Presented at Florida College on February 4, 2003
Shortly after the beginning of the gospel on the Day of Pentecost, there came a day when Peter and John went to the temple at the hour of prayer. At the Beautiful Gate, they encountered a lame man who asked them for alms. “Silver and gold I do not have,” said Peter, “but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk” (Ac. 3:6). Immediately the man was healed of his lameness. With the apostles, he entered the temple greatly rejoicing and praising God for his deliverance from a lifelong affliction. The text says that those in the crowd were astonished to see this man walking upright: “Then they knew that it was he who sat begging alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him” (Ac. 3:10).
Peter began his discourse to this amazed audience by saying, “Men of Israel, why do you marvel at this?” (Ac. 3:12). Why do you marvel? If these Jewish people found it hard to believe that a lame man could be delivered from his physical ailment, then they had probably forgotten their history as a people. The God who had made this man well was none other than “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers” (Ac. 3:12). The God of Israel had a long and well-established record of delivering His people from bondage and oppression. It was this God who had sent Moses to bring them out of Egypt, and it was Moses who had said, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear” (Deut. 18:15). The gospel of Jesus Christ is first and foremost a gospel of deliverance (Lk. 4:16–21), and no one ought to be surprised at it who has read the story of the Exodus in the Jewish Scriptures. We only find it hard to believe God’s acts of deliverance in the present when we forget the acts of deliverance that He has already accomplished in the past. Our deliverance from sin today is the New Exodus, and we are prepared to believe it if we have “gotten the point” of the Exodus of Israel from Egypt.
The Exodus as a Prefiguring of Salvation from Sin in Jesus Christ
It is probably not an exaggeration to say that the elements of the gospel are seen more clearly in the story of the Exodus than in any other part of the Old Testament. There is virtually no aspect of our redemption from sin in Jesus Christ that was not prefigured by the Exodus. The most basic parallel, of course, is that in the Old Testament Israel was delivered from physical captivity, while in Christ, we are delivered from spiritual bondage to sin. But in addition to this general parallel, there are a number of others that are more specific:
- The Exodus was led by Moses, a prophet sent from God, who gave himself up completely to the work of freeing God’s people; the leader of the New Exodus is Jesus Christ, the great Prophet of whom Moses was a type or foreshadowing (Deut. 18:15,18; Acts 3:22,23).
- The Exodus was not accomplished without the shedding of blood. On the eve of the Exodus, the blood of the Passover lamb was shed; Christ is our Passover, the Lamb of God (John 1:29; 1 Cor. 5:7; 1 Pet. 1:18,19; Rev. 7:14; 12:11).
- Israel ate of the Passover lamb; we eat and drink of Christ when we assimilate His teaching (John 6:53–56).
- Israel was to commemorate the Passover each year; we are to commemorate Christ’s sacrifice each Lord’s Day (Luke 22:14–23; 1 Cor. 11:23–29). The commemoration of Christ’s sacrifice was even instituted as Jesus ate the Passover meal with His apostles.
- God “redeemed” Israel from slavery; we are “redeemed” from sin (Exod. 15:13; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:13,14; Hb. 9:12; Rev. 5:9).
- To allow themselves to be delivered, Israel had to be willing to follow God’s instructions based on their trust in Him; our deliverance from sin also requires trust and obedience (Rom. 1:5; Eph. 1:12,13; Hb. 11:29; Jas. 2:14–26).
- The Exodus was an act of God’s grace; our deliverance from sin is an act of God’s grace (Exod. 2:24,25; 15:13; Isa. 63:9; Ezek. 16:3–6; Eph. 2:8,9; 2 Tim. 1:9,10).
- Israel’s freedom lay on the other side of a baptism in the Red Sea; our freedom lies on the other side of a baptism into Christ’s death (Rom. 6:4; 1 Cor. 10:1,2).
- Although free from slavery after the Exodus, Israel still had a faith-testing sojourn in the wilderness before the Promised Land could be enjoyed; after baptism, we have a sojourn in this world before being able to enjoy the rest that God has for His people (Hb. 3:12–4:2).
Numerous other parallels could be suggested, but these are sufficient to illustrate how close the analogy is between the Exodus from Egypt and the New Exodus in Christ. Clearly God intended in the Exodus of Israel to do something that would typify the great event toward which every other event was moving: the coming of the Messiah into the world to accomplish our liberation from sin.
But if, on the one hand, we have the Exodus from Egypt and, on the other, the New Exodus in Christ some fourteen hundred years later, it is in the Jewish prophets that a link is made between these two historical events. The prophets reach back, as it were, to the formative event in Israel’s physical history, reach forward to the formative event in their spiritual history, and then make a prophetic link between the two. In Hosea, for example, we hear God saying, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son” (Hos. 11:1). This text is recalled in Matthew when, following Herod’s attempt to kill the young Jesus, Joseph “arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, ‘Out of Egypt I called My Son’” (Matt. 2:14,15). The text in Hosea, therefore, can be seen as not only looking back to the physical Exodus, but also forward to the Messianic deliverance of His people from “Egypt,” He Himself having sojourned there as a child. In the prophets, it is always out of “Egypt” that God’s people are called.
It is especially in Isaiah that the typology of the Exodus is used to prefigure the work of the Messiah. In the messianic prophecies of that book, the Messiah will accomplish a new, and much greater, redemption of His people from bondage (Isa. 63:11–14). Looking ahead to the restoration of Israel from Babylon and even farther ahead to the Messianic age, the prophet says of God, “You lead Your people to make Yourself a glorious name” (v.14). This statement recalls the time when God “led [Israel] by the right hand of Moses, with His glorious arm, dividing the water before them to make for Himself an everlasting name” (v.12). In Isaiah, the freedom of the messianic age will be “as it was for Israel in the day that he came up from the land of Egypt” (11:16). And the “glad tidings” of Israel’s freedom from Egypt will have their counterpart in the “glad tidings” of the Messianic age (52:7).
As in the original Exodus, when God led His people on a procession through the “wilderness” and the “way” was prepared by the Angel of the Lord (Exod. 14:19; 23:20,23; Num. 14:13,14), so there will come a New Exodus. At that time, says Isaiah, “the way of the Lord” will be prepared by another kind of forerunner: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill brought low; the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough places smooth’” (Isa. 40:3,4). Thus Isaiah, like others among the prophets, anticipated a time when the great event of the Exodus would be surpassed by an even greater thing that God would do to bring to an end the “captivity” of His people.
God’s Use of Historical Events to Teach Us to Trust Him
That God would use a set of physical events like the Exodus to prepare the hearts of mankind for the realities of His Son’s kingdom is not unusual. God has frequently used “object lessons” to teach truthful principles and to prepare His people for a more “spiritual” revelation of Himself later. Consider four examples:
- When in the Old Testament God commanded “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain” (Deut. 25:4), He was not interested in the welfare of oxen, but in teaching a principle. Centuries later, Paul would write, “For it is written in the law of Moses, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.’ Is it oxen God is concerned about? Or does He say it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written, that he who plows should plow in hope, and he who threshes in hope should be partaker of his hope” (1 Cor. 9:9,10).
- The institution of marriage was not merely for the benefit of the marriage partners, but to furnish an object lesson in the love relationship between God and His people (Eph. 5:22–33). In this text, Paul does not say, “God’s love helps us to understand marriage,” but rather “Marriage exists to help us to understand God’s love.” Marriage, it would seem, was always intended to be an object lesson in a kind of love much more important than that between earthly spouses.
- Jesus’ miracles of healing were object lessons in the principles of His compassion, His power, and His authority. If those who saw them came away amazed only that sick persons had been made well, they would have missed the point of Jesus’ deeds. “‘But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins’; then He said to the paralytic, ‘Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house’” (Matt. 9:6). The miracles did not merely make people well; they made statements about the character of a God who desired to make people well!
- When Jesus fed the multitudes, the point was not that He had the supernatural ability to multiply loaves and fishes; it was to teach certain principles concerning His Father’s nature. If those who were fed were impressed only with the miracle itself, the lesson of that miracle would have been lost on them. “Jesus answered them and said, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him’” (John 6:26,27). The feeding of the five thousand was not about people receiving a much-needed meal, nor was it primarily about God’s power to provide such a meal. It was about the love that God has for His people — a love that should cause us to trust Him no matter what our needs may be on any occasion.
God never does anything that is not intended to teach us something, and the thing He is most interested in teaching us is His nature. He is always illustrating the principles of His thinking by actions that put these principles in concrete terms that we can more easily “see.” When He does something powerful, He desires us not only to know that He is powerful. The purpose of demonstrating His power is always to show that His power is on our side, that He loves us, and that we can trust Him enough to obey Him.
Can we not see the Exodus as an act in which God was revealing Himself? If the Exodus was a set of powerful events by which God was teaching something, what was the point of the lesson? When Israel stood on the other side of the Red Sea, amazed at their unexpected deliverance from the pursuit of Pharaoh’s army, what should have been their main thought? If their overriding thought had simply been “We’re free!”, they would have missed the point of what had just happened. Instead, the proper thought would have been, “So this is what God is like!” And this emphasis on God’s character is exactly the emphasis of the Song of Moses sung after their deliverance and recorded in Exodus 15:
- “I will sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea! The Lord is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation; He is my God, and I will praise Him; my father’s God, and I will exalt Him” (vv.1,2).
- “Your right hand, O Lord, has become glorious in power; Your right hand, O Lord, has dashed the enemy in pieces. And in the greatness of Your excellence You have overthrown those who rose against You; You sent forth Your wrath; it consumed them like stubble” (vv.6,7).
- “Who is like You, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like You, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders? You stretched out Your right hand; the earth swallowed them. You in Your mercy have led forth the people whom You have redeemed; You have guided them in Your strength to Your holy habitation” (vv.11–13).
- “The Lord shall reign forever and ever” (v.18).
It would be hard to read these words and miss the consistent emphasis upon God Himself. What He had just done for the people of Israel greatly benefited them, to say the least. But the importance of that benefit was secondary to the truths that it should have taught them about their God. And if they had never forgotten the truths about Him that were momentarily impressed upon their thinking at the Red Sea, their subsequent history could have been much different.
In the events of the Exodus, God was proclaiming Himself to be a God who has compassion and a God who delivers. He was illustrating that He is a God who breaks the bonds of “captivity” for those who will follow Him out into the “wilderness.” The story of the Exodus is the original “good news” in the Scriptures, and the message of the story is that freedom is possible for those who will trust the power of God. In the glad event of the Exodus, God was pointing forward to the one thing that everything else was leading up to: the deliverance of His people from their sins. And there is little about the gospel of Jesus Christ in the New Testament that does not recall the language of freedom associated with the Exodus in the Old Testament.
In the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus read from the Isaiah 61:1,2 and applied the words to Himself:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:18–21).
The Gospel of John records an incident when Jesus talked about freedom to a group of Jewish people who had trouble seeing their need to be made free:
Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can you say, ‘You will be made free’?” Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed (John 8:31–36).
This is the same Jesus about whom the Hebrew writer speaks when he says that Jesus came to “release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Hb. 2:15). Had those to whom Jesus first came understood what God had said about Himself in the Exodus, they would have welcomed the One to whom those events pointed. But such was not the case. If they had ever thought about it, most of those to whom Jesus spoke had long forgotten that God had, as Moses said, stretched out His right hand and led forth the people whom He had redeemed, guiding them in His strength to His holy habitation (Exod. 15:12,13).
Our Response to the New Exodus
But what can be said about our own response to the Exodus? If Israel failed to learn what they should have from God’s deliverance then, do we do any better in regard to the New Exodus under Jesus Christ? To put this matter into perspective, consider some of the ways in which Israel failed to respond properly to what God was willing to do for them:
- They were reluctant, rather than eager, to accept Moses’ leadership (Exod. 5:20,21; 6:9; 14:11,12; 16:2,3).
- They did not adequately appreciate their need to be delivered. However unpleasant the conditions in Egypt might have been, many of the people would have argued that they were not all that bad (Acts 7:23–25).
- After crossing the Red Sea, they complained about the conditions under which they were being delivered (Exod. 16:2,3).
- They threatened to go back to Egypt (Num. 14:1–4).
- Through a failure to trust God, they died in the wilderness and fell short of entering the Promised Land. Only Joshua and Caleb ended up being fully delivered from Egypt; the rest might as well not have crossed the Red Sea (Num. 14:29–35; Jude 5).
It is tempting to say that we would have done better had we been in their place. But their Exodus was as nothing compared to our own! We are those “upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Cor. 10:11), and the Exodus in which we are called to participate involves a much greater accountability than theirs (Hb. 10:28,29). Are we doing any better with our Exodus than they did with theirs?
- How eager are we to accept the leadership of Jesus Christ? Does He have to beg us to accept the deliverance that He has come to provide for us?
- How comfortable are we in our own “Egypt”? Do we passionately groan for deliverance, or have we accommodated ourselves to the conditions of our slavery?
- If we have at least crossed the “Red Sea,” do we complain about the conditions under which the Lord is leading us through the wilderness?
- Do we put the Lord on notice that He had better make life comfortable for us or else we will go back to Egypt?
- How many of us will fall in the wilderness and never make it to the Promised Land? When all is said and done, how many of us will prove to have had too little trust in the Lord to go the full distance with Him?
What would Moses say if he could speak to this assembly? It seems likely that he might dispense with the pleasantries and warn us not to repeat the mistakes that his people made after crossing the Red Sea. Perhaps he would take us to Hebrews 12:25,26: “See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven, whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, ‘Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.’” Or perhaps he would remind us of Hebrews 4:1,2: “Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it. For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it.”
Indeed, Moses was among those about whom Peter wrote when he said:
“Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven; things which angels desire to look into” (1 Pet. 1:10–12).
And what was Peter’s conclusion? In the very next verse, he says, “Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:13).
On the practical plane of everyday living, it is in our response to fear and discouragement that we demonstrate whether we have “gotten the point” of the Exodus or not. If we have been paying attention to what God has done in the past, how can we fail to face anything in the present with anything less than courage? On one occasion Jesus was with His disciples in a boat on the Sea of Galilee. A storm arose and threatened to sink the boat. But Jesus was asleep in the stern. The disciples “awoke Him and said to Him, ‘Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?’ Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace, be still!’ And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. But He said to them, ‘Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?’” (Mark 4:38–40). The disciples’ fear indicated that they had not really thought about the many things they had already seen Jesus do. For the most part, the Lord’s object lessons had been lost on them. And in a similar way, we may fail to learn what God had been saying about Himself in the Old Testament, long before Jesus ever came into the world: that He is always able to deliver His people.
Whatever difficulties we may cry out to be delivered from, we should make our cry to God in the confidence that He can deliver us and that, if we are in Jesus Christ, He will deliver us. As members of the spiritual commonwealth of Israel, we need to have the confidence that comes from knowing our history and our heritage. We are the spiritual heirs of a nation that God once delivered from four hundred years of slavery in Egypt. He did this not merely for their benefit, but to prefigure the much greater deliverance that was to come: the breaking of sin’s bondage and the formation of a people who, having been delivered from sin, would serve Him in gladness and gratitude. If we are members of that multitude, we need not be amazed at anything God can do for us. Having heard the “gospel” of the Exodus — both the Old one and the New — let us not be surprised at any bondage that God can break. If we are surprised, our brother Peter would probably say to us also, “Men of Israel, why do you marvel?”