Jesus… saved a people out of the land of Egypt. (Jude 5)
That’s Exodus in 10 words.
Let me give a more expanded but less inspired version. I will focus on the who of Exodus rather than the what. My attention will not be on Moses or Pharoah or the plagues or the Red Sea or the law or the tabernacle – that can be for another time. I happen to think there’s a more fundamental issue to tackle: Who is the LORD who redeems Israel? Given that this is precisely how the God of the Old Testament defines Himself – ‘the LORD who brought you up out of Egypt’ – getting this question right will be absolutely crucial.
We begin at the non-burning bush – Exodus 3.
Here the Angel of the LORD (v2) confronts Moses. This Sent One from the LORD is “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” (v6). (Note that Jacob agrees – the God of His fathers is the Angel: Gen 48:15f). The Sent One calls Himself “I AM WHO I AM.” (v14)
Note: When Jesus, in His incarnate ministry, calls Himself “I AM” (for e.g. John 8:24,28,58; 13:19; 18:5-8) He is not saying that He’s closely related to the God of the Exodus. He is the God of the Exodus.
This is important to note because verse 12 may just be the book’s theme sentence:
He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.” (Ex 3:12)
The Angel does not say “God will go with you and you will worship God.” Nor does He say “I will go with you and you will worship Me.” No, the Angel is the saving LORD (see Judges 2:1-5) and He relates the people to Another. Jesus saves a people and brings them to worship God on the mountain. The Son redeems a people for the Father. That is what Exodus is all about. And the rest of the book is the playing out of this truth.
As the people come out of Egypt – there He is in the pillar of cloud/fire. At one point He’s called the LORD (13:21,22) at another, ‘the Angel of God’ (14:19,20). The Sent One who is God is the redeeming LORD.
When He carries them on eagles wings to the mountain (as promised) He makes sure they are prepared to meet the LORD:
“The LORD [who carried Israel on eagle’s wings – v4] said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. And you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, ‘Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death.” (Ex 19:10-12)
Here the LORD is on the mountain warning the people about how dangerous it will be when the LORD meets them on the mountain. If this were some unitarian god it would be strange talk indeed but we know that the divine Angel is the LORD who is bringing them to meet God (the Father) on the mountain (Ex 3:12).
As Deuteronomy 4 and 5 underline, the encounter on Sinai was utterly unique (e.g. Deut 4:15; 5:26).
No-one had ever heard ‘the living God’ speaking out of fire on the mountain as they did on that third day. Of course Moses had heard the I AM speaking out of fire on that very mountain (Exodus 3). But this is different. This is the unseen LORD. This is the Most High God and it has taken 70 chapters of the bible – and the mighty redemption of the Angel – to make this kind of encouter possible.
And just when you thought Exodus might finish in chapter 19, the people don’t actually go up the mountain at the trumpet blast (Ex 19:13). Instead Moses goes up on their behalf (cf Deut 5:27). Everything will now be presented by intermediaries, shadows, types. For the second half of the book it’s mainly Moses on the mountain, in the cloud, receiving the law and the tabernacle blueprint from the unseen LORD.
Attention turns to the future as the unseen LORD promises Moses that the Angel will continue to deliver them (Ex 23:20-23). They can trust Him because the name of the unseen LORD is in Him (Ex 23:21). The Angel commands, leads and forgives the Israelites.
Perhaps Moses wasn’t listening at this point because in 33:12 he says:
“See, you say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me.”
The unseen LORD replies: “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (v14) The word ‘Presence’ is the word for face and it recalls a very memorable phrase from the same chapter.
In Exodus 33:7-11 we hear about what used to happen. We leave the mountain-top briefly to be told how Moses used to meet with the LORD down on ground level. At that time he’d go to the tent of meeting and speak with the LORD “face to face as a man speaks with his friend.”
That was the ‘face to face’ LORD at ground level. But when Moses is on the mountain, the unseen LORD reassures Moses that the Face (Presence) would continue to go with them. Moses considers this to be absolutely essential – if the Presence doesn’t go with them he’d rather just perish in the wilderness (v15). Give me Jesus or give me death!
Having been encouraged greatly, Moses is now bold enough to ask something with echoes of Philip’s request in John 14. Now he wants to see the glory of the unseen LORD (v18)! The LORD’s reply is very telling: He would pass in front of Moses, He would proclaim His name, but, v20, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” Again in v22 He emphasizes “my face must not be seen.”
Now Moses is not an idiot. He’s just recounted the incident in the tent of meeting (33:7-11) for a reason. He’s deliberately distinguishing the ground-level appearing LORD with the mountain-top unseen LORD. But distinguishing them so as to intimately relate them.
Because as soon as Moses hears the name of the Unseen LORD (Ex 34:5-7) he exclaims:
“If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us.” (Ex 34:9)
When he hears the name of the Most High God he asks Him to send the Lord in their midst. The name of the LORD is in the Angel who is in their midst (Ex 23:21). So when Moses hears this gospel character he knows he’s experienced this very name in the Angel. The seen LORD is everything that the unseen LORD proclaims when He reveals His name. And so Moses asks the Father to send the Son in their midst – the redeeming Lord-from-Lord.
Moses’ plea of 34:9 is granted and, at the end of Exodus, the Glory / Presence / LORD fills the tabernacle and directs all their travels (40:34-38).
We see throughout the Old Testament that this promise of the Presence of the LORD being in the midst of His people was kept. Numbers 9:15-23 is one example of many showing the seen LORD going in the midst of His people. Number 14 tells us that even the surrounding nations knew that the Face-to-Face LORD travelled with the Israelites and fought for them (v13ff). When Solomon finally builds a Temple for the Name of the LORD, the LORD fills it in exactly the same way as He filled the tabernacle in Exodus 40. This LORD appears to Solomon in 1 Kings 9 and to Isaiah in chapter 6. If we were in any doubt as to who this Divine Person is, the Apostle John settles all dispute: “Isaiah said this [Isaiah 6] because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about Him.” (John 12:41)
In the fulness of time this LORD – this Angel of the covenant, this sought after and desired Redeemer – would come in a definitive judgement and salvation (Mal 3:1ff).
Jesus has always been the saving, ground-level, appearing LORD. He has always perfectly mediated the saving plan and character of His Father. Jude was speaking absolutely plainly and straightforwardly – Jesus is the LORD who brought the Israelites out of Egypt. In other words He is the God of the Old Testament. Exodus is a wonderful demonstration of this foundational truth.