Bruce W. Speck’s Review of EXODUS OLD AND NEW: A BIBLICAL THEOLOGY OF REDEMPTION, by L. Michael Morales

Published on August 30, 2021 by Eugene Ho

IVP Academic, 2020 | 224 pages

A Book Review from Books At a Glance

by Bruce W. Speck



There are three events in the Scriptures that explain the theme of exodus in biblical theology: The Egyptian exodus, Jesus’ exodus, and the final exodus—the resurrection of God’s people at the end of the age. These three exodus events are filled with theological import for understanding God’s plan of redemption and living a Godly life.



According to the back cover, “L. Michael Morales is professor of biblical studies at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Taylors, South Carolina. He is the author of Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? and The Tabernacle Pre-Figured.”


Author (of Series Preface)

Benjamin L. Gladd is the editor of Essential Studies in Biblical Theology (ESBT), of which Exodus Old and New is the second volume in a projected ten-volume series. No information is provided about his academic credentials or institutional affiliations. Gladd notes that a plethora of books already exist on biblical theology, asking why more are needed. He answers, “Stated succinctly, the goal of the ESBT series is to explore the central biblical-theological themes of the Bible” (p. ix). In addition, Gladd notes that other series of books on biblical theology are open-ended; however, “The ESBT project functions as a whole in that each theme is intentional, and each volume does not stand solely on its own merits. The individual volumes interlock with one another, and taken together, form a complete and cohesive unit” (p. ix).

However, the reader is not given a list of the expected volumes, and I presume from the last page of Morales’ book, under the heading “Also Available,” that the advertisement of From Adam and Israel to the Church: A Biblical Theology of the People of God by Gladd is the first volume in the series. Gladd also notes that a unique feature of the ESBT series is that it is not “flat,” but is “. . . mindful of how the New Testament develops their [the series’] topics in fresh and unexpected ways” (p. x). I understand Gladd to be saying that the NT throws light retrospectively on OT themes. But the ESBT volumes are not intended to be exhaustive, so they are presented as primers on a particular theme and are intended to apply that theme “. . . to Christian living, ministry, and worldview” (p. x).

Several questions arise from reading the Series Preface, the adulatory comments on the first page of Exodus Old and New, and the back cover. The most pressing question is, “What exactly is biblical theology?” To my mind, this is not an easy question to answer because according to one source I consulted, biblical theology can be divided into five schools. To which school does the ESBT belong? I gather it’s somehow connected to the D.A. Carson school because Gladd says in the Series Preface that the ESBT “. . . is patterned after the highly esteemed series New Studies in Biblical Theology by D. A. Carson” (p. ix.) If a reader is not in the know about the Carson series, the linkage between it and the EBST will not be very helpful. In fact, the level of presumed background knowledge about biblical theology belies the target audience (specified as students, church leaders, and laypeople on the back cover and students of theology, church leaders, and laypeople in the Series Preface). Thus, to state that the type of biblical theology in the ESBT series focuses on central biblical-theological themes of the Bible assumes that any reader would have a grasp of what biblical theology is. But would most laypeople be conversant with biblical theology?

Unless my experience in the church is extraordinarily parochial, I am skeptical that laypersons, not to mention deacons and one or two Ruling Elders, would have at hand a ready definition of biblical theology and be able to converse about it for long. Accordingly, while squarely in the middle of the target audience, I was already confused about the subject and what to expect at the outset of reading this book. (In fact, as this review progresses, I will provide quotations to demonstrate that even those engaged in biblical theology lack agreement about what exactly it is.)

Two comments by reviewers quoted on the first page of the book also suggest that biblical theology is not a slam-dunk concept as, for example, systematic theology is. T. Desmond Alexander, senior lecturer in biblical studies and director of postgraduate studies at Union Theological College, Belfast, says, Morales’ “ . . . thought-provoking analysis of the broad sweep of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation is compelling, even when one might differ on minor details.” I, for one, would be interested in the minor details because God is in the details. But I certainly picked up on the cautionary tone.

James M. Hamilton Jr., professor of biblical theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, further notes, “As with all books on biblical theology, readers should test everything by Scriptures themselves, and Morales’s vigorous prose and provocative ideas provide great exercise for those seeking to stretch their biblical-theological limbs and lungs. Enjoy!” For a roaring endorsement, Hamilton’s professional opinion is not encouraging. Perhaps academic caution in endorsements is at view here, but to say that all books on biblical theology must be tested by Scripture is either to state a commonplace that echoes Luke’s endorsement of the Berean practice or to cast a doubtful light on the project of biblical theology in toto.

In addition, Morales’ ideas are provocative. But if a supposed student of theology (in Bible school, in seminary, in the pew?) commences a study of biblical theology with the EBST, what exactly should the student be on the lookout for regarding what is provocative? Or is the real issue that Hamilton’s allegiances are with a theology that has suspicions about Morales’ Reformed theology? I’m not sure how to answer these questions, and I have significant doubts that the typical reader envisioned for the series would know either. So it appears that insiders are assuming a great deal regarding readers who are not insiders.

As to the definition of biblical theology examining central themes in the Bible, I can’t imagine anyone objecting to that. The real issue is how the themes are examined, and after reading the covers, reviewers’ comments, and Series Preface, the reader will have to wait to find out how Morales approaches his task—at least to discover how he understands biblical theology.


Author’s Preface

Morales begins the Preface by quoting Dante’s The Inferno, “‘Midway upon the journey of our life I found myself in a dark wilderness, for I had wandered from the straight and true’” (p. xi). Morales reveals that Dante’s words stirred him in an earlier period of his life to return from a wandering that was not commensurate with Godly living. “. . . the canticles led me through a sort of exodus, out of my complacency and back to God, back to the meaning of life” (p. xi). Dante’s poem combined with further biblical studies under Gordon J. Wenham led Morales to appreciate the richness of the exodus theme in scripture, and he hopes that those who read his book will experience “ . . . their own ‘sort of exodus’ . . . ” (p. xi). Morales’ confession about his lapse from pursuing the Christian life is refreshing, and readers can admire an author who has sanctifying victory because he was moved by the Spirit to “exit” a worldly lifestyle, even when professing to be a believer. But I am curious about the “sort of exodus” phrase.

After reading Morales’ careful and helpful explication of the exodus theme, I join him in seeing the theme as vital in linking the OT and NT in a unifying motif of God’s work of salvation. And a case can be made for a continual commitment to exiting “Egypt,” especially for those who are resident aliens in this world. But I wonder if the hope for a “sort of exodus” regarding sanctification as a regular process of living a Godly life is exactly right. Perhaps I’m being trivial, but the application of the exodus theme, as Morales explicates it, fits much more predominantly into soteriology and eschatology than it does into sanctification. While Morales’ personal experience is encouraging to read, I am left wondering whether that experience really helps us understand and apply this exodus motif in the Scriptures.

Morales goes on to echo Gladd’s assessment that the literature on the exodus theme is voluminous, so the theme can be found, for example, in Ruth, Esther, the Psalms, but Morales will limit his modest approach to three major exodus movements in Scripture. But even using this modest approach, Morales notes, “In any case, every biblical theology is incomplete, a drawn-up bucket out of an endless well . . .” (p. xii). Therefore, biblical theology can never hope exhaustively to trace any theme in the Bible? Why not? Systematic theology appears able to do so. Certainly, God’s wisdom is limitless, its applications immense, and our praise because of His wisdom never ends. Nonetheless, His Word is objective truth, and we should be able to exposit and grasp rather comprehensively any particular theme in His Word. Thankfully, despite his objection that it is impossible, Morales does seem to provide a comprehensive analysis of the exodus theme found in the Scriptures he explicates.


Author’s Introduction

In the Introduction, Morales takes up the thread of Dante’s Divine Comedy as it applies to the exodus theme. In fact, Morales cites a letter Dante wrote to his benefactor about the key to understanding the great poem: Israel’s exodus from Egypt. But that’s not all. The exodus “. . . prefigured the redemption accomplished by Christ. . . . the soul’s conversion out of the estate of sin and misery and into the grace of salvation. . . . the church’s consummate deliverance out of the enslavement of this corrupt old creation as God’s people are brought into the glories of the new Jerusalem in the new creation” (p. 1). Morales admiringly points to Dante’s understanding of exodus as a sterling example of the use of a “. . . multifaceted theological symbol . . .” (p. 2) found in Scripture. Why does Morales make so much of Dante’s use of the exodus theme?

I suggest two possible reasons. First, Morales is engaged in literary criticism and his personal “sort of exodus,” his renewal of his faith, was profoundly affected by Dante’s great poem. For Morales, the poem is a model of how a work of literature can beautifully expand upon the exodus theme. Second, Morales uses Dante to answer a question about biblical theology. “. . . if Dante were asked what has today become a controversial question in academic circles—namely whether there is a center of biblical theology, and if so, what it is—he would answer: ‘Yes, the central theme and story of the Bible and of history itself, is the exodus’” (p. 4).

Then, very tellingly, Morales enlists the help of the noted literary critic Northrup Frye to confirm that “‘. . . the only thing that ever happens. . .’” in the Bible is the exodus. This is, of course, a startling claim, given the need for a new ten-volume series to provide primers on the major themes of the Bible. Indeed, it may be a startling claim to devotees of biblical theology who see other biblical themes as equally important as or more important than the exodus theme. Nonetheless, Morales has staked out his claim, and in the Introduction provides methodological hints about how he will defend his claim.

The first hint is that the NT provides the affirmation that the exodus is the central theme of the Bible. This affirmation is spelled out in terms of a new exodus, Jesus’ resurrection, which satisfied all the symbolic import of the OT exodus theme. And here it is vital to quote how Morales uses the word resurrection:  “. . . with resurrection as shorthand for the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ . . .” (p. 4).

The second hint is that symbolism should not be taken as ahistorical. Thus, to say that the actual OT exodus is a symbol of Christ’s resurrection (and all that the word implies) is to situate both the symbol and its fulfillment in history. Ergo, the OT exodus becomes a historical signpost pointing to other historical events. The shorthand for all this is that Jesus’ resurrection is as historically valid as the OT exodus.

The third hint is that the OT and NT are inextricably bound together. Any notion of “that’s in the OT” as a dismissal of the applicability of the OT to the NT is effectively countered. “Behold the Lamb of God,” as John the Baptist proclaimed, is virtually impossible to understand (as John and his audience understood it) without reference to OT theology as a whole. And this relationship between the OT and NT is reciprocating. “The accomplishments of Jesus the Messiah, in sum, may be comprehended more fully by the study of the Old Testament Scriptures even as he reciprocally opens them up under the light of his own suffering and glory” (p. 5). Scripture interprets Scripture.

At least, we have Morales’ take on biblical theology, and I find no objections to his interpretive principles, though they are not exhaustive. Indeed, I think it would be hard to argue that the Bible is not centrally about the work Christ accomplished for poor, unworthy sinners. And since I’m writing this review after reading Morales’ book, I think he does a good job of following his interpretative principles to show that the symbolism of the OT is so thoroughly the foundation for understanding the NT, particularly in regard to the exodus theme in both books, that one wonders how any other theme could supersede the exodus motif.



After the Publisher’s Introduction and the author’s Preface, the book is divided into fourteen chapters under three headings (except Chapter One). Part 1: The Historical Exodus out of Egypt (Chapters Two-Seven), Part 2: The Prophesied Second Exodus (Chapters Eight-Eleven), and Part 3: The New Exodus of Jesus the Messiah (Chapters Twelve-Fourteen). Further Reading, Author Index, and Scripture Index conclude the book.


Chapter One: Exile Before Exodus

Genesis 1-11 forms the backdrop for the exodus theme and the text for Chapter One. As the chapter title notes, you can’t have an exodus without first experiencing exile. The exile begins in the Garden of Eden with the expulsion of Adam and Eve, and the exile theme just gets worse as the first eleven chapters of Genesis unfold. Not only did our first parents lose their positive relationship with God, “. . . they lost something of their own selves as well. Created for life with God, to find their highest satisfaction and rest in him, banished humanity lost its defining purpose and basis for significance” (p. 9). Humanity then resorts to seeking “ . . . happiness in carnal ambitions, people live with aims no higher than the mongrel skulking in the streets—a denial and utter waste of the image and likeness of God” (p. 9).  From fallenness, we cannot expect righteousness, so Cain seeks fulfillment in “. . . the city-of-man project” (p. 10), a clear allusion to the antithesis, Augustine’s city of God. By building a city, Cain is motivated by “. . . the desire for glory, protection, and permanence” (p. 10).

In tracing the theme of exile, Morales notes that God’s curse on Cain was to be a wanderer, and the Hebrew word for wandering is nod. So ironically, Cain seeks stability in a city named Nod. This city is located east of Eden, and Morales uses the typography of Eden as a point of reference to show that the exile theme (and the exodus theme) has directional import in Scripture. Going east is going away from God. The exile in the first eleven chapters of Genesis deepens as Genesis 6 recounts a “boundary crossing” in which either angels or Yahweh worshipers mix with the line of Cain, resulting in a crisis: The worship of Yahweh is all but obliterated. Thus, Yahweh acts to scatter the nations in the Tower of Babel episode. A colossal attempt to build the city of man by building the Tower of Babel is a failed effort to achieve immortality, a perverse religion that seeks to access divine power for personal preservation. But the scattering of the city-of-man builders does not change the city-of-man project.

As Morales says, “Having been expelled from his heavenly presence in Eden, humanity’s natural bent is to deny the exile and to reclaim the good life through science, technology, and art, a pursuit as hapless as it is endless, destined to failure. . . . City building is thus portrayed as a humanistic attempt to defy God . . .” (p. 13). In summarizing the exile theme in the first eleven chapters of Genesis, Morales states, “Broadly, the history of humanity is presented as an eastward descent from the summit of Eden, the holy mountain of God, outward to the scattering of the nations in an ever-deepening exile of separation from God” (p. 14). Thus, humanly devised peace on earth is a delusion. A part of God’s plan to deal with the problem of exile is to call Abram out from the nations for the ultimate purpose of bringing the nations into the kingdom of God. In fact, “. . . the exile of the nations is the backdrop for the story of Israel” (p. 16). Indeed, “Ultimately, a restoration of the nations to God will require an exodus, for the exodus pattern is nothing less than the reversal of exile, nothing less than resurrection from the dead” (p. 16).


Part 1: The Historical Exodus out of Egypt (Chapters Two-Seven)

Following the lead of Chapter One, Chapter Two traces the exodus theme in the life of Abram. God’s call to Abram is linked to the increasingly dramatic expulsions recounted in Genesis 1-11 in part by noting that particular words in Abram’s call can be traced to the theme of exile. God will make Abram’s name (shem in the Hebrew) great. Shem not only refers to the family line of Shem but also shows that the human longing for making a name for oneself, as seen, for example, in the Tower of Babel, is a blessing only God can give: “Abram’s call out of Ur, moreover, employs a fivefold use of the Hebrew root for ‘bless,’ likely intended to signal that through Abram’s calling the fivefold ‘curse’ found throughout Genesis 1-11 would finally be undone” (p. 21).

The intimate linguistic links among various passages of Scripture is, in my mind, one of the great strengths of Morales’ argument, and as he insistently shows throughout his book, God’s purposes have always been centered on enabling the nations to return, that is, exit, the city-of-man project and become builders in the city-of-God project. Thus, as the forerunner of the worldwide exodus, Abram represents the nations; as God said, He would bless all the families of the earth through Abram. “Profoundly, the story of Abram’s rescue out of Egypt, and then again out of Gerar, demonstrates that the life-shaping and identity-establishing event of Israel, the exodus, was by degree true also of Israel’s patriarchs—and is true for all of God’s people still” (p. 23). Or one could say that redemption is the life-shaping and identity-establishing of all God’s people throughout the ages.

Abram’s vision of God as He passed between the sacrificial animals Abram had prepared is also linked to the Exodus of the Israelites out of Egypt because they, too, in the Red Sea crossing passed “. . . between walls of death . . .” (p. 24). Thus, “ . . . Abram had experienced a foretaste of Israel’s exodus” (p. 25). Here I pause to express some perplexity about the relationship of covenant to exodus.  Are readers to understand that THE overarching theme to explicate Scripture is exodus, not covenant? This certainly appears to be the case, and I wonder what Morales sees as the exact relationship between these two.

Next, Morales discusses Lot’s exodus from Sodom, noting that Abram’s food offerings to the three strangers are foretastes of the Passover, and, again, the image of a house is important. “The rescues from Sodom and Egypt both focus on being closed within a house and then the need to depart that house without delay” (p. 26). Lot’s reluctance to leave Sodom is linked with the city-of-man project because when Lot was given the first choice of where to relocate, “Lot had seen that the plain of the Jordon was as ‘the garden of Yahweh, like the land of Egypt’ (Genesis 13:10), unveiling his yearning to find paradise within the cities of exile—and creating a correspondence between Sodom and Egypt as well” (p. 27).

What Morales does so well is interlink various stories in the OT to show that they are one thematic unity. Certainly, then, Abram’s call to sacrifice Isaac foreshadows the Passover. “In the binding of Isaac, Abraham’s spiritual odyssey culminates with his own experience of the figurative death and resurrection of his son—he undergoes a Passover deliverance” (p. 32). Thus, Passover, exodus, and resurrection are interrelated. And remember, Abram was called out of his home in Ur, out of exile into exodus. Morales notes that Passover, exodus, and resurrection (or coming back from the dead, as was figuratively true of Isaac) are fulfilled in Christ.

Chapter Three addresses the Israelites in exile in Egypt. The sum of the Exodus narrative “. . . may be read as a transition from Israel’s slavery under Pharaoh to Israel’s obedience and worship of Yahweh; from building cities to glorify the name of Egypt’s king (whose name is quite conspicuously left out of the story) to building the tabernacle, a dwelling for the glory of Yahweh’s name among his people” (p. 37). Note that Morales again stresses the symbolic import of making a name for oneself and building cities for the sake of that name. Ironically, the Pharaoh of the Exodus is not named, signaling the futility of human efforts to make a name for oneself. Exodus, however, entails leaving the city-of-man project and engaging in building the dwelling place of God.

By noting that exodus is the predominant theme of the book of Exodus, Morales address one sub-theme that has raised theological quandaries. What’s all this business about God hardening Pharoah’s heart? Morales argues that God did enable Pharoah to harden his heart and provides three reasons this is so. First, God is the potter, and He has the right and authority to mold the clay according to His purposes. Second, God’s purpose in the exodus from Egypt was to liberate Israel through signs and wonders, not only to demonstrate the impotence of the city-of-man project in resisting the will of God but also to convince His people that He has the power to save them.

Third, God repeatedly notes that His works will result in everyone knowing that He is God. Thus, “. . . it is important to understand that the biblical description is mainly of God strengthening Pharaoh’s heart, a firming up his own innate resolve to defy God. Such action by God is unintelligible if one mistakes Israel’s liberation as the goal of the exodus . . .” (p. 41). In other words, enabling Pharoah to resist liberation is at odds with effecting that liberation as the goal of the exodus, making God’s hardening of Pharoah’s heart a bit of theological nonsense. Rather, it is to glorify God by redeeming a people to serve and worship Him. The resistance of Pharaoh brings greater glory to God and greater reason to serve and worship Him.

Chapter Four unfolds the symbolism of the Red Sea crossing as it relates to images of the sea in Genesis (principally the creation and deluge) and other parts of Scripture. In short, the sea represents primordial chaos and God saves from the old creation by re-creating the world. This understanding of the sea allows “. . . us to understand creation and re-creation (through the flood) as exodus movements” (p. 49). Allied with the symbolism of the sea is Egypt as Sheol, the place of death. “. . . Egyptians were the leading experts on death, religiously as well as scientifically” (p. 50). And to go to Egypt is to descend. “As when entering the Netherworld, one always descends into Egypt, and the exodus of Israel out of Egypt is nothing less than an ascension” (p. 51), an allusion to the resurrection. Not only does the sea represent death and chaos but also it is seen as the Sea Dragon in Job and Psalm 74. When Yahweh slays the Dragon, He slays chaos and death: “. . . the dragon represents true darkness, the horror of bitter tragedy and violent loss, the face of unbounded evil and hatred that threatens our lives daily. . . . a beast of chaos who opposes the cosmos of God” (p. 62).

In closing the chapter, Morales says, “The story of the exodus, then, is the story of the Bible, the epic battle between Messiah—none other than Yahweh come in the flesh—and the dragon, Satan” (p. 65). Again, one could say that redemption is the story of the Bible with the exodus as the means of redemption.

Chapter Five circles back to the Passover to show that Passover is exodus, a recurrent theme in Morales’ theology. That is, Passover is not merely a new beginning but “. . . a new life on the other side of death to the old life” (p. 67). The house image also emerges because the Israelites who put the blood on the doorpost and lintels of their houses were spared because they were purified. However, the exodus theme requires leaving the city-of-man project, actually leaving the literal house one lives in. But the Passover consecration entails a dedication of the house by the application of the lamb’s blood and by extension the dedication of the people in the house. In other words, the house and the people in the house are so closely associated with redemption that the negative symbolic import of the house as Morales has explicated it seems to flounder. A real house that via cultic ritual becomes a haven from the Destroying Angel takes on symbolic import that does not match with the house as a symbol of the city-of-man project that must be vacated.

Morales goes on to explicate the Passover ritual and its relationship to circumcision. And he is careful to note that the literalness of the Passover symbolism is vital, “. . . lest the portrayal of Israel’s exodus out of Egypt as a resurrection out of the grave be reduced to a mere literary device” (p. 76). What happened at Passover had actual spiritual significance that cannot be reduced to mere literary symbolism void of real spiritual content within a real historical setting.

Chapter Six takes up Moses’ role as the covenant mediator of Yahweh. As an infant, Moses prefigures the rebirth of Israel out of the waters of the Red Sea because Moses was saved from a watery grave by the ark Jochebed used to set him afloat on the Nile. Instead of a coffin, however, “. . . the ark functions more like a womb than a tomb” (p. 79); Moses is delivered from the watery grave, serving as a type of Israel’s deliverance. Using language parallels in the Hebrew to discuss Moses’ life, Morales notes that Moses also prefigured the exodus pattern in Christ’s life. So great is Moses’ role as mediator in Israel’s covenant relationship with God that without Moses’ intercessory prayers in Exodus 32-34, not only would Israel have been destroyed but also “. . . there would never have been a tabernacle dwelling for God—no sacrifices, no priesthood, no book of Leviticus” (p. 87). Indeed, Moses himself speaks of a prophet to come “like Moses,” and this designation is vital because the prophet like Moses would experience a new exodus. “In other words, prophets have indeed come and gone, but there has been no new Moses for there has been no new exodus” (p. 90), prior to Christ and His exodus or resurrection.

Chapter Seven addresses the sacrificial system as the means for fellowship with Yahweh. The sacrificial system is a liturgical process with three elements—“cleansing, consecration, and transformation”—leading to fellowship with God. Morales notes that expiation—“for cleansing from sin and the removal of sin’s defilement and guilt”—preceded propitiation, God’s smelling of the soothing aroma of the sacrifice so that His wrath is appeased. As Morales notes, the ritual focus of the animal sacrifice was not destruction but “. . . as transformed by the altar flames, the entire animal turned into fragrant smoke so that the sacrifice would ascend into Yahweh’s heavenly abode as a soothing aroma” (p. 95). This ascension represents “. . . humanity’s return to God” (p. 95). This cultic journey to God’s heavenly house included the peace offering, and here Morales links exodus with covenant.

“As the telos of the covenant, the exodus out of the house of bondage led to a banquet of fellowship in the house of Yahweh. The journey to Yahweh’s heavenly presence, as we have seen, moves from the shedding of blood, through the fires of transformation, ascending as incense and finally to a meal of fellowship and communion with God” (p. 96). Here, it seems, that Morales’ use of telos subsumes the exodus theme to the covenant, indeed, if the end or purpose of the covenant is to eventuate in an exodus to God. This is surprising, given the all-important theme of exodus. How exactly does covenant supersede exodus? Morales also expands upon the symbolism of exile as an eastward movement and exodus as a westward movement by comparing the Garden of Eden with the Day of Atonement. In fine, the cultic approach to Yahweh “. . . followed the exodus pattern, . . .” (p. 103).


Part 2: The Prophesied Second Exodus (Chapters Eight-Eleven)

In Chapter Eight, Morales notes the threefold exodus pattern—purification by blood, consecration, and a fellowship meal in God’s house—is parallel to the historical exodus. While Morales concentrates on the first phase of the pattern, purification by blood, he briefly reviews the second and third stages of the pattern. Morales writes, “The second stage of sacred history was Israel’s consecration by covenant” (p. 107). Here, Morales refers exclusively to the Sinaitic Covenant, whereby Israel as Yahweh’s firstborn son is consecrated to service in the promised land to show the nations what it means to exit the city-of-man project and enter into covenant relationship with God.

Given Morales’ previous statement that the exodus is the telos of the covenant, to frame the second stage of the threefold exodus pattern as a covenant seems odd. Surely the first stage of the exodus pattern—purification by blood—fits nicely with the covenant as a “bond in blood sovereignly administered,” and the third stage, a fellowship meal in God’s house is, as Morales notes, celebrated every Lord’s Day by a “. . . retracing of his [Christ’s] new exodus—a spiritual ascent to the heavenly Mount Zion through the new and living way (see Hebrews 10:19-22; 12:22-24)” (p. 98). Is or is not covenant the controlling concept under which exodus functions? Morales seems to say covenant is the controlling concept, but, given Morales’ use of the exodus as the telos and the narrower use of the Sinaitic Covenant as merely a stage in the threefold exodus pattern, it is difficult not to see exodus as the over-arching theme, not covenant.

Morales then traces the fulfillment of the exodus in Solomon’s temple, noting the universality of the exodus as applicable to all nations. But (and this is ironic) the people of the exodus become the people of the exile with Yahweh’s chastening hand scattering Israel among the nations in the Babylonian exile, setting the stage for a new exodus. Concerning the exile, Morales says, “As a covenantal movement, exile signals humanity’s ruined relationship with the living God—exile, most fundamentally means spiritual death” (p. 116).  While in full agreement that exile represents the reality of spiritual death, I once again wonder about the role of covenant in the drama of exodus. What exactly does “covenantal movement” mean in this context, especially because exile precedes exodus and appears to involve covenant in ways that exodus may not? Indeed, the new exodus will be “. . . a new relationship of consecration by covenant, . . .” (p. 117). So the exodus is part of the covenant or is consecration by covenant merely the second stage in the threefold exodus pattern?

Chapter Nine outlines the OT proclamation of the new exodus. The new exodus would be far superior to the first exodus because the deliverance from Egypt had not produced a heart of devotion to Yahweh. “The Sinai covenant was a gracious covenant, yielding abundant blessings and comfort to God’s people, but all the heavenly gifts had in large measure been squandered on an ungrateful people. Israel’s obstinate heart in the face of divine grace—that is the sorrowful reality displayed in the Bible’s historical narrative and prophetic literature” (p. 120). And as Morales notes, the return from the Babylonian captivity did not fulfill five prophetic elements for the second exodus.

Indeed, the new covenant in Jeremiah 31 coupled with the work of the Spirit in Ezekiel 36 point to the pouring out of the Spirit, which “. . . is the gift of the new covenant . . .” (p. 131). To truly exit Egypt, the land of death, the gift of the Spirit is essential, and this gift is necessary for exodus in the new covenant. Thus, the issue is not whether the Spirit is essential in regeneration in both the OT and NT, but the level of outpouring of the Spirit. Again, are exodus and covenant synonymous then? Perhaps, but “The Spirit is, therefore, integral to the second exodus, for he is the Spirit of life from the dead—he is the Spirit of the exodus” (p. 133). Or the Spirit of the covenant? “Nothing less than life from the dead, resurrection—that is the prophesied second exodus” (p. 133). But is not resurrection, as Morales defines it, the goal of the covenant?

Chapter Ten is taken up with explicating the four servant songs of Isaiah 40-55 vis-à-vis the new exodus. For example, in the first servant song, Yahweh says He will give his servant “. . . as a covenant of the people for a light to the nations (Isaiah 42:6)” (p. 138), again linking covenant with the second exodus. The next paragraph on p. 139 begins, “Although set apart to be a covenant for the people and a light to the nations, . . . Israel itself was blind, languishing in the bonds of spiritual darkness.” In these two passages, Morales seems to be emphasizing the covenant as containing elements necessary for the second exodus. So we might read the last sentence of the chapter as a further endorsement of the covenant as the overarching theme in the servant songs: “His transforming exodus from suffering and death to resurrection glory is the kernel of the second exodus for Israel and the nations” (p. 147), even though the reader has to imply the covenant as the foundation of the exodus. However, Chapter Ten is full of very excellent interweaving of the servant’s songs with the thrust of the new exodus and bears careful reading.

Chapter Eleven answers the question logically posed by the previous chapter: Who exactly is the servant of Yahweh? Morales characterized the servant in three ways: The eschatological new Moses; the new David, the Messiah; and a manifestation of Yahweh. One reason Morales focuses on the servant songs in Chapter Ten is, “While exodus imagery pervades the whole book of Isaiah, this is especially so around the four servant songs” (p. 149), so Chapter Eleven continues the explication of the servant songs regarding Moses, David, and the Messiah.

Regarding Moses as a type of the servant, and after citing the relationship between Moses and the Servant, Morales says, “Small wonder, then, the Talmud, a central text of rabbinic Judaism, explains the life of Moses, including his travails as Israel’s savior, by turning to the servant’s description in Isaiah 53” (p. 150). Of course, the exodus movement in history requires a second Moses, and David is a type of the new Moses. Morales cites Psalm 89:3 to prove that the word “my servant” and “my chosen one” are terms Isaiah uses for the servant. Interestingly, Psalm 89:3 says, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to David my servant” (p. 151), so a condition of the covenant is a Messianic promise, and certainly, God is a promise-making and promise-keeping God; God is a God of His covenant.

Morales duly notes that Isaiah’s promise of a servant “. . . is elaborated in terms of the Davidic covenant . . .” (p. 153). “Yahweh’s covenant faithfulness to David, then, is for the good of God’s people, ‘your servants’” (p. 153). For Morales, covenant plays a central role in Isaiah’s proclamation of the role of the servant in Yahweh’s plan of redemption. Lastly, “Through the haze and out of the pages and prophecies of Isaiah, the figure of the servant emerges as in some way a manifestation of Yahweh” (p. 155). Morales turns to the NT to demonstrate that the Messiah is Christ Jesus.


Part 3: The New Exodus of Jesus the Messiah (Chapters Twelve-Fourteen)

Chapters Twelve and Thirteen focus on the Gospel of John to demonstrate that Jesus fulfills the requirements established in the OT for the Messiah. The parallels between OT language and imagery and John’s portrayal of Jesus are numerous and striking. Particularly important is John’s “. . . deepest meditation on the new exodus, especially in its use of Passover theology: Jesus the Son of God is the true Passover Lamb” (p. 160). Jesus as the Lamb of God, for example, has several OT references, which, as Morales points out, are not mutually exclusive, and the introduction of Jesus as the Lamb of God by John the Baptist is preparatory for Jesus’ “. . . function as the Lamb of God throughout the ensuing narrative . . .” (p. 163).

As the Lamb of God, Jesus ultimately is sacrificed, and Morales likens the shedding of Jesus’ blood with the Passover when blood was applied to the lintels and doorposts: “. . . the cross on which Jesus shed his blood has become the doorpost of the world” (p. 164). The language is vivid and appealing, but the analogy seems strained. No doubt the NT teaches that Jesus atoned for the sins of the world, as in the elect, but the persistent image of the city-of-man building project is at odds with the city-of-God project, and as in the initiating of the Passover ritual, the Israelite homes were protected from the Destroying Angel, yet those homes were also vacated at the exodus. If Morales is making the point that the world will be redeemed eschatologically in the new heavens and new earth, then some remark about the transformation of the city-of-man project would be appropriate. However, the cross opens the way for a new humanity, including a new home for this redeemed people that is not the current world we inhabit.

It appears, then, that the cross as a doorpost, according to Morales, is a new entryway into redemption that was typified by the OT sacrifices, and thus an entryway into a new home, but that home, in terms of the here and now is a spiritual home, the church, which, indeed, is the entryway into the eternal home. In raising the issue of the symbolic import of OT imagery, I am attempting to follow Morales’ logic, but perhaps I have missed something that for whatever reason eludes me. However, in my mind, the consistency of the use of symbols once established calls for an explanation of why that consistency is transformed. From my reading, Morales appears to assume that transformation.

Whatever my qualms about Morales’ use of symbols vis-à-vis physical realities, Chapter Twelve is an excellent exposition of the relationship between OT teaching about the Messiah and the fulfillment of that teaching in Jesus of Nazareth as the embodiment of the new exodus.

Chapter Thirteen continues the analysis of the Gospel of John by tying in OT imagery of the Spirit with the giving of the Spirit. As Morales notes, “We are thus brought to the crowning verse of the Gospel of John, a verse that may well be the culmination and climax of the Gospel’s narrative and theology, when Jesus breathed on his disciples and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’ (John 20:22)” (p. 176). According to Morales, the word breathed is used two times in the Septuagint, once when Adam is created and a second time when Ezekiel records breathing on the dry bones.

In addition, Morales cites OT passages to demonstrate that the Spirit is symbolized by water. This life-giving Spirit is the agent in birthing people into God’s household. In fact, “The household must be identified with the firstborn, with the Passover Lamb of God. This, to be sure, is the whole point of the Fourth Gospel—not merely to tell the story of Jesus’ own experience but to proclaim Israel’s new exodus” (p. 181). Morales provides a passionate explanation of the believer’s need to experience Jesus’ exodus as the only means of entering the household of God. Experiencing Jesus’ exodus means going through the only doorway to exit the old life, and “The unrepentant dead, ‘the unjust’ (Acts 24:15), will certainly be raised up but in shame and only for the sake of judgment. Scripture gives no reason for considering their raised bodies as anything more than grotesque vessels fit to endure an eternal death of judgment” (p. 183).

Chapter Fourteen is a further impassioned appeal to the necessity of the exodus, because “Time and again the concepts of exodus and resurrection are united deeply” (p. 185). Thus, the city-of-man illusion that “. . . through science and human ingenuity” (p. 186) the problem of death can be solved is empty of real hope. In quoting extensively from the Apostle Paul, Morales reiterates “. . . that there is no good news, no hope—apart from the resurrection” (p. 191). This chapter is filled with orthodoxy.


Further Reading

A page of reference points to other works that impinge on the exodus theme and biblical theology, but the footnotes throughout the text also point to important texts.



In many ways, I deeply appreciate Morales’ book. He essentially is engaged in a close reading of a text, demonstrating through a wide-ranging knowledge of the Bible and various sources that illuminate Biblical teaching that the exodus theme is a central feature of God’s message to humanity. I have quibbled about certain ways he interacts with physical reality and its symbolic import, but I see my objections as raising the need for clarification, not as insuperable.

However, I return to my original question about the definition of biblical theology to express my deepest concern about Morales’ fine book. After reading his arguments, I still am at a loss to define biblical theology as anything other than the careful reading of the Biblical corpus to demonstrate thematic unity. I fail to see anything particularly unique about biblical theology that has not been accomplished by a careful reading of Scripture given the tools of biblical criticism guided by the hand of orthodoxy. Morales clearly lands on the side of absolute truth and certainly does not skirt contemporary concerns that have muddled certain theological truths, such as the reality and eternality of hell as judicial punishment. But he made a claim that the heart of biblical theology is the exodus in responding to the scholarly debate about whether there is a heart or center of biblical theology other than method. And that claim requires a summation of my various comments throughout this review.

Morales stands in the tradition of Reformed theology, and Covenant theology has widely been seen as a synonym for Reformed theology, even given various views of how to understand the covenants. Personally, I find Covenant theology a useful means for giving an overarching view of God’s work throughout history, and a complex book such as the Bible requires a framework to put all the disparate information the Bible provides into a systematic whole. That’s the role of theology. If Covenant theology does not explain adequately all the details of the Bible, then the search for a better metanarrative (so despised today) should allow for refinements of the regnant theological paradigm. However, to make the claim that exodus is the controlling theme of the Bible and then refer to the covenants in ways that raise issues about the relationship between what exactly is the metanarrative seems to be predicated on assumptions that are never explicitly stated.

I grant that my lack of familiarity with biblical theology may be a significant barrier in appreciating what Morales is doing regarding elevating the exodus theme as the controlling theological paradigm in understanding the Bible, but from the target audience the Series Editor specifies, I can claim legitimate membership. So either the target audience is wider than it should be or assumptions about the target audience’s theological background are mistaken. It seems to me, however, that part of the problem is with Morales and his intertwining of exodus and covenant in ways that cause confusion—at least for me. Finally, whatever the debate is about a center (or lack thereof) for biblical theology, I am inclined to believe that if there is no dominating theological viewpoint that governs the interpretation of Scripture, the center will not hold. Unless there is a dominant theme to Biblical theology, it will not be a coherent system. As gratuitous advice, I recommend that the proposed ten-volume ESBT series include a volume that draws all the themes together.



Despite the concerns I have expressed, I was deeply impressed by the skill with which Morales treated his topic and was thoroughly encouraged by his astute assessment of the human condition that cannot be fixed in any lasting way other than through union with Christ in his death, burial, resurrection, and ascension as the perfect Lamb of God. I greatly value what I received from Morales’ ministry to my heart, mind, and soul.


Bruce W. Speck, Ph.D., is a Ruling Elder in the Presbyterian Church of America and a member of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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IVP Academic, 2020 | 224 pages

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