Exodus and the Language of Salvation

exodusExodus is a paradigm for New Testament salvation. After spending a year studying the book I became convinced of that statement. The themes of the exodus event, and the themes in the book of Exodus itself, are picked up throughout the Bible, not least of all in the New Testament. Exodus gives us a unique language for discussing our own experience of salvation.

The exodus event is the great hallmark of Israel’s history. It is the story of God’s rescuing his people from slavery and bondage. It is the story of His redeeming them by the works of His own mighty hand. It is the story of His calling them out and making them a new people, a Kingdom of priests. It involves sacrifice, redemption, and blood. It called for faith. It included a mediator and a baptism. The language of the exodus was designed by God, as recorded by Moses, to parallel the language of New Testament salvation. There are other ways the Bible talks about New Testament salvation, but the exodus event gives us one unique perspective on the experience of our salvation. We can see this relationship articulated by considering three specific themes: Blood, Kingdom, and Mediator.

The most obvious connection to New Testament salvation is God’s instruction regarding the Passover. The Passover is God’s provision of rescue for the people of Israel. His Spirit was going to move through the land of Egypt and destroy every first-born male. God’s wrath will be poured forth on all man and beast (Exodus 11), but God provides a means of escape: the blood of a spotless lamb. The spotless lamb is to be killed and its blood applied to the door frame of the home, and this blood will serve as a sign to the Lord not to destroy those inside. In Exodus 12 we read God’s own explanation of the Passover:

12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. 13 The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt. (Ex. 12:12-13)

Notice the concept of substitution inherent in this arrangement. Notice too the language of the blood of the lamb and the idea of averting God’s diving judgment. All of this points forward to the true, spotless lamb of God. So, John identifies Jesus as the “lamb of God” (John 1:29; 36). Peter too refers to Jesus as a lamb, without spot or blemish (1 Peter 1:18-21). John echoes this same idea again in his Revelation. In chapter five we read:

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. (Rev. 5:6)

Jesus is the true lamb of God, whose blood was shed to save a people. He is the real Passover sacrifice. This is why Jesus can take the Passover meal he shares with his disciples and say to them, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:7-23).

The book of Exodus describes two kingdoms at war. We might even speak of it as two divinities at war: God (Yahweh) and the gods (the various puny gods of Egypt, and ultimately their god-king Pharaoh). The Exodus event is a transfer of Kingdoms and a transfer of allegiances. As the book begins Israel is under Pharaoh’s rule, enslaved to this god-man. Pharaoh thought of himself as God on earth, and sovereign ruler. It is only when God finally forces his hand, through the death of his son, that Pharaoh surrenders. So, Israel is led out of captivity and declared to be a new people, in particular a Kingdom. God calls this new people a Kingdom of priests in 19:6. Their formation as a new people happens by means of a transfer from one kingdom to another. We see this very theme picked up by Paul in the New Testament. He writes to the Colossians, saying:

13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (1:13-14)

This is the language of redemption, but it is a language rooted in the exodus event. The exodus event gives us a unique way to express our salvation. Salvation is from sin and from the curse. It is a washing or a cleansing from impurity. It is a rescue from death and hell. But exodus allows us also to see it as a redemption from slavery, a transference into a new Kingdom.

Finally, we may look at the theme of mediator. One of the most breathtaking passages for me in the book of Exodus was chapter 32, where Moses intercedes on behalf of the people of Israel who have just bowed down to an idol. There we read of Moses attempt to substitute himself for the sake of Israel:

30 The next day Moses said to the people, “You have sinned a great sin. And now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” 31 So Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Alas, this people has sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold. 32 But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written.” (Ex. 32:30-31)

Where did Moses come up with this idea for substitution? How did he conclude that self-sacrifice could be a means of atonement? Of course the Lord does not accept Moses’ offer. Moses cannot be a fitting substitute, but the idea of a mediator is part of God’s plan. He intends a mediator, a go-between, to stand in the gap between sinful man and a holy God. But the Scriptures themselves describe a mediator who is better than Moses, and in part because he mediates a covenant that is better than the one Moses mediated (Heb. 8). The author of Hebrews records:

Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house. For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope. (Heb. 3:1-6)

Christ is better than Moses. In fact, the Scriptures call him the Second Moses (Acts 3:22). Paul adds his voice to this discussion when he writes to Timothy, saying:

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5)

Jesus is the true mediator. He alone can stand before God on behalf of his People. He alone can make atonement for their sins. But this language of a mediator, of a self-sacrificing go-between is found in Exodus. Exodus sets us up again, to express our experience of salvation in this way.

The Bible borrows from Exodus extensively. As a major life-altering event in the history of God’s redemptive plan it serves as a paradigm, a pattern for thinking about all salvation events that follow. Jesus is the climax of all those salvation events, and the exodus event is not more important that the events of His death and resurrection, but the serve to provide us with language to think about that event. It is worth your time to read Exodus through the Jesus lens and see all the ways in which our discussions of salvation connect to what God did many centuries ago. He was planning all along to do what He did in Jesus and Exodus is just one example of that salvation foreshadowing.

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