In an earlier post, we considered the possibility that the Genesis creation narrative is prophetic revelation, and the implication that has for a literal interpretation. The truth that took us to that understanding is that when God spoke through prophets in the Old Testament, He did so in figurative terms. This is plainly stated in Numbers, but also clearly evident throughout Scripture. However, the Numbers passage also states that when He spoke to Moses, He spoke more plainly. What does this imply for interpreting that passage?
And he said, “Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the LORD make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?”
Numbers 12:6–8 (ESV)
Note that God describes the technique of speaking to Moses, but not the nature of what He communicated. From this passage, we might expect a literal narrative, but rather than jump to that conclusion, let’s look at other things that God gave Moses directly.
Much of the Pentateuch is narrative history in which Moses was either involved or closely associated. Passages like his birth narrative, for example, could have been given him by his sister. The Genesis narrative could have been passed down as either oral or written history. Either narrative could have been directly revealed to Moses, but there’s no Scriptural indication for that, so such an assumption is unwarranted.
So what things do we know were given directly to Moses?
Probably the most clear example is the Law, given to Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 31:18, etc). Although it was given as a set of commands to be obeyed, we find in Hebrews that it was only a “shadow” of the work that Christ did (Hebrews 10:1). It was a physical representation of many spiritual truths, and served to teach holiness, obedience, define sin, and ultimately, foreshadow the work of Jesus. It was a schematic representation of spiritual truths.
Another example is the tabernacle. Also given to Moses directly on Mount Sinai (Exodus 26:30), it was a place of God’s special manifestation. Although God cannot be confined anywhere, the tabernacle gave a picture of His presence. In the process, it taught about obedience, holiness, our separation from Him, and so on. Again, it was a schematic representation of spiritual truths.
In neither case were these real, literal manifestations of what they represented. The Law did not save, and God did not literally dwell in a tent. So even though the Lord revealed these directly to Moses, the nature of what He communicated was figurative: they were symbolic pictures of spiritual truths.
So if God revealed the creation narrative to Moses directly, we should expect it to be a schematic representation of spiritual truths in much the same way as these other revelations. The Law does not literally save, God did not literally dwell in a tent, and creation did not happen in a literal six days.