Moses, Jesus, and Lessons from Exodus

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.”

[1415 words]

13 Replies to “Moses, Jesus, and Lessons from Exodus”

  1. Can you comment on God telling Moses in Exodus that He will harden Pharoah’s heart. It sounds like it’s not Pharoah’s fault that he won’t believe. I don’t believe that’s what it means, but I can’t understand what He meant by that. Thanks.

  2. Hi Bill, I too am going through Exodus and I am always surprised by the (often overlooked) riches found in the Old Testamant.

    One example from some verses in Chapter 9 hit me like a brick when I read it:-

    “Then the LORD said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning, confront Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me, 14 or this time I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth. 15 For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth. 16 But I have raised you up[a] for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth. 17 You still set yourself against my people and will not let them go. 18 Therefore, at this time tomorrow I will send the worst hailstorm that has ever fallen on Egypt, from the day it was founded till now. 19 Give an order now to bring your livestock and everything you have in the field to a place of shelter, because the hail will fall on every person and animal that has not been brought in and is still out in the field, and they will die.’”

    In the midst of awful judgement what do we see? We see His great mercy and grace – (love even?) on an undeserving people. He didn’t have to warn them but He did. He didn’t have to warn us – but He has done so and provided us a “place of shelter” through Jesus. Amen!

    Kind regards

    Dave Billingham

  3. Thanks James. In a way, the answer is quite simple. If you carefully read through the entire account of Moses and Pharaoh, you see three different statements being made quite often:
    -Pharaoh hardened his heart.
    -Pharaoh’s heart was hardened.
    -God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.

    Thus Pharaoh was fully responsible for hardening his own heart, but God used that for his greater purposes. So we see here the interplay between divine sovereignty and human responsibility.

  4. One is also reminded of Abraham interceding for Sodom. Do we intercede for our nations which are surely under judgement?

    David Skinner UK

  5. David S, I am privileged to be the leader of public intercessory prayers in our church each Sunday.

    That means I have a responsibility to speak on behalf of the congregation, bringing the prayers which they would be praying at home, but also leading the praying into areas which might otherwise be forgotten – like prayer for governments, and yes, intercession for our world and for the nation (in our case, Australia).

  6. 4 years ago God reminded me of His desire / purpose that His people be intercessors on behalf of the nations. Three times each day, I take time out to pray in this way, trusting that it makes a difference. It has changed my life and my relationship with God. Daniel confessed sins on behalf of the people, as did a myriad of others in Scriptures. I firmly believe we are all called to this role. I have written more about how he has taught me pray here if anyone is interested.

  7. Bill

    I am always pleased to receive your comments. They are insightful and pertinent.

    Though, I am often wondering why we focus so much, at times, on the Consummative Coming of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. I heard it once said, “God will not do through His Son’s final coming, what He hasn’t accomplished through His Incarnation.”

    Christ is always coming, seeking the fruit of the Kingdom. Where there is no fruit, He tends the soil for a time until it is obviously necessary for a pruning, or for the fruitless tree to be ripped out by the roots. None of these comings are the Consummative Coming, but often we are blind to the present coming, because we are so preoccupied with the final coming.

    As Rushdoony has said, eschatology is more about end points, than it is about the end of time, though it does include the end of time. There are eschatological moments for individuals, families, cities, areas, nations, civilisations. None of these eschatological moments are the final, Consummative Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, but they surely are visitations of Christ by His Spirit, Who convicts of righteousness, of sin, and of judgment to come.

    I believe that at the end of time, Jesus Christ shall return for the Final Judgment, but I also believe that if He comes looking for the fruit of the kingdom, at any time, and there are not faithful intercessors (such as Abraham), and there are not a remnant of righteous souls (such as Lot), then the result is the same as the wicked, perverse, adulterous generation of Jesus’s Day – the same as that of Sodom and Gomorrah – Christ shall come and leave not one stone upon another.

    Think, Asia Minor, North Africa, Europe in the early 20th century, and many other parts of the world that fell away from its Biblical Christian roots.

    Let us continue to cry out to the Lord for mercy, and maybe He will hear us and stay His hand.

    To whom much has been given, from such much is expected.

  8. From a emotional point of view, to read how Moses did this for them/us makes me see a beautiful picture.

  9. Great to hear the Books of Moses reflected on through the lens of Him who is the “Prophet like Moses” Moses refers to in Deuteronomy.

    In days when the ideological successors of Gore Vidal’s anti-theistic tirades choose to pillory the Pentateuch, the Books of Moses remain eminently profitable for our learning “on whom the end of the ages has come” and eminently defensible when rightly interpreted.

  10. Ex 4:24 “At a lodging place on the way, the Lord met Moses and was about to kill him. 25 But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it. “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me,” she said. 26 So the Lord let him alone. (At that time she said “bridegroom of blood,” referring to circumcision.)”

    Bill…could you explain this passage to me? It’s the first time I noticed it.

  11. Thanks Bonnie. it is admittedly a difficult passage, but the short answer might go something like this. Moses it seems failed in his covenant duties to have his son circumcised. So God took a radical step to get his attention and get him to be obedient here. He does have the power of life and death, but he had also chosen Moses to be used for the deliverance of his people. But full obedience is crucial for the leaders God uses.

  12. I have thought about the Exodus 4 passage too, Bonnie, and wondered why Moses didn’t have his son circumcised. I wonder whether it might have been to conceal his son’s Hebrew identity on the return to Egypt. Maybe Moses was fearful for his son’s life at the hands of the Egyptians. Such thinking would not have been a demonstration of faith in God, and might account for God’s anger with Moses. All speculation of course.

  13. Just a speculative comment about the Exodus 4:24 passage:

    However, it would seem that Moses and Zipporah had spoken of the matter of circumcision before the Lord’s rebuke, because she knew exactly what to do at the time of the Lord’s rebuke. Maybe Moses and Zipporah had a domestic, and Zipporah prevailed, arguing that circumcision of her little darling was just too violent. Moses did as his predecessor did (and as many men in history have done, also) given into the wife for some domestic peace.

    Jesus, on the other hand, gives no truck to such sentimentality in family business: “Unless a man hate is his father and mother… and his wife also, he cannot be my disciple.” The issue is God’s commandment, not the sentimental and emotional responses of the weaker members of the family (male or female).

    I may be wrong, but I think it is an interesting speculation, IMHO.

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