The Old Testament Symbols
IT DOES not lie within the scope of this book to go into minute detail concerning Old Testament symbolism. Very few writers have attempted to do so. And yet the fact confronts us that Old Testament symbolism is a rich field of study, and forms the background for all later symbolism.
From the very beginning, God Almighty used symbolism in order to teach important truths. The flaming sword of the angel of Eden was a symbol of the authority of God. The mark placed by the Lord upon Cain was a symbol to be read by all men. The blood sprinkled upon the doorposts of Egypt was a symbol, and the angel who slew the first born of every creature spared the households upon which this sign was placed. Tradition states that it was the Tau cross. When the Lord gave minute directions for the construction of the tabernacle and its furnishings, symbols were used everywhere. The same is true in regard to Solomon's temple. Nobody can read the oft repeated references to the numbers three, seven, twelve and forty, without realizing that these had a symbolical meaning.
We will not attempt to give an exhaustive list of Old Testament symbols, but will mention a few of them, leaving to the reader the interesting task of discovering more.
The Creation. Every one who has stood before the sculptured portals of Strasbourg Cathedral will recall the symbolical carvings of the Creation and the Redemption of man, and will realize the immense possibilities that lie within reach if only we might learn from the Middle Ages to decorate our churches with ornamental forms that have a meaning. Pictorial representation must be avoided in symbolism, unless such representation is treated symbolically. Instead of trying to picture the creation of the world, it is better to show a simple scroll with the first verse of the first chapter of Genesis carved upon it. We reproduce, with the Massoretic vowel-pointing, this first verse of the Bible. Often vowel points are omitted.
A very common symbolical representation of the Creation is the six-pointed star, known as the Creator's Star. This has been used from time immemorial as a symbol of the Creation, just as the five-pointed star signifies our Lord's Epiphany, and the eight-pointed star man's regeneration.
Sometimes a triangle is used, with the word Jehovah within it, in Hebrew characters. Some authorities state that this may be used only in Christian churches. Or the triangle may contain either one or two Hebrew Yods within the center. Or, the word Adonai, meaning "Lord," may be used with either a triangle, a double triangle, or rays of glory around it.
The shield of David, which is made by weaving together two equilateral triangles, is used in many Jewish Temples. In Christian places of worship it denotes the Holy Trinity.
Various attempts have been made to represent the creation of man, but most of them are not strictly symbols, but pictures. Perhaps the best way is to show a shield, upon which may be painted or carved the Hebrew rendering of Genesis 1, 27, wherein God creates man in His own image. It is about the simplest of the creation symbols.