Book Reviews

Book Review: Exodus Old and New (ESBT), L. Michael Morales

This is the second volume in a 10-volume series called the Essential Studies in Biblical Theology (ESBT) series. Each book looks at an aspect of God’s plan of redemption in the Bible. Each volume is meant to be a primer, accessible to all people, that introduces them to a particular biblical theme while tying it to how we live and minister as Christians in God’s world. Instead of getting into the weeds like many of the NSBT volumes do, the ESBT volumes show us the fruit of the authors’ close exegesis.

Ben Gladd’s first volume looked at who the people of God are. The church, composed of believing Jews and Gentiles, is the restored people of God, true Israel, because of their identification with him” (xi). Moving forward, L. Michael Morales, professor of biblical studies at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, provides a biblical theology of redemption. He uses the exodus as the lens by which to do this, for “the exodus ‘is the only thing that ever happens’ in the Bible” (4). In fact, Israel’s exodus helps us understand all that Jesus’ resurrection accomplished.

In chapter one, Exile Before Exodus, we see God portrayed as a workman building  a three-story “house” (heaven, earth, and seas), the entire cosmos, his creation in Genesis one. He rests on the Sabbath, the seventh day, a day he sets apart to fellowship with his people (7). Adam was given Eve in the safety and joy of the garden so that they could partner together in their God-given labors and gaze upon Gods goodness in their “well-watered garden with life-giving fruit” (8).

Humans were created to live with God, but instead they alienated themselves from him. Instead of showing their loyalty to God through some behind his one command, they grasp at straws to become their own gods. The couple now becomes “spiritually severed from God” (8), with his holy goodness now becoming a threat to them. We didn’t just lose a paradise life, but we lost the foundation of our life and joy—God himself. In banishment, we lost the one we lived for. We lost the significance and purpose of our life. We are anxious, fearful exiles in the cosmos “that was created to be our home with God” (9). Cain builds a city to replace Eden. It is a city for people to realize their own self-realization apart from God—desiring glory, protection, and permanence (10). At the Tower of Babel we see humanity stretch to reach life’s God-given benefits, only without God involved.

Morales writes,

Separated from God, humanity dwells in the land of wandering and lives in the realm of death. The quest for eternal significance through accomplishment, for security derived from power, for lasting reality by rootedness in a place; the search for meaning and the ache for hope; the undermining of every happy occasion through the profound awareness of its fleeting nature; in short, the longing to find a home so as finally to come home—these are all the inescapable burdens of life in exile from God, of the human soul turned in on itself. (15)

God calls out Abram and creates Israel to undo the curse. The nations are scattered, but he will bring them back again at “God’s holy Mount Zion, the new Eden, and to the house built for Yahweh’s name—for his reputation, his fame, and his glory (Isaiah 2:1-4)” (16).

There are 14 chapters in all, and I won’t begin to summarize them, but any book by Morales should be bought. I’ve reviewed his book on Leviticus in the NSBT series, and that book blew me away. It really helped me to put together the Pentateuch’s story and see not only how those books relate to one another but how they relate to the rest of the OT and the NT. And this volume in the ESBT series does not disappoint either.

Part One, The Historical Exodus out of Egypt

In Part One Morales writes about the historical exodus out of Egypt. Morales shows how the first exodus prefigures our future redemption. Jesus brought the true exodus. Through his death and resurrection, he brings Christians out of death and into life. The the first exodus gives us a picture of how that death-life movement works. The OT gives us images to portray the depths of sins evil and horridity. The whole world is exiled from God, slaves to sin. We are separated by the dragon the Leviathan, Satan, who is an accusing murderer. How do we get out of this exile? An exodus.

Abraham left Egypt. Israel left Egypt. My, even Jesus left Egypt. Noah and his family float through the waters while God’s enemies drown. Israel goes through the waters while the Egyptians drown. When we go through baptism, we leave the old man behind and we come out with the new man. We still sin, but we are covered by Jesus’ blood and live in the new covenant.

God doesn’t do all this merely to show his power, but to be known. Exodus 1–15 “restores a knowledge of God to the world through the exodus;” the rest of the book restores his presence “to humanity through the covenant gift of his tabernacling presence to Israel” (39). The knowledge of God is a theme that runs through the plagues, and it is a main theme in exodus, which helps us to understand more difficult parts of the book, such as the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. Yes, God is the sovereign potter, but as Morales also points out, “it is important to understand the biblical description is mainly of God strengthening Pharaoh’s heart, firming up his own innate resolve to defy God” (41). Israel’s liberation in and of itself isn’t the goal of the exodus. If it were, God could just simply soften or change Pharaoh’s heart. “But God’s agenda is to publish his own glory through signs and wonders” (41). After the destruction of the Egyptian army, “Pharaoh’s previous mock, ‘Who is Yahweh?’ (Exodus 5:2)” turns into “an ascription of praise, ‘Who is like you, O Yahweh, among the gods?’ (Exodus 15:11)” (43). God’s glory is displayed for Israel’s sake but also for the sake of the whole world (43).

In chapter four, Morales shows us how Yahweh’s victory at the Red Sea (Exodus 14) is portrayed in Scripture as “the slaying of a sea dragon” (48). Morales writes,

The symbolism of the sea and the darkness of night, along with the impending threat of Egypt’s pounding pursuit, serves to portray Israel’s entrance into and emergence out of the sea as a death and resurrection that encapsulates the exodus: Israel’s descent into and ascent out of Egypt, a land symbolic of Sheol, the watery abode of death. The sea, as we will observe throughout this chapter, symbolizes death. (49)

The Red Sea (or Sea of Reeds) as we know it is alternatively referred to in Exodus 15:4 as yam-suf.  A number of scholars translate this as the “sea of end” or “sea of destruction.” This sea (as well as Egypt itself, the land of the dead) is a “theological Sheol” (50).

Egyptians were leading experts on death (mummification, incantations and other requisites for survival in the afterlife). Even the caravan of men who buy Joseph is carrying funeral supplies and heading down to Egypt, the land of the dead (Gen 37:35). When one goes to Egypt, they “descend” into Egypt; when they leave they “ascend” out of Egypt. Being in Egypt, exile, is like being in a tomb. The Red Sea divided the land of the dead with the land of the living. Egypt was bracketed by the Nile (Exodus 2) and the Red Sea (Exodus 14)—waters of death. To put it very briefly, Pharoah is portrayed as a sea monster, and he is slain by God and drowned in the depths of the sea.

Part Two, The Prophesied Second Exodus

After the dismal failure of Israel’s kingdom, God sends prophets to his exiled people (even before they were exiled as well) to give them hope of a future exodus. Hosea tells the northern kingdom that they will return to Egypt (Hos 8:13; 9:3), but that God will lure her out again and bring her into the wilderness, just like the first time (2:14-15). As we read in Jeremiah 16:14-15, 21, people will know and declare Yahweh’s name because of what he did, not in the first exodus, but in the second exodus. Morales writes, “The revelation of Yahweh’s being and character unveiled by the new exodus will exegete him—open him up before the world—as never before, defining and publishing his name beyond what had been accomplished in the historical exodus out of Egypt” (121).

Part Three, The New Exodus of Jesus the Messiah

Morales uses the Gospel of John to illuminate the new exodus. Jesus’ death opened the way for the new exodus, “namely his resurrection from the grave” (165). In the first exodus, the lamb had to be sacrificed and Passover celebrated before Israel could leave Egypt. “Its [the lamb’s] shed blood was the only means of departure. The resurrection life of the new exodus is likewise found only through the new Passover Lamb, through the crucifixion of Jesus” (165). There is cosmic significance in Jesus’ death. When Jesus died and was buried, the old creation itself was dead and buried (168). Jesus’ resurrection was the beginning of the new creation. The old creation will end. 

Recommended?

There is so much more to this book than I can begin to write here. I have only scratched the surface. If you want to learn the depths of Scripture, to see how it is tied together, buy this book. You will be richly rewarded.

Highly recommended.

Lagniappe

    • Series: Essential Studies in Biblical Theology (Book 2)
    • Author: L. Michael Morales
    • Paperback: 224 pages
    • Publisher: IVP Academic (August 18, 2020)

Buy it on Amazon or from IVP Academic

Disclosure: I received this book free from IVP Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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