Uncovering symbolic meaning and metaphors

Uncovering symbolic meaning and metaphors

Understanding Biblical Symbolism

  • Biblical symbolism emerges as a sophisticated element in Genesis 12-25, contributing to the richness and depth of the narrative.
  • The number seven, seen in the repetitions of phrases or ideas seven times, signifies a complete or perfect idea, underscoring the theme of divine providence.
  • Names in the texts often carry symbolic meaning—Abraham (‘father of many’), Sarah (‘princess’), and Isaac (‘he laughs’)—being prime examples.
  • Barrenness, as seen in Sarah’s case, may symbolise spiritual desolation; however, its resolution, such as Isaac’s birth, often denotes divine blessing or miracle.

Analysing Biblical Metaphors

  • Metaphors in Genesis 12-25 are part of its rich literary fabric, offering profound insights into its characters and themes.
  • Critical metaphors include stars and dust, as seen in Genesis 13:16 and Genesis 15:5, where God promises Abraham descendants as numerous as these.
  • Sacrificial animals in God’s covenant with Abraham (Genesis 15:9-17) signify a binding agreement, underscoring the gravity of the divine promise.
  • Fire and smoke—the flaming torch and smoking fire pot (Genesis 15:17)—are metaphors of divine presence and power.

Recognising Figurative Language

  • Figurative language in Genesis 12-25 accentuates important narrative elements and the theological issues the text addresses.
  • Anthropomorphism, such as describing God as ‘walking’ in a ‘cool of the day’, is a poetic way of presenting the divine-human interaction.
  • The laughing of Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 17:17; 18:12-15) is a distinctive figurative element, marking both human skepticism and divine fulfillment.
  • When God tells Abraham to ‘lift up your eyes’, it is richly figurative, implying an insight of faith to see beyond present circumstances.

Interpreting Typology

  • Typology refers to characters, events, or institutions in the Genesis narrative that prefigure future ones in the biblical canon.
  • Lamb provided by God for Abraham’s sacrifice (Genesis 22:13) is seen as a typology of Christ’s sacrifice in Christian interpretation.
  • Isaac’s willingness to be sacrificed, without any recorded resistance, forms a typology for Christ’s obedience unto death.

The three heavenly visitors (Genesis 18) who foretell the birth of Isaac are seen as a type of the Holy Trinity in Christian theology.