Introductions: Exodus

from Feb 08, 2012 Category: Articles

Who wrote it? When was it written and why?

These are some of the important questions to answer as you explore any book of the Bible. To aid you in your study of God’s Word we have been adapting and posting some of the detailed book introductions found in The Reformation Study Bible. Today, we continue a series through the Pentateuch. 

Please allow The Reformation Study Bible to introduce you to…

The Book of Exodus

Author | Date & Occasion | Interpretive Difficulties | Characteristics & Themes


Jesus calls Exodus “the book of Moses”

In the New Testament Jesus calls Exodus “the book of Moses” (Mark 12:26; cf. 7:10), and there are no compelling reasons to deny the Mosaic authorship of the book.

The title of the book, “Exodus,” is derived from the Greek word exodos (Luke 9:31), which means “exit” or “departure.” The book takes its name from the central event of Israel’s departure from Egypt, recorded in the book’s first fifteen chapters.

Date and Occasion

Given Moses’ authorship of Exodus, we should date the book after the exodus event (c. 1450–1440 B.C.) and before his death about 1406 B.C. According to the dating below, Moses’ birth would have just fallen within the reign of Thutmose I. Hatshepsut, the widowed queen of Thutmose II, assumed male titles and even a beard as she reigned from 1504–1483 B.C. Perhaps she was the Pharaoh upon whose death Moses returned to Egypt from Midian.

Exodus carries forward the story of God’s fulfillment of His promise to Abraham to bless him and make of him a great nation (Gen. 12:2). It begins by referring to the descent of Israel into Egypt (Exo. 1:1–7); this connects through Gen. 46:8–27 with the Genesis narratives. The book concludes with Israel at Sinai where the tabernacle is completed. The events covered in the book may be placed against their historical background as follows.

Exodus carries forward the story of God’s fulfillment of His promise to Abraham to bless him and make of him a great nation

Joseph’s rise to power (Exo. 1:5) is best set in the favorable conditions for Jacob’s family created by the rule over Egypt of the Semitic Hyksos (c. 1700–1550 B.C.). The reference at Exo. 1:8 to a new king “who did not know Joseph” likely refers to the expulsion of the Hyksos by the eighteenth dynasty founder Ahmosis I (1570–1546 B.C.). If the Exodus is dated c. 1450–1440 B.C.(Interpretive Difficulties below), the Pharaoh of the oppression was probably Thutmose I (1526–1512 B.C.), while the Pharaoh of the Exodus was Thutmose III (1504–1450 B.C.) or Amenhotep II (1450–1425 B.C.). This dating would allow a possible identification of the incoming Israelites with the Habiru, a group mentioned in the Tell el-Amarna letters (correspondence between Egypt and its Syro- Palestinian vassals during the fourteenth century B.C.). The Habiru were a social or occupational class commonly attested in texts from 2000 B.C. onwards. They were political outcasts in Palestine (Gen. 14:13 note).

The written preservation of the words of God’s covenant has central importance for the theology of the Book of Exodus. God not only speaks His words to His assembled people at Sinai, He also gives them His Ten Commandments in writing, “written with the finger of God” on tablets of stone (Exo. 31:18; cf. 32:15, 16; 34:1, 28). The terms of the covenant were further specified by the so-called “Book of the Covenant” (Exo. 20:22–23:19), the words of God written down by Moses, the mediator of God’s covenant (Exo. 24:4, 7; 34:27).

The Sinai covenant (Exo. 19:1–20:21; Exodus 24) resembles in both form and content the state treaty form of the second millennium B.C., particularly the Hittite state treaties. These treaties included a preamble (Exo. 20:2), stipulations (Exo. 20:3–17), ratification (Exo. 24:1–11), and blessings and curses. A copy of the treaty was often preserved at the sanctuaries of the parties (e.g., the two tablets of Exo. 31:18). Also, the similarity of the content of the case laws of Exo. 21–23 to ancient Near Eastern codes (particularly the Code of Hammurabi of Babylon, c. 1750 B.C.) has often been noted.

Interpretive Difficulties

The date and route of the Exodus have been subjects of considerable debate. Biblical chronology dates the exodus event at 480 years before the reign of Solomon (1 Kin. 6:1). This would place the event at about 1440 B.C. This early date is consistent with Judg. 11:26, which declares that three hundred years had elapsed since Israel entered Canaan. The c. 1440 B.C. date is also supported by Exo. 12:40, 41, where 430 years is the duration of Israel’s stay in Egypt. The Pharaoh of the Exodus would then be Thutmose III or Amenhotep II.

Advocates of a much later date appeal to the name “Raamses” (or “Rameses” Gen. 47:11) as one of the store cities built with Israelite labor (Exo. 1:11). Rameses II (1304–1236 B.C.) is taken to be the Pharaoh of the Exodus, and the approximate date set at 1270 B.C. This is held to be more consistent with the archaeology of cities destroyed in Palestine and with the lack of earlier settlement in Transjordan (the region east of the Jordan River and the Dead Sea). However, more recent discoveries in Transjordan and a new evaluation of the destruction of Jericho have weakened the case for the late date.

The date and route of the Exodus have been subjects of considerable debate. Biblical chronology dates the exodus event at 480 years before the reign of Solomon

The route of the Exodus began at Rameses. Its exact location is the subject of considerable debate, though modern Qantir is the site most favored (Tell el-Daba). From there the Hebrews journeyed south to Succoth (Exo. 13:20). Here, apparently unable to move on, the Hebrews turned northward (Exo. 14:2). Three sites are mentioned, Baalzephon, Migdol, and Pi-hahiroth. Baal-zephon is associated with Tahpanhes, bordering Lake Menzaleh, one of the salt lakes between the Mediterranean and Gulf of Suez. There were three possible routes of Israelite escape. The “way of the land of the Philistines” (Exo. 13:17) connected Egypt with Canaan by the heavily fortified coastal route. A second route, the way of Shur, began near the Wadi Tumilat in the Delta area, crossed to Kadesh-barnea, and branched off to Canaan. The Egyptian boundary wall of Shur may have been a major obstacle to this route. In leading the people south to southern Sinai, the Lord not only brought them to the mountain He had designated to Moses, but distanced them from further contact with the Egyptians. The deliverance through the sea may have been on a southern extension of Lake Menzaleh.

The Sinai peninsula is a triangle of land measuring approximately 150 miles across at the top and 260 miles along the sides. Two arms of the Red Sea, the Gulf of Suez and the Gulf of Aqaba, flank it. The Hebrews proceeded south along the west coast of the Sinai. The bitter waters of Marah (Exo. 15:22–25) are usually identified with Ain Hawarah (some forty-five to fifty miles south of the tip of the Gulf of Suez), but Ain Musa may be the correct location. Elim with its many springs and trees has been identified as Wadi Gharandel, the encampment by the Red Sea (Num. 33:10), about seven miles south of Ain Hawarah. The wilderness of Sin would best be identified with Debbet er-Ramleh, a sandy plain along the edge of the Sinai Plateau. If the traditional location of Mount Sinai as Jebel Musa is correct, Israel would have then turned inland by a series of valleys to Jebel Musa, traveling through the desert of Rephidim, where they fought against the Amalekites (Exo. 17:8–16). Rephidim was the last encampment in the wilderness of Sinai before the sacred mountain. Then they proceeded to Mount Sinai (Exodus 19) where they received the law.

Characteristics and Themes

Several major themes are evident in the Book of Exodus. First, it tells how the Lord liberated Israel from Egypt to fulfill His covenant with the fathers. A second major element of the book is the covenant revelation at Sinai, which specified the terms of relationship between the holy God and His people. The third theme issues from the first two and is their consummation: the reestablishment of God’s dwelling with man. Each of these themes involves a triumph of divine grace: God’s mighty rescue of His people from slavery in Egypt, His thunderous self-revelation at Sinai, and His gracious condescension to dwell with His erring people in the tabernacle. The unfolding of these themes also reveals the Lord’s holiness and grace in His covenant law and in the ceremonial symbolism of Israel’s life and worship.

The symbolic substitution of the Passover lamb is fulfilled in Christ, the Lamb of God, our Passover sacrifice

Crucial to the narrative is Moses’ role as mediator between God and man. As God’s chosen servant, Moses is the mediator of judgment against Egypt, and is the one through whom God delivers Israel. Through Moses God gives His revelation at Sinai. Moses also shepherds the people through the wilderness to the Promised Land. He pleads for the people, and he is the one through whom the Lord provides food and water. But Moses’ role in the history of redemption prepares pointedly for Christ, the Mediator of the new covenant (Deut. 18:15). The revelation that Moses receives of God’s name “abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exo. 34:6) justifies the building of the tabernacle, but that description of the Lord points forward to the coming of the true tabernacle, the incarnate Christ, the greater Servant of the Lord (John 1:14, 17; Heb. 3:1–6).

God’s law reveals His holy nature and requires holiness of the people among whom God will dwell. The ceremonial regulations for Israel’s life and worship (Exodus 25–31; 35–40) mark out the separation of Israel as the people among whom God lives and rules, demonstrating His kingdom before the nations.

In addition to its description of the historical events by which Israel was delivered to become God’s people, Exodus also presents a major illustration of God’s saving work throughout history. The savior God redeems His chosen people from the powers of evil, judges those powers, and claims His people as His firstborn son, a holy nation of priests among whom He dwells by His Spirit. The pattern of divine victory over enemies, followed by the establishment of the divine dwelling place, is repeated in Christ’s first and second advents (e.g., Eph. 2:14–22; Rev. 20:11– 22:5).

The symbolism found in Exodus becomes reality in the new covenant (Jer. 31:31–34; Col. 2:17; Heb. 10:1). The sprinkled blood of animal sacrifice is now replaced by the blood of Christ (Exo. 24:8; Matt. 26:27, 28; Heb. 12:24; 1 Pet. 1:2). The symbolic substitution of the Passover lamb is fulfilled in Christ, the Lamb of God, our Passover sacrifice (John 1:29; 1 Cor. 5:7). His “exodus” at Jerusalem (Luke 9:31) accomplishes the salvation of the true people of God. God’s new covenant people are joined to Jesus Christ, in whom the Gentiles become the people of God, members of the commonwealth of Israel and fellow citizens with the Old Testament saints (Exo. 19:5, 6; Eph. 2:11–19). The full meaning of the description of Israel in Exodus may now therefore be applied to the churches of the Gentiles (1 Pet. 2:9, 10).

Own The Reformation Study Bible and have access to more than 20,000 study notes, 96 theological articles, contributions from 50 evangelical scholars, 19 in-text maps and 12 charts.

Read Sample Chapters
Purchase The Reformation Study Bible

Adapted from The Reformation Study Bible, © 2005 Ligonier Ministries.