Background on Exodus

Author

As with the other books of the Torah or Pentateuch, Moses has traditionally been acknowledged as the author of Exodus. While there is no direct claim to Moses’ authorship within the book (though an indirect argument could be made from God’s commands for Moses to write down His law), Jesus validates Moses as the author (see Mark 7:10 for example).

Theme

Yahweh, the LORD, redeems His people from their bondage and bring them into covenant with Him.

Background

When discussing the background information of Exodus, it is impossible to avoid the great date debate. Throughout the book, Moses is very conscious not to use the name of any Pharaoh, which has left scholars with the task of approximating the date of the Israelite exodus from Egypt.

The two most common proposals are the early date of around 1446 BC and the later date of around 1260 BC. The strength of the early date is that it reads the numbers given throughout Scripture as being literal. For example, in 1 Kings 6:1, we are told that Solomon began to build the temple in his fourth year as king, which was also the four hundred and eightieth year since the exodus. A date of 1446 BC for the exodus would make those 480 years literal, while the later date views them as representing twelve generations of forty years. In the end, I tend to favor the early date, though there are faithful evangelical scholars that support both.

As the for actual writing of the book, it almost assuredly happened during Israel’s forty-year wandering in the wilderness. Indeed, in the providence of God, that forty years was likely necessary for Moses to write the entire Torah. Thus, even as He was disciplining His people for their rebellion, the LORD was actively working for their good by giving to them His Scriptures.

Purpose

The most apparent purpose for the book of Exodus is chronicling Israel’s redemption from their slavery in Egypt. Just as Christians today gladly share their testimony of how Jesus saved them, Exodus is the testimony of Israel as nation. Indeed, this act of redemption is the narrative heart of the Old Testament. The book of Genesis gives us the context for understanding how the Israel came to Egypt, and the rest of the Old Testament is the story of Israel’s failed attempts at living as God’s redeemed people. Or, we might say it like this, Exodus is the story of how God took His people out of Egypt, and the rest of the Old Testament wrestles with the Egypt that still lurked within God’s people.

Even so, there is another (and I would argue, greater) purpose in the book of Exodus: God’s revelation of Himself as Yahweh, the great I Am. If there is any theme that appears again and again throughout the book, it is God’s self-revelation. Beyond the burning bush scene of chapters 3-4, chapter 5 sees Pharaoh answering the first demand for Israel’s leave by saying, “Who is the LORD [Yahweh], that I should obey his voice and let Israel go” (5:2)? Chapter 6 then begins with God giving a fourfold declaration of “I am the LORD” to Moses in verses 1, 6, 7, and 8. This point is then magnified through the plagues, which are repeatedly said to be for the purpose of making God’s name known to Israel, to Egypt, and to all the earth. Indeed, God specifically told Pharaoh why He was hardening his heart: “But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth” (9:16).

Furthermore, God’s self-revelation does not cease once the people escape Egypt. Rather the rest of the book focuses on God leading His people into even deeper, more intimate knowledge of Him. Chapters 15-18 see God feeding, watering, and defending His people in the wilderness like a shepherd looking after his flock, while the second half of the book is entirely focused upon God’s law and covenant with His people as delivered from Mount Sinai. Indeed, the Ten Commandments begin with God’s self-revelation, saying, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (20:1). This reveals the marvelous reality that the great I Am has bound Himself to Israel as their God. The golden calf debacle only serves to highlight this fact. Though God sent a plague upon the people for their idolatry (32:35) and threatened to disavow them (33:1), the end result was actually an even deeper knowledge of God than before. For it was after those events that Moses asked to behold God’s glory, and God passed by Him declaring His name to Moses, which in many ways is the cornerstone of the entire book,

The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 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.

34:6-7

Thus, the purpose of Exodus is the purpose of the Scriptures in miniature: God redeems His people so that all the world will know that He is God.


Following the three geographical locations of within the book, I am in the process of preaching through Exodus in three parts.

For my sermons through Exodus 1-14, see the series titled, Out of Egypt I Called My Son.

This Sunday I begin the series through Exodus 15-19 called, The Lord Is My Shepherd.

Lord willing, next year I will preach chapters 20-40 in a series called, The Glory of the Lord.

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