For Lent this year, I have decided to blog on the subject of exoduses in the Bible, leading up to the great Exodus that Christ accomplished in his death and resurrection. The more that we recognize the development, scope, and nature of the theme, the richer our understanding of any particular exodus will be.
As we shall see, the exodus theme is an absolutely crucial and highly prominent theme, found throughout the biblical text. Within this overarching theme are found many lesser motifs. Tracing the exodus pattern is akin to listening to the development of a great symphony, recognizing how themes are developed and unpacked, how they are inverted, parodied, expanded, played off, or strengthened.
Over the period of Lent, I hope to explore the Exodus theme and discuss many of these motifs. While these studies will follow a chronological order for the most part, there will be a degree of moving backwards and forwards within the text. This isn’t a very systematic or exhaustive exploration, but will often have more of an occasional character to it. My hope is that as we progress through it, the picture will begin to take clearer shape.
A World Overrun with Thorns
While it could be argued that the creation itself takes the form of an exodus and that there are other exoduses to be seen in the earliest chapters of Genesis, I plan to begin this account of the exodus theme in Scripture with the Flood, the greatest of the early exoduses that we find in the book of Genesis.
The background for the Flood is provided for us in the story of the Fall and the curse. In the chapters following the Fall in the Garden we see an extension of sin throughout the world, spreading like ink dropped on cloth. In Genesis 4 we see Cain, banished from the Garden with his parents, but still within the land, killing his brother and being exiled to the wider world. Cain and his descendants develop a pagan civilization, a civilization whose ethics were typified by the vengeful and domineering Lamech (Genesis 4:19-24 – the existence of polygamy at this stage suggests that many males were either losing their lives to growing violence or being oppressed). In Genesis 6, we see the sons of God taking the daughters of men as wives. The seed of rebellion planted in Eden has proliferated to the point that the wickedness of man has overrun the earth and man is so driven by sin that ‘every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually’ (6:5).
Not only does sin exhibit a territorial expansion in the earth, it also undermines all sorts of relationships and compromises all types of persons. What began with the sedition of the serpent, the wilful rebellion of Adam against God his Father, and Adam’s shameful treatment of his wife, spread into the fratricidal violence of Cain, the cruel vengeance of Lamech, and then further into the breakdown of the relationship between the angelic guardians and humankind as the sons of God (which I understand to be angels – cf. 1 Peter 3:18-20; 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6). The entire world order became corrupt and was filled with violence, from the angels in the heavens to men and women upon the earth.
The judgment on Adam spoke of the ground bringing forth thorns and thistles to him (Genesis 3:17). Read carefully in its context, recognizing the parallels with the judgment on Eve, it should be seen that this was not merely a judgment upon Adam’s agricultural labours, but also a judgment on his fathering of offspring. Rather than bringing forth righteous sons and daughters, he would find himself raising thorns and thistles – wicked and violent offspring. The world of Genesis 6 is a world overrun by these thorns.
Like most other exodus stories, the story of the Flood begins with the righteous being oppressed by the wicked, calling upon the name of the Lord and seeking deliverance.
The Child of Promise and the Preacher of Righteousness
In the antediluvian world there were righteous men and women. We hear of people calling on the name of the Lord in the days of Seth’s son Enosh in Genesis 4:26. In Genesis 5 we read of faithful Enoch, who walked with God and was taken by God.
At Noah’s birth, his father Lamech gave him the name ‘Rest’, a prophetic testimony to the fact that God would give rest to the righteous and to the earth through him. The future deliverer given a significant or divinely chosen name as a child is an important biblical theme. We see it in the case of Moses, Samuel, Jesus, and John the Baptist. Like these other figures, Noah is set apart from birth for a unique calling. The connection between the exodus and themes of childbirth and multiplication or with the theme of the child prophetically destined to save the people is a common one. We will see this on a number of occasions over the next few weeks. Exodus stories can begin, not with the deliverance itself, but with the birth of the one who will later bring that deliverance, emphasizing the priority of God’s hand and also the importance of the faith of fathers and, more particularly, mothers as means by which God brings deliverance.
God hadn’t left the antediluvian world without testimony. Enoch is described as prophesying judgment in Jude 14-15. In 2 Peter 2:5, Noah is spoken of as a ‘preacher of righteousness’, condemning the world by his life of godliness and trust in God’s promise in an age of violence (Hebrews 11:7). The world was given at least two powerful witnesses of its coming fate.
Building the Ark
Declaring to Noah his intention to flood the earth, God instructs him to build an ark, giving him very precise directions of how to go about it. The recording of the measurements of the ark is significant, not as a mark of narrative verisimilitude, but as an indication that the ark is intended to be a world model, akin to the tabernacle. The ark has three storeys, like the creation (the deep, the earth, and the heavens). The ark is a microcosm of the new world being formed in the midst of the old, the embryo of the new creation.
It is not at all surprising that Peter should speak of the ark as a type of baptism into Christ (1 Peter 3:20-21). The resurrected Christ is the embryo of the new heavens and the new earth, the one in whom we pass through the judgment on this old creation and become part of the new. In the story of Moses, as we shall later explore in more detail, we also see the destined child, a person rescued through the waters of death in an ark covered with pitch (Exodus 2:3; cf. Genesis 6:14), and a microcosm of a new creation, as the Exodus is precapitulated in Moses’ experience, into which the Israelites will later be baptized (1 Corinthians 10:1-2).
Just as Adam was brought into the Garden sanctuary at some point after his creation, where the animals were brought to him for naming and Aaron was installed in the tabernacle, where animals were brought to him, so God brings two of every kind of animal to Noah, with seven of the clean animals. The presence of the clean animals suggests that a sacrificial significance is already operative. Noah is the one who will be the priest of the new world, upholding the relationship between God and humankind.
Just as the story of the Passover, the story of the Flood involves people being called to go inside doors, while God judges the world outside. Moses and the Israelites close the doors of their houses, with blood on the doorposts and lintel: Noah and his family and the animals enter into the ark and God closes the door on them. As in the later plagues on Egypt and the Exodus, the Flood is a time when God makes a great distinction between his people and the wicked.
The relationship between the Flood and the Red Sea crossing are also significant. In both cases we see God’s people passing through and the wicked being swallowed up by the ‘deep’. In both cases the deliverance involves a strong wind (Genesis 8:1 – notice the possible allusion to Genesis 1:2; Exodus 14:21). On the seventeenth day of the seventh month, the ark lands on Mount Ararat (Genesis 8:4). In light of the fact that the year was generally reckoned with Tishri as the first month prior to the Exodus (cf. Exodus 12:2), the landing of the ark was probably on 17 Nisan, around the time of the offering of the first fruits, a feast around the time of the Red Sea crossing and the resurrection of Christ. Like the Red Sea crossing, the story of Noah involves waters below and waters above – the deep of the flood beneath and the divine war bow in the heavens above.
As Gordon Wenham has observed, the story of the Flood turns upon God’s remembering of Noah in 8:1, much as the story of the Exodus arises from God’s remembering of his people in Egypt.
A Confirmed Covenant
Noah and his family are granted safe passage through the waters of death that drown the wicked and are led to the mountain where God establishes his covenant with Noah. Noah receives a new law, new rule, new dietary rules, a new covenant sign, and enters into promised rest. Ararat is Noah’s Sinai.
In the ascension offerings sacrificed after the Flood, Noah offers the creation up to God and receives God’s blessing in return. God promises that he will not add to the curse on the ground, perhaps also suggesting that the effects of the judgment on Adam will be mitigated. God confirms the Adamic covenant and vocation with Noah, giving him a greater level of authority and rule than Adam enjoyed. God places his war bow in the sky as a sign of his covenant with Noah and as an assurance that he will bless Noah.
Noah is given a new level of rule over the animals and over other human beings. Whereas man had previously been vegetarian and animals had only been ‘consumed’ by God, now God allows Noah to consume animals as he does, sharing in a greater level of divine rule over the creation. No longer a naked ‘infant’ as Adam and Eve, Noah is permitted to eat meat and to drink wine, having attained to a greater degree of maturity. As the righteous covenant ruler, Noah is entrusted with the rule of the sword, called to exercise capital judgment on the manslayer (Genesis 9:5-6). In the confirmation of the covenant with Noah we see a development beyond the earlier creation into a new degree of maturity.
Promised Rest (and Fall)
Like Adam was originally called to, Noah takes up the role of a gardener, planting a vineyard (Genesis 9:20). Grapes and wine are symbols of rest, completion, and rule. Wine is the eschatological drink. Priests were forbidden to drink wine on the job, but the person who has completed his work can sit down and drink wine. The Promised Land was associated with wine and luscious grapes (Isaiah 5; Numbers 13:23-24). While in the wilderness, the children of Israel didn’t drink any wine (Deuteronomy 29:6). However, when they arrived, God gave them wine to drink, as they inherited the vineyards of their enemies (Joshua 24:13).
Noah’s vineyard is a new Garden of Eden and a new Promised Land. It is a place of rest, the rest that was prophesied at his birth. Noah’s vineyard, however, like the Garden of Eden before it, and the Promised Land after it, becomes the site of a fall. In an account with numerous echoes of the Fall account – taking fruit (v.21), the seeing of nakedness (vv.22-23), clothing (v.23), the realization of knowledge (v.24), a curse on the seditious tempter (v.25), a (positive) judgment on the two other protagonists (v.26-27) – Genesis describes the first major rebellion of the Noahic order.
As we read the story of Noah and the Flood, we should see numerous anticipations of the story of the Exodus within it. The same God who drowned the old creation in the Flood and saved his people through water, bringing them to the mountain where the covenant was confirmed, will later drown the Egyptians in the Red Sea and save his people through the waters of death, bringing them to Mount Sinai, where the covenant will be established. In Christ we see the child of promise who brings deliverance to his people. We see the one who is the embryo of the new creation, the one who brings us through the waters of death to the resurrection of the new heavens and the new earth. We see the one who judges the wickedness of the old world, while offering deliverance to all who will enter into the new world of the resurrection through him. We see the one who brings promised rest and rule, the one who offers us the wine that signifies a work completed.