The Biblical Theme of the Exodus—Exodus 12

After God’s creation of the world (Gen. 1, 2), the third mighty divine act in the Scriptures is the Exodus—Israel’s liberation from servitude in Egypt and eventual journey toward the Promised Land. Many scholars properly consider the Exodus as the most important story of the Old Testament. It is vitally important to know the event of the Exodus and how the Old and New Testaments constantly allude to it in order to comprehend the Judeo-Christian faith,

While the first chapters of the book of Genesis speak about the creation of our world and the first couple, the book of Exodus describes how God “created” a nation. Israel had already multiplied numerically to the point that Pharaoh sought to curtail its growth (Exod. 1). But God showed His creative power in a way that would lead to His declaring of Israel at Sinai as a nation—His nation (Exod. 19:6)—as the goal of the Exodus. Like the creation of the world, the Exodus event occurs by divine initiative. In Exodus 3, God reveals Himself to Moses in the burning bush and declares, “I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt … I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exod. 3:7, 8; cf. Exod. 6:1-12; 15; 19:4, 5). Therefore, the liberation of the Israelites from Egypt was the direct result of divine intervention. In other words, salvation is a historical event that takes place at God’s initiative. No wonder that some have seen the concept of salvation history as the unifying theme in Old Testament theology and the Exodus event as the paradigm of salvation.

God manifested His power by performing wonders and miracles in Egypt, such as dividing the Red Sea so that the people escaped Pharaoh’s army. He did it in furtherance of the promise made in Genesis 3:15 after the fall of Adam and Eve. The Exodus forms the core of the Pentateuch as it presents the fundamental theological concepts of redemption, sacrifice, God’s presence, the atonement, and the divine election of a people for God Himself. It also presents a holy war in which God defeats the threats to the fulfillment of His purpose. It shows theology of the desert often alluded to in the New Testament, the Promised Land that foreshadows the “world-to-come” (Rev. 21, 22), and many other theological teachings that appear throughout the rest of the Bible.

In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses reflects on all the wonders that he and the nation had witnessed in the Exodus. He states: “For ask now concerning the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether such a great thing like this has ever happened, or anything like has been heard. Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and live? Or did God ever try to go and take a nation for Himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great terrors, according to all that the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? To you it was shown, that you might know that the Lord Himself is God; there is none other besides Him” (Deut. 4:32-35; cf. Num. 14:22-23; Deut. 7:8).

The rest of the Old Testament authors also echo and frequently comment on the great liberation of the Exodus. Many even anticipate a second Exodus, specifically of the exiles from Babylon (Isa. 40:3; 42:16, 17; Jer. 16:14, 15; 23:7, 8; Ezra 1:3-4). That is, the prophets describe the return of the exiles using language evocative of the Exodus.

By freeing the Israelites from the bondage of Pharaoh and bringing them to Himself so that the whole nation could experience His presence, God was anticipating the salvation of the entire human race. He descended in Bethlehem and later die on the cross to work out our redemption, not from physical bondage or geographical Egypt but from the spiritual bondage to sin and Satan. Allusions to the Exodus event fill the New Testament. At the beginning of the Gospels, the biblical writer describes the ministry of John the Baptist with the image of the voice of one who cries out in the desert (Matt. 3:3) and baptizes in the Jordan River. The baptism is a kind of a “new crossing” and entrance into Israel.

Similarly, the Gospels depict Jesus’ ministry as echoes of Moses, with Jesus spending 40 days in the wilderness (Mark 1:12-15) and Jesus’ teachings on the Mount as the giving of a new and deeper law with blessings and woes (Matt. 5; Luke 6). Jesus’ death is described as the “departure” (lit. “exodus”) that He would accomplish (Luke 9:31). Both Stephen and the apostle Paul remember God’s faithfulness to the Exodus as significant concerning the Christian experience (Acts 7; 13:17, 18; 1 Cor. 10:1-13). Significantly, Paul describes Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross as our Passover (1 Cor 5:7), making explicit what was already implicit in the Last Supper. For Peter, the church today is the actual “kingdom of priests” chosen by God (1 Pet. 2:9, 10), which borrows the language of Israel’s election in Exodus 19:4-6. Hebrews presents the heavenly sanctuary where Jesus ministers as our great high priest (Heb. 6:20; 10:1-9) by the imagery of the wilderness tabernacle constructed after the Exodus. Finally, in Revelation, John alludes to the Exodus event via the plagues, the murmuring motif, and God’s deliverance of the woman—the church—who escapes to the desert where God sustains her. It also alludes to the final victory of God’s people standing on the sea of glass. In all these ways and more, the Exodus event of the Old Testament anticipated the redemptive work of Jesus in the New Testament.


Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy.

Estelle, Echoes of Exodus: Tracing a Biblical Motif.

McConville, “Exodus” New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis, 601-605.

Propp, Exodus 19–40.

Ryken et al., Dictionary of Biblical Imagery.

Talmon, “The Desert Motif in the Bible and in Qumran Literature,” 216-254.

Von Rad, Old Testament Theology, vol. 1.