Overview of the Book of Exodus

The most important thing to remember about the book of Exodus is that it reveals the heart of who and what Israel is.

History: Context & Background

Moses has traditionally been identified as the author of Exodus, having written it in roughly 1400BC, early during Israel’s 40-year sojourn in the desert.  Scholarship over the past two centuries has explored the possibilities of a later authorship though nothing conclusive has been agreed upon, leaving Moses still the most likely author.

Literature: Style & Structure

The Greek word exodus means “exit” or “departure.”  This is an apt title, for the central point of this book (both in subject matter and in page count) is the exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.  Indeed, the whole book can be seen as having two parts (described in literary terms as bifid) – first the story leading up to the exodus itself, and then the immediate result of the exodus.

The first part of Exodus is comprised of chapters 1 through 19.  Picking up a few centuries after where the book of Genesis left off, Exodus begins with the birth of Moses, rapidly progresses to his adulthood and calling by God to be his prophet that would deliver Israel from its bondage to the Egyptians.  Through the famous story of the ten plagues and the institution of the Passover, God works through Moses to demonstrate his supreme power to the Egyptians until the Israelites are finally allowed to leave.  The Egyptians change their minds quickly, chase after the fleeing Israelites, and are drowned in the Red Sea in the midst of what may be the single most identity-forming miracle in the entire history of Israel.

The second half of the book of Exodus is largely concerned with the basics of the Law of Moses: the basic Ten Commandments and how to worship God.  An outline of the book could be described as follows:

1-12     Israel in Egypt
13-15   The Exodus from Egypt
16-18   The Journey to Mount Sinai
19-24   God’s Covenant with Israel
25-31   Concerning the Tabernacle & its Ministers
32-34   The Golden Calf & the Covenant Renewal
35-40   More about the Tabernacle & Worship

Although Exodus is only the second of the five books of Moses, it is the heart of the series.  The basics of the covenant, the giving of the Law, with the immediate context of God rescuing his people, together lay the foundation for who Israel is and what they’re supposed to do about it.  Throughout the Old Testament God reminds his people of this event, and even in the New Testament there are several allusions and direct mentions of the exodus.

 Theology: Themes & Insights

The deliverance of Israel, as a whole, is one of the themes that the entire Bible revolves around.  The passing through the Red Sea, the Passover, and the giving of the Law have served as pointers toward the Christian experience of deliverance from sin, especially in the events of Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the giving of the Holy Spirit.  As the old saying goes, “the New Testament is in the Old concealed, and the Old Testament is in the New revealed.”  Thus, as Exodus sets out the establishment of the Old Covenant, great opportunity is found there in discerning the New Covenant prefigured.

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About Fr. Brench

I'm a Priest in the Anglican Diocese in New England interested in spiritual formation, theology, and the growth of God's Kingdom.
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