Moses stood on the shoreline looking out across the waters. Before him stretched the Red Sea, an unknown realm of chaos. Behind him stood a multitude of Hebrews, terrified and hopeless, pursued by an army of Egyptians—the most powerful military force in the known world.
In what seemed like a hopeless situation, God intervened. He held back the Egyptians with a wall of fire and parted the sea, allowing the Hebrews to pass through on solid ground. Once safely through, God let the Egyptians pursue His people, only to close the waters back in on the Egyptians, destroying the Egyptian army and rescuing the Hebrews from their oppressors.
As Christians living about 3,500 years later, what significance does this event have for our lives? Why do we read and study it as God’s Word to us? According to Paul in 1 Corinthians 10, “these things took place as examples for us” and “were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (vv. 6, 11).
Deliverance Through Water
Christian thought operates on many assumptions, one being that God is the Architect of history who works in patterns, dealing with His people in similar ways, time and again. This assumption arises from the story of the Bible itself, where God’s activity in time past is recorded for us. In the Exodus, we are shown a common pattern of God’s activity: God carries His people safely through water, away from a miserable state, to a place of rescue.
The enemies of God are judged and vanquished in the same water through which God’s people are cleansed and rescued.
Noah’s ark, Moses’ basket, the parting of the Red Sea, the crossing of the Jordan River and Jonah’s three days in the fish are all examples of God’s deliverance through water. God has given us these stories in Scripture for our instruction, so that we may have a better understanding of the deliverance we have been given in Christ.
There are certainly many significant points to be considered in the Exodus story, not least of which is the historical reality of the miraculous rescue of the Hebrew people. However, when we consider the significance of the Exodus as a type and foretaste of baptism, there are a few main observations to be made. A comparison shows us that baptism is the Christian ritual of rescue and re-identification. In baptism, we bodily receive God’s deliverance and are united with His designated Deliverer, Jesus Christ (Rom. 6:1-11). The enemies of God are judged and vanquished in the same water through which God’s people are cleansed and rescued. As passive participants in the event, the people of God merely come to the water as slaves. Through faith in Christ, we are acted upon. It is God Himself who rescues us and brings us through to the other side.
Rescue Through Death
The Hebrews “were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea,” having been delivered from slavery to the Egyptians (1 Cor. 10:2). They continued in the wilderness, and God gave them spiritual food and drink (1 Cor. 10:3-4). Moses ascended Mt. Sinai to receive the terms of the covenant, then returned to the people and delivered the law written on stones (2 Cor. 3:7). They entered into covenant relationship with God by means of their identification with God’s chosen covenant mediator, Moses, the one who delivered the Law to them and interceded with God on their behalf. They wandered in an unknown wilderness for 40 years, awaiting the day they would enter the promised land of Canaan (which came to be known as Israel).
As Christians, we are baptized into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19). We have been delivered from the domain of darkness, death and the Devil through faith in Christ, signified by walking through the waters of chaos on the firm ground of Jesus Christ. Even more, we are being rescued from death through death. For it is by being united with Christ in His death that we will also be united with Him in His resurrection (Rom. 6:4-5). It is no accident that Christ called His suffering unto death the baptism with which He was to be baptized (Luke 12:50; Mark 10:38).
Having passed through the waters of judgment, our foe has been vanquished.
Having been brought through death into new life, we walk in relationship with our Creator God because of our identification with Jesus Christ, the New Covenant Mediator (Heb. 10:19-29). This Mediator ascended the mountain of Calvary and then to the right hand of God the Father, to inaugurate the New Covenant. He returned in His Spirit to deliver to us the law of the Spirit, written on our hearts (2 Cor. 3:3). No longer are we enslaved to sin, but “the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2). Having passed through the waters of judgment, our foe has been vanquished, and we have emerged safely to walk in righteousness.
Yet, we walk in the wilderness, eating and drinking of the spiritual food and spiritual drink of the Lord’s Supper, awaiting our entrance into our promised land, which for us is the New Heaven and the New Earth (2 Pet. 3:13). We no longer await the inheritance of merely one strip of land bordering the Mediterranean. Baptized Christians await the redemption of our bodies at the Resurrection, where we will be formed to the image of Christ and inherit the world (Rom. 4:13; 2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 20:1-6; 1 Cor. 6:2).
The Exodus story was the defining event in the history of Israel—the birth of a nation. The Israelites were the people whom Yahweh brought out of the land of Egypt. As Christians, baptism is the defining event in the history of our personal lives. Through faith, baptism marks the start of a new life, the birth of a new creation. We are people who have been baptized into the crucified and risen Christ and have been joined to His body, the Church.