In the exodus story and the many other stories that share its patterns, the Scripture looks us directly in our eyes in the present day. The themes of redemption disclosed in such narratives resonate with those of the New Exodus that we have been caught up into by the work of Christ. When we hear exodus stories we are listening to variations within the one great Story, a Story that finds its climax in the Great Exodus, as through the Passover sacrifice of his Son, the Father delivers us from the kingdom of Satan, leading us by the Spirit into the new creation.
- The deliverance from Egypt is not the first example of the exodus pattern in the Bible.
The story of the exodus is anticipated in various ways and through several stories in the book of Genesis. For instance, in Genesis 12-14 there was a famine in the land and Abram went down into Egypt to stay there. Pharaoh took Sarai, threatening the woman and the promised seed. Pharaoh was deceived by the woman, Sarai. God then plagued Pharaoh on account of her, while Abram received many gifts from Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Discovering that Sarai was Abram’s wife, Pharaoh commanded Abram to leave. Abram returned to Canaan, where the Promised Land was divided between him and Lot and God instructed him to walk throughout the land, as God would give it to him. Finally, Abram fought against kings of the land and was victorious. An exodus pattern is also found in the story of the deliverance of Lot from Sodom, or Jacob’s sojourn with Laban.
When God delivers Israel from Egypt in the book of Exodus, they are walking in the footsteps of the patriarchs. From a different perspective, God’s deliverances of the patriarchs are ‘reality-filled promises’ of the greater works that he will accomplish for their descendants.
- The exodus is a pattern that can be broken down into many stages.
The exodus pattern appears with varying degrees of prominence on a great many occasions in Scripture. Like a recurring theme in a piece of music, sometimes its presence takes the form of subtle and tantalizing hints, only perceived by the most alert listeners; on other occasions its presence is pronounced and highly developed.
The pattern of exodus can itself be broken down into a number of connected stages. James Jordan, whose work has, perhaps more than anyone else’s, inspired my attention to this theme, lists some of these in his book Through New Eyes:
- A threat drives the people of God from their home.
- There is an assault upon the Woman and her seed by the Serpent.
- Deception is used to outwit the Serpent.
- God’s people are enslaved.
- God blesses his people while plaguing their oppressors.
- God intervenes to save his people.
- The Serpent shifts blame and accuses the righteous.
- God humiliates the false gods.
- God’s people depart with spoils from their enemies.
- God’s people are brought into the Holy Land.
- A site of worship is established.
We generally don’t see every one of these stages in any given exodus story, but we will usually see several of them.
- It is an event in which God discloses his identity.
God revealed his covenant identity to his people in the context of the exodus. In the appearance and declaration of the divine name at the burning bush, in the plagues upon Egypt, in the theophany and deliverance of the Law at Sinai, and in his accomplishing of his people’s deliverance, God reveals himself through the events of the exodus. God is disclosed in his actions and the story of the exodus is one in which God is displaying his character and his commitment to his people.
At the burning bush, God declares his divine name to Moses and his commitment to deliver his people. It is as if God began by placing his signature firmly in the corner of the still-blank canvas titled ‘Exodus’, before proceeding to produce a work exceeding anyone’s imagining. Through the exodus, God demonstrates that his power is above all other supposed gods. Taking on all of the gods of the Egyptians, God proves his superiority in every realm of creation.
From the life-giving Nile to the sun in the heavens, God displays his power and shows that there is no one above him. By the time that the people arrive at Sinai, they have received a new revelation of the depths of God’s faithfulness and concern for his people, the immensity of his power, the unlimited scope of his sovereignty, and the fearfulness of his majesty. The Law begins with a reminder of God’s work of exodus, constantly reminding Israel of this knowledge.
- The exodus is institutionalized and made foundational for the future self-understanding of the people of God.
The exodus isn’t merely an event that occurs in history, then steadily retreats into a distant past. In the midst of the story of the exodus, God instructs Moses and Aaron to establish the month of the exodus as the first month of Israel’s calendar and to celebrate the Passover every year within it, memorializing the deliverance from Egypt (Exodus 12). The memorialization of the exodus in the yearly Passover celebration grounds Israel and its self-understanding in that great deliverance.
- The exodus and the exodus pattern help us to understand the meaning of and connections between events.
Part of the power of figural reading and of recurring patterns such as that of exodus is that they enable us to bring events, persons, and things into illuminating relations and juxtapositions. For instance, there are a number of connections between Moses and Joshua as a pair and Elijah and Elisha as a pair. Like Moses, Elijah is a prophet who spends most of his ministry in the desert, who delivers God’s judgment against an oppressive Pharaoh-like king (Ahab), and who encounters God at Mount Horeb. Like Joshua, Elisha’s comes to prominence with a miraculous crossing of the Jordan near Jericho. He then performs several miracles and achieves victories in the land. Recognizing an exodus pattern in the ministry of Elijah and Elisha helps us to get a firmer grasp on what God accomplished through them.