Post last updated on April 24, 2022 by rah
The book of Exodus begins with an assumed history and prophecy. Even the very name of the book assures the reader that Israel will be delivered from Egypt; even so, the book’s opening scene actually recalls Adam’s bondage. It looks backwards, too. This is important: The Exodus deliverance recalls and relates the Adamic curses in Eden to Israel’s experience in Egypt. Only after that fact is established, does the Exodus narrative move Israel and all of mankind closer to a deliverance that far exceeds Israel’s deliverance from Egypt.
Exodus chapter 1 first accounts for those who entered Egypt with Jacob. It is then in verse 7 that the reader is given the first important signal that, in fact, Genesis’ first chapters must necessarily influence the interpretation of Exodus: Verse 7 reads that the children of Israel were fruitful; they had increased abundantly; they had multiplied. The Hebrews had become mighty and filled the land of Egypt. This is not stated to merely describe the character of Israel’s sojourn in Egypt, though it does that; but it undeniably recalls the mandate that God first gave to Adam (Genesis 1:22, 28) and later to Noah (Genesis 9:1). The Jews had been fruitful and had multiplied while in Egypt.
But, of course, Egypt is no Eden. In fact, Egypt’s significance in the scripture lies in its contrast to Eden and Israel. Egypt was a garden, but it was not God’s garden. For although the Nile River created a lushness in Egypt that invited a comparison to the garden of Eden (Genesis 13:10), that one likeness serves to display many other important contrasts. Indeed, by the time that the Exodus narrative begins, Egypt will be ruled by a king and bureaucracy that enslaves the Jewish people. Regardless of its comparative wealth, Egypt becomes representative of life that exists outside the realm of God’s promise. Regardless of its beauty and delights (cf. Numbers 11:5), life in Egypt frustrated Israel’s worship of the God of its Fathers, who had already provided for Israel’s communion and delight in another land—the land of Canaan.
Egypt’s chief character lay in its counterfeit glory and religious character. Simply put—and this matters—Egypt was heretofore unfit as a place of where God would reveal himself and Israel would return that knowledge with worship. It is true that Egypt possessed an outward glory; but as it was, a tabernacle in the wilderness would be made a better pattern and revelation of the heavenly tabernacle and worship than a treasure city in Egypt.
This is why it is never sufficient to speak of Egypt in the shallowest aspects of its typology, as if its contrast to Israel were merely ethical. If the distinction between Egypt and Canaan were confined to the realm of ethics and culture, Egypt could have sufficed as the resting place of the Hebrews. That scenario would only require the overthrow of Pharaoh and the ascent of Moses to the throne in his stead. As it was, Israel departed Egypt, though Egypt was destroyed and Pharaoh was drowned. Indeed, there was something both deficient and offensive about Egypt, whereby God would not choose to reveal himself to Israel more fully there. The more important distinction between Egypt and Canaan, then, regards the subject of revelation.
This is among the reasons why the Israelites sought leave of Egypt to make sacrifice (Exodus 5:1-2, 8:26, 10:25). The true worship of God must take account and replicate the worship that is already in heaven. Accordingly, before Moses could build the earthly tabernacle, he must be given a pattern of that which is above (Exodus 25:9,40). Indeed, the limitations of even proper Jewish temple worship would teach that communion with God was dependent on something more than sinful men could provide (Hebrews 9:8-10). But to the point, this was only revealed in a pattern and place of God’s design.
Accordingly, when the LORD later sends Moses to lead the Jewish people out of Egypt, God first delivers his people to then serve him (Exodus 4:23). The ideas of temple service and worship were intertwined, not to regulate worship to mere forms, but to show how the forms and patterns of the earthly demonstrated the heavenly; but ironically, the same pattern also showed that the earthly must somehow be conformed to the heavenly. (This is, in part, what the Epistle to the Hebrews confirms and requires. It explains what was accomplished by the Lord Jesus on earth when, following his death, he entered into the temple in heaven.) During its stay in Egypt, Israel had spent far too much time in the service of Pharaoh (Exodus 1:14); God would now deliver Israel to its intended destiny: the service and worship of God.
Beautiful and glorious treasure cities in Egypt were especially unfit to predict and proclaim the eventual New Jerusalem, the place where God and redeemed men will dwell together because of the offering that Christ has since made (Hebrews 10:8-10). Really, the problem all comes down to the fact that Pharaoh was building treasure cities for his own exaltation and worship, when God intends for worship to proceed in a place and pattern that reveals his own glory. This is no mere ethical distinction: The serpent had corrupted Eden’s worship to showcase this same kind of idolatrous fare—and it was abandoned. The foundation of Babel would begin with similar idolatrous hopes, but it was destroyed. Even the outward glory of first century Jerusalem was eventually razed, for those in power there codified idolatry with the murder of the Son of God. In the meanwhile, the service and worship of God would be established and proceed from less likely places—a barren mountain in Sinai and a cross on mount Calvary.