THE BOOK OF EXODUS
Written by Doug Ponder on August 30, 2013
This article is part of a series summarizing the books of the Bible and connecting them to Jesus. After all, he said the Scriptures are all about him (Luke 24:27, 44-45; John 5:39)—and that includes the book of Exodus.
Way Down in Egypt Land
Picking up four hundred years from where Genesis leaves off, the book of Exodus opens with the descendants of Abraham, God’s chosen people, in ruthless oppression as slaves in Egypt (ch. 1). Because of their increasing numbers, the people of Israel were seen as a threat (Ex. 1:12), so the pharaoh of Egypt ordered that all male children born among the Israelites be put to death at birth.
Forced to work as slaves, held captive from the promised land, fearing that the death of every male child might mean that God’s promised son would never come, the people of Israel cried out to God for rescue (ch. 2). God had not forgotten his promises. He was already preparing a man to deliver them, a son who had been spared from death and secretly smuggled—of all places—into the pharaoh’s own household! His name was Moses, and God would use him to make his glory known to the nations.
The Mass Exodus
One day God spoke to Moses through a burn that burned with a great light but was not consumed by the flames. He said, “I have seen the misery of my people in Egypt and I’ve heard them crying out. I know their sufferings, and I have come to rescue them” (cf. Ex 3:7-8). So Moses addressed pharaoh on God’s behalf. “Let my people go, that they may serve me” (Ex. 9:1). But pharaoh refused to obey, so God responded with ten plagues (ch. 5 – 11)—not as random acts of meanness, but as signs of God’s right to rule, of his hatred of injustice, and of his commitment to keep his promises, including his promise to bless the nations (Gen. 12:3). “The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord” (Ex. 7:5).
The final plague was terrible and significant. God had warned pharaoh that if he did not obey, the firstborn son of every family in Egypt would die. To spare his people from this judgment God told them to demonstrate their trust in him by sacrificing a lamb and painting its blood on the doorposts of their homes. ‘The blood will be a sign for you, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt’ (Ex. 12:13). Later, as pharaoh sent soldiers to pursue the fleeing Israelites, God parted a great sea to bring his people safely through the waters.
Restoring His Rescued People
The story in Exodus doesn’t end there, for God had further plans for his people. He did not rescue them from slavery to leave them on their own. God intended to restore them to a right relationship with him so that they might fill the roles all humans were created for in the beginning (Gen. 1:26-28). So God made a covenant (a special promise establishing a new relationship) with his people at a place called “Mount Sinai” (also called “Mount Horeb”). His covenant promised to make them a kingdom of priests, set apart to rule and to serve with God’s blessing as long as they continued to trust God and obey him (Ex. 19:6).
But they did not trust him or obey him. They had already complained about the harsh conditions of travel, saying they wished they were still slaves in Egypt instead of freed people on their way to the promised land (Ex. 16:2). As a result of this sin, God would make them wander in the wilderness for forty years, until every guilty person in that generation passed away. On top of that, they refused to meet with God on Sinai, sending Moses in their place to be their representative (Ex. 19:16-20).
So it was that Israel began their long journey away from being a kingdom of priests, communing with God directly, into a kingdom with priests who served as mediators of God’s presence. Instead of simple faith and obedience to God’s voice there now would be commandments to follow (ch. 20) and laws to obey (ch. 21-24). Instead of direct communion with a holy God, there now would be a tabernacle (a portable temple) with regulations for worship (ch. 25-30).
Covenant Broken and Renewed
While God was giving these instructions to Moses, his people were in the midst of breaking the covenant he was making with them. They had made an idol to worship instead of the Lord (ch. 32), an act of rebellion that was a complete reversal of the relationship that God wanted with them. Their sin also mirrored Adam and Eve’s betrayal of God in the garden, for they turned their backs on God in their futile quest to find joy and satisfaction apart from him.
Israel’s disobedience gave God the right to forfeit the covenant, but in his grace God renewed his covenant with them, saying, “The Lord, the Lord [is] a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished” (Ex. 34:6-7). Nevertheless, their disobedience did result in even more laws and holiness codes. Each time they rebelled, more were added to show them he futility of their sin and their need for a savior (Gal. 3:19).
Dwelling and Deliverance
The book of Exodus shows us that in spite of our rebellion, God does not abandon his people. He continued to live among Israel, making a way for his people to meet with him. The tabernacle was like a substitute for God’s dwelling place, a temporary fix for a the deeper problem of our sinfulness in the presence of a holy God. One day the dwelling place of God would be among his people, as it was in the very beginning. “He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Rev. 21:3).
But how will this come about? The book of Exodus doesn’t give the answer directly, but it does give us a picture. God’s deliverance of his people from slavery is the major metaphor for salvation throughout the Bible. The biblical prophets always look back to what God did for Israel and point forward to what God would do through the Messiah: God’s judgment passed over Israel because of the blood of a lamb; in the death of Jesus, God’s judgment passes over us because we are covered by his blood. God rescued Israel from physical slavery; Jesus rescues us from slavery to sin and death. At Sinai God promised to make his people a kingdom of priests; through Jesus that promise is fulfilled: “You were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and langue and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:9-1o).
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.