Introduction to Exodus



Introduction to Exodus


Exodus” means “a going out,” or “departure” (taken from the Septuagint and the Greek noun exodos). A true masterpiece, the book of Exodus provides the historical account of God’s deliverance of His people from Egypt’s cruel slavery. The narrative captivates and challenges us. We should not see it as a tale from the distant past but as an eternally important and relevant story for our lives.

You may not think about Egypt that much in your everyday life (although the country has been in the news at the time I write this). Some of us grew up with that memorable song “Walk like an Egyptian” by the Bangles from 1986. It was not a song that took Egypt seriously.

My wife and I visited Egypt recently on a layover. We took a quick, eight-hour tour of Cairo. We saw the Great Pyramid of Giza, which is the only one of the Seven Wonders of the World still standing. It was the tallest man-made structure for 3, 800 years. It is as tall as a 50-story skyscraper, though built around 2560 bc. We enjoyed seeing the pyramids and the museum with King Tut’s property. Egypt continues to be a fascinating place to visit for historical reflection, but it is not a great superpower.

In the period of Exodus, however, Egypt was a serious superpower. People feared Egypt. Egypt had mighty Pharaohs, they built great projects such as the pyramids, and they were in touch with dark power. While scholars debate different aspects of the historical situation, there is evidence (in addition to the Bible) that Egypt was enslaving a Semitic people in the decades leading up to the exodus, as noted in Papyrus 348, which dates back to Ramses II. This document speaks of using the “Apiru (hapiru) to drag stones to the great pylon.” Some think there may be a connection between the word “Apiru” and Ibri, the word from which we get the word Hebrew (Ryken, Exodus, 21).

Traditionally, Moses is viewed as the main author of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible, also called “The Five Books of Moses”), though he might not have written everything (e.g., Deut 34). When Jesus quoted from Exodus (Mark 7:10; 12:26), He attributed such verses to Moses. We therefore should hold to Moses as the primary author, writing under the inspiration of the Spirit (2 Pet 1:20-21; 2 Tim 3:16-17).

4The historical events seem to occur during the Late Bronze Age (1550-1200 bc; Hill and Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament, 40). More specifically, the exodus event probably took place in 1446 bc (Kaiser, “Exodus,” 287-93). Evangelical scholars usually hold to either a later date, 1260 bc, or an earlier date, 1446 bc. The earlier date seems best given the internal evidence in 1 Kings 6:1 and Judges 11:26.

As we will see, chapters 1-18 provide the story of God’s deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt, and chapters 19-40 show us the glory of God at Sinai.

Why Exodus?

Why would you want to study this book? Let me mention four reasons. First, we need to know God better. We meet the living God in Exodus!

Think of Psalm 66:5-7:

Come and see the wonders of God;

His acts for humanity are awe-inspiring.

He turned the sea into dry land,

and they crossed the river on foot.

There we rejoiced in Him.

He rules forever by His might;

He keeps His eye on the nations.

The rebellious should not exalt themselves.

Come and see! We will see that God wills to be known and glorified. We will see a God who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exod 34:6 ESV). In encountering this holy God we should, like Moses, bow down and worship (34:8).

Second, we need to understand God’s redemption better. Exodus is a picture of the Gospel, and we will seek to understand Exodus in relation to Jesus. There are a number of reasons for this. In Luke 24 Jesus explained the Old Testament “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets ... concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (v. 27). “Moses” here is short for the Pentateuch, which includes Exodus! Earlier, in Luke 9:31, when Jesus talked with Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration and Luke says that Jesus spoke about His “death,” (lit. His “departure,”) the word there is exodos, the Greek word for “exodus.” Jesus’ triumphant death and resurrection was the greater exodus. Jesus would pass through the waters of death in order to deliver His people from bondage to their sin and take them to the new heavens and new earth. In the New Testament,5 Jesus is also referred to as “our Passover Lamb,” using terminology from Exodus (1 Cor 5:7).

Also realize there are more than just a few verses that invite us to read Exodus with Christ-centered lenses. The gospel appears everywhere in pattern, type, theme development, and foreshadowing. Through these and many other features, Exodus shows us redemption (cf. Col 1:13-14; 1 Pet 1:18-19; Jude 5). Christopher J. H. Wright in The Mission of God reminds us of God’s model of redemption:

How big is our gospel? If our gospel is the good news about God’s redemption, then the question moves on to, How big is our understanding of redemption? Mission clearly has to do with the redemptive work of God and our participation in making it known and leading people into the experience of it. If, as I am seeking to argue throughout this book, mission is fundamentally God’s before it is ours, what is God’s idea of redemption? The scope of our mission must reflect the scope of God’s mission, which in turn will match the scale of God’s redemptive work. Where do we turn in the Bible for our understanding of redemption? Already it will be clear enough that in my view it will simply not do to turn first to the New Testament. If you had asked a devout Israelite in the Old Testament period, “Are you redeemed?” the answer would have been a most definite yes. And if you had asked “How do you know?” you would be taken aside to sit down somewhere while your friend recounted a long and exciting story—the story of exodus.

For indeed it is the exodus that provided the primary model of God’s idea of redemption, not just in the Old Testament but even in the New, where it is used as one of the keys to understanding the meaning of the cross of Christ (Wright, Mission, 265; emphasis added). As Wright says, Exodus provides the primary model of redemption in the Old Testament and New Testament, and it stands as one of the keys for understanding the cross and salvation. Notice some of the similarities between Israel and believers today:

  • Like Israel, we are saved from something (from slavery to sin) for something (to witness and to worship). This idea of being 6delivered “out of Egypt” gets recorded many times in the Bible (Exod 3:10; 3:17; 20:2; Ps 81:10; Matt 2:15; Jude 5).
  • Like Israel, we are saved by the blood of a lamb (Exod 12; 1 Pet 1:18-19; Rev 5).
  • Like Israel, we have been saved, and we are now sojourners and a holy priesthood, seeking to glorify God in word and deed until we reach the promised land (1 Pet 2:4-12).

With this in mind, we can say that, in a sense, the exodus story is our story.

Third, we need to understand God’s mission (and ours) better. The mission of the church does not begin in the Great Commission (Matt 28:16-20). It begins well before this important text, in the Old Testament. Here we see God concerned about physical injustice as well as spiritual deliverance. We need to be a people who care about the enslaved, both physically and spiritually. Wright says it well: “Exodus-shaped redemption demands exodus-shaped mission” (Wright, Mission of God, 275; emphasis in original). The exodus gives us not just a model of redemption, but also a model of mission.

Finally, we need to draw lessons for living out our faith on a daily basis. We have examples to avoid and examples to follow in Exodus (1 Cor 10:11). A number of practical topics should interest us:

  • Taking care of the unborn
  • Racism and murder
  • How God can use weak, ordinary people
  • The importance of singing praise
  • The nature of true community
  • How to rely on God’s presence daily
  • Delegation and the need to take counsel from others
  • Obeying God’s word
  • The issue of idolatry and true worship

As we journey through this amazing book, we will seek to understand and apply the exodus story historically, theologically, Christologically, missiologically, and practically. Let the journey begin!