In the Hebrew text, the book’s first two words are its title, We’elleh Shemot, “These Are the Names.” The English title is the name first used by the book’s Greek translators (second century b.c.). “Exodus” could be rendered “going out” or “departure.”
Author and Date of Writing: Moses, perhaps around 1445 B.C.
First Audience and Destination: The Israelite people at Mount Sinai. The original hearers were the children of Israel living in the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land.
Genre and Literary Style: Historical narrative, with some laws, composed in Hebrew. Although Exodus was “The Second Book of the Law,” it preserved more historical narrative than law. Chapter 15, “The Song of Moses,” is poetry rather than prose, and the first extensive poetry in Scripture. The Hebrew style of Exodus is like that of the rest of the Pentateuch.
Themes: The LORD, plagues, redemption, covenant, Ten Commandments, tabernacle
God’s revelation of himself to Moses as the LORD (Yahweh) stands as one of the most profound passages in all Scripture. The famous account of the plagues demonstrates the power of the LORD over the gods of Egypt. The Ten Commandments remain unsurpassed as God’s wise rules for living life to the fullest. The importance of the tabernacle is seen in God’s solemn pledge about it: “I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, that brought them forth out of the land of Egypt” (29:45–46).
The book of Exodus describes how God rescues his people, the Israelites, from slavery in Egypt. The climax of their escape comes when God causes a wind to part the waters of the Red Sea. The Israelites cross in safety, but the Egyptian army is drowned. This is the defining moment of the ‘Exodus’ which means ‘way out’. (The same idea is in our word ‘exit’.)
God leads his people through the desert to Mount Sinai, where he gives them his law and prepares them for their new life in Canaan, the Promised Land.
The Israelite leader is Moses. He is born a Hebrew, raised as an Egyptian prince and works as a shepherd on the slopes of Sinai. He is assisted by his brother Aaron, who acts as spokesman and later becomes Israel’s first high priest.
Exodus Account Outline
- The slavery of the Israelites and the birth of Moses (1:1–2:25)
- God calls Moses (3:1–4:31)
- The great escape (5:1–15:21)
- The desert journey (15:22–18:27)
- The giving of the law (19:1–24:18)
- The tabernacle and the priests (25:1–31:18)
- Rebellion and judgment (32:1–34:35)
- The climax of Exodus (35:1–40:38)
Background on Egypt: Egypt was one of the most advanced centers of civilization during the period when Israel emerged as a nation. The New Kingdom began in the sixteenth century B.C. with the expulsion of the Hyksos people who had occupied Egypt for nearly two centuries. From about 1550–1100 B.C. Egypt maintained a well-established empire. One of its greatest military leaders was Thutmose III (ca. 1500–1450) who repeatedly marched his armies through Palestine or sailed the Mediterranean to extend Egyptian control to the Euphrates River. He is often compared to Alexander the Great or Napoleon.
Key Text: 14:30–31: “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.”
Key Term: “Redeem”: Exodus shows how the LORD for his name’s sake redeemed his people Israel by buying them out of slavery through payment of a price, the death of the Passover lambs (see 6:6). Further, it records God’s commands to those redeemed people.
GOD’S MESSAGE IN EXODUS
Purpose: Exodus is double pronged. First, it narrates God’s greatest redemptive act of the Old Testament, Israel’s exodus from Egypt. Second, it recorded many of the laws by which those redeemed people were to live. If the overall Bible tells the story of God’s kingdom, then Exodus tells how the first phase of that kingdom came into being by God’s mighty power. Moses, of course, is the central human figure as God’s agent of salvation. God’s people who read and study Exodus today should also view it in light of the ultimate Redeemer who purchased people by his own death (John 1:17).
Christian Worldview Elements: Exodus provides insight on the world view categories of sovereignty and providence; revelation and authority; covenant and redemption; and ethics and morality. No Old Testament book more fully portrays that humans cannot know God unless he reveals himself or that humans must depend wholly on God for their redemption.
Teachings about God: Exodus reveals the LORD as Redeemer. Because of his love and for his name’s sake he takes the initiative to save his people from bondage. Exodus further reveals him as the one who expects his redeemed people to live according to the provisions of the covenant made at Sinai. Christ is prefigured both by Moses and by the Passover lambs. Exodus 31:3; 35:31 mention the Spirit as empowering a person for special service.
Teachings about Humanity: Exodus highlights the universality of human evil by showing rebellion against God in a variety of ways. Pharaoh’s wickedness (chaps. 4–14) and redeemed Israel’s shameful idolatry in the golden calf incident (chap. 32) are perhaps the clearest examples. On the other hand, Exodus shows the great value God puts on humanity through the high price paid at the time of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt.
Teachings about Salvation: Until Christ’s coming and his death on the cross, the exodus was the greatest divine redemptive act. God taught explicitly the substitutionary meaning of the Passover lamb’s death: “When I see the blood I will pass over you” (12:13). This, however, only prefigured the coming One, “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8).