The Churches of Christ were, seemingly, birthed in hermeneutical controversy. Alexander Campbell expended considerable effort on pointing to proper methods of interpretation of Scripture. As years went by more and more focus was placed upon some sort of "pattern" within the Bible and especially the New Testament. "Patternism" has been incredibly divisive throughout our history and continues to be with one group of Patternists contending that the other group of Patternists have invented patterns where there are none. What is interesting with all this zeal for patterns is that many of the most pronounced patterns in the biblical narrative are simply unrecognized and ignored as irrelevant. Perhaps nothing exemplifies this more than the Exodus Pattern.
It is difficult to overstate the importance of the Exodus story in Israel's life and faith. We could even opine that the Exodus is the foundation of the Bible itself. The Exodus was the amazing act of Yahweh the Liberator who delivers, redeems and saves a group of nobodies. The Exodus is the paradigm of what salvation by grace really looks like. Walter Brueggemann has suggested that a series of 'verbs' are used to "testify" to Yahweh's act of liberating grace:
* Yahweh brings out
* Yahweh delivers
* Yahweh redeems
* Yahweh brings up
(See Theology of the Old Testament, 173-176)
God's paradigmatic moment is celebrated by Moses and Miriam (as an ancient Ike & Tina) in Exodus 15:
"I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously ...
The LORD is my strength and my might, and he has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise him ...
The LORD is a warrior; the LORD is his name.
Pharaoh's chariots and his army he cast into the sea ...
You blew with your ruah and the sea covered them ...
Who is like you, O LORD ...
In your steadfast love you led the people whom you redeemed ...
(Exodus 15.1-13, NRSV)
Several themes emerge from Moses' and Miriam' song. First it is emphatic that Yahweh alone did the work, salvation belongs to him and it was not because Israel deserved it. Second it is interesting how the Exodus story uses terms borrowed from the creation story itself: divine action and spreading the waters with the activity of God's Spirit (ruah), etc. Salvation is like a new creation.
The story, pattern, of this Exodus is deeply ingrained in the Bible. Israel "rehearsed" this drama each year through the Passover. And no Israelite believed the Exodus was simply what happened back then to "them" rather they placed themselves within the Story and believed it happened to "us." This confession of the Exodus patterned life is seen as Israel celebrated their "thanksgiving(s)" ...
"My father was wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, putting us to hard labor. Then we cried to the LORD, the God of our Fathers ... So the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with miraculous signs and wonders. He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, O LORD have given me." (Deuteronomy 26.5b-10)
Exodus patterned Israel's life (or was supposed to) and is fused into "the rest of the Story" by the biblical authors. Here are just a few examples:
* Entrance into the Promised Land is cast with Exodus imagery. Joshua 3-4 reverberates with the drama of the Red Sea
* Building the temple is dated from the Exodus (1 Kgs 6.1)
* Moral crises following Solomon's tyranny is patterned after the sojourn in and following Egypt (1 Kgs 11-12)
* Psalms of praise celebrate the Exodus (i.e. Pss 66, 68, 105)
* Psalms of lament appeal to the Exodus for fresh deliverance (i.e. Pss 74, 77, 80)
* In Hosea, Amos & Micah (to name only three) paint Israel's adultery with images taken from Egypt or from the wanderings in Sinai while casting Yahweh as the faithful liberating lover who would redeem Israel.
* Isaiah 40-66 takes the pattern of Exodus as the source for new hope for Israel.
The Exodus Pattern is burned deep within the Bible. Our quick "survey" helps us to see that the Exodus is more than a mere literary motif but that it was THE PARADIGM Israel used to understand her past, her present, and her future.
The NT also has deeply ingrained within it this Exodus motif. The Gospel of Matthew, the first book of the NT, seemingly continues the same sort of "pattern" we see throughout the Hebrew Bible. The beginning of Jesus' Story has fingerprints of the Exodus narrative all over it. In both there is an evil ruler, in both the children suffer, in both there is a "flight," in both there is an "exodus" for "out of Egypt I have called my son" (Mt 2.15), in both there is a passage through water, in both there is a wandering in the wilderness for a time of testing, in both there is a journey to a mountain, the healing ministry of Jesus is related to his role as Isaiah's servant in concert with the new Exodus (Mt 8.17; 11.5; 12.18; Isa 35.5-6; 53.4; 61.1-2) ... the Exodus Pattern is deeply ingrained in Matthew ... but he is not alone. The work of God in Jesus upon the cross is cast in new Exodus like language.
Yes, the Exodus Pattern is a "tie that binds." Since the "Old Testament" and "New Testament" are really ONE BIBLE they (together) testify to the same story of God's work in redemption. The Exodus is the pattern used by biblical writers to understand who God is and what it means to be the People of the Lord. Since this pattern is so prominent in Scripture ... and it is actually there ... should we (who are so concerned about patterns) not spend some time reflecting on the significance of the Exodus Pattern for God's People today?