Updated: Dec 21, 2018
This is the second in our period series in which we cover the content and themes of the books of the Bible.
The book of Exodus derives its English name from the Greek word exodos which means “exit” or “departure.” This is the central event and theme of the book. The exit of Israel from their slavery in Egypt is recorded in the first 15 chapters of the book. The Hebrew title of the book is Shemot, which is taken from the first words of the book, “These are the names.” This opening line connects the story of Exodus with the closing of the book of Genesis. As Jacob and Joseph die in Genesis 49-50, a record of the names of the descendants of Jacob who inhabited the land of Egypt is detailed.
The author of this book is Moses. Jesus calls Exodus the “the book of Moses” in Mark 12:26. There are no compelling reasons to doubt the Mosaic authorship of Exodus. Moses, the author of the whole Pentateuch (Gen. – Deut.), records the ongoing unfolding of God’s covenantal promise to Israel. This book records the radical change of situation for the people of Israel when “there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph” (Exo. 1:8). This new king would oppress Israel and the need for a redeemer of Israel became acute. Moses would be that redeemer.
This first cry for help from the people suffering under Egyptian oppression is heard by God. God faithfully remembers his covenant with Israel and calls on Moses to deliver them. Through a series of ten plagues, Moses pleads with Pharaoh to release his people. But Pharaoh’s heart has been hardened. He will not let the people go. The tenth and final plague to befall the people of Egypt is the Passover. All of Israel was instructed to prepare for this plague by killing a lamb and spreading its blood on the doorposts. When the Lord passed over the land, every home that was under the blood of the lamb was spared, but every home without the blood saw the death of the firstborn. Through this vicarious shedding of blood, the people of Israel were released from their bondage and slavery. Israel left Egypt but Pharaoh’s heart was again hardened and he pursued the people all the way to the Red Sea. At the Red Sea, the Lord miraculously parted the waters and Israel passed through on dry ground. When Egypt tried to follow, their chariot wheels were mired in mud and the walls of water came crashing down. “The floods covered them; they went down into the depths like a stone” (Exo. 15:5).
The next stage in the exodus of the people from Egypt was their time in the wilderness. God had delivered his people. Now God would lead his people. He provided food and water for the people. Water from the rock and manna from heaven provided for the needs of the people.
The next few chapters (19-24) detail how God covenants with his people. Moses ascends Mount Sinai and receives the Law from God. Chapter 20 details the Ten Commandments as a standard for living in covenant community with God. This law reveals God’s holy nature. It reveals the requirements of the people among whom God will dwell. It reveals the people’s need for a greater Redeemer than Moses.
The rest of the book of Exodus explains how God is worshiped by his people. The pattern for the worship of God is detailed. Then Israel’s rebellion against God’s holy instructions prompts God’s holy wrath to be poured out on the people. But Moses intercedes on behalf of the people and God renews his covenant with the people. The rest of the book shows how the Tabernacle, the furnishings, and the courtyard were assembled. The Tabernacle is then raised and the book closes with God’s glory resting on the tent of the meeting.
The book of Exodus not only records major historical events in the life of Israel. It also presents major redemptive elements that will be developed throughout the rest of the Scriptures. God’s redemptive work through a redeemer, his judgment over evil, his adoption and provision for his children, and the establishment of his dwelling place among the people are major themes that will find their fulfillment in Christ and in the Second Coming (see, Eph. 2:14-22, Rev. 20:11-22:5). The symbols of Exodus are brought to their fullness in the New Testament. Much of the book of Exodus ends up serving as a shadow to the realities found in Christ. The sprinkled blood of the Passover lamb is fulfilled in Christ (John 1:29, 1 Cor 5:7). Jesus spoke of his “exodus” from Jerusalem which would bring salvation to the people (Luke 9:31). Exodus presents the story of Moses that is then carried forward to the “greater Moses” that we find in Christ (Heb. 3). The book of Exodus lays a foundational hope in the redemptive power of God that is fulfilled once and for all in Christ.