When I was a kid, I had a Bible on my nightstand that I would read from time to time. Not knowing where to start, I would begin in Genesis 1 and inevitably, I would get lost somewhere in Exodus, Numbers or—if I was really ambitious—Leviticus. I could not understand how these stories fit with each other or how they fit with the more familiar stories in the New Testament. I really wanted to understand the Bible, but it felt impossible.
I don’t think I am alone. One of the greatest challenges in reading the Bible is seeing the parts in light of the whole. Just like every other book in the Bible, Exodus is God's Word, written down by the Holy Spirit through Moses for God's glory and our good. What God has given us in Scripture is not a series of random events, but a single story, contained in a single book, with a unified message. For the people of Israel, the events contained in Exodus shaped their imaginations around how they thought about God, His kingdom and His mighty acts of deliverance.
The gospel helps us to read and understand Exodus, and Exodus helps us to understand the gospel. The exodus of the Israelites isn't just one of many stories of salvation, but a part of the one big story of salvation. Like the story of the Exodus (which means “going out” in Hebrew), we are in need of deliverance, and God provides a Deliverer. Salvation comes through the shedding of blood, and we are given a new identity through a new birth.
The Need for Deliverance and Liberation
The book of Exodus opens with Pharaoh oppressing the people of Israel—inflicting them with harsh labor—and treating them as slaves. As the people of Israel grew in number, a fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 12), Pharaoh worried that Israel would become too powerful and instructed that every Hebrew firstborn son should be drowned in the Nile. In the face of death, slavery and heavy burdens, Israel cried out to God, and God heard their cries (Ex. 2:23-25).
Israel’s story is our story. The Bible describes us as being slaves to sin (Rom. 6:20). We all find ourselves in Egypt, crying out to God for help. We, too, are in exile, waiting for the kingdom of God. Just like Israel, we need deliverance, we need liberation, we need a Deliverer.
The Provision of a Deliverer
The Israelites, in light of their terrible situation, needed a deliverer. Moses, a Hebrew born in Egypt, escaped the wrath of Pharaoh and his terrible decree but later fled for his life after killing an Egyptian. This is the man whom God would appoint as the deliverer of His people, the oppressed Israelites.
Israel's story is our story. We are in need of deliverance and liberation, and God has provided a Deliverer for us. God has sent a Mediator to save us from our exile in Egypt. Jesus—the greater Moses—announced, “he has sent me to proclaim deliverance to the captives” (Luke 4:18). He came to bring about a new exodus, leading those who are in captivity to freedom (Eph. 4:8). Jesus, like Moses, leads His people out of Egypt (Jude 5).
Salvation and the Shedding of Blood
The story of Exodus reminds us that salvation does not come without the shedding of blood. The 10th and final plague brought about the death of every firstborn in the land of Egypt—except for those whose doors were marked by the blood of spotless lambs. Only these escaped judgment. The Lord could have rescued Israel simply by destroying all the firstborn in Egypt. However, the Passover reminded Israel that God’s people were not exempt from judgment. The Israelites were no better than the Egyptians but were covered by the blood of the Passover lambs.
Israel’s story is our story. God saves His people through the sacrifice of a Lamb. Announcing Jesus' ministry, John the Baptist proclaimed, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29). Jesus is the Lamb who was slain to cover the sins of the people. He is our redemption, liberation and substitute. He gave His life for the deliverance of His people. The blood of Jesus represents the new covenant because the blood of the Lamb has been shed for His people. Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed (1 Cor. 5:7).
New Identity Through Water
Having been set free, God’s people found themselves at the edge of the Red Sea. Pharaoh, after a change of heart, pursued Israel in order to bring them back into bondage and slavery. With the Egyptian army on one side and a vast sea on the other, death appeared certain. Yet, God parted the Red Sea, and Israel walked onto dry ground. As the Egyptians pursued Israel, the waters crashed around them and brought utter destruction upon Pharaoh and his army. As Israel came through the water, it was as if they were born again.
Israel's story is our story. God gives His people a new identity through a new birth. When death seems like the only option and Satan's armies are pursuing us, God provides a miraculous new birth for His people. Through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, we are born again into God's heavenly kingdom, much like Israel was. This is beautifully depicted in baptism. Standing on the water's edge, we confess that, left to ourselves, we will die in the wilderness. Baptized into the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, we, like Israel, are given a new identity—we are identified as God’s people. In the waters, all of our enemies—Satan, sin and death—are symbolically destroyed, much like Pharaoh and his army. Like Israel marching toward the Promised Land, we exit the waters as citizens of the kingdom of heaven.
The Exodus is a story of redemption that sweeps us up into the great drama of salvation. God's acts of salvation in Exodus begin to reveal His divine purposes in history: to liberate His people from slavery and lead them into the Promised Land. The Exodus reminds us that the gospel involves a great exchange—a transfer of citizenship—that involves a transfer of allegiances. No longer were the Israelites under the dominion of Egypt and Pharaoh, but they were transferred to the Promised Land—the kingdom of God. As Christians read these great truths, we are reminded that the gospel is a great exchange. We are delivered from the dominion of darkness (Egypt) and transferred into the kingdom of the beloved Son (Col. 1:13).
Israel’s story is our story. God draws us out to draw us in.