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The exodus and the evangel.
James M. Hamilton Jr.’s helpful foray into biblical theology.
I recently finished James M. Hamilton Jr.’s concise introduction to the world of biblical theology, entitled, What Is Biblical Theology? A Guide to the Bible’s Story, Symbolism, and Patterns. In just over 100 pages, Hamilton Jr. is able to acquaint the reader with a number of insights that whet the appetite for a deeper understanding of the story of the Bible. As I’ve said before, the subdivision of theology known as biblical theology might just be the most important slice of theological inquiry. Indeed, if you want to understand the Bible and your place in it, there’s no better way to do so than to read and study the Bible. That, essentially, is what Hamilton Jr. argues for in this brief book.
Biblical theology is, of course, the theological project that seeks to express the overarching story of the Bible by tracing all the ways in which that story is interwoven throughout its pages. “We engage in biblical theology,” Hamilton Jr. writes, “so as not to misinterpret what happens to us, seek our identity in the false world, and waste our lives” (98). The Bible is not merely some ancient collection of archives and allegories nor is there anything haphazard about what’s preserved on its pages. A byproduct of biblical theology is a robust view of the providence of God. “To examine biblical typology,” Hamilton Jr. continues, “is to examine the orchestration of the sovereign God” (78). All the intricacies, every minuscule thread, is under the watchful eye of the Lord Jehovah. And that includes you, as well.
One of the ways in which we are greeted with the majesty of the Master Weaver of Scripture is its elaborate typology. Some might bristle at the notion of scriptural types, a feeling that I’d assert is mostly downstream of pitiful attempts at it. I, too, have heard some really doozies in the past. Finding biblical types isn’t about tying every nook and cranny of the Bible back to Jesus. Rather, it is seeing the themes, actions, responses, words, etc., of the figures which populate the biblical landscape and noticing how they tend towards the Lord Jesus and the ultimate revelation of God’s redemption through his death and resurrection. A good example of this is found in 1 Samuel 25 and the story of the fallout between Nabal and David that’s only thwarted by the vicarious initiative of Abigail. (I recently preached on that text.)
The typological example that Hamilton Jr. teases out in What Is Biblical Theology? however, is that of Moses. The parallels between the life of Moses and the life of Christ are precisely what makes studying biblical theology so significant and so rewarding. When you’re able to notice connections such as this, the Bible comes alive. James M. Hamilton Jr. writes:
Pharaoh tried to kill the baby Moses; Herod tried to kill the baby Jesus. Moses and his parents were strangers in the land of Egypt; Jesus and his parents were strangers in the land of Egypt. God summoned Moses to lead Israel, his first-born son (Exod. 4:22), out of Egypt; God gave a dream to Mary’s husband, Joseph, in response to which he led Jesus, God’s beloved Son, out of Egypt (Matt. 2:15). Moses led the children of Israel through the waters of the Red Sea into the wilderness, where the people were tempted and sinned (Exod. 16—34); Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River by John, then went into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan, where he stood firm on God’s Word (Matt. 3:13—4:11). At Mount Sinai, Moses went up on the mountain and came down with the Book of the Covenant (Exod. 19—24, esp. 24:7); Jesus “went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him” (Matt. 5:1); and Jesus taught his disciples the law of Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 9:21; Gal. 6:2) on the sermon on the mount (Matt. 5—7). These are some of the points of historical correspondence between Moses and Jesus . . . Jesus is a new and better Moses, who has offered a new and better sacrifice because he is the new and better priest mediating a new and better covenant as we progress toward the new and better land. (78–80)
This is a great blueprint for studying the Bible with a Christological bent, which, I’d say, is the fundamental point of biblical theology. A dogged Christ-centered hermeneutic doesn’t mean turning everything into an allegory of Christ’s work. However, it does mean being resolved that every page of the Bible is a divinely preserved element in God’s program of self-revelation. The same God who sovereignly orchestrated his people’s deliverance from Egyptian bondage is the same God who divinely arranged for sinners everywhere to be delivered from sin through his Son’s passion and death. “The exodus from Egypt is the archetypal salvation God accomplished for his people,” Hamilton Jr. concludes, “and the death of Christ on the cross is the fulfillment of what the exodus typified” (85).
The good news, the evangel of the church, then, is nothing more or less than heaven’s announcement that sinners are exodused by the true and better Moses. And through his blood-soaked passion, he has effected the true and better exodus by which we are delivered from captivity to sin by faith. He is the finest point of the revelation of Scripture. He’s what it’s all about.
Grace and peace.
James M. Hamilton Jr., What Is Biblical Theology? A Guide to the Bible’s Story, Symbolism, and Patterns (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014).