by Doug Ward

DECEMBER 2013-The five books of Moses-Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy-are of critical importance for understanding the rest of the Bible. Themes that begin in these books are expanded and developed throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament.1 In particular, motifs from the exodus account, their central story, appear again and again in the psalms, prophets, gospels and epistles.


One scholar who is very familiar with the Bible's use of exodus motifs is Dr. David Emanuel, Assistant Professor of Hebrew Bible at Nyack College in New York. Dr. Emanuel earned his Ph.D. at Hebrew University under the direction of Yair Zakovitch, an expert on inner-biblical exegesis. (Inner-biblical exegesis is the study of how biblical writers interpreted the scriptures available to them.) His dissertation examines the ways in which the exodus is portrayed in the psalms.2


On October 5, 2013, Prof. Emanuel gave a series of lectures on exodus themes in the Bible at Beavercreek Church of the Nazarene near Dayton, Ohio. The lectures were sponsored by the Center for Judaic-Christian Studies, an organization dedicated to helping Christians learn more about the Jewish roots of their faith. In his lectures, Emanuel reviewed the main themes of the exodus narrative, then discussed a number of examples that illustrate how those themes are presented in the rest of the Bible. This article will survey those examples along with some additional ones.


Exodus Foreshadowed and Repeated

The book of Genesis records events that precede the exodus, but it sometimes describes those events in ways that foreshadow what is to come. One example mentioned by Dr. Emanuel comes from Genesis 12:10-13:4. At a time of terrible famine, the patriarch Abram takes refuge in Egypt, as his descendants would a few generations later. When the Egyptian Pharaoh takes Abram's wife Sarai to be part of his harem, God strikes Pharaoh with serious diseases (plagues). Pharaoh then sends Abram and Sarai away with great wealth, just as the children of Israel would be sent from Egypt in the time of Moses (Exod 12:31-36).3


Another example is Jacob's sojourn with Laban (Gen 29-31). Although Jacob is not a slave in Laban's household, he is exploited by his deceptive uncle and father-in-law (Gen 31:5-7). Similarly, Jacob's descendants suffer in Egypt after an arbitrary change of attitude by their Egyptian hosts (Exod 1:8-11). God lets Jacob know that he will help him leave Laban, just as he later promises to rescue the Israelites. Notice the similarity between Gen 31:12 ("for I have seen all that Laban doeth unto thee") and Exod 3:7 ("I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt").


Eventually Jacob asks to leave with his wives and children (Gen 30:25-26), a request much like one that Moses would later make to Pharaoh (Exod 10:9). When Jacob leaves Laban he is at full strength, with all his family and possessions (Gen 31:17-18). Similarly, his descendants leave Egypt "with an high hand" (Exod 14:8), families and livestock together (Exod 12:37-38). In the exodus, the gods of Egypt are defeated (Exod 12:12); while on Jacob's departure, Laban's household gods are stolen (Gen 31:30-35). Laban pursues Jacob after his departure (Gen 31:22-23), and Pharaoh takes his army to stop the Israelites (Exod 14), but in both cases God provides protection against the pursuers.4


Events that follow Israel's arrival in the Promised Land are portrayed in the Bible in ways that make frequent connections with the exodus. One example mentioned by Dr. Emanuel is from I Kings 12:25-32, which describes the division of Israel into two kingdoms. Jeroboam, the founder of the northern kingdom, sets up two golden calves for the people of the northern tribes to worship. He tells the people, "Behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt" (v. 28). These are the same words spoken when the Israelites of the exodus generation built their golden calf (Exod 32:4). It is intended that readers make this connection and understand that Jeroboam is committing a sin as serious as that of his ancestors, a sin that will jeopardize the future of the nation.


A second, rather humorous, example is the capture of the ark of the covenant by the Philistines (I Sam 5-6). After the ark is taken, judgment comes on the gods of the Philistines as it had on the gods of Egypt (I Sam 5:1-5; 6:5). God brings plagues upon the Philistines, described in language reminiscent of the exodus account. Both sets of plagues are carried out by "the hand of God" (Exod 9:3,15; I Sam 5:6,9,11). In the time of the exodus, locusts eat plant life that survives a hailstorm (Exod 10:5); while in Philistia, those who do not die are afflicted with tumors (I Sam 5:12). Egypt is "corrupted by a swarm" (Exod 8:24), while Philistia is "marred by mice" (I Sam 6:5).5


Many in Egypt call for the Israelites to be released (Exod 10:7), and Philistines urge the return of the ark (I Sam 5:11). The Philistines bring the matter to their priests and diviners (I Sam 6:2), as Pharaoh calls on his wise men and sorcerers (Exod 7:11). I Sam 6:3, in language very similar to that of Exod 3:21, advises that the ark not be sent away "empty". The ark is eventually released along with golden treasure (I Sam 6), in the same way that the Israelites are sent from Egypt.6 Chapters 5-6 of I Samuel show that the God who brought his people out of Egypt still watched over them in the Promised Land. Moreover, these chapters reinforce the message that God is the ruler of all the earth, while the idols of the nations have no power.


Exodus Rehearsed in the Psalms

A number of the psalms-including numbers 77, 78, 95, 105, 106, 114, 135, 136-recount different parts of the exodus saga in order to draw lessons from Israel's history. Since the story is familiar, we might be tempted to skim over these chapters. Dr. Emanuel cautioned, however, that we will miss key messages from the exodus psalms if we skip the details. It is important to notice in each case how the story is told and what aspects are emphasized.


Dr. Emanuel illustrated his point with Psalms 105 and 106. Psalm 105, he noted, praises the mighty works of God (vv. 1-2), and its retelling of Israel's history emphasizes God's sovereign control of events. For example, verse 16 highlights God's responsibility for bringing the famine that led Jacob and his extended family to migrate to Egypt. Similarly, verse 24 stresses that it was God who caused the family to grow and prosper there. Verses 40-41 speak of God's provision for his people in the wilderness, making no mention of Israel's complaining or rebellion-in contrast, say, to Psalm 95:8-11-because the focus of this psalm is on God's role in history.


Emanuel observed that seven of the ten plagues of Egypt are included in Psalm 105. They are rehearsed in a different order than that in which they originally occurred, with the killing of the firstborn still mentioned last (v. 36) but the plague of darkness mentioned first (v. 28). He suggested some possible rationales for the order used in Psalm 105. One possibility is that the list proceeds in an order of increasing severity. Another is that darkness is listed first to emphasize God's role as Creator. In removing light God was, in effect, reversing or undoing the process of creation.


Psalm 106 has a different emphasis. Its author is in foreign captivity, apparently part of a community of Israelites in exile (vv. 26-27, 46-47). The psalm praises God's mercy and mighty works while confessing Israel's long history of rebellion and apostasy. Numerous sins of the nation are recalled, including the golden calf (vv. 19-21), the rebellion of Dathan and Abiram7(v. 17), and the idolatry committed at Baal-peor (vv. 28-29).


The author of Psalm 106 praises the actions of Moses in interceding for Israel (v. 23), and those of Phinehas (v. 30) in saving the nation at Baal-peor. The psalmist says that the zeal of Phinehas "was counted unto him for righteousness unto all generations for evermore" (v. 31). With this reference to Gen 15:6, Psalm 106 compares Phinehas to Abraham. These details suggest that the author hopes to follow in the footsteps of heroes like Moses and Phinehas with his own intercession on behalf of his people.


Exodus Past and Future in the Prophets

Dr. Emanuel pointed out that Israel's wilderness experience is not always viewed negatively by later biblical writers. We might typically associate this early part of the history of Israel with trial and testing, apostasy and rebellion, as portrayed in Psalms 78, 95, and 106. However, the prophets often describe the wilderness period in much more positive terms. For example, Hosea pictures Israel's years of wandering as a honeymoon period in its relationship with God, a time when the people were taught by God and relied upon him directly for all of their needs (Hosea 9:10; 11:1-4; 13:4-5). They had since strayed far from that initial close and intimate relationship, but God would one day take them back to the wilderness for a second honeymoon (2:14-15; 12:9). Jeremiah gives a similar positive description of Israel's time in the wilderness (Jer 2:2-3; 31:1-5).


The prophets continually draw upon exodus themes in their writing. In warning Israel about judgment to come, they portray it with images from the exodus. Joel describes the Day of the Lord, the upcoming time of judgment, as "a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness" (Joel 2:2, NIV). Here the words for "darkness", "clouds", and "blackness", are the same as those used in Deut 4:11 to picture God's powerful appearance at Mount Sinai; while the words for "darkness" and "gloom" are used in Exod 10:21-22 for the plague of darkness.8 Similar language appears in Joel 2:10, 30-31; 3:15; Ezek 32:7-8; Zeph 1:15.


The shaking of the earth, a memorable aspect of God's revelation at Mount Sinai (Exod 19:16,18) is another image employed by Joel: "The Lord also shall roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the heavens and the earth shall shake" (Joel 3:16). Moreover, Joel speaks of the Day of the Lord as a time of "wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke" (2:30). Fire and smoke also are associated with the Sinai appearance, and blood is a main feature of one of the plagues of Egypt (Exod 8:19-22). With such imagery Joel and other prophets are saying that God's future intervention in world affairs will be as powerful as his mighty works in the exodus era.


The message of the prophets includes warnings of future captivity, which is compared to the slavery Israel experienced in Egypt. For example, when Hosea tells the northern tribes that they will face exile in Assyria, he refers to this exile as a return to Egypt (Hosea 8:13; 9:3). Similarly, the prophets picture the return from exile as a new exodus (Isa 48:20-21; 52:11-12, e.g.).


Dr. Emanuel showed that the return of the house of Judah from Babylonian exile is presented in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah in a manner that highlights parallels with the exodus. King Cyrus sends off the returning Jews with treasure that Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the Temple in Jerusalem (Ezra 1:7-11). Ezra later refuses a military escort on his trip to Jerusalem, trusting that God would protect his party as had been the case with his ancestors during the exodus (Ezra 8:21-22). Then in the eighth chapter of Nehemiah, Ezra expounds the Torah to the people, as Moses had done centuries before.


Those who returned to the Promised Land in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah were still under foreign domination and awaited the complete fulfillment of the promises of restoration given through the prophets (Neh 9:36-37). Post-exilic prophets like Zechariah proclaimed that a great exodus lay yet in the future (Zech 8:7-8; 10:10-12),


Four New Testament Examples

In his final lecture, Dr. Emanuel discussed four examples to illustrate how exodus motifs are carried forward into the New Testament. He began with Jesus' temptation in the wilderness, where Jesus acts as a representative of Israel. Jesus is baptized in the Jordan, symbolically "passing through the waters" as Israel had crossed the Red Sea (Matt 3:16). God claims Jesus as his son (3:17), as he had done for Israel in Egypt (Exod 4:23). Jesus then fasts for forty days in the wilderness, a symbol of Israel's forty-year sojourn, and is tested with bread (4:2-3), as Israel had been with manna (Deut 8:2-3). For Jesus the wilderness is a place both of testing and of close communion with God. Jesus passes the test-where Israel had previously failed-and thus functions as a forerunner for Israel, leading the way as the first to embark on the great exodus promised by the prophets. Jesus is also pictured by Matthew as a new Moses. After the time of temptation Jesus ascends a mountain (5:1) and brings teaching (Torah) to the people.


Dr. Emanuel's second example was the Pentecost event in Acts 2, when the New Testament church began with a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit. For the Jews worshiping in Jerusalem that day, Pentecost was, in part, a commemoration of God's appearance at Mount Sinai to deliver the Ten Commandments. Appropriately, the miracles that accompanied the gift of the Holy Spirit paralleled those that had occurred at Sinai.9


The third example was I Cor 10:1-11, where Paul admonishes the early Christians at Corinth to learn from Israel's exodus experience. Paul draws analogies between Israel's journey and a Christian's spiritual journey, describing the crossing of the Red Sea as a baptism (v.2) and manna as "spiritual food"(v. 3). (Dr. Emanuel explained that according to a longstanding tradition going back to Psalm 78:25, manna was the "food of angels.") Paul also connects the rock that miraculously produced water in the wilderness (v.4) with Jesus.10


Finally, Dr. Emanuel turned to Rev 8-9, where images from the exodus are utilized in the description of the trumpet plagues. The announcement of the plagues is accompanied by thunder, lightning, and an earthquake (8:5), reminiscent of God's appearance at Mount Sinai. The plagues include hail, water turning to blood (8:7-8), darkness (8:12), and locusts (9:7-11), all familiar from the plagues of Egypt. The use of Exodus imagery to describe future divine judgment continues a tradition begun by the prophets of Israel, as explained above. This imagery communicates the message that the God who intervened to rescue Israel from slavery will continue in the future to judge oppressors and deliver his people.11


In concluding his lectures, Dr. Emanuel urged the audience to make use of the tools he had presented in further study of the scriptures. The lectures amply demonstrated that our understanding of the Bible's message can be greatly enhanced when we recognize the references to the exodus that fill its pages.


1See the article "Deja Vu All Over Again: Learning from Recurring Themes in the Pentateuch" in Issue 10 of Grace & Knowledge.


2From Bards to Biblical Exegetes: A Close Reading and Intertextual Analysis of Selected Exodus Psalms, Wipf & Stock, 2012.


3For more on the parallels between Gen 12 and the Exodus, see the article "Back to the Future: The Narrative Typology of the Pentateuch" in Issue 23 of Grace & Knowledge.


4These parallels are discussed in Chapter 8 of David Daube's The Exodus Pattern in the Bible (Faber and Faber, London, 1963).


5Dr. Emanuel mentioned that in our English versions of the Bible, the swarm is a swarm of flies, based on the Greek Septuagint translation. On the other hand, the Targums see a swarm of wild animals in Exod 8:24, and that is how this plague is typically interpreted in Israel today.


6For more on these parallels, see Chapters 9 and 10 of The Exodus Pattern in the Bible.


7No mention is made of Korah, who was also part of the rebellion (Num 16). Dr. Emanuel speculated that this omission may be due to the prominent role later played by Korah's descendants in Israel's worship.


8See Richard D. Patterson's remarks on Joel 2:2 in Volume 7 of The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Zondervan, 1985.


9For a discussion of these parallels, see the article "Tongues of Fire: The Miracle of Pentecost" in Issue 8 of Grace & Knowledge.


10Here Paul apparently makes use of a popular legend that the rocks in Exodus 17 and Numbers 20 were the same rock, and that this rock had traveled with Israel and provided water throughout the journey.


11The exodus connections in Rev. 8-9 also suggest that we should not read these images in a hyperliteral way. For example, Rev 9:7-11 makes allusions to Exodus and Joel but probably should not be taken as some kind of literal description of modern military equipment.

Issue 28


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