Christ over the devil), and other times it brought frogs, locusts, lice and deep darkness (signifying the judgement of creation by the Cross against those who do not repent of their sins).
14. The "pillar of fire" and the "pillar of cloud" in the exodus from Egypt. Night and day God led the people of Israel to the Promised Land by this means to show the nations that God guides His people with power and care.
We neglect to bring up the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden, the form of Samson when he outstretched his arms and pushed apart the pillars thereby destroying his enemies, the prophecy of Ezekiel regarding the form of the Cross, and many others not mentioned by St. Kosmas the Melodist. All these examples are just a portion of the many foreshadowings of the Cross in the Old Testament, which prepared the people of Israel for this wondrous and salvific historical event, and teaches the Church that our salvation comes by the Cross of Christ.