Exodus, in Hebrew Shemot is in many ways one of the most important and spiritually themes of the OT. The book of exodus tells the story of how God freed his people from Egypt and bound them to himself by a lasting covenant, and its far-reaching theological implications have been demonstrated most notably by the transfiguration of its theology in the NT, in addition to frequent allusions of it throughout the entire Scripture.
In this paper we will reexamine the biblical theology of exodus. Focus will be given on the exodus event of redemption (Ex 1-15), consecration (16-24; 25-40). Then we will attend to the interplay of exodus with other biblical themes in the prophetic books, such as the exile and the return from Babylonian captivity. Evidences of the use of exodus language to articulate God’s work in and through Christ in the gospels-Acts are subsequently treated in an attempt to cast new light on the integrity and continuity of this traditionally Hebraic theme. Finally we trace this single same thread that runs within Pauline literature and other NT books, notably Hebrews.
- The Redemption (Ex 1-15)
The book of Exodus begins by reminding its audience of the stories that come before, namely, the stories of Genesis. Its connection with the book of Genesis is above all linguistically testified by the Hebrew letter waw, which means ‘and’, in the first word of the book wü´ëºllè, (‘and these are’…). But moreover, Ex 1:1-2:25 gives clear resonances with God’s creation mandate and partriachal promises concerning progeny and land possession (Gen 1:28; 12:2, 7; 13:14-17; 15:18). While Pharaoh with his serpent-like shrewdness, enslaves the Israelites to harsh task and claims to be a deity, God hears the cry of them and remembers His covenant with Israelites’ forefathers (Ex 2:20-24). The exodus event hence should be rightly considered God’s redeeming act performed for His covenantal community, rather than a national group’s self-liberating effort.
God appears to Moses and calls him to be a prophet, one who announces God’s deliverance and acts for it (Ex 3:7-10). Moses feels overwhelmed before this enormous task and expresses a sense of inadequacy. But God is determined to elect Moses to be the spokesperson and leader of the Israelites. Through the sign of inconsumable burning bushes and the revelation of His divine name Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh (‘I am who I am’) not only does God manifest Himself before Moses, thereby implying a genuine intimacy with Moses that is similar to the covenantal relationship God has with Abraham, but also empowers him with eloquence of speech and ability to perform wonders (Ex 3:11-4:17).
The result Moses initial encounter with Pharaoh is less than promising (Ex 5:1-23). Integral to the Exodus is the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart (Ex 7:3; 8:15, 32). The prolonged sequence of Moses’ confrontation against Pharaoh, each of them stands as representative of one power axis, raises an intriguing theological issue as to why does God harden Pharaoh’s heart instead of sweeping away all oppositions at once. R. E. Watts is right here to suggest that the pattern of opposition and great supernatural manifestations on YHWH‘s part demonstrate the principle of lex talionis. He comments:
"[A]s Pharaoh hardens his heart to Israel’s hard labour (Exod. 1:14; Deut. 15:7; 26:6) so Yahweh’s hard hand (Exod. 3:19) hardens him so that, ironically, he finally drives Israel out with his own hard hand (6:1). Pharaoh’s hardness, in the face of many signs and wonders, becomes the occasion for acts of judgment intended to show all Egypt that Israel’s God is Yahweh (7:3–5)." ("Exodus", Alexander and Rosner 2000, p.159; Pao 2002)
The ten plagues are intended to humble Pharaoh as well as the Egyptians from their haughty beliefs in their pagan gods. The Egyptian magicians, as well as the unduly deified Nile river (as the god Hapi) and the sun (as Re) are subsequently humiliated. Water becomes source of bloody death—as opposed to spring of life; day ceases being light and darkness takes over. After watching the final plague, in which all the firstborns of Egyptians are taken away of their lives, one may draw a reasonable inference that each these plagues is an one-time reversal of creation order whereby God destroys the idolatrous arrogance of Pharaoh and reassures the Israel, which is to be considered God’s firstborn.
The tenth plague culminates in the Passover narrative (Ex 12:13-27). It initiates the Jewish tradition of Passover, as the Jewish today still seek to apply what is prescribed. Key to the ritual is the slaughter of a lamb, the essence of which being atoning sacrifice indicates that Israel is in itself no different from Egypt if it is not distinguished by God’s favorable discrimination.
Reminiscent of the Genesis creation account, the language used in describing the parting of the red sea (14:1-31), in particular the allusion to darkness and light as well as the appearance of dry land, marks the re-creation theme as the underlying motif in the theology of exodus (Gen 1:2-10; 8:3-4) .
- Consecration (Ex 16-40)
Israel’s journey through the wilderness is also a quest for its national identity. By issuing laws/degrees and a prescription to build the tabernacle, God puts across to the Israelites that they are His elect people, whom He has just redeemed and has created anew (Ex 19:5-6). The two main bodies of the law are the Decalogue (Ex 20:3-17) and the book of the covenant (Ex 21:1-23:19). The law does not merely tell the Israel what to and not to do in terms of civil and religious value, but it also conveys God’s own nature from the theological and revelatory aspects, thus having both horizontal and vertical dimensions.
The establishment of tabernacle, in the same vein, has more to do than simply having a place of worship in the desert. The purpose of tabernacle is to mediate the presence of YHWH, their God. On the one hand, it symbolizes the continuation of YHWH’s divine presence that holds the people together after His blazing appearance on Mount Sinai (Ex 19:10-19, 24:17; Deut 4:11). On the other hand, as the Israel moves toward the Promised Land, the tabernacle at its center transforms into an indicator that YHWH is Israel’s warrior-king.
Instructions concerning the tabernacle consist of the majority of the last sixteen chapters of the book of Exodus. Although modern readers may seem bewildered by the repetitive instructions concerning the details of building materials (such as lamp stamps and incense altar), the fact that they demand tedious and detailed prescription exactly shows how significant this tabernacle is a concern for God and His chosen people to remain faithfully in the covenantal relationship. The images and symbols within the tabernacle resonate with the Garden of Eden, with the presence of guardian cherubim (Ex 25:18-22; 26:31; cf. Gen 3:24) as well as the stylized candelabra (Ex 25:31-36; cf. tree of life in Gen 2:15), and, when placed within a broader ancient near eastern context, it indicates YHWH’s kingship over His people, as "royal thrones were regularly flanked by fabulous creatures" ("Book of Exodus", Vanhoozer, Bartholomew et al. 2005, p.142)
- Exodus in the Prophets
The conquest motif is fused into the theology of exodus as Joshua is presented as the new Mosaic leader for the Israelites (Josh 3:5-17; 4:14; 5:14-15). Indeed the exodus event itself cannot be regarded as the completion of God’s promise fulfillment if the Israelites were still wandering in the wilderness and have not entered the Promise Land. Joshua’s presiding over the Jordan crossing (Josh 3:9-17; 4:18-24) the victory in Jericho are reminiscent of Moses’ parting of the Red Sea that annihilates the Egyptian army at the same time. His call for covenant faithfulness at Shechem also recounts the story of exodus event that links Abrahamaic promise and Canaanite conquest together (Josh 24:1-13).
In the Monarchical period, the history of exodus is still being alluded to account for the kingdom’s existential foundation (1 Kg 6:1), and the warnings are issued against covenant-breaking with the alleged consequence of back to exile again (1 Kg 9:9; 2 Ch 7:22). Not surprisingly, Jeroboam and his successors, in their failure to resume the Mosaic leadership but Aaron-type apostates have caused the split of monarchy and eventually results the exile of the Israel (1 Kg 12:28-33; 2 Kg 17:7-7-13; cf. Ex 32:4).
The influence of exodus theme can hardly be overstated in the prophetic books. First it is Jeremiah and Hosea who prophesied from a theological standpoint about God’s punishment of Israel and the Babylonian captivity being a reversal of the Exodus (Jer 7:22-26; 11:3-7; 21:5-7; Hos 9:3). Ezekiel traces Israel’s infidelity all the back to the beginning of exodus event, and it is only through God’s constant mercy that this people is spared from perishing in its entirety; but they never actually enter the Promise Land in terms of the rest/Sabbath of God. The radical point that the first exodus and conquest have been a failure, instead of being a successful typology of salvation that foreshadows the redemption of Christ in a much larger scale, is confirmed and recounted in the Hebrews, which we shall turn to in the final section.
This punishment, however, will be temporary instead of permanent. In the latter part of the book of Jeremiah and of Hosea, both prophets make it clear that the God who has brought the Israelites’ ancestors out of Egypt will now restore this generation to the land He promised to their forefathers, thereby distinguishing this New Exodus theme (Jer 16:14-15; 23:7-8; Hos 11:1-11). Then Jeremiah prophesized about a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah that is not like the one He made with their fathers in the day He took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt (Jer 31:31-32). This new covenant will be unbreakable, since the Torah is imprinted in the people’s heart (Jer 31:33).
Whereas Amos also speaks of exodus as the basis of hope for the remnant (Amos 9:7-8, 14-15), Isaiah furthers the new exodus theology concerning the Israel’s return from Babylon by tying together the redemption in Genesis and Exodus as a thematic complex. He directs the Israel’s hope and confidence to God as their corporate redeemer, who is also the Creator of the Israel people and even the whole universe, that He will surely make a river in the wasteland for them as He is able to make dry land between the raging waters long ago in the genesis and the exodus (Isa 43:14-19; 42:5). On the one hand, one can be certain based on mighty deeds the Redeemer-Creator God performed yesterday that He is still doing the same thing and being the same God; on the other hand, He is unfathomable and is now doing a new thing (Isa 43:19; 64:1-3)!
- Exodus in the Gospel-Acts
The new exodus motif gains fuller significance and reaches another level in the person of Jesus Christ, whose life and teaching are testified by the Gospels and Acts. Early in the book of Matthew, the evangelist appeals to Hos 11:1 that draws the analogy/typology of God’s calling of Israelites out of Egypt to the baby Jesus’ being brought out of Egypt (Mat 2:15). In this new exodus, Jesus is admittedly the new Mosaic leader with the designation of "the prophet to come", which is an explicit reference to the "prophet like Moses" of Deut 18:15 but by this time also an eschatological figure in popular belief (Jn 6:14). In Mark and John’s gospel, this similarity is manifested in Jesus’ being tempted in the wilderness for forty days (Mk 1:12-13), humbling the sea and storm (Mk 4:35-41; cf. Ex 14-15), miraculous feeding of the mass (Mk 6:34-44; 8:1-10), the healing of sick (cf. Num 21:5-9), the outpouring of living water (John 4; cf. Num 17:6; 20:10-11), and the triumphant entry into Jerusalem (Mk 11:1-11). John the evangelist does not shy away from comparing Moses and Jesus, either, when he says "the law was given through Moses, whereas grace and truth came about through Jesus Christ" (Jn 1:17). He records Jesus’ prophesy concerning himself that he must be lifted up just as Moshe lifted up the serpent in the desert—resulting in the healing of many, or more precise, of whoever fixes his eyes upon it/him (Jn 3:14-15; Num 21:5-9).
The tabernacle theme is also transformed after the coming of Messiah. As it was superseded by the temple after King Solomon day, now the significance of the holy temple is also taken over by the spiritual reality realized in the incarnated and resurrected body of Jesus Christ. In the passage where Jesus claims to be capable of raising the temple in three days (Jn 2:19-21), it would not be hard to affirm that the temple’s upmost significance "God being among men" is presupposed. This is exactly what Jesus the "Immanuel" is here for. P. E. Enns (Alexander and Rosner 2000) notices that in the Greek vocabulary skenoo used in Jn 1:14 for the incarnated Word’s dwelling among us is actually the same root word used throughout the OT Septuagint for the tabernacle (skene). Christ is himself holy and sacred ground in whom God’s glory dwells and abounds.
For Luke, the birth of Jesus (Lk 1:51, 70-75) and his inaugural proclamation (Lk 4:18-19) does not merely resonate with the Mosaic exodus (Ex 4:13; 7:16) and the Isaianic new exodus (Isa 40:3-5; 58:6; 59:8; 61:1-4;; rather it actually initiates the new exodus, concerning which the prophecy comes to its long awaited its fulfillment, thus following a similar the typological pattern to that of tabernacle—temple—Christ-incarnated. The book of Acts begins with Jesus’ ascension forty days after his bodily resurrection (Acts 1:3). Subsequent theophany of the Pentecost recalls that of Mount Sinai (Act 2:23; cf. Ex 19: 16-19), while the person of Jesus is identified with the Mosaic prophet who is rejected (Acts 3:22; 7:20-41; cf. Deut 18:17-19) and the Isaianic suffering servant (Acts 8:32-33; cf. Isa 49:6 53:7-8). David W. Pao’s dissertation (Pao 2002, p.5) argues intriguingly that the entire Isaiah’s new exodus program as it develops and transforms the foundation story of Exodus provides the structural framework for Acts. He outlines his observation that the threefold program of Acts 1:8 is theo-political where Jerusalem, Judea/Samaria, and the end of the earth correspond to the new exodus restoration of Jerusalem, the reunification of the two kingdoms, the inclusion of the Gentiles, and, as he later adds, the conquest of the Promised Land . He further suggests that the undefeated word of God (Acts 6:7; 12:24; 19:20) in Acts must be interpreted in light of the hypostatization of the word as the active agent of Isaiah’s new exodus, which echoes the numerical growth of Israel in Ex 1:7, 20 (Pao 2002, p.159).
- Exodus in Pauline Literature and Other NT Books
Paul’s writing is rich of exodus imageries. He speaks of ancient Israelites’ baptism in the cloud and sea, eating manna in the wilderness and drinking from the rock so that in this sense Christians are baptized into Christ and now eat and drink in Him (1 Cor 10:1-13; 2 Cor 5:17; Rom 6:3-4). He refers to Christ as the Passover Lamb whose atoning death achieves the redemption and inaugurates the new covenant (1 Cor 5:7; 1 Cor 11:25; Rom 3:25; cf. Ex 12:21; 24:8; Lev 16:14-21). The new covenant is "written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts", just as it is prophesized in antiquity (2 Cor 3:3-4; Jer 31:31-34; Ezek 11:19-20; cf. Ex 31:18). Now whoever believes into Him is redeemed from slavery of sin into the relation of adopted sonship with our heavenly father (Rom 3:24; Gal 4:3-8; cf. Ex 6:6; Deut 7:8). Sinai’s law is unable to deal with sin and it is only through the gracious love of God in Christ in the law achieves its fulfillment. This covenantal love draws together both masters and slaves, both Jews and Gentiles, both men and women, and both those near and far to the presence of YHWH (Eph. 2:13–17; Gal. 3:26–29; 6:15; Is. 57:19; 52:7; cf. Rom. 4:16–17). But the establishment of new covenant and new creation order (2 Cor 5:17; Rom 6:3-4) does not bring universal salvation, instead, the engraftment of Gentiles onto the tree of salvation is "accompanied" by the loss of Jewish souls because of the latter’s rebellious stiff-neckedness (Rom 11:7; 2 Cor 3:13-16). This pertinently corresponds to God’s new exodus promise in Hosea to "those who were not my people" (Rom 9:25-25; Hos 1:10; 2:23; 1 Pe 2:10), who is joined by only small remnant of Israel (Rom 9:27-29; 11:5; cf. Zec 8:6-12; Hag 1:12-14).
But perhaps nowhere in the Bible is the expectation of Israel’s full restoration in the new exodus made more explicit than the book of Hebrews. In a recent journal paper Mathew Thiessen (Thiessen 2007) adds his argument to the suggestion made by E. Kasemann (Kasemann 1984, p.24) that the theme of continuing exiling Israel in Hebrew needs to be understood in light of that fact that it is considered the Israel has never really entered into the Promised Land ever since they were brought out of Egypt. In other words, the Promised Land is never actually possessed but only ever sojourned in" and "all history subsequent to the exodus belongs to the period of the wilderness wonderings" (Thiessen 2007, p.355). Thiessen considers that fact that "the Sabbath of YHWH yet to be obtained" in Heb 3-4 (esp. 3:7-19; 4:5; cf. Psalms 95), the deliberate omission of Joshua’s name in list of faith hall of fame, and the biblical author’s faint concern about Israel’s history after the walls of Jericho fall (Heb 11:1-12:3) as important clues for such interpretation. Furthermore, it has been argued that the list of faithful saints listed in Heb 11 is meant to single these figures out as remnant of sprout for the covenantal tree of God’s redemption, rather than delegates for the corporate identity of Israel nation (Thiessen 2007 pp. 358-362). Their marginalized existence beside Israel’s national destiny that underlies Heb 11 serves as an interpretative transition from an understanding to Hebrew Bible as the ethnic history of the Jews to the theological history of Christians. Therefore it is precisely through the ever-wandering state of Israel that the remnant’s faith and hope in the new exodus— what they did not see and have not obtained—becomes precious (Heb 11:1-2). Now Jesus, through his death and resurrection, atoning for the sins of many in His blood (Heb 9:12-14, 28; cf. Isa 53:11-12), has provided perfect access to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, which neither Moses nor Joshua has been able to bring God’s people to (Heb 3:1-6; 4:1-11; 12:22-24).
In the book of revelation exodus reaches its culmination. Those church is addressed again as the kingdom of priests (Rev 1:6; 5:10; Ex 19:6), ransomed by the slain Passover Lamb (Rev 5:6-10), provided with hidden manna and a new name written on a white stone (Rev 2:17). They together will sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, praising and glorifying God forever (Rev 15:1-4).
Through the exodus as common thread and central theme through the entire Bible we are given an insight into the way God modified the Israel people’s traditional law, and how God’s grace reacted to a broken covenant. The original story in Exodus finds its counterpart throughout the OT, and experiences transformation and attains perfect expression in Jesus the Messiah. While the redemption act in Exodus serves as a paradigm for Israel’s future hope, proper understanding of whole theme Christocentrically shall have an essential bearing on our spiritual identity and secure our eschatological assurance.
Alexander, T. D. and B. S. Rosner (2000). New dictionary of biblical theology. Leicester, England
Downers Grove, Ill., Inter-Varsity Press ; InterVarsity Press.
Beale, G. K. (2004). "Review article." Trinity Journal(25): 93-101.
Kasemann, E. (1984). The Wandering People of God: An Investigation of the Letter to the Hebrews. [S.l.], Augsburg Pub House.
Koet, B. J. (2004). "Acts and the Isaianic new exodus." Bijdragen 65(4): 494-495.
Pao, D. W. (2000). Acts and the Isaianic new exodus. Tübingen, Mohr Siebeck.
Pao, D. W. (2002). Acts and the Isaianic new exodus. Grand Rapids, Mich., Baker Academic.
Phillips, T. E. (2002). "Acts and the Isaianic new exodus." Horizons in Biblical Theology 24(1): 137-138.
Porter, T. G. (2002). "Acts and the Isaianic new exodus." Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 45(2): 364-365.
Riddle, J. T. (2003). "Acts and the Isaianic new exodus." Interpretation 57(3): 328.
Singer, C. (2002). "Acts and the Isaianic new exodus." Etudes theologiques et religieuses 77(2): 268-269.
Thiessen, M. (2007). "Hebrews and the end of the Exodus." Novum testamentum 49(4): 353-369.
Vanhoozer, K. J., C. G. Bartholomew, et al. (2005). Dictionary for theological interpretation of the Bible. London
Grand Rapids, Mich., SPCK ;
Watts, R. E. (2004). "Acts and the Isaianic new exodus." Journal of Theological Studies(55): 258-261.
Weatherly, J. A. (2003). "Acts and the Isaianic new exodus." Stone-Campbell Journal 6(2): 312-315.
Wilk, F. (2004). "Acts and the Isaianic new exodus." Theologische Literaturzeitung 129(1): 42-44.
Williams, J. T. (2003). "Acts and the Isaianic new exodus." Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 27(5): 181.