“The New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New.” – St. Augustine
There is a unity between the Old and New Testaments since they both contain the inspired word of God. God revealed and foreshadowed this unity through both explicit means, like prophecies, as well as more hidden and implicit means of communicating His plan of salvation all throughout the Old Testament. Then, in the New Testament, we see all His foreshadowing fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. The more implicit means of revelation include what the Church refers to as typology.
For example, Moses, who leads his people out of slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land, is a type of Jesus, who leads His people from the slavery of sin to heaven. Isaac, who follows his father Abraham, carrying the wood for his own sacrifice at the hands of his father, is a type of Jesus who carries His own cross to Calvary to fulfill His Father’s will that He be the ultimate sacrifice.
Jesus is not the only figure who is foreshadowed in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New. His mother, Mary, who has her own important role in salvation history by cooperating with her Son, is also prefigured a great deal in the Old Testament. There are, of course, the explicit prophesies. In Genesis 3:15, God tells the serpent in the Garden of Eden, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; she shall crush your head.” Isaiah prophesies directly, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel,” (Is 7:14). Micah 5:2-3 places the woman in travail directly in Bethlehem. However, the outright prophesies are not the only forms of prefigurement for Mary. Just as typology can be applied to Jesus, there are also many types of Mary found in the Old Testament that point to what is to come. There are too many to cover in the space we have here, but I will highlight a few of them:
Eve – Eve was the first mother of mankind, as well as the female half of the couple who ushered sin into the world. Mary becomes the “new Eve” giving birth to the “new Adam.” They are the new man and woman who will bring about the remedy for sin and redemption for what Adam and Eve did.
And thus also it was that the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the Virgin Mary set free through faith. (St. Irenaeus: Against Heresies, Book III Chap. 22, ca. 180).
Sarah, the Wife of Abraham (Gen 17:15-16) – Sarah was the wife of Abraham by consent (as opposed to his slave wife, Hagar) and she was sterile, unable to give birth. Mary, also “unable” to give birth, not by sterility, but by virginity, gave her free consent to conceive by the Holy Spirit.
Rebecca, Spouse of Isaac (Gen 24) – Rebecca had her son, Jacob, take on the clothing of his brother, Esau, in order to obtain a special blessing from his father, Isaac. Through her consent, Mary enabled the Word of God to take on the clothing of human flesh so that He could bestow the eternal blessings of His Father on all of His people.
Queen Esther – Esther, due to her notable beauty, is married to the king, which places her in a position of power. After a high official of the king decrees to have her people, the Jews, exterminated, she intercedes with her husband on their behalf. Similarly, the beautiful Mary, cooperates with the King and intercedes through her fiat to bring about the salvation of mankind.
The Maccabees Mother (2 Mac 7) – The nameless Maccabees mother watches each of her seven sons martyred for their religion. Not only does she stand in her sorrow to observe their sacrifice, but she also bravely encourages each one of them to hold fast to their faith and to not fear the death that awaits them. Mary, likewise, follows her own Son through the events that lead to His own martyrdom, standing with strength, never crying out, and never doubting the will of the Father.
The “Virgin Earth” – God formed Adam from the clay of the virgin earth. Likewise, Jesus was formed in His human flesh in the Virgin’s womb.
The Ark of the Covenant – The Ark of the Covenant was a sacred vessel which contained the three holiest items: the manna; the rod of the high priest Aaron, and the law in the form of the Ten Commandments. Mary later became the Ark of the New Covenant as she carried within herself the fulfillment of these three things in Jesus Christ: the bread of life, the new high priest, and the new law.
The Burning Bush (Ex 3:1-17) – Moses encountered God in the burning bush. The bush contained the holiest of holies, but was not burned up, or consumed. This is a foreshadowing of Mary’s Immaculate Conception as she also contained God, which would have surely consumed her were it not for her sinless and pure nature, which is the only thing compatible for holding the nature of God.
Mary is a key and central figure in the salvation of mankind because her fiat (or freely given “yes”) to God, was necessary to conceive and bear the Savior of the World.
However, when you look at the unity of scripture as a whole – Old and New – the typology shows us that Mary was always going to be a central figure in salvation history in the mind of God. Through notable women and sacred objects, He prefigured and foreshadowed Mary’s role in bringing about redemption for mankind through her cooperation with the divine will and her Son, the ultimate Savior and King. God’s mind and plan cannot be fully understood or grasped. Thus, an attempt to isolate Mary as a simple and singular character from just a couple of chapters in the New Testament is a futile endeavor to try to contain that which cannot be contained. God has always been all-knowing and all-seeing, and in His wisdom and mercy, He revealed for us what was to come, not only in the person of Jesus, but also in His mother, Mary.
This week, read some of the scripture passages referenced above while thinking about how they provide a foretaste of Mary. These aren’t simply stand-alone stories, but pieces of a far more complex and awesome narrative. Reflect on your own life as well. Has God ever given you a foretaste of something that was to come later in your life that you did not recognize in the moment, but was later revealed in its fulfillment?