Biblical Theology- Part 6: The Exodus
As we have seen in Genesis, up to this point it has become very evident that faith in the promises of God is an important theme in the early stages of redemptive history. The first half of the book of Exodus, namely chapters 1-15, focuses on the exodus event. Exodus is not only a story of God’s faithfulness to His covenant, but also “a story of the lengths to which God is willing to go to create for Himself a people” who live in His kingdom. Goldsworthy writes:
“Throughout the Old Testament, possession of the land is presented as a shadow of the future reality of living as God’s people in his kingdom…remember that all of mankind has been outside Eden since the rebellion of Adam and Eve…any revelation of the kingdom of God within the historical framework if the chosen people must take into account of the fact that even the elect are sinners needing redemption. Already this truth has been expressed in Noah’s deliverance from the watery judgment of the whole world. The exodus from Egypt repeats this picture with greater detail and clarity, so that the condition of sinners and the nature of God’s work to deal with this condition remain as the pattern of redemption until the coming of Christ.”
As Goldsworthy reminds us, the Bible is a unit. Not a group of unrelated books and stories.
And the very text of Exodus begins by inviting the reader to understand the story in light of what came before it in Genesis. The very first word in the ancient text of Exodus is the letter waw which is translated ‘and.’ So the text of Exodus 1:1 literally reads: “[and] these are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household.” This verse is essentially a repetition of Genesis 46:8 which announces Israel’s journey to Egypt. Now, the same words are used in Exodus to announce Israel’s departure from Egypt.
As we enter the book of Exodus we find that the descendants of Israel in Egypt have multiplied and become a great number. In Exodus 1:7 we read that the Israelites have become “fruitful and multiplied greatly”, thus fulfilling the creation mandate given to Adam and Noah.
The new King of Egypt has no regard for Joseph and his previous service, and see’s the Israelites as a threat to the security of the nation. In fear of their number the King makes the Israelites political/social slaves of the state. Again, we the the pattern of circumstances that appear to make the promises of God distant and seemingly impossible.
There is deep theological meaning behind the captivity in Egypt. In Egypt the pharaoh was seen as a “semi-divine being and his rule is understood as a reflection of the power of Egyptian gods. Therefore, by all outward appearances the God of Israel is unable to prevent foreign gods from exercising rule over His chosen people.
Furthermore, Pharaoh orders that all newborn boys be drowned in the Nile River. In light of the creation mandate to “be fruitful and multiply”, Pharaoh should be seen as a direct opponent to God and His purposes. The decree to kill the male children is nothing less than a challenge to God’s creation mandate. In many ways, “the battle in Exodus is between the [one] true God…and the false god Pharaoh who wises the keep God’s people under his own power.” At this point God brings Moses into the story.
Israel’s Savior Moses
Moses is born in the line of Jacob’s descendants in the line of his son Levi. In keeping with the unified theme of the Bible story, the story of Moses birth is told in creation language. Notice two points of correlation:
- When Moses is born his mother looks and him and declares that he was ‘good’ echoing the refrain in Genesis 1 where God pronounces what He has created as ‘good.’ What this points to is that Moses birth represents the beginning of the birth, the re-creation of the people. Their slavery will end and their savior will bring them into their rest, the Promised Land.
- Moses is also set in an ‘ark’ at placed in the waters of the Nile. Enns writes of the theological connection here: “Noah and Moses are selected to escape a tragic watery fate. Both are set on an ‘ark’ and are carried to safety on the very water that brings destruction to others.” In other words, they are both re-creation figures. Noah and Moses serve as ‘vehicles’ through whom God creates a new people for His own purposes.
Moses is rescued from Pharaohs command to drown all firstborn males in the Nile by his Hebrew mother and is then adopted by Egyptian princesses. In some ways Moses had ‘dual-citizenship’, he was born into slavery as a Hebrew, he was also an Egyptian prince adopted as a son into the royal family. In some ways Moses’ story can be likened to Joseph’s, “under the sentence of death, he had. Like Joseph before him, been raised up to be a prince in Egypt.” See, Moses is saved from death to show us that the opposing powers against God’s kingdom cannot destroy the chosen one to mediate God’s plan of salvation for His people. God will use Moses as an intermediary between God and the Israelites.
The next significant event happens when Moses is an adult. Moses is taking refuge in Midian, when God called to him out of the burning bush relaying the cries of the Israelites in slavery in Egypt. God speaking to Moses through the fire of His glory begins a new era in God’s plan of salvation. “The people could not deliver themselves. Their cause was hopeless; they were helpless in the power of the Egyptian empire. Further, the promises of God were such that only He could fulfill them.” Therefore God calls Moses to the burning bush not only to reveal Himself in a personal way [by His name], but to commission Moses to act in His name.
Therefore, Moses is the chosen human instrument through which God will act to bring His people out of slavery. In fact, God commands Moses to confront Pharaoh and to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. What we must remember is that God is working through Moses to bring about His purposes. So ultimately it is God’s power that secures the Israelites freedom.
“It is vital that we understand the place given to certain key figures, such as Moses, [and the people of Israel] in [the] Old Testament…Their significance is not primarily in the way they stand as examples of godliness and faith, but rather in the role they play in revealing and foreshadowing the nature and work of Christ.”
In fact, the portrayal of Moses leadership focuses on his weaknesses as well as his strengths. Moses has some reluctance based on his feeling of inadequacy to perform the task set before him. One example being that he is slow of speech, or not a fluent communicator. Furthermore, Moses has doubts that the people will believe that he is ‘God’s chosen.’ Goldsworthy points out that God reassures him on two grounds;
- He will identify the God who has spoken to him as “I AM” and as the God of their fathers. He is “I AM,” the God who is declaring His lordship in a very personal way. He is the personal God, who may be addressed by name. God is the “I AM” who determines His own purposes of mercy.
- Moses is granted some miraculous signs and wonders, which he will be able to repeat in order to persuade the Israelites of his mission. Later we see that the ten plagues that God performs through Moses demonstrate that the God’s of Egypt are powerless. These signs and wonders also function to show the God of Israel as the one true God.
The Covenant in Action
While Moses’ brother Aaron, and the people become convinced of Moses’ God given task, after Moses demands their release, Pharaoh denies the command and imposes harder conditions on the people. At this point the Israelites become very restless, and God responds with these words of promise;
“Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for with a strong hand he will send them out, and with a strong hand he will drive them out of his land. I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name the Lord [YHWH] I did not make myself known to them. I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they lived as sojourners. Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the people of Israel whom the Egyptians hold as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant. Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the Lord.“
Notice the use of God’s personal name YHWH here. Goldsworthy notes, “at some time in their history the Israelites ceased to pronounce the holy name YHWH…The important thing [here] is that this is the personal name of God, and it is linked to his character as the God who makes the gracious commitment of Himself to His people, and who is revealing what it means for Him to be faithful to that commitment.”
God’s Providential Sovereignty
Through all the plagues Pharaoh is persistent in refusing to let the Israelites go. Notice why. The writer mentions three ways in which Pharaoh’s heart is hardened:
- God hardens Pharaohs heart.
- Pharaoh hardens his own heart.
- At all other points the writer simply states that “the heart of Pharaoh was hardened.”
From the text we can clearly say that Pharaoh’s hardening of his heart was deliberate, and he is held responsible. At the same time we must also affirm that God is sovereign over all things. Apparently many have a problem with these passages, namely that God hardens Pharaoh’s heart. I think Goldsworthy puts it well when he argues that the Biblical perspective teaches that “human responsibility and God’s sovereignty are somehow intertwined without being in any way compromised.” This is something we must accept even though we will never fully understand the multi-dimensional ‘particulars’ of ‘how’ this plays out in each situation. It is clear in the Bible, God is sovereign and man is responsible for the decisions he makes.
In Exodus we see Israel referred to as the son of God for the first time. This intimately identifies them as God’s covenant people because they are known by His name. Also, when Pharaoh refuses to release Israel (God’s son) then God threatens the death of Pharaoh’s firstborn son. Not only that, but God threatens to wipe out every first born in Egypt. Notice, this also includes Israel as ‘being in Egypt.’
“Israel’s involvement with the tenth plague is an important part of God’s revelation of the kingdom. Unless they believe God and follow his directions all the firstborn of Israel will also die.”
Therefore, as commanded by God, on a specified day a year old male lamb without blemish is taken into each Israelite home. Four days later the lamb is to be slaughtered, and its blood is to be spread on the doorpost of each home. The flesh is to be roasted and eaten with unleavened bread. Also, each person in the home is to be dressed as if they were ready to go on a journey. On that night the Lord will execute judgment “on all the gods of Egypt.” When the blood covers the doorpost God’s judgment will pass and death will not befall the firstborn of that home. Clowney makes a few important observations here:
- The first born son is significant because they served as a representative of the family. Therefore, the infliction of judgment on the first born would represent the penalty of death to all in the family.
- The lamb died in the place of the first born son, and therefore also in the place of all those represented by the firstborn.
- Their partaking, or eating, of the lamb marked their restored fellowship with God that comes through the atonement God provides.
In remembrance of this occasion God instructs Moses to establish the feast of the Passover. Goldsworthy argues that this command to establish a memorial shows how important the Passover is in patterning the redemptive work of God. He writes, “we can safely infer that the lamb’s blood somehow covered the believing and therefore obedient Israelites so that they suffered no judgment.”
“As we reflect on the elements of redemption revealed in the exodus event, we are able to see why God led Joseph and his brothers to Egypt.” Israel’s presence in Egypt is not the product of a random sequence of events; God has purposes in all He does. See, Exodus is not only the continuation of a past story, it is also the beginning of a new one.” Redemption is always an act of re-creation. In fact, the language that the writer uses is the plagues and the parting of the Red Sea is very reminiscent of the creation narrative.
While the ten plagues cause much hardship for the Egyptians, in many ways they are probation. “They demonstrate and prove the forbearance of God who delays wrath and offers every chance to repent and obey, and the justice of God who, when every probationary exercise has failed, finally inflicts the wrath that is deserved.”
The last straw is seen when God delivers the Israelites from the armies of Pharaoh at the crossing of the Red Sea. In this event we see God harden Pharaoh’s heart again so that His power may be demonstrated and His purposes might be achieved. We also see God unleash His creative forces against the enemies of His people, and therefore His enemies.
Against a seemingly never ending struggle the people of God are reminded through Moses ““Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”
God’s word is proven true again, the waters are driven back so that the Israelites walk to freedom and the waters close over Pharaoh’s armies stopping them dead in their tracks. See, the parting of the Red Sea should be seen as an act of re-creation in light of Genesis 1:9 where the seas come together and separate themselves from dry land. In Exodus 14 the seas are opened to expose the dry land beneath. Remember, the dry land is the dwelling of many creatures, a place that supports life. In Exodus the act of creation is reversed against the Egyptians and the waters crash over the land bringing death. “This is also direct retribution for Pharaoh’s attempt to kill the Israelite firstborn in the waters of the Nile. Just as Pharaoh attempted to destroy the Israelites, by water, so God now destroys the Egyptians.” Also, the Israelites pass through the water on dry ground as they head to a new life redeemed from slavery.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ
The dimensions of redemption that are revealed in Exodus provide a beautiful pattern for understanding the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Take notice of a few patterns;
Israel’s slavery is contrary to the covenant promises made to Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, the fathers of the nation. It is on the basis of these promises, and nothing else, that God will show His faithfulness by redeeming His people out of slavery. “Redemption is God’s act of judgment upon His enemies whereby He retrieves His lost people and makes them His…It is thus a supernatural act of salvation worked by God out of love for a people powerless to help themselves.
Intimately tied to these events is the slaying of a Passover lamb, which delivers Israel from judgment so that they may live and go free. We understand that Jesus Christ is our lamb, who takes away the sin of the world. “He is our Passover, sacrificed for us. Our meal of fellowship with God is His communion feast.” In fact, Jesus death is called an exodus (departure) in Luke 9:31 indicating the inauguration of a new Exodus.
3. Freedom and Faith
Once the people are free, and they understand what God has done on their behalf, there is deep motivation to trust God and obey Him. Rightly so, the exodus event leads to freedom, faith, and celebration. This is expressed in a spontaneous act of worship centered on telling what God has done, pointing to His faithfulness. We see a beautiful pattern of song from Moses in Exodus 15, part of it which proclaims:
“The Lord is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise him,”
“Redemption as a release from slavery or from a position of misfortune now becomes one of the most significant themes in the Bible.” The exodus of God’s people here points to something much greater. Namely, Jesus Christ who is the true and greater Moses who has come to “bring His people out of slavery far worse than that imposed by Egypt – a slavery to sin and death. And by His death and resurrection He has defeated an anti-God figure much more heinous than a mere human pharaoh – Satan himself.”
The Good News is that the required blood of a sacrifice to set things back to how they should be has been shed. We must rest in the confidence that the Church’s Exodus is complete in Christ, and that in Christ we have truly entered the Promised Land.
- P.E. Enns, New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 146.
- Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 131.
- Most English translations leave this out for stylistic reasons.
- Genesis 1:22, 28.
- Genesis 9:1,7.
- Exodus 1.
- Exodus 1:22.
- Enns, New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 147.
- Exodus 2:1.
- Exodus 2:2.
- The word translated basket is teba, which literally means ‘ark.’
- Exodus 2:3.
- Edmond Clowney, The Unfolding Mystery, 88.
- The mention of God ‘hearing’ them indicates that God is about to act on His covenant promises.
- Clowney, The Unfolding Mystery, 90.
- Exodus 3:1-4:17.
- Exodus 3:7-9.
- Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 132.
- Exodus 3:11, 4:13.
- Exodus 4:10, 6:12, 30.
- Exodus 3:13;4:1.
- Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 132.
- Exodus 3:14-16.
- Exodus 33:19.
- Exodus 4:1-9.
- Exodus 6:6-7; 7:5.
- Exodus 4:27-31.
- Exodus 5:21.
- Special emphasis on certain words in Exodus 6:1-8.
- Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 133.
- Exodus 4:21, 7:3, 9:12, 10:1.
- Exodus 8:15, 9:34.
- Exodus 4:22-23.
- Deuteronomy 28:10.
- Exodus 4:22-23.
- Exodus 11:4-5.
- Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 135.
- Exodus 12:12.
- Clowney, The Unfolding Mystery, 98.
- Exodus 12:14-20.
- Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 135.
- Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 136.
- Enns, New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 147.
- Alec Motyer, Look to the Rock, 48.
- Exodus 13:17-18.
- Exodus 14:4,8
- Genesis 1.
- Peter Enns makes an interesting observation here: God chose “to fight with weapons that no one but He had, that only He could command, and against which there was no defense. The series of attacks upon Egypt removes all doubt as to who the victor in the battle will be.” (New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 148.)
- Enns, New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 148.
- Exodus 2:23-25, 6:1-6.
- Exodus 6:6-8.
- God’s love is expressed in His faithfulness to His word. In Exodus 15:13 the Hebrew word hesed is translated as ‘steadfast love’ or ‘unfailing love.’ This love must be seen as God’s unfailing and steadfast commitment to the covenant.
- Exodus 3:19-20, 7:3-5, 10:1-2, 14:13-14.
- Exodus 14:31
- Exodus 15:1-8.
- Exodus 15:13.
- Exodus 15:2.
- Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 137.
- Enns, New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 150.