Graceful Grace (Exodus 17:8–16)

Exodus gracefully testifies to grace—the grace of the gospel. Jesus is seen in the manna, in the Rock, and in the water. Then, you come to a text like this. Exodus remains graceful, but we might get clumsy. Ardent to see grace, we’re ham-fisted in handling God’s Sword.

Some fail to see grace where it is (the Old Testament). Others see it, but in a way that it isn’t there. Certainly of the two errors the latter is the more permissible. It’s going wrong in the right direction, but we’d rather not go wrong at all. We want to see the grace that is gracefully there—the grace as God speaks of it.

Allegory, unless justified, is a cheap and clumsy method. Moses’ upraised hands on the hill anticipate Christ crucified. Aaron and Hur foreshadow the thieves. Joshua speaks of Jesus’ conquest and his chosen men, the disciples. See what I mean? That’s butterfingering the Word. Grace indeed, but most ungraceful in method.

What then to do with the text? Biblical theology. What is Biblical theology? It’s a technical term meaning more than theology that is Biblical. It is an unfortunate term. Perhaps it’s best to contrast it with systematic theology. Systematic theology reads the Bible logically. Now, that is a poor way of putting it as well, for Biblical theology is not illogical. And here I am trying to be graceful. Systematic theology asks, “What does the Bible say about “x”? About God’s sovereignty? About angels? About Jesus’ atonement? And on an on. It looks at the answers and organizes them logically. Biblical theology reads the Bible historically. It reads the Bible as a single unfolding and unified story. These two ways of reading the Bible are not to be pitted against one another, but rather to serve as complements.

What then is the story of the Bible? In a word Graeme Goldsworthy might say, “kingdom.” What is the kingdom of God? His answer: “God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule.” That is a good description of what the kingdom is, but we still need the plot. This is what the kingdom is, but what does it do? At a Saturday meal with his family one might hear Douglas Wilson ask his grandchildren, “What is the point of the whole Bible?” The enthusiastic response, “Kill the dragon, get the girl.” That is what the kingdom does. The serpent sought to kill, steal, and destroy. Having rebelled against God’s rule, man was exiled out of God’s place, estranged, no longer His people. God then promised a serpent-crushing seed of the woman.

From Genesis 3 on we see two seeds. Certainly, Jesus is the seed of the woman, but all united to Him by faith are the seed as well. As decreed by God, these two seeds are at enmity. Cain kills Abel. Genesis goes on to show us a series of genealogies, two seeds placed side by side: Cain and Seth, Ham and Shem, Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob.

Who is Amalek? Perhaps a nation already in existence at the time of Abraham (Genesis 14:7). But at that point only the country of the Amalekites is spoken of. Perhaps this is anachronistic, just as we speak of the Incas and America. Further, in Exodus 17 it is peculiar that the Amalekites are spoken of as Amalek. Who is Amalek? The grandson of Esau (Genesis 36:11–16). What glorious things the genealogies are! What a story they tell. Do you remember Isaac’s blessing of Esau?

Behold, away from the fatness of the earth shall your dwelling be, and away from the dew of heaven on high. By your sword you shall live, and you shall serve your brother; but when you grow restless you shall break his yoke from your neck. —Genesis 27:39–40

Here comes Amalek, raiding the tail (see Deuteronomy 25:17–19) of Israel, seemingly living by his sword. We’re given no motive as to why Amalek attacked, except the ancient one of Genesis 3. The seed of the woman opposed the seed of the serpent.

The kingdom is opposed. The war goes on, and as this text makes clear, this is Yahweh’s war. Israel isn’t wielding God, God is wielding Israel. Amalek will be blotted out. God has formed and redeemed a people. He is leading them to a mountain to receive His rule. He will bring them to His place, but when they arrive, there’ll be enemies, His enemies, which He will conqueror by them. This is the story of the Scriptures, and the climax of this battle, the final victory, the blessing of His people are all ultimately, and gracefully, found in Christ.

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