Friday, May 4, 2018

Book Write-Up: Echoes of Exodus

Bryan D. Estelle.  Echoes of Exodus: Tracing a Biblical Motif.  IVP Academic, 2018.  See here to purchase the book.

Bryan D. Estelle teaches Old Testament at Westminster Seminary California.  His Ph.D. is from Catholic University of America.  In Echoes of Exodus: Tracing a Biblical Motif, Estelle examines the motif of the Exodus as it appears in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament.

Here is a summary of the chapters, though some of my summaries of the chapters will sometimes draw from things in the book outside of the particular chapters.

In the “Introduction,” Estelle offers personal biographical information about his academic interest in the Exodus motif in the Bible.  He summarizes what the coming chapters are about, but he also brings up an issue that he will revisit a few times.  This issue is the debate over whether Christian salvation is primarily forensic (God legally and judicially declares believers righteous) or participationist (believers are in Christ).  Estelle believes that both are true, yet he feels a need to emphasize individual salvation when discussing Paul’s writings.  Estelle also depicts God’s deliverance of Israel as legal: God had a right to deliver God’s firstborn, Israel, from Egypt.  Still, Estelle acknowledges a communal dimension to God’s work, for the theme that God created a people through the Exodus also occurs in this book.

Chapter 1 concerns Estelle’s “Hermeneutical Foundations.”  Estelle discusses intertextuality and how texts can echo other texts, in the minds of authors and readers.  Estelle seeks to value what the biblical writings meant in their original contexts.  At the same time, he believes that how subsequent biblical authors interpreted previous biblical motifs is important, as well.  Moreover, he maintains that there is ultimately a divine author of Scripture, and that the divine intent may go beyond the intent of the Old Testament authors.  Typology will play a significant role in this book, as Estelle frequently asserts that the Promised Land is a type of the World to Come.  On what basis does Estelle assert this?  Well, for one, there is a synchronic dimension in Estelle’s biblical interpretation, as he holds that there is a divine author of the Old and New Testament; such an approach is conducive to interpreting the Old Testament in light of the New.  Second, Estelle believes that the promises inherent in the original Exodus and the new Exodus described in the prophets are too grand to be confined to historical events: they depict a restored relationship with God and, in the case of the new Exodus, paradise.  For Estelle, they exert a pressure on the New Testament authors, who interpreted them in light of Jesus.

Chapter 2 is entitled “The Past is Prologue: Creation and Exodus.”  For Estelle, there are themes in Genesis that are pertinent to the Exodus.  In Genesis 1, God creates the world amidst chaos after dividing the waters and makes human beings, who have covenant obligations towards God.  The culmination of creation is rest.  In Genesis 2-3, Adam and Eve serve in God’s Edenic sanctuary but disqualify themselves.  God cleanses the earth of wickedness through the Flood and reinforces two things in God’s covenants with Noah: common grace and a godly people.  Common grace is the order that God establishes so that society is peaceful enough for God’s salvific activity to occur there.  Legal systems are a significant feature of common grace.  But Noah’s family was also God’s people, set apart on account of their righteousness.  What do these themes have to do with the Exodus?  Well, in the Exodus, we see God separating waters and creating a people for God-self, leading them to a place of rest (the Promised Land).  The goal of the Exodus was the establishment of God’s sanctuary, in the wilderness and ultimately in Zion.  Themes of creation out of water, a holy people, and a sanctuary occur in Genesis and Exodus.

Chapter 3, “The Exodus Motif: A Paradigm of Evocation,” discusses the Song of the Sea in Exodus 15.  Estelle presents arguments for a twelfth century date, while acknowledging that there are arguments out there for a later date (which he does not engage).  What Estelle notices in Exodus 15 is that the goal of the Exodus is worship at Zion.

Chapter 4, “The Psalms and the Exodus Motif,” concerns the theme of the Exodus in the Psalms.  The Exodus comforts the Psalmist that God will defeat the chaos in Israel’s world, even though Israel is sinful.

Chapter 5, “Isaiah’s Rhapsody,” focuses on Isaiah 40-55.  Estelle believes that Isaiah 40-55 depicts Israel’s restoration from the Babylonian exile as a new Exodus, yet he also maintains that the Servant Songs envision an Exodus even greater than that: the Exodus that Christ shall bring.

In Chapter 6, “Exile and Post-Exile: The Second Exodus Revisited,” Estelle mentions allusions to the Exodus in the Book of Ezekiel.  He also shows that, in Ezra-Nehemiah, there was a sense that Israel was still in exile, even after her restoration from Babylonian captivity.  Do the prophetic promises have a later fulfillment?

Chapter 7 is about “Jesus as the New Exodus in Mark and Matthew.”  Jesus came offering Israel forgiveness and a new beginning, and Exodus themes played a key role in his life.  He was proclaimed to be God’s Son at baptism, as Israel was God’s firstborn son.  He went into the wilderness as Israel did, only he was faithful to his divine mission.  Yet, Jesus’ mission reinterpreted the Exodus, in that Jesus would travel the path of death in delivering people.

Chapter 8 concerns “The Exodus Motif in Luke-Acts.”  In Luke-Acts, Jesus delivers people from the power of Satan, by delivering them from disease, the impossible burden of seeking salvation through the Law of Moses, and idolatry.  This echoes God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt.

Chapter 9 is about “The Exodus Motif in Paul.”  Paul talks about deliverance from sin, death, and the law.  Paul also appeals to the Exodus in discussing the Christian’s spiritual journey, which is individual and communal.

Chapter 10 concerns “The Exodus Motif in 1 Peter.”  I Peter regards Jesus as the Passover lamb delivering people, and he sees the church as a holy people, as Israel was to be holy after the Exodus.
Chapter 11 focuses on the Book of Revelation, in which the saints are delivered from the world and the Beast’s tyranny, as Israel was delivered from Egypt.

I liked this statement by Estelle in the “Conclusion”: “Knowing that one is forgiven, completely and freely, matters greatly for demonstrable, grateful obedience in the Christian life.  Demonstrable holiness is necessary for entitlement in the world-to-come, but this should not be construed in such a manner as to endanger the doctrines of free grace.”  (Page 325)

Some of Estelle’s parallels are stronger than others.  In some cases, the New Testament explicitly appeals to the Exodus-Wilderness-Inheritance.  Sometimes, language is used that may echo those things, such as the concept of leading (as God through Moses led Israel).  And one has to admit: the theme of deliverance from slavery, a key feature of the Exodus, recurs in the New Testament.  The idea that this theme in the New Testament echoes the Exodus is not far-fetched.

There was territory that Estelle did not cover.  Elijah and Elisha split the water in II Kings 2:8, 14, for example, which is probably an echo of the Exodus.  What is the significance of that?  Can that be tied into Estelle’s larger scenario?  The Exodus motif also occurs prior to Isaiah 40-55, in First Isaiah.  In Isaiah 11:15-16, there is a prediction of an Exodus from Assyria.  Did that historically happen?

The book may be edifying reading for Christians or Messianic Jews during the Passover season.  A lot of its conclusions were not earth-shakingly new to me, but there were some scholarly tangents that made the book interesting.  Estelle’s discussion of intertextuality was also very lucid.  As someone who had to read dense, abstruse articles on intertextuality for a class years ago, I appreciated Estelle’s discussion.  His sections would be useful for students who have to engage this topic.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher.  My review is honest.

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