Augustine said this about the importance of the Old Testament: “The New is in the Old contained, and the Old is in the New explained”. The work of Christ especially comes alive when we have a solid grasp of the background provided by the OT. Indeed, without it, the work of Christ makes little sense.
In addition, we have in the OT many types, or pre-figurings of what is to come. While one can get carried away with typology, there nonetheless is plenty of it to be found in Scripture. Sometimes it is spelled out rather explicitly, as in Galatians 4:21-31 where Paul uses Hagar and Sarah to illustrate his discussion about law and grace.
Another clear example can be found in John 3:14: “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up”. Such types and anti-types are not always so precisely spelled out, but there are many to be found.
Speaking of Moses, I am reading Exodus again, so some more obvious lessons which are dealt with further in the NT can be mentioned here. They are well-known incidents, but are always worth retelling. I have in mind in particular Ex. 32, the famous chapter dealing with Israel’s idolatry and Moses’ intercession.
The first thing which jumped out at me as I was re-reading this chapter is what is recorded in verse 1: “When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, ‘Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him’.”
Moses of course had been up the mountain with God for 40 days and forty nights (Ex. 24:14). They could not wait a few weeks, and so resorted to idolatry and immorality: they fashioned the golden calf and “sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry” (v. 4).
Despite all the mighty wonders and miracles they had recently witnessed at the exodus, they quickly forgot about God and his servant Moses, and quickly degenerated into sinful rebellion and disobedience. My mind immediately went to the passage in 2 Peter where we read about another delay in the coming of someone:
“Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, ‘Where is this “coming” he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation’.” (2 Peter 3:3-4)
It does not look like Jesus is coming back. OK, let’s just eat, drink and indulge in revelry. That is basically how people have thought and acted for the past 2000 years: “He’s a no-show, so let’s party”. And Peter’s next words need to be kept in mind:
“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief” (vv. 8-10).
Jesus will indeed return, just as he promised. And he will find the masses eating and drinking and partying (Luke 17:26-28). And Moses too came back. And it was not a pretty scene when he returned. Swift judgment was meted out on these rebellious people, just as Jesus will hand out divine judgment upon his return.
Of course the analogy and typology is not perfect: Jesus had two comings, whereas Moses had just the one. And the next episode I wish to speak to refers to the first coming of Jesus. I refer to the great intercession of Moses for God’s people when God wanted to wipe them out. As we read in vv. 9-14:
“I have seen these people,” the Lord said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.” But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. “Lord,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’” Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.
Moses stood between God and man. Of course all this is played out on a much larger scale in salvation history. We are all sinners, all under the wrath of God, and all deserving of his just punishment. But an amazing act of intercession took place – by means of God’s own Son. The wrath of God was still poured out, but on Jesus as he took our place at Calvary.
Justice had to be dealt out, and it was. But Christ was our substitute, taking the punishment we so much deserved upon himself so that we might find forgiveness through faith and repentance. And he even now continues to intercede for his own, as we find in Hebrews 7:25: “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.”
Moses, like Jesus, was ultimately concerned about God’s reputation and glory. Both offered intercession on our behalf. Even though we all deserved the righteous judgment of a holy God, because of these acts of intercession, judgment was diverted.
Just as Jesus is the Great High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-16), Moses acted in a priestly manner in standing between God and his people. And this was not the first time he interceded for the Israelites. We also see him doing so in Ex. 14:15; 15:25; 17:4 and 17:11-12.
We all need a mediator – an intercessor. Moses even offered his own life in the place of God’s people (vv. 30-32). But Moses of course could not die for the sins of the Israelites, as he was a sinner himself. But he pre-figures a great mediator and intercessor and High Priest who did for us what we could not do for ourselves.
The lessons in this one chapter are many: the awfulness of sin and disobedience; our propensity to so easily rebel and indulge in immorality; our need of a saviour and intercessor; the holy and spotless character of God, as well as the matchless grace and mercy of God.
Make no mistake: Jesus will one day return, just as Moses came down from the mountain. Are we ready for his return? Will we still be in party mode, or in preparation for his coming? And the good news is that we have a mediator between God and man.
Jesus at his first coming took upon himself the cup of God’s wrath so that we do not have to experience it, if we turn from our sin and put our trust in him. What a saviour. What an intercessor. What a faithful High Priest. That is the gospel message.
It was hinted at in many ways and in many times in the Old Testament, and made perfectly transparent in the New. Thus the overwhelming importance of reading the OT, as I have made the case on so many occasions. As Philip Graham Ryken writes:
“The more we study Moses, the more we learn about Jesus. This is the way the Bible works. The story of salvation keeps getting clearer and clearer. The more we read, the more we see the full extent of our sin, and the wrath of God against it. But this does not lead to despair, because we also start to see the forgiveness that God offers through the sacrifice of a Saviour.”