A Cultural Narrative
I think our culture’s understanding of freedom, in large part, is a narrative that says when you break from the oppression of an external force, then you’re free to be who you want to be.
That’s the cultural narrative that Israel’s story initially validates as well. Israel is oppressed with literal whips and chains. And they have to go and build bricks without straw. But then they get liberated and are set free. And yet, the exodus story does not end happily ever after at all.
The Oppression of Sin
In fact, half of the book of Exodus is about what happens after they’ve left Egypt. One of the things you very quickly realize about Israel’s rebellion—through the golden calf story in the book of Numbers and through stories of their wanderings—is that they have made a mess of things.
Initially, you think Israel had been freed from the external oppression, but the sin—indwelling sin that constrains them—is actually a bigger threat.
You need to be liberated from an external power and an internal power.
It’s like they need to be liberated twice. They absolutely need to be liberated from external things: injustice and oppression. But, they also need to be liberated from the sin inside them, which makes them want to worship idols, sleep around, get drunk, grumble and murmur, and lack in faith as they do in the desert.
In a sense, the exodus story explains that there are two types of freedom you need. There are two things from which you need to be redeemed. There is a power over and against you that is trying to crush you. And you need someone stronger to come along and break it and throw it into the sea. That’s what Jesus does with death.
But you also have a power within that is trying to draw you away to worship idols, to compromise, to go and make yourself God rather than submitting to the living God.
And that’s the problem of sin. That’s what Jesus came to die to set you free from and to overthrow. Therefore, the cross and resurrection Gospel come together in the exodus story.
You need to be liberated from sin and death. You need to be liberated from an external power and an internal power. And it’s only if both of them happen that you will be free to press on into the Promised Land and receive your inheritance.
Our culture has gotten half of the story right, but it’s missing the other half. The exodus story provides a powerful corrective to the half-told truth of our cultural narrative.
In some ways the exodus is a death and resurrection story, but in many other ways the death and resurrection of Jesus is an exodus story.
When God delivers Israel from Egypt in the book of Exodus, they are walking in the footsteps of the patriarchs.
The reason the exodus story is so important is partly that it is so foundational to the whole Old Testament.