Saturday, February 02, 2013

An Interesting Parallel and the Gospel in the OT

There is an interesting parallel in Exodus 2:11-21. It’s not one I have seen emphasized elsewhere, so I offer it with caution. Nonetheless, I think it is helpful.

As you might know, stories in the Bible are often arranged to highlight differences and similarities. A key example of this is the interposition of Genesis 38 between Genesis 37 and 39. At first, the story of Judah (in Genesis 38) seems out of place, like a break in the story of Joseph. When it is read in its context, it shows a stark contrast between two men, Judah and Joseph.

So in Exodus 2, there are two stories that present a contrast between how Moses is treated by two groups of people—his own (both Israel and Pharaoh) and strangers (Midianites). Notice the following chart.

Exodus 2:11-15

Exodus 2:16-22

Acts of Deliverance

Now it came about in those days, when Moses had grown up, that he went out to his brethren and looked on their hard labors; and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his brethren. So he looked this way and that, and when he saw there was no one around, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.

Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters; and they came to draw water and filled the troughs to water their father's flock. Then the shepherds came and drove them away, but Moses stood up and helped them and watered their flock.

Highlighted Conversations

He went out the next day, and behold, two Hebrews were fighting with each other; and he said to the offender, "Why are you striking your companion?" But he said, "Who made you a prince or a judge over us? Are you intending to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?" Then Moses was afraid and said, "Surely the matter has become known." When Pharaoh heard of this matter, he tried to kill Moses.

When they came to Reuel their father, he said, "Why have you come back so soon today?" So they said, "An Egyptian delivered us from the hand of the shepherds, and what is more, he even drew the water for us and watered the flock." He said to his daughters, "Where is he then? Why is it that you have left the man behind? Invite him to have something to eat."

Divergent Outcomes

But Moses fled from the presence of Pharaoh and settled in the land of Midian, and he sat down by a well.

Moses was willing to dwell with the man, and he gave his daughter Zipporah to Moses. Then she gave birth to a son, and he named him Gershom, for he said, "I have been a sojourner in a foreign land."

In both stories, Moses plays the part of a deliverer, something that becomes significant later on in the story.

In both cases there are conversations which take up a relatively short amount of actual time (narrated time), but make up a large percentage of the story (narrative time). In the first story, the conversation is 63/160 words (39%). In the second story, the conversation is 71/153 (46%).*

What this ratio indicates is that Moses, the author, wants to highlight these conversations as significant, even though they would have passed relatively quickly in the time scale of the events. So he slows down the pace of the story to get us to think about this particular part of it.

It is also notable that Moses skipped many things that would be interesting to know, like where was the beating taking place, or how did the word get out, or how long had Moses been out observing the Israelites, or what exactly what Reuel’s religious role as a Midianite priest, and many other things.

Instead, Moses highlights how his own people received him as opposed to how foreigners received him. And he does it by recounting these conversations.

On the one hand, the slaves, desperately in need of a deliverer, question and reject the one who tries to help, and the deliverer flees the family structure (the Israelite community).

On the other hand, Reuel (the father of these Midianite shepherdesses in need of deliverance) questions and receives the one who tries to help, and the deliver becomes a part of the family structure.

Now, at this point, we can see obvious parallels to Christ who “came to his own and his own did not receive him.”  They desperately needed a deliverer, but rejected him much in the same way, by asserting that he really wasn’t sent by God (cf. John 5 and 8). And so Christ went to the foreigners, the outsiders, and began the church, built by Christ from people of every tribe, tongue, people, and nation through their belief in him as their deliverer.

Is this a legitimate Christo-centric meaning?

Well, I am open to being persuaded, but I am, as of yet, not entirely comfortable with it for these reason:

  1. It’s not exegetical. It doesn’t arise out of this text.
  2. There is no indication that Moses understood this as foreshadowing of Christ.
  3. No Israelite entering the Promised Land (Moses’ original audience) would have made that connection.
  4. No Israelite for the next 1500 years would have made that connection.
  5. Meaning must arise out of what the original author intended his original audience to understand, believe, or do. There is no indication in this text that Moses wanted his readers to read this story and believe in Jesus. He rather wanted them to understand something about their history, that would prepare and encourage them for their future.

Whether or not it is legitimate typology depends largely on how one views typology. I won’t write on that here since it is a longer discussion on top of this already long post, but let me add a few quick thoughts:

  1. Typology works by using a real experience to point to a greater, also real, future experience.
  2. Moses likely was a type of Christ, identified in the NT (Hebrews 4:1-6: Jesus was … as Moses was).
  3. The experience of Moses is recapitulated in Christ. Christ's experience is both similar to and greater than Moses’ experience, (but we only know that because we know the end of the story; Moses didn’t know that).
  4. Israel, both entering the Promised Land and for years to come, would constantly find themselves needing a deliverer. And they would often treat these deliverers (judges, prophets, and kings) with contempt  when they came. Ultimately, they would reject their greatest deliverer, and they live in rejection to this day because of it.
  5. So Moses reminds Israel, on the eve of the Conquest, that God used a man with a checkered past who was an outsider of sorts to deliver them. They hated him at times, questioned him at times, doubted him at times, and wished they could go back to Egypt. But God was still at work, never forgetting them, always remembering his covenant. And when they cried out to him, he would always show up (Exod 2:23-25). And they should know that in the years to come, God would remember his covenant, not because they were good and faithful, but because he is good and faithful.

So how would I preach this Christologically? Having told the story, highlighting the compassionate heart of Moses and his checkered background (outsider, murderer, fugitive, married-to-a-foreigner father,forgotten-for-forty-years shepherd), and having reminded us that we know God uses this kind of person to lead his people out of Egypt, I might conclude with something like this:

  1. Put yourself in the place of these Hebrew fighters: How would you respond to Moses? Would you be antagonistic? Would you be receptive? Would you be arrogant and self-sufficient?
  2. Put yourself in the place of these Midianite shepherdesses: How would you respond to Moses? Would you be appreciative, yet so consumed with your life you forget to respond appropriately? Would you be thankful and gracious towards him?
  3. Put yourself in the place of Moses: You have a checkered past. Is there hope for you?
  4. Now put yourself in the place of you: You have a checkered past. You have a deliverer. Like these Hebrew fighters, you think Jesus is an outsider, who doesn’t know what it’s like to be you. You get a little mad when Jesus comes along and shows you you can’t deliver yourself. Like these Midianite shepherdesses, you are pretty busy with your life, and you receive the blessings of a deliverer without appropriate respond.How do you respond to him?

Why is this not allegory? Because the events are real, and because I am not attempting to draw a one-for-one comparison to the story. You are not the Hebrew fighters, the Midianites, or Moses.

Why is this not moralism? Because the grace of this passage is a deliverer outside of ourselves, namely Jesus who was greater than Moses. Having heard this greater deliverer, do not harden your hearts as they did (Hebrews 4:1ff.)


*These statistics use the NASB as its base translation.


DJP said...

Thanks for wrestling aloud with these passages.

Anonymous said...

I don't the moralism police would accuse of moralism because you haven't committed the "do better" or "do this and live" error (iow, your aim seems to be a call to faith, not a call to "behave").

I don't think it is allegory because you are applying the text in your conclusion. You are not saying that Moses is Christ, or that they are the Egyptians or Midianites. You seem to be doing what Kaiser calls principalizing. Others use the word abstraction to describe finding what is common between the truth in Scipture and the present situation. That seems close to what you have done.

I suppose I'd feel a level of comfort in your pointing out the parallel based on how Stephen incorporates Moses' rejection into his sermon in Acts. He says there that Moses expected them to recognize him as a deliverer--which clearly means that Moses thought of himself in that way. And Stephen seems to develop his sermon along the lines of the rejection, so he sees it as a clear and important component of the narrative (and of Israel's failure). To be clear, I am not saying that it should be read back into it because Stephen says these things, but that what you've pointed out in the text seems to be similar to the way that Stephen was looking at it.