If you could read Hebrew and you picked up a Hebrew Bible then you would find nothing striking about the title of the second book of the Pentateuch. In the Hebrew language the opening phrase says, “These are the names.”
When Moses finished writing Genesis it is as if he immediately refilled his quill and began to write Exodus, without any break in his thought. And there was good reason for this, for Exodus merely continues the story begun in Genesis. It is the account of the furtherance of His promised Seed marching on in history to redeem a people. It is the story of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ. And for salvation to occur there must be a way out from sin with its attendant condemnation; in other words, there must be a divine provision of an exodus.
The English word “exodus” is derived from the term “gone forth” in 19:1, which means “exit” or “departure.” Thus “the exodus … is a story of departure, an epic journey from slavery to salvation” (Ryken).
As we leave our study in Genesis it only makes sense for us to go on to chart the subsequent history of “these … names,” those whom we have just read about in Genesis. What will happen to them? Will there hopes and dreams be realised? Will the promises made to the patriarchs be fulfilled? Will the dying wishes of Jacob and Joseph be realised? Exodus answers such questions.
Let me come to the thrust of the matter: Exodus is about our sovereign God selecting and saving a people who will serve Him—all for His glory. That is, Exodus is the continued revelation of God’s relationship with His people. In a very real sense Exodus is a 40 chapter book which instructs us about what it means to be God’s people.
The Relevance of Exodus
Before proceeding any further we should probably spend some time addressing another important question, what does Exodus have to say to us? In other words, what is its relevance to the church of the 21st century? Does this well known but very ancient story have anything to say to those of us in this very modern age?
Ryken answers that question quite succinctly: “As we study [Exodus] the journey out of Egypt becomes part of our own spiritual experience.” And the reason for this is because as the Scriptures make plain, what happened to Israel serves as a God-given example for, and thus exhortation to the church in the new covenant era.
In 1 Corinthians 10 Paul writes that the things that happened unto Israel were written for our instruction and he uses motifs taken straight from Exodus (the exodus through the Red Sea, being led by the shekinah glory, drinking miraculously from the rock, the idolatry while Moses was on the Mount receiving the law). Thus Exodus is rich with practical applications to our own spiritual exit from sin and its effects.
Our problem is what C. S. Lewis defined as “chronological snobbery.” Lewis argued, quite correctly, that his generation (and it is as true of ours) thought that it has all the answers. We live in times in which we think we have nothing to learn from preceding generations. We have everything figured out; there is nothing of worth to learn from the past. The Bible stands starkly against such an attitude, teaching quite clearly that the things that happened to the Old Testament church—including the events of Exodus—are of the greatest relevance to the modern church.
As we study this book we will see time and again that the old covenant people of God experienced what we also experience. If you thought that our studies in Genesis were relevant to your life, just wait until you see what God says to you in this book! This brings us to our second area of relevance.
Isn’t it wonderful that the Lord did not forget the names that were recorded in Genesis? After some 400 years the Lord remembered the names of those that He had made promises to. The Exodus is not merely a record of God’s faithfulness to the church as a body but it is more personally a record of God’s faithfulness to His promises to individual persons.
Exodus does not endorse the perverse individualism found so often in the church today but it does highlight the truth that God deals with individuals personally. That is why we are familiar with such names as Moses, Aaron, Jochebed, Hur, Bezaleel, Jethro, Miriam, Joshua, etc. Be encouraged that the story of redemption is the story of God selecting and saving you by name!
As a side note, it is interesting, with all the personal names mentioned (see especially chapter 6), that the specific name of the ruling Pharaoh is never mentioned. God’s value of individuals is far different than that of the world. In fact, it could be argued that if one is a part of the world system then in fact they do not matter significantly in God’s economy.
We should note that this book is extremely relevant to the times in which we live. Consider the following observations.
First, the story of Exodus is the story of God declaring and demonstrating that there is only one God and that He is that One. The “I AM that I AM” or YHWH exposes the fraudulent claims of all other Egyptian gods. Yahweh is the true God and all the futile idols that oppose Him are manifestly demonstrated to be useless.
In our own day the church is being challenged by all kinds of Pharaohs who are seeking to enslave her. There are those who oppose God’s claim to absolute worship and we see this from ungodly rulers who persecute the church, to false teachers with their message of another gospel, to judicial systems with an agenda that is antichrist. In our postmodern world we are constantly being told that “all gods are created equal” and that it is not only wrong, but even arrogant for the church to claim that she alone has the truth. Thus, the church is increasingly challenged to prove such claims. How can we do so? Exodus gives us a clue.
As we will see in our studies, the exodus from Egypt did not take place overnight, even after God so dramatically entered the scene. It was many months before Pharaoh relented. And even after this he changed his mind again. The stubborn heart of an unbeliever persevered in defiance of God. But eventually God gave the final proof that He alone is God; and this proof was intimately connected to the Passover Lamb. That is, the ultimate proof that Yahweh was sovereign over all was in the act of redemption. And the same holds true today.
The sure proof that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation is in the testimony of the redeemed lives of the multitudes that make up the church. We should take encouragement from Exodus that all the Pharaohs and their gods will be destroyed. (When was the last time you read about a living Pharaoh in the newspaper?)
Second, again, as in Exodus, the church of our day is being persecuted as never before and yet she continues to multiply. God is doing a great work in the church even though the world is trying not to notice.
It is interesting that the paranoia (xenophobia?) experienced by Pharaoh regarding the multiplying of the Israelites was due to a supposed threat from them. And the same is true today.
Third, consider also the attack upon the Christian family. This is nothing new as we saw with the first murder but it is continued here in Exodus with the slaughter of the infants. This was both an attack upon the church and the family for the one is vitally connected to the other. If the seed of the serpent will defeat the Seed of the Saviour then slaughter is a popular and prime tool; although, as history has proved, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.
Many other relevant parallels between Exodus and our day could be mentioned but let me conclude this point by pointing out that just as God delivered Israel to be a very distinct people, so the same applies to the church today. That is, we are distinctive both in how we live in the world and in how we worship. The exodus is a particular story for a particular people.
Exodus gives precise regulations about issues of worship and the principles still apply today. Our worship is not to be a free-for-all but rather it is to be in accordance with all which God has showed us in the mount.
We need to keep before us the fact that Exodus is primarily a theological record. That is, this book is about God. It is a continuation of His self revelation. Over and over we read such phrases as “I am the Lord” and “that they might know that I am the Lord.” In other words, this book is not about us, it is about God Almighty. The purpose is that we might come to know God in a more profoundly personal way that we might live for His glory (another major theme in Exodus). As Mark Dever has well said, the theme of Exodus is “God sovereignly selects and saves His people for His glory.” Yes, the believer is to live in a particular way.
But also, because Exodus is theological it is by design Christological. Since God has chosen to reveal Himself, and since all of His self-revelation culminates in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ then we can expect that Exodus will be Christ entered; that it will point us to Him (see Luke 24:24-27). In light of this I suppose that we could conclude by saying that Exodus has a very pointed relevance.
One does not have to look hard to see this. The Passover night and meal clearly foreshadowed Christ’s work on the cross where it was perfectly fulfilled (see for example John 19:31-36).
With regard to this consider also the water “baptism” of the Israelites (passing through the Red Sea) along with Jesus’ baptism. Immediately after these baptisms both Israel and Jesus were faced with temptation in the wilderness; the former for forty years and the latter for forty days. Israel was called out of Egypt and so was Jesus. There are many such parallels which we will see as we progress through this book. The point is that if our study of Exodus will be meaningful then we must look for Christ in the Exodus. As we walk through the story of “and these are the names” we must look for that name which is above every other name, the name of Jesus Christ the Lord.
Thus as we commence our study of this book let us do so looking for Christ that we might know and love and thus live honourably for the Lord. Again, the purpose of this book is to tell us what it means to be God’s people.
The Retractors of Exodus
Before proceeding we need to address a couple of important interpretive issues. The book of Exodus has been in the sights of the sceptical critics for centuries. Its authenticity and integrity have been questioned. Let me give you a few examples.
First, there has been much debate about the date of the actual Exodus. Some say that it occurred in the thirteenth and others say the fifteenth century BC. Still others say that it didn’t occur at all!
There is no (at least to date) archaeological evidence among the Egyptian ruins of such an exodus taking place and thus many dismiss this biblical record completely. But there is a good reason for this absence in the Egyptian record: Why would a nation that was a world empire keep extensive records of a battle that was lost to a clan of unarmed slaves?
Further, remember that the Exodus from Egypt is largely the account of God defeating false gods. And a pagan nation will not wish to document such a religious defeat. Since the story of Exodus is the story of the seed continuing to defeat the serpent then it is understandable that there is little Egyptian evidence to substantiate God’s victory. By the way, the same explanation applies to the empty tomb of Jesus. Remember that we are not fighting against flesh and blood but against spiritual wickedness in high places. It should be a small wonder that Satan would want to undermine this inspired account of God’s redemption of His covenanted people. This redemption was a blow to the head of the serpent’s seed.
There are also many critics who question the exact place of the crossing of the Red Sea and some even question if they crossed the Red Sea at all rather opting for the Sea of Reeds, a small, shallow stream that runs through Egypt. They argue that the account of the walls of water on each side is an utter fabrication. If this is true then I suppose the Sunday school child was correct when he said that it was an awesome miracle for God to drown the Egyptian army in a stream!
When the retractors throw such scepticisms at Exodus how should we respond? What should be our conclusions concerning the historicity, authenticity and integrity of this book?
If Jesus recognised the historicity of Exodus then so must we (see Luke 9:31; John 6:49, 58; Mark 7:10; Luke 16:29-31; Luke 24:27, 44; Jesus’ observance of the Passover.) In other words, if we believe Jesus then we must believe Exodus. All Scripture is inspired by God and that includes Exodus. We don’t believe the Bible because of archaeological evidence nor do we disbelieve it because of a lack of evidence. Rather, we believe the Bible because we believe the Lord Jesus Christ. In our day in which there is an all out attack upon certainty, let us boldly believe because we know for certain that Jesus Christ is raised indeed!
As we progress through the book we will confront some of the aspersions cast upon Exodus and I will attempt to show you why our belief in the historicity of Exodus is credible. But ultimately we will see that it is credible because God is faithful.
The Themes of Exodus
Let’s now turn to the main themes, and thus the main outline of the book of Exodus.
God Remembers His People (chapters 1-4)
Again, the opening words of chapter one help us to see this point. After some 400 years God remembered the names of His people; the names of those that He had preserved in Egypt; the names of those that He had given promises to. And when God remembers He acts.
When God Remembers He Reassures His Children
This reassurance is seen in several areas.
Remembering His Covenant
The basis for Exodus can be found in Genesis 15:13-16, where God told Abraham that his offspring would be captive in a land not their own for 400 years before being delivered and taken to the Promised Land.
In all of the intervening centuries between Joseph and the ascent of a Pharaoh who “knew not Joseph” God still knew His people. In the words of Paul, “Nevertheless the foundation of God stands sure, having this seal, the Lord knows who are His” (2 Timothy 2:19). At the end of chapter 2 the Scriptures record that when God’s people were being afflicted He “remembered” them (2:24). In v. 25 we read that God “had respect unto them.” That is, He acknowledged them as His own; He remembered them (cf. 2:24; 6:5; 13:3; 20:8; 32:13).
Believer, God remembers His elect. It is for this reason that the world continues. God has selected a people for Himself and He will not forget them. Everyone one for whom Jesus Christ died will be redeemed, will experience a spiritual exodus and thus will be delivered from a sin cursed world.
Though Egypt was at the hub of world dominion and though she was the one receiving all of the attention it was the church that God was focused on. And so it is today.
God remembers you when the world afflicts you. God remembers you when you are forgotten by others (see Psalm 27:10). God remembers you when you are persecuted for His sake. God remembers you when you feel forsaken. And yes, God remembers you even when you forget Him!
The church needs to hear this today. We are not alone in this world. Yes, we may be outnumbered and we may be oppressed and we may be outpowered but we are not forgotten and hence we are not forsaken. The fact that God remembers is a theological encouragement. It tells us that God is unchangeable. He is immutable, to use a more precise term. In the words recorded by Malachi, “I am the Lord God, I change not.” And in the words of the writer to the Hebrews, “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever.”
The world is perhaps changing more rapidly today than ever before (computer technology, wireless electricity transfers, etc.) and with this we may feel more and more disconnected from life. We may be tempted to see life as meaningless as relationships give way more and more to machinery and technology. We may increasingly be forced to see our insignificance in this big wide and fast world. And yet as believers we need to remember that God remembers us! We are important to Him. He loves us, even when He delays His deliverance of us.
Yes, God remembers His people, His promises, and His purpose. Though we may not receive explanations about all of our varied experiences, we do know that history is going God’s way. History is marching on gloriously and we are a part of it!
Responding to Our Cries
God remembers those with whom He is in covenant relationship. Think about it: As a believer, as a bona fide member of the Israel of God, you have a relationship with Yahweh! The one who parted seas, sent judgement, fed with manna and gave water from a rock has a loving relationship with you! Among other things this means that when you run up against a Pharaoh and his host that God is on your side. You will be vindicated in the end. This also means that you are not alone in your temporary Egypt and that indeed Egypt is not your home! Having a relationship with God means that He will move heaven and earth to ensure that you experience His promised and planned and profound redemption for you.
Replenishing His Church
In spite of affliction and in spite of the onslaught of abortive schemes, God’s church continued to grow! The seed continues to replenish and multiply to fill the earth! The gospel still saves; souls are still begotten from above in the face of much opposition.
When God Remembers He Reappears to His Children
When God remembers His people He then reveals Himself to His people. In fact, if there were no revelation of God then I question whether we could seriously take any comfort from God’s remembrance of us. After all, how can we know that God cares for us apart from Him communicating with us?
It is interesting that before God delivered His people that He revealed Himself afresh to His people, beginning with Moses.
I do not know how long or even if, God had been silent over the centuries spanning the end of Genesis and the beginning of Exodus. All I know is that when God revealed Himself to Moses, and then to the children of Israel that they were greatly encouraged. In other words, God’s self revelation of Himself to these people was confirmation that He had not forgotten them.
Later in the Exodus story Moses asks the Lord for a divine revelation as assurance that he and the Israelites are not going it alone. The Lord graciously assents (chapters 33 & 34) and once again Moses and the people are encouraged in their spiritual sojourn. What perhaps is so significant about this is that God’s revelation of His glory followed on the heels of His judgement upon the nation for their idolatry. Thus not only is this revelation one of glory but of grace as well.
The point of all of this is to highlight that Exodus teaches us that God has revealed Himself to His people and that we are thus assured that we are not alone. He loves us and He is with us. Though the world around us may seem to be falling apart, the church has God’s revelation which tells us that all is under control and that indeed history is heading somewhere glorious!
On a more personal level, how many of you have ever felt that God was distant and unconcerned? Well, believer, let Exodus encourage you that God always appears on time. He is active even when you increasingly think that He is passive. Exodus is about God allowing things to reach such a stage that only He can deliver. Keep that in mind when you think that you cannot bear any more than you are!
When God reappears we will find ourselves grovelling before His glory followed by experiencing His amazing grace.
God Redeems His People (chapters 5-18)
The second major theme of Exodus is God’s redemption of His people.
God Rescues Us
God allows the necessary passing of time to bring us to the end of ourselves. He allows us to feel the burden of slavery that we might enjoy the fullness of the blessings of spiritual freedom. He delivers us from the tyranny of sin and severs the relationship with our old master forever. And He does so in such a way that He receives all of the glory.
Exodus clearly teaches us that God is powerful to save. Have you experienced this deliverance? Have you yet realised that you are enslaved to sin? Have you realised that your only hope is Yahweh?
God Relocates Us
Of course the redemption, the rescue of the children of Israel was for the purpose of relocating them to the Promised Land. They were being transformed from a family to a powerful nation; from being enslaved to becoming world leaders. This relocation would require reinstruction but also a reorientation to a new Master, Yahweh. And the same is true for the church today.
We are translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son. We are reassigned to a new Master, one who loves us and thus we never want to leave Him. In other words, when God redeems us we are truly freed; freed from sin and freed to serve the Saviour.
It is not freedom from struggles for, as the record indicates, to leave Egypt will require a fight which will be followed by even more fights. And as is all too common, it will often involve struggles with others who have also experienced the same redemption alongside of you.
God Resides with His people (chapters 19-40)
In this final section of Exodus the text can become rather cumbersome as we read of the instructions for the building of the tabernacle with its furnishings and the attire for the priesthood. But don’t let the details blind you from the blessed presence of God amongst His people. This final section is all about God dwelling with His people. Remember that Exodus deals with what it means to be God’s people. And we are God’s people because He has graciously chosen to dwell, to reside with us!
Think about it, God delights to dwell with His people! The Holy One delights to be with saved sinners. But of course this presents a challenge for He is Holy and we are not. It is for this reason that He has given us rules. And we see something of this in these final 22 chapters of Exodus.
God Rules Our World
Because God dwells with us He distinguishes us from the world. And these chapters give some of the principles by which we are distinct from the world (e.g. social interaction and responsibility; morality; judicial issues; etc). It is a glimpse of what it means to love our neighbour because we love our God. The church today must reclaim these principles and practices. We are to live in our world differently than those who are of the world.
God Regulates Our Worship
From chapter 25 till the end of the book God regulates His worship with fine details being given regarding the building of the tabernacle, the clothing for the priests, the various furnishings for the tabernacle as well as instructions concerning some of the offerings that must be sacrificed to God. The whole point of these many chapters is that this remembered and redeemed people are to live in such a way that truly they are ruled by God. And it is only within these rules that they will fully enjoy the freedom that He has given to them, what a word that our world needs today. In fact this is a word that the church needs to hear today! These rules in fact cover every day of the week. That is, they are comprehensive.
God Reveals through His People
Why does God remember, redeem and reside with His people? For His own glory. Throughout the book of Exodus we read statements of why God delivered His people and in each case it was for His name’s sake.
Yes, it really is true that, at the end of the day, it is not about you. And the sooner we get this, the sooner we will experience the freedom that the exodus through Jesus Christ promises.
The book of Exodus has and continues to be one of the most abused books of the Scriptural canon. Many abuse it by making it all about God’s love for the oppressed and thus it becomes a man-centred record rather than a God-centred revelation.
This approach has been at the hub of the various strands of liberation theology that have permeated places like Latin America and throughout our own continent. Such twisting of the Exodus to be about us has gutted the book of its gospel intent and has resulted in fuelling political agendas while at the same time weakening the church. We need to be careful.
Yes, God hates injustice and He despises oppression. But this is not the theme of Exodus. Rather the theme of Exodus is that God hates assaults upon His people for to do so is actually an assault upon His Person and His plan.
In other words, as much as God hates oppression He especially hates it when it is meted out upon those whom He has chosen unto salvation. Thus one needs to be a partaker of the gospel before there is a proper credibility to oppose opponents! Let me try and make this clearer.
Until one is a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ he/she is actually living in opposition to God. Thus to claim Exodus as one’s political and sociological banner while at the same time rejecting its theological intent is hypocritical at best and damning at worst. One cannot continue to reject the Christ of Exodus while seeking to enact the ethical content of Exodus. No, Exodus is for God’s people. Thus for believers we will come to Exodus with Christ-centred motivations and we will oppose injustice and oppression but only because we have been redeemed by the mercy of God from our unjust treatment of Him. In other words, the book of Exodus teaches us that we are indebted to God for His so great salvation and thus our lives are to be lived in accordance with His rules for His glory alone. Any other reading of Exodus is a misreading of Exodus which misrepresents both God and man.
So, what does it mean to be God’s people? According to the book of Exodus it means to be redeemed by God’s power and grace and to live in such a way that God receives all of the glory; all of the credit for our transformed life. To be God’s people mean that we delight in the One who has delivered us, who directs us and whom dwells with us. May others see indeed the delightful and awesome evidence that we have the cloud and the fire of God’s glorious presence. That my friend is what it means to be God’s people. May this be increasingly our experience as we journey through Exodus.