Article of the Month
James T. Dennison, Jr.
The Exodus of Israel from Egypt was the great act of redemption of the Old Testament. By his electing grace, the Lord brought his chosen out of the iron furnace. With a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, God delivered an enslaved people from a powerful taskmaster. The Exodus was salvation for a people oppressed, liberation for a people in bondage. The tyranny of a foreign lord [dominus] was broken and Israel went out free!
God’s instrument of deliverance — the mediator in this drama of salvation — was Moses his servant [Ex 14.31; Josh 9.24; Neh 9.14; Ps 105.26], his chosen or elect one [Ps 106.23]. This fugitive shepherd was commissioned in connection with a theophany [Ex 3.1-12] and authenticated as divine spokesman by supernatural signs and wonders [Ex 4.1-9]. The Mosaic kerygma is the proclamation of liberty to the captives [cf. Ex 3.7, 8, 10; 5.1; 7.16; 8.1, 20; 9.1, 13; 10.3]. Preludes to liberation are the ten plagues, which serve:  as apologias for the might of Jehovah, the one true God [Ex 6.1, 2; 7.5]; and  as judgments against principalities and powers, the strange gods of Egypt [Ex 12.12; Num 33.4]. By the finger of God [Ex 8.19], the dominion of the alien lord is broken. God delivers his people from the hostile powers [Ps 106.10; 107.2].
Prompting Jehovah’s mighty act was the election of Israel to a unique position and relationship: ‘Thus saith the Lord, Israel is my son, even my firstborn: and I say unto thee, Let my son go, that he may serve me . . .’ [Ex 4.22, 23]. Yet God’s son must not only be emancipated, Jehovah’s first-born must be ransomed from the destroying angel through the blood of a substitute. The transition from slavery to freedom must be matched by a transition from death to life. On the night when death stalks the land of Ham, a lamb’s blood is the sole difference between life for the sons of God and death for the sons of Egypt. The blood of an innocent victim without spot or blemish purchased life, and death passed over.
The Passover ratifies a change in masters. Because Israel belongs to Jehovah, he exercises his right of possession via redemption. Thus Israel is the possession of God, not only by elective birthright, but by ransom or formal purchase price. Foreign lordship is replaced by Divine Lordship.
With the change of masters, the sons of God begin a new existence. Exodus is the inauguration of a new way of life for the people of God. In their new life they are pilgrims, and in the wilderness they find themselves in between what they have left behind and what lies ahead. They are in between slavery and settlement; bondage and blessed possession; Egypt and Canaan. In between is the desert — a land of wandering, testing and dependence.
The new life is inaugurated by a water ordeal. At the Red Sea the people of God pass through the waters and leave the old life behind — the bitter servitude, the cruelly oppressive taskmasters, the threat of ever-imminent death. The old life is swallowed up — drowned! The past is behind them. Before them God opens a way into the wilderness, a highway stretching to the land of milk and honey.
During the wilderness sojourn, Israel is tested for forty years. It is a time of probation for God’s son. He is attacked by his enemies. Amalekites, Amorites, Edomites, Moabites, Ammonites, all assault him during his sojourn, and he passes or fails the probation according to his dependence upon or rejection of the word of God.
In the wilderness, God shepherds his people — light by night; cloud by day; manna from heaven; water from the rock.
As they sojourn, the people of God live in temporary dwellings — in tents, a habitation befitting a pilgrim, and as yet unsettled people. God identifies himself with his people, for he too, pitches his tent in their midst. The condescension of God is marked by his tabernacling with his people. At the tabernacle, or tent of meeting, God and people meet through sacrificial blood.
In the wilderness, Israel’s new master, his suzerain, formally establishes his rule by imposing a covenant upon his servant. At Mt Sinai, the servant-people solemnly declare their loyalty [i.e. their new obedience] to the God who redeemed them from slavery. Legal stipulations are set in the context of gracious action [cf. Ex 20.2]. Israel is redeemed for covenant obedience [Exodus precedes Sinai]. The covenant-making event is marked by an awesome theophany: thunder, lightning, smoke, fire, earthquake, the mighty voice, the sound of the trumpet. Truly a dreadful day of the Lord! All the terror of this event is solemnly ratified in cutting — cutting bulls to death [Ex 24.5-8]. Yet, the covenant results in fellowship; the representatives of the people eat a meal before the Lord [Ex 24.11].
At last, the pilgrims enter their inheritance. Conquering and occupying Palestine, via Jericho, Israel went up to permanent settlement in the land of milk and honey.
Exodus, passage of the Red Sea, wilderness sojourn, covenant ceremony, entrance into Canaan: this was the pattern of Israel’s history. They rehearsed it; they memorialized it; they sang about it. Deut 25; Josh 24; Neh 9; Psa 78, 105, 106, 136: all look back to the history of the Exodus. The people of God look back to the great redemptive act of Jehovah.
But with the dawn of the age of the prophets, the Exodus assumed new significance. For the prophets, the history of the exodus-people was a failure, for they returned to the strange gods of the nations by prostituting themselves in the groves of Baal and Astarte. They enslaved themselves under the yoke of alien suzerains and forsook the covenant of Jehovah. They despised the presence of God in their midst by forsaking the temple for the golden calves of Bethel and Dan. And for all this, God sent his servants the prophets to utter woe upon woe against Samaria and Jerusalem. They proclaimed judgment upon the people of God. Specifically, the judgment was the end of that disobedient generation. Ironically, the end of that disobedient generation is depicted as a return to the point where Israel’s redemptive history began: ‘they shall return to Egypt’ [Hos 8.13 cf. 9.3]. Prophetic judgment is announced in terms of redemptive-historical reversal. Back to Egypt, back to bondage, back to oppression, back to ‘Lo-Ammi’ [‘not my people’ – Hos 1.9].
Yet, in the midst of wrath, God remembers mercy. The critical announcement of a return to the point of the beginning becomes the vehicle of the prophetic eschatology. The prophets are messengers of hope. Specifically, their eschatological hope is rooted in the promises of God for a new beginning — a fresh start — a time when the former things would pass away and all things would become new [cf. Isa 42.9; 43.18, 19; 48.6]. Israel returns in judgment to the place where her redemptive history began. Yet from that point, behold, God will do a new thing — the reversal [of judgment] will be reversed [in salvation].
Consequently, the most significant element in the prophetic eschatology is the projection of the historical past into the prophetic future. The prophets reflect upon the glory of the past, the failure of the present, and anticipate a future in terms of a new exodus, new passage of the sea, new sojourn in the wilderness, new covenant, new entrance into the land [cf. also new creation, new David, new temple, etc].
In Hosea, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, but especially in Isaiah, the exodus of the past is projected into the future. Isaiah speaks of a new beginning — a new exodus more glorious than the old exodus from Egypt. The first exodus is the prototype for the eschatological exodus.
Isaiah describes the future great act of redemption for the elect people of God in the following way. The new exodus brings liberty to the captives: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because the Lord hath anointed me . . . to proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to them that are bound’ [61.1]. This kerygma of emancipation will be proclaimed by God’s chosen instrument of deliverance for the new exodus, i.e. the Servant of Jehovah, the elect of the Lord: ‘Behold my servant whom I uphold; mine elect in whom my soul delighteth’ [42.1]. As at the burning bush, the agent of the new exodus is commissioned by One bearing the theophanic name [41.4; 43.10, 13; 48.12; 51.12]. Vicarious suffering will be the ransom-price of the people of God in the new exodus ; only here the lamb is the Servant-Mediator himself!
In the new exodus, the people of God will once again inaugurate their sojourn by passing through the sea: ‘thus saith the Lord, which maketh a way in the sea, and a path in the mighty waters . . . When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee’ [43.16, 2; cf. 44.27; 50.2; 51.9-11, 15; 63.11, 12]. The new exodus will bring a return to the wilderness for the Israel of God. In the land in between, the pilgrim people of God will sojourn: ‘Behold I will do a new thing . . . I will even make a way in the wilderness’ [43.19; cf. 40.3; Ezek 20.35, 36; Hos 2.14; 13.5].
God will once again provide water in the desert for the pilgrims: ‘I will give waters in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert, to give drink to my people, my chosen’ [43.20; cf. 41.17, 18; 35.6b, 7; 48.21]. The new exodus brings the pilgrims to the mountain of the Lord [56.7; 65.25]. Here, the eschatological suzerain [41.21; 44.6] once again comes down to meet with his people [64.1; cf. Joel 3.17; Ezek 43.7, 9; Zech 2.10; 8.3]. He comes awesomely and terribly [29.6; 30.27-33; 50.3; 64.1-3; cf. Joel 3.16; Zech 9.14], but also condescendingly, graciously tabernacling in the midst of his people [4.6; 7.14; cf. Ezek 37.27, 28]. The Lord enters into a new covenant with the eschatological pilgrims [cf. Jer 31.31-34; compare the eschatological meal in Isa 25.6-8 with Ex 24.11]. At last, the new exodus will conclude with the entrance into and possession of the land [49.8, 9; cf. Hos 2.15]. The emancipated captives will settle permanently in the eschatological land of milk and honey.
The pattern of prophetic judgment: a reversal and a return of the old Israel to the place of redemptive — historical beginning. The pattern of prophetic eschatology: from the point of the old beginning, a new beginning — a new exodus, a new passage of the sea, a new sojourn in the wilderness, a new covenant, a new entrance into the land.
The law and the prophets witness to Jesus Christ [Lk 24.27, 44, 45]; he comes as the one who fulfils the history of redemption [Matt 5.17]. The eschatological hope of the prophets finds its accomplishment in the person and work of Christ. We should not be surprised to find that the great act of redemption in the New Testament is described in terms of exodus imagery. The failure of the redemptive history of the former age necessitates the advent of One whose history is marked by obedience, righteousness, success and victory. In these last days, God has sent his true Son to perfect all that was wanting in his former ‘son’ [Ex 4.22-3 with Hos 11.1]. The history of Jesus is the history of the true Israel of God; he embodies and recapitulates in his history the history of Israel. Both personally and corporately [or federally], he undergoes an exodus [Lk 9.31] on behalf of the Israel of God [Gal 6.16] of the end time.
The pattern of gospel fulfilment is a marvel of redemptive — historical continuity. Did the old Israel, God’s son of the former times, conclude its history by returning to the point of beginning? So too, the true Israel, God’s Son of these last times, begins his history by going down into Egypt. In the ‘exodus’ of Jesus from Egypt, the new age has dawned; the fulness of time has arrived. Matthew’s insight is a stroke of inspired genius [2.15 — ‘out of Egypt have I called my son’]. Because the Son comes up out of Egypt, the new exodus has arrived.
Jesus not only comes up out of Egypt, he comes to the wilderness of Judaea in the days of John the Baptist. The wilderness too had been a place of failure for the old Israel. Here, in the desert, a new beginning must be made [cf. Isa 40.3 and Mk 1.2, 3]. Jesus passes through the waters ‘to fulfil all righteousness’ [Matt 3.15]. The former age in the history of redemption has been left behind; the old age of failure, disobedience and judgment has been swallowed up — drowned! Jesus returns to the wilderness to submit to the assaults of the enemy. For forty days and forty nights, the true Israel is attacked by the Adversary. Again, a new beginning is made. In God’s true Son, the desert becomes a place of victory. The assaults of the tempter are resisted and the new Israel emerges triumphant. The call of the Baptist to return to the wilderness is fulfilled in the One who comes to the wilderness to inaugurate a new beginning for his people.
The eschatological finality and eschatological newness of the age which dawns in Christ is depicted in still more exodus imagery. Jesus comes as the eschatological Servant of the Lord. As the Mediator of salvation, he is commissioned via theophany [Matt 3.16, 17; Mk 1.10, 11]. Yet remarkably, he himself bears the theophanic name [‘I am’ — Jn 6.35; 8.12; 10.14, etc]. His proclamation [kerygma] is liberty for the captives [Lk 4.16-21]. And his emancipation proclamation is authenticated by signs and wonders [Jn 3.2; cf. the highly significant use of the phrase ‘finger of God’ in Lk 11.20]. Christ’s miracles are revelations of the power and presence of the one, true God. They are also signs of judgment against sin with its cursed effects, and against the principalities and powers, the strange gods of this world.
Israel drank water out of the rock; Jesus is the fountain of living water [Jn 4.10]. Israel received bread from heaven; Jesus is the living bread [Jn 6.51]. Israel was led by a pillar of fire in the darkness; Jesus is the light of this dark world [Jn 8.12]. Israel came to the mountain where representatives of the twelve tribes went up with Moses to receive the law; Jesus goes up into a mountain with the twelve who receive the fulfilment of the law [Matt 5.1ff; it is in the sense of finality and fulfilment that the law of Christ is a ‘new commandment’]. The tabernacle temple finds its embodiment in Christ — God’s true Son takes human flesh, identifies with man, and pitches his tent in the midst of his people [Jn l.14; cf. 2.20-22]. The old covenant was given through the hands of a mediator; Jesus is the mediator of a new covenant [Heb 8]. The old covenant ratification at Sinai is accompanied with darkness, quaking of the earth and the loud ‘voice’ of the trumpet [Ex 19.16-18]; the new covenant ratification at Calvary is accompanied by darkness [Matt 27.45], quaking of the earth [Matt 27.51, 54] and the ‘loud voice’ of Jesus who bears the curse of the law as and for the Israel of God [Matt 27.50; cf. Gal 3.13]. The covenant at Sinai was sealed by a fellowship meal; the new covenant is sealed by a fellowship Supper [Matt 26.26-28]. Finally, notice that as the old Israel under the leadership of Joshua went up into Canaan by way of Jericho, so Jesus [Joshua] goes up to Jerusalem and the cross by way of Jericho [Lk 19.1]. Truly, a greater than Moses is here!
By virtue of their election and union with Christ, the new Israel — the Israel of God of the end time — is a people between the times: looking back to the great act of salvation, looking forward to the consummation in the heavenly land of milk and honey. Believers are a pilgrim people journeying through the wilderness of this world.
The new Israel of God is a people delivered from bondage. They have been released from the oppression of principalities and powers — the alien lords of this world. They have been set free by grace through the blood of a Lamb who died the death they deserved.
The new Israel of God is a people who have passed through the waters. The old life is behind them; the way of new life is before them. They have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ; the old man has died and a new man brought forth.
The new Israel of God is a people under attack by the enemy. Day by day, they strain and struggle against the wiles of the devil, rejoicing that Christ has emerged from the wilderness triumphant over the tempter. The new Israel is a people under covenant obligation to their suzerain. They pledge their loyalty to him by keeping his commandments. By their obedience, these sons of God demonstrate their love for the Sovereign who redeemed them. The new Israel is a people provisioned and supplied by grace: bread of life, living water, light of the world. The new Israel is a people on the move, a people dwelling in temporary habitations, a people never at home in this world; a people bound for the city of God, the heavenly Canaan, where they will take up permanent residence in the new Jerusalem.
In Christ Jesus — the true Israel — the Son of God, the history of redemption has come to fulfilment. The anticipations and fore-shadowings in the Pentateuchal history have been accomplished once and for all in him. The prophetic announcements of reversal have been reversed once and for all in him. The prophetic projections have been accomplished once and for all in him. The exodus in Christ Jesus is the final [once and for all] exodus for the people of God.
This article is from Banner of Truth Magazine, Issue 171 - December 1977, pp. 6-11, 32.
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