Exodus picks up the story of God’s people where Genesis leaves off. At the end of Genesis we find Joseph’s family living in Egypt. Exodus opens some years later with a new Pharaoh who began to oppress God’s people and enslave them. Exodus tells the story of how they left Egypt, crossed the Red Sea and entered the wilderness. They came to Mount Sinai where God made a covenant through Moses with his people and gave to them commandments, including the Ten Commandments. It also tells the story of how they rebelled against God and made a golden calf to worship, before repenting and recommitting to the covenant once more. Among the Exodus stories are the institution of the Passover, Moses and the Burning Bush and the building of the Tabernacle.
God said to Moses, 'I AM WHO I AM.' He said further, 'Thus you shall say to the Israelites, "I AM has sent me to you."' (Exodus 3.14)
2I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3you shall have no other gods before me. (Exodus 20.2–3)
For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it. (Exodus 20.11)
As with many Old Testament stories, some find the portrayal of God to be quite challenging. Is he a God who will kill the first-born sons of people in order to get what he wants?
The sections on law towards the end of the book (especially chapters 25 onwards) are not so much tricky as technical, and can be quite hard going.
Traditionally Moses was regarded as the author of the first five books of the Bible (Genesis–Deuteronomy), known in Judaism as the Torah and in Christianity often as the Pentateuch (or five teachings).
Today many scholars would argue that Moses was not the author of the Pentateuch but that these five books grew up over a long period of time and were written down and edited from oral tradition.
One of the biggest debates around the Exodus and events surrounding it is whether it is possible to date it with any level of certainty.
Some offer a date around the fifteenth century BC (counting backwards 480 years from the construction of Solomon’s Temple); others offer a date between 1250–1200 BC using archaeological evidence (though others dispute the reliability of this evidence). Others still argue that it is impossible to date the events at all.
At least in part, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, which are all set around the time of the giving of the law.
Exodus falls into two categories:
1.1–15.21 God’s people in slavery in Egypt
15.22–18.27 The journey from the Red Sea to Mount Sinai
19.1–24.18 The revelation of the law at Sinai
25.1–31.18 Instructions for the building of the tabernacle
32.1–34.35 The rebellion against God and subsequent forgiveness
35.1–40.38 The people built the tabernacle as commanded by God
There will be lots of names you will not know; don’t worry if you can’t place them all. The key ones are given below.
Canaan, Dan, Edom, Elim, Euphrates, Hebron, Horeb, Israel, Judah, Midian, Moab, sea of Philistines, Mount Sinai, Solomon’s temple, wilderness of Sin, Sinai (Peninsula)
Amorites, Asher, Benjamin, Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Isaac, Issachar, Jebusites, Joshua, Judah, Korah, Korahites, Levi, Levites, Moses, Philistines
Altar, atonement, Ark of the Covenant, golden calf, burnt offering, Cherubim, cubit, Feast of unleavened bread, Hebrew, idols, lampstand, Passover, Pentateuch, priest, Sukkoth, Tabernacle, Torah, Urim and Thummim
One of the key strands of Exodus is the making, breaking and re-making of the covenant between God and his people. Keep this in mind as you read through the book and ask yourself why it is that the people struggled so much with keeping the covenant.
You will notice that in Exodus, as in Deuteronomy, the people are given both Ten Commandments and other commandments. Keep an eye out in the book for how the Ten Commandments relate to the many other commandments in Exodus.
Divine calling and human response are the twin themes of God’s calling to his people and their response to him (from God’s calling to Moses onwards). Look out for this theme as it unfolds through the book.
One of the major themes in this book is God freeing his people from slavery. They are freed physically from Egypt in Exodus 14, but their minds still seem to be in captivity for a long time afterwards. As you read look out for this and reflect on the ways in which you are still held captive by things from your past.