Beginning on September 4th we’ll be looking at the book of Exodus. Although the series won’t cover every chapter and verse it will cover some of the major incidents and events from this part of Israel’s history.
The aim is “…to hear the ancient voice of a living faith speaking in and through the Exodus narrative…” For this reason i’ve not tried to come up with ‘one key point’ in the series but instead want to give the story of the Exodus chance to speak into our lives. This means giving the scriptures room to speak and resisting the urge to impress upon them what we want to hear.
The book of Exodus is a pivotal book in our understanding of both the Old and New Testaments as it recounts the story of Gods presence drawing near to his people as he frees them and leads them to the promised land and the covenant relationship. There are many opportunities for us to hear the voice of God speaking across the centuries into our own lives.
When Moses turned to the burning bush he came into the presence of the Lord. From that moment on Moses found himself living in the tension between the ineffable mystery and presence of God and pragmatic daily living – a tension that is perhaps all too familiar to us.
The series will run as follows:
Sept 4th - Introduction to the book, characters, themes, date and author
Sept 11th - Moses and the burning bush
Sept 18th - Getting Pharaohs attention – all sorts of plagues
Sept 25th – Harvest - Celebrating Gods provision as a Church
Oct 2nd - Get out! The Exodus begins.
Oct 9th - Gods provision in the wilderness
Oct 16th - Speaking with God – Moses on Mount Sinai
Oct 23rd - The small matter of a Golden Calf
Oct 30th – A second chance - covenant
Nov 6th – The Glory of God comes down
Some background information
The story that begins in Genesis continues in Exodus. The Hebrew title for the book of Exodus is ‘These are the names’ – derived from the opening line in Exodus 1:1 – which helps to underline the continuity between the books. A large amount of time has lapsed however between when the story stops in Genesis and when it begins again in Exodus. At the end of Genesis God’s people are little more than a relatively small extended family. By the time Exodus begins God’s people are numerous enough to be a nation. Estimates put the number of Israelites at the time of the Exodus well into the millions, with some 603, 550 males over 20 officially recorded.
As a book Exodus is substantially free from some of the textual difficulties of other OT books. There is a high level of coherence between the Masoretic Text, the Septuagint, and the Qumran Scrolls, and the Aleppo Codex, with few major differences in translation.
The book of Exodus is mainly prose. There are some narrative sections and also several lists of apodictic and casuistic laws. There are also various cultic prescriptions and specifications and a small amount of poetry. It is thought that the poetic sections of the book are the oldest.
Using internal biblical references it is possible to date the Exodus to the 15th Century BC. (Note – this is the date of the exodus from Egypt and not the writing of the book of Exodus.)
1Kings6:1 says “In the four hundred and eightieth year after the Israelites came out of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, the second month, he began to build the temple of the LORD.
The fourth year of Solomon’s reign is widely accepted to be 967BC which allows us to date the Exodus to 1447BC.
Some scholars argue for a later date in the 13th century BC. This view was based largely on archaeological finds in the early 1900’s. However, the degree of certainty provided by the archaelogical evidence has been cast into doubt and since the 1950’s this view has been less popular.
The book of Exodus itself does not make any direct attempt to credit authorship to Moses. Biblical scholarship has identified either 3 or 4 major ‘voices’ in the Exodus text, which hints at a number of authors or redactors assembling and shaping the text over a period of time estimated to be from 1447BC to 300BC.
An alternative view with regards authorship is based around the tradition that Moses himself wrote not just Exodus but the whole of the Pentateuch – a view largely based on the numerous references to Moses writing activity in the Pentateuch, and the Israelite tradition of referring to a ‘Book of Moses’.
The most realistic scenario is that Exodus, like the rest of the Pentateuch, contains pre-mosaic sources, post-mosaic editing and redaction, and a certain amount of mosaic writing.
Despite the clear presence of a number of different authors and redactors and evidence of different source material the book is still to be read as a whole piece of theological / historical literature. The editing is not haphazard. It is not a literary or theological goulash – ingredients thrown in, mixed up and served - but a deliberate and carefully compiled document with a clear structure and theological trajectory.
The book does display a clear internal structure and can be broken down into 3 key sections based on location or theological content:
1). Israel in Egypt (Ex1:1 – 13:16)
2). Israel in the wilderness (Ex13:17 – 18:27)
3). Israel at Sinai (Ex19:1 – 40:38)
1). God saves Israel from slavery (Ex1:1 – 18:27)
2). God gives Israel his law (Ex19:1 – 24:18)
3). God instructs Israel to build the Tabernacle (Ex25:1 – 40:38)
More conservative scholars have summarised the structure of the book as built around the themes of 1). Salvation, 2). Law 3). Worship.
More detailed structure
God saves Israel from slavery (Ex1:1 – 18:27)
In this first section of Exodus the problem of the enslavement of Israel is introduced. Not only are God’s people enslaved, but Pharaoh attempts to limit the population growth of the Israelites. Into this difficult situation Moses is introduced. Numerous miraculous events and a good deal of irony surround Moses’ birth and early life underlining the age old truth that when it comes to salvation God is full of surprises.
In Chapters 3&4 events conspire to force Moses out of Egypt and into the desert where he is taught about the nature of the God he is to serve. Chapters 5-12 narrate the details of Moses struggle against Pharaoh. In the narrative Moses is God’s representative, with Pharaoh symbolizing / representing the Egyptian Gods. The plagues begin and increase in severity until eventually the Israelites are released.
Chapters 13 – 15 recount the journey out of Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea – the symbolic moment at which Israel is released from captivity and bondage. The crossing of the Red Sea is of huge symbolic and practical importance as though it God works both salvation (for Israel) and judgment (on Egpyt).
The second half of chapter 15 through until the end of chapter 18 describe the transition and change of location to the wilderness. From the very beginning of their time in the wilderness the characteristic grumbling and complaints of an ungrateful people emerge – despite repeated demonstrations of God at work on their behalf.
God gives Israel his law (Ex19:1 – 24:18)
Three months or so after leaving Egypt the people of Israel arrive at Mount Sinai. They end up spending approximately two years in this location! It’s worth noting that the rest of the Exodus narrative, and the narrative in Leviticus and the first part of Numbers, all take place at Mt Sinai.
It is at Mount Sinai that the Law is first given to Moses. God’s presence is made known as he appears in smoke and fire on the mountain, and the mountain becomes holy space. Moses ascends the mountain and receives the ten commandments and the ‘book of the covenant’.
God instructs Israel to build the Tabernacle (Ex25:1 – 40:38)
A large amount of the Exodus account is devoted to the building of the Tabernacle. God’s directions regarding the building of the Tabernacle are recounted in detail as is the actual building itself. That so much space is given over to the Tabernacle highlights the importance of it to the wilderness generation of Israelites. The Tabernacle was the primary symbol of God’s presence with his people and so occupied a key role in the cultic life of the people of God. It is easy to skip over this final part of Exodus and to view it as repetitious and of little relevance, but to do so is to miss out on a key feature of the wilderness years.
Each of these three sections, in various ways underlines the central theological thrust of the book – that God is present with Israel as its saviour and king. The Exodus, the wilderness wanderings, the tabernacle, and the ongoing life of the community testify to this and provide a commentary on the reality of Gods presence being worked out and understood.
As we work through this series we engage with God’s people some 3500 years ago as they encountered the presence and work of God. The voice of Gods people in ancient Egypt and in the wilderness echoes through the centuries and provides us with so much that is helpful as we negotiate our own life of faith – based, as was theirs – in the move from slavery to freedom, from wilderness to promised land.
Equally, as well as hearing the voices of God’s people, we also hear the voice of God and see his work unfolding in the Exodus story. God rescues a nation, redeems his people, and leads them out, via a time of shaping and refining, to a land where God presence is clearly seen and his blessing is known.
Have you read Exodus before? If so, was this recently?
If so what are the most significant things you discovered in the book?
How did these shape or encourage your faith?
Do you find it difficult translating the experience of God’s people 3500 years ago into your experience of the life of faith?
If so, what might help to make this easier?
If not, how do you translate and understand the experiences of Gods people 3500 years ago into your own life of faith?
How do you experience the tension between the mystery of Gods presence and pragmatic daily life?
Are there any questions or difficulties thrown up by the book of Exodus that you would particularly like to discuss in the housegroup?
As a general help with interpreting and understanding Exodus try:
‘The Message of Exodus’ in the Bible Speaks Today series, by J.Alec Motyer.
Available from Amazon for about £2 or the Church bookshop for a bit more!
The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of 972 texts from the Hebrew Bible and extra-biblical documents found between 1947 and 1956 at Khirbet Qumran on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea. The texts are of great religious and historical significance, as they include the oldest known surviving copies of Biblical books.
The Aleppo Codex is a medieval bound manuscript of the Hebrew Bible. The codex was written in the 10th century AD. The codex has long been considered to be the most authoritative document in the masorah ("transmission"), the tradition by which the Hebrew Scriptures have been preserved from generation to generation.