Listen to sermons at FreeGraceRadio.com
The Old Testament Doctrine of Baptism
“And the angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of the cloud went from before their face, and stood behind them: And it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel; and it was a cloud and darkness to them, but it gave light by night to these: so that the one came not near the other all the night. And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground: and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left. And the Egyptians pursued, and went in after them to the midst of the sea, even all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. And it came to pass, that in the morning watch the LORD looked unto the host of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and of the cloud, and troubled the host of the Egyptians, And took off their chariot wheels, that they drave them heavily: so that the Egyptians said, Let us flee from the face of Israel; for the LORD fighteth for them against the Egyptians. And the LORD said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand over the sea, that the waters may come again upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen. And Moses stretched forth his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to his strength when the morning appeared; and the Egyptians fled against it; and the LORD overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea. And the waters returned, and covered the chariots, and the horsemen, and all the host of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them; there remained not so much as one of them. But the children of Israel walked upon dry land in the midst of the sea; and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left. Thus the LORD saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the sea shore. And Israel saw that great work which the LORD did upon the Egyptians: and the people feared the LORD, and believed the LORD, and his servant Moses.” (Exodus 14:19-31)
Baptism is a New Testament ordinance; but it is taught here in the Old Testament, by a very clear, visible picture. In fact, the gospel ordinance of believer’s baptism is not taught anywhere in the Old Testament except here and in Genesis 6-8. There are no other references to or pictures of baptism in the Old Testament
Baptism not Circumcision
Contrary to the opinion of many, baptism is not taught or in any way symbolized in the Old Testament rite of circumcision. In fact, there is no evidence in the Word of God that there is any correlation at all between the Old Testament rite of circumcision and the New Testament ordinance of baptism. Circumcision in the flesh in the Old Testament was symbolic, not of baptism, but of the new birth, regeneration, the circumcision of the heart, that circumcision made without hands by God the Holy Spirit. As circumcision in the Old Testament ceremonially sealed to the circumcised child all the blessings of God’s covenant with Abraham, by the new birth God the Holy Spirit, giving us faith in Christ, seals to the heaven born soul all the blessings of God’s covenant grace in Christ (Romans 2:28-29; Ephesians 1:12-14; Philippians 3:3; Colossians 2:10-12).
So, baptism is not taught in the Old Testament rite of circumcision. Baptism is not a sacrament, a means of grace, or a ceremony by which grace is conferred to a person. Baptism is not, as we are often told, “an outward sign of inward grace.” But baptism is very clearly taught in Exodus 14:19-31.
After reading his portion of Exodus 14, and reading what I have just stated, you might be scratching your head and saying to yourself, “There is no mention of baptism here.” But there is; and we know that there is, because God the Holy Ghost tells us plainly in 1st Corinthians 10 that this passage is talking about baptism (1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Romans 15:4).
“Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.” (1 Corinthians 10:1-4)
“Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.” (1 Corinthians 10:11)
The things recorded in Exodus 14, the Spirit of God tells us, happened to the children of Israel as examples to us that we might learn from them. — “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4).
What was involved in Israel’s baptism unto Moses? What does their baptism teach us about the New Testament gospel ordinance of baptism? Israel was “baptized unto Moses” in a manner typical of our being “baptized unto Christ” (Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:27). The word translated “unto” in 1 Corinthians 10:2 is the very same word that is translated “into,” when the Spirit of God speaks of our baptism with reference to Christ in Romans 6:3 and Galatians 3:27
Unto, not Into
Obviously, the word is better translated “unto.” The children of Israel were not baptized into Moses, but “unto Moses,” with reference to Moses; and we are not baptized into Christ, but unto Christ, with reference to Christ. Baptism does not put us in Christ. We are in Christ by the grace and power, by the operation of God (1 Corinthians 1:30-31). We are baptized unto Christ, with reference to him and his work for us (Romans 6:2-7).
Type and Antitype
Look at both the type and the antitype, the typical picture here at the Red Sea and its fulfillment in believer’s baptism.
First, consider the physical picture. Those who teach sprinkling as a substitute for baptism tell us that the outward sign is not important, but only the spiritual meaning. That sounds very pious; but if the sign is corrupt the meaning is corrupt. Baptism is truly a spiritual act; but it involves a physical act. Israel was “baptized ... in the cloud and in the sea.” They passed through the sea with Moses, under the cloudy pillar; and the sea became the grave of Israel’s enemies.
Our baptism unto Christ also, of necessity, involves a physical act. Just as Israel was baptized in a watery grave, we are baptized in a watery grave, according to the commandment and example of our Savior (Matthew 3:13-17; 28:19). Our baptism is always portrayed as a burial in a watery grave. We are baptized with Christ symbolically, buried in the watery grave with reference to Christ and our salvation by him.
Picture of Death
Second, Baptism, then, is a picture of death. When Israel walked into the Red Sea, they walked into a grave; and God’s children today, by their baptism, identify themselves with the Lord Jesus Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection.
Baptism separated Israel from Egypt; and baptism symbolically separates believers from unbelievers, truth from error, and true religion from false religion. Israel’s baptism in the Red Sea was an act of utter commitment to Moses; and our baptism is our publicly avowed commitment to Christ. Israel came out of their watery grave as a resurrected people; and we come out of the waters of baptism to walk with Christ as a resurrected people, in the newness of life. Israel came up out of the Red Sea in hope of entering into and possessing the Land of Canaan; and the believer comes up out of the watery grave in hope of eternal life with Christ in heaven.
Third, Israel’s baptism unto Moses was an initiation into an entirely new state of existence. Here is a mob of unruly people led out of Egypt by Moses. Until they came to the edge of the Red Sea, they were nothing but that, just a mob. They had no organization and no government. They were simply a mass of people who were following a leader out of bondage, out of slavery, into what they hoped would be freedom. All they had to unite them was the fact they were fleeing from something they did not like.
Then they went through the sea; and as they came out onto the other side, they were no longer an unruly mob. They were a unified nation under the leadership of one man. They belonged together. They were made a unit, a body under the direction of Moses. Moses was their leader; all that Moses stood for, they stood for. From then on, Moses was the recognized authority and the spokesman for God unto that people. Now, they are called “the church in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38).
Their baptism united the whole nation to one man, even Moses, just as our baptism unites all believers to one Man, the God-man our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. And as they were all united to Moses, they were all united to one another. So it is with God’s church. We are united to one another as one body, because we are all united to Christ our Head.
Israel’s baptism unto Moses was a baptism experienced by none except those who had just been delivered from what is called the “house of bondage” (Exodus 13:3, 14). Similarly, baptism unto Christ is an ordinance reserved for believers, for those who have been delivered from the “snare of the devil” (2 Timothy 2:26), for those who have experienced God’s saving grace. In a word, baptism is reserved for believers only. It is the first act of obedience required by the Lord Jesus. It is our initiation into the church and kingdom of God (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38, 41; 22:16).
Israel’s baptism unto Moses was immediately followed by their eating “spiritual meat” and drinking “spiritual drink” from Christ the Rock. So, too, the believer’s baptism unto Christ is followed by his partaking of the Lord’s Supper, in which we feast upon Christ’s body and blood, symbolized by the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:26‑28; 1 Corinthians 11:23‑25).
Fourth, Israel’s baptism unto Moses was a declaration of their allegiance to Moses. Following Moses into the Red Sea, they became his disciples, obligating themselves to acknowledge him as the only mediator between themselves and God in that day (Deuteronomy 5:5; Galatians 3:19).
In the same way, by our baptism unto Christ, God’s elect declare their allegiance to Christ. We declare ourselves to be his disciples, men and women voluntarily obligated to him, as the only Mediator between us and God (1 Timothy 2:5).
Passing through the Red Sea at his command, Israel defiantly renounced Pharaoh, and committed themselves to Moses, and voluntarily bound themselves to obey him. And our baptism, if it means anything, is a line drawn across our lives, and proclaims that we are now the pledged servants of the Son of God, our Lord and Savior.
Fifth, remember, this whole passage is talking about Israel’s baptism unto Moses. And in Exodus 14:30 we read, “Thus the Lord saved Israel.” Does that mean that baptism is saving? Of course not! Look at two more passages: Matthew 3:13-17 and 1st Peter 3:21. Believer’s baptism is God’s ordained, symbolic picture of salvation by Christ.
“Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him. And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17)
Our Savior’s baptism by John the Baptist did nothing to fulfill righteousness. So what is the meaning of our Lord’s word to John? Baptism portrays the bringing in of everlasting righteousness for sinners by the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, the sinner’s Substitute. By his obedience unto death, God’s elect are made the righteousness of God (1 Corinthians 15:1-3; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; Romans 4:25-5:11).
The Apostle Peter was inspired by God the Holy Ghost to tell us exactly the same thing, using the salvation of Noah and his family by the ark. Just as God saved Noah and his family by the ark, baptism pictures the salvation of God’s elect in Christ by his suffering all the fury of God’s holy wrath and juice as our Substitute
“For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him.” (1 Peter 3:18-22)
As Noah’s ark was a picture of Christ and salvation by him, it was also a picture of baptism and our salvation by Christ. As the ark was God’s ordinance, and not man’s, so baptism is the ordinance of God, not the ordinance of man. As in the ark Noah and his family were immersed in the wrath of God, in baptism the believer is immersed in the watery grave, the symbol of judgment, death, and wrath, but never experiences that judgment, death and wrath. Baptism does not save by putting away sin, the filth of the flesh, but it is the figure (the picture) of salvation, and the answer of a good conscience toward God, by which we profess and portray our salvation in, by, and with the Lord Jesus Christ in and by whom all righteousness has been forever and perfectly fulfilled for sinners.
A Solemn Warning
Sixth, 1st Corinthians 10 gives us a very solemn warning. — Many who were baptized unto Moses in the Red Sea perished in the wilderness, being overcome with temptations they faced in their pilgrimage.
“Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand. Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents. Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer. Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it. Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.” (1 Corinthians 10:1-17)
In all these things, the children of Israel are examples to us. — Examples to warn us of danger, the dangers of this world, of covetousness which is idolatry, and the danger of unbelief. — Examples to warn us against presumption. — Examples to assure us of God’s faithfulness. — Examples to remind us that we are one in Christ. — Let us deal with one another as the members of Christ.
That is the Old Testament doctrine of baptism, and the New Testament doctrine of baptism, too. May God the Holy Spirit give us grace, day by day, to walk with Christ according to the profession of our baptism in the newness of life. — “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin” (Romans 6:6).