“Exodus” is a Latin word derived from Greek Exodos, the name given to the book by those who translated it into Greek. The word means “exit,” “departure” (see Lk 9:31; Heb 11:22). The name was retained by the Latin Vulgate, by the Jewish author Philo (a contemporary of Christ) and by the Syriac version. In Hebrew the book is named after its first two words, we’elleh shemoth(“These are the names of”). The same phrase occurs in Ge 46:8, where it likewise introduces a list of the names of those Israelites “who went to Egypt with Jacob” (1:1). Thus Exodus was not intended to exist separately, but was thought of as a continuation of a narrative that began in Genesis and was completed in Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. The first five books of the Bible are together known as the Pentateuch (see Introduction to Genesis: Author and Date of Writing).
Author and Date of Writing
Several statements in Exodus indicate that Moses wrote certain sections of the book (see 17:14; 24:4; 34:27). In addition, Jos 8:31refers to the command of Ex 20:25 as having been “written in the Book of the Law of Moses.” The NT also claims Mosaic authorship for various passages in Exodus (see, e.g., Mk 7:10; 12:26 and NIV text notes; see also Lk 2:22–23). Taken together, these references strongly suggest that Moses was largely responsible for writing the book of Exodus—a traditional view not convincingly challenged by the commonly held notion that the Pentateuch as a whole contains four underlying sources (see Introduction to Genesis: Author and Date of Writing).
According to 1Ki 6:1 (see note there), the exodus took place 480 years before “the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel.” Since that year was c. 966 b.c., it has been traditionally held that the exodus occurred c. 1446. The “three hundred years” of Jdg 11:26 fits comfortably within this time span (see Introduction to Judges: Background). In addition, although Egyptian chronology relating to the 18th dynasty remains somewhat uncertain, some recent research tends to support the traditional view that two of this dynasty’s pharaohs, Thutmose III and his son Amunhotep II, were the pharaohs of the oppression and the exodus respectively (see notes on2:15,23; 3:10).
On the other hand, the appearance of the name Rameses in 1:11 has led many to the conclusion that the 19th-dynasty pharaoh Seti I and his son Rameses II were the pharaohs of the oppression and the exodus respectively. Furthermore, archaeological evidence of the destruction of numerous Canaanite cities in the 13th century b.c. has been interpreted as proof that Joshua’s troops invaded the promised land in that century. These and similar lines of argument lead to a date for the exodus of c. 1290 (see Introduction to Joshua: Historical Setting).
The identity of the cities’ attackers, however, cannot be positively ascertained. The raids may have been initiated by later Israelite armies, or by Philistines or other outsiders. In addition, the archaeological evidence itself has become increasingly ambiguous, and recent evaluations have tended to redate some of it to the 18th dynasty. Also, the name Rameses in 1:11 could very well be the result of an editorial updating by someone who lived centuries after Moses—a procedure that probably accounts for the appearance of the same word in Ge 47:11 (see note there).
In short, there are no compelling reasons to modify in any substantial way the traditional 1446 b.c. date for the exodus of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage.
The Route of the Exodus
At least three routes of escape from Pithom and Rameses (1:11) have been proposed: (1) a northern route through the land of the Philistines (but see 13:17); (2) a middle route leading eastward across Sinai to Beersheba; and (3) a southern route along the west coast of Sinai to the southeastern extremities of the peninsula. The southern route seems most likely, since several of the sites in Israel’s desert itinerary have been tentatively identified along it. See map No. 2 at the end of the Study Bible. The exact place where Israel crossed the “Red Sea” is uncertain, however (see notes on 13:18; 14:2).
Themes and Theology
Exodus lays a foundational theology in which God reveals his name, his attributes, his redemption, his law and how he is to be worshiped. It also reports the appointment and work of Moses as the mediator of the Sinaitic covenant, describes the beginnings of the priesthood in Israel, defines the role of the prophet and relates how the ancient covenant relationship between God and his people (see note on Ge 17:2) came under a new administration (the covenant given at Mount Sinai).
Profound insights into the nature of God are found in chs. 3; 6; 33–34. The focus of these texts is on the fact and importance of his presence with his people (as signified by his name Yahweh—see notes on 3:14–15—and by his glory among them). But emphasis is also placed on his attributes of justice, truthfulness, mercy, faithfulness and holiness. Thus to know God’s “name” is to know him and to know his character (see 3:13–15; 6:3).
God is also the Lord of history. Neither the affliction of Israel nor the plagues in Egypt were outside his control. The pharaoh, the Egyptians and all Israel saw the power of God. There was no one like him, “majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders” (15:11; see note there).
It is reassuring to know that God remembers and is concerned about his people (see 2:24). What he had promised centuries earlier to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob he now begins to bring to fruition as Israel is freed from Egyptian bondage and sets out for the land of promise. The covenant at Sinai is but another step in God’s fulfillment of his promise to the patriarchs (3:15–17; 6:2–8; 19:3–8).
The Biblical message of salvation is likewise powerfully set forth in this book. The verb “redeem” is used, e.g., in 6:6; 15:13. But the heart of redemption theology is best seen in the Passover narrative of ch. 12, the sealing of the covenant in ch. 24, and the account of God’s gracious renewal of that covenant after Israel’s blatant unfaithfulness to it in their worship of the golden calf (see 34:1–14and notes). The apostle Paul viewed the death of the Passover lamb as fulfilled in Christ (1Co 5:7). Indeed, John the Baptist called Jesus the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29).
The foundation of Biblical ethics and morality is laid out first in the gracious character of God as revealed in the exodus itself and then in the Ten Commandments (20:1–17) and the ordinances of the Book of the Covenant (20:22—23:33), which taught Israel how to apply in a practical way the principles of the commandments.
The book concludes with an elaborate discussion of the theology of worship. Though costly in time, effort and monetary value, the tabernacle, in meaning and function, points to the “chief end of man,” namely, “to glorify God and to enjoy him forever” (Westminster Shorter Catechism). By means of the tabernacle, the omnipotent, unchanging and transcendent God of the universe came to “dwell” or “tabernacle” with his people, thereby revealing his gracious nearness as well. God is not only mighty in Israel’s behalf; he is also present in the nation’s midst.
However, these theological elements do not merely sit side by side in the Exodus narrative. They receive their fullest and richest significance from the fact that they are embedded in the account of God’s raising up his servant Moses (1) to liberate his people from Egyptian bondage, (2) to inaugurate his earthly kingdom among them by bringing them into a special national covenant with him, and (3) to erect within Israel God’s royal tent. And this account of redemption from bondage leading to consecration in covenant and the pitching of God’s royal tent in the earth, all through the ministry of a chosen mediator, discloses God’s purpose in history—the purpose he would fulfill through Israel, and ultimately through Jesus Christ the supreme Mediator.
- Prologue (chs. 1–2)
- God’s Deliverance of Israel (chs. 3–18)
- The Deliverer Called (ch. 3)
- The Deliverer’s Objections and Disqualifications Overcome (ch. 4)
- Unsuccessful Attempts to Deliver (5:1—6:12)
- The Deliverers Identified (6:13–27)
- Judgment of Plagues on Egypt (6:28—11:10)
- Deliverer’s commission renewed (6:28—7:7)
- Presenting the signs of divine authority (7:8–13)
- First plague: water turned to blood (7:14–24)
- Second plague: frogs (7:25—8:15)
- Third plague: gnats (8:16–19)
- Fourth plague: flies (8:20–32)
- Fifth plague: against livestock (9:1–7)
- Sixth plague: boils (9:8–12)
- Seventh plague: hail (9:13–35)
- Eighth plague: locusts (10:1–20)
- Ninth plague: darkness (10:21–29)
- Tenth plague announced: death of the firstborn (ch. 11)
- The Passover (12:1–28)
- The Exodus from Egypt (12:29–51)
- The Consecration of the Firstborn (13:1–16)
- Crossing the “Red Sea” (13:17—15:21)
- Journey to Sinai (15:22—18:27)
- Covenant at Sinai (chs. 19–24)
- The Covenant Proposed (ch. 19)
- The Decalogue (20:1–17)
- The Reaction of the People to God’s Fiery Presence (20:18–21)
- The Book of the Covenant (20:22—23:33)
- Ratification of the Covenant (ch. 24)
- God’s Royal Tent in Israel (chs. 25–40)
- Instructions concerning the Royal Tent (chs. 25–31)
- Collection of the materials (25:1–9)
- Furnishings of the tent (25:10–40)
- The tent and its courtyard (26:1—27:19)
- The tent’s personnel (27:20—29:46)
- Remaining provisions concerning the tent (ch. 30)
- Appointment of craftsmen (31:1–11)
- Observance of Sabbath rest (31:12–18)
- Rebellion Threatens Withdrawal of God (chs. 32–34)
- God’s Royal Tent Set Up (chs. 35–40)
- Instructions concerning the Royal Tent (chs. 25–31)
© Zondervan. From the Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Used with Permission.
- NIV Study Bible
- The Synoptic Gospels
- The Wisdom Literature
- The Pastoral Letters
- The General Letters
- The Book of the Twelve, or the Minor Prophets
- Intro to Genesis
- Intro to Exodus
- Intro to Leviticus
- Intro to Numbers
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