Bible Reading for the Biblically Illiterate - And We're All Illiterate! (Part 5)

  1. The Great Pattern

The Old Testament

             Walter Brueggemann has noted a “lexicon” of verbs typically connected with YHWH’s actions of liberating grace:

-Yahweh brings out
-Yahweh delivers
-Yahweh redeems
-Yahweh brings up[1]

          The exodus from Egypt is the paradigm case of YHWH’s liberation. It’s a pattern deeply inscribed in the Bible. Its formative impact is seen in its rehearsal annually at the Passover festival. And they celebrated an event that did not merely happen “then and there” in its history. On the contrary, the community saw themselves within the Story and believed it happened to “us.” This was the formative story of their lives, not just those of their forebears. Listen carefully to the creed they used:

“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)

This Exodus pattern is “the” way YHWH saves his people and furthers his purposes in the world. When the verbs Brueggemann identified above are used, this Exodus pattern is in mind. Richard Middleton says it well: “Beneath the Old Testament’s use of explicit salvation language lies a coherent worldview in which the exodus from Egyptian bondage, followed by entry into the promised land, forms the most important paradigm or model.”[2]

This pattern is writ both large and small throughout the Old Testament. The major benchmark occasions of the pattern are the Exodus from slavery in Egypt and the return from exile in Babylon in the 6th century B. C. We’ll look more at these in a moment. But I want us to notice some other passages where the pattern influences the way the Old Testament tells its story. This will helps us appreciate the hold this pattern has on the imagination of biblical authors.

-Creation itself can be seen as an exodus event of God’s bringing being out of non-being.

-Joshua 3-4 cast the entry into the Promised Land as an Exodus event.

-Building the temple is dated from the Exodus (1 Kgs. 6.1) and is the real end of the Exodus.
-Moral crises arising from Solomon acting like a Pharaoh is patterned after the people’s slavery in Egypt (1 Kgs.11-12).
-Psalms of praise celebrate the Exodus (e.g. Ps.66,68,105).
-Psalms of lament appeal to the Exodus for a new deliverance (i.e. Ps.74,77,80).
-Jeremiah and Hosea style God’s punishment of Israel and the resulting captivity as a reversal of the Exodus (Jer.7:22-26; 11:3-7; 21:5-7; Hos.9:3).

-Hosea, Amos & Micah  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 New Testament

The New Testament also reflects this pattern. The pattern of the Exodus narrative is all over the beginning Matthew’s gospel. In both

-there is an evil ruler,

-the children suffer,

-there is a “flight,”

-there is an “exodus” for “out of Egypt I have called my son” (Mt 2.15),

-there is a passage through water,

-there is a wandering in the wilderness for a time of testing,

-there is a journey to a mountain, and

-Jesus’ healing ministry of Jesus is typed 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).[3]


In Luke, on the Mount of Transfiguration, we find Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus. What are they discussing? “They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (9:31). The word translated “departure” is exodos, “exodus”!

          Yes, the Exodus Pattern ties both testaments together. This is another reminder that the Bible tells one story. The Exodus pattern tells the readers who God is, how God works, and what it means to be the People of this God.

The Pattern

          The full Exodus pattern[4] includes the following elements:

  1. Need                          for salvation (in all dimensions)
  2. Cry for help                from those in need
  3. YHWH comes              from heavenly throne into concrete situation of need
  4. Divine king fights        for those in need removing impediment to flourishing
  5. God often uses creaturely agents        to help bring salvation
  6. God restores                        needy to a good land with breathing room to live
  7. A life of obedience                to YHWH is necessary to complete salvation
  8. God comes to dwell               with the redeemed in concrete historical context

Not all these elements are present in every account of YHWH’s liberation but they are always in mind.

Three Big Clusters of “Exodus” Pattern Texts[5]

Exodus I

13th century B. C. escape from Egypt

Exodus, some pre-exilic psalms and prophetic texts

Two components: liberation/formation of a people

From Egypt to Canaan
Exodus II

6th century B. C. return from exile in Babylon

Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah 40-55 (New Exodus)

From Babylon to Zion
Exodus III

Work of Jesus in 1st century A.D.

Interpreted by NT writers as New Exodus

From “present evil age” to “new creation”

            The two components of the Exodus experience, which remain constant in all three major versions of Exodus we fin in the Bible, give us the coordinates on which to map the contours of all YHWH’s saving deeds. Liberation (from Egypt, from Babylon, from Sin and Evil) is completed in each case by the formation of a people in and with whom YHWH may be present. We learn here what we have seen throughout – salvation is both liberation (reclamation) and formation (restoration) with the end result of YHWH’s presence with his people.

            Because of this dominant pattern of salvation we might call the Old Testament the “Ex-Files.” Exodus brings liberation which always leads to another “Ex,” Exile. This whole pattern of Exodus to Exile dominants the Old Testament and sets the stage for the New Testament. Jesus executes the great, final, and definitive Exodus for Israel and the world. Crowned and installed Messiah, World Ruler, by his resurrection, the risen Christ leads his people through an “exile” (1 Peter 1:1; 2:11which needs no further Exodus but only arrival “home” through death or Christ’s return. Thus if we call the Old Testament the “Ex-Files,” we might well call the New Testament the “Rex-Files.” Rex is the Latin word for “King” and the New Testament is the story of the King’s rule. Ex-Files to Rex-Files – I like that as a description of the Bible’s two parts. How about you?

[1] Walter Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy (Minneapolis MN: Fortress Press,        ), 173-176.
[2] Richard J. Middleton, J. A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology (Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition), 79.

[3] Mu-tien Chiou, « Biblical Theology : A Crisp and Thematic Analysis of Exodus » at

[4] Middleton, A New Heaven, ch.4, 77-89.
[5] Richard J. Clifford, “The Exodus in the Christian Bible: The Case for a ‘Figural’ Reading,” Theological Studies 63, 345-361.


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