The OT account of Israel testifies to the inability of the people to keep the obligations of the Sinai covenant. Centuries after their rescue from Egypt, various prophets announce that God will establish a new covenant with his people (e.g. Isa. 54:10; 55:3; 61:8; Jer. 31:31–34; 32:40; Ezek. 34:25; 37:26-27). This new covenant is later initiated by Jesus Christ (Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25; 2 Cor. 3:6).
The book of Exodus records the greatest salvation event in the Old Testament. The record of God’s rescue and rendezvous with the Israelites at Mount Sinai is theologically rich. It models the salvation story of the whole Bible, as God redeems the Israelites from the grip of evil, ransoms them from the power of death, cleanses them from the defilement of sin and consecrates them for holy living so that they may enter into a friendship treaty with God, with the possibility of becoming a ‘kingdom of priests and holy nation’ (Exod. 19:6 NIV). Exodus reveals how one nation comes to know God personally, reversing in part the alienation created by Adam and Eve’s betrayal of God in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:1-24). God’s rescue of the Israelites foreshadows a more effective and more universal divine rescue, for the Exodus story pre-figures the coming of Jesus Christ to redeem, ransom, cleanse and sanctify people from every nation, who under a new and better covenant with ultimately dwell in God’s holy presence on a renewed earth.
The theme of knowing God relationally runs throughout Exodus, as God reveals himself through word and action. From being a distant deity, God comes to live among the Israelites. The concept of knowing God is highlighted when Pharaoh says to Moses: ‘Who is Yahweh that I should heed him by releasing Israel? I do not know Yahweh and moreover I will not release Israel’ (Exod. 5:2; author’s translation). The continuing narrative abounds with references to how God makes himself known to both Egyptians and Israelites through signs and wonders (Exod. 6:3–7; 7:5, 17; 8:10, 22; 9:4, 16, 29; 10:1–2; 11:7; 14:4; 18).
For the Israelites the process of coming to a personal knowledge of God involves various stages that are theologically significant. The Israelites transition from being under the control of a vicious, xenophobic dictator, who is considered a deity by his own people, to becoming the ‘treasured possession’ of a gracious and merciful God. They exchange one king for another, but the two kings are diametrically opposite.