For this is the way God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16 (NET)
Jesus is said to have spoken these words to a man named Nicodemus, referring to this man as a “teacher of Israel” (3:10). With such words, the reader of the Gospel of John is reminded that Israel had a story, and that its teachers communicated a vast, vitally important, and powerful story to the group of people that rightly thought of themselves as the chosen people of the one true Creator God. That story of a special people charged with covenant responsibilities (together with the blessings and curses thereby implied) took root in the tale of the exodus. This is partly evidenced by the fact that, within his communications to Nicodemus, Jesus makes it a point to specifically mention Moses, saying that “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up” (3:14).
According to Israel’s historical narrative (by which they defined and understood themselves and their place in the world), the lifting up of the serpent took place while the nation made its way to its land of promise, following their Egyptian exodus. They were operating on the understanding that this land had been promised to them in the promise that their God had made to Abraham. In all of the talk of the importance and significance of the very land of Israel, one can be sure that the reported word of the Creator God to Abraham had a prominent place: “The Lord said to him, ‘I am the Lord Who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess’.” (Genesis 15:7) Therefore, though the story of Israel was deeply rooted in exodus, the exodus story is defined by, and would have very little meaning apart from, the story of Abraham and of the promises that were understood to have been made to him by the covenant, creative, and providential God of Israel.
Yes, the exodus gains a great deal of its meaning from the story of Abraham, as it was believed that Abraham received word from the Lord that the promise being made to him would ultimately be confirmed by another promise. The book of Genesis reports that Abraham (then still Abram) had said to the Lord, “O sovereign Lord, by what can I know that I am to possess it?” (15:8) In the record of this exchange, the Lord’s response was the aforementioned promise, as He is said to have replied to this query by saying “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign country. They will be enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years. But I will execute judgment on the nation that they will serve. Afterward they will come out with many possessions” (15:13b-14).
This promise is dramatically fulfilled in the events of the exodus (that are set forth in the book of the same name), as the Creator God’s powerful judgments are said to have veritably rained down on those that dared to oppress His people. Exodus reports that following the tenth and final blow of judgment to fall upon Egypt (the death of the firstborn), Israel was quickly ushered out of Egypt. Tying the narrative tightly to the Abraham promise concerning possessions, the author reports that before leaving Egypt, “they had requested from the Egyptians silver and gold items and clothing” (Exodus 12:35b). In response, “The Lord gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, and they gave them whatever they wants, and so they plundered Egypt” (12:36). Again, the exodus story gathers meaning from the Abraham story.
However, a “teacher of Israel” would not only teach a story of Israel that had the exodus as its foundation, which also looked to the story of Abraham as the foundation of the exodus, but he would also look further back, to the story that provided context for their God’s choosing of Abraham (and ultimately his descendant(s)) as His personal representative(s) in this world. To be sure, Abraham had been called out of Ur and promised a land and given promises in association with that land, but why was it that this had occurred in the first place?