Redemption, Covenant, and Dwelling: Seeing the Three-Fold Pattern of Salvation in the Book of Exodus

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Patterns are everywhere. In aviation, you have flight patterns; in economics, you have patterns in the stock market, in detective work, police look for patterns of suspicious behavior; and in sports, defensive coordinators look for patterns in the offensive schemes of opposing teams. In short, we live in a world full of patterns!

And these patterns are just one hint that behind the created order, there is a Creator who has stamped his design on creation. Similarly, in the Bible we learn that there are patterns in redemption. And nowhere is this more true than in the book of Exodus. In Exodus we are introduced to God’s pattern of redemption—substitution, conquest, covenant, and glorious dwelling. These patterns repeat again and again in Scripture, and they are so important that even Jesus says to Moses and Elijah in Luke 9:31 that he is soon going to lead his own New Exodus. So today, as we begin to look at Exodus, we do so by recognizing the pattern of salvation found therein.

Introduction to Exodus

The book of Exodus begins where Genesis ends. When Jacob’s family sojourned in Egypt, they were seventy persons strong (1:6). Within just a few centuries though, these seventy persons had increased to more than one million (12:37). Exodus 1:7 says they swarmed in the land of Egypt, and accordingly, they posed a threat to Egypt’s rule. It seems that while God multiplied them according to his promise, they were simultaneously experiencing great oppression living under Pharaoh’s tyrannical rule.

Significantly, this oppression was not due to ethnic rivalry only; it was spiritual in nature. Exodus develops the seed conflict of Genesis 3:15, and shows how God will deliver his people from the oppressive forces of Satan’s offspring. As the story unfolds, it becomes evident that God is doing more than showing preference for the Jews. He is saving his people and at the same time, judging his enemies (see Exodus 6:7; 12:12). It is within this historic Exodus that God establishes his pattern of redemption.

In particular, three movements outline Exodus. First, in chapters 1–18, God redeems Israel out of Egypt. This redemption includes the Passover and the destruction of Pharaoh at the Red Sea. Both of these events are necessary for Israel’s deliverance, which is necessary for Israel’s covenant relationship with Yahweh. This leads to the second movement. In chapters 19–24, God establishes his covenant relationship with Israel—sometimes called the Old Covenant. This covenant comes after his redemption, but before his dwelling with Israel. Finally then, in chapters 25–40, God supplies Moses with a pattern for the tabernacle. This would be Yahweh royal residence among the Israelites, and a testimony to the nations that he was Israel’s God.

Together, these three sections develop a three-fold pattern of redemption that will continue in the prophets and culminate in the New Testament: God saves his people through a substitutionary sacrifice, in order to establish a covenant relationship, so that in the end God may dwell with his people in glory. In what follows, we will examine the Passover, the Covenant, and the God’s Glorious dwelling.

Sacrifice and Conquest: God’s Pattern for Redemption (Exodus 1–18)

The Passover is both an event in history and the commemorative meal based on that event. Exodus 11–12 explains the event and details the meal, and what is amazing is the fact that it seems God had in mind both the generation who he was saving and all future generations who would partake of the commemorative meal. This is one more example where the historical events of Scripture serve as a God-inspired pattern of redemption.

The context of the Passover comes at the end of 9 plagues (Exod. 7:14–10:29). These plagues can be subdivided into 3 cycles and each cycle seems to have a different purpose in the redemption of Israel. “In the first triplet, (blood, frogs, lice), the note is the superiority of God and God’s agents over the magicians of the court (7:12). In the second sequence (insects, pestilence, boils), God’s presence in Egypt and thus God’s control are signaled by the separation made between Israel and Egypt (8:18-24; 9:4-7). The third triplet (hail, locusts, darkness) emphasizes the incomparability of Yahweh” (Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel, 35). Still none of these awesome judgments move Pharaoh to let Israel go. Instead, they serve to harden his heart. Thus God threatens in Exodus 11:1, “I will bring one more plague on Pharaoh and on Egypt. After that, he will let you go from here. When he lets you go, he will drive you out of here.”

These resolute words anticipate the severity of the Passover. And this severity against Pharaoh is balanced by God’s kindness towards Israel. Exodus 11:6­–7 explains, “Then there will be a great cry of anguish through all the land of Egypt such as never was before,… but against all the Israelites…not even a dog will snarl.”  With surgical precision, the Passover is used by God to free Israel from Egypt. It is designed by God to glorify Yahweh over the gods of Egypt (12:12), over Pharaoh (14:4, 18), and to “make a distinction between Egypt and Israel” as God’s chosen people (11:8). God’s purpose in saving Israel prepares the way for his unique covenant relationship with them.

In this event, there is an important pattern for Christians to see. Namely, it is the truth called penal substitution. In Exodus 12, God instructs Israel to select an unblemished lamb, to slaughter it and apply the blood on the doorframe of the house. Verse 13 records, “The blood on the houses where you are staying will be a distinguishing mark for you; when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No plague will be among you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.” Later, Exodus 13:11–16 explains the relationship between the Passover sacrifice and redemption of the firstborn. Moreover, it is important to see that Israel was just as guilty before God as Egypt (see Ezek. 20:4-10). The difference is God’s previous covenant with Abraham and now the sacrifice that substituted for the death of the firstborn.

Today, Penal Substitution is a disputed doctrine, but it is firmly articulated in Scripture, and the Passover is one of many important passages that articulate this precious doctrine. Moreover, in the New Testament, Jesus is called our Passover lamb (1 Cor 5:7). John explains his death in light of the Passover, and calls him the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Thus, Jesus is the perfect sacrifice who is able to redeem all those firstborn children who will receive God’s eternal inheritance.

The Covenant at Sinai: God’s Pattern for Covenant Relations (Exodus 19–24)

The Passover is the central feature of the God’s redemptive purposes in Exodus 1–18, but it is not the only one. On the night of the Passover, Pharaoh released Israel, but within hours, he changed his mind (14:5). Exodus 14 tells the dramatic story of Pharaoh’s pursuit. As the people near the Red Sea, redemption is jeopardized. Death is imminent. Yet, God intervenes by opening a highway in the sea. Moses lifts his staff and the waters part. Israel walks on dry ground to the other side. Meanwhile, the angel of the Lord slows the chariots of Pharaoh (14:19, 24-25). The result is that Israel passes safely through the waters of judgment. Then, with all Israel watching on the shore, God destroys his enemies with raging waters. The result is that Israel is free to go and worship their Redeemer God.

Exodus 16–18 recounts the slow progress of Israel moving towards Sinai. Yet, despite their grumbling God brings Israel to the mountain that he told Moses he would (3:12). Miraculously, God had redeemed Israel from captivity and brought them to Sinai to become his holy people. Exodus 19:5–6 explains, “Now if you will listen to Me and carefully keep My covenant, you will be My own possession out of all the peoples, although all the earth is Mine, and you will be My kingdom of priests and My holy nation.” Israel is God’s chosen people, a blessing to the world, as they receive God’s blessing (cf. Gen 12:1-3), and with that in mind, God proceeds to give them his law, through Moses his covenant mediator.

There is much misunderstanding that has gone on with the Ten Commandments, sometimes called the Decalogue (“Ten Words”), and the rest of the law. So, it is worth making a couple comments. First, the law is given to Israel after they had been redeemed. In other words, God’s relationship with Israel was not dependent on their obedient law-keeping; instead, the Decalogue served as the house rules for God’s covenant people. The word law itself, torah, has the idea of instructions more than heavy-handed rules.

Second, the two tablets are unlikely to be divided between the first four commandments and the last six, even though this separation does rightly perceive a distinction between vertical commands (1-4) and horizontal (5-10). It is better to take our cues from the ancient Near East, where each party of the covenant would have their own copy. Typically, these parties would keep their copies in a secure place like the temple. In the case of God’s covenant with Israel, it would be appropriate that both copies would reside in the tabernacle, as this royal tent served as the meeting place between God and his servant Israel. 

The content of these laws gave basic instructions for living before God. They are intended to show God’s people how they are to respond to grace and to live in a manner pleasing to God. Coming from Egypt, Israel would have been inclined to worship like the nations—as Exodus 32 shows—but God demands absolute loyalty and true spiritual worship. Therefore, in these commands, we see God’s legislated expectation for his people. But, at the same time, we see the character of God. He is the one, true and living God. He disallows image-making, because he has made an image—mankind; and one day, he will bring his Son, who is his exact image (Heb 1:1-3). Moreover, he demands children to obey their parents and husbands to remain faithful to their wives because he has created a world that is to reflect his own characteristics as a father who deserves reverence and a husband who is unswervingly loyal.

The context of the Decalogue is also significant. As soon as the ‘ten words’ are given, Israel asks Moses to be their mediator.  Seeing the mountain consumed by God’s holy fire, they tremble and shake, saying, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die” (20:19). They had seen God’s destructive force at the Red Sea, and now they rightly requested a mediator. Moses served in this capacity for Israel all his life, and he will repeatedly stand before God, pleading for mercy. In this way, he serves as a faithful priest, and a forerunner to Christ, who will come and be a greater Moses. For as Hebrews declares, Moses was a servant in God’s house, but Jesus is a Son over God’s house (Heb 3:5-6). Nonetheless, in Exodus, God gives us a pattern for covenantal relations. In this way, we can see how Jesus could say that “Moses wrote about him” (John 5:47). And all who read Moses rightly will be led to Christ (cf. 1 Tim. 1:8–11).

Dwelling in the Tabernacle: God’s Pattern for Revealing His Glory (Exodus 25–40)

Chapters 25-40 comprise the final section in Exodus, and amazingly they account three-eighths of the book. Admittedly, to modern readers, these chapters move slower than the exciting stories of deliverance, but their inclusion is just as important, provided that we understand their purpose.

Their placement in the book could not have come earlier, because God’s intention to dwell with his people—something that harkens back to the Garden of Eden—depended upon the redemption of Israel from Egypt and the newly minted covenant. With those two redemptive events in place, God gives Moses a vision of his heavenly temple and instructions for building an earthly replica (cf. Heb. 8:5). The purpose of this royal tent is for God to dwell with his people, and for his people to have a way of approaching him. The message is clear: Yahweh, the infinitely holy God, has graciously saved his people and now intends to stay with them by making them holy as he is holy.

This section can be further broken down into three parts: Exodus 25–31 describes the specifications for the tabernacle. The ark of the covenant, which had a ‘mercy seat on the top’ (25:21), the table for bread, and the lamp stand are all described in Exodus 25. It is worth noting that these three pieces of furniture were the common elements in the tents of Israel. God not only came to dwell with Israel, but to dwell like them.

After the furniture is described, the measurements and materials for the tabernacle are given, followed by the bronze altar and the basin for water. Both of these instruments were to be situated in the courtyard of the tabernacle and used by the priests. Chapters 28–29 give the description of the priestly garments. Overall, in every specification there is instruction for how Israel is to relate to God. For instance, in the priestly apparel, God instructs Moses to inscribe the names of the twelve tribes onto the breastplate (28:21), so that when the high priest goes behind the veil, he will have all of Israel upon his heart (28:29). In this way, we see how God is providing visual aids for Israel (and us) to understand what the priest is doing. In time, when Jesus Christ takes up the office of high priest (Hebrews 5–10), it is this revelation in Exodus that will explain what is happening when the veil is torn.

While Exodus 25–31 gives the instructions for the tabernacle, Exodus 35­–40 tells how the tabernacle was constructed. Exodus 39:42-43 describes the precision of the work. “The Israelites had done all the work according to everything the Lord had commanded Moses. Moses inspected all the work they had accomplished. They had done just as the Lord commanded.”  Then in Exodus 40, after all the furniture, priestly apparel, and sacrificial instruments were made, the tabernacle was completed. And when it was finished, the glory of God descended and filled the royal tent. This is how the book of Exodus closes—Glory in the End!

Still, Israel nearly missed God’s glory. In our consideration of the tabernacle, we skipped over chapters 32–34, where Israel sinned against God. Like Adam and Eve who broke the covenant before the first child was born, so Israel within moments of receiving God’s blessing at Sinai fell into sin (32:1-6). They made a golden calf, breaking the second commandment. The result is judgment upon Israel (32:27-28), a plague (32:35), and the real threat of being blotted out from God’s book (32:33). Yet, like in the case of Abraham with Sodom, Moses faithfully intercedes as a loving mediator. He stands in the gap, boldly petitioning God to forgive his people, even suggesting that God blot out his own name, instead of destroying them (32:32). The result is that God relinquishes his anger. In this case, God is not changing his mind, so much as he keeping his covenant with Israel. For while the people of Israel have broken covenant, the covenant faithfulness of YAHWEH remains steadfast.

Therefore, Exodus 34:6–7 becomes a central verse in the story of redemption and in the revelation of God. In Exodus 33:18 Moses, after pleading with God to spare Israel (33:12­–16), asks God to show him his glory. Yahweh responds that he will reveal his goodness and his name (33:19). He then places Moses in the cleft of the rock, while he passes by and permits Moses to see the backside of his glory and to hear his name. Exodus 34:6­7 gives a four-fold description of the Lord: He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. In this, we see why God did not utterly and righteously forsake Israel. God had sworn an oath to Abraham and his offspring to be their God (Gen .22:15-18). And even when they sinned against him, he would not abandon his oath. God is truly gracious and faithful!

The rest of the Scriptures unfold the story of this covenantal love. After countless sinful generations, God finally brings his Son into the world in the fullness of time (Gal 4:4) so that God can dwell bodily with those whom he saves and makes covenant. In John 1:14, the apostle says, “The Word became flesh and dwelt (lit. ‘tabernacled’) among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  What is recorded about God in Exodus 33­–34 is fulfilled and applied to Jesus by the testimony of John.

There is glory in the end, and this glory is not a cloud or a voice, it is a man, Jesus Christ. In Jesus, the fullness of God’s grace and truth has come. Christ is God with us. We can now behold God’s glory, and in ways that Moses could not approach God (40:35), we have now been given access into the temple of God by the Spirit. And one day, we have the greater hope, that the glory that we have by faith in Christ, will cover the earth. For indeed, the temple of God will no longer be the church militant. Rather the church will dwell in the eternal tabernacle of God’s restored cosmos. This is glory in the end! And this is what Exodus teaches us to see!

As you read Exodus this month or at any other time, keep this three fold pattern (Redemption, Covenant, and Dwelling) before you. It will help you understand the book of Exodus and how Exodus helps you understand God’s message of salvation.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

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2 thoughts on “Redemption, Covenant, and Dwelling: Seeing the Three-Fold Pattern of Salvation in the Book of Exodus

  1. Pingback: On Reading Exodus: Four Approaches with Various Resources | Via Emmaus

  2. I appreciate the three-fold pattern you describe in the book of Exodus: redemption, covenant, and dwelling. I believe this meta-narrative throughout Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, is a great hermeneutical guideline for understanding the relationship between God, His people, and redemptive history.

    As a former Reformed evangelical, I have since drifted towards Messianic Judaism because of the patterns and types you have described in this article. For example, I still keep the feast of unleavened bread and the Passover during Pesach because Exodus 12:14 says, “You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord – a lasting ordinance for generations to come.”

    The feast of unleavened bread and Passover is a perfect typology in the redeeming work of Jesus. For instance, He is the lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. When judgment or plague comes, we are “hidden” in Christ. We are clothed with his righteousness. He carries us safely through the waters of judgment in baptism. This pattern points us to Jesus.

    Moreover, attempting to clean out all the “leaven” in our house is a visual reminder to my family that it’s impossible to get rid of all the crumbs of sin. All of these patterns point us to talk about the new covenant we have in Jesus Christ. That salvation is a free gift, not of works (Eph. 2:8-9).
    However, when you think about Easter, people usually eat leavened bread, not unleavened bread. Secondly, churches point to the cross and the resurrection, which is good. However, how do we correlate the cross to paganism? Is this type of syncretism healthy?

    Once again, I appreciate your theological insight and articulation of the gospel. I agree with what you have stated in this article. It is my hope and prayer that churches today develop a stronger continuity between the Torah and the gospels. As Jesus clearly said, “I did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it.” Blessings to you brother!

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