The Light Before the Switch

Details of Jesus in Exodus 1:22-2:25

Although there are a great many Christ-types in the Old Testament, it is hard to overplay the obviousness of some that seem to necessarily rise to the top before others. One of these is Isaac, with his near sacrifice by his own father after carrying the wood on his own back and the father having spent three days in clear anguish leading up to the moment of restoration and blessing. Another would be Joseph: the hated younger brother who is most loved by the father, thrown in a pit in the ground, sold to Gentiles, presumed dead only to be discovered to be second-in-command of the entire known world under Pharaoh, and now having the primary duty of overseeing the distribution of bread to a hungry world. Also, there is David: another younger brother who is rejected by his older siblings and goes into battle with Israel’s most fearsome enemy  in a way seen as ill-prepared, at best, and disastrous, at worst, only to become the vanquisher of the greatest enemy and the eventual greatest earthly king of God’s chosen people. 

But the one we will focus on briefly in this article is the other great Christ-type whose mention is tied with Jesus’ work so clearly in the New Testament that even the casual reader understands the obvious tie, and that is Moses. Other than Jesus, he is the savior of God’s people par excellence. 

Let us focus on a short section of twenty-six verses found close to the beginning of Exodus. In this passage, governed by a tightly woven forward parallel structure, we find the key to understanding the fullness of Jesus’ ministry as it is foreshadowed in detail.

Moses’ Double-Escape (1:22-2:25 [Forward Parallelism])

First, the structure is intricately designed so that no pieces are left dangling, as if without place or purpose. The basic forward parallelism is used to propel the reader onward in her movement toward God’s ultimate goal. After all, the following scene (Exodus 3) is where God introduces himself to Moses for the first time and bestows Moses’ life mission on him in its fulness. 

The structure begins immediately on the heels of the failure of Pharaoh’s first plan to drastically curtail the propagation of Israel’s male population. However, Pharaoh is not one to concede defeat quickly and he shortly formulates a second plan for the eradication of infant Israelite males, this time by throwing them into the Nile river—the source of life for the Egyptian population, ironically enough. 

The reader discovers immediately that this group of babies designated for wholesale slaughter would necessarily include Moses, simply by virtue of the time of his birth. And just as Pharaoh’s edict to kill all babies finds in its scope the necessity of Moses’ death (1:22-2:1; cp. B, above), so will Moses find himself in his later life to be the object of another command by Pharaoh for immediate extermination (2:15; cp. B’). Likewise, in the distant future, it is Jesus who will twice face a ruler’s command for extermination. Just as with Moses, once will be while he is but a baby and becomes one of many marked for death (Matt. 2:16). A second time will come when he is young man, as with Moses, wresting with the powers that be so he might free his people from their oppressors (Mark 14:64; 15:15). 

Returning to the first half of our parallel structure above, we find that Moses is next hidden from Pharaoh that his life could be saved (B).[i]He is eventually taken to the great water source (the Nile) and placed into it, albeit with the aid of an ark to serve as an ancient life-preserver (C). Then he is discovered there by Pharaoh’s daughter, along with her entourage of handmaidens (D). 

Once again, we find this exact sequence of events in Moses’ later life, when he hides from Pharaoh to save himself (B’), finds himself at a water source (C’), and is discovered at that water source by the daughters of an apparently prosperous “adoptive” family (D). James Jordan points out that Reuel’s status as priest-king of the Kenite branch of the Midianite nation would make him a powerful figure, which can easily be placed in parallel with Pharaoh in the first part of our structure.[ii]In both cases, the events have inadvertently worked to Moses’ advantage, keeping him from harm at the hands of the most powerful ruler of the known world. 

By the daughter of Pharaoh, Moses is identified as “Hebrew,” while by the daughter of Reuel, he is called an “Egyptian” (E, E’). He begins life as a man of two worlds—one of servanthood and poverty living among the servant class; the other of palaces and the peak of status. Later, he is driven from his people of birth and finds a wife and builds a family among a foreign people. Of course, both sides of the parallel pattern above speak to the life of Christ incarnate. He was simultaneously king and servant during his earthly ministry, and later, in the works he continued to do through his Spirit, he married a foreign (Gentile) bride and birthed a family of sojourners/wanderers (1 Pet. 1:1; 2:11). Jordan ties Moses’ meeting of his future bride at a well to stories of both Isaac and Jacob, whose wives are met at wells, the three patriarchs being types of Jesus’ eventual presentation of himself “as the True Groom to a Samaritan divorcee and adulteress at a well (John 4:6-26).”[iii]This detail only enhances the obvious typological connection of our passage to the overall pattern of Scripture which finds its fulfillment in Jesus.

Both sides of the literary structure culminate in what takes place “after those days”—a phrase occurring only in these two places in the book of Exodus. (The last phrase adds the word “many” but is the same Hebrew makeup otherwise.) In both cases, the suffering of the people of God is discovered and Moses will be prompted/commanded to visit his people and address their oppressors personally (2:10-11d, 23-24).

Our structure, as with all of Hebrew literature, is using a parallel as a kind of narrative guide to lead us to the most important piece for our personal meditation, which is found, quite predictably, in the center (J). In verses 11e-14 lies the crux of what the original writing is pointing toward and it is the only part of the structure without a parallel piece. The author wants us to be particularly focused on this set of events, recounted in brief, which occurred when he first visited his people and sought to ease their suffering. 

Looking closely at these verses becomes particularly insightful when laid alongside the account of Jesus’ as it could be painted using just a few broad strokes. Consider that this center section begins when Moses, having left his palace home to see the suffering of his people, comes across an Egyptian beating an Israelite—one of his people (v. 11). The Egyptian obviously represents the “threat from without”—an oppressor who subjects the Moses’ people to harsh cruelty in a most unjust manner. Moses takes matters into his own hands, killing the tormentor—a representative of a much greater tyrant who oppresses all of Moses’ relatives (v. 12). 

After the death of the tormentor, Moses returns the next day and this time sees two Israelites struggling together. Ascertaining which one is clearly in the wrong (“threat from within”), Moses addresses him, asking why he is beating his neighbor (v. 13.). The response he receives is one of disdain, a rejection of any authority he might potentially seek to exercise as a savior of his people from their desperate plight. The one in the wrong curtly asks who has made Moses either a prince or a judge over the Israelites. Really? A prince or judge? That sounds oddly like questions that will be asked of another Savior of Israel over a thousand years in the future (cp. Matt. 21:23; John 5:18 [cp. 5:27]). The comment about the death of the Egyptian oppressor leads Moses to the conclusion that his actions are known and his life is likely in danger. His suspicions are proven correct and this is where the second cycle in our parallel structure begins.

So throughout the structure we have this series of events: (1) The future savior of Israel is born at a time when his life is threatened, even in his infancy; (2) he is a savior belonging to two different worlds—one of lowest esteem and one of highest privilege; (3) his name is a portent of what God will use him to do as a future rescuer of his people; (4) he is prompted by his people’s suffering to strive to change their desperate circumstances and remove their oppression; (5) he takes a small step in lifting the oppression suffered by his people; (6) his questioning of the one in the wrong who is doing his neighbor harm is met with disdain and derisive rejection; (7) this leads to a threat on his life from the highest earthly authority; (8) his life continues, though his ministry of saving people from oppression is moved into a Gentile context following his rejection and narrow escape; (8) he rescues a foreign family in this new Gentile setting, providing sheep with water and finding a home and a bride in the process; (9) he has a son whom he names Sojourner because he now finds himself a foreigner in a foreign land. 

When we read this way, are we not forced to ask the question of whom the text is actually speaking? Is this the life of Moses or the life of Jesus? Considering what Jesus taught in Luke 24:27 it seems we are forced to answer inclusively. The fact that the center is the encapsulation of Moses’ time visiting his people in response to their suffering—his initial removal of an oppressor, and his rejection by the Israelite brother who is “in the wrong,” dismissing that he could possibly be in a position of prince or judge—is striking when considered in this light. The Scriptures are telling a story, alright, and it is one in the same story over and over. 

The Torah instructs the Israelites that one like Moses will come to them in the future (Deut. 18:18). He will deliver and lead and guide, all in the power and strength and intimate communion with the Lord God. He will free his people from their overlords by the use of miracles and mighty acts of God. He will meet with God face-to-face, as no other besides Moses had ever done (Ex. 33:11). And it just so happens that he will be threatened with death as an infant, will be a child of dual-existence, will be rejected as a prince and judge of his people, and will find a Gentile bride—a shepherdess—through whom he will bear children who are called foreigners and strangers in a land not their own.

It is unfortunate that this kind of thinking is so foreign to the church of today when, in fact, it was at that heart of Christian biblical study and understanding for the vast majority of the Christian era. Approaching a story that yields not only such sublime literary artistry but also a depth of specific detail connected directly to the one and only story at the center of our faith should leave us in stunned awe. Not because we are taken aback by the obviously beautiful structuring which utilizes a complicatedly intricate pattern to convey its rich depth of meaning. More than that, the pattern points not only to a center, but a Center that is far beyond its temporal setting. 

The crux of meaning for this story cannot be known in its completeness for more than a thousand years after its original authorship. Like a map, its key is found outside the setting it displays. All the intricate details can only be deciphered with a legend revealed by the Cartographer. When the key is revealed the pieces fall into place in perfect order. The great elevations and immeasurable depths virtually leap off the page because now the traveler understands what the colors and lines and words mean and how each interacts with the other. 

Moses is a savior, to be sure. He is a shepherd. He is rejected and maligned by the great oppressor of his people, as well as many of those he came to save. He is forced to leave his home because of this rejection and finds acceptance among a foreign people where he builds a family and continues to shepherd the sheep under his authority. But a failure to see that this story speaks far beyond its own temporal boundaries is, at least, shortsighted and, at most, egregiously reductionistic. 

We are not called to simply be readers of the text. We are called to be students of it—even living displays. Doing this requires a full engagement of body, heart, soul, and mind. This very premise requires us to go beyond the surface of the text and to allow Jesus’ words about the hermeneutic of his life, death, resurrection, and spiritual outworking through his people to provide our primary interpretive approach to the Word. Like a good doctor, we cannot expect all the pieces of the puzzle to lie directly on the surface allowing for quick diagnosis and subsequent prescription. We must look deeper than the surface, identifying indicators that can only be determined through finely honed skills of detection and with an eye that sees more than the symptoms which are obvious to all, beyond the skin of the text to the very heart and lungs that give it life.

Jesus is that life. He is that heart. He is that breath. In Him the Word of God lives. Indeed, He is the Word. We should be no more surprised to find him subtly tucked into every text of Scripture than we should be to find water in every part of the body, no matter how seemingly small or unnecessary. 

Jesus himself said every iota and dot would be fulfilled before any would pass away. Really? Fulfilled? It is a strange word to use about single letters, or even pieces of letters, in the Torah. It would be one thing to say they were each meaningful, but to say they would all be fulfilled? Do even pieces of letters carry a hint of the prophetic message in them? How are we to take such a statement? 

Regardless of the answer to that question, our passage above is made up of a great deal more than one letter. If a piece of a letter can be fulfilled, then surely an entire passage of several sentences carries with it the hope of fulfillment and a greater extent of meaning than can be identified readily on the surface. Certainly, ours does. It is in the obvious nature of the passage itself: savior appears → is named according to future mission → rejection →(attempted) execution →Gentile bride →foreign children. What we have here is no haphazard retelling of past events, providing cohesion to tradition.  We have the written story before the historic event—the light even before the switch is turned on. In fact, it is the light, itself, through which the switch was brought into being. 

Now, I am no electrician, but that sounds a bit out of order to me. Like the light, this text must be coming from an outside source. Unlike the light, however, the source of the text is traceable. The only question will be, are we willing to admit what we find when we get there?

Eric Robinson lives in Lubbock, Texas, and is the author of Jesus in the Shadows.

[i]Leithart points out Moses’ description as a “beautiful” (Heb., “good”) child may well be link to earlier descriptions of both Joseph and Noah, both chosen saviors of the world in their times and, therefore, both Christ-types. This provides yet another typological connection establishing the current case (The Beautiful Child,[January, 1991]).

[ii]James Jordan, Through New Eyes (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1988), 202.

[iii]Jordan, 190.

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