I made a discovery during a writing lesson plan for my Old Testament class on the Book of Genesis. We were discussing the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I have always been curious about the angelic tussle in Genesis 22-32.
Until I read Genesis 33:1-11, I never realized the significance of Jacob’s bout with the unnamed angel. Let me provide a little context of the situation between the two brothers leading up to chapter 33. Esau being the elder brother was supposed to inherit the firstborn blessing from his father Isaac. However, his mother Rebecca favored the younger son Jacob. Through a bit of chicanery Jacob attained the blessing from Isaac and a rift divided the brothers for most of their lives.
What’s in a Name?
The name “Jacob” actually means supplanter in reference to Genesis 27:36. This poses a dilemma for those that claim Jacob as a rightful patriarch of the Jewish faith. It is by way of Jacob’s struggle with the angel and the angel’s inability to defeat Jacob whereby a conversion takes place. In Genesis 32:28, the angel states, “You name shall no more be called Jacob, but Israel for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”
The immediate next encounter with Esau a reconciliation occurs. Their exchange is as follows,
8Then Esau asked, “What did you intend with all those herds that I encountered?” Jacob answered, “It was to gain my lord’s favor.”9Esau replied, “I have plenty; my brother, you should keep what is yours.”10“No, I beg you!” said Jacob. “If you will do me the favor, accept this gift from me, since to see your face is for me like seeing the face of God—and you have received me so kindly. 11Accept the gift I have brought you. For God has been generous toward me, and I have an abundance.” Since he urged him strongly, Esau accepted (Genesis 33:8-11).
Name Change= New Life
Allegorically, Jacob’s wrestling match with the angel may be viewed as a foreshadowing of the sacrament of Confession. Anytime a name change occurs in the Bible a conversion takes place. One of the more notable instances is in the Acts of the Apostles where Saul encounters Christ and becomes Paul.
I urge you to have a wrestling moment with God. Let Him work in you and change you from a “Jacob” or “Saul” and transform you to an “Israel” or “Paul”. Practical tips during this Lenten season to grow in holiness may be to read the Scriptures and go to Confession. Let us journey together as we grow in holiness.
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St. Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
and do thou,
O Prince of the heavenly hosts,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan,
and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world
seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.
This prayer is a staple in every Catholic’s spiritual arsenal. I used to believe that St. Michael was the greatest rival to Satan. Over the course of the past few years, my thoughts on spiritual warfare have developed. While I cannot pinpoint a precise date and time on when my thoughts changed, two distinct books influenced my thinking: Fulton Sheen’s The Word’s First Love: Mary, the Mother of God and St. Louis de Montfort’s True Devotion to Mary. Along with a closer reading and re-reading of Sacred Scripture, I have determined that Mary, not St. Michael the Archangel is the true general of God’s army and greatest rival to the Devil!
Insight from Fulton Sheen
According to Catholic Church tradition, the followers of Christ on Earth are known as members of the church militant. When Jesus ascended to Heaven in Acts 1, He promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide us. He also gave Mary as mother to all of humanity (see John 19:27). Fulton Sheen put it this way, “God gave hope to our disturbed and weak humanity. Oh, yes! He is our Model, but He is also the Person of God! There ought to be, on some human level, Someone who would give humans hope, Someone who could lead us to Christ, Someone who would mediate between us and Christ as He mediates between us and the Father” (The Word’s First Love: Mary, the Mother of God p. 9).
We are called to be soldiers for God in the spiritual battle against the Devil. May we look to Mary as our general to lead and intercede for us on behalf of Jesus- King of Kings!
Insight from St. Louis de Montfort
Arguably the most influential saint of modern times regarding devotion to Mary, St. Louis de Montfort impacted me greatly during the past few years. In reading his True Devotion to Mary, my wife and I participated in our first consecration to Jesus through Mary this spring! My devotion to Mary and understanding of Mariology increased due to the intercession of the 17th century saint. While his entire treatise on Marian devotion is excellent, I will highlight my favorite passage that I bookmarked and underlined in my copy of True Devotion to Mary. De Montfort says,
Satan fears her not only more than angels and men but in a certain sense more than God himself. This does not mean that the anger, hatred and power of God are not infinitely greater than the Blessed Virgin’s, since her attributes are limited. It simply means that Satan, being so proud, suffers infinitely more in being vanquished and punished by a lowly and humble servant of God, for her humility humiliates him more than the power of God (p.52).
When I first read this passage I immediately re-read it. I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. Did St. Louis really claim Satan fears Mary more than God? The more I reflected on his intrepid claim, the more I saw his logic. The pride of Satan is so debilitating that he must sink to the level of creature-hood. As a part of creation, the devil’s true adversary would need to be a creature, not the Creator—Mary fits that bill better than St. Michael based off my reading of St. de Montfort.
Insight from Genesis
Along with evidence from the Tradition of the Catholic Church, the Bible references Mary’s adversarial role against Satan. A commonly cited Old Testament text on Mariology is Genesis 3:15. Referred to as the proto-evangelium, or pre-Gospel, this text foreshadows Mary’s role in salvation history of being the Mother of God. God’ promise goes as follows, “I will put enmity between you [the serpent] and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; They will strike at your head, while you strike at their heel” (Genesis 3:15). Throughout history, Christian art depicted Mary standing triumphant, crushing Satan’s [represented by a snake] skull. Such imagery reminds me of the Blessed Virgin’s role as a spiritual protector and warrior against evil!
Insight from Judith
Marian figures depicted as a warrior continues in the Old Testament with the Book of Judith. Catholic Church tradition connects the title hero of the Book of Judith as an Old Testament prefiguration of Mary. The official public prayer of the Catholic Church—the Liturgy of the Hours— cites Judith 13:17-18 and 13:18-19 on the mid-morning reading on the Feast of the Assumption and the noon reading on the Feast of Mary’s Birthday respectively.
The praise by King Uzziah on Judith mirrors the angel Gabriel’s announcement of Mary as “Blessed among all woman”. The Old Testament monarch declared to Judith, “Blessed are you, daughter, by the Most High God, above all the women on earth; and blessed be the Lord God, the creator of heaven and earth, who guided your blow at the head of the leader of our enemies” (Judith 13:18). Judith helped free the Israelite people from evil. In similar fashion, Mary is depicted as leading the charge against Satanic forces in the world.
Insight from Judges
Another Old Testament figure traditionally interpreted as a type, or foreshadowing of Mary is the judge from the Book of Judges. Judges 5 contains the Song of Deborah which is a hymn proclaiming the wisdom and strength Deborah demonstrated in leading victory over the Israelite’s oppressors. As a good general, Deborah delegated authority to her special forces agent- Jael. It was Jael who snuck into the enemy camp and killed Sisera the evil Canaanite general. According to Franciscan University professor Mark Miraville,
“The crushing of the head of Sisera by Jael and the victory over the Canaanites by Deborah and Barak brings peace for a generation after them. This is also a foreshadowing of the peace Christ and Mary will bring, “through the blood of His Cross,” for all generations!”
Both Scripture and Tradition attest to the prefiguration and eventual role of Mary as general of the Church militant. Seeing Mary as the spiritual commander obedient to the King of all Kings has helped me better understand the honor we bestow on the Blessed Mother. Mary is not greater than the Holy Spirit, rather she is the servant of servants. Let us reflect on the words from the Majestic Queen of Heaven Prayer and ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom to properly treat Mary with respect and dignity:
Majestic Queen of Heaven and Mistress of the Angels, thou didst receive from God the power and commission to crush the head of Satan; wherefore we humbly beseech thee, send forth the legions of heaven, that, under thy command, they may seek out all evil spirits, engage them everywhere in battle, curb their insolence, and hurl them back into the pit of hell. “Who is like unto God?”
O good and tender Mother, thou shalt ever be our hope and the object of our love.
O Mother of God, send forth the holy Angels to defend me and drive far from me the cruel foe.
Holy Angels and Archangels, defend us and keep us.
Cherry-picking, prior to me taking philosophy courses, was a term I associated with a fun fruit activity aimed at selecting delectable berries from an orchard on a warm summer afternoon. I have since learned that words contain a slew of meaning and context is everything in determining the meaning and authorial intention of a particular passage in a fiction or non-fiction work. The same may be said about cherry-picking evidence to build up the Scriptures or to tear them down. Between the erroneous stances of biblical fundamentalism [taking everything literally to be true] and modernism which jettisons truth from the Scriptures is the middle ground of the Catholic interpretation of the Bible.
Each of my previous works in the Why Catholic Must Have Bible A.D.D. series I stress the importance of reading the Old Testament and the New Testament as a whole instead of fragmenting and pitting passages against one another. The Old Testament prepares the way for the New Testament and the New Testament perfects the Old Testament. Today I want to tackle a commonly misunderstood and difficult text to reconcile with the Christian faith—Abraham’s attempted sacrifice of his son Isaac. I will look at contextual evidence within the book of Genesis in the chapters leading up to this troublesome event, evidence from the New Testament, and interpretations from Catholic Church Tradition on how to understanding the meaning of Genesis 22:1-19.
Before I begin with my analysis I will briefly outline Genesis 22:1-19 [traditionally referred to as the Akedah or binding of Isaac]. Genesis 22 starts with God testing Abraham. He charges the patriarch to take Isaac to Mount Moriah and “offer him there as a burnt offering”. Interestingly Abraham does not argue with God’s command [I will explain why I think this in the case in my analysis soon]! Arriving at the sacrificial site on the mountain Abraham raises his dagger and is just about ready to slay Isaac as an offering when the angel of the Lord intervenes. God saves the day by sending a ram caught in a thicket to be the substitute sacrifice in place of Isaac. Countless unbelievers find this passage deeply troubling and even Christians themselves struggle with reconciling Abraham’s faith with his willingness to kill his son. I too wrestled with the binding of Isaac until I discovered the following information.
1. Contextual Clues in the Chapters Leading Up to the Binding of Isaac: Randomly opening up the Old Testament and reading Genesis 18 really opened my eyes to the mysterious test God gave Abraham four chapters later.
a. Promise Not Meant to be Broken: Chapter 18 begins with a son [Isaac] being promised to Abraham and Sarah. This was a miraculous birth due to the elderly status of the couple. Sarah was thought to be barren so she laughed at the claim delivered by the angels. Because of this, the baby name was Isaac whose name means “laughter”. God does not make promises only to break them. Viewing the test of Abraham in light of the birth of Isaac is evidence that Isaac’s life was never in jeopardy.
b. Abraham tests God: The second half of chapter 18 sets the stage for God’s test of Abraham. Less than a chapter before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham fervently appeals to God to spare the sinful city of Sodom. Almost defiantly Abraham questions God, “Will you really sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24Suppose there were fifty righteous people in the city; would you really sweep away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people within it? 25Far be it from you to do such a thing, to kill the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike! Far be it from you! Should not the judge of all the world do what is just?” (Genesis 18:23-25). God replies, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city I will spare the whole place for their sake” (Genesis 18:26). Abraham continues his interrogation of God with the same question substituting a smaller number of people from 45, 40, 30, 20, and eventually a mere 10 hypothetical righteous people. God answer remains the same. Despite the vengeful power of God his mercy always accompanies his judgment!
c. God’s test not arbitrary: Re-reading Genesis 22:1-19 I now see that God’s test to Abraham is not simply a game that he is playing with his son Isaac. Our faith is increased through testing but God already hinted at the outcome of the binding of Isaac through his merciful response to Abraham’s interrogation in Genesis 18.
2. Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross: Reading the binding of Isaac within the greater context of Genesis helps us understand the purpose of the event but the fullness of this test is not revealed until the Crucifixion of Jesus on the Cross. Cardinal Jean Danielou in his masterful work From Shadows to Reality: Studies in the Biblical Typology of the Fathers, spends a chapters on the binding of Isaac viewed through a typological purview. The early church interpreted the akedah of Isaac as a prefiguration of Jesus’ death on the cross.
a. Ram as Sacrifice: The ram caught in the briar thicket is a type of sacrifice that foreshadows Jesus as the sacrificial Lamb. According to St. Augustine, “What does this [ram caught in thorns] prefigure, if not that Jesus, before being sacrificed, was crowned with thorns?” (From Shadows to Reality p. 127).
b. Way of the Cross: Isaac like Jesus both carry the wood [of the cross] on the journey to the sacrificial site [which was both on a mountain!].
c. Miraculous births and innocent victims: Another connection I noticed between Isaac and Jesus is their conception is considered miraculous. Sarah laughed at the absurdity of being pregnant since she was considered too old and barren to conceive. Mary was on the other side of the spectrum. As a young woman she conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit and was likewise surprised by the angel’s news (see Luke 1:34).
3. Tradition of the Catholic Church: The early Church Fathers viewed the New Testament events as fulfilling the Old Testament type. According to St. Athanasius, “When Abraham offered his son her adored the Son of God, and when he was forbidden to offer Isaac, he saw in the lamb Christ who was offered to God” (From Shadows to Reality p. 129). Theodoret also recognized the reality hidden in Genesis 22 when he said, “All these were shadows of the economy of our salvation. The Father offered his well-beloved Son for the world. Isaac typified the divinity; the ram the humanity: even the length of time is the same in both cases, three days and three nights” (From Shadows to Reality p. 130). Cardinal Danielou states that specifically the birth and sacrifice of Isaac foreshadow the fullness of the Incarnation in the New Testament ((From Shadows to Reality p 121).
I have only been satisfied with the meaning of the Akedah of Isaac when viewed in light of the interpretative key of Jesus’ sacrificial death. Noticing Abraham’s testing of God in Genesis 18 and the mercy of God helped me better understand that God does not make promises simply to break them. I hope that you have found this topic enlightening and I encourage you to continue to question seemingly problematic texts and seek guidance from the Holy Spirit and the tradition of the Catholic Church!
Premiering in 1970, the music of Andrew Lloyd Weber merged with the biblical story of an Old Testament patriarch to form one of the more popular musicals of all-time—Joseph and the Technicolor Dream Coat. I remember seeing this musical during my elementary years at the Catholic school I attended. If it were not for this musical I may not have come to appreciate the significance of the patriarch Joseph. Usually he is overshadowed by other Old Testament figures like Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, and Solomon. What I hope to achieve today is to show that Joseph is every-bit as important as those other figures and has much more in common with Jesus than I used to think.
Before I get into the specific ways that Joseph is a prefiguration of Jesus I will rely on the catechism to remind us about the importance of reading the Bible as a whole and through a typological lens. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 130, “Typology indicates the dynamic movement toward the fulfillment of the divine plan when “God [will] be everything to everyone.” Nor do the calling of the patriarchs and the exodus from Egypt, for example, lose their own value in God’s plan, from the mere fact that they were intermediate stages.”
Because of the sheer amount of typological examples of Joseph as an Old Testament Christ-like figure I am going to be succinct in my commentary on the examples. I want to be sure to demonstrate the various passages in Genesis that foreshadow Jesus’ life in the Gospels.
Beloved Son: Along Joseph had 10 older brothers he was the first born son of Jacob’s favored wife Rachel. Because of this, Jacob took up a penchant for Joseph and gifted him with an expansive coat that eventually drove his siblings to become jealous. Similarly, Jesus is the beloved Son of the Father. God the Father states in Mark 1:11, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
Sojourn to Egypt: Both Joseph and Jesus resided in Egypt caused by a traumatic event. The former ended up in Egypt after being sold into slavery and the latter fled to that country with the Holy Family to avoid King Herod’s massacre of the infants.
Rejected by Own People: Joseph’s brothers ridiculed him about his dreams and threw him a pit to die after stealing his coat given to him by Jacob. Likewise, in Mark 8:31 predicted the same type of rejection would happen to Jesus.
Faced Temptation: Genesis 39:1-12 details the temptation to commit adultery with his master’s wife. The Gospels portray the temptation of Jesus by the devil during his 40 days in the wilderness. Both men refused to be weathered by such enticement.
Stripped: Joseph was stripped of his robe in Genesis 37:23 and Jesus was stripped of his garments in Matthew 27:28.
Plot to Kill: The brothers of Joseph planned to kill him in Genesis 37:18 and Jesus’ adversaries in the scribes and Pharisees schemed his demise as well
Traded for Silver: According to Genesis 37:28 the Midianite traders sold Joseph into slavery for 20 pieces of silver. The trade value to finalize the treacherous transaction for Jesus’ death was steeper at 30 pieces of silver (see Matthew 26:14-15).
Joseph is a commonly overlooked Old Testament figure when it comes to hinting toward Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, God as a masterful teacher knew that humanity learns best in stages and progressively taught truth through Scripture and Tradition. The more and more example of typology we notice between the Old and New Testament greater intimacy will flourish better the two halves of the Bible. I leave you with the words of St. Jerome to reflect on, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”
With this being the 8th installment in the Why Catholic Must Have Bible A.D.D. series, I have tried to publish every post on a Wednesday. The reason I do this is because traditionally the pope makes a weekly Wednesday address to keep the faithful updated. Circumstances outside of my control caused me to push publication to today. In lieu of this absence of alignment with the papal Wednesday address, I want to reference the Catechism of the Catholic Church to remind us the importance of typologically reading the Scriptures. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church number 128, “The Church, as early as apostolic times, and then constantly in her Tradition, has illuminated the unity of the divine plan in the two Testaments through typology, which discerns in God’s works of the Old Covenant prefigurations of what he accomplished in the fullness of time in the person of his incarnate Son.” Simply put, the New Testament is hidden in the Old Testament and the Old Testament prepares the way for the New Testament.
Name: According to St. John Chrysostom in his 27th homily on Hebrews, “The name of Joshua [Jesus], was a type. For this reason then, and because of the very name, the creation reverenced him. What then! Was no other person called Jesus? [Yes]; but this man was on this account so called in type; for he used to be called Hoshea. Therefore the name was changed: for it was a prediction and a prophecy. He brought in the people into the promised land, as Jesus [does] into heaven; not the Law; since neither did Moses [bring them in], but remained without. The Law has not power to bring in, but grace”. In fact the Hebrew form of the name Joshua is Yehoshua and is translated as “God saves”—the same meaning as the name of Jesus!
Leading to Promised Land: When I looked up the Old Testament reference to Number 13:16 that St. John is referring to I found something interesting. In the delineation of the spies to be selected to scout the Land of Canaan, the original name of Joshua was Hoshea. Number 13: 16 states, “These are the names of the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land; but Moses called Hoshea the son of Nun, Joshua.” Without the Catholic understanding of seeing the Old Testament prefiguring and preparing for the New Testament, I would totally miss this minor and seemingly vapid sentence. Joshua’s name is changed to show that he is elected to eventually do something the greater than Moses—lead the Israelites into the Promised Land! Along with leading the Israelites to the land of milk and honey, Joshua is another example of God preparing us for the coming of Jesus. Jesus’ leads humanity toward the Promised Land of Heaven with his victory over death. Saint Cardinal John Henry Newman points out how Joshua is a type of Jesus in his Sermon 12: Joshua a Type of Christ and His Followers. Like Joshua saving the harlot Rahab through mercy, Jesus too saves sinners that have faith in him and ask for forgiveness (Sermon 12 no. 2).
Significance of The Twelve: Twelve is a significant number throughout the Bible—there were 12 tribes of Israel and 12 Apostles chosen as the first priests by Jesus. Within the fourth chapter of the book of Joshua, hearing the word of God, Joshua urges 12 priests to take up a memorial stone from the Jordan River as a memorial of the covenant with God. Relating to the connection with the number 12 between Joshua and Jesus I will rely on the guidance of another saint. According to St. Gregory of Nyssa, “The people of the Hebrews, as we learn, after many sufferings, and after accomplishing their weary course in the desert, did not enter the land of promise until it had first been brought, with Joshua for its guide and the pilot of its life, to the passage of the Jordan. But it is clear that Joshua also, who set up the twelve stones in the stream , was anticipating the coming of the twelve disciples, the ministers of Baptism (On the Baptism of Jesus Christ).
Warrior: Along with leading the Israelites into the Promised Land, Joshua led the charge toward conquering the Canaanites people. Joshua was a warrior! Likewise, Jesus battled evil as well—mostly notably in a spiritual donnybrook with Satan in Matthew 4. Jesus conquered sin and death just like Joshua conquered anything the stood in the way for the Israelites homecoming!
Joshua is one of my favorite Old Testament figures that typologically foreshadow Jesus Christ. Once again God in a surprising turn of events rises up an individual to receive the baton of holiness from arguably the greatest Old Testament prophet ever—Moses! Another thing I learned in my research of Joshua as a type of Christ is the name-change in Numbers 13:16. I am grateful for the wealth of knowledge that I have gleaned from the saints and the catechism on the connections between Joshua and Jesus.