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Survey of the Book of Exodus

Author: Most scholars believe that Moses was the author of the Book of Exodus (Exodus 17:14; 24:4–7; 34:27).

Date of writing: Likely between 1440 and 1400 BC

Purpose: Exodus means departure. The book marked an end of a period of oppression in Egypt for Abraham's descendants (Genesis 15:13) and the continued fulfillment of the covenant promise to Abraham through the Isrealites' journey to the Promised Land (Genesis 12:1–3, 7)

Key verses:
"Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph" (Exodus 1:8).

"And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew" (Exodus 2:24–25).

"'And when your children say to you, "What do you mean by this service?" you shall say, "it is the sacrifice of the LORD'S Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses."' And the people bowed their heads and worshipped" (Exodus 12:26–27).

"I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:2–3).

Summary: Exodus begins where Genesis left off. Jacob's descendants live in Egypt and have grown to become a great people. There is a new Egyptian pharaoh, likely multiple new pharaohs since the time of Joseph's leadership, who does not know Joseph. Afraid of the growing number of Israelites, he enslaves and oppresses them. But the Israelites continue to multiply. Whether under that same pharaoh or succeeding pharaohs, the Hebrew midwives are told to kill the baby boys. They, however, refuse and God protects them. Unable to kill the Isrealite boys through the intervention of the midwives, the pharaoh instructs the people to toss any sons born to the Israelites into the Nile river. But God spares a Hebrew child named Moses. The boy is adopted by Pharaoh's daughter and grows up in Pharaoh's household.

When Moses grows up, probably around the age of forty, he sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave and kills the Egyptian. The following day, Moses attempts to break up a fight between two Hebrews. They ask how he can judge them since he'd killed an Egyptian the day before. Afraid that his actions are known, Moses flees. Pharaoh heard of the incident and seeks to kill Moses, but Moses successfully escapes to Midian, where he remains as a shepherd for the next forty years.

At the age of eighty, Moses encounters God in a burning bush. God commands Moses to go to Egypt and tell the pharaoh to let the Israelites go. After multiple excuses, Moses agrees to go and God sends his brother, Aaron, along with him. Moses and Aaron petition the pharaoh, but the ruler continues to refuse to let the Israelites go, despite the succession of plagues God sends on the Egyptians. In the last plague, God goes throughout Egypt to take the firstborn son of each household. He tells the Israelites to protect themselves by putting the blood of a lamb on their doorposts. Any house covered with the blood of the lamb will be passed over. The Israelites are instructed to remember this feast annually—the Passover. That night Pharaoh sends the Israelites away. The Egyptian people urge them out and give the Israelites the articles of silver, gold, and clothing they'd requested. But the pharaoh changes his mind and pursues the Israelites to the Red Sea. There God parts the waters and the Israelites walk across on dry land, but the Lord throws the Egyptian army into confusion and sweeps them into the sea.

God leads the Israelites from Egypt towards the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey. On the way He gives them His law on tablets of stone and instructs them on how to build the tabernacle and the instruments that go inside it. This is primarily accomplished by God meeting with Moses multiple times on Mount Sinai and Moses conveying God's speech to the people. We see the Israelites go through multiple periods of sin and complaining, yet God never abandons them and provides food and water for them miraculously. He leads them through pillars of cloud and fire. Though the people worship an idol while Moses is on the mountain with God and Moses breaks the tablets of the covenant God had given him, God remakes the tablets. He never breaks His covenant with the people.

The chronology of the later part of the book of Exodus can be difficult to follow as narrative is mixed with the specifics of the Law and the instructions for the tabernacle. The books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy also delineate the Law. The book of Numbers also covers some of the same time period as the book of Exodus.

Themes: The main theme in Exodus is God remembering His covenant with Abraham. We see His miraculous intervention—the plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, the pillar of fire by night and the pillar of cloud by day—to bring about the fulfillment of His promise. We see God's holiness and the way human sinfulness prevents us from having a relationship with God. In order to have a relationship with His people God had to institute ritual sacrifices and cleansing, and even then only a select few people could come before God. There is also the theme of God's promised blessing (the Promised Land) if we live in obedience to His will.

Foreshadowing: The extensive laws on sacrifices foreshadow Christ's work on the cross. It is clear in the book of Exodus that the cost of our sin is death, and we are in need of a perfect sacrifice to make atonement for our sins. Jesus is also depicted in the water that comes from the rock and Christ as the bread of life through the miraculous provision of manna. Moses is seen as a type of Christ. In Deuteronomy 18:15 Moses gives a messianic prophecy in saying, "The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen."

Application: The book of Exodus shows us God's power to overcome what seems like impossible obstacles to accomplish His will and keep His promises. He sent plagues upon Egypt, parted the Red Sea, and miraculously provided for His people so that He could fulfill the promise that He made to Abraham hundreds of years before (Genesis 15:13–14). Exodus also shows us that we cannot come into God's presence on our own terms. No matter how hard we try, we are sinful and wicked, and our sin separates us from Him (Romans 6:23). Therefore, we need a mediator and a sacrifice, fulfilled perfectly in Jesus Christ (Hebrews 10:1–18; 1 Timothy 2:5–6).


Related Truth:

What is the basic timeline of the Old Testament?

Who was Moses in the Bible?

Survey of the Book of Genesis

Why did God give the Mosaic Law? What is the purpose of the Mosaic Law?

What can Christians learn from the Mosaic law?


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