An Introduction to Exodus

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greenbaggins

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I have recently started preaching through the book of Exodus. Here is my introduction.

From Slavery to Worship

Exodus is the first book of the Bible. And before you blast me for being so ignorant as to think that Genesis is not the first book of the Bible, let me explain. Exodus is the book of salvation in the Old Testament. Every form of deliverance by which God saves His people after Exodus always looks like Exodus. It is the first book where we find the law systematically laid out for us. It is the first book where the worship of God receives full attention. These things were only shadows in the book of Genesis. If you were to ask a Jew which book of what we call the Old Testament was the most important book, they would without hesitation say Exodus. This book is where we see the people of Israel become the people of Israel. This is where we see God save His people from a land of sin and death (Egypt), and bring them out with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. We see God making a covenant agreement with the people of Israel that He would be their God, and they would be His people. We see God's people moving from slavery to worship. Another way of saying it is that God's people move from serving Pharaoh to serving God. They move from a bad slavery to a good slavery. Exodus answers the question: whom shall we serve? Shall we serve sin and death? Or shall we serve the living God?

The book of Exodus can be divided roughly into three main parts. The first part goes from chapter 1-15 and tells us about God saving His people from Egypt and from Pharaoh. The second main part of the book goes from chapter 16-23, and covers the covenant that God made with His people on Mount Sinai by giving Israel the law, the Ten Commandments. The third part of the book goes from chapters 24-40 and covers the worship of God in the tabernacle. Included in that third part is the account of the false worship of the golden calf and God's grace manifested in the aftermath of that disobedience. Let's look briefly at these three parts of Exodus.

The first part corresponds most closely with the name of the book. The word “Exodus” is a Greek word meaning “the way out.” “Ex” means “out of” and “odus” means “road.” So if you put those two words together, you get “the road leading out.” The closest word in English is “exit.” Even today, Greeks use the word “exodus” to indicate the way out of a building just like we use our word “exit.”

And in the first 15 chapters we see the way out of Egypt for Israel, which is through God's sovereign defeat of Egypt, Pharaoh, and Egypt's gods. God is pictured in these chapters as a divine warrior who fights on behalf of His people. He saves Moses from the Nile river when Moses was a little boy, raised him up in Pharaoh's own household, and revealed Himself to Moses as the God who is. When God revealed Himself to Moses in the burning bush, God commissioned Moses to be the instrument through which God would save His people from the clutches of Pharaoh. Throughout the plagues, we see God fighting primarily against Egypt's gods. Every plague is a direct attack on one or another of Egypt's gods. This culminates in the Passover, where God made a difference between the Israelites and the Egyptians, and killed all the firstborn of Egypt, thus attacking Pharaoh himself in that point where Pharaoh was most vulnerable. The concept of the firstborn was vital to the Pharaohs, since that is one very important way to achieve immortality. When Pharaoh finally recognizes that the God of Israel is the true God, he sends Israel away, and the Israelites hurry out of Egypt.

The second part of the story takes us from the death of Pharaoh's soldiers in the Red Sea and leads us straight to Mount Sinai, where God gives Israel the law. Since Israel was no longer going to serve Pharaoh but rather the living Lord, God needed to give them the rules whereby Israel would serve God. With any king there is a certain protocol, a certain way of doing things that needs to be set down so that the king and his subjects will understand one another. God gives that in a very full revelation in the Ten Commandments. Notice something very important about the order of the events in Exodus. The first part, which is deliverance, redemption, and salvation, comes before the giving of the law. This is true of salvation in the entire Bible. We do not receive our instructions for how to live our lives until God first saves us. Look at Paul's letters. The first part of any of Paul's letters is doctrine, which tells us what God has done to save us and how we are saved by faith that God implants in us. The second part of Paul's epistles tells us how to lives our lives in the light of that salvation. Salvation comes before law. That must be kept in mind. It is true of Exodus, and it is true for us.

The giving of the law leads us to the third part of Exodus, which has to do with the worship of our God. The third part of this book is the climax of the book, because here we learn in painstaking detail about the tabernacle, and how the worship of God is to be ordered. Every detail of the tabernacle is lovingly and lingeringly dwelt on, because the tabernacle is the place where God and man meet. It symbolized God's very presence on earth, and it is described in terms of a heaven on earth. It is made of magnificently beautiful materials, and is made for beauty and glory. Many of the things in the tabernacle are made to remind us of the Garden of Eden. The tabernacle is a new Garden of Eden where God meets man. What might appear to us to be boring details of how the tabernacle was made are not boring at all when seen from this perspective. If you were an Israelite at the time, you would be eager indeed to know what the inside of the tabernacle looked like. Only the high priest could go into that tabernacle, and he could only go into the Most Holy Place once a year. The common people could not go there.

But there is one who has tabernacled among us. John, chapter 1 tells us that when Jesus came, Who is the second person of the Trinity, He took on flesh and dwelt among us. The Greek word for “dwell” there is literally “tabernacled.” The tabernacle shows us what Jesus came to be and to do. And this provides us with a glimpse of Jesus in a broader sense, because Jesus is the message of Exodus. The worship of God is now, in the New Testament, to be focused on Jesus, to Whom the tabernacle in the wilderness pointed. Jesus is now the place where God and man meet. It is in His person, Who is both God and man, where the worship of God comes to a point.

It was in the tabernacle of the Old Testament that the law was kept (in the ark of the covenant). So also we see in the New Testament again that Jesus is the living Word. He is our law. He came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill the law. In John 20 at the time of the resurrection, John gives us some key details about the tomb. In the tomb there were two angels, one at the head and one at the foot of where Jesus' body had lain. That little detail takes us back to the tabernacle where the two angels (cherubim) stand guard over the ark of the Lord. They are part of the ark of the covenant. So John is telling us that Jesus is the ark of the covenant, and that the Living Word resides in Jesus. Just as the Ten Commandments were kept in the ark of the covenant of the Lord, so also was the Living Word residing in Jesus, so much so that He is said to be the Living Word. But what is better about Jesus is that He could not stay dead. Whereas the Ten Commandments were cut out of dead stone, Jesus is no longer in the tomb, but is raised from the dead. That is our Greater Exodus. His death and resurrection constitute the Great Exodus.

In Luke 9 (and by the way, the entire New Testament is chock full of allusions to the Exodus story, which leads us to believe that what Jesus accomplished is the Greater Exodus), we see the story of the transfiguration of Jesus. Let me simply quote the passage:

Now about eight days after these sayings He took with him Peter and john and James and went up on the mountain to pray. And as He was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.

A couple of points. Firstly, we need to notice here that just as Moses' face was shining after he was on the mountain and saw the glory of God, so also was Jesus dazzling white and the appearance of His face was altered. Secondly, the word for “departure,” which was the main topic of conversation among Moses, Elijah, and Jesus, is the Greek word “exodus.” So they were talking about the Exodus that Jesus was about to accomplish in Jerusalem. And what He was about to accomplish in Jerusalem was His own death and resurrection. And that would be the saving of His people from their Egypt of sin and death.

So, to bring this home to us all, we can note three points of application, corresponding to the three main sections of Exodus, and the three ways that Jesus fulfills the book of Exodus. They will be pretty general applications, which we will flesh out in much greater detail as we work our way through the book. The first application is this: have you been rescued from sin and condemnation? Has the Greater Exodus which Jesus accomplished been applied to your life? It takes nothing less than the mighty outstretched hand of God to accomplish this. For we are all just as much slaves of sin as the people of Israel were slaves in Egypt. We cannot save ourselves from sin any more than Israel could get out from under the thumb of Pharaoh by themselves. They needed God to save them, and so do we. We need God's wrath to Pass Over us and fall on the Lamb of God rather than upon us. Are you covered in the blood of Jesus the Lamb so that God's wrath passes over you and does not rest on you?

Secondly, are you seeking to live for God? After God saves you, He does not take a hands-off approach to the rest of your life. After He saves you, He gives you instructions as to how to live your life for Him, since He has so graciously saved you first. Living for God, then, can be primarily described as gratitude. In the Heidelberg Catechism, this is obvious. There are three sections of the Heidelberg Catechism, entitled “guilt, grace, and gratitude.” The first part tells us of how it is that we are guilty before God, deserving nothing but punishment. The second part tells us how God saved us through His grace. The third part tells us how we are to live in response to that salvation. Three guesses as to which part of the Catechism deals with the law of God. That's right, you guessed it: gratitude. The law, then, should not be seen by us as cramping our style and taking all the fun out of life. If someone saved your life, wouldn't you be willing to do almost anything for that person out of gratitude? How much more then, when it is our souls that have been saved!

Thirdly, do we worship the Lord our God? We worship a Triune God. That means that we worship three persons in one God. We worship God, and God meets with us. You know, the New Testament tells us that not only are our bodies temples of the Holy Spirit, but also we are each building blocks of the great temple that God is building called the church. So we can draw a line from the tabernacle to Jesus, and from Jesus to us in terms of the place where God meets man. For now God dwells with us by His Holy Spirit. If our body is the tabernacle of the Holy Spirit, that changes how we view this life, and it certainly changes how we view our own body, and how we should treat our bodies. If your body is a tabernacle of the Holy Spirit, then you need to take care of it and not destroy it.

The Lord has much to teach us through this marvelous book. I want to stress again that the book of Exodus is not some old, decrepit, outdated, boring book of the Bible. It is vibrant, alive, and relevant, because it connects to us through Jesus Christ. And because the book is about Jesus, it is our story as well. As you leave this church building and enter the mission field, think about how joyous this greater Exodus is for you, and wonderful it would be if others would hear about it too.
 

Marrow Man

Drunk with Powder
Exodus is the book of salvation in the Old Testament. Every form of deliverance by which God saves His people after Exodus always looks like Exodus.

Well said. And so we are taught in the preface to the Ten Commandments -- "I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." Thanks for posting this.
 

21st Century Calvinist

Puritan Board Junior
Good stuff, thanks for sharing. Our Pastor has just started to preach on Exodus. Tomorrow will be 2:11-25.
What commentaries are you using/do you recommend?
 

greenbaggins

Administrator
Staff member
Exodus is so well served today by commentaries, it is hard to know where to begin, we have such an embarrassment of riches (one of the reasons I am preaching on it now). In terms of helpfulness in explaining the text, the following are the best: Bruckner, Cassuto, Childs, Currid, Enns, Fretheim, Houtman, Mackay, Motyer, Ryken, Sarna, and Stuart. Obviously, not all of these are even Christian (Cassuto and Sarna are Jewish authors). Of the second rank, still helpful, but with not quite as much explanatory power: Bentley, Cole, Durham, Gowan, Osborn/Hatton, Pink, Propp, Kaiser, Calvin, Keil/Delitzsch, Brueggemann. Also extremely helpful is Currid's book Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament, and Hoffmeier's Israel in Egypt.
 
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