10 Dec 2008

The Exodus Pattern … A Tie that Binds

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Bible, Exodus, Hebrew Bible, Hermeneutics, Kingdom, Preaching, Salvation

The Churches of Christ were, seemingly, birthed in hermeneutical controversy. Alexander Campbell expended considerable effort on pointing to proper methods of interpretation of Scripture. As years went by more and more focus was placed upon some sort of “pattern” within the Bible and especially the New Testament. “Patternism” has been incredibly divisive throughout our history and continues to be with one group of Patternists contending that the other group of Patternists have invented patterns where there are none. What is interesting with all this zeal for patterns is that many of the most pronounced patterns in the biblical narrative are simply unrecognized and ignored as irrelevant. Perhaps nothing exemplifies this more than the Exodus Pattern.

It is difficult to overstate the importance of the Exodus story in Israel’s life and faith. We could even opine that the Exodus is the foundation of the Bible itself. The Exodus was the amazing act of Yahweh the Liberator who delivers, redeems and saves a group of nobodies. The Exodus is the paradigm of what salvation by grace really looks like. Walter Brueggemann has suggested that a series of ‘verbs’ are used to “testify” to Yahweh’s act of liberating grace:

* Yahweh brings out
* Yahweh delivers
* Yahweh redeems
* Yahweh brings up
(See Theology of the Old Testament, 173-176)

God’s paradigmatic moment is celebrated by Moses and Miriam (as an ancient Ike & Tina) in Exodus 15:

I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously …
The LORD is my strength and my might, and he has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise him …
The LORD is a warrior; the LORD is his name.
Pharaoh’s chariots and his army he cast into the sea …
You blew with your ruah and the sea covered them …
Who is like you, O LORD …
In your steadfast love you led the people whom you redeemed
(Exodus 15.1-13, NRSV)

Several themes emerge from Moses’ and Miriam’ song. First it is emphatic that Yahweh alone did the work, salvation belongs to him and it was not because Israel deserved it. Second it is interesting how the Exodus story uses terms borrowed from the creation story itself: divine action and spreading the waters with the activity of God’s Spirit (ruah), etc. Salvation is like a new creation.

The story, pattern, of this Exodus is deeply ingrained in the Bible. Israel “rehearsed” this drama each year through the Passover. And no Israelite believed the Exodus was simply what happened back then to “them” rather they placed themselves within the Story and believed it happened to “us.” This confession of the Exodus patterned life is seen as Israel celebrated their “thanksgiving(s)” …

“My father was wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, putting us to hard labor. Then we cried to the LORD, the God of our Fathers … So the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with miraculous signs and wonders. He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, O LORD have given me.” (Deuteronomy 26.5b-10)

Exodus patterned Israel’s life (or was supposed to) and is fused into “the rest of the Story” by the biblical authors. Here are just a few examples:

* Entrance into the Promised Land is cast with Exodus imagery. Joshua 3-4 reverberates with the drama of the Red Sea
* Building the temple is dated from the Exodus (1 Kgs 6.1)
* Moral crises following Solomon’s tyranny is patterned after the sojourn in and following Egypt (1 Kgs 11-12)
* Psalms of praise celebrate the Exodus (i.e. Pss 66, 68, 105)
* Psalms of lament appeal to the Exodus for fresh deliverance (i.e. Pss 74, 77, 80)
* In Hosea, Amos & Micah (to name only three) paint Israel’s adultery with images taken from Egypt or from the wanderings in Sinai while casting Yahweh as the faithful liberating lover who would redeem Israel.
* Isaiah 40-66 takes the pattern of Exodus as the source for new hope for Israel.

The Exodus Pattern is burned deep within the Bible. Our quick “survey” helps us to see that the Exodus is more than a mere literary motif but that it was THE PARADIGM Israel used to understand her past, her present, and her future.

The NT also has deeply ingrained within it this Exodus motif. The Gospel of Matthew, the first book of the NT, seemingly continues the same sort of “pattern” we see throughout the Hebrew Bible. The beginning of Jesus’ Story has fingerprints of the Exodus narrative all over it. In both there is an evil ruler, in both the children suffer, in both there is a “flight,” in both there is an “exodus” for “out of Egypt I have called my son” (Mt 2.15), in both there is a passage through water, in both there is a wandering in the wilderness for a time of testing, in both there is a journey to a mountain, the healing ministry of Jesus is related to his role as Isaiah’s servant in concert with the new Exodus (Mt 8.17; 11.5; 12.18; Isa 35.5-6; 53.4; 61.1-2) … the Exodus Pattern is deeply ingrained in Matthew … but he is not alone. The work of God in Jesus upon the cross is cast in new Exodus like language.

Yes, the Exodus Pattern is a “tie that binds.” Since the “Old Testament” and “New Testament” are really ONE BIBLE they (together) testify to the same story of God’s work in redemption. The Exodus is the pattern used by biblical writers to understand who God is and what it means to be the People of the Lord. Since this pattern is so prominent in Scripture … and it is actually there … should we (who are so concerned about patterns) not spend some time reflecting on the significance of the Exodus Pattern for God’s People today?

18 Responses to “The Exodus Pattern … A Tie that Binds”

  1. Steve Puckett Says:

    Stimulating thoughts, bro.

    I heard Bruggemann at the Conference on Preaching in Nashville and his topic was the Exodus. I’m looking to preach/teach on this very topic next year so if you have resources you recommend other than the ones here, fire them over to Florida.


  2. ben overby Says:

    When God finally appeared in the flesh he embodied the Exodus story of grace, power, redemption, salvation from a slave life, etc. He spoke to an audience that owed their existance to God’s grace poured out in the exodus event, but he didn’t take the story up as a reference point or primary preaching emphasis. He did something far more difficult–he inacted the exodus in a smelly, tiring, very human life that saw him setting the captives free, or die trying.

    I guess I’m less concerned that we’ve failed to see the centrality of the exodus event in the story of the Jews and am more concerned that we, who’ve been set free, look very much like we’re still in Egypt tap dancing on mud and staw. I think we know Exodus and can draw appropriate lines between the ancient event and the Messiah. Our problem, however, is as old as exodus. It’s a problem of trust. Do we, or will we ever trust that Jesus has taught and demonstrated how we can live a life of profound well-being both now and forever? Our actions tend to suggest we trust our instincts more than our Savior.

    Maybe we need to do the Exodus rather than preach about it (probably we need both). Maybe the body of Christ needs to do more in terms of setting the captives free, and less talking about it. I know I do.

  3. rich Says:

    here is a pattern, bob

    Exo 32:7 And Jehovah spake unto Moses, Go, get thee down; for thy people, that thou broughtest up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves:

    Exo 34:5 Exo 34:6 And Jehovah passed by before him, and proclaimed, Jehovah, Jehovah, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abundant in lovingkindness and truth,
    Exo 34:7 keeping lovingkindness for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin; and that will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, upon the third and upon the fourth generation.

    just what is faithfullness
    but a pattern
    that takes after the the patern of the Divine nature of god dealing with a corrupted pattern.
    what a mess we are


  4. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Ben you will get little argument that we often live as if we are still in Egypt. I also agree we should be about “living” the Exodus. We are Exodus people … people of the Jubilee of God.

    But I’m not so sure that we “know” the Exodus. We must wrap ourselves in that Story before we can live it, this is what the Israelite does in Deuteronomy 26. What is interesting about Matthew’s strategy in tying in the parallels of Jesus and the Exodus is that it is not Christology that he is really after but ecclesiology. He is seeking to shape the identity of not just Jesus but the People of God (which ties back into what you have said).

    Blessings brother, I pray all is well with you and your family.

  5. JD Says:

    If you haven’t read Rob Bell’s book Jesus Wants to Save Christians, then you really need to do so. He addresses the Exodus theme in a wonderful, challenging way.

  6. sojourner Says:

    The pattern of God’s finger prints all over His creation – in chaos there is a pattern – in randomness there is a pattern – in life there is a pattern – in death there is a pattern – in the whole there is a pattern – in the part there is a pattern – how can we not pay attention to it? The very connectedness of it is what draws us into God’s purpose into our future! Intriging thoughts indeed.

  7. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Steve here are a few outstanding sources for preaching the book of Exodus …

    Terrance Fretheim’s “Exodus” in the Interpretation series is magnificent.

    Donald Gowan’s “Theology in Exodus: Biblical Theology in the Form of a Commentary” is also a goldmine and follows the Exodus throughout scripture.

    Richard Lowry’s Sabbath and Jubilee is also very good.

    JD mentioned Rob Bell’s work and it is helpful too. And Bell has a unique perspective on things that is provocative too.

    A super fine Jewish work on Exodus is Nahum Sarna’s Exploring Exodus.

    And A Gathered People has some material on aspects of Exodus too.

    Bobby V

  8. Justin Says:

    First, thanks for drawing the connection lines between Moses and Miriam’s song of Deliverance and the Creation. I was unaware of the similarity of language.

    Second, I would like to offer a thesis on why we have such trouble with the Exodus connection. In large part, I believe it goes back to the sort of “patternism” we have accepted. Our doctrine has typically emphasized (I would say over-emphasized) a firm and absolute break with the Old Testament. In the minds of most of our people, the church is not “the new Israel,” or the “spiritual Israel,” or even “the Israel of God.” Rather it is what REPLACED Israel. Despite occasionally using fulfillment language, it has been my observation that most in our fellowship seem to believe in a replacement, rather than a fulfillment theology.

    Once you have–explicitly or implicitly–accepted the notion that 3/4 of the Bible is irrelevant to your life and faith (other than as interesting historical information) then you’ve built a psychological/theological wall that makes it very difficult (perhaps even heretical?) to see too many connections.

  9. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Justin that was just the kind of introspective look I was seeking. Why is it that we who are pattern crazy dismiss the patterns that are actually there? I agree with your assessment that we have, often, relegated the “Old Testament” to not much more than a footnote for shaping our life before God. Interesting things happen though when we let the Hebrew Scriptures speak …

  10. BillyWilson Says:

    “A man wrote it” hmpphh. 67 verses, Bobby. SIXTY SEVEN!!! And you couldn’t find a PATTERN for me, your brother, in dire need of help, in desperation, reaching out, at the end of my rope, …(I struggle letting things go)

    That aside, enjoyed the blog.

  11. Matthew Says:

    Great post and helpful stuff. Hope all is well with you too.

  12. ben overby Says:

    You asked, Why is it that we who are pattern crazy dismiss the patterns that are actually there?

    Your terms “pattern crazy” are appropriate. The fact is, some are crazy enough to suppose they can cut the pattern rather than simply discover and follow it.

    As to living the story, I applaud the effort to get the story a fair hearing. However, the great disadvantage the CoC endures is the fact that it is symbol bare with reference to the story. God strapped Israel with multiple symbols in order to help drive the story into their heads, hearts, and everyday discourse. From tassles to feast days, they were surrounded by symbols. We fail to appreciate the fact that God is pro-symbol but anti-idol. So most of our buildings still lack a cross hanging anywhere within the structure, much less around an elder’s neck. If there’s anything that can be described as a symbol it is experienced on Sunday during worship further driving a gap between the story and actual lived lives. Symbols are a primary expression of our invisible worldview; what does our lack of symbols say about us? And how will telling the story without some creativity in developing meaningful symbols touch people’s lives appart from the Sunday experience? The pattern includes not just the story but the symbols, and for us, new symbols that illustrate the new chapters that have been added to the Exodus event. Stories without symbols (and for Jesus it was usually a powerful symbolic action such as alllowing Mary to remain at his feet while Martha busied herself otherwise or calling 12 disciples) are like Christmas paper without the gift. It might look great while tearing into it or while piling the gifts under the tree but if the box is empty the excitement cannot be sustained. Sermons and books on Exodus are wrapping paper. But what difference will all the words make in the lives of the hearers if leaders don’t help followers sustain their excitement over the story?

  13. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Ben I believe in the power of symbols too. But we do have some very powerful symbols already in place. We just need to tap into them in ways that we never have before. Both baptism and the Lord’s Supper are of incredible symbolic power and we need to reemphasize them rather than diminish them. For all of our rhetoric of their importance the “performance” of both are rather perfunctory in our assemblies. But they are powerful story telling vehicles … we need to recover that story telling ability.

    There is hope.

  14. kingdomseeking Says:


    Have you ever read Nahum Zarna’s little book on Exodus? I have both that book and his book on Genesis and have enjoyed them both.

    Grace and peace,


  15. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Rex, I listed Sarna’s work in the short bib a few comments up. Good book.

    Bobby V

  16. Doug (in Phoenix) Says:

    “…celebrated by Moses and Miriam (as an ancient Ike & Tina)”

    That’s a great line and image!

    (Before even getting into the theology)

    Take care –

  17. Steve Puckett Says:

    Thanks for the resources bro! And be sure I’m praying for you at this tough time of the year.


  18. JT Says:

    Well Bobby, here I go again, commenting on a blog that’s nearly 14 years old! Although I’m just arriving, your information here is still relevant for introspection and dialogue.

    I found Justin’s response very interesting and it appears from your follow up to him that you also did.

    “Patternism” for me, as is heavily relied upon in formulating significant numbers of CoC doctrines and practices is practically worthless. It begins with the wrong-headed notion that we, today, have no meaningful relationship with Israel. It continues with the weird promotion of “New Testament Church” – good; but the OT is merely a historical reference point. We mostly ignore that we today are an extension of Israel. We ignore the “pattern” if you want to call it that, that consists of the many things about that ancient life were for helping the people of God to not FORGET.

    Don’t forget, I am the one, true God.
    Don’t forget, trust in me. I will provide and protect.
    Don’t forget, if you do not obey my commands as you said you would do, my blessings will be withdrawn (even though I will not permanently forsake you).
    I could go on. Patterns/comparisons of blood, water, sacrifice, burial/baptism, bread/Word…

    It’s a continuous, meaningful story with amazing patterns from beginning forward.

    But, it really is the same for us today if we see the “patterns” emerging from the beginning, rather than inventing “patterns” strictly from the NT.


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