The key to unlocking the dynamic of Exodus is to understand that the book continues the story of Abraham’s family that began in Genesis. It tells how God intervened to rescue Abraham’s descendants out of slavery in Egypt through the leadership of Moses, bringing them miraculously through the Red Sea, and then forming them into a nation as his people through making a covenant with them at Sinai. This covenant contains the ten commandments as the axiomatic base of their religious and civic law. The last third of Exodus is a detailed description of both the plans and the construction of the tabernacle into which God enters and dwells.
Exodus is epic literature recording some of the greatest stories of ancient history. However, the reader is fascinated not only because of these extraordinary stories but because they reveal both the way God intervenes and his character. The book rises to a crescendo where God reveals himself and his character to Moses (33:12-34:9), and then enters and fills the tabernacle with his presence to dwell with his people forever (40:34-38). Exodus is a truly remarkable book, even if it is challenging to read and engage with.
Click on the link above for an audio version of the book of Exodus.
Listen to Nick’s podcasts of sections of Exodus in the ‘starter course’.
Download a Bible app for your smart phone and listen when you’re at the gym, travelling in the car …
Easy: Read Chapters 1 – 20, 24, 32 – 34, and 40.
Main: Read the whole book (skim the tabernacle details).
Full: Carefully read the whole 40 chapters and make notes.
A film about the Exodus: “Prince of Egypt” or “Exodus: of gods and men”.
Study the Bible for Life material and answer the ‘meal course’ questions.
Study the introduction to Exodus in a Study Bible.
Suggested verses for meditation …
2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
3 “You shall have no other gods before me.
6 The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
The book of Exodus is truly one of the most astonishing and outstanding books of antiquity. In its location as the second of the five books in the Pentateuch it builds on the stories of the patriarchs, extending and developing the concept of covenant from Abraham and his family to the wider Israelite community. The title of the book refers to the escape by the Israelite tribes out from under the power of Pharaoh as a result of the continuous miraculous intervention by Yahweh, culminating in their crossing of the Red Sea. From being a discordant rabble, they are formed into a worshipping community centred on the tabernacle. The narrative of this development is focused on the extraordinary intervention of Yahweh into Moses’ life and the subsequent ongoing dialogue between the two.
Although Exodus contains all the ingredients of outstanding narrative: a reluctant hero (Moses), a cruel tyrant (Pharaoh), extraordinary disasters (the plagues), a struggle to survive against superior odds, unique encounters with and interventions by God, culminating in his inhabiting the tabernacle; it is nevertheless not an easy book to engage with.
While the forty chapters contain the foundations of the entire Judeo-Christian ethical system, they do so in the context of events that challenge the 21st Century apprentice of Jesus. It therefore raises just as many questions as it answers. Unsurprisingly this epic story about the birth and formation of one of the most fascinating and influential nations on the earth continues to be the subject of leading art, poetry, books and films.
The heart of the book is the formation of the covenant at Sinai, where Yahweh ‘marries’ Israel. The terms of the covenant are the ten commandments, listed (in Exodus 20) and then supplemented (Exodus 20-23), but the ‘benefits’ of this union is the presence of Yahweh among his people, evidenced by him inhabiting the tabernacle. Seven chapters articulate the divine plans for the tabernacle and six more describe its construction before the divine presence then enters and inhabits it.
Worship and obedience are at the very centre of the Kingdom life of an apprentice of Jesus. Slavery under the powers of this world (Pharaoh) is broken only when a greater covenant is made through belief in the atoning work of Christ (the crossing of the Red Sea), lived out through the holy habit of worship (the tabernacle), and a life shaped by Jesus’ interpretation of the ten commandments (Matthew 5). In Exodus, Yahweh is active and humanity is passive; Yahweh intervenes and Israel learns obedience; Yahweh reveals his character and his ways and Israel learns to respond in worship.
Question 1 -
Look around the world today; which ethnic groups are in slavery?
Question 2 -
Exodus starts with the Israelites building for Pharaoh and ends with them building a place a worship for Yahweh. What are you giving your life to build? Is worship at the very centre of your life?
Question 3 -
What are the epic stories from the last 100 years of world history?
|1 - 2||Slavery in Egypt|
|3 - 7:7||God commissions Moses|
|7:8 - 11:10||The plagues|
|12 - 15:21||Passover - deliverance and worship|
|15:22 - 18:27||Desert problems|
|19 - 24||Law and covenant|
|25 - 31||The plans for the tabernacle|
|32 - 34:35||The golden calf debacle|
|35 - 40||Tabernacle built and consecrated|
2. The giving of the Law and the formation of the covenant
3. The presence of God filling the tabernacle and abiding with his people
Question 1 -
What approach did you use in order to engage with Exodus? How often did you read it? What passages did you give most attention to?
Question 2 -
What type of literature is Exodus?
Question 3 -
Exodus tells the story of God intervening to do his part of his covenant with Abraham, and rescue Abraham’s descendants. Has God intervened in your life? What has he actually done?
Question 4 -
If you were to write ‘10 commandments’ for the 21st Century, what would they be?
Question 5 -
The motivation throughout is that God’s people are free to willingly worship him. Think about how our lives can and should be centred on worship. How is worship in the 21st Century different from before?
Verse by Verse
Exodus continues the story of Abraham’s family that began in Genesis. It tells how God intervened to rescue Abraham’s descendants out of slavery in Egypt through the leadership of Moses, bringing them miraculously through the Red Sea and then forming them into a nation as his people through making a covenant with them at Sinai. This covenant contains the ten commandments as the axiomatic base of his people’s religious and civic law. The last third of Exodus is a detailed description of both the plans and the construction of the tabernacle into which God enters and dwells.
Exodus is epic literature recording some of the greatest stories of ancient history. However, the reader is fascinated not only because of these extraordinary stories, but because they reveal both the way God intervenes and his character. The book rises to a crescendo where God reveals himself and his character to Moses (33:12-34:9), and then enters and fills the tabernacle with his presence to dwell with his people forever (40:34-38). Exodus is a truly remarkable book, even if it is challenging to read and engage with.
The situation and call
Introduction; link with Genesis – 1
Moses’ birth, upbringing and call – 2-4
The struggle and victory
Moses confronts Pharaoh; the ten plagues – 5-11
The Passover – 12
Consecration of the firstborn – 13
Crossing the Red Sea – 13:17-15:21
The journey to Mount Sinai
Problem 1 – no water – 15:22-27 Marah
Problem 2 – no food – 16 Manna
Problem 3 – no water – 17 Water from rock
Problem 4 – enemy attacks – 17:8f Amalekites
Problem 5 – Moses overworked – 18 Jethro
The covenant is made
Consecration – 19
God gives the Law – 20-23 (Ten Commandments – 20)
The covenant is made – 24
Tabernacle worship is revealed to Moses – 25-31
Interlude: Disobedience – the golden calf – 33
God meets with Moses:
The tent of meeting – 33:7-11
Encounter on the mountain – 33-34
The Tabernacle is built and the worship system is established – 35-40
God comes in power – 40:34f
The first verses link the book of Exodus with Genesis by listing the names of Jacob’s family that went to Egypt. In this chapter we see the birth of the tension between the Jews and the Arabs that has continued right up to today: ‘the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites’ (v12). Several Bible books (and stories) begin with the story of women giving birth, and doing so in a context where there is difficulty and suffering (1 Samuel 1, Luke 1, Revelation 12, Judges 13, Genesis 15 etc). Pharaoh’s order (v22) mirrors the slaughter of the innocents in Matthew 2:16. The glorious beginning to this story has now developed into a situation of hardship. Elsewhere we are told that it took 400 years for the situation to change from Joseph’s golden era as administrator over Egypt to this time of oppression. Sometimes the glorious works of God develop into a period of oppression and difficulty and rather like a baby in the womb it is time for completely new development in the purposes of God. The waters must break and God’s people must come into a new phase and existence in the salvation purposes of God. Church history repeatedly tells this story as God’s people are led by the Spirit to continuously come into the inheritance that has always been in their spiritual DNA. The birth of the pentecostal and charismatic movement worldwide is one recent example of this.
This chapter relates three stories quite rapidly: Moses’ birth and how he came to be brought up in Pharaoh’s household; how he killed an Egyptian who was attacking a Hebrew; and how he intervened on behalf of the women shepherds and then married one of them. The stories are told with speed and the minimum of detail because this is background to the main story which will begin shortly. The narrative has an easy style which maintains one’s interest, and with the tone and phraseology of other parts of Scripture that serve as community identity history stories. Moses is saved out of the waters and taken into a context of the highest privilege in a way that anticipates the journey God’s people are about to make through the Red Sea and into the Promised Land. The key point of this background narrative is that we are introduced to a man who fights on behalf of those who are suffering. Nevertheless, the chapter ends with Moses naming his son after his own situation; a privileged, educated man, but now with the prospect of execution if he returns to Egypt. An alien in a foreign land, with his people suffering in slavery. But God has seen the situation of his covenant partner’s people and is concerned for them. Christians are in covenant with God through the Cross, and God is concerned for every one of his children every day. The story teaches us that God waits for the right time to act and intervene.
Chapter 3 – 4 God commissions Moses at the burning bush
This story parallels God’s initial intervention in the lives of Noah (Genesis 6), Abram (Genesis 15), and Jacob (Genesis 28). This extraordinary dialogue is without parallel in Scripture. Moses is stubborn, just like the Israelites will prove to be in the desert and throughout their history (Ezekiel 3:7-9). The story and details of Moses’ struggle with Pharaoh are summarised in this conversation. In 4:21-23 God refers to Israel as his first-born son. This is not poetic imagery, it is the terms of the Abrahamic covenant whereby Abraham’s sons (people) are his own people and God’s sons are Abraham’s people. Paul uses this point in Galatians 3: Abraham’s seed is Christ, and through Christ’s gift of the Spirit to the Church, all nations will be blessed through the agency of the Church.
4:24 – 26 The problem of the Lord seeking to kill Moses in Exodus
This text raises the problem of why God would set about killing the man he has just called to serve him, and, second, is God actually a murdering monster? Verses 4:24-26 appear plainly bizarre but the story resonates deeply with other encounters with a holy God (Uzzar, Ananias and Sapphira). Feet is a euphemism for private parts as elsewhere in the Old Testament. The facts are that Moses should have been circumcised as a child because of his family’s membership of the Abrahamic covenant. Aged 80 he has still not obeyed this basic command and not only was he about to lead the people of God into the Promised Land, but, in addition, despite God’s patience, he has resisted God’s commission (Exodus 4:13-14)! It was time for Moses to learn that when God says jump the right reply is “how high?” Like much of Scripture, this problem is not answered at the ethical or literary level, but through understanding how God encounters humanity and the deeper dynamics of life in the Spirit. The answer is seen most clearly in the chapters of Revelation which, as John Stott reminds us, is introduced as a revelation of Christ. In Revelation, Christ comes to people in several different ways; as a thief (Rev 16:15), as a bridegroom (Rev 21), as ruler of the nations (Rev 19:15) etc, etc. In this incident, God comes to Moses as one ‘whose eyes are like blazing fire’ (Rev 2:18). Anyone who walks with Christ will experience the ‘kindness and severity of the Lord’ (Romans 11:22). Modern man proudly turns his nose up and treats the idea of God’s severity with belittling contempt, but the fact is that ‘the fear of the Lord keeps a man from sin’ (Proverbs 16:6). Actually, the Lord does not kill Moses, he merely gives him a ‘close encounter’, and Moses very quickly learns a most important lesson about obedience. The immediate effect on Moses was holiness, and a holiness that led to him speaking ‘mouth to mouth’ with God ‘as a man talks with his friend’ (Exodus 33:11).
In contrast to chapter 2 where the narrative is quick, here the narrative is slow and repetitive. The first request incenses Pharaoh and he increases the workload for the people. It is difficult to think of any other approach that Moses could have made that would have been successful, or any other reaction by Pharaoh. Satan often accuses Christians of laziness (Martha accused her sister). We can default to a mind-set that busy-ness is godly (a form of salvation by being good enough), but Jesus did not live a frantically busy life – he began by waiting 30 years. Resting and sleeping is a statement and an act of faith (Mark 4:27). Sometimes when you begin to pray for God to bring a person into the Kingdom, you then witness the work of Satan beginning in that person’s life as the battle is joined. The people of Israel had lost faith in the Lord, but that didn’t stop the Lord! He only needed one person to believe in him and he found that person in Moses who had already acted in faith by going to Pharaoh. This story is an example of Paul’s summary in 2 Corinthians 4:17-18: ‘We fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen, for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal’.
The first part, verses 1-12, are the low point, the point of testing. The plan is going wrong, and despite the Lord’s assurances, Moses twice expresses his doubts (5:22-23 and 6:12). There would be many times in the ensuing story where the Promised Land seemed nothing but a pipe dream, and a very dangerous one at that. Here at the very beginning all the evidence is that this is a foolish venture that will lead to great suffering.
The genealogy of Moses and Aaron is placed in between two sections that are very similar (v10-13 and v26-30). The genealogy is placed here at the beginning of the escape from Egypt in order to highlight the prominence of Moses and Aaron in leading the escape. The emphasis on their sons is picked up later in the roles and duties they have in the service of the tabernacle.
This tells the story of the initial miracles. Aaron’s staff becomes a snake and eats up the other staff/snakes, and the first plague occurs: the river Nile turns to blood. The sign of blood perhaps foreshadows the final slaughter of the Egyptians in the Red Sea.
Chapter 8 – 10
The increasing crescendo of plagues is framed in a series of three sets of three. A good Study Bible will demonstrate this (for example, ESV p156). The plagues are set against the gods of Egypt culminating in the power statement against the sun god through the imposition of three days of darkness. In every case, Pharaoh’s heart is hardened, not because Yahweh deliberately makes it hard, but because he knows that this proud man of the most powerful nation in the region has a heart that is predisposed to stubbornness and whenever faced by these challenges will respond in this way. All these plagues are re-worked by the author of Revelation in the apocalyptic image of the Lord overthrowing the kingdom of evil. The aim throughout is the establishment of worship; ‘let my people go that they might worship me’ (7:16), and this all leads towards the overwhelming presence of the Lord in the tabernacle in chapter 40. The plagues have different purposes: to persuade Pharaoh, but also to show the Israelites the power of the Lord.
This chapter, which is a warning to Pharaoh and a preparation for Moses and the Israelites, is written in three parts:
1) v1-3 The Lord prepares Moses.
2) v4-8 Moses warns Pharaoh.
3) v9-10 A summary comment on Pharaoh’s hard heart.
Under the terms of Yahweh’s covenant with Abraham, Israel really was God’s first born son (v5). Moses’ hot anger is like Ezekiel’s in Ezekiel 3:14.
This chapter gives the instructions for the celebration of the Passover. This feast is the first in the Jewish year because it is the most important:
10th Day – Choose a lamb
14th Day – Kill it, put blood on doorpost, Passover supper, no yeast, no work
14-21st Day – No yeast in the house
21st Day – Feast of Unleavened Bread –no work
The Passover foreshadows the Cross, where God’s one and only son died as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of all humanity, and where in terms of the Abrahamic covenant, God experienced death in the person of his son so that Abraham and all his descendants could be free of sin forever.
This chapter states that the Israelites are to celebrate the Passover with no yeast, and addresses the redemption of the firstborn in Israel. Even the donkeys are to be redeemed (2, 11-16).
The people of Israel cross the Red Sea, but the Egyptian cavalry are drowned. This is the story of the birth of the nation. Moses’ action in stretching out his hand is at the heart of prayer ministry.
This chapter contains two songs: the songs of Moses and Miriam. They are probably the oldest poetry in the Bible. The place of Miriam’s song at the end of the section matches the place and action of the women at the beginning (1:1-15:21). The Song of Moses is a description of the defeat of Pharaoh’s army, but it looks beyond this victory (v1-10) to the cosmic reality of a new dawn for the nation, not just in the Promised Land (v15-17), but to God’s eternal work of redemption (v13). The song is found again (reworked by John) in Revelation 15:3-4, where the people of God who have gone through the persecution and have been redeemed from and out of it once again worship God for his work of redemption. The placing of these two songs at the beginning and end of the Bible remind us that God’s people should always recount and praise God for his work of redemption. The model of atonement here is Christus Victor – Christ’s defeat of evil and the devil on the Cross.
This chapter addresses the issue of God’s provision. There is nothing like the experience of aloneness either in a desert, when travelling or another similar context in life to test the believer’s faith. Our physical and spiritual lives are intertwined, and a crisis in the physical, be it the lack of provision of necessities such as water or food or clothes, or the departure from God’s norm for sexual behaviour, quickly tests the spiritual in the believer. ‘A food crisis leads to a faith crisis’ (Fretheim). God’s supernatural provision is to be daily, and must be received each day. Hoarding is not allowed, and the man who builds bigger barns is judged. A little manna is collected and placed in the tabernacle as a constant daily reminder to the worshipper of the supernatural provision of the basics needs for life. This chapter leads directly to John 6.
The fledgling community is tested over the basic need for water and then is attacked by the desert nomadic Amalekites. God continues his work of creation and recreation in the desert by providing water. Moses’ staff that made the water of the Nile undrinkable (an act of judgement on the chaotic rebellion of destruction), now makes drinkable water flow for God’s people (an act of blessing and creation). Although the Amalekites were defeated, the memory was severe; it was ‘a near-run thing’, and their destruction is written down for generations in an act that ironically, and yet deliberately, spoke of the end of that people but the perpetual memory of their name and their wickedness. The provision of water and victory in the desert is a foretaste of the provision of the Law in that context also. Psalm 1 speaks of the blessing of the Law and its effect being like walking beside deep pools.
This section articulates the laws of the covenant:
The ten commandments (20:1-17)
Laws about altars (20:22-26)
Hebrew slaves (21:2-11)
Personal injuries (21:12-36)
Protection of property (22:1-15)
Social responsibility (22:16-31)
Justice and mercy (23:1-9)
Sabbath laws (23:10-13)
Three annual festivals (23:14-19)
Angel to lead them to the Promised Land (23:20-33)
The purpose of this “book” is to provide a code outlining the foundational principles of justice and social order for the community. It seems to have been written with the local magistracy in view. It serves therefore to enlarge on and take initial steps in applying the ten commandments.
These seven chapters detail the plans that God gave Moses for the building of the tabernacle. The length of this description, which must have been as heavy and wearisome for the ancient readers as it is for us, demonstrates the importance of worship in the life of God’s people. The book of Exodus takes God’s people from slavishly constructing buildings for Pharaoh to willingly constructing a building for God. Instead of God appearing very occasionally, at a distance and in a fixed place, he will now dwell in the centre of the camp. These plans are therefore a climax not only in Israel’s journey out of Egypt, but in God’s journey towards Israel and humanity. The plans are specific and detailed because the tabernacle must be constructed in way God wants, because the integrity of the very spiritual life of the nation is at stake.
This episode is Genesis 3 all over again: after the “creation” of the tabernacle given by God, Israel makes its own “god”. Freitheim notes the differences:
Tabernacle: Golden calf:
God’s initiative People’s initiative
A willing offering requested Aaron commands gold
Painstaking preparations No planning
Lengthy building process Made quickly
Safeguarding of divine holiness Immediate Accessibility
Invisible God Visible God
Personal, active God Impersonal object
What Israel hopes to secure for itself it actually fails to secure at all, while ironically Moses is painstakingly and patiently receiving from God all that Israel was trying to achieve in a short cut.
The intercession of Moses is fascinating. It is as if Moses and God work out together what will happen next. This incident reveals that God is always faithful regarding his love. He is faithful to every promise he has made, and his will is that all will be saved (through reaching repentance). Freitheim: “God will always act, even make changes, in order to be true to these unchangeable ways and to accomplish these unchangeable goals.”
The revealing of God’s character is a high point in the development of the Pentateuch. Throughout Exodus, God is taking steps to approach humanity and in doing so reveals himself to Moses:
This shows that Exodus is about the advance of God towards humanity. It is like God calling to Adam, “Where are you?” (Gen 3:9). He comes looking for us. And the book ends with his glory filling the temple. His desire is to dwell with us (25:8).
The construction of the tabernacle and its items are described in these chapters. Although the order is somewhat different from the instructions given in chapters 25-31, the subject matter is the same. Perhaps these details are recorded for a second time in order to emphasise the serious priority of the task, the importance of the worship for God’s people and fact that Moses’ instructions were properly obeyed in these matters (with the implication that the other laws of the Torah should also be obeyed.
Exodus ends (40:34-38) with the glory of the Lord entering the tabernacle. Not only is this a reality for those baptised in the Spirit, but this is a prophetic sign of the coming of the Spirit into the body of Christ (the temple community of God’s people) on the day of Pentecost. In Ezekiel 10:18 the glory of the Lord leaves the temple, a sign of final judgement on Israel. In Ezekiel 43:5 the prophet sees the glory return into the new temple. These must be considered in the context of the dominant theme of the Old Testament: that God’s people persistently committed idolatry.
The overall message of the book of Exodus:
As the second of the five books in the Pentateuch, Exodus describes the formation of the Jewish people into a worshipping community. This takes place in the desert after they have escaped from the power of Pharaoh and crossed the Red Sea. From being a discordant rabble they are formed into a worshipping community centred on the tabernacle. The narrative of this development is focused on and developed through the extraordinary intervention of Yahweh into Moses’ life and the subsequent dialogue between the two.
The leading imperatives:
The implied imperatives:
Holy Habits: (Holy Habits are patterns of living and lifestyle practices which we choose to do in our lives. These can be in order to either withdraw from the dominion of the world, such as silence, secrecy, submission, fasting, watching, simple living, or, practices that plunge us into the life of the Kingdom, such as prayer, worship, celebration, study, serving the poor and deprived, etc. They can be as simple as kneeling by your bed and thanking God at the end of the day, or as substantial as attending an annual Christian festival.)
Question 1 -
Why did Moses find favour with God (33:12)?
Question 2 -
Look at the key role women play in the first chapters.
Question 3 -
From what slavery has Christ redeemed us?
Question 4 -
List the main features of God’s rescue plan for the family of his covenant partner Abraham, and compare them with the main features of his rescue plan for all humanity at the cross.
Question 5 -
Explore the progressive intervention of God through Exodus.