When we read the Old Testament we sometimes forget an important thread of messianic anticipation. We notice the way Christ is foreshadowed in Moses’s prophetic work, Aaron’s priestly work, and David’s kingly work, but we sometimes overlook the females who foreshadow Christ.
When the second person of the Trinity took on human flesh, he came as a man. But this doesn’t mean female figures in the Old Testament are unable to shed further light on our Savior’s multifaceted work. If we’re willing to see that an inanimate object like the tabernacle foreshadows Jesus’s ministry, surely we can see that women created in God’s image do as well.
Consider three examples.
Jael’s Smashing Salvation
Judges 4 notes the prominent place of two women in the victory God wins under Barak. First, Deborah offers Barak wise counsel and stern rebuke. The result is a battle between the Israelite Barak and Sisera, commander of the Canaanites. God grants victory by the hand of Jael, the woman who drives a tent peg through Sisera’s skull. Dale Ralph Davis calls this a “smashing salvation.”
If we’re willing to see that an inanimate object like the tabernacle foreshadows Jesus’s ministry, surely we can see that women created in God’s image do as well.
Jael’s fatal strike in Judges 4 echoes Genesis 3:15’s promise that the serpent’s head would be crushed. Jael’s actions foreshadow the Messiah who would crush not just the head of a commander but the head of Satan himself.
Ruth’s Steadfast Love
When preaching through Ruth, pastors often point to Boaz’s redeeming of Ruth as foreshadowing Christ’s work. I’ve preached that too.
But Ruth also foreshadows Jesus. Near the end of the first chapter, as the distraught Naomi returns to Bethlehem, we read one of the most stirring speeches in Old Testament narrative. Ruth clings to Naomi (1:14) and says,
Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you. (1:16–18)
Most commentators point to Ruth’s actions as an example of discipleship and devotion. They exhort their readers to follow her example. But in Ruth’s actions we also see God’s love for his own. The Hebrew term translated “clung” in verse 14 is the same used in Genesis 2:24 for the union of the first man and woman. It suggests a close, unbreakable bond.
God never abandoned Naomi. Despite her family’s wandering and the resultant suffering, God’s love remained constant. Ruth’s clinging to Naomi demonstrates this. The narrator of Ruth wants us to see an echo of God’s covenant love for his people.
Ruth’s actions foreshadow the way Christ holds his people fast. Though we fear our faith may fail, Jesus promises no one will snatch us from his hand (John 10:28). Though we stray like Naomi’s family and seek salvation elsewhere, Christ’s love remains constant. He grasps us firmly and promises nothing will separate us from his love (Rom. 8:38–39).
Esther’s Bold Mediation
The book of Esther doesn’t name God explicitly. How can such a book foreshadow the Messiah? It does through its queen.
Esther, on hearing the plight of her people and with gentle encouragement from Mordecai, acts boldly. She takes her life in her hands by approaching the king uninvited. Esther then advocates for her people, pleading their cause. Indeed, she secures their safety through her advocacy. Her success is based on her status in the eyes of the king, who loved her more than all other women (Est. 2:17).
Ruth’s actions foreshadow the way Christ holds his people fast. Though we fear our faith may fail, Jesus promises no one will snatch us from his hand.
A cursory reading of Hebrews or 1 John immediately reveals the commonalities between Esther’s actions and Christ’s. In Hebrews, Jesus enters the holy place to act as mediator on our behalf (Heb. 9:11–15, 23–28). He’s in the heavenly throne room because of his status, speaking for us (Heb. 10:1–18). Doesn’t Esther’s mediation foreshadow Jesus’s?
In 1 John 2:1, Jesus stands before the Father to advocate for us that we might not suffer the judgment due to sin. Esther, likewise, stood before the king to advocate for her people that they might not face death at Haman’s hands. Doesn’t Esther’s advocacy foreshadow the ongoing heavenly ministry of the Messiah?
The ways in which the Old Testament anticipates the Messiah are so varied and multifaceted we often miss their depth. Just as when we gaze at a cloudless night sky and our eyes see more and more stars the longer we look, so too pausing to gaze at the Old Testament reveals layer upon layer of messianic anticipation.
Slow down and look for more. Pause to gaze. Jesus is longed for and predicted in diverse ways in the Old Testament. May the Spirit aid us in seeing them all, not least through the females who foreshadow Christ.