53. The Cross in the Torah: Imagery and Symbols

Arye Powlison

The Tree in the Garden

The story of the cross began in the Garden of Eden when Eve, and then Adam, ate from the tree that had been forbidden to them by the Lord. Actually, it began even before that, when G-d forbade them to eat of it. Or did it begin even before that? In 1 Peter 1:18-20 it is written that Messiah was known as our sacrifice before creation. In Revelation 13:8, we are told that as the Lamb, He was slain at the foundation of the world (see the Greek word order); and Hebrews 9:26 shows us that His sacrifice has been applied often since then. According to Ephesians 1:4, we were chosen in the Messiah at the beginning of creation. The story of the cross must have begun, then, in the very nature of G-d, before He made the worlds.

Nevertheless, the story of the Garden of Eden is full of symbolism related to the cross. The word “tree” is the same as “wood” in Hebrew, and is a Scriptural synonym for the word “cross” (Genesis 40:19; Deuteronomy 21:22-23; Joshua 8:26; Galatians 3:13; Acts 5:30; 1 Peter 2:24). Trees sprouted from the earth on the third day of creation, after it had been dark, waste and empty; here the trees symbolise the Lord, who rose from the grave on the third day. In this vein He is compared to a sprout from the trunk of Jesse, and also to his root (how is He both? Isaiah 11:1-10); and to the olive tree into which we have been grafted (Romans 11:16-18), or to the grape vine on which we are growing as branches (John 15:5). In this sense He is truly our Tree of Life, from whom we may eat and live forever (John 6:51).

Of all the trees which G-d planted in the Garden of Eden, two were of special interest: the Tree of Life, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The latter, after it was forbidden to Adam, became the Tree of Death for him and for Eve; it is our first representation of the Cross in Torah. The Tree of Life was permitted to them; if they had eaten from it they would have lived forever (Genesis 3:22). Apparently, they had not yet discovered it when they were cast out of the Garden. If they had, their story may have been completely different. This tree was Messiah, the wisdom of G-d for those who are called (1 Corinthians 1:24), and as such, a Tree of Life to those who take hold of Him (Proverbs 3:18).

Why did the Lord create the serpent? Why did He allow him to tempt Eve to eat the forbidden fruit? He still tempts us to disobedience, as a result of which we die spiritually. The serpent is closely associated in Scripture with the symbolism of the Cross. We find him here at the very beginning, next to the good tree which seems evil to us, evilly enticing Eve into sin and death – and making Yeshua’s death on the cross a necessity. In a very real way, when Adam and Eve ate of the tree, they were participating in the crucifixion of the Lord. We could even say that Yeshua was crucified at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. We also, by our sins, participate in His crucifixion.

Satan, who is referred to as “the serpent of old” (Revelation 12:9) because of his role in the Garden of Eden, also had a direct part in the crucifixion of Yeshua. He entered into Judas to cause him to betray Yeshua (John 13:21-30), and orchestrated the powers who tried to do away with Him (John 8:38-44; 1 John 5:19; Ephesians 6:12; John 14:30-31). Satan lied to tempt Eve, and he used liars to condemn Yeshua (Matthew 26:59-66).

Eve, and then Adam, ate from the tree which was forbidden, and so entered into death. A tree with good fruit became the source of death for them, because they ate of it in disobedience. The knowledge of good and evil was not by its nature a bad thing to have; but when reviewed in a state of disobedience, it produced spiritual death by showing them their guilt. Actually, they had already been given the seed of that knowledge, in the command not to eat of the tree; this was in itself the knowledge of an evil, that of death through disobedience, and also the promise of good through the permission to eat of the Tree of Life.

This is like the Law of G-d in the Scriptures: the knowledge of good and evil which it gives us is part of G-d’s truth, a truth which holds the promise of life for us if we obey; but when that knowledge is received in a state of disobedience to the truth, it produces condemnation. This is why the Law of Moses brought death to those who disobeyed G-d in the wilderness (Psalm 95:7-11; Hebrews 3:12 – 4:2), and why the Law of Messiah brings spiritual death to those who are in the flesh today (Romans 7:12-14;8:5-14). We must be born again of the Spirit, and our flesh must be crucified with Messiah, before the knowledge of good and evil can be received without incurring guilt.

Adam and Eve were apparently created without this knowledge. It was not until after they had eaten, that they and their descendants received that instinctive awareness of good and evil that we usually refer to as “conscience” (cf. Romans 1,2). As a result of this awareness, death became the lot of mankind. Because of the disobedience inherent in the fleshly state, Adam and Eve were not capable of living up to the requirements of that inner knowledge. Had they eaten first from the Tree of Life, it could have transformed that inner state for them, just as eating from the Messiah transforms our inner man today.

The knowledge of good and evil is part of the Word of G-d, and one of G-d’s attributes, as the serpent also claimed to Eve; therefore this tree was a good tree. But when combined with the frailties of our human nature, it is an aspect of G-d’s nature which produces death in us. For us, it was tree which had to be avoided. Why, then, did G-d make it available to them at all? Or why did He create them with that kind of frailty in their nature? Of the myriad possibilities available to Him at creation, He chose to bring this particular combination of circumstances into existence. As the Creator, He had the right to choose anything which seemed good to Him; but why did this seem good to Him?

The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was part of our redemption Before they ate of it, Adam and Eve were lacking an aspect of the divine nature: the knowledge of good and evil. Even the immediate results of eating were catastrophic, we know from the scriptures mentioned previously that G-d had planned for their redemption before He created them; and that He would still give them access, at the price of surrendering their fleshly nature, to the Tree of Life.

In the same way the cross gives us an experience of part of the divine nature: the voluntary suffering of pain in order to bring others into a higher spiritual state. However, we must first agree to the death of our own flesh. The cross also gives us the knowledge of good and evil: the evil of those who crucify and the goodness of the Lord in willing to be crucified. Israel unwittingly provided for both of us and themselves an entrance into a higher level of the Divine Nature. This entrance was at first as catastrophic for them as it had been for Adam and Eve; but G-d had also already promised Israel’s eventual redemption (Jeremiah 50:20).

The result of eating of the forbidden tree was exile from the garden where Adam and Eve had walked with the Lord (Genesis 3:8-9); the result of the crucifixion of Yeshua was exile from the land where Israel had walked with the Lord (Matthew 23:37-39; Luke 23:28-31; 21:20-24; Ezekiel 39:21-29; Zechariah 12:10). The sword of conquest prevented Israel from returning to the Land of Promise. A flaming, rotating sword prevented Adam and Eve from returning to eat of the Tree of Life; this is the sword of the Spirit, the Word of G-d, which destroys the fleshly nature of all who would partake of Messiah (Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12).

The cross of our Lord seems an evil thing from the viewpoint of the flesh. Its fruit, His body and blood, produce death in us: death through judgement if we misuse them (1 Corinthians 11:28-31), and voluntary death to the flesh if we receive them properly. This fruit was symbolically forbidden to Israel, in the Law against eating blood, and in the law restricting them to the meat of kosher animals. It was forbidden on the physical level in order to add honour and holiness to it on the spiritual level; and so that no-one would make the mistake of thinking that it was the physical that was important. The forbidden tree resulted in a curse of suffering for Adam and Eve in the production of food and in the bearing of children (Genesis 3:16-19). Spiritually, this is also true for us. Not only do we share in the Lord’s suffering for those we give birth to spiritually, we also labour in order to provide spiritual food for ourselves and for them. Disobedience to the Law of Moses also brought a curse on the womb and in the field (Deuteronomy 28:18).

Finally, G-d Himself also suffered because of the tree. It required that He send His Son to shame and death. It deprived Him of the fellowship He had been having with Adam and Eve before they ate. He felt the pain of their spiritual death, as love always will (Ezekiel 18:23, 32; 33:11). He was left with a flawed and suffering creation (Romans 8:18-23), and with people who were almost always in some degree of rebellion against Him.

Noah’s Ark

The story of Noah and the wooden ark is the second major picture of the cross in Torah. The story begins with the problem of evil in men’s hearts (except for Noah):

“Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. And the Lord said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.’ But Noah found favour in the eyes of the Lord. These are the generations of Noah: Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with G-d.” (Genesis 6:5-9)

G-d decided to solve the problem of evil by destroying both man and beast, and to start over again with Noah and his family and the animals they would take with them:

“Then G-d said to Noah, ‘The end of all flesh has come before me, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth. Make yourself an Ark of gopher wood; you shall make the ark with rooms, and shall cover it inside and out with pitch. And this is how you shall make it: the length of the ark three hundred cubits, its breadth fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. You shall make a window for the ark, and finish it a cubit from the top; and set the door of the ark in the side of it. You shall make it with lower, second, and third decks.’ And behold I, even I, am bringing the flood of water upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life, from under heaven; everything that is on the earth shall perish. But I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall enter the ark – you and your sons, and your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female.” (Genesis 6:13-19)

G-d made a new beginning, similar to the creation, in which the father of all men was walking with G-d. However, the first family had already witnessed the wrath of G-d poured out on sinners, so there could be no doubt as to the consequences of sin. Also, there was now no forbidden tree.

Nevertheless, there was the grapevine. Noah misused its wine, and as a result revealed his own nakedness, which here, as in the Garden of Eden, symbolised sin. Ham, instead of covering and forgiving, turned it into gossip with his brothers, and received a curse on his son. Noah, instead of pleading with G-d for Ham’s forgiveness, pronounced judgement, and cursed his own grandson (Romans 12:14).

Here we have a small echo of the cross in a similar way to what we have already seen at the tree in the Garden of Eden. Yeshua compared Himself to the vine (John 15), and his blood to wine (Matthew 26:27-29). Those who misuse the Lord’s blood become sharers in His crucifixion (Hebrews 12:4-6); and the one who curses man, curses someone who has been made in the likeness of G-d (James 3:9-10). Thus Noah, the one whom G-d had chosen to bring redemption to His creation, became a symbol of those who had crucified the Lord. Again the first man, one who walked with G-d, sinned, and fell short of His glory; his descendants fell into sin, and again began to spoil creation. Again the need for the cross was confirmed.

But this was not the main picture of the cross in the story of the flood. The ark itself symbolised the cross; for it was the only means of salvation for faithful Noah and his family: it also removed them from the sinful world:

“By faith Noah, being warned by G-d about the things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.” (Hebrews 11:7)

“But may it never be that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14)

From Noah’s point of view, the wooden ark carried him into a new creation of righteousness; the sinful world had disappeared, and was dead. This is what became of Yeshua, and of those who follow Him into His crucifixion: the wooden cross carried them out of the world of sin, and into a new creation of righteousness. The tree, which had been the cause of Adam’s fall, now became the source of Noah’s salvation, and ours.

But from the world’s point of view, Noah was a fool building a boat where there was no water, preaching righteousness to a world not interested in being righteous (2 Peter 2:5). They must have thought he was crazy. He was wasting his family’s time, energy, and resources. No one believed him; no one was willing to follow him, except his own family.

The flood took them away to a different place, a place where they no longer saw Noah, and no longer had the freedom to do as they pleased, to G-d’s prison for the spirits of the departed who had been disobedient. But even there they could not get away from the preachers of righteousness:

“For Messiah also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to G-d, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the Spirit; in which He also went and made proclamation to the spirits in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of G-d kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. And corresponding to that, baptism now saves you – not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to G-d for a good conscience – through the resurrection of Yeshua the Messiah, who is at the right hand of G-d, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him … For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of G-d.” (1 Peter 3:18-22; 4:6)

As the ark carried Noah, the righteous one, and his family, through the waters which brought death to the world, into a new life of righteousness; so also the cross carried Yeshua, the righteous One, through the baptism of death, into the world of spiritual life. It also carries us, as His family, through the waters of immersion into a new life of righteousness before Him. As Noah’s righteousness was effective also for the saving of his family (although this is not always the case – Ezekiel 14:13-21), even more was Yeshua’s righteousness effective in saving all those who call upon His name (Romans 10:12-13; 2 Timothy 2:22).

The ark which carried them, representing the cross, was three stories high; these three stories can represent the three days of Yeshua’s death (1 Corinthians 15:3-4), just as the stack of three baskets on the baker’s head, in the dream which was interpreted by Joseph, represented three days until his death (Genesis 40:16-18).

The evil in men’s’ hearts was painful to their creator (“and He was grieved in His heart” Genesis 6:6), but also the destruction even of evil men was painful to Him (“I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live” Ezekiel 33:11); which must be why He provided them with another chance to receive life. We see, then, that the ark was a painful beginning to Him, as was the cross.

Just as Noah’s act of faith in building the ark brought destruction on the world, so Yeshua’s acceptance of death on the cross condemned the evil powers in the spiritual realm (Colossians 2:15); and the faith of those who follow Him, condemns the world of unbelief around them (Philippians 1:27-28; 2 Thessalonians 1:5-7):

“For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah; for as in those days which were before the flood they were eating and drinking, they were marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away, so shall the coming of the Son of Man be.” (Matthew 24:37-39)

Lot at the Door

One picture of the cross in the Torah which is rarely used is that of Lot pinned to the door of his house by the angry crowd from Sodom. Lot has not often been looked upon in a kindly way by those who study the Bible, for several reasons: because what happened between Lot and Abraham when they separated, when Lot chose Sodom and the fertile valley of the Jordan; and because of what happened later between Lot and his daughters, when they had children by him; and because of the enmity which existed later still between their descendants (the Ammonites and the Moabites) in Israel.

However, Lot was just as determined to be hospitable to the visiting angels as Abraham had been:

“Now the two angels came to Sodom in the evening as Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. And he said, ‘Now behold, my lords, please turn aside into your servant’s house, and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you may rise early and go on your way.’ They said however, ‘No, but we shall spend the night in the square.’ Yet he urged them strongly, so they turned aside to him and entered his house; and he prepared a feast for them, and baked unleavened bread, and they ate,” (Genesis 19:1-3)

G-d was again about to bring judgement on evildoers, but on a more limited scale than He had during the flood, and had sent angels to Sodom to evaluate the situation first-hand. G-d had already promised Abraham that if there were even ten righteous men in Sodom, He would spare it for their sakes. Even if Lot was not like the other elders who sat in the gate of Sodom, the reception he gave to the angels as a representative of the city was impressive.

However, as the evening wore on, his hospitality was overruled by the rest:

“Before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, surrounded the house, both young and old, all the people from every quarter; and they called to Lot and said to him, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may have relations with them.’ ” Genesis 19:4-5

Peter wrote that Lot was a righteous man, and tells us that his soul was tormented daily by the lawless deeds of those who were afterwards judged by G-d (1 Peter 2:7-8). This was the price that he had to pay for living in the luxury of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Lot went out to rebuke the crowd, and to try to make a deal with them; in order to protect his guests he was even willing to offer his two virgin daughters in their places:

“But Lot went out to them at the doorway, and shut the door behind him, and said, ‘Please, my brothers, do not act wickedly. Now behold, I have two daughters who have not had relations with man; please let me bring them out to you, and do to them whatever you like; only do nothing to these men, since they have come under the shelter of my roof.’ ” Genesis 19:6-7

Lot was willing to sacrifice his own flesh and blood in order to protect strangers who had come to lodge with him. In fact we see that he himself was put in danger by the same crowd, because of his reproof of their actions:

But they said, “Stand aside.”

Furthermore, they said, ” ‘This one came in as a visitor, and already he is acting like a judge; now we will treat you worse than them.’ So they pressed hard against Lot, and came near to break the door.” (Genesis 19:9)

Here we have Lot, pressed up against the door of his house by evil men because he was standing in their way, refusing to give in to their evil desires; they may have intended to kill him, since they said, “Now we will treat you worse than them;” yet he did not give in, preferring to suffer himself, together with his guests, rather than consent to their abuse. This is a good picture of the cross.

The door represents the cross to us; it was probably made out of wood, and the crowd apparently intended to crush Lot by pressing him against it; his life probably depended in their view on whether his body was stronger than the door. If the door broke and saved him, they would still get what they were after.

The door represents the cross also in another way: just as the cross separated Yeshua from the world of those who put Him to death, and protects those of us who are under His care; so also the door of Lot’s house separated Lot and the people under his protection from those who wished to harm them: “But the men reached out their hands and brought Lot into the house with them, and shut the door. And they struck the men who were at the doorway of the house with blindness, both small and great, so that they wearied themselves trying to find the doorway.” (Genesis 19:10-11)

Here the power of G-d must have been used to open and shut the door, for with such a large crowd pressing in, it is hard to imagine that two men could have the strength to open and close it against so many. By the power of G-d the door became the gateway to salvation for both Lot and his household.

Those who were outside who looked at the closed door saw only offence and refusal to give them their fleshly desires. For Lot, who was willing to take their punishment, when he was pulled through the door from death to life by the angels, it was like the doorway to eternity. In a similar way, Yeshua on the cross passed from death into life.

For those outside in Sodom, it was a door of punishment which they intended both for Lot and for those who were inside; it was useful to crush Lot, and also the way to get at his guests. But for those who were willing to be part of that household, it was a doorway which saved them from the corrupt world: not only from the punishment which was intended for them (from which death saves us as well), but more importantly, from the judgement of G-d.

Those who wished to treat Lot badly were blinded by the angels so that they could not find the door. Those who had Yeshua crucified had been blinded so that they could not find salvation (Romans 11:25; 1 Corinthians 1:23-24). The door kept out those who were assigned to destruction, just as the offence of the cross keeps away those who have been blinded by this world.

As far as the men of Sodom were concerned, Lot could just as well dead. As far as the angels in the house were concerned the men of Sodom could just as well have been dead. Paul meant when he said that by the cross of Messiah the world is crucified to me, and I to the world (Galatians 6:14).

After they tried to punish Lot, after Lot passed through the door, the crowd did not see Lot again. Even when he left the city, they were blind and could not see him. Only those of his household could see him. Only Yeshua’s disciples, his spiritual household, were able to see him after his resurrection.

When he tried to preach to his future sons-in-law so that they be saved also, their minds were blinded so that they could not believe him, and they would not leave:

“And Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, and said, ‘Up, get out of this place, for the Lord will destroy the city.” But he appeared to his sons-in-law to be jesting.” (Genesis 19:14)

As a result, Lot’s daughters did not have husbands; unlike Abraham, Lot did not provide for them. Yeshua also predicted that households would be divided because of Him, and that a man’s enemies would be those of his own household (Matthew 10:34-37).

(This article has been reprinted, with the permission of the author. It was originally one of the series of monthly articles written in support of Rabbinically-Oriented Messianic Judaism)

(Reprinted from Tishrei Vol 3 No 2, Torah, Summer 1995)



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