The exodus and the wilderness narratives are central to OTT (Old Testament Theology), and that without them, the tapestry of Israel’s faith and the foundational fabric of Christianity unravels. (p. 106)
Yesterday I discussed the Five Theological Pillars of the Doctrine of Biblical Inerrancy from chapter three of Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith?
Today I wanted to share the fourth chapter in which James Hoffmeier discusses Why a Historical Exodus is Essential for Theology. As the above quote indicates, Hoffmeier does not mince words in pointing out the importance of belief in an historical exodus and wilderness wandering for the theology of the Old Testament. This test case speaks to a bigger issue: Christian theology is rooted in history. Paul makes this point clear in 1 Cor. 15 in relation to the Christian faith and the resurrection of Christ. If Christ did not raise from the dead (historical event) then the Christian faith is in vain. Similarly, if there was no Exodus of Israel and the subsequent wilderness wanderings then the Christian faith is torn apart.
This chapter is worth the book alone as reading through it brought to light the further significance of passages I have read many times before. It also brought home the biblical-theological significance of the exodus and wilderness events and the foundational role they play in the life of Israel moving forward.
Hoffmeier offers no less than nine ways in which the exodus and wilderness narratives shape the religion of later Israel.
ONE: Divine Self-Disclosure – God addresses and reveals himself to Israel as “the Lord God who brought you out of Egypt” (Ex. 20:2). God links who he is with what he has done as the foundation for what he says and does afterwards.
TWO: The Historical Prologue to the Sinaitic Covenant – Here, the sinaitic covenant (Ex. 20-24) is compared to treaties of other neighboring peoples like the Hittites or Egyptians. This is called a suzerainty treaty. This treaty acts as a covenant between God and Israel. The exodus and wilderness accounts are part of this treaty.
THREE: Legal Matters – Here we see that a number of laws in the Mosaic law are based on the historical events of the exodus and wilderness events. For instance, the relative redemption laws of Lev. 25:46-54 is rooted in the exodus event (Lev. 25:55). The law to release slaves after six years is rooted in the exodus event (Deut. 15:15). Further, Israel was to treat sojourners and aliens well because Israel was a sojourner in Egypt (Ex. 22:21; Lev. 19:34).
FOUR: Religious Festivals, Observances, and Rites – Passover is tied to the tenth plague (Ex. 12:1-3) and its continual observance to the exodus event (Ex. 13:3). The two tablets of the Law were put with the ark of the covenant on the temple as a reminder of the covenant God made with Israel after they came out of Egypt (Ex. 25:16; Deut. 31:26: 1 Kings 8:4,9).
FIVE: Hymnody – The Song of Moses (Ex. 15:1-18), the Song of Miriam (Ex. 15:21), the Song of Deborah (Judges 5:4-5) as well as songs in the Psalms refer to the exodus and wilderness events.
SIX: Prophetic Literature – The prophets are covenant enforcers. Thus, it is not surprising that they frequently refer to the exodus and wilderness events when they remind Israel of God’s covenant with them (Judges 6:8-10; Mic 6:4-5).
SEVEN: Statements of Non-Israelites – There are a number of instances in which non-Israelites respond in faith to the God if Israel because of the exodus event. Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law refers to the exodus in his profession of faith (Ex. 18:5-9). Rahab from Jericho mentions the crossing of the Red Sea as a catalyst event for her profession of faith (Josh. 2:9-10). Even the Philistines, Israels continual enemy, recognize the exodus event as God’s act of saving his people from the Egyptians (1 Sam. 4:9-6:6).
EIGHT: Chronological Benchmark – The exodus was one the events in Israel’s history that served as a chronological benchmark for their calendar (Ex. 12:1-2). The exodus is mentioned twice right after they leave Egypt to serve as a marker for two stops (Ex. 16:1 & 19:1). The continual rebellion of people against God in 1 Sam. 8:8 is compared to the exodus. The beginning of the construction of Solomon’s temple is dated from the exodus (1 Kings 6:1).
NINE: Historical Retrospective – This is a “genre in which a figure, often a king late in his reign, recalls his earlier achievements, usually in the form of a speech recorded on a stela or temple, typically with a political (or religious) agenda in mind” (p. 130). Instances of historical retrospective are in Deut. 25:17-19 when God recounts the attack of the Amalekites on Israel as they approach Sinai in Ex. 17:8-16. This event in Ex. 17 at Sinai is the impetus for Saul to announce Israel’s war against the Amalekites again in 1 Sam. 15. This surfaces again in the Judges by Gideon (Jud. 6:13) and Jephthah (Jud. 11:13-16).
So we see that the exodus and wilderness wandering serve as a theological and relational basis for Israel’s life throughout the rest of their history. For further explanation of these nine points pick up your copy of Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith?