by Jared Compton

“[A]n understanding of the Exodus is…essential for understanding and probing the theology of the Bible as it unfolds historically.”

Stephen Dempster makes this point in a recent article on the role of Exodus in biblical theology titled “Exodus and Biblical Theology: On Moving into the Neighborhood with a New Name.” Here I’d like to pass on two categories of observations Dempster makes in the piece that I found particularly helpful in thinking through Exodus’s role in the Bible’s storyline. I’m sort of cherry-picking, so, if you’re hungry for a bit more, you’ll just have to read the entire piece.

(1) The importance of the Exodus in the OT. The piece begins with a handful of notes about the pervasive influence of the Exodus in the OT. For starters, it’s referenced explicitly some 120 times—the sort of data one looks for, esp. when trying to discern the intention in narrative lit. (How else do we expect a narrator to make his point—John 20:31 is a bit unusual for the genre.) Beyond this, Dempster adds, the event fundamentally shaped Israel’s hymnody (see, e.g., Psalms 66:6; Psalms 74:13-14; Psalms 77:16-20), eschatological vision (see, e.g., Hosea 1:11 [2:2 MT (וְעָלוּ)]; Micah 4:6-7) and calendar (i.e., Israel’s new year celebrated the anniversary of Yhwh’s presence in the community; see Exodus 40:17)—to say nothing of its ethics, which Dempster intriguingly describes as rooted in the indicative of the Exodus (i.e., I am Yhwh your God who brought you out of Egypt therefore have no other gods before me…). (The Red Sea preceded Sinai, as Keller puts it in another place.)

(2) The role of Exodus in the OT. In his third  (“The First-Paragraph—The Story of Exodus in the Context of the Story of Scripture”) and fourth major pts. (“Exodus—The Larger Structure: Deliverance, Covenant, Presence”), Dempster probes the role of Exodus in the OT. He begins with a reflection on the conjunction (“and”) that begins the book, observing that it leads the reader to expect that he’ll find in what follows a continuation of the narrative begun in Genesis. This expectation, he goes on to show, is confirmed in the book’s first paragraph, with its talk, e.g., of Jacob’s numerous family (see Exodus 1:5-7), a description that immediately recalls both humanity’s original mandate (Genesis 1:28) and God’s promise to Abraham (Genesis 12:2; Genesis 13:16; Genesis 15:5). It is, in fact, this latter connection that suggests the story that follows will continue to reveal how God intends to use Abraham and his family to regain what humanity lost in the Fall (see, esp., Genesis 12:2-3). The connection with the Abraham narrative also helps explain Pharaoh’s (stubborn) fury, which plays such a large role in the subsequent narrative. After all, God’s original promise to Adam and its reiteration to Abraham came with an expectation of struggle: there would be opposition from the Serpent’s seed (Genesis 3:15), which is to say, there would be those who would curse God’s people (see, e.g., Genesis 12:2; also “enemies” in Genesis 22:17). It’s also the connection with the Abraham story that helps us understand the role God gives to his covenant people at Sinai. They were to be a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:5-6). Israel, in other words, like Abraham, was created for the world. As Dempster notes, “Israel is called to be a community of priests whose congregation is nothing less than the globe. The end of the covenant is not Israel’s own salvation but the inclusion of the nations” (14). Her calling, as he says in another place, “is fundamentally missiological. [Israel’s] purpose for existence [is] the restoration of the world to its pre-Edenic state” (13).

Note: For a similar reading, see Wellum and Gentry, Kingdom through Covenant, 301–56 (esp. the convenient summary on 302–4).