INTRODUCTION TO EXODUS
by John Lowe
MOSES SHOWS HIS ANGER
GOD GIVES MOSES THE POWER TO PART THE RED SEA.
Title: INTRODUCTION TO EXODUS
Introduction to Exodus
Exodus, the second book in the Torah, begins where Genesis ended—with the children of Israel living in Egypt. The original Hebrew title of the book, "and these are the names," is taken from the first two words of the book in Hebrew. The title "Exodus" ("the way out") is taken from the Greek Septuagint, or LXX1 explaining the content of the book as being about the way out of Egypt. By the beginning of Exodus, the twelve brothers who settled in Egypt to escape from famine in Canaan had become a nation suffering in slavery at the hands of the Pharaoh. Exodus tells the story of God's deliverance of his chosen people from bondage in Egypt, the journey of the Israelites from Egypt to Sinai, the giving of the law to Moses, and the dwelling of God's presence with his people in the Tabernacle, laying the historical, redemptive, and ethical/legal foundation for the nation of Israel.
The Book of Exodus
The book of Exodus opens with the children of Israel in bondage in Egypt. Pharaoh attempts to control the Israelite population by enslaving them (1:10ff1), by having midwives kill all the baby boys at birth (1:16f2), and finally, by throwing the baby boys into the Nile (1:22). Moses is born to a Levite family. His mother hides him for three months before placing him in a basket in the Nile River, where Pharaoh's daughter finds Moses and adopts him (2:1-10). Moses grows up in Pharaoh's household, but he flees from Egypt after killing an Egyptian taskmaster beating a Hebrew. He settles in Sinai with the Midianites and lives as a shepherd (2:11-16). While tending the flocks of his father-in-law Jethro, Moses sees a burning bush and receives his call from the Angel of the Lord to return to Egypt and deliver the Israelites from bondage (ch. 3). The divine being(s) in the bush identifies himself by the title "I am that I am," which gives us the etymology of God's most sacred name, "Yahweh" or "Jehovah" as older English texts rendered it.
Along with his brother Aaron, Moses confronts Pharaoh and demands that Pharaoh release the Israelites. God uses the ten plagues2 to force Pharaoh to release the Israelites, showing himself to be Yahweh—the covenant-keeping God (7:5, 17; 8:22)— while emphasizing his supremacy over the gods of Egypt (12:12). After the first Passover and the death of the firstborn of Egypt, Pharaoh begrudgingly agrees to release the Israelites, who left Egypt under the leadership of Moses. The Israelites escape Pharaoh's pursuit, crossing the Red Sea on dry ground (ch. 14). Pharaoh's chariots are destroyed by the same sea that provided deliverance for the Israelites. Israel and Miram sing songs of victory in honor of the divine warrior Yahweh (ch. 15). As they journey through the wilderness of Sinai, God provides manna and quail for the people to eat (ch. 16) and water from a rock for them to drink (ch. 17).
Three months after leaving Egypt, the Israelites arrive at Mount Sinai. God's presence descends to the top of the mountain (19:20), and Moses ascends the mountain to receive the law and instructions for building the Tabernacle (ch. 20-31, 34:4-28). However, while Moses is on the mountain, the people ask Aaron to make gods for them (32:1). Aaron fashions a golden calf, and the people sacrifice to the idol, provoking God's anger to the point that God decides to wipe them out (32:10). Moses persuades God to relent (32:14), and the Israelites proceed to construct the Tabernacle—complete with its altars, laver, and the ark—according to the instructions Moses received so that God may "dwell among them" (25:8). The glory cloud of God's presence came down on the newly constructed Tent of Meeting or Tabernacle. The text ends with the consecration of the Tabernacle leading up to the need for instructions on carrying out the various rituals that would be performed in that holy environment. Leviticus provides instructions that would be required to maintain Israel as a theocratic nation in the presence of a holy God.
Date of the Exodus
Many scholars disagree about whether the events described in the book of Exodus took place in the 15th or the 13th century BC. Arguments for a late date of around 1260 BC include the names of the Egyptian cities mentioned in Exodus 1:11 and burn lines found at Lachish, Debir, and Bethel dating to about 1200. On the other hand, arguments for an early date of around 1445 BC include scriptural evidence in 1 Kings 6:1 and Judges 11:26 and archeological evidence provided by the Merneptah Stele and the Amarna letters, all of which seem to indicate that the Israelites arrived in the land long before the time suggested by the late-date theory.
Location of the Red Sea
The crossing of the sea in Exodus 14 also presents some historical difficulties. The Hebrew text of Exodus 13:18 reads "Sea of Reeds," not "Red Sea." In light of this fact, there are several possible locations for the sea crossing. One option suggests that the crossing occurred in the region of Lake Timsah and the Bitter Lakes, east of the Nile River and north of the Gulf of Suez, since these freshwater lakes would have had more surrounding plant life (hence "Reed Sea") than would the salty Red Sea. Another possible location for the crossing is at the north end of the Gulf of Suez—the north-western extension of the Red Sea—which borders the Sinai peninsula on its western side. Likewise, more than six geographically divergent sites have been identified as possibilities for the location of Mount Sinai.
Key Theological Themes
God's revelation of his character takes on new meaning in Exodus. The name Yahweh (translated LORD in most English Bibles) was revealed to Moses at the burning bush (3:14; 6:3). It is related to the Hebrew word "to be" and carries the connotations of eternal self-sufficiency and covenantal loyalty. The Israelite's understanding of God as Yahweh is significantly impacted in Exodus as God remembers his covenant obligations (2:24), delivers them out of their bondage in Egypt; reveals his law (ch. 19-31), responds to intercessory prayer (32:11-14), and dwells in the midst of his people in the Tabernacle (ch. 40). In addition, the plagues on the Egyptians reveal God's mighty power to redeem his people with an outstretched arm, demonstrating to the people of Israel and Egypt that he is Yahweh (6:6f; 7:5; 10:2).
Presence of God
The presence of God among his people is tangibly displayed in Exodus in several ways. First, God leads the people out of Egypt, appearing as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (13:21). Second, God's presence is manifested further at Sinai (ch. 19) and in his revelation of his presence to Moses (ch. 33). Finally, in the closing chapters of Exodus, God's presence comes to reside in the Tabernacle (ch. 40). In this way, God is present with his people in a tangible sense, dwelling in the Tent of Meeting in the midst of his people as they make their pilgrimage through the wilderness of Sinai, dwelling in tents themselves.
In Exodus, God liberates his enslaved people by breaking the bonds of Egyptian oppression. The idea of redemption implies salvation that comes about by paying the price. God's redemption of his people from slavery is an essential theme throughout the Bible. The redemption of Israel from Egypt was to be remembered as part of the reason for the Sabbath (Deut 6:15), and Israelites were commanded to redeem the firstborn of their children and animals (Exod 13:2).
At Mount Sinai, Israel receives the Torah—the instructions that define and detail the way God wants his people to live. Often known as the Sinai covenant, this development fills out the promises made to Abraham. Both casuistic and apodictic laws are found in the Torah. Casuistic law is a law given in a conditional form (if x then y). This type of law was common in the ancient Near East and can be found in other law codes such as the Code of Hammurabi. An example of this type of law is Exodus 22:6: "If a fire breaks out and spreads into thorn bushes …, then the one who started the fire must make restitution." Apodictic law is given as categorical imperatives (thou shalt not do x). This form of law is virtually unknown in the ancient Near Eastern context outside of the Torah. The Ten Commandments are expressed in this form (Exod 20:2-17).
This law code provides stability and order for the Israelite nation, emphasizing the importance of a holy lifestyle consistent with a nation living in the presence of God as "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (19:6). Significant parallels exist between the Mosaic law code and other Ancient Near Eastern law codes, such as the Code of Hammurabi, the Ur-Nammu Code, and the Hittite law code.