Exodus Themes in Luke 9:10-50

In my church’s midweek Bible study groups last night, we were going through Luke 9:10-50. It struck me that there are a number of interesting potential Exodus themes in there. Here are a few that jumped out at me. If you can think of any others, I would love to hear about them in the comments.

1. In verses 10-11, Jesus leaves the city and goes into the wilderness, where he is followed by the multitudes. Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt.

2. There is a food crisis, followed by miraculous provision of bread in the wilderness. In John 6 (the feeding of the five thousand is one of the only events in Jesus’ ministry recorded in all four of the gospels) this leads to explicit mention of manna and the bread from heaven discourse, but it is implicit here.

3. The numbering of the people is interesting. People are typically numbered for battle. The fact that it is only the males who are numbered is worth noting in this respect as it seems odd that numbering for the sake of eating would focus on the males only. Israel was numbered in such a manner after they left Egypt.

4. They are set down in groups of fifty. Israel left Egypt and entered into the Promise Land in companies of fifty (Exodus 13:18; Joshua 1:14).

5. Jesus delegates his rule over the 5,000, divided into groups of fifty, to his disciples. This is akin to the way that Moses delegated his judging of Israel to ‘rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens’ (Exodus 18:21). In Mark 6:40, the people are said to sit down in ranks, in fifties and hundreds.

6. That twelve baskets of leftovers were gathered up is highlighted in all of the accounts of the event (Matthew 14:20; Mark 6:43; Luke 9:17; John 6:13) and Jesus later calls his disciples to reflect upon the significance of this fact (Matthew 16:9-10). I would suggest that the connection should be drawn between this number and the number of tribes of Israel.

The connection of the feeding of the five thousand with the feeding of the four thousand in the gospels of Matthew and Mark is noteworthy. Jesus’ ministry has moved to the Gentile or more Gentile realms of Tyre and Sidon and Decapolis. The key event that precedes the feeding of the four thousand, the encounter with the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-30), speaks of Gentiles as those who eat the crumbs of the children’s bread that falls from the table. The feeding of the four thousand (the number four is symbolic of the whole extent of the earth—four corners of the earth, four winds of heaven, etc.) which follows occurs in a semi-Gentile area and involves seven loaves and seven baskets of leftovers. I would suggest that the seven is associated with the seventy nations of the world (Genesis 10—in having seventy elders, Israel was a microcosm of the whole of humanity). Jesus will not merely feed Israel, but will feed the whole world.

Five loaves for the Israelite 5,000 and seven loaves for the (semi-)Gentile 4,000 make twelve loaves, reminiscent of the twelve loaves of the showbread, which represented Israel before God (Leviticus 24:5-9). Jesus is forming a new Israel in which Jews and Gentiles will be brought together as one.

7. In verse 28, Jesus ascends the mountain with his disciples about eight days (the eighth day is the day of new creation) after the events recorded earlier. I would suggest that there is a possible connection between this and the chronology of Moses’ ascent up Mount Sinai.

8. Jesus takes Peter, John, and James with him (v.28). In Exodus 24, Moses takes Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu and seventy elders with him up Mount Sinai. At various points in the gospels and Acts, we see Peter being typologically presented as a high priest figure (James Jordan has some helpful remarks on this). Peter is as Aaron and James and John are related to Nadab and Abihu (perhaps there is something to the fact that both pairs are associated with the fire of divine judgment—Leviticus 10:1-7; Luke 9:54).

9. They see a divine theophany on the mountain (Exodus 24:10-11; Luke 9:29). The transfigured appearance of Christ also relates to Moses’ transfigured appearance in Exodus 34:29-35.

10. Moses and Elijah speak with Christ of the departure—or, literally, ‘exodus’—that he is about to accomplish in Jerusalem.

11. Peter speaks of constructing three tabernacles in Luke 9:33: the plans for the tabernacle were given on Mount Sinai. Of course, Peter, James, and John would be instrumental in the building of the Church (cf. Matthew 16:18), but this was not yet the time for temple building.

12. A cloud comes and overshadows them in verse 34. The cloud is clearly the theophanic cloud of God’s presence (cf. Exodus 24:15), associated with Sinai, and, as expected, God speaks from the midst of it (v.35; Exodus 19:9; 33:9).

13. After descending from the mountain, there is an encounter with a multitude (v.37), much as Moses encountered the multitude of Israel when he descended Sinai in Exodus 32.

14. Both Jesus and Moses encounter their representatives who have proved faithless in their task. Here the disciples are like Aaron and the people of Israel are like the demon-possessed child. Aaron couldn’t restrain the Israelites and the disciples couldn’t restrain the demon. The behaviour of the Israelites in Exodus 32:25 is described in a manner similar to that of demon possession. The impression is given in both accounts of a rebellion expressed in an extreme physical manner.

15. The demon throws the boy down (v.42) and ‘shatters’ him (v.39). The same verb is used in the LXX to describe the shattering of the tablets when Moses casts them to the ground at the foot of Sinai (Exodus 32:19).

16. Jesus’ response is surprisingly accusatory: ‘O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you and bear with you?’ Our ears would have to be fairly dull not to hear echoes of the statements of YHWH and Moses concerning the children of Israel in the wilderness (cf. Exodus 16:28; Numbers 14:11, 27). In particular, one is reminded of Deuteronomy 32:20, where Israel is described as a ‘perverse generation, children in whom is no faith.’

All of these points suggest to me that Luke and the other gospel writers are fairly self-consciously operating within an Exodus framework at this point.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in Bible, Exodus, Luke, NT, OT. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Exodus Themes in Luke 9:10-50

  1. Rob Grayson says:

    Very interesting. I’m sure Tom Wright would like that observation. Then again, he’s probably spotted it and written a book about it already.

  2. Bronwyn Lea says:

    Very interesting! The next question is, if Luke had exodus in mind while writing, how does that affect our hermeneutic?

    • One of the most important things that arises from this is a clearer sense of the purpose and movement of the gospel accounts. The accounts of Jesus’ ministry are not just collections of various miracle, teaching, and healing stories, but are unified narratives driving in a specific direction. Recognizing Exodus and other patterns helps us to relate various individual gospel narratives to a single Gospel Narrative and, beyond that, to see an underlying unity in the entire biblical story, something that I am trying to show in my 40 Days of Exodus series.

      When Jesus models his ministry after that of Moses, or Elijah and Elisha (for instance, compare Luke 4:4-24-27 and Luke 7:1-17), we can have a sense of where things are going, of the meaning of his actions, and of Jesus’ perception of his mission. When related to the larger framework, certain events take on a new significance. For instance, the feeding of the four thousand might seem superfluous, merely repeating an earlier miracle on a smaller scale. However, once we recognize the underlying patterns and relations, it becomes a very important event in its own right, not a mere unnecessary repetition. With this approach, we can recognize that Jesus’ life and ministry serves a salvation purpose, not merely his death and resurrection.

      It also teaches us to see the story of Christ and the Church in the OT (and NT), and to see our stories as the continuation of these things, not just to draw abstracted moral lessons.

      Much more follows, but that is for starters.

      • Bronwyn Lea says:

        Excellent. I look forward to reading more. My interest in Luke-exodus parallels was first piqued when I learned that in Jesus’ discussion with Moses and Elijah in the transfiguration that he discussed his “departure”, literally his “exodus” in gk, with them (Luke 9:31). It seemed such a strange and specific word to use, and got me thinking… Certainly, Jesus’ life and ministry was intentional and prophetic, and is worthy of our far deeper consideration to give us both instruction, narrative, and a framework for understanding his mission and indeed his death and resurrection. Excited for your next installment.

      • I don’t think that there will be continued instalments on Luke. Regular Bible studies won’t start up again until the New Year (we have various other events running over December). Also, I don’t want to steal my own thunder for the 40 Days of Exoduses series!

        Besides, Luke is so full that I wouldn’t be able to do it justice without abandoning several other projects that I am currently working on.

      • Bronwyn Lea says:

        40 days of exodus also counts as an exciting series🙂

      • I am hoping to return to that at some point in the future.🙂

  3. Daniel says:

    Your comment that Jesus’ ministry often follows that of Moses or Elijah and Elisha made me look twice at some of the stories in Luke 9, once in terms of Moses and the exodus and once in terms of Elijah. Luke reminds us of Elijah three times in the chapter (verses 7-9, 18-19, and his appearance at the transfiguration). He invites us to look for comparisons, and they are manifold:

    Jesus performs a miraculous feeding and later heals the demon possessed son. The flow of 1 Kings 17 is similar. First comes God’s food for Elijah from the ravens, then the miraculous multiplying of flour and oil for the widow of her son, and finally the sickness, death, and resurrection of the son. The sons in both cases are the only child, and both stories tell how the healer “gives back” the child to the parent. The account parallel to Luke 9 in Mark adds that after the demon left, the son was so like a corpse that many took him to be dead (Mark 9:26); his healing is a kind of resurrection.

    Jesus feeds the 5,000 in groups of fifty. Obadiah hides and feeds the prophets in groups of fifty (1 Kings 18:3).

    Both Moses and Elisha see a special revelation of God’s glory on Mount Sinai which is related to the transfiguration. On Sinai, Elijah too hears the voice of God. The glory-cloud, while directly present in the Elijah narrative, might be related to the rain cloud and heavy shower at the end of 1 Kings 18. The reference to the hand of the Lord in both Exodus 33 and 1 Kings 18 strengthens the connection.

    In 2 Kings 1, Elijah calls down fire on messengers from Samaria – who come, incidentally, in groups of fifties. Likewise, James and John ask to call down fire on the men of Samaria who don’t receive them or their message. Of course, the disciples would be wrong to call fire while there is no indication that Elijah was.

    In 1 Kings 19:19-22, Elisha is plowing the field with twelve oxen, and Elijah calls him. After kissing his father and mother and sacrificing the oxen, Elisha follows the prophet. In Luke 9:57-62, the two potential disciples, like Elisha, want to tie up family affairs first, burying the dead before following Jesus or taking time to say goodbye to home. Jesus rebukes them, and his word to the second would-be disciple harkens back to Elisha’s plow: “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

    The two people on the mountain are everywhere else in the passage too.

    • Helpful thoughts! It is also important to notice that Elijah and Elisha’s ministry is shaped after Moses and Joshua’s. As for 1 Kings 18, victory over false gods, followed by going ahead of a king’s pursuing chariot in a great water deliverance should be reminiscent of the Exodus in various ways.

  4. Pingback: #Luke2Acts – Some Notes on Luke 5 and 16 | Alastair's Adversaria

  5. Steve Lowe says:

    See Contours of Pauline Theology by Tom Holland for a treatment of exactly what you are observing here in Luke.

  6. Pingback: #Luke2Acts—Some Notes on John 3 to 13 | Alastair's Adversaria

  7. James Bejon says:

    Dear Alastair, I’m not sure it really goes much beyond this excellent post of yours, but I decided to write up some notes on Luke 9 myself and later came across yours! (I also stole your link between the shattered stone tablets and the demon-possessed child!) Here’s what I got anyway: https://www.academia.edu/30329794/Luke_9.1-43_The_Transfiguration_in_View_of_Sinai. Thanks for all your hard work, James.

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