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April 23, 2011

Two Powerful Old Testament Images of the Cross

By John Sanidopoulos

Below are two readings from the Old Testament I propose to be added in the Orthodox service books for Great Friday or Holy Saturday. They are little known pre-images or foreshadows of the Cross that powerfully show Christ victorious on the Cross.

The first describes the Prophet Balaam's vision of the Cross. This one is easily overlooked. The key to understanding this passage are knowing three things. First, Balak wanted Balaam to curse the people of Israel. Second, Balaam is taken to a high hill or mountain overlooking the encampment of the people of Israel to be given instruction by the Lord on whether to curse or bless Israel. Lastly, he blesses them because he sees the image of Christ crucified in glory amidst the people of Israel.

How does he see Christ in his prophecy? The key is the formation of the people of Israel described in Numbers 2 (read here). As one can observe from the image above, the Israelites were encamped in the formation of the Cross around the Tabernacle which contained the Holy of Holies, that is, the presence of God or throne of God in the midst of His people. One can even see how God deliberately had the tribes of Reuben and Judah join to make the southern formation appear longer if one were to look down at the formation from a mountain as Balaam did. Thus, when Balaam sees the formation of the Cross with the Lord in the middle, he saw Christ, the King of Glory seated on the throne of the Cross, crucified and said: "For from the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him..."

The second reading concerns the death of Samson. Samson is an image of Christ in the Old Testament in many ways, but none more powerfully than in the description of his death in Judges 16. The Philistines are images of the enemies of Jesus, primarily the demons who occupy unjustly the people on earth and grip them with fear. The pagan temple he is brought into represents Hades. Samson is brought into this temple blind and asks to be brought in between two pillars. This is the key to seeing the Cross in this passage, because Samson intends to destroy his enemies with this request. He does this by lifting his arms in a cross formation and pulling apart the two pillars of the temple, which in turn destroys the temple and the Philistines within. Thus, this is a perfect image of Christ destroying death by His death on the Cross.

Read the passages below and judge whether or not these should be added to the Holy Week service books:

The Vision of Balaam the Prophet (Numbers 22:41 - 23:12)

So it was, the next day, that Balak took Balaam and brought him up to the high places of Baal, that from there he might observe the extent of the people.

Then Balaam said to Balak, “Build seven altars for me here, and prepare for me here seven bulls and seven rams.”

And Balak did just as Balaam had spoken, and Balak and Balaam offered a bull and a ram on each altar. Then Balaam said to Balak, “Stand by your burnt offering, and I will go; perhaps the Lord will come to meet me, and whatever He shows me I will tell you.”

So he went to a desolate height. And God met Balaam, and he said to Him, “I have prepared the seven altars, and I have offered on each altar a bull and a ram.”

Then the Lord put a word in Balaam’s mouth, and said, “Return to Balak, and thus you shall speak.” So he returned to him, and there he was, standing by his burnt offering, he and all the princes of Moab.

And he took up his oracle and said:

“Balak the king of Moab has brought me from Aram,
From the mountains of the east.
‘Come, curse Jacob for me, and come, denounce Israel!’
How shall I curse whom God has not cursed?
And how shall I denounce whom the Lord has not denounced?
For from the top of the rocks I see him,
And from the hills I behold him;
There! A people dwelling alone,
Not reckoning itself among the nations.
Who can count the dust of Jacob,
Or number one-fourth of Israel?
Let me die the death of the righteous,
And let my end be like his!”

Then Balak said to Balaam, “What have you done to me? I took you to curse my enemies, and look, you have blessed them bountifully!”

So he answered and said, “Must I not take heed to speak what the Lord has put in my mouth?”

The Death of Samson (Judges 16:23-30)

Now the lords of the Philistines gathered together to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god, and to rejoice. And they said:

“Our god has delivered into our hands Samson our enemy!”

When the people saw him, they praised their god; for they said:

“Our god has delivered into our hands our enemy, the destroyer of our land, and the one who multiplied our dead.”

So it happened, when their hearts were merry, that they said, “Call for Samson, that he may perform for us.” So they called for Samson from the prison, and he performed for them. And they stationed him between the pillars. Then Samson said to the lad who held him by the hand, “Let me feel the pillars which support the temple, so that I can lean on them.” Now the temple was full of men and women. All the lords of the Philistines were there — about three thousand men and women on the roof watching while Samson performed.

Then Samson called to the Lord, saying, “O Lord God, remember me, I pray! Strengthen me, I pray, just this once, O God, that I may with one blow take vengeance on the Philistines for my two eyes!”

And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars which supported the temple, and he braced himself against them, one on his right and the other on his left. Then Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” And he pushed with all his might, and the temple fell on the lords and all the people who were in it. So the dead that he killed at his death were more than he had killed in his life.