This semester has been a hectic rush of discipleship at our church. There has been lots of church history and Old Testament hermeneutics (really a typology class). Our house has been the hosting site of this weekly dinner and hermeneutics study. The group meets to discuss the particular book of my recommendation and the outcome has been good. The good dinner always helps encourage talking. More relative to this post, a certain idea came up last Monday that initiated a lengthy discussion/debate. In the most simple terms one important phrase of the book read that the Babylonian exile and exodus was the "more important exodus." More important than what? The exodus from Egypt.
Many in the church are not use to thinking of Israel's time in Babylon. We likely think of their release from exile as an "exodus." So for many of us this type of comment might be striking. Growing up in the church has made us all incredibly familiar with the exodus from Egypt. It's a big story. It has massive fireworks. Speaking in human terms: God shows off in it. Many of these things are burned into our memory from Sunday School, sermons and storybooks.
We're even quite familiar with many of the details of the story. We know about the birth of Moses. We know he killed an Egyptian. We know about the burning bush and the staff that turns into a snake. We know about the plagues. We know about the first Passover. We know about the crossing of the Red Sea. We know about Heston. But what about that prophet Jeremiah? Yeah not so much.
So when a statement comes down like "more important exodus" and the argument stems from the more obscure book of Jeremiah it rings hollow in many of our ears. How could anything be more important than the exodus from Egypt? I mean that story has the gospel all over it. Jesus Christ is clearly portrayed in Moses, the passover lamb and even Pharaoh's firstborn son. That's a lot of foreshadows to the ministry of Jesus. Even still redemption from sin is taught clearly. This is the epic Old Testament story to present the gospel. Right? Of course right (yes Fiddler on the Roof just went through my head).
Yet from the lips of the prophet Jeremiah we read these words,
14 “Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when it shall no longer be said, ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ 15 but ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.’ For I will bring them back to their own land that I gave to their fathers. - Jeremiah 16:14-15
The language is a little rough to modern ears but essentially Jeremiah is saying "this will be the new talk at the water cooler." Or more formally, the events being prophesied for Israel by Jeremiah were to eclipse the exodus from Egypt. Now this Jeremiah is a interesting character. His prophecies pre-date the exilic period of Israel in Babylon. So perhaps this is just a proximity thing? Perhaps it is since this event will be closer in time and more relatable that it will surpass the exodus from Egypt. This is almost plausible. And if all we had was this one statement we might be able to presume that. But Jeremiah writes down these very words again. And this time, under the insight of the Holy Spirit, he writes with a little extra insight,
5 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’
7 “Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when they shall no longer say, ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ 8 but ‘As the Lord lives who brought up and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.’ Then they shall dwell in their own land.” - Jeremiah 23:5-8
Now we should be able to understand why the Babylonian exodus is "more important" than the Egyptian exodus. The exodus from Babylon explicitly point forward to Jesus Christ. It is a common interpretation that Jesus is the "righteous Branch" and it is He who "shall reign as king" (Jer 23:5). No one can question that it is in Christ's day that His people will ultimately "dwell securely" and "will be saved" (Jer 23:6). This is a great Messianic promise. This is the gospel! But it is also a historical event before Christ.
Wait. What?! Yes. It is a historical event before Jesus Christ. It is first fulfilled in the exodus from Babylon that we find written down for us in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. So when did this happen? Well Zechariah 3-4 provides the best indication that Jeremiah's prophecy in fact did come true before the time of Christ,
8 Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who sit before you, for they are men who are a sign: behold, I will bring my servant the Branch. - Zechariah 3:8
Joshua the high priest during the reconstruction of the temple has been promised the first fulfillment of Jeremiah's prophecy. This "branch" is a son of David named Zerubbabel. So while Moses is an outstanding type and foreshadow of Christ, he is not direct fulfillment of a clear Messianic prophecy. Mose is not a sign that the Christ is on the way. Neither is the Egyptian exodus a sign that the time of the Christ is drawing near. The exodus from Egypt is a great example of salvation that much is clear. But the Babylonian exodus was in fact the pre-fulfillment of prophecy concerning the church's exodus in Jesus Christ.
So where does this all leave us? What does it mean? Well for starters, we need to study our prophets more. The exodus from Babylon is hardly ever mentioned in relation to salvation. Forget about hearing it mentioned during Easter and the celebration of the Passover. Somehow what Jeremiah said would be true is not very true for the church. And yet what we have in Jeremiah is that the Babylonian exodus was greater. This should be a comfort. Because our Christ is even greater. Our exodus in Him is greater.