We all know the Bible is filled with amazing parallels, in which earlier people and events foreshadow later people and events. God has an artistic way of arranging history and inspiring Scripture that allows us to see patterns in his redemptive work.
This is exactly what we see with Moses in Exodus, particularly its early chapters (typically referred to as his birth narrative). Moses doesn’t just serve as Israel’s redeemer and savior; he serves as a preview of Israel’s experience—almost like a movie trailer. Moses’s life experience follows a pattern of death and resurrection that will later be repeated by Israel, as well as by someone greater than Moses.
Into the Waters of Death
Before Yahweh led Israel through the waters of death and rebirth by the hand of Moses their shepherd, he caused Moses to survive such a water ordeal himself.
The story begins with Moses’s birth as the context for what follows: his deliverance through the waters of the Nile and consequent naming. Pharaoh has just charged his people to cast every son born to the Israelites into the river (Ex. 1:22). The river thus comes to symbolize death, and Moses’s mother must surrender her son to these waters of death.
But first she constructs a little ark for him. The word for ark (tevah) appears only here and in the flood story (Gen. 6–9); it seems to be an Egyptian word signifying a chest or coffin. As James Cooper Gray puts it, “The Savior of Israel was laid in a coffin, and taken from a watery grave.”
Delivered from the Waters of Death
As with the flood story, however, the ark is a means of salvation from the waters of death. Noah and his family emerge from the ark’s door to populate the newly cleansed earth (Gen. 8:15–19), so the ark functions more like a womb than a tomb.
In the first half of the flood narrative the waters represent death and destruction (Gen. 7), only to give way to the idea of life and new creation (Gen. 8)—beginning with God’s sending of a wind (ruakh) over the waters so that dry land appears (Gen. 8:1).
The Savior of Israel was laid in a coffin, and taken from a watery grave.
Similarly, the imagery in Moses’s rebirth story transitions from death to life when the daughter of Pharaoh descends into the river to cleanse herself (Ex. 2:5). Her maidens, like attendant midwives, bring the ark to her, and when she opens it she sees the child. In this beautifully crafted account, the word for “child” (Ex. 2:6) is the exact center of the story, bracketed on both sides by 70 words.
Preview of the Red Sea
Moses’s symbolic resurrection through the waters also serves as a prelude to Israel’s deliverance through the Red Sea (Ex. 14–15). Besides the imagery of death and resurrection, the two accounts share a number of details. Moses’s ark, for example, is set among the reeds (sûp) on the shore of the river (Ex. 2:3, 5), which serves as a link to the Sea of Reeds (sûp; Ex. 10:19; 13:18; 15:4, 22) through which Israel will be delivered.
The phrase “upon the bank” of the river (Ex. 2:3) is paralleled when Israel sees the Egyptians dead “upon the bank” of the sea (Ex. 14:30). Morever, Miriam is present at both events (Ex. 2:4, 7; 15:21). Her standing at a distance to know what would be done to the baby is echoed by Israel’s being called to stand and see the salvation of Yahweh (Ex. 14:13).
Following the Exodus Pattern
In the Bible, deliverance through water is only the first part of a wider pattern. For our purposes we may refer to this movement as an exodus pattern (though, since salvation is a new act of creation, it’s really a creation pattern).
- In Genesis 1–3 the earth is delivered through the primal waters and Adam is brought to the Eden mount.
- In Genesis 6–9, Noah is delivered through the floodwaters and brought to an Ararat mount.
- In Exodus, Israel is delivered through the seawaters and brought to Sinai’s mount.
- Eventually, Israel will be brought through the Jordan waters for life with God in the land, centered on Mount Zion.
After being brought through the waters of the Nile, Moses comes “to the mountain of God” (Ex. 3:1). Israel’s forerunner conforms to the broader exodus pattern. In history, 80 years elapse between Moses’s deliverance through the waters and his encounter with God at the mountain, but Moses is already in the wilderness within five verses of his rebirth (Ex. 2:15), making the pattern all the more apparent.
In the Bible, deliverance through water is only the first part of a wider pattern.
The parallels could be developed further: Moses spent 40 years in the wilderness before returning to Egypt as Israel’s savior (Ex. 7:7; Acts 7:23), and Israel, because of unbelief and rebellion, would be judged to wander the wilderness for 40 years (Num. 14:33). Also, during his original entrance into the wilderness, Moses stood and saved Jethro’s seven daughters from desert rogues and then watered their flock (Ex. 2:15–17), foreshadowing his later supply of water for Israel in the wilderness (Ex. 15:22–27; Num. 20:1–13).
Someone Greater Than Moses
What do we make of all these parallels and more? The point is that the mediator for God’s people must first experience the journey for their sakes, to lead them along the same path. In a similar though infinitely more wondrous manner, the Lord Jesus went through the exodus pattern, being delivered from death and the grave and brought to the Father’s heavenly presence—to become our pioneer in salvation.
The Lord Jesus went through the exodus pattern to become our pioneer in salvation.
This is the great message of Hebrews: that the Son of God took on himself our humanity through the incarnation, becoming a little lower than the angels so that, through his atoning suffering and death and by his resurrection and ascension to God’s right hand, he may now lead his flock as the shepherd and forerunner into the same resurrection glory, even to the city God has prepared for his people.
Through Christ’s journey, he has opened the way to God and is now, by that same experience in our humanity, able to sympathize with our weaknesses and bitter sufferings along the way (Heb. 2:10; 4:15; 6:20).