The Golden Thread
One of the resource books that I used for this study, "Commentary on Exodus" by D.A. Garret, summarizes perfectly the difference between the books of Genesis and Exodus but also the essential purpose of the book we are about to study – the book of Exodus. Here's the passage in question:
"Exodus is the true beginning of the story of Israel. Genesis is essential to the story, but it is a prologue, describing the lives of individual patriarchs rather than the history of a people. With Exodus we begin the story of the national entity called Israel."
In other words, in Genesis the scene is set for the story that the Bible has been written to tell:
- How and by whom the natural world came into being.
- The details explain mankind's creation, purpose, fall into sin and the consequences of this sinful state.
- Genesis also records God's promise of an eventual Savior and His selection of one man, Abram/Abraham, through whom He would send this Savior.
- The book finishes by focusing on the growth of this one man's family into a clan of twelve families each led by the descendants of this one individual, Abraham, chosen by God.
The book of Genesis covers a period of approximately 2,200 years. It provides information beginning with the creation of the world and continues to the arrival of Jacob and his family in Egypt to join Joseph, his lost son, who had become second in command to the king of Egypt.
During this period the world began to be populated, not once, but twice on account of the great flood in Noah's day:
- Nations were formed
- Cities were built
- Wars were fought
- Inventions, innovations, and languages were developed creating a rich history of peoples and events studied today by archeologists and historians.
The Bible, however, is only interested in these histories in so far as they intersect from time to time with the history of the progress of this one family begun by Abraham, the man specifically chosen by God for a special purpose. It's as if the history of the world is a gray backdrop in the Bible and the story of Abraham and his descendants is a bright, golden thread that stretches from Genesis all the way through to Revelation. No matter what is happening in the world, great or small, that golden thread is visible from its beginning with Abraham all through every chapter of history until it finds its natural completion and end point in Jesus Christ. We see its beginning in Genesis with the formation of twelve families who through various circumstances find themselves sojourning (living temporarily) in Egypt because of the famine.
In Exodus we will follow that golden thread as we see that clan of families transformed into a nation and observe as that nation:
- Comes to know the true God, the "I AM," the Jehovah God, who will now be their only God.
- We will observe His power to break Egypt with plagues in order to free the Jewish people.
- Exodus contains the giving of the formal law and observances that will bind the nation to God and will inform every part of their lives.
- It is in this book that their sacrificial system, method of worship, priesthood and place of worship are given.
In other words, everything that makes these people distinct and separate as the people of God is introduced, initiated, and explained in the book of Exodus.
Authorship and Date
A. Exodus is part of the Pentateuch which is the term used for the first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) in the Old Testament. Pentateuch is made up of two Greek words: Penta = five and Teuchos = scroll.
The Jews refer to the Old Testament as the Hebrew Bible and the first five books as the Torah, or the five books of Moses, or the Books of the Law. Moses has traditionally been considered the author of this book even though the book itself does not mention its author, however:
- The author was intimately familiar with the events that took place in the book.
- The author had access to information only Moses could have known (I.E. the interactions with God).
- The author was present and a witness to the miraculous events (good and bad) that took place at that time.
Conservative scholars name Moses as the one who compiled and recorded oral traditions, genealogies (Exodus 6:14-25) and personal eyewitness accounts into one orderly record of the Jewish people's departure from Egypt, wanderings in the wilderness and interactions with God.
"Did not Moses give you the Law, and yet none of you carries out the Law? Why do you seek to kill Me?"
- John 7:19
Jesus Himself attests to this.
46For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. 47But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?"
- John 5:46-47
B. Moses wrote this book somewhere between 1445-1400 B.C. – a traditional date that allows for Moses' life in context of Biblical history and aligns with the dates of other Old Testament characters and events. Some modern critical scholars deny that Moses wrote this book and that it was written during the Jewish exile in Babylon in the sixth century B.C. and completed after the Jews were freed to return to Jerusalem. This theory does not explain why Jesus Himself attributes the writing of the Law/Torah to Moses as we have read in John 5:46-47 and John 7:19.
(Word referred to the original name of the city of Memphis – Mansion of the Spirit of PTAM).
A. Geography – Egypt – country in northeast Africa
The Nile River made human habitation in Egypt possible. The river itself flowed from its source in the south, Lake Victoria (in modern day Uganda/Tanzania), and flowed northward to eventually empty into the Mediterranean Sea. There is debate whether the Nile or Amazon is the longest river in the world – the difference may only be by 40 miles.
With its annual floods the Nile not only provided drinking water but cast up soil in its banks to provide fertile ground for the planting of crops – this fertile strip adjacent to the river was called the Blackland and the desert beyond it was called the Redland.
The Nile River valley was Egypt since everything else was wasteland and not habitable. A large part of the ancient kingdom south of the rich delta region near the Mediterranean Sea was hundreds of miles long but only five miles wide – where the people could live.
The main cities, farming, wealth, and population were located in the northern delta region called Lower Egypt and the southern strip called Upper Egypt (since the Nile flowed from the south to the north the southern region was "upriver").
Note the location of:
- Memphis was the capitol during the old kingdom.
- Thebes was the capitol during the new kingdom.
- Goshen is the land where the Jews were settled by Joseph.
Egypt's geography largely protected it from enemy attack:
- To the east was a harsh desert and the Red Sea.
- To the west was the vast Sahara Desert.
- To the north was the great Mediterranean Sea.
- To the south were the natural waterfalls in the Nile which made a naval attack very difficult.
The greatest weakness was an overland route in the northern corridor which connected the delta region with the land of the Canaanites and later the Israelites. Their greatest strength was the abundance of food they grew and exported to other countries.
They also had an abundance of gold and precious stones which showed up in the beautiful artwork they produced. Egypt ruled by Pharaohs lasted 3,000 years. It was the first world power. Its history can be divided into 11 major eras and in briefly reviewing these we can also see where the Jewish people come into contact with Egypt.
Scholars put the date of the Exodus at 1447 B.C. However, there is great debate over the exact date, the particular ruler of Egypt at the time and the exact route the Jews followed in their 40 years in the wilderness. This is due to the fact that neither the Bible nor the historical records available for that time (3,500 years ago) provide us with exact information, so we need to be humble when declaring the exact dates and details which we include after study and review, for which God nor the people in question did not leave a record.
What we do know for sure are the events and the sequence, as well as the characters involved because God has preserved these as that golden thread that spans human history and reveals the story of how He eventually saved mankind from the consequences of sin.
Summary and Purpose of Exodus
Exodus is first and foremost a historical record that traces the period of time and events that take the descendants of Jacob and his family from Egypt where they fled to for safety from the famine taking place in the land of Canaan, which was their home, back through a long journey in the wilderness to the place where they had come from, some 400 years earlier, but this time to re-enter their former dwellings as conquerors receiving from God the land promised to their forefather, Abraham.
Exodus is the history of that return journey and the transformation that God worked as He literally created a new and distinct nation out of a people with no leader, no purpose and no power having developed as a slave population while living in Egypt. Exodus is a more foundational book as far as the Jewish religion is concerned since it has a more central place in Jewish history than Genesis.
For example, according to Deuteronomy 6:20-25 when an Israelite child asked his parents why they were under so many religious rules and regulations, the answer was to be, "we were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but YHWH brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand…"
For the people of Israel their founding event was not the call of Abraham recorded in Genesis, but the events contained in the book of Exodus. Their history as a distinct people of God, along with the religious practices that guided and confirmed this, are all found in Exodus, not Genesis. Exodus provides the explanation for the claim that the Jews were the chosen people of God.
1. The Jews
Genesis provides the back story of who the Jews were and how they came to be in Egypt. Exodus introduces them in the first seven verses and simply adds that from a small beginning they grew into a large and powerful population that threatened the native Egyptian population. No leaders are mentioned among them. No one spoke on their behalf as a group. They were still an association of clans led by family elders.
In Genesis we see God's power in creating the universe and in His dealings and appearances to individuals. In Exodus we begin to see other aspects of His being. For example He is:
A. The One and Universal God
In Exodus 3:15 God refers to Himself as the "I AM". This sets Him apart from every other "god".
B. The God of Wrath
From the plagues on Egypt to the thunder and lightning of Mount Sinai, God demonstrated His ability to punish and intimidate His enemies as well as His disobedient people.
C. The God of Mercy
Mercy is His primary characteristic and not wrath. This is shown by:
- His compassion in response to human suffering (the Egyptian slavery of the Jews).
- He endures patiently the repeated provocations of the Jews when they complained, were ungrateful and rebelled.
- He forgave and restored them after their grave sin with the golden calf.
D. The God Who is Wholly Other
He is completely holy and unlike man. Moses had to remove his sandals to enter the holy space of the burning bush, and God only interacted with the people through Moses, His sanctified servant.
E. The God of Israel
The Jews became a special people through divine intervention, a sign that God can interact with humans without destroying them.
F. The God of Moral Law
The people of God are bound to His laws which are holy, righteous, moral and specific. The point here is that no other "god" revealed himself in such a personal and dynamic way. He was above man not because man had placed Him among the deities which is what happened with the pagan gods of the Egyptians. He was above man by virtue of what He revealed about Himself - being a God of love, He was naturally above man which was the natural place for Him to be.
3. Moses — The Man of God
The book of Exodus seeks to glorify God, but it also establishes Moses as the founder of the nation of Israel:
- Moses is a new Adam, a new Noah, and a new Jacob.
He is a man who is molded by God for greatness despite his personal flaws and mistakes:
- He recklessly kills an Egyptian in trying to assert himself as a leader and savior of his people.
- He lives in self-imposed exile under-employed as a shepherd in the wilderness.
- He refuses to speak as God's representative so that God has to provide Aaron, his older brother, to carry out this task.
- He flashes a bad temper when he violently throws down and breaks the tablets upon which the commandments were written by God, upon seeing the people worshipping the golden calf.
However, God patiently brings him to spiritual maturity – even greatness because, despite his failings, Moses never abandons his faithful service to God. Even after he is told he will not enter the Promised Land because of his disobedience in striking the rock twice instead of speaking to draw water (Numbers 20:11) he continues to faithfully serve God as best he can.
Moses is the great, as well as relatable role model for weak and sinful people who sincerely aspire to please God and serve Him in important and dynamic ways.
4. Egypt — The Symbol of Worldly Power
Egypt represents every worldly power that God's people have had to deal with in every era. It is the type for every worldly kingdom in opposition to the kingdom of God from the beginning to the final day of this ongoing conflict when Jesus comes to destroy it once for all time. Worldly Powers/kingdom who:
- Worship gods of wood and stone
- Concentrate power in the hands of few – Pharaoh
- Oppress the righteous – slavery, murder, hatred, separation
- A fixation on material prosperity as a major factor in decision making
- The legitimizing of the occult, the influence of dark power
- Openly oppose or minimize the presence, knowledge of and operation of the Kingdom of God
- Represent and facilitate apostasy
Egypt, just as every world power since (except in certain ways and for certain times, America) featured these symbols of worldly kingdoms which were all on display in their dealings with the Jewish people.
Exodus reveals for the first time the features of the King of the heavenly kingdom, as well as the power and ability to subdue and destroy even the mightiest of earthly kingdoms.
Therefore, from the beginning of the Bible with the Egyptians and throughout the Bible with the Assyrians or the Babylonians, to the end of the Bible in Revelation where God's kingdom defeats the greatest of the earthly kingdoms (Rome) – the story is the same:
God's kingdom on earth (today, the church) will never be defeated by an earthly kingdom – and will continue this winning streak until Jesus returns to finish the struggle with His judgment and final removal of the heavens and earth along with all earthly kingdoms leaving only one kingdom to exist in which the saints will rejoice.
Exodus is the story of the formation of an early stage of this kingdom (the nation of Israel) and the defeat of one of the first of these earthly kingdoms, Egypt.