Sometimes we under-appreciate Paul’s interpretation of the Old Testament. For instance, when he retells the Exodus story in 1 Corinthians 10, he sees the parting of the sea as a kind of baptism (Exod 14), the manna from heaven as spiritual food (Exod 16), the water as spiritual food (Exod 17) and the rock from which the water comes as Christ (Exod 17). In Paul’s words, “the Rock was Christ.”
Paul’s commentary on the Exodus teaches vital lessons about how to read Exodus and even the whole Old Testament.
First, Exodus is about God
The Old Testament is about God, the triune God. Christ is the bread of life, and he serves us living Water because he is the rock from which the Spirit flows.
Some may object because Paul does not mention “the Spirit” here. I respond by saying: of course he does. Paul explains, “All ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ” (1 Cor 10:3–4). Scripture knows of no other spirituality than a Spirituality in the Spirit of Jesus.
Paul did not write about esoteric spirituality. He wrote about the material means of Spiritualiy—the Spirit of God abiding in us, nourishing us, and growing us. Paul is about to tell the Corinthians that the second Adam (Jesus) became a life-giving Spirit. This grounds our Spirituality; we have the Spirit and are therefore Spiritual.
Second, Exodus is about Jesus
The Exodus through and through concerns the triune God, especially the Logos of God. Who spoke from the burning bush and proclaimed the Law at Sinai? The Logos, the Word proceeding from God.
Jesus does say, after all, that Moses “wrote about me” (John 5:46).
Who brought about ten miraculous events in Egypt? Who led Israel out of Egypt in a fiery cloud? Answer: “Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe” (Jude 5). Jesus saved Israel from Egypt—he brought them through the waters.
It was he who was the illuminating cloud that led the people (Exod 14). He was the Angel of the Lord of whom YHWH claims, “my name is in him” (Exod 23:20). Jesus is the name of God—he who fully expresses the nature that God’s name describes. And afterwards, when Israel sinned in the wilderness, Jesus destroyed “those who did not believe” (Jude 5).
We could go on here. But enough has been said to make the point: the Exodus does not somehow point us to Jesus through principles or preparation. Jesus is the primary actor. He burned in the bush, led Israel from Egypt, was the bread of life and the rock from whose side flowed spiritual waters, and gave the law through angels.
Third, Exodus requires a Christ-centered reading
The Bible points us to the Word of God through the words of God. Scripture through the Spirit’s inspiration uniquely holds out Christ to us. God himself wrote Scripture through human authors.
Divine authorship means that Moses wrote about Jesus: “For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me” (John 5:46). And rightly so because Moses considered the reproach of Christ more weighty than any Egyptian treasure (Heb 11:26). And so he wrote about the central reality of the universe: God in Christ by the Spirit.
It is not so surprising then that both Paul and Jude find it obvious that Jesus led Israel out of the wilderness, judged unbelievers Israelites, and was the Rock, and even the manna from heaven. Jesus did claim: “it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” … “I am the bread of life” (John 5:32–35).
So let’s stop with the hermeneutical gymnastics and affirm what Scripture literally teaches: Christ is the centre of the story of Exodus, the Bible, and the Universe. Let’s have the faith of Moses who “considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward” (Heb 11:26).