A Book Review from Books At a Glance
By Josh Philpot
When Jesus comes down from the Mount of Transfiguration to meet with his disciples, they are rightly afraid and prostrate on the ground. After all, like Moses before him, Jesus’ face had just altered in their presence and his clothing became dazzlingly white (Luke 9:29; cf. Exod 34:29-35). In other words, his full glory was revealed to them. But Jesus comforts his disciples and lets them in on the content of his conversation with Moses and Elijah, also present on the mountain: “He spoke about his exodus which he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31).
Jesus’ statement is the impetus for a new book tracing the Echoes of Exodus in the Bible. Alastair J. Roberts and Andrew Wilson contend that the story of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection is the recapitulation of the story of the exodus. Like the Israelites before him, Jesus is a new Moses, leading his people through judgment in order to bring salvation to the elect.
Like a great opera in four acts or a symphony with four movements, the authors argue that the exodus theme can be traced throughout the major contours of the biblical canon. Roberts and Wilson call this a “musical reading of scripture.” By bringing together the musical aspects of tension, resolution, melody, harmony, etc., the reader is given a full, rich picture of the many connections between the various parts of Scripture, culminating in the exodus Jesus accomplished in Jerusalem (25).
The authors stretch the musical metaphor too far at times, but it helps the reader understand the flow of the redemptive storyline of the Bible from creation to new creation, and how the exodus theme is central to that storyline. The first “movement” of the storyline is the engagement with the main theme of the music—the exodus event itself. The authors note the varied ways in which the events of the exodus are set in place: the enslavement of the Israelites, the calling of God’s special leader, the plagues, the Red Sea crossing, the wilderness wandering, and the conquest of the land of Canaan (Exodus–Joshua).
These events are then traced in the second movement to prior revelation, where the authors note the seeds of the exodus in the Genesis account of creation and the patriarchs. They contend that Noah is like Moses (63), that Abraham’s life is “exodus-shaped” (65ff.), that Hagar is involved in two separate “personal exoduses” (67, 70), and that the exiles of Jacob and Joseph are typological of the exodus to come in Egypt (75ff.).
The third movement is by far the largest since it encompasses all major biblical characters from Ruth though Ezra and Nehemiah. In this material, Roberts and Wilson note how nearly every major storyline has a clear exodus shape with clear exodus characters: Ruth is a new redeemer, Elijah is a new Moses, Elisha is a new Joshua, and so on (105ff.). The exodus might even appear in uncommon places. For instance, the authors note that at the end of David’s life, he is fraught with a perilous choice of bringing a plague on Israel due to his unsanctioned census of Israel’s armies. Thus, “the story ends with David as the Pharaoh-like king who wants to use God’s chosen people for his own ends, and Israel as the ones afflicted by a plague by the angel of the Lord (2 Samuel 24). The land has been conquered, but it is not yet at rest” (96). In this example, the authors take seemingly tertiary parts of the book of Exodus (not the exodus proper—the salvation at the Red Sea) and show how those parts are echoed in later texts to draw out the exodus theme in Scripture. Examples like this permeate the book.
The final movement restates the story of Jesus in the Gospels and the ministry of the apostles in Acts–Revelation. The authors say that Jesus’ life takes an exodus shape, and as Luke records, he talks about his final act of salvation as a new exodus, a new redemption of the people of God. In the final chapter, the authors exhort the church to live out the exodus in their own contexts. After all, the two sacraments that Jesus gave to the church—Baptism and the Lord’s Supper—both enact the exodus (155).
There is much to commend in such a small book. I appreciate that Roberts and Wilson have made biblical theology accessible to the church. In doing so, they share the rich contours of the Bible by noting how one of its central themes is diffused throughout the biblical storyline. A close reading of this book also bolsters the church’s confidence in an authoritative text, revealing how later authors of Scripture understood and interpreted earlier authors. In other words, the biblical authors wrote their books with theological lenses, not as rigid and dry history, but as redemptive history influenced by the Holy Spirit and sensitive to major themes and events.
There remain a couple of points with which to disagree. First, Roberts and Wilson opt for maximalism in deciphering when and where an echo of the exodus can be found in Scripture. The exodus is everywhere, it seems. This interpretive move can seem forced at times, such as when they say that Abram’s departure from Ur (66) or Hagar’s departure from Abraham’s camp (70) are both exoduses; that is, both events are precursors or “echoes” of the actual exodus event. This raises the obvious question of whether leaving one set of circumstances for another actually constitutes an “exodus.” If every major or minor circumstance is somehow one’s own personal exodus, then the resulting interpretation might end in moralism. I would exercise caution in some of these instances, especially the ones that occur chronologically prior to the actual exodus event. It is true that several persons, events, and institutions serve as types of later persons, events, and institutions, but not all are related to the exodus. Noah may serve as a type of Moses in that he saves a people through judgment via water, and that he is a righteous man. Moses is not a type of Noah. Noah is the archetype in this instance, not the antitype. This point is unclear in Echoes of Exodus.
Second, Roberts and Wilson do not say they are arguing for the main theme or center of the Bible, but the content of their book seems to indicate that they think the exodus is certainly the main theme. In order to show that a portion of Scripture relates to the exodus theme, they often subsume large sections of Scripture under the heading of “exodus.” For example, in the third movement, the authors cover the book of Ezekiel and say that the three major sections of Ezekiel (chps. 1–24, 15–32, 33–48) are all exodus-themed (112). But does this argument hold up under close scrutiny? If Ezekiel preaches a large section on judgment of the surrounding nations, which include Egypt and Pharaoh (Ezek 25–32), his sermon does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that the whole section is echoing the exodus, nor that it is “exodus-themed.” In the context of a book entitled Echoes of Exodus, it is easy to say that Ezekiel has the biblical exodus in view just as it is easy for me to say that the section is primarily about the glory of God. In a word, saying so does not make it so. On this point I think that Roberts and Wilson would do better to stick with actual echoes of the exodus (verbal or thematic), not echoes that might falter under close examination, and some which seem arbitrary. I would argue that typology might be a notable improvement to the book since typology has several constraints for what constitutes a type. An “echo” would then be only a person, event, or institution that has historical correspondence and escalation with something prior in the biblical canon.
With these concerns aside, Echoes of Exodus is a richly engaging book that will likely lead to many sermons. The authors have wisely noted a core theme of the Bible, even if they stretch that theme beyond its original scope.
Buy the books
Echoes of Exodus: Tracing Themes of Redemption through Scripture