A famine strikes the land, so Abram takes his wife Sarai to Egypt to find food. She pretends to be his sister, yet Pharaoh seizes her for his harem. In response, Yahweh plagues Pharaoh’s house, and Pharaoh rushes Abram and Sarai out of Egypt with gifts of flocks, herds, and servants. Entering Canaan, Abram is embroiled in war. He rescues his brother’s son, Lot, and takes control of the land (Gen. 12–13).
Famine, sojourn in a strange and dangerous country, plagues, plunder, conquest: It’s Abram’s exodus.
Fast-forward two generations, and there’s a replay with variations. Jacob flees his father’s home to escape from his brother, Esau, who wants to murder him. He finds his way to Paddan-Aram, where he enters the house of his uncle, Laban. For twenty years, Jacob suffers Laban’s abuse. Laban gives him Leah instead of Rachel, changes his wages time and again, forces Jacob to pay for losses from his flocks. Yet Yahweh is with Jacob. While in exile, he fathers eleven sons and a daughter; in spite of Laban, his flocks multiply. On the night he leaves, he’s a wealthy man, having plundered his uncle’s house. And, for good measure, Rachel sits on Laban’s household gods on their way out of Paddan-Aram (Gen. 28–31).
Exile in a foreign land, oppression, plunder, nighttime escape, humiliation of idols: It’s Jacob’s exodus.
Another generation, and another replay with further variations. Jacob and his sons descend to Egypt because of a severe famine. Joseph provides food, and the Hebrews settle in the fertile land of Goshen, where they multiply and fill the land. They become exceedingly strong—strong enough to alarm Pharaoh, who enslaves the Hebrews and starts slaughtering their infant sons.
When Yahweh hears his people’s cries, he sends Moses to demand that Pharaoh allow Israel to sacrifice in the wilderness. Pharaoh refuses, so the Lord devastates Egypt with plague after plague. He targets Egypt’s gods. Egyptians worship the Nile, but Yahweh turns it to blood. Egypt has frog and scarab gods, but Yahweh sends stinging insects and invasive, stinking frogs. Egyptians worship the sun, but Yahweh drops a curtain of darkness so thick it can be felt. Egyptians believe Pharaoh is an incarnation of the god Ra, but Yahweh topples him, too. As Miriam, the sister of Moses, sings: “The horse and his rider he throws into the sea.”
In the last plague, the angel of death passes through the land at night, defending houses marked with the blood of lambs or goats but slaughtering the firstborn sons in every unmarked house. Pharaoh seized Yahweh’s son, Israel, so Yahweh retaliates by taking Egypt’s firstborn sons. And, in one last humiliation, Israelite women go from house to house asking for gold and silver and clothing, women gathering the plunder of mighty Egypt.
Famine, sojourn in a foreign land, oppression and murder, plagues, deliverance, plunder, the powerful fallen from their thrones, idols humbled and shattered: It’s Israel’s exodus.
I could go on and on and on. Every judge in the Book of Judges is a minor-league Moses, every deliverance a replay of the exodus. Threatened by Saul, David sojourns among Philistines, where he’s fruitful and multiplies. Eventually, he returns to the land to conquer and rule it. During Hezekiah’s reign, Sennacherib besieges Jerusalem, until the angel of death—the angel that slaughtered the firstborn of Egypt—kills 185,000 Assyrians in one night. Haman tricks Ahasuerus into proclaiming a decree against the Jews, but Yahweh saves them in the middle of the night, when the sleepless king consults his chronicles and remembers the heroism of Mordecai. The Lord cunningly turns Haman’s plottings against him, and the Jews slaughter the enemies who intended to slaughter them. The Lord drives Israel and Judah into exile, yet prophet after prophet promises a new exodus, water in the wilderness, a procession to the land led by Yahweh himself, the humiliation of the gods of Babylon, Zion rebuilt in glory. And in the return from exile, those promises of a second exodus are fulfilled.
We turn the page to the New Testament, and it starts over again. In the second chapter of Matthew, another murderous king is killing infant children, and again the angel of the Lord intervenes to whisk one child to safety. It’s an exodus, but it’s all backward. The king isn’t Pharaoh, but Herod, king of the Jews. The land where infants are slaughtered isn’t Egypt, but Judea. The safe haven isn’t the land of promise, but Egypt. All the coordinates are upside-down, all the roles reversed, but the story is the same: A king threatens, and the Lord sends an angel to save the true Israel, who eventually returns to Galilee as herald of his Father’s kingdom.
It's the exodus of the infant Jesus, the Son of God, the true Israel called from Egypt. Mary sees it as a token of the future and sings, like her namesake Miriam, a song of exodus: the Magnificat.
The entire Bible is a book of exodus: A history of deliverances and liberations, tales of Yahweh’s daring, last-minute rescues under cover at night. God is the God of exodus, who hears the cries of his people, visits them in their distress, and takes vengeance against rivals. He will not rest until he has shaped a world that conforms to his first commandment: There shall be no other gods before me. The gospel is the good news of exodus, the Christmas announcement that the God of exodus has entered our broken world to lead his children from the tomb to his table and to conduct creation itself into the glorious freedom of the sons of God.
Peter J. Leithart is President of Theopolis Institute.
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