Vos on the Typical Role of Moses and the Exodus (Part 1)

Geerhardus Vos in his well-known work, Biblical Theologymade several extremely important observations about the typical role of Moses and the Exodus (see p. 100 ff.). Vos explained that Moses was the typical “redeemer of the Old Covenant,” and that the bondage Israel experienced in Egypt, and the deliverance they experienced in the Exodus, were types of our bondage to Satan and sin by nature and the redemption we receive through the death and resurrection of Christ.

Vos first explained how Moses played a role in redemptive history in the way in which he carried on the progress toward the fulfillment of the patriarchal promises. He wrote:

The true inward significance of Moses when we place him within the unfolding scheme of revelation, can be made clear in several directions. For one thing he was, retrospectively considered, instrumental in bringing the great patriarchal promises to an incipient fulfillment, at least in their external, provisional embodiment. Israel became in truth a great nation; and this was due not exclusively to their rapid increase; the organization received through Moses enabled them to attain national coherence. Moses likewise led them to the border of the promised land. With regard to the third promise, it must be admitted that Moses contributed to its fulfillment in a negative fashion only. Before a blessing could actually procede from Israel to the nations, it was first of all necessary that the fundamental difference between Israel and the nations , that is, the difference between the true religion and paganism , should be clearly exhibited. And this was done through the conflict between Israel and Egypt, which Moses precipitated.

In developing his teaching on Moses, Vos proceded to point out the typological role that Moses played in anticipation of Christ. That typological role began with Moses as the “redeemer of the Old Testamant,” a typical prophet, priest and king:

According to Num. 12:7, Moses was set over all God’s house. It is entirely in keeping with this prospective import of Moses and his work, that his figure acquires typical proportions to an unusual degree. He may be fitly called the redeemer of the Old Testament. Nearly all the terms in use of the redemption of the New Testament can be traced back to his time. There was in his work such a close connection between revealing words and redeeming acts as can be parallelled only from the life of Christ. And the acts of Moses were to a high degree supernatural, miraculous acts. This typical relation of Moses to Christ can easily be traced in each of the three offices we are accustomed to distinguish in the soteric work of Christ. The ‘prophet’ of Deut. 18:15, reaching his culmination in the Messiah, is ‘like unto’ Moses. Moses fulfilled ‘priestly’ functions at the inauguration of the Old Berith, before the Aaronic priesthood was instituted [Ex. 24:4-8]. Our Lord refers to this as a typical transaction, when inaugurating the New Diatheke at the institution of the supper. Moses intercedes for Israel after the commissioning of the sin of the golden calf, and that by offering his own person vicariously for bearing the punishment of the guilty [Ex. 32:30-33]. A royal figure, of course, Moses could not at that time be called, for Jehovah alone is King of Israel. None the less, through his legislative function, Moses typified the royal office of Christ.

It was not only as the typical prophet, priest and king that Moses functioned as a type Christ. The Israelites were meant to exercise faith and trust in Moses as believers are to put their faith and trust in Christ. Vos observed:

All this reflected itself in the peculiar relation the people were made to sustain toward Moses. The relation is even described as one of faith and trust [Ex. 14:31; 19:19]. The resemblance of this relation of the Israelites towards Moses to the relation of the Christian towards Christ had not escaped the notice of Paul, who says that ‘our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea.’ [1 Cor. 10:1-3]. Just as in baptism an intimate relation is established between the believer and Christ, based on the saviorship of Christ, even so the mighty acts of Divine deliverance wrought through Moses pledge Israel to faith in him. And, as during the ministry of Jesus faith and unbelief proved the two decisive factors, so during the wilderness journey a great drama of faith and unbelief was enacted, deciding the people’s fate [Heb. 3 and 4].

This raises the question of the nature of the Exodus in redemptive history. Clearly the Exodus–as the great redemptive act in the Old Covenant–stands out as the great type of salvation provided by Jesus in His death and resurrection (which are explicitly declared to be an ‘exodus’ [Luke 9:31]). The question remains in what way was Israel’s experience in Egypt a type of our spiritual experience of bondage to Satan and sin? Vos answers this question in two ways. He first describes the typical nature of bondage to foreign power when he noted:

First of all, redemption is here portrayed as, before anything else, a deliverance from an objective realm of sin and evil. The favorite individualizing and internalizing of sin finds no support here. No people of God can spring into existence without being sut loose from a world opposed to God and themselves in their very origin. The Egyptian power is, in this respect, just as typical as the Divine power that wrought the deliverance. Its attitude and activity were shaped with this in view. What held under the Hebrews was not mere political dependance, but harsh bondage. Their condition is represented as a condition of slavery. The Egyptians exploited them for selfish ends regardless of Israel’s own welfare. Ever since, redemption has attached itself to this imagery of enslavement to an alien power. John 8:33-36 as well as Romans 8:20-21, reach back into these far origins.

As he developed the nature of enslavement to foreign power, Vos wrote:

This kingdom of evil headed up in Pharaoh embraces first of all the human element of paganism. Probably, however, the account does not mean to confine it to this. Sin is, at every point, more than the sum total of purely human influences it brings to bear upon its victims. A religious demonic background is thrown back of the figures that move across the canvas. Not merely the Egyptians, but likewise the Egyptians gods are involved in the conflict. Th plagues come in here for notice. They are inextricably mixed up with the Egyptian idolatry. This idolatry was nature worship, embracing the good and beneficent as well as the evil and baneful aspects of nature. Jehovah, in making these harm their own worshipers, shows His superiority to this whole realm of evil. This is stated in so many words, “Against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment. I am Jehovah [Ex. 12:12].” The same demonic powers that were concerned in the antitypical redemption wrought by Christ–and there displayed their intensist activity–had a hand in this opposition to the redemption from Egypt.

There was, of course, another aspect of the bondage, Israel was experiencing–namely, the personal and subjective bondage to sin. Vos explained:

The Hebrews were delivered not merely from outward, foreign bondage, they were likewise rescued from spiritual degradation and sin….from Joshua 24:14 and Ezekiel 23:8, 19, 23 we learn that Israel served Idols in Egypt. The history of the wilderness journey with its repeated apostacies, such as the worship of the golden calf, become unintelligible, unless we may assume that the people had left Egypt in a corrupt state religiously. Perhaps also, the worship of the calf-image, and the demon worship related in Lev. 17:7, might be interpreted as of Egyptian origin…it should be remembered that in the history of God’s people external bondage is frequently a concomitant of spiritual unfaithfulness to Jehovah.

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