The “Exodus” principle holds a profoundly important—yet, often overlooked—place in the Christian life. Many are under the impression that there was only one “Exodus” in the Scriptures – Israel’s coming out of Egypt by the plagues, the Passover lamb and the parting of the Red Sea. The Exodus of Israel out of Egypt is clearly one of the central redemptive-historical events in the Scriptures. To highlight the importance of the Exodus-motif, we find that there are at least seven events, unfolded in Scripture, which follow the pattern of Exodus and may themselves properly be called “Exoduses.” We must first determine the main elements of “The Exodus” and then we will be able to better evaluate these other events to see if they stand the test of an Exodus.
The Elements of an Exodus (Exodus 1-14)
First, Exodus takes place with regard to and for God’s chosen people. The nation of Israel was God’s sovereign and gracious choice – His people, not by virtue of their merits but merely by His sovereign and gracious choice. It is to this people that God gives His covenant promises. When we think of Exodus we think particularly, though not exclusively, of the land promise in so much as it reveals that God desires to dwell with His people.
Second, we discover, in the Exodus principle, a physical departure from the promised land to a pagan land. This was true of Israel as a family, who in Genesis 46-47, left Canaan and went to Egypt to escape the famine. In this way, the covenant people found themselves outside the promised land, living as sojourners in a pagan land.
Third, The Exodus principle involves the covenant people being oppressed and persecuted. Their existence--and thus the existence of God’s covenant promises--are threatened. In Israel’s experience, a Pharaoh who did not know Joseph came to power (Exodus 1:8) and began a systematic persecution and enslavement of God’s people.
Fourth, The Exodus principle involves the covenant people crying out to God and God acting in might to redeem His people. After speaking giving Pharaoh opportunities to repent, God brought down great judgement (plagues) and then destruction (death in the Red Sea) as he miraculously redeemed his people.
Finally, God’s people entered the promised land with great physical and spiritual blessing. God separated His people from the idolatry of Egypt when He brought them out of Egypt and to the mountain to be a worshiping people. Additionally, He allowed them to plunder the Egyptians in order to provide for their physical needs in the wilderness wandering.
The principles above make up a broad outline of the experience of Israel in the Exodus. It does not cover every detail, but it should help to delineate the essential principles involved in the Exodus. What remains to be seen is whether these principles manifest themselves in the rest of Scripture. At the end of these series of posts, we will discover the practical benefits of the Exodus principle to the New Covenant believer.
The Exodus of Abram – Genesis 12
Genesis 12 records the first exodus that we find in Scripture:
1. Exodus happens to God’s chosen people. Abraham is called from his own country and kindred and set apart by the grace of God as his chosen servant. Moreover he is given the promise “to your offspring I will give this land” (Gen 12:7). Thus there is an immediate focus on the land of Canaan as the Land of promise.
2. Physical departure from the promised land to a pagan land. In spite of the Land promise, we learn that, just as it was with Israel prior to their going into Egypt(Gen 46-47), there was a famine in the land of Canaan (12:10). Abram “went down to Egypt to sojourn there."
3. The covenant people are oppressed and persecuted. Abram sinfully devised a plan to save his life by pretending that Sarah was his sister. Pharaoh took Sarah to himself, and takes her into his house to be his wife. While no physical relations took place between Pharaoh and Sarah, it was clearly Pharaoh's intention that Sarah should be his wife. The significance of this is that, if Sarah is taken from Abram, even the very Seed promise (Gen. 3:15; Gen. 12:1-3) was being threatened.
4. God acts mightily on behalf of his people to redeem them. “But the Lord greatly afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues” (How forgetful the Egyptians were! – Gen 12:17; c.f. Ex 7:14 – 12:32). God afflicted Pharaoh and revealed to him that Sarah was Abram’s wife (notice also God's revelation to the oppressor).
5. God’s people return to the promised land with great physical and spiritual blessings. Note how Abram is sent from Egypt “with his wife and all that he had” (12:20). Not only is Sarah returned to Abram, but Abram left wealthier than when he had arrived. “And for her [Sarah] sake he [Pharaoh] dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys and camels” (12:16). Pharaoh basically paid Abram a dowry for his sister. Notice how he arrived in Egypt with little and departs with the wealth of Egypt. This last episode, in no small part fulfils God’s promise to “bless you and make your name great." It is the temporal element of God’s blessing upon Abram.
The Exodus of Abraham - Genesis 20
After Abraham received further covenant confirmation (Gen. 15 and 17)--and after we have been told that he was justified by believing in God’s promises--we come across another Exodus in his life.
1. Exodus happens to God’s chosen people. Abraham is already chosen of God, yet has received greater revelation and covenant confirmation as recorded in Genesis 15 & 17. His faith in God and God’s justifying act is noted in Gen 15:1-6.
2. Physical departure from the promised land to a pagan land. Gen 20:1 tells us of Abraham’s journey towards the southern boundaries of the promised land. Here we observe the same pattern of behaviour which led him out to Egypt – his “journeying” and “sojourning” near Gerar (Gen 20:1) are patterned after the same ideas of Gen 12:9-10.
3. The covenant people oppressed and persecuted. Abimelech the King of Gerar, like Pharaoh before him, takes Sarah from Abraham. Repeating his earlier sin, Abraham lied concerning his relationship to Sarah; Abimelech then took Sarah to be his wife. Note, the same danger to the covenant line of the Redeemer exists here as it did with Pharaoh’s acts in Genesis 12.
4. God acts mightily on behalf of his people to redeem them. “But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him “Behold you are a dead man...” (Gen 20:3). Note three things: God’s profound anger and judgment on the oppressor (20:3, 7b); His direct revelation to the oppressor and his gracious deliverance of Abimelech from further sin (20:6); His long-suffering towards the oppressor which will be observed many times over (20:7). Even so God afflicted (with barrenness/childlessness) Abimelech and all his family (20:17) until Abraham prayed on their behalf
5. God’s people return to the promised land with great physical and spiritual blessings. As a consequence of God’s redemptive activity, Sarah was returned to Abraham and Abraham was loaded with treasure-–sheep, oxen, male and female servants and a thousand pieces of silver. In spite of his own sins and at the expense of the pagan king, Abraham became wealthier and mightier than before this experience.
When all of this is considered, it becomes clear that the first “Exodus” is seen in the life of Abraham--the Father of the nation of Israel. Furthermore, in Paul’s epistle to the Romans, Abraham is held up as the prototype of faith, a picture of all those who would believe. If this pattern of Christian existence—i.e. blessing, suffering, redemption and exaltation—is found in the prototype of believers, should we not expect to see it elsewhere in Scripture--and even our own lives? As you read Scripture for yourself, consider IF and HOW this pattern of experience may be observed.
*This is the first post in a series of posts on "7 Exoduses." In the next installment, we'll consider several other examples of the 7 Exoduses in Scripture.
Matthew Holst is the pastor of Geneva OPC in Woodstock, GA. He has written several articles for Reformation 21. You can listen to his recent GPTS Spring Conference lecture on the issue of death before the fall here. You can listen to many of his sermons here.