This article is part of the Why Study the Book? series.
The Past as a Window to the Present
When we meet someone for the first time, we often ask a series of questions in order to get to know them better: “What’s your name?” “What do you do for a living?” “Do you have any hobbies?” These questions give us basic information about this new person—what we should call them, how they support themselves, and what their interests are. However, while these questions are certainly helpful for becoming acquainted with a new person, there is another question we often ask that is arguably most important for truly getting to know someone: “Where are you from?”
This last question is particularly important because knowing where a person is from is the tip of a much larger iceberg: knowing their story. Everybody’s life story begins somewhere, and once a person begins telling their story, we are immediately transported to the past and introduced to the people, places, and events that have shaped them into the person they are today. Without this knowledge of significant defining moments from a person’s past, we cannot truly know who they are in the present.
The Past of God’s People as a Window to the Present
The same logic applies to knowing who we are as God’s people today. We don’t truly understand who we are as the church of Jesus Christ unless we know our own story, and this “life story” of God’s people extends all the way back beyond the time of Jesus and into the Old Testament period.
Just as each of us has various defining moments in our lives that have shaped who we are today, so there are various defining moments in the life of Israel that have shaped the identity of God’s people throughout the ages. Two of these major defining moments in Israel’s story are the exodus from Egypt and the giving of the law at Sinai, both of which are recorded for us in the book of Exodus.
The centrality of the exodus for Israel’s identity was maintained through several of their annual feasts (e.g., the Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Booths) as well as by the common description of God as the one who “brought you out of the land of Egypt” (e.g., Ex. 20:2; Lev. 11:45; Num. 15:41; Deut. 5:6; Judg. 2:1; 6:8; 2 Kgs. 17:36; Ps. 81:10; Amos 2:10; Mic. 6:4). The importance of the law for Israel’s identity is evident in that their actions throughout their history were judged according to this standard, and their failure to keep it resulted in their exile from the promised land (2 Kgs. 17:7–20).
Both of these shaping events in Israel’s story give us important insight into who we are as God’s people today. The Gospels present Jesus as bringing about a new “exodus” for God’s people (Mark 1:1–13; Luke 9:31, see ESV footnote), and the New Testament is replete with instructions for God’s people to keep his commands (John 14:15; 15:10, 14; 1 John 5:3). Collectively, this shows us that Israel’s experience with God in the book of Exodus is a foretaste of the church’s experience with this same God through the work of Jesus.
Exodus and the Church Today
So as we think about who we are as the church today, we cannot have an accurate grasp of our identity without having a firm understanding of the events that the book of Exodus records for us. This applies both to our understanding of the saving work of Jesus as well as the responsibilities that he has given to us as his people. However, by carefully attending to this very important book we are able to see “where we are from” as God’s people, and in so doing we will understand more fully not only who we are, but also who our God is.