by Alan S. Bandy, Ph.D.
Rowena R. Strickland Associate Professor of New Testament
Oklahoma Baptist University
The story, events and theology embedded within the book of Exodus flow through the veins of the entirety of Scripture. It has been observed that “[v]irtually every kind of religious literature in the Hebrew Bible—prose narrative, liturgical poetry, didactic prose, and prophecy—celebrates the exodus as a foundational event.” The exodus serves as the superstructure of Israelite ritual, law and ethics because it constitutes the historical warrant for the religious bond between Yahweh and Israel. David Daube, in his The Exodus Pattern in the Bible, initially sought to write on all patterns of deliverance in the Hebrew Bible, but discovered that the exodus is a proto-type, a mould which other stories of rescue from ruin may be cast. He suggested that “the principle reason for the fascination exercised by the exodus is that here was depicted—in vivid colours [sic], with ups and downs, in detail open to variable interpretation, and paying equal attention to material and sacred needs and fulfillments—the first great deliverance, indeed, the birth, of the nation.” To overlook the significance of the exodus is to neglect the foundational key concept of the theology of the Bible. This section will attempt to demonstrate the foundational nature of the exodus as a key concept in biblical theology by tracing the trajectory of several themes through Scripture.
The Salvation and Redemption of God’s People Trajectory
Redemption constitutes one of the major key concepts that permeates throughout the Bible, as it depicts the Heilgeschichte or history of salvation. Exodus tells of a people who suffered as slaves under the oppression of a cruel master. However, these slaves are the descendants of Israel, whose God is Yahweh. After four hundred years of oppression Yahweh now acts in history to redeem and deliver his people from their slavery into a promised inheritance. This redemption from the bondage of slavery accomplished the founding of the nation of Israel that subsequently belongs to their redeemer in a covenantal relationship. Intrinsic to this are the concepts of both salvation and redemption which have slightly different connotations:
Cognate to the noun salvation is the verb save, which carries with it the general idea of deliverance or release from danger, slavery, imprisonment, debt, and the like. Cognate to the noun redemption is the verb redeem, which connotes the payment of a price by means of which salvation is effected. Salvation is thus a general concept, whereas redemption is more specific.
Both concepts splash across the exodus narrative with such brilliant vibrancy that it establishes these concepts as foundational to life, faith and practice of the nation Israel.
Salvation and Redemption in the Pentateuch
Israel’s salvation or deliverance is characterized as what God accomplished by his mighty power when he brought them out of Egypt. The phrase “out of Egypt” occurs repeated throughout the Hebrew Bible and each reference conveys several nuanced emphases. One dominate emphasis is that the people of Israel are commanded to remember not only the fact that they were brought out of slavery from Egypt, but also they are to remember that it was God (Yahweh) who accomplished it. The precedence for this is set in Exodus 13:3: “Remember this day in which you went out from Egypt, from the house of slavery; for by a powerful hand the LORD brought you out from this place.” God continuously identifies himself to the Israelites as the God who brought them out of the land of Egypt. Yahweh is God who revealed his glory, majesty and power through his ‘signs and wonders’ throughout the exodus account. Another emphasis on their deliverance “out of Egypt” is that it serves as a fulfillment of God’s promise (Ex. 33:1 et. al.). Also because God brought them out of slavery they were to be a holy people as evidenced by Leviticus 11:45. Their deliverance “out of Egypt” confirms their status as God’s possession or his elect (Deut. 4:20). Other aspects which are emphasized by their deliverance include obedience, protection, justice and it serves as a basis for God’s Judgment. The phrase “out of Egypt” represents the concept of salvation, but equally significant is the concept of redemption.
The Israelites were not only delivered from their slavery, they were also redeemed or purchased by God. Yahweh’s intention of redeeming his people is explicitly stated: “I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments (Ex 6:6).” The people of God were redeemed by the very power and work of God himself. Redemption dominated every aspect of Israel’s religious and social consciousness. Because they were “redeemed” they had to incorporate into their civic and ethical customs mandating that property, animals, slaves, women and family members could be redeemed according to the price established in the Law (Lev. 19:20; 25:33, 48f, 54; 27:13) The Israelites were now the possession of Yahweh and were obligated to obey him (Deut. 24:18). Redemption not only secured their deliverance from Egypt but it also provided them with protection and promise (Num. 23:22; 24:8).