True Freedom

by Cory Mansfield

Redemption is a theme that universally resonates within the hearts of everyone in the world. It is a topic that is desperately needed to be talked about and shared with a world shackled and ensnared by sin. In the book, Echoes of Exodus: Tracing Themes of Redemption through Scripture, authors Andrew Wilson and Alastair Roberts, show us how the theme of redemption is resounding throughout the entirety of the Scriptures. This excerpt will help give you a glimpse into the content of the book and the heart of the authors.

Escaping from Egypt is only the first half of the exodus. It is easy for us to forget this, in an age where freedom is understood as merely being freedom from: from oppression, from constraint, or whatever. This aspect of liberation, as wonderful as it is, is only half the deal. In the Scriptures, more emphasis is placed on the freedom for: for worship, for flourishing, for growth in obedience and joy and glory. Human beings are not designed to be free from all constraint, slaves to nothing but our own passions, triumphantly enthroned as our own masters, even our own gods. Everybody serves somebody. So the point of the exodus is not just for Israel to find deliverance from serving the old master. It is for them to find delight in serving the new one.

This powerful truth is at the heart of Christian discipleship. The opening question of the Heidelberg Catechism, one of the most beautiful statements of Christian doctrine, asks, “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” The answer is profound, exodus-shaped, and delightful: “That I am not my own, but belong, body and soul, in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.” The freest people in the world are those who are owned by someone else. Service is liberty. Obedience is joy.

That was God’s endgame with the exodus all along. Back in the burning bush, he described Moses’s mission like this: “When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain” (Ex. 3:12). You are currently servants to Pharaoh, God explained, but when we’re done, you will be servants to me. As it turns out, freedom from serving Pharaoh is the easy bit. From beginning to end, it takes only fourteen chapters. Freedom to serve God, on the other hand, takes forty years of wandering and the next four books.

The second half of the exodus begins with Israel’s journey to Sinai, which echoes the burning-bush journey of Moses in various ways. Israel, like Moses, finds food and water in the wilderness: the sweetening of the water, the arrival of manna and quail, and then water from the rock (Ex. 15:22–17:7). Israel, like Moses, fights off enemies at the source of water, triumphing through a shepherd’s staff (17:8–16). Then, like Moses, Israel meets Jethro, who provides food and friendship (18:1–27), be- fore arriving at Mount Sinai/Horeb, where the people are given both a commission and commandments (19–20). They also have two divine names revealed to them in the process (God-Heals-You and God-Is-My-Banner), just as Moses did (Yahweh and I am that I am).

The two halves of the exodus—freedom from serving Pharaoh and freedom to serve God—are summarized brilliantly at the start of the first commandment: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:2–3). The shape and nature of this service to the Lord is then filled out across the next nine commandments, and to this day, those ten rules encapsulate the shape of a life lived in liberated obedience. When the Ten Commandments are finished, to our surprise, the very next law concerns something quite obscure: what happens when a slave loves his master and wants to continue serving him even after he is entitled to leave (21:1–6). Yet a bit of reflection shows that even this reinforces the wider point about true freedom. When slaves, like Israel, love their masters, they will choose lifelong service over walking away. And the fact that the process for doing this involves blood and a doorpost (21:6) cannot help but remind us of the Passover.

Two major events dominate the rest of the book of Exodus, and both involve building a place of worship: the golden calf and the tabernacle, the false and the true, the problem and the solution. Israel’s worship of the golden calf is a classic fall story, with a command broken by the priest left in charge (Adam/Aaron), the blame shifted to someone else (Eve/Israel), the exposure of shame, a curse involving eating (dust/powder), death, the establishment of sword-wielding guardians (cherubim/Levites), and the separation of God from his people. It is the low point of Israel’s story so far. Yet Moses, the mediator, intercedes for Israel and urges God to continue dwelling among his people. The Lord relents, shows Moses his glory, reveals his name, and renews the covenant (Ex. 34:1–35), before coming to dwell in the tabernacle in glory as the book concludes (40:34). This key moment—“and Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (40:35)—marks a partial reversal of the fall, with a new Adam in a new garden and the dwelling place of God established again among humans. It also marks the undoing of Israel’s slavery: instead of being forced to build Pharaoh’s cities using bricks without straw, they have been invited to build God’s house with the best of their gold and silver. Israel, despite their disobedience, has now well and truly left the household of Pharaoh and joined the household of God, their new master.

Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy all, in their own ways, elaborate on what the freedom to serve the Lord looks like in practice. Leviticus is mostly a book of regulation, set at Sinai, and focuses on fellowship with God. Numbers is mostly a book of rebellion, set on the wilderness journey, and focuses on faith in God. Deuteronomy is mostly a book of reiteration, set in the land across the Jordan, and focuses on following God, culminating in the glorious promise that one day God will circumcise Israel’s hearts and not just their flesh. As hard as these books can be to read in places, their significance in the biblical story is massive, as they explain and show what the freedom to serve God—which was the whole point of the exodus in the first place—does and does not look like.

In Numbers, we also have something of a second exodus. Having been camped at Sinai for a year, Israel, including any foreigners among them, keeps the Passover (Num. 9:1–14), and then, led by the pillars of cloud and fire, moves out on their journey. They meet Jethro’s son, and travel for three days (10:29–36). They complain to Moses, and Moses laments that he is not able to do the job on his own, with the result that his leadership load is spread among the elders (11:1–30). God, once again, provides quail from the sky (11:31–35), water from the rock (20:1–13), and military victory (21:21–35). All of these echo the first exodus.

As they did in the first exodus, however, Israel falls. Spies steal into the land of Canaan to prepare for an invasion, but they bring back a bad report. Moses was on God’s mountain for forty days, and Israel builds a golden calf; the spies are in God’s land for forty days, and Israel abandons their destiny (Num. 14:1–12). Once again, Moses intercedes for them. Once again, God agrees not to destroy them, although a plague strikes some of the witnesses. This is not the last of Israel’s rebellions: the leadership attempts a coup (16:1–50), and, worse, the people engage in mass idolatry and sexual immorality at Moab (25:1–18), which resembles the golden calf incident so closely that we even have the same violent outcomes (a plague that brings death and a Levite taking up arms to kill idolatrous Israelites). This second exodus shows that God has not stopped loving Israel—but it also shows that Israel has not stopped loving evil.

The greatest threats to true freedom, it seems, do not come from external oppression but from within. Delivering Israel from slavery to Pharaoh took only ten plagues; delivering Israel from slavery to self, sin, sex, greed, and idolatry took ten commandments and ten separate trials and corresponding judgments (Num. 14:22), and ended up with an entire generation dying in the wilderness—and even then, the problems persisted. True slavery is captivity of the soul, not just the body. Until a nation or a person is freed from that, and free to become what they were originally intended to be, their exodus is incomplete.

Cultural critic Neil Postman makes a similar point by comparing the scenarios in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and George Orwell’s 1984. Orwell, he explains, imagined a future in which our freedom is destroyed by external forces (spies, prisons, torture chambers, the state), whereas Huxley imagined one in which our freedom is destroyed by enemies within (innate desires, egotism, hedonism, leisure)—and Huxley, not Orwell, was right.[1] A contemporary parallel emerges in Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games: the fatuous, green-haired, celebrity-obsessed crowds in the Capitol are in many ways more captive, less free, and more pitiable than the bread-starved vagrants in District 12. Their chains are invisible, but they are no less enslaved.

Biblical freedom involves both halves of the exodus journey. It means being rescued from both Orwell’s and Huxley’s nightmares, the tyranny of the other and the tyranny of the self, Egyptian enslaving and Israelite craving. Many people today, like citizens of the Capitol and of Huxley’s Brave New World, do not see it that way; like the Judeans in John 8, they are likely to think they have no particular need of freedom, since they have never been enslaved to anyone. But for readers of the exodus story, the problem and solution are exactly what Jesus told those same Judeans. “Everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. . . . So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:34, 36).

[1] From the foreword of Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (New York: Penguin, 1986).

To purchase this book, please visit Crossway.org.

Content taken from Echoes of Exodus: Tracing Themes of Redemption through Scripture by Alastair J. Roberts and Andrew Wilson, ©2018. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.

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