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Book of Exodus

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Book of Exodus or Exodus is the second book of the Torah and the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) immediately following Genesis.

The book tells how the Israelites leave slavery in Egypt through the strength of Yahweh, the god who has chosen Israel as his people. Led by their prophet Moses they journey through the wilderness to Mount Sinai, where Yahweh promises them the land of Canaan (the "Promised Land") in return for their faithfulness. Israel enters into a covenant with Yahweh who gives them their laws and instructions to build the Tabernacle, the means by which he will come here from heaven and dwell with them and lead them in a holy war to possess the land, and then give them peace.

Traditionally ascribed to Moses himself, modern scholarship sees the book as initially a product of the Babylonian exile (6th century BCE), based on earlier written and oral traditions, with final revisions in the Persian post-exilic period (5th century BCE).[1][2] Carol Meyers in her commentary on Exodus suggests that it is arguably the most important book in the Bible, as it presents the defining features of Israel's identity: memories of a past marked by hardship and escape, a binding covenant with God, who chooses Israel, and the establishment of the life of the community and the guidelines for sustaining it.[3]

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  • ✪ Read Scripture: Exodus Ch. 1 -18
  • ✪ The Book of Exodus Overview - Part 1 of 2
  • ✪ The Complete Book of Exodus Read Along
  • ✪ The Exodus Decoded (Biblical Documentary) | Timeline
  • ✪ Read Scripture: Exodus Ch. 19-40


The book of Exodus. It's the second book of the Bible and it picks up the storyline from the previous book, Genesis, which ended with Abraham's grandson Jacob leading his large family of seventy people down to Egypt. Now Jacob's eleventh son Joseph had been elevated to second in command over Egypt and he had saved his whole family in a famine. And so Pharaoh the king of Egypt offered the family to come live there as a safe haven. And so eventually Jacob dies there in Egypt and Joseph and all his brothers do too. About 400 years pass and the story of the Exodus begins. Now that name refers to the event that takes place in the first half of the book--Israel's exodus from Egypt, but the book has a second half that takes place at the foot of Mount Sinai. In this video we'll just focus on the first half, where centuries have passed and the Israelites were fruitful and multiplied and they filled the land. Now this line is a deliberate echo back to the blessing that God gave all humanity back in the Garden of Eden. And it reminds us of the big biblical story so far. Humanity forfeited God's blessing through sin and rebellion and so God chose Abraham's family as the vehicle through which he would restore his blessing to all the world. But the new Pharaoh does not view Israel as a blessing. He actually thinks this growing Israelite immigrant group is a threat to his power. And so just as in Genesis, humanity rebells against God's blessing, so here Pharaoh attempts to destroy the source of God's blessing, the Israelites. He brutally enslaves them in forced labor and then he orders that all the Israelite boys be drowned in the Nile River. Now Pharaoh, he is the worst character in the Bible so far. His kingdom epitomizes humanity's rebellion against God. Pharaoh has so redefined good and evil according to his own interests that even the murder of innocent children has become good to him. And so Egypt has become worse than Babylon from the book of Genesis and so now Israel cries out for help against this new Babylon and God responds. God first turns Pharaoh's evil upside down, as an Israelite mother throws her boy into the Nile River but in a basket. And so he floats safely right down into Pharaoh's own family. He's named Moses and he grows up to eventually become the man that God will use to defeat Pharaoh's evil. In the famous story of the burning bush, God appears to Moses and commissions him to go to Pharaoh and order him to release the Israelites. And God says that he knows Pharaoh will resist and so he will bring his judgment on Egypt in the form of plagues. Then God also says that he will harden Pharaoh's heart. And so we're introduced into the next main part of the story--the confrontation between God and Pharaoh. Now what does this mean that God says he will harden Pharaoh's heart? It's super important to read this section of the story really closely in its sequence. In Moses and Pharaoh's first encounter we're told simply that Pharaoh's heart grew hard. There's no implication that God did anything. And so in response God sends the first set of 5 plagues, each one confronting Pharaoh and one of his Egyptian gods. And each time Moses offers a chance for Pharaoh to humble himself and to let the Israelites go but after each plague we're told that Pharaoh either hardened his heart or that his heart grew hard. He's doing this of his own will and so eventually it's with the second set of 5 plagues that we begin to hear how God hardened Pharaoh's heart. So the point of the story seems to be this: even though God knew that Pharaoh would resist his will, God still offered him all these chances to do the right thing. But eventually Pharaoh's evil reaches a point of no return-- I mean even his own advisers think that he has lost his mind. And it's at that point that God takes over and bends Pharaoh's evil towards his own redemptive purposes. God lures Pharaoh into his own destruction as he saves his people, which is what happens next. With the final plague, it's the night of Passover. And God turns the tables on Pharaoh. Just as he killed the sons of the Israelites, so God will kill the first born in Egypt with a final plague. But unlike Pharaoh, God provides a means of escape through the blood of the Lamb. And here the story stops and introduces us in detail to the annual Israelite ritual of Passover. On the night before Israel left Egypt, they sacrificed a young, spotless lamb and painted its blood on the door frame of their house. And when the divine plague came over Egypt, the houses covered with the blood of the Lamb were passed over, and the son spared. And so every year since, the Israelites have reenacted that night to remember and celebrate God's justice and his mercy. But Pharaoh, because of his pride and rebellion, he loses his own son and he's compelled to finally let the Israelites go free. And so the Israelite slaves make their exodus from Egypt, but no sooner did they leave than Pharaoh changes his mind and he gathers his army and chases after the Israelites for a final showdown. As the Israelites pass through the waters of the sea safely, Pharaoh charges towards his own destruction. The Exodus story concludes with the first song of praise in the Bible. It's called the Song of the Sea and the final line declares that the Lord reigns as king. And then the song retells in poetry what the story of God's kingdom is all about. It's about how God is on a mission to confront evil in his world and to redeem those who are enslaved to evil. God is going to bring his people into the Promised Land where his divine presence will live among them. This story is what it looks like when God becomes king over his people. So after the Israelites sing their song, the story takes a sharp turn. The Israelites-- they're trekking through the wilderness on their way to Mount Sinai and they're hungry, they're thirsty, and they start criticizing Moses and God for even rescuing them. They say they long for the good old days in Egypt. I mean, it's crazy. So God graciously provides food and water for Israel in the wilderness, but these stories, they cast a dark shadow and we begin to wonder, "Could it be that Israel's heart is just as hard as Pharaoh's?" We shall see, but for now that's the first half of the book of Exodus.



Children of Israel in Egypt (1867 painting by Edward Poynter)
Children of Israel in Egypt (1867 painting by Edward Poynter)

The English name Exodus comes from the Ancient Greek: ἔξοδος, éxodos, meaning "going out". In Hebrew the book is called שְׁמוֹת, shemot, "Names", from the beginning words of the text: "These are the names of the sons of Israel" (Hebrew: וְאֵלֶּה שְׁמֹות בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל‬).[4]


There is no unanimous agreement among scholars on the structure of Exodus. One strong possibility is that it is a diptych (i.e., divided into two parts), with the division between parts 1 and 2 at the crossing of the Red Sea or at the beginning of the theophany (appearance of God) in chapter 19.[5] On this plan, the first part tells of God's rescue of his people from Egypt and their journey under his care to Sinai (chapters 1–19) and the second tells of the covenant between them (chapters 20–40).[6]


Jacob's sons and their families join their brother, Joseph, in Egypt. Once there, the Israelites begin to grow in number. Egypt's Pharaoh, fearful that the Israelites could be a fifth column, forces the Israelites into slavery and orders that all newborn boys be thrown into the Nile. A Levite woman (identified elsewhere as Jochebed) saves her baby by setting him adrift on the river Nile in an ark of bulrushes. The Pharaoh's daughter finds the child, names him Moses, and brings him up as her own. But Moses is aware of his origins, and one day, when grown, he kills an Egyptian overseer who is beating a Hebrew slave and has to flee into Midian. There he marries Zipporah, the daughter of Midianite priest Jethro, and encounters God in a burning bush. Moses asks God for his name: God replies: "I AM that I AM." God tells Moses to return to Egypt and lead the Hebrews into Canaan, the land promised to Abraham.

Moses returns to Egypt and fails to convince the Pharaoh to release the Israelites. God smites the Egyptians with 10 terrible plagues (Plagues of Egypt) including a river of blood, many frogs, and the death of first-born sons. Moses leads the Israelites out of bondage after a final chase when the Pharaoh reneges on his coerced consent (Crossing the Red Sea and Yam Suph). The desert proves arduous, and the Israelites complain and long for Egypt, but God provides manna and miraculous water for them. The Israelites arrive at the mountain of God, where Moses' father-in-law Jethro visits Moses; at his suggestion Moses appoints judges over Israel. God asks whether they will agree to be his people. They accept. The people gather at the foot of the mountain, and with thunder and lightning, fire and clouds of smoke, and the sound of trumpets, and the trembling of the mountain, God appears on the peak, and the people see the cloud and hear the voice [or possibly "sound"] of God. Moses is told to ascend the mountain. God pronounces the Ten Commandments (the Ethical Decalogue) in the hearing of all Israel. Moses goes up the mountain into the presence of God, who pronounces the Covenant Code (a detailed code of ritual and civil law), and promises Canaan to them if they obey. Moses comes down the mountain and writes down God's words and the people agree to keep them. God calls Moses up the mountain where he remains for 40 days and 40 nights. At the conclusion of the 40 days and 40 nights, Moses returns holding the set of stone tablets.

God gives Moses instructions for the construction of the tabernacle so that God could dwell permanently among his chosen people, as well as instructions for the priestly vestments, the altar and its appurtenances, the procedure to be used to ordain the priests, and the daily sacrifices to be offered. Aaron is appointed as the first hereditary high priest. God gives Moses the two tablets of stone containing the words of the ten commandments, written with the "finger of God".[7]

Worship of the Golden Calf, Gerrit de Wet, 17th-century
Worship of the Golden Calf, Gerrit de Wet, 17th-century

While Moses is with God, Aaron makes a golden calf, which the people worship. God informs Moses of their apostasy and threatens to kill them all, but relents when Moses pleads for them. Moses comes down from the mountain, smashes the stone tablets in anger, and commands the Levites to massacre the unfaithful Israelites. God commands Moses to make two new tablets on which He will personally write the words that were on the first tablets. Moses ascends the mountain, God dictates the Ten Commandments (the Ritual Decalogue), and Moses writes them on the tablets.

Moses descends from the mountain, and his face is transformed, so that from that time onwards he has to hide his face with a veil. Moses assembles the Hebrews and repeats to them the commandments he has received from God, which are to keep the Sabbath and to construct the Tabernacle. "And all the construction of the Tabernacle of the Tent of Meeting was finished, and the children of Israel did according to everything that God had commanded Moses", and from that time God dwelt in the Tabernacle and ordered the travels of the Hebrews.


Moses with the Ten Commandments, by Rembrandt (1659)
Moses with the Ten Commandments, by Rembrandt (1659)


Jewish and Christian tradition viewed Moses as the author of Exodus and the entire Pentateuch, but by the end of the 19th century the increasing awareness of discrepancies, inconsistencies, repetitions and other features of the Pentateuch had led scholars to abandon this idea.[8] In approximate round dates, the process which produced Exodus and the Pentateuch probably began around 600 BCE when existing oral and written traditions were brought together to form books recognisable as those we know, reaching their final form as unchangeable sacred texts around 400 BCE.[9]

Genre and sources

The story of the exodus is the founding myth of Israel, telling how the Israelites were delivered from slavery by Yahweh and therefore belong to him through the Mosaic covenant.[10] The Book of Exodus is not a historical narrative in any modern sense:[11] modern history writing requires the critical evaluation of sources, and does not accept God as a cause of events,[12] but in Exodus, everything is presented as the work of God, who appears frequently in person, and the historical setting is only very hazily sketched.[13] The purpose of the book is not to record what really happened, but to reflect the historical experience of the exile community in Babylon and later Jerusalem, facing foreign captivity and the need to come to terms with their understanding of God.[14]

Although mythical elements are not so prominent in Exodus as in Genesis, ancient legends have an influence on the book's content: for example, the story of the infant Moses's salvation from the Nile is based on an earlier legend of king Sargon of Akkad, while the story of the parting of the Red Sea trades on Mesopotamian creation mythology. Similarly, the Covenant Code (the law code in Exodus 20:22–23:33) has some similarities in both content and structure with the Laws of Hammurabi. These influences serve to reinforce the conclusion that the Book of Exodus originated in the exiled Jewish community of 6th-century BCE Babylon, but not all the sources are Mesopotamian: the story of Moses's flight to Midian following the murder of the Egyptian overseer may draw on the Egyptian Story of Sinuhe.[15]


Departure of the Israelites, by David Roberts, 1829
Departure of the Israelites, by David Roberts, 1829


Biblical scholars describe the Bible's theologically-motivated history writing as "salvation history", meaning a history of God's saving actions that give identity to Israel – the promise of offspring and land to the ancestors, the exodus from Egypt (in which God saves Israel from slavery), the wilderness wandering, the revelation at Sinai, and the hope for the future life in the promised land.[12]


A theophany is a manifestation (appearance) of a god – in the Bible, an appearance of the God of Israel, accompanied by storms – the earth trembles, the mountains quake, the heavens pour rain, thunder peals and lightning flashes.[16] The theophany in Exodus begins "the third day" from their arrival at Sinai in chapter 19: Yahweh and the people meet at the mountain, God appears in the storm and converses with Moses, giving him the Ten Commandments while the people listen. The theophany is therefore a public experience of divine law.[17]

The second half of Exodus marks the point at which, and describes the process through which, God's theophany becomes a permanent presence for Israel via the Tabernacle. That so much of the book (chapters 25–31, 35–40) is spent describing the plans of the Tabernacle demonstrates the importance it played in the perception of Second Temple Judaism at the time of the text's redaction by the Priestly writers: the Tabernacle is the place where God is physically present, where, through the priesthood, Israel could be in direct, literal communion with him.[18]


The heart of Exodus is the Sinaitic covenant.[19] A covenant is a legal document binding two parties to take on certain obligations towards each other.[20] There are several covenants in the Bible, and in each case they exhibit at least some of the elements found in real-life treaties of the ancient Middle East: a preamble, historical prologue, stipulations, deposition and reading, list of witnesses, blessings and curses, and ratification by animal sacrifice.[21] Biblical covenants, in contrast to Eastern covenants in general, are between a god, Yahweh, and a people, Israel, instead of between a strong ruler and a weaker vassal.[22]

Election of Israel

Israel is elected for salvation because the "sons of Israel" are "the firstborn son" of the God of Israel, descended through Shem and Abraham to the chosen line of Jacob whose name is changed to Israel. The goal of the divine plan as revealed in Exodus is a return to humanity's state in Eden, so that God can dwell with the Israelites as he had with Adam and Eve through the Ark and Tabernacle, which together form a model of the universe; in later Abrahamic religions this came to be interpreted as Israel being the guardian of God's plan for humanity, to bring "God's creation blessing to mankind" begun in Adam.[23]

Contents according to Judaism's weekly Torah portions

Crossing of the Red Sea, Nicholas Poussin
Crossing of the Red Sea, Nicholas Poussin
  • Shemot, on Exodus 1–5: Affliction in Egypt, Moses is found and called, Pharaoh
  • Va'eira, on Exodus 6–9: Plagues 1 to 7 of Egypt
  • Bo, on Exodus 10–13: Last plagues of Egypt, first Passover
  • Beshalach, on Exodus 13–17: Parting the Sea, water, manna, Amalek
  • Yitro, on Exodus 18–20: Jethro’s advice, The Ten Commandments
  • Mishpatim, on Exodus 21–24: The Covenant Code
  • Terumah, on Exodus 25–27: God's instructions on the Tabernacle and furnishings
  • Tetzaveh, on Exodus 27–30: God's instructions on the first priests
  • Ki Tissa, on Exodus 30–34: Census, anointing oil, golden calf, stone tablets, Moses radiant
  • Vayakhel, on Exodus 35–38: Israelites collect gifts, make the Tabernacle and furnishings
  • Pekudei, on Exodus 38–40: The Tabernacle is set up and filled

See also



  1. ^ Johnstone, p. 72.
  2. ^ Finkelstein, p. 68
  3. ^ Meyers, p. xv.
  4. ^ Dozeman, p. 1.
  5. ^ Meyers, p. 17.
  6. ^ Stuart, p. 19.
  7. ^ Exodus 31:18; Deuteronomy 9:10
  8. ^ Meyers, p. 16.
  9. ^ McEntire 2008, p. 8.
  10. ^ Sparks 2010, p. 73.
  11. ^ Fretheim, p. 7.
  12. ^ a b Dozeman, p. 9.
  13. ^ Houston, p. 68.
  14. ^ Fretheim, p. 8.
  15. ^ Kugler,Hartin, p. 74.
  16. ^ Dozeman, p. 4.
  17. ^ Dozeman, p. 427.
  18. ^ Dempster, p. 107.
  19. ^ Wenham, p. 29.
  20. ^ Meyers, p. 148.
  21. ^ Meyers, pp. 149–150.
  22. ^ Meyers, p. 150.
  23. ^ Dempster, p. 100.


  • Childs, Brevard S (1979). The Book of Exodus. Eerdmans. ISBN 9780664229689.
  • Dempster, Stephen G (2006). Dominion and Dynasty. InterVarsity Press. ISBN 9780830826155.
  • Dozeman, Thomas B (2009). Commentary on Exodus. Eerdmans. ISBN 9780802826176.
  • Finkelstein, I., Silberman, NA., (2001). The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts.
  • Fretheim, Terence E (1991). Exodus. Westminster John Knox Press. ISBN 9780664237349.
  • Houston, Walter J (1998). "Exodus". In John Barton. Oxford Bible Commentary. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780198755005.
  • Johnstone, William D (2003). "Exodus". In James D. G. Dunn, John William Rogerson. Eerdmans Bible Commentary. Eerdmans. ISBN 9780802837110.
  • Kugler, Robert; Hartin, Patrick (2009). An Introduction to the Bible. Eerdmans. ISBN 9780802846365.
  • McEntire, Mark (2008). Struggling with God: An Introduction to the Pentateuch. Mercer University Press. ISBN 9780881461015.
  • Meyers, Carol (2005). Exodus. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521002912.
  • Newman, Murray L (2000) Exodus Forward Movement Publications
  • Plaut, Gunther. The Torah: A Modern Commentary (1981), ISBN 0-8074-0055-6
  • Sparks, Kenton L. (2010). "Genre Criticism". In Dozeman, Thomas B. Methods for Exodus. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781139487382.
  • Stuart, Douglas K (2006). Exodus. B&H Publishing Group. ISBN 9780805401028.
  • Wenham, Gordon (1979). The Book of Leviticus. Eerdmans. ISBN 9780802825223.

External links

Book of Exodus
Preceded by
Hebrew Bible Succeeded by
Old Testament
This page was last edited on 17 January 2019, at 21:31
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