Discovering Exodus

Exodus means exit or escape. The Old Testament (OT) book by this title gives the record of how God caused Israel to escape from oppression in Egypt. This book is more than history though because it is also instruction. It presents history in a way that taught Israel how to live before God. When you read this book, you discover that God rescued the people of Israel from bondage to establish a special relationship with them. This book laid a foundation for teaching Israel how live out this new relationship with God. The rest of the Pentateuch (Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) expands this teaching further.

Genesis ended with the sons and grandsons of Jacob (also named Israel) living in northeastern Egypt (called Goshen). In fact, they would live there a total of 430 years. During this time, the descendants of Israel multiplied from 70 people to approx. 2-3 million (1:5, 7; cf. Num 2:32). This population explosion reminds us of God’s original purpose for mankind (Gen 1:28; 9:1, 7) and of his promise to Abraham (Gen 12:2).

Israel suffered greatly. (Chs. 1-2)

However, what began as a peaceful relationship with the Egyptian nation (thanks to Joseph) devolved into widespread bondage and unbearable oppression. Just as Satan had threatened to destroy what God had begun in the Garden of Eden, the pagan pharaoh of Egypt attempted to undo God’s blessing on his people.

To curb the Israelites’ expanding population, the pharaoh enforced severe work conditions upon them. When this method failed, he ordered the execution of all their infant sons. Against this backdrop, two important things happened: God preserved and prepared a man named Moses (Exo 2:1-22; 3-4) and the Israelite people cried out to God for deliverance (Exo 2:23-25).

God delivered them through the leadership of Moses. (Chs. 3-6)

Just as God had delivered Noah in the ark through the Flood, he also delivered Moses in a basket on the Nile River. Moses should have died with the other Hebrew baby boys, but Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and raised him with the best education in Egypt (Acts 7:22). Forty years later, he withdrew to the wilderness, and then forty years after that he followed God’s call to lead Israel out from Egypt (Heb 11:24-27).

When God called Moses to lead the Israelites out from Egypt, he appeared to him in a bush that was on fire but was not burning up (Exo 3:2-3) In that place, God revealed some important information.

  • First, he described himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Exo 3:6, 13, 15-16). This identified him as the God of Genesis who had created all things and had given promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
  • Second, he described his name as “I AM” and “I AM WHO I AM” (Exo 3:14). This is the personal, proper name for God (often spelled as LORD). This was not a new name for Moses and the people of Israel to learn. People had known this name during the lifetime of Adam’s grandson, Enosh (Gen 4:26). Other men also called him by this name, including: Noah (Gen 9:26), Abraham (Gen 12:8), Isaac (Gen 26:25), Jacob (Gen 28:16), and even Jacob’s father-in-law, Laban (Gen 30:27).

However, since more than 400 years had passed since then, the people had developed a more distant and unfamiliar outlook of God. By revealing himself to Moses and the people by this name, God described himself as the one who exists without beginning or end and who brings all things into being. Though they had grown distant from him, he had not become distant from them and was ready to deliver them.

He was not a new god, nor was he one of the many gods worshipped in Egypt or in some other pagan nation. He was the God whom their fathers had worshipped, and he was the God of creation. This meant that he was the God who demanded their allegiance and deserved their trust. For this reason, the people of Israel would understand their need to follow Moses, the man whom he was calling as their leader.

He delivered them through a series of miraculous events. (Chs. 7-18)

To deliver the children of Israel from Egypt, God also intervened in miraculous ways, doing things which would only be surpassed in the end when God judges the world once and for all (i.e., Revelation). We call these interventions the Ten Plagues. They were a series of incredible events that finally persuaded the pharaoh to release from slavery. These plagues assured Israel that they were indeed following the one, true God.

They also demonstrated the inferiority and ineptitude of the many gods whom the Egyptians worshipped. From the gods Hapi (the Nile) and Osiris (life and death) and the first plague of turning the Nile to blood (Exo 7:14-25) and the god Ra (the sun) and the ninth plague of sending darkness throughout the land (Exo 10:21-29), God displayed his superiority over the many Egyptian gods. He even displayed his superiority over Pharaoh by slaying all the firstborn sons of Egypt, which Pharaoh had ordered previously for the Hebrew children (Exo 12:29-36, cf. Exo 1:15-22).

Through one final act of supreme power over Pharaoh and the gods, God parted the Red Sea to provide Israel with a pathway to the other side. As Pharaoh pursued them with his army, God returned the waters to their place, drowning pharaoh and his army completely.

Throughout the OT, God would frequently refer to the Exodus event (the plagues, the Red Sea, etc.) as a benchmark moment in history that proved his special interest in the nation of Israel and vindicated their obligation to serve him in faith and devotion (e.g., Exo 20:2; Deut 5:6; Psa 105; 106; 114; Isa 11:11; Ezek 20; Hos 11:1; Mic 5:6, et al.). If you decide to study an OT book on your own or to read through the OT in a year, you will notice many references to this moment in Israel’s history.

You will also find it in the New Testament (NT). Stephen featured it in a sermon that he preached (Acts 7:36-41), and Paul used the parting of the Red Sea to illustrate baptism (1 Cor 10:2). What’s more, Jesus referred to his crucifixion in Jerusalem as his exodus (Luke 9:31). In a similar way, he correlated the blood he would shed on the cross with the blood of the Passover lamb (Matt 26:28, cf. Exo 24:8). In this way, his blood represents the means by which God forgives our sins today so that we may become his children (John 1:29; 19:36; 1 Cor 5:7).

God revealed the terms of their new relationship with him (Exo 19-24).

Until this point in time, the descendants of Abraham had only been a group of people or an extended family. Not until the Exodus from Egypt did these people become the actual people of God and a formal nation, with a ruler (God) and a system of government. To establish them as a nation and as his people, he established the terms for this new relationship on such a large scale. No longer would he be the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He would be the God of an entire nation – the nation of Israel.

He introduced the sacrificial Passover meal. (Exo 12:13)

As you would expect, entering this nation required faith in God’s promise of redemption. To apply this principle to the entire nation of Israel, God established a special event called Passover. In this event, each household would kill a lamb and apply its blood to the doorframe of their home. On the night of the first Passover, God would go throughout Egypt to take the lives of the firstborn children. When he passed by the home of an Israelite family who had applied this blood to their doorframe, he would pass over them and they would be spared.

Notice how God described the Passover. “The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt” (Exo 12:13). God did not need the blood to save them. After all, he had already saved them from other plagues before.

The blood served as a sign, which means it was a nonverbal signal or symbol for the benefit of the Israelites. Applying the blood indicated faith in God’s promise of redemption. The blood itself did not save them, nor did observing the Passover meal. Instead, it served as a reminder that to be spared from God’s judgment for sin required a substitute dying in their place. Though the Passover lambs were not that substitute, they provided a vivid reminder of this need and a way to show faith in God’s promise to provide for this need.

He established his covenant at Sinai. (Exo 19:4-6)

Once the Israelites had shown faith in God’s promise of salvation and had followed him through the Red Sea, he brought them to the mountain called Sinai where they settled for about a year. During this time, God introduced them to the main points and the subpoints (the foundation and the details) of their new relationship with him and with one another.

Now that they had exhibited faith in his promise of redemption and followed him away from Egypt through the Red Sea, he would teach them how to conduct themselves as his people and as a nation (Exo 19:4-6).

To do this, he provided them with first with the Decalogue (or Ten Commandments, Exo 20:1-17). These commandments were not given as ten rules for the world to follow; they were given as ten basic guidelines or principles for Israel to follow.

Many mistakenly think that these commandments provided Israel (or anyone else for that matter) with a set of instructions for how to be good and to become a child of God. This perspective misunderstands the purpose of these commands. They were given so that Israel would stand out in the world as God’s special people (Exo 19:5). They were also given so that Israel would be like priests who could point people from other nations to God and to serve him in the world (Exo 19:6).

After giving the Ten Commandments, Moses provided Israel with a more detailed set of instructions. Some people call the Ten Commandments “apodictic” law, which means laws that are always right at any given time and should be applied to different situations. Then they would call the next set of detailed instructions “case” law, which means laws that are unique to different situations.

For instance, an apodictic law would be “you shall not murder” (Exo 20:13). Case law that is related to this command would be instructions about what to do if a person kills a person intentionally on one hand and what to do if a person kills a person unintentionally on the other (cf. Exo 21:12-14). For the nation of Israel to live together as a nation, they would need laws like this to guide them through the many challenges that would arise in daily life for years to come. Without such guidance, they would certainly become an ineffective testimony for God to anyone who saw them. Later in the Pentateuch, Moses would go on to provide many more examples of case law.

God provided a means for them to be near him. (Chs. 25-40)

God was transitioning Israel from being a nebulous group of people who had descended from Jacob into a nation who believed his promise of redemption and who represented and presented him to the nations of the world. To do this, he needed to give them more than commands and instructions. He needed to provide them with a structured, meaningful way to communicate with him.

He did this by providing instructions for building a tabernacle and setting up a priesthood (Exo 25-31). This was important because one of God’s reasons for bringing out Israel from Egypt was so that he could dwell among them (Exo 29:45-46).

This would be different from the way that he merely appeared to their ancestors on isolated occasions. But it would also require certain protocol and conditions to safeguard God’s holiness from the people of Israel’s sin.

The tabernacle provided a designated safe place for God’s presence to reside in the middle of their camp. It would also be portable, allowing God’s presence to travel with them on their journey to the land he would give them.

The priesthood (the family of Levi) served as mediators between God and the rest of the nation. They followed additional guidelines and carried out all the vital functions in the tabernacle. In their role, they were able to represent God to the people and people to God. This tabernacle and priest arrangement would be so vital that the next book of the Pentateuch, Leviticus, provides much more detail about them.

Sadly, despite Israel’s faith in God’s promise of redemption and God’s sovereign display of his power in delivering them from Egypt, they rebelled against him at Sinai. While Moses was receiving God’s detailed instructions at the top of the mountain, they grew impatient and resorted to worshiping a golden calf idol in a very pagan way (Exo 32-34).

After issuing strong consequences for their sin and receiving their acknowledgment of wrongdoing, God reaffirmed his covenant with them (Exo 34:10-28). After doing this, he allowed them to resume following his instructions and they got to work building the tabernacle (Exo 35-40). After recording the completion of this project, the book concludes by confirming that the presence of God came to dwell among them in the tabernacle and they followed him into the wilderness wherever he led them (Exo 40:34-38).

The God who had promised to restore what sin had threatened to destroy had proven himself to be faithful to his promise. He preserved and delivered the descendants of Jacob from bondage in Egypt. He provided them with a way to express their faith in his promise of redemption and separated them at the Red Sea as a distinct people of his own. Then at Sinai, despite their resurgence of sin, he entered a formal covenant with them and provided them with the guidelines and means they needed to serve him before the world.


As a person living in the world today, many years removed from the beginning of the world and nearly four centuries removed from the writing of Genesis, how should the book of Exodus influence your life today? You should read it for sure! When you do, you should:

Expand your knowledge of God.

He is the self-existing, all-creating God. He is the I AM THAT I AM (Exo 3:14). He is the God who made everything, sustains everything, and brings everything to pass that he promises to do.
He is superior to and sovereign over all other gods. When he carried out judgment on all the gods of Egypt (Exo 12:12). When he parted the Red Sea, he demonstrated his total power over the natural world.

He desires a close relationship with people. He intervened in astounding ways, so that he could establish a close relationship with Israel, so  that he would be able to reveal himself through them to all the people of the earth (Exo 19:5-6).

Believe God’s promise of redemption.

God told the Israelites to kill a lamb and to wipe its blood on the doorframes of their homes (Exo 12:13). This served as a sign symbolizing the need for a substitute to die in our place so they could escape God’s judgment for their sins and to escape Egypt completely.

Today, however, we no longer observe the Passover meal. Why? Paul gives us the answer in the NT when he says, “Indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us” (1 Cor 5:7). Have you believed God’s promise of redemption – that he has fulfilled this promise by providing Jesus as your substitute?

When you understand the significance of what Christ has done for you, you must turn away from the gods of this world and believe on Jesus Christ alone as your substitute and Savior from sin.
Once you have taken this step, you should make a clean break from the world – not by crossing the Red Sea, but by identifying with Christ through baptism (Matt 28:19, cf. 1 Cor 10:2).

Devote yourself to serving God.

Once you have believed on Jesus Christ as your perfect substitute and followed him through baptism, you should focus your heart on building new habits and new ways of living your day to day life. Just as God revealed the Ten Commandments and a series of case-by-case instructions for the Israelites, so you should seek to grow in your understanding of everything that Jesus taught us (Matt 28:20).

Consider the similarity of what Peter tells us in the NT to what Moses told the Israelites at Sinai (1 Pet 2:9, cf. Exo 19:4-6). He said, “You [plural, referring to believers today] are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.”

If you have believed on Jesus as your Savior, then you have been placed into a special group of people called the church. God has done this so that we would point other people to him and serve him with our lives. Is this the purpose that is guiding your life today? Are you serious about worshipping and serving the LORD?

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