Mark Twain once observed: “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” What he meant was that though exactly the same thing doesn’t happen over and over again (in general), the careful observer will notice how the flow of historical events seems to reflect repeating themes. Just as in poetry, where a phrase on one line is found to rhyme with a later one, current events are often seen to have a counterpart in something sort of similar that happened in the past.
In that sense, it can be said that the pages of the Bible reveal our God to be the ultimate ‘poet’ in that He is the master of the ‘meaningful rhyme.’ Unlike ordinary history however, where the resemblance of events is usually unplanned, God’s rhymes are deliberately composed. And unlike the depressing repetition of disastrous historical events that result from persistent human folly, God’s rhymes involve acts of loving intervention which prefigure even greater acts. It is as if God uses these earlier incidents as “teaching moments” by which we are to learn to trust Him completely. Most specifically, a great many Old Testament events and individuals are seen in the light of the New Testament as pointing forward to Jesus Christ. We say that such earlier events ‘prefigure’ Christ or that certain individuals are ‘types’ of Christ. This is not just an invention of modern readers finding obscure relationships, but the connections are often made quite explicit in the text of the Bible itself.
Noah’s ark was the vehicle for preserving humanity from extinction in the waters of the flood. Baptism employs water to drown sin and deliver to salvation. (I Peter 3:20-21)
Isaac was the ‘beloved Son’ of Abraham who received God’s reprieve from sacrificial death after a three day journey. Jesus is the beloved Son of God who willingly gave Himself to be the sacrifice for mankind and was brought back from death after three days in the grave. (Hebrews 11:17-19)
Melchizedek was a prophet, priest, and king who blessed Abraham, the father of the Jews. Jesus is the prophet, priest, and king who blesses all the peoples of earth. (Hebrews7:1-3)
The Passover Lamb was an innocent creature without ‘spot or blemish’ by whose blood the children of Israel were delivered from slavery in Egypt. Jesus Christ is the sinless Lamb of God by whose blood all humans are freed from bondage to sin. (1 Corinthians 5:6-8)
The baby Moses was saved from death at the hands of the wicked Egyptian pharaoh. The Baby Jesus was saved from death at the hands of the wicked King Herod when his parents fled to Egypt. (Matthew 2:13-15)
Moses was God’s faithful servant who led his people out from slavery and was given the Law on Mount Sinai. Jesus is God’s obedient Son who leads all people out from the slavery to sin and death and through whom the Gospel of salvation is proclaimed. (Hebrews 3:1-6)
Manna fed the people of Israel during their ordeal in the desert. Jesus is the heavenly food whose body and blood feed us for eternal life (John 6:48-58).
The brass serpent was raised on a pole in the Sinai so that those who looked upon it were delivered from the consequences of their rebellion. Jesus was raised on the cross so that those who believe in Him might be saved from their sin. (John 3:14-15)
Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days before he was delivered. Jesus cited the ‘sign of Jonah’ as prefiguring His resurrection on the third day in the grave. (Matthew 22:40)
These are but some of the more obvious example of God’s ‘rhyming’ activities in the Bible. They not only demonstrate the continuity of God’s loving plan, but reassure us of His commitment to bring us to our final home with Him.