Christ the Meaning of all Scripture, Life and History (Part 1)
Chapter 2 — The Historical Pattern of the Old Testament
The great acts of God in Old Testament history are stamped with characteristics which show they are the work of one Author. There is a recurring pattern of divine activity, a recapitulating history of events.
We will briefly survey this recurring historical pattern in the main events of the Old Testament
—the Creation, the Flood, the Exodus and the post-Exilic deliverance.
Features of the Creation Event
1. There is Creation chaos (Gen. 1:2; cf. Jer. 4:23).
2. The waters cover the earth (Gen. 1:2).
3. The Spirit overshadows the earth (Gen. 1:2).
4. The waters are divided (Gen. 1:6).
5. The dry land appears (Gen. 1:10).
6. The animals appear (Gen. 1:24).
7. Man is made in God's image (Gen. 1:27).
8. Man is given dominion over the creatures and the earth (Gen. 1:28, 29).
9. Adam is put to sleep, and Eve is formed from a rib taken from his side (Gen. 2:21-24).
10. The pattern of the covenantal kingdom appears in this record. Here are the people of God in God's place and under God's rule.
The main intent of the Genesis record is not to give biological or geological information. It is to give theological information. This pattern was not only established by Jesus Christ. As we will see, it exists for the sake of Jesus Christ (Col. 1:16).
Features of the Flood Event
1. There is a world chaos (Gen. 7:11).
2. The waters cover the earth (Gen. 7:19, 20).
3. The wind blows on the waters (Gen. 8:1).
4. The dry land appears (Gen. 8:13, 14).
5. Noah is given dominion over the creatures, and the mandate—first given to Adam—to subdue and populate the earth is repeated (Gen. 9:1, 2).
6. The covenant is renewed (Gen. 8:20-22).
Essential features of the Creation act are repeated in the destruction of the old world and the emergence of the new at the time of the Flood. Not all features are represented in the recurring pattern of divine activity. But there is sufficient recurrence to establish a clear pattern.
Features of the Exodus Event
1. The Hebrew nation is created.
2. The waters of the Red Sea are divided (Ex. 14:21, 22; cf. Isa. 51:9~111).
3. Israel is told to possess the promised land of Canaan, to subdue it and to exercise dominion under the rule of God.
4. God enters into covenant with Israel. This exhibits the pattern of the covenantal kingdom—the people of God in God's place (the promised land) and under God's rule.
The Exodus has other features which give this event special significance. Some are reminiscent of Eden. The manna in the desert reminds us of the tree of life. The serpents which bit the people remind us of the serpent which deceived Eve. Israel's testing in the wilderness reminds us of Adam's testing in Eden. There is not an exact correspondence between the two events, but the recurring pattern is evident. New features in the Exodus show us that covenantal history is not merely cyclical. Each new event not only recapitulates the past. It transcends it. So covenantal history moves forward.2
Other features of the Exodus have an important place in the recurring pattern of events:
1. Israel is called God's firstborn son (Ex. 4:22, 23).
2. Moses, the deliverer, is hid from the wrath of the king and escapes the slaughter of the baby boys (Ex. 1:22-2:6).
3. Israel is saved by the Passover blood (Ex. 12).
4. Israel passes through the sea (Isa. 63:11-14).
5. Israel is brought into the wilderness and is tested for forty years (Deut. 8:2, 3).
6. The people murmur against God and break the covenant, yet God gives them manna from heaven, water from the rock, a pillar of fire to lead them, a symbol of his presence in the tabernacle, and healing by the brazen serpent.
7. Israel crosses the Jordan and enters the promised land.
The Exodus event dominates the skyline of Old Testament history. It towers over the consciousness of Israel for all time to come. All future history is understood in the light of that event. This deliverance becomes the pattern for all future deliverances.
Features of the Post-Exilic Deliverance
The Old Testament presents a recurring pattern of captivity and restoration. This is a witness to the infidelity of man and to the faithfulness of God. His undeserving people have sold themselves into captivity. But God delivers them because He is the covenant-keeping God. The books of Judges and Kings record many deliverances. Each is a mini-Exodus. And a thousand years after the Exodus from Egypt there is another great Exodus from Babylon.
Israel's captivity and bondage to Pharaoh recapitulate Adam's captivity in Eden. Israel's rescue through the Red Sea recapitulates Noah's rescue from the waters of the Flood. Likewise, the captivity of the Jews in Babylon for seventy years recapitulates the Egyptian bondage. God's act in delivering His people from Babylon recapitulates the Exodus. The prophets depict this coming deliverance from Babylon (and sometimes from Assyria) as the Exodus redivivus (Ezek. 20:33-37; Hosea 2:14, 15; cf. Isa. 4:5; 10:24-27; 11:11, 12, 16; 40:3-5; 41:17, 18; 42:16; 43:16-19; 44:27; 48:20, 21; 51:9-11; Jer. 51:36; Ezek. 16; Micah 7:15-17).
The Exodus event dominates the skyline of Old Testament history. It towers over the consciousness of Israel for all time to come.
In Isaiah 40-66 the prophet uses Mosaic imagery to describe the liberation from Babylon. The Lord will again dry up the waters, this time the river Euphrates.3 He will redeem His people and lead them through the desert, providing them with food, water, light and shelter. He will renew the courtship, restore the covenant (Jer. 31; Ezek. 16; 20:33-37; Hosea 2:14, 15) and return His people to their own land.
The prophets, especially Isaiah, show that the deliverance from Babylon will not only be the Exodus redivivus. It will be Creation redivivus. The glory of the coming deliverance is too great to describe in terms of the Exodus. It demands the language of Eden. Dangerous and vicious beasts will become docile. The desert will blossom as the rose. And the wilderness will become like Eden (Isa. 11:6-9; 35:1, 10; 55:12, 13; 65:17-19).
When the decree of Cyrus released the Jews, only a feeble company returned to Palestine. In the face of great adversity they restored the sanctuary desolated by the Babylonians. But the prophets had more in mind than this event when they spoke of the glory which should attend the Exodus redivivus. As Israel remembered and celebrated the first Exodus, they began to realize that the real Exodus promised by the prophets was still to come. The past therefore became the pattern for the future. Even more, it was the symbol and pledge of the expected future deliverance. This is the significance of the recurring divine activity, this recapitulating history of events. The prophets inspired Israel with the hope that history was moving to a destined goal, a telos point, a day when God would recapitulate His saving act for His people in one final drama of redemption.
This is why the Old Testament is an unfinished book. The post-Exilic deliverance was not the final drama of redemption. The marvelous resurrection of Israel (Ezek. 37) pointed forward to another "coming up out of the sea," another restoration of the sanctuary and another resurrection that would exceed all others and bring history to its appointed end.
1 According to some scholars this passage in Isaiah is not only a reference to the Red Sea deliverance, but to God's victory over the chaotic waters at Creation.
2 The non-Hebrews of the ancient world thought of times as a circle going nowhere. The recapitulating history of events in the Old Testament should not lead us to think that the Hebrews thought of time as a circle. There is a recurring pattern. But in each recurring event the former event is not only gathered up, but transcended. History is a straight line moving inexorably forward to God's eschatological event. This was the Hebraic (Old Testament) concept of time. Time was a straight line moving somewhere.
3 The sea and water are often used to represent trouble, persecution and oppression by Satan through ungodly powers (Isa. 8; 17:12, 13). The unruly, turbulent waters at Creation represent the place of the dragon, sometimes called leviathan or Rahab. At the Exodus the dragons is left defeated at the bottom of the sea (Job 26; 12, 13; Ps. 68:22; 74: 12-17; 89:10, 11; Isa. 27:1; 44:27 ; 51:9-11; 60:5; Dan 7:1, 2; Rev. 12:6-16; 17:1, 3, 15).