SOTM: Background, Part 5 (Exodus in the Background)

SOTMAs is true of much of the NT, the early portions of Matthew closely parallel the Exodus. We’ve already seen in the recent series on 1Co how Exodus informs our understanding of chapters 8 – 10.

There are also fascinating parallels with Moses himself in Matthew.

Consider —

* Both Jesus and Moses were threatened by death as infants from a wicked king.

* Both Jesus and Moses spent their early years in Egypt, although Moses stayed much longer.

* Jesus began his ministry being baptized in the Jordan. Moses began his mission to the Promised Land crossing the Red Sea. (Paul makes the comparison between the Red Sea and baptism explicit in 1Co 8.)

* Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness fasting, where he was tempted by Satan. Israel spent 40 years in the wilderness eating only what God provided, leading to many temptations by Satan.

* God introduces himself to Israel at Mt. Sinai, delivering a series of relationship-defining teachings. Jesus introduces himself to Israel at an unnamed mount, delivering a series of relationship-defining teachings.

We can’t help but notice how often Jesus compares and contrasts his teachings to the Torah in the SOTM. He is, of course, more contrasting his own teachings to the interpretations of the Torah made by the rabbis, rather than the true meaning of the words of Moses. In fact, he insists that the Torah remains authoritative in some sense —

(Mat 5:17-20 ESV) “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

We’ll deal more with this passage when we get there.

Now, in the First Century, the Jews considered Moses as something of a superhero. He was not only the man through whom God had delivered them from slavery, but the greatest of the prophets and judges, the ultimate leader of Israel, a man with whom God spoke “face to face.” He even dared argue with God, once persuading God not to destroy Israel. He was their mediator and advocate before the Lord.

Hence, as Jesus subtly compares himself to Moses, he is making similar claims for himself. He’s not yet ready to announce himself as the Messiah, but he is plainly claiming a position of authority at least equal to that of Moses. And to any good Jew, this would bring to mind this familiar (to them) passage —

(Deu 18:15-19 ESV) “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers — it is to him you shall listen — 16 just as you desired of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ 17 And the LORD said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19 And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.”

And many Jews considered this passage to speak of the Messiah.

It’s important to realize that the Jews, like most non-Western people, often thought more in terms of story than logical propositions. In fact, among the Jews, stories were often acted out. (Ezekiel begins with several vivid examples of this.) Hence, it was far more important for Jesus to act like the Messiah than to claim to be the Messiah.

We Westerners don’t pick up on the clues, because we expect to be taught in terms of simple propositions: verbal truth claims. But in the East, messages were more powerfully communicated symbolically. Thus, when John the Baptist chose to dress like Elijah and to minister in areas where Elijah had prophesied, he not only claimed to be like Elijah, but he was charging the powers in place with sin comparable to that of Jezebel and Ahab and the Jews with being as far removed from God as Israel had been in Elijah’s day.

Just so, Jesus, by stepping into the sandals of Moses, was telling the Jews that they were in slavery and in need of a Redeemer. And by re-enacting Mt. Sinai, Jesus was announcing the time for a new covenant with God — because Sinai is where the Mosaic covenant was made.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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5 Responses to SOTM: Background, Part 5 (Exodus in the Background)

  1. laymond says:

    Amen and Hallelujah 🙂

  2. Mark says:

    This is a very good post. I know it won’t get the attention that the baptism posts did but this goes to the nature of Jesus, something long forgotten about.

  3. Alabama John says:

    How I look forward to this series. Thank You Jay!!!

  4. Dwight says:

    John 6:32 “Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.’
    There are numerous times where Jesus is called superior to Moses.

    Sometimes it is easier to see something that isn’t there in the way we want to see it.
    They saw Moses as this great person and yet they knew that he was flawed, but since they didn’t have Moses in front of them in his perfectness/flawed personage, they could make out of him what they wanted him to be. To the Jews Moses was a god.
    In Jesus they had the opposite problem. They knew that Jesus did things that only a God could do, but Jesus was standing right in front of them as a man. They saw him therefore as a man, the son of Joseph. The apostles also had this problem. They could not envision God in the flesh, when there was but a man standing right in front of them.
    Doubting Thomas could be any one of us when faced with something we are grasping to understand in the face of what we can see verses what we should know.
    Now when Jesus died and wasn’t there in front of them, this loosened them up from what they could see to what they knew to be true.
    We also have this issue in not looking past what we think we see right in front of us to what we know is true. Thank God God is patient with us and provides plenty of clues and direct statements. If we miss these than we really don’t have too many excuses.

  5. R.J. says:

    “but he was charging the powers in place with sin comparable to that of Jezebel and Ahab and the Jews with being as far removed from God as Israel had been in Elijah’s day”.

    I wouldn’t say comparable to those two beasts(e.g. slowly roasting live infants upon the scalding-hot embrace of Moloch). But unfaithful and perverse indeed with many hypocritical scribes who would do anything for almighty lucre(lie, cheat, steal, even murder). Though they got rid of all visibility of idolatry. Yet their hearts were still in love with Mammon!

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