A Reflection on the Exodus Narrative
By Red Robregado (February 2021)
After more than 400 years since the call of Abraham (Prev.: Abram) and His covenant with God, the Israelites, Abraham’s descendants through the line of Israel (Prev.: Jacob), found themselves in an unprecedented journey, having been freed from centuries-long slavery in Egypt, delivered by the parting of the Red (Newer sources: Reed) Sea, and temporarily encamped at Mt. Sinai where they had been brought into a particular covenant relationship with Yahweh, the Great Deliverer.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, the goal of Exodus is not simply liberation, but worship and an eventual fellowship with God — which was His redemptive plan from the beginning. It would be imprecise, therefore, to read the narrative and conclude that God’s primary purpose is to liberate people from social, economic, and political bondage and enslavement, deducing that the church’s primary role is to bring about the same kind of social justice and freedom. This is a noble and important undertaking, and the book of Exodus does portray God as the one who hears, feels, and sees, the needy and oppressed. Yet this is not the main goal of Israel’s deliverance.
Exodus exists to draw attention to Genius of Genesis’ original intention which is for the whole creation to glory in Him as He dwells among His people. This is the overarching reason for instituting covenants — first with Noah, then with Abraham. In Noahic Covenant, God pledged to never again flood the earth but preserve it, a move that will provide an avenue for Him to carry out the succeeding stratagems for His redemptive work. Then, from the universal to specific, God sovereignly moves and calls Abraham and promises Him a homeland and a progeny through whom all the families of the earth would be blessed.
Hence, it is indeed principled to say that the Israelites’ deliverance did not just happen by chance, but is a pre-ordained means to accomplish God’s providential work as it is brilliantly tied to the promises given to their ancestors. Seeing this pattern, we could thoughtfully infer that the rationale for establishing a relatively new covenant at Mt. Sinai was to confirm and carry forward God’s purpose as expressed within the earlier covenant. The enactment of the Mosaic (or Sinaitic) covenant is not a nullification, but an initial fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant. Through it, God moves from specific to particular — choosing a specific people for Himself, then, setting particular order and standards to prepare His chosen people, His Bride, for His indwelling.
While reflecting still, I was puzzled by the fact that the Mosaic Covenant is very different. The earlier covenants are undoubtedly unilateral, in which God binds Himself to do what He promised, regardless of inaction, shortcomings, and disobedience from the other party. But this new one is a bilateral agreement, which specifies equally binding obligations and mutual responsibility of both parties. Simply put, the blessings or lack thereof are contingent on the obedience of the Law.
This had me thinking, “Why would the unconditionally loving, lavishly giving Benefactor of mankind suddenly require strict obedience to Law to receive the blessings that He used to freely give? Doesn’t the institution of Law contradict His grace?”
Of all the covenants, the Mosaic Covenant seemed to be the most conditional. However, what might be considered conditional from a human standpoint, might not be so from a divine lens, so the issue is arguable. By and still, why is there a necessity for rigorous commandments and a demand for obedience despite the Omniscient Legislator knowing the reality that humanity is absolutely depraved and is hopelessly unable to fulfill the demands of the Law?
At the onset, I am aware that the Law is necessary to consecrate the Israelites as God’s chosen race, a kingdom of a royal priesthood, set apart from the surrounding nations, and that’s it. But after days of contemplation, God brings me back to the very essence of His redemptive work, that is, the glorification of His name through perfect divine-human fellowship. The condition for fellowship with God has always been the same — holiness and perfect righteousness. Henceforth, the Law was essential to bring awareness to these rightful and righteous requirements for a fellowship with Him in the Promised Land. It was never intended to be a requirement to acquire salvation, but it was God’s chosen channel to state the stipulations for life in communion with Him.
Therefore, the existence of the Mosaic covenant is not an inconsistency in God’s gracious nature, but rather an act of grace to make mankind realize our depravity and our inconceivable need for grace. Despite humanity’s propensity for sin, God unconditionally initiated and faithfully and lovingly remembered His covenants — a true act of unequaled grace.
The Mosaic Covenant, though extensive, remains to be the partial fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant. The New Covenant of Christ was, is, and will be the ultimate completion and eternal fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant. Once completely fulfilled, obedience would no longer a challenge but a norm; no longer be demanded, but whole-heartedly willed.
I look forward to that day, but today, I pray for the grace to daily obey.