In commencing the study of any book in the Bible it is well to remind ourselves that each separate book has some prominent and dominant theme which, as such, is peculiar to itself, around which everything is made to center, and of which all the details are but the amplification. What that leading subject may be, we should make it our business to prayerfully and diligently ascertain. This can best be discovered by reading and rereading the book under review. If other students before us have published the results of their labors, it is our duty to carefully examine their findings in the light of God's Word, and either verify or disprove. Yet, concerning this there are two extremes to guard against, two dangers to avoid. The first, and perhaps the one which ensnares the most, is the assumption that other students have done their work so well, it is needless for us to go over the same ground. But that is laziness and unbelief: God may be pleased to reveal to you something which He did not to them; remember that there are depths in His Word which no human sounding-line has fathomed. The second danger is the craze for originality and the egotistical belief that we shall search more diligently than they who went before, and that therefore the results of our labors will be an improvement over all who have preceded us. This is unwarrantable conceit, from which may Divine grace deliver us all.
With some books of the Bible we can more readily discover the central theme than in others. This is noticeably the case with the first few books in the Old Testament. It is as though God had made it easier at the beginning so as to encourage us and prepare the way for some of the more complex books that follow—complex so far as their leading subjects are concerned. Historically considered, the book of Genesis is the book of beginnings; but viewed doctrinally, it is seen to be the book which treats of election:—God choosing Shem from the three sons of Noah to be the channel from which should issue, ultimately, the Savior; God singling Out Abraham to be the father of the chosen Nation; God passing by Ishmael and choosing Isaac; God passing by Esau and choosing Jacob; God appointing Joseph from all the twelve sons of his father to be the honored instrument for making provision against the famine, and being raised to the second place in all Egypt; finally, in the passing by of the elder of Joseph's sons and the bestowal of the firstborn's portion on Ephraim (48:13-20) we behold another illustration of the same principle. Yes, election is clearly the characteristic doctrine of Genesis. And this is exactly what we might expect. "God hath from the beginning chosen you unto salvation" (2 Thessalonians 2:13), hence this truth is illustrated again and again in this book which begins the Scriptures. Just as surely may we anticipate—in the light of the New Testament—the dominant theme of Exodus.
Historically, the book of Exodus treats of the deliverance of Israel from Egypt; but viewed doctrinally, it deals with redemption. Just as the first book of the Bible teaches that God elects unto salvation, so the second instructs us how God saves, namely, by redemption. Redemption, then, is the dominant subject of Exodus. Following this, we are shown what we are redeemed for—worship, and this characterizes Leviticus, where we learn of the holy requirements of God and the gracious provisions He has made to meet these. In Numbers we have the walk and warfare of the wilderness, where we have a typical representation of our experiences as we pass through this scene of sin and trial—our repeated and excuseless failures, and God's long-sufferance and faithfulness. And so we might continue.
But to return to Exodus. This we have pointed out (as others before us have done) treats of redemption. To the writer it appears that its contents fall into five divisions, which we may summarize as follows:—First, we see the need for redemption—pictured by a people enslaved: chapters to 6. Second, we are shown the might of the Redeemer—displayed in the plagues on Egypt: chapters 7 to 11. Third, we behold the character of redemption—purchased by blood, emancipated by power: chapters 12 to 18. Fourth, we are taught the duty of the redeemed—obedience to the Lord: chapters 19 to 24. Fifth, we have revealed the provisions made for the failures of the redeemed—seen in the tabernacle and its services: chapters 25 to 40. In proof of what we have just said we would refer the reader to Exodus 15:13, which we regard as the key verse to the book, "Thou in Thy mercy hast led forth the people which Thou hast redeemed: Thou hast guided them in Thy strength unto Thy holy habitation." Note that here we have the need for redemption implied—God's "mercy"; the power of the Redeemer is referred to—His "strength"; the character of redemption is described—"led forth the people"; the responsibilities of the redeemed and their privileges are signified in a reference to the tabernacle—"unto Thy holy habitation."
Another thing which is a great help in the study of Exodus is to note its numerical position in the Sacred Canon. Exodus is the second book of the Bible, and it will be found that the character of its contents fully accords with this. The number two in its scriptural significations, treats of difference or division. Proof of this is found in its first occurrence in the Bible: the second day of Genesis was when God divided the waters. Hence, two is the number of witness, for if the testimony of two different men agree, the truth is established. Two is therefore the number of opposition. One is the number of unity, but two brings in another, who is either in accord with the first or opposed to him. Hence, two is also the number of contrast, consequently, whenever we find two men coupled together in Scripture it is, with rare exceptions, for the purpose of bringing out the difference there is between them: for example, Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Moses and Aaron, David and Solomon, etc.
Let us now see how these slightly varied meanings of the number two are traceable in the character and contents of this second book of Scripture. Two is the number of division. In the first chapter of Exodus we find Pharaoh ordering a division to be made among the babies of the Israelites: if a son was born he should be killed, if a daughter she should be spared. In the plagues, the Lord made a division between His people and the Egyptians: "And I will sever in that day the land of Goshen, in which My people dwell, that no swarms of flies shall be there; to the end thou mayest know that I am the Lord in the midst of the earth. And I will put a division between My people and thy people; tomorrow shall this sign be" (Exodus 8:22-23). So, too, He divided between their cattle: "And the Lord shall sever between the cattle of Israel and the cattle of Egypt: and there shall nothing die of all that is the children's of Israel" (Exodus 9:4). When Israel came to the Red Sea we are told, "And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord caused the Sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided" (14:21). Again; it is only in Exodus (26:33) that we read of the veil which was to "divide between the holy place and the most holy."
Two is also the number of witness, and mark how this note is sounded throughout the book. The sufferings and groanings of the Hebrews witnessed to their need of deliverance. The plagues bore witness to the power and wrath of God, and it is noteworthy that God employed two witnesses, Moses and Aaron, in announcing these to Pharaoh. The Passover-night witnessed to the value and sufficiency of the blood. The wilderness experiences of Israel witnessed to the faithfulness and tender love of God. The giving of the law witnessed to the righteousness government of Jehovah. The tabernacle bore typical witness to the manifold perfections of Christ.
Again; two is the number of opposition. This is something which is prominently marked in Exodus. The antagonism of the Enemy is very manifest throughout. First, we behold it in the determined and cruel effort made to prevent the increase of the Hebrews. Then we see the children of Israel oppressed by merciless task-masters. Next, when Moses goes in and performs his miraculous signs before the king, Pharaoh's magicians "withstood" him: and it is striking to observe that only two of their names have been preserved in Holy Writ (2 Timothy 3:8). In connection with Israel's exodus from Egypt, Pharaoh opposed every step of the way. Even after Israel left Egypt and crossed the Red Sea, we see the Amalakites opposing them in the wilderness (Exodus 17:8)—note it was not the Israelites who attacked the Amalakites, but the enemy who came to fight against the people of God.
Finally, two is the number of contrast. Even a casual reading will reveal the marked differences between the first two books of Scripture: let us note a few of them. In the book of Genesis we have the history of a family, in Exodus the history of a nation. In Genesis the descendants of Abraham are seen few in number, in Exodus they are to he numbered by the million. In the former we see the Hebrews welcomed and honored in Egypt, in the latter they are viewed as feared and hated. In the former there is a Pharaoh who says to Joseph, "God hath showed thee all this" (Genesis 41:39); in the latter there is a Pharaoh who says to Moses, "I know not the Lord" (5:2). In Genesis there is a "lamb" promised (22:8); in Exodus the "lamb" is slain (chap. 12). In the one we see the entry of Israel into Egypt; in the other we behold their exodus. In the one we see the patriarchs in the land "which flowed with milk and honey"; in the other we behold their descendants in the wilderness. Genesis ends with Joseph in a coffin; while Exodus closes with the glory of the Lord filling the tabernacle. A series of more vivid contrasts could scarcely be imagined.
The central doctrine of the book of Exodus is redemption, but this is not formally expounded, rather is it strikingly illustrated, in earliest times, God, it would seem, did not communicate to His people an explicit and systematic form of doctrine; instead, He instructed them, mainly, through His providential dealings and by means of types and symbols. Once this is clearly grasped by us it gives new interest to the Old Testament scriptures. The opening books of the Bible contain very much more than an inspired history of events that happened thousands of years ago: they are filled with adumbrations and illustrations of the great doctrines of our faith which are set forth categorically in the New Testament epistles. Thus "whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning" (Romans 15:4), and we lose much if we neglect to study the historical portions of the Old Testament with this fact before us.
The deliverance of Israel from Egypt furnishes a remarkably full and accurate typification of our redemption by Christ. The details of this will come before us, God willing, in our later studies. Here, we can only call attention to the broad outlines of the picture. Israel in Egypt illustrates the place we were in before Divine grace saved us. Egypt symbolizes the world, according to the course of which we all walked in time past. Pharaoh, who knew not the Lord, who defied Him, who was the inveterate enemy of God's people, but who at the end was overthrown by God, shadows forth the great adversary, the Devil. The cruel bondage of the enslaved Hebrews pictures the tyrannical dominion of sin over its captives. The groaning of the Israelites under their burdens speaks of the painful exercises of conscience and heart when convicted of our lost condition. The deliverer raised up by God in the person of Moses, points to the greater Deliverer, even our Lord Jesus Christ. The Passover-night tells of the security of the believer beneath the sheltering blood of God's Lamb. The exodus from Egypt announces our deliverance from the yoke of bondage and our judicial separation from the world. The crossing of the Red Sea depicts our union with Christ in His death and resurrection. The journey through the wilderness—its trials and testings, with God's provision to meet every need—represent the experiences of our pilgrim course. The giving of the law to Israel teaches us the obedient submission which we owe to our new Master. The tabernacle with its beautiful fittings and furnishings, shows us the varied excellencies and glories of Christ. Thus it will be found that almost everything in this second book of the Bible has a spiritual message and application to us.
It is also to be remarked that there is much in the hook of Exodus that looks forward to and anticipates the future. The historical portions of this second book of Scripture have a dispensational as well as doctrinal value, a prophetic as well as a moral and spiritual signification. There is not a little in it that will minister instruction and comfort to the people of God in a coming day, as well as to us now. History repeats itself, and what is recorded in Exodus will be found to foreshadow a later chapter in the vicissitudes of Abraham's descendants. The lot of Israel in the Tribulation period will be even worse than it was in the days of Moses. A greater tyrant than Pharaoh will yet be "raised up" by God to chastise them. A more determined effort than that of old will be made to cut them off from being a nation. Groanings and cryings more intense and piteous will yet ascend to heaven. Plagues even more fearful than those sent upon the land of Pharaoh will yet be poured out upon the world from the vials of God's wrath. God shall again send forth two witnesses, empowered by Him to show forth mighty signs and wonders, but their testimony shall be rejected as was that of Moses and Aaron of old. Emissaries of Satan, supernaturally endowed, will perform greater prodigies than did the magicians of Egypt. A remnant of Israel shall again be found in the wilderness, there to be sustained by God. And at the end shall come forth the great Deliverer, who will vanquish the enemies of His people by a sorer judgment than that which overtook the Egyptians at the Red Sea. Finally, there shall yet be an even greater exodus than that from Egypt, when the Lord shall gather to Palestine the outcasts of Israel from "the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven."
In addition to the illustrations of the various parts and aspects of the doctrine of redemption and the prophetic forecast of Israel's lot in the day to come, there are in the book of Exodus quite a number of precious types of the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ. In many respects there is a remarkable correspondency between Moses and Christ, and if the Lord permits us to complete this series of articles, we shall, at the close, systematize these correspondencies, and show them to be as numerous and striking as those which engaged our attention when Joseph was before us. In addition to the personal type of Moses we shall consider how the burning bush, the Passover lamb, the crossing of the Red Sea, the manna, the smitten rock, the tabernacle as a whole, and everything in it, looked at separately, each and all tell forth in symbolic but unmistakable language the manifold glories of Christ. A rich feast is before us; may God the Holy Spirit sharpen our appetites so that we may feed upon them in faith, and be so nourished thereby that we shall grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
As the title of these papers intimates, we shall not attempt a complete verse by verse exposition of the book of Exodus, rather shall we continue the course followed by us in our articles on Genesis. Our endeavor will be to stimulate the people of God to a more careful and systematic study of the Old Testament scriptures, by calling attention to some of the hidden wonders which escape the notice of the careless reader, but which cause the reverent student to say with one of old, "I rejoice at Thy word as one that findeth great spoil" (Psalm 119:162). While we shall not ignore the practical application of the message to our own lives, and shall seek to profit from the many salutary lessons to be found for us in Exodus, nevertheless, our chief concern will be the study of those typical pictures which meet us at every turn. The next article will be devoted to Exodus 1, and in the meantime we would urge the interested reader to make a careful study of its contents. May the God of all grace anoint our eyes, and may the Spirit of Truth constantly guide our thoughts as we pass from chapter to chapter.