(Revised and expanded February 2015)
The Gospel in Exodus? Isn’t Exodus the opposite of the Gospel of Grace? Isn’t Exodus the heart of the law? Ten Commandments leading to 613 commands in the whole Bible? Isn’t the law counter to the Gospel?
It is certainly true that the law is not the way of salvation. It doesn’t save us, it condemns us.
We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified. Galatians 2:15, 16
So, where is the Gospel in Exodus? Everywhere!
Exodus is arguably the most Gospel laden book in the Old Testament. It is The Story of Israel’s salvation, the story that is repeated over and over again. It is the story of bondage, 430 years of slavery in Egypt, representative of a far more serious bondage, the human condition of being bound in sin. Release from that slavery was God’s initiative through Moses, a series of judgments on Egypt that did NOT result in release from slavery. Freedom came only at the last plague, the plague of death on all the firstborn, which would have resulted in the firstborn of all Israel dying too, but for the blood of the lamb; a lamb sacrificed for every family, the blood applied to the door frame as protection from the angel of death. The lamb was the substitute sacrifice, who died for the people in that house.
But let’s slow down and see how this develops.
Genesis ends with salvation from famine as Jacob and his family relocated to Egypt. And just as there were 400 years of silence between the end of the Old Testament and the New Testament, so there were 400 years of silence between Genesis and Exodus.
But While God was silent, He was not inactive. During those four centuries, a primary promise to Abraham was fulfilled, I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you. Genesis 12:2a. The 400 year gap is summarized in the first verses of Exodus, but the Israelites were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous, so that the land was filled with them. Exodus 1:7 The seventy members of Jacob’s family grew to an estimated 2 million. The childless Abraham was no longer childless.
Exodus begins with bad news. The rapid growth of the Israelites threatened the Egyptians who made them a nation of slaves and turned them all into forced laborers for major Egyptian construction projects. However, in spite of the abuse, Israel continued to grow. Egypt, fearing she would be overrun by the rapidly reproducing Israelites, released an edict that every Hebrew boy was to be killed at birth.
Thus the stage was set for the birth of Moses, who along with Abraham before him and David after him, is one of the three most significant Old Testament characters, Destined for death, his mother placed him in a waterproof papyrus basket and floated him down the Nile River where he was rescued by Pharaoh’s daughter and raised as Egyptian royalty. But Moses so identified with his own people, the Israelites, that he came to their aid, killed an abusive Egyptian overseer, and fled for his life. 1500 years later, his action is interpreted as a step of great faith.
By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. Hebrews 11:24, 25
Moses fled to the land of Midian, where he married and became a shepherd. But one day, Moses was intercepted by God who called him to go back to Egypt.
There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”
When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.”
“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” Exodus 3:7210
Did Moses know anything about God prior to this? Hard to say with his Egyptian upbringing and barely any contact with Israel since early childhood. But now, at the age of eighty, Moses meets God, the LORD, I AM WHO I AM. 3:14
Do you see the Gospel in God’s first communication to Moses, I have heard them crying out because … I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them… and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey
So Moses, after more than a little protest and coaxing, went back to Egypt, introduced himself to his fellow Israelites, approached Pharaoh, and demanded Israel’s release Let my people go… But it would not be that easy.
Moses had trouble with both Israel and Pharaoh. Israel wasn’t ready to trust Moses. Pharaoh wasn’t interested in losing his labor force. Both would need to see the power of God unleashed .
“Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the Lord.’”
Moses reported this to the Israelites, but they did not listen to him because of their discouragement and harsh labor. Exodus 6:6-8
Pharaoh was no easier to budge, yet God was even sovereign over that.
But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in Egypt, he will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out my divisions, my people the Israelites. And the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it.” Exodus 7:3-5
To both Israel and Egypt, God’s acts are to show Himself as the undisputed God.
I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. 6:7
To Pharaoh, This is what the Lord says: By this you will know that I am the Lord: With the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water of the Nile, and it will be changed into blood. 7:17
This purpose, you will know that I am the LORD is found in variation, six times in Exodus, matched in Isaiah, but an overwhelming more than sixty times in the prophet Ezekiel. Both acts of judgment and acts of salvation are to show that the LORD is God, the only God.
The initial miracle of Moses’ staff turning into a serpent is followed by a sequence of nine plague miracles – water to blood, frogs, gnats, flies, death of livestock, boils, hail, locusts and darkness. The first two plagues, blood and frogs, were matched, But the Egyptian magicians did the same things by their secret arts, 7:22; 8:7, but on the third attempt, they could not, 8:18. Each successive plague brought greater devastation and more pressure on Pharaoh, but he continued to harden his heart.
For the fourth plague of flies, it specifically notes that Israel in the land of Goshen was not affected by it, I will make a distinction between my people and your people. 8:23 So also in the seventh, ninth and ten plagues, leading to the supposition that Israel was spared of all the plagues after the first three. After the ninth plague of darkness, Moses was ordered on penalty of death not to approach Pharaoh again.
Chapters 11 and 12 are the heart of the book of Exodus and in a significant sense, the heart of the Old Testament, the heart of God’s Story of Rescue.
Chapter 11 announces the tenth and final plague, which would finally force Pharaoh’s hand. It was a plague of death in which all the first born sons of Egypt would die, both people and animals, but Israel would be spared. There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again. But among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any person or animal.’ Then you will know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. 11:6, 7
Chapter 12, however, explains that Israel would be spared the plague of death only by the blood sacrifice of a lamb, one for each household, with the blood painted on the door frame of the house.
The promise of protection was very specific. On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt. 12:12, 13
This is the feast of the Passover, because the plague of death “passed over” Israel on that night based on the presence of the sacrificial blood of the lamb on the door frames. They were to eat unleavened bread and the roasted lamb in anticipation of leaving Egypt at a moment’s notice. Thus, the tenth plague struck and Egypt released Israel, urging Israel to leave instantly, which they did.
Here is the most powerful advance picture of the Gospel. The blood of the lamb is the focal point of temporal salvation for Israel, salvation from slavery. And that’s what makes this The Gospel of Exodus. It proclaims in this powerful story in Israel’s history which would become the greater reality in Jesus, the Lamb of God, whose blood was shed as the sacrifice for our sin to bring eternal salvation. Jesus is our substitute, without whom we would have to die for our own sins.
So, celebrate the Gospel of Exodus, a limited salvation, which points to the much greater salvation through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, our Passover lamb, our substitute sacrifice for sin.
But this is not the end of the Gospel in Exodus.
As Israel fled and was trapped by the sea, chapter 14, God’s salvation is illustrated again through the crossing of the sea and the drowning of the Egyptian army. In celebration, Miriam, older sister of Moses and Aaron, led in song and dance.
“I will sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted.
Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea.
“The Lord is my strength and my defense;
he has become my salvation.
He is my God, and I will praise him,
my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
Who among the gods is like you, Lord?
Who is like you— majestic in holiness,
awesome in glory, working wonders?
“You stretch out your right hand,
and the earth swallows your enemies.
In your unfailing love you will lead
the people you have redeemed.
In your strength you will guide them
to your holy dwelling.
You will bring them in and plant them
on the mountain of your inheritance—
the place, Lord, you made for your dwelling,
the sanctuary, Lord, your hands established.
“The Lord reigns for ever and ever.”
Exodus 15:1-2, 12-13, 17-18
Following the actual Exodus from Egypt, as Israel traveled through the wilderness toward the land of promise, we find one of the three highest concentrations of miracles in Scripture, the other two being the miracles of Elijah and Elisha, and the miracles of Jesus and the apostles. Bitter water was purified, manna and quail were provided for food, water came from the rock, the Amalekites were defeated….and that was just the beginning.
Eventually, the third month after the Exodus, Israel arrived at the mountain in the Sinai desert* where Moses received the Ten Commandments and the rest of the law, including case law, laws regarding the sacrificial system and regular festivals, as well as the details for the construction of the Tabernacle, their mobile worship center. The Gospel reflected in the sacrificial system will be developed further in Leviticus.
Two more Gospel foci deserve our attention out of Exodus. Good News is reflected in God’s presence with His people and in God’s essential attributes. Notice how these two themes are intertwined.
Exodus 19 describes the fearful presence of God. God’s holiness is represented by the smoking and quaking mountain where he met with them, mediated by Moses. God declared His intention toward Israel.
Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ 19:5, 6
In the New Testament, the Exodus passage is clearly referenced as finding fulfillment in the church of Jesus Christ. you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 2:5
The perplexing evident problem is that God is holy and therefore unapproachable, yet inviting a people to be His people in personal relationship with Him. As the Ten Commandments, Exodus 20, are spoken by the very voice of God, each command is a reminder that the people are guilty and sinful and separated from God. When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.” 20:18, 19
The people had reason to fear. After Moses explained numerous examples of case law, Exodus 21-24, he went back up the mountain to receive the more detailed expression of the law, Exodus 24-31. While he was gone, Exodus 32, the people incited Aaron to make them a golden calf, an egregious violation of the first three commandments.
Was the law good news to Israel? No! The law was not Good News, not initially. Both God’s law and God’s presence was bad news, reminding everyone of us that we fall short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23 Yet a day would come when Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome… 1 John 5:1-3.
But God’s commands being joyfully obeyed and not a burden, could not happen until a sufficient sacrifice for sin was made, far beyond any animal sacrifices, the sacrifice of the Son of God Himself. It is the sacrifice of the Passover lamb that foreshadowed the sacrifice of Christ, the lamb of God. God’s plan to redeem his people from Egyptian slavery was far outdone by His eternal plan to redeem a people for Himself from slavery to sin, An essential part of the salvation brought about by the death of Christ is the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration, the new birth, as our hearts toward God, sin and law are changed. But that theme will be developed later in Jeremiah and Ezekiel.
Yet, God’s presence, as frightening as it was to be near a holy God, was exactly what was needed. After the Golden Calf incident, God said to Moses, Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.” Exodus 32:10
After all the trouble Moses had experienced with Israel, you might wonder why he didn’t accept God’s proposal. But Moses appealed to God based on concern for God’s reputation and the promises to the patriarchs. …Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. “Lord,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’” Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.
As the Golden Calf atrocity was worked out with God showing mercy to Israel, His attributes were clearly proclaimed that reveals both the problem and the solution worked out in the Gospel. God revealed His essential nature, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”
Essential to God’s character is His holiness and His love. This tension is addressed throughout the Old Testament through judgment for sin and lavish mercy and forgiveness. But it was not brought to a satisfactory resolution until the death and resurrection of Jesus. Thus Exodus serves as both illustration and proclamation of the Gospel, but for resolution, the Good News could only be fulfilled in Jesus.
*A recent argument places the crossing of the sea as the Gulf of Aqaba, not the Red Sea as defined today, thus putting “the mountain” east of the Gulf of Aqaba in present day Egypt, the sliver of land on the east of the sea or into Saudi Arabia, just south of the kingdom of Jordan. The present author is no convinced by this argument but waiting for further analysis.