Exodus is a book for people in trouble.
People who are controlled by external forces, and by internal forces too.
People who are enslaved both from without and from within.
People who need a liberator.
People like you and me.
Genesis ends with the death of Joseph, after the settling of Jacob’s family in Egypt. Exodus opens by informing us that the little Hebrew tribe was doing quite well:
“Joseph died, all his brothers, and all that generation. But the children of Israel were fruitful and increased abundantly, multiplied and grew exceedingly mighty; and the land was filled with them” (Exodus 1:6-7).
He loves us with an eternal quality of love, so He can’t simply allow us to go…
This, of course, is an echo of God’s original purpose for humanity, as envisioned in the creation story of Genesis:
“God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth’” (Genesis 1:28).
What a big, beautiful plan God had for humanity!
But the whole thing was upended when Adam and Eve decided to break ranks with God and, therefore, with love as their total mode of being. They immediately sunk into the ugly relational mire of selfishness. Nevertheless, God didn’t cease to love them when they ceased to love Him. And it is this unfailing love of God that is, in the final analysis, the whole point of the Bible:
“Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you” (Jeremiah 31:3).
This is what God is up to with us. He loves us with an eternal quality of love, so He just can’t let us go without a fight for our deliverance from all that enslaves us. Rather than give up on humanity in response to the Fall of Adam and Eve, He set in motion a covenant plan by choosing a man named Abraham through whom He launched the project. “In you,” God promised, “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). God was determined to follow through with His original plan for the human race. Through the family of Abraham, all the people groups of the world were to encounter God’s good plan for human flourishing. A lineage of blessing was established. Abraham had a son named Isaac, who had a son named Jacob, and Jacob’s name was changed to Israel. He had twelve sons, and their posterity became the nation of Israel. They became fruitful and multiplied in Egypt, echoing the Genesis promise. But their growth and prosperity became a threat to the Egyptians. A pharaoh who did not know Joseph responded to the threat of Israel’s growth by enslaving them (Exodus 1:8-14).
Egypt was the superpower of the day, dominating the human landscape as a paragon of oppression and exploitation. Bigger was better. More was a must. And forced labor was the means employed for reaching that greedy end. But Yahweh, who is the central figure of the Exodus story, stands diametrically opposed to all relational violation, including slavery. Yahweh is characterized by a vehement hatred of evil and a passionate love for people. Therefore, Yahweh takes notice of human pain:
“Now it happened in the process of time that the king of Egypt died. Then the children of Israel groaned because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry came up to God because of the bondage. So God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God acknowledged them” (Exodus 2:23-25).
If Egypt is the paragon of oppression, Yahweh is the paragon of empathy!
God sees and hears the groaning of hurting human beings, and He cannot be a passive observer. Yahweh’s empathy leads directly to another one of His attributes. Out of the tender abundance of His love, God is, by nature, a Liberator, a Deliverer, a Savior of “all who” are “oppressed by the devil” (Acts 10:38).
Ex means “out.” Hodos means “way.” When you are in trouble, you need a way out, and that’s what the story of Exodus is all about.
Through a circuitous path of redemptive providence, God employed a man named Moses as the agent through whom He would deliver captive Israel. Moses had shown himself to be a complex character, carrying within himself both a strong sense of justice and a lack of self-control. In an act of vigilante justice, he killed an Egyptian who was abusing a Hebrew slave. He then fled for his life into the wilderness, where he underwent a deep educational process for 40 years, until he was finally the right man for the job. It was now time for the Exodus to happen and Moses, while resisting the call, was the man God chose to lead His covenant people to freedom.
The word Exodus itself tells the whole story in miniature. Ex means “out.” Hodos means “way.” When you are in trouble, you need a way out, and that’s what the story of Exodus is all about. Yahweh called a man named Moses to lead the enslaved children of Israel out of bondage. But getting the bondage out of the children of Israel proved to be a much harder task. In the final analysis, it is evident that Yahweh wasn’t merely trying to get the people out of slavery; He was also trying to get slavery out of them. But freedom requires responsibility, and that’s the catch. So the book of Exodus is a study in what it looks like for God to set a people free who stubbornly refuse to live out the glorious implications of their freedom.
The first half of Exodus, chapters 1-18, tells the story of how Yahweh delivered Israel out of Egyptian bondage. But no sooner had they been delivered than they demonstrated that they were dominated by a deeper enslavement to their own sinful impulses. That’s what the second half of the book is all about. Chapters 19-40 tell the story of Israel at Mount Sinai entering into a covenant relationship with Yahweh and then proceeding to break the covenant over and over again, all throughout their wilderness wanderings, while Yahweh remained faithful to them no matter what.
Yahweh outlined His covenant plan:
- You are My covenant people, called to operate differently than Egypt and all the other nations. You will be “a kingdom of priests” who communicate My covenant character to the nations (Exodus 19).
- Here are My covenant principles, summarized in ten simple but comprehensive commandments of love. Live in harmony with these ten rules of relational integrity, and things will go well for you. Violate them, and your situation will implode. You will become an enslaved people again (Exodus 20-25).
- Build a mobile tabernacle, which will assure you of My presence with you and through which I will teach you the good news of My covenant plan to save humanity through the coming Messiah (Exodus 25-31).
In response to all of this, the people engaged in a two-part dysfunctional cycle: (1) they promised to obey the covenant and then (2) rebelled against it. Over and over again, they came to their senses, only to slip repeatedly back into their old patterns. They committed to live out their covenant freedom responsibly, and then they reverted to their former bondage.
The book of Exodus isn’t merely about those crazy people way back then. It’s about you and me, as well. Exodus is about the deeply embedded dysfunctions of sinful human nature in general and the patient process by which God remains faithful in the face of our unfaithfulness. It’s about a God who loves you and me so much He will never give up on us.
God has no easier task with you and me than He did with ancient Israel. What was true of them way back then is true of all humans down through history. If a human being is in bondage, they want freedom. If a human being is free, they want bondage in order to escape responsibility. The book of Exodus traces the experience of the children of Israel with regards to their external bondage, imposed on them by the Egyptians, and with regards to their internal bondage, which was self-imposed. We are not fundamentally different from the ancient Israelites. We, too, are slaves in desperate need of a liberator.
Exodus is about…the patient process by which God remains faithful in
the face of our unfaithfulness.
When we come to the New Testament, we encounter Jesus coming into the world as the liberator of the whole human race. His ministry is deliberately depicted as a repeat and enlargement of the Exodus. The parallels are unmistakable.
His baptism is a reenactment of Israel’s march out of Egypt through the Red Sea on their way to the promised land.
His temptation in the wilderness is a reenactment of Israel’s trying wilderness experience.
His Sermon on the Mount is a reenactment of Israel’s encounter with Yahweh at Sinai when He gave them His law.
His calling of the twelve disciples is the formation of a new Israel.
His crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and heavenly ministry as our high priest is the great reality toward which Israel’s temple in the wilderness was pointing.
The Exodus is an ancient historical event in which an enslaved group of people were delivered out of physical bondage. Once the event occurred, it became the archetype of the deliverance of the human race from sin, shame, and Satan. Whereas Moses was the liberator of a single people group from a single evil empire, Jesus is the Liberator of us all from the cosmic reality of evil itself in all its enslaving forms.
The angel Gabriel told Joseph, the husband of Mary, “Call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). The word “save” is soso in Greek, which can be translated as “deliver” or “liberate.” Matthew intentionally uses this word in order to communicate the fact that Jesus came to reenact the Exodus but on a grander, universal scale. Jesus is the new Moses, yet far more than Moses. He is the Savior of the whole world.
Once the liberating mission of Christ was accomplished, and new Israel was founded, the apostle Paul was called by Jesus to be the foremost theological practitioner of the new Exodus. With greater clarity than any other New Testament writer, Paul explained the salvation work of Christ in liberation terms. In his letter to the Galatians, he said:
“Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen” (Galatians 1:3-5).
“Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1).
All of us are slaves, by nature, to the selfishness principle Scripture calls “sin.” All of us are, therefore, in desperate need of a Savior. All of us need liberation from ourselves, from our sins, from the guilt that our sins generate in our souls, and from what Paul calls “this present evil age.” The whole world system is governed by selfishness, lust, greed, hate, violence, and war. We need deliverance from all of that, from both internal and external forces that are hellbent on our present bondage and our eternal destruction.
The Exodus of ancient Israel isn’t merely their story. It’s our story, too. “All these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Corinthians 10:11). Once we understand this, we can see our fallen predicament as it really is and we can see Jesus for who He really is to us. We are slaves and He is our Savior, calling us to embark upon an Exodus from sin into the promised land of complete freedom from everything contrary to His love.
Ty is a speaker/director for Light Bearers and pastor of Storyline Adventist Church. A passionate communicator with a message that opens minds and moves hearts, Ty teaches on a variety of topics, emphasizing God’s unfailing love as the central theme of the Bible. Ty and his wife Sue have three adult children and two grandsons.