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Laying the Groundwork for the Salvation of Mankind

The Lord determines a lofty position for Moses. He gives the prophet His commandments in the storm on Mount Sinai. He speaks with him face to face, the first time since the fall of man. This is the only time prior to His sufferings on Golgotha that the Lord calls a human being, in the person of Moses, a friend. If there should be of you a prophet to the Lord, I will be made known to him in a vision, and in sleep will I speak to him. My servant Moses is not so, he is faithful in all my house. I will speak to him mouth to mouth apparently, and not in dark speeches; and he has seen the glory of the Lord (Num. 12:6-8, LXX) And the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as if one should speak to his friend (Exodus 33:11, LXX). [Abraham is called a friend of God in the Old Testament as well (Isaiah 41:8), not during his lifetime, but many years afterwards]

We see how Moses employs his friendship with God for his most sincere love for his neighbor. He turns to Him with an audacious prayer in the hour of God’s anger at the sin of the Israelites: And now, [Lord], if thou wilt forgive their sin, forgive it; and if not, blot me out of thy book, which thou hast written (Exod. 32:32).

Moses becomes the instrument of the great works of God: through him people regain the law of God which they forfeited through their sin in Eden. The possibility of serving God and partially communicating with Him returns, and the earth is no longer a total stranger to heaven. From this time on the process of the preparation of mankind for the acceptance of the Son of God begins—not fully, not perfectly, in shadows, images and conjectures. For this reason the Church sees the prefiguration of Christ in Moses and often chants hymns during festal services which compares them one to another. For example, the Dogmatic Theotokion of the 2nd tone reads: “The shadow of the law passed away when grace arrived… in place of the pillar of fire, the Sun of Righteousness hath shone forth. Instead of Moses, Christ is come, the Salvation of our souls.”

However, the Lord could not to fully reveal Himself in His Divinity to Moses. In the hour when the Lord calls him to His service, Moses obstinately refuses, igniting the wrath of God: I pray thee, Lord, appoint another able person whom Thou shalt send (Exod. 4:13, LXX). He sins before the Lord by the waters of Meribah (Numbers 20: 12) and at Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin (Deut. 32:51).

The Lord said to Moses: …Thou shalt see the land before thee; but thou shalt not enter into it (Deut. 32:52, LXX). The Promised Land was not only an earthly reality, but the prefiguration of God’s Kingdom. God’s words to Moses were in reference to both meanings of the Promised Land. The great holy righteous God-seer Moses was vouchsafed to see “the deification of human life,” the tabernacle of man and God, but he was not allowed to enter it.

Prophet Elijah
Russian icon of Prophet Elijah being fed by a Raven
The Holy Prophet Elijah Being Fed by a Raven.

The third lofty ideal of the Old Testament is personified by the Holy Prophet Elijah. His biography is infused with a powerful and jealous love for the Lord. During the reign of the unrighteous Israelite King Ahab and Jezebel, who has come to represent all that is most vile and repulsive, there arises a mighty prophet who burns with great, passionate zeal for the Lord. By God’s command and by a single word, Elijah closes the heavens and for three years there is not a single drop of rain in all the land of Israel, as punishment for the worship of idols. Elijah’s zeal for God brings down fire from heaven upon the sacrifice to God in order to stop Israel from limping on both knees and to witness which of the two is the true God—Baal or the Righteous Lord. In the unbridled but righteous anger against the corrupters of God’s people, the servers of Baal and Astart, Prophet Elijah kills 450 prophets of Baal (and 400 prophets of the grove) with his own hand (3 Kings 18:22). [Astart or Astarte is the Greek form of the name Ashtart, who, along with Asherah and Anath, was one of the three great goddesses of the Canaanite pantheon. In Canaanite religion she was associated primarily with fertility.]

One cannot reproach the holy and righteous Prophet Elijah. His dedication to God is no less than that of Abraham, his forefather. However, one does not find the likeness of Abraham’s weaknesses in him. Elijah is also capable of communication with God, no less than Moses. To him, as to Moses, the Lord appears on Mount Horeb. In the New Testament, only the two of them out of all of the Old Testament were chosen to see the Light of Tabor, the manifestation of God’s divine energies during Holy Transfiguration.

Perhaps one can rebuke Elijah for his fear of death as he runs away from Jezebel, who was pursuing him. And Elijah feared, and arose and departed for his life. (3 Kings 19:3, LXX) But to be frightened of death is too natural a feeling, typical for all men, and the Lord does not rebuke His prophet for this. There is nothing unlawful in Elijah’ fear, for there is no defiance of God’s command as in the case of the self-initiated strikes upon the rock by Moses at the waters of Kadesh [Instead of simply speaking to the rock, as instructed by God (Num. 20:12, LXX)].  And it is only upon completion of God’s mission that Elijah flees from his pursuer.

Yet even Elijah cannot be a worthy receptacle of the full revelation of God. His elemental, unbridled and unrestrained anger, his all-encompassing fire of zeal for God are of a different character from the spirit of the New Testament, the spirit of the One Who is meek and humble of heart. This is why, when the Apostles John and James insist that fire be brought down from heaven as in Elijah’s day, the Lord prohibits this, saying: Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them (Luke 9:54-56).

The Lord reveals this lovingly and delicately to His prophet when He appears to him.

And behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah? And he said, I have been very jealous for the Lord Almighty: because the children of Israel have forsaken thee; they have digged down Thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword: and I only am left alone; and they seek my life, to take it. (3 Kings 19: 13-14, LXX) And He [the Lord] said, Thou shalt go forth tomorrow, and stand before the Lord in the mount. Behold, the Lord will pass by. And, behold, a great and strong wind rending the mountains, and crushing the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake; And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire the voice of a gentle breeze (3 Kings 19:11-12, LXX).

Elijah was the great and mighty wind which tore down mountains and crushed the cliffs before God, but not the soft and gentle breeze. This voice which was missing in Elijah the Lord God waited to find in mankind for many centuries to come. For the Lord Who brings about salvation with the participation of those created in His image and likeness could not come to His creation without this light and gentle voice, for He is found therein, not in a mighty wind, an earthquake, nor fire.

The Theotokos as Perfection of the Old Testament and Bridge to the New
Russian Orthodox icon of the Annunciation of the Most Holy Theotokos
“Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it according to thy word” (Luke 1:38).

This gentle voice was finally manifested in mankind when the Lord sent the Archangel Gabriel to Nazareth (Luke 1:26-27). It sounded in response to the Annunciation, words more wondrous than were ever said to Abraham, words requiring more responsibility than those which were addressed to Moses and words by far more serene than those heard by Elijah. To these words there came a soft reply: Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it according to thy word (Luke 1:38). It is within this moment that the Coming of the Son of God to mankind became possible. At that moment it became reality, for the Almighty Lord, Who had waited for so long for this instant, did not wait a second longer, but reunited His creation to Himself, severed from Him by sin but never forgotten by His love. He renewed human nature, within the womb of the Ever-Virgin.

Yet Abraham, Moses and Elijah were vouchsafed participation in this process. The Holy Virgin was the offspring of Abraham in both body and soul. It was for the sake of her appearance into the world that he left the cultural beauty and comfort of Ur of Chaldea. From him, her forefather, she inherits sacrificial love for God, manifested in him through the sacrifice of his son on Mount Moriah, shown forth in even loftier and purer form by her through participation in the suffering of the Lord on the Mount of Golgotha.

She was raised and educated in the Law given by God through Moses on holy Sinai and was trained in the temple erected by Moses through the command of God. She corrected Moses’ insufficiency which he displayed at the Burning Bush (her prototype) by showing not a trace of doubt, no resistance to being chosen, but by replying humbly: Behold the handmaid of the Lord. The inappropriate indolence of Moses’ words send another was thereby erased.