Exodus/Story Of Moses
Many scholars refer to the book of exodus as the bedrock of faith in Israel. The book links two key first encounters: the Israelites’ Exodus from captivity in Egypt, and their reception of the covenant of God at Sinai. The Exodus of Israelites from Egypt is symbolic of the existence of Israel, primarily by the delivering power of God. And the covenant shaped the nation’s relationship with God. This relationship or covenant entails both parties keeping promises, and also holding the key promise from Yahweh for a brighter future. The two foundational encounters — the exodus and the reception of the covenant — are the source of the identity of Israelites as a people delivered by God.
The exodus of Israelites from Egypt is also a key basis for the two main religions related to the Messiah — Christianity and Judaism. In Christianity, the exodus is celebrated as Easter, where Christ represents the Passover lamb, while in Judaism it used to be and still is the festival of Passover, celebrating the liberty and freedom of Israelites. The name ‘exodus of the book’ comes from the Israelites’ miraculous escape from captivity (“CHAPTER THREE Exodus: Deliverance and Covenant” Para 1&2).
The book of exodus is second after that of Genesis in the Bible, and it can be segmented into 2 main sections: chapters 1 to 18 on the traditions surrounding the people’s departure from captivity, and the chapters 19 to 40 on the traditions linked to the revelation of God to the people on Mount Sinai (“CHAPTER THREE Exodus: Deliverance and Covenant” Para 1&2).
This paper seeks to assess the book of Exodus, in the perspective of the narrative on Moses by looking into the purpose, authorship of the text, the culture and traditions of the time, and many other elements that might have influenced the writing of the text, and how the covenant agreement is interpreted even in the modern world.
It has been assumed since the compilation of the first Bible that Moses is the author of the book of Exodus, although the book doesn’t explicitly assert that fact. Even though many biblical scholars look at Moses as a key player in the events recorded in the book, he is not seen as the only author of the book, in terms of authorship in the contemporary style. As with the book of Genesis, many historical Jewish sources name Moses as the most likely individual to have written the text. This assertion is supported by various factors. One is that Moses had been educated in the Egyptian royal house, and this experience gave him the ability to write the book. There are also several texts in the book itself that support the idea that Moses wrote the book (Swindoll, Para 1&2).
Many topographical details, conversations, narratives and events could only be in the book, if they were written by the individual who personally witnessed them. For instance, the scripture reads at one point that Moses then wrote what the Lord had said (Exodus 24:4 NIV). Even in the gospels, there was an occasion where Jesus quoted from Exodus 20:12 and also 21:17, saying that, “for Moses said,” showing Christ’s explicit confirmation of the author of the book. The name ‘exodus’ originates from the Septuagint, which derives the title from the book’s main event, the deliverance of the people of God from captivity and/or slavery, and their exit from Egypt through the grace of God (Swindoll, Para 1&2).
Purpose of the Text and Message
The birth of Moses took place at a time when the wrongs being committed on the Israelites were at their worst, and the Hebrew kids were being slaughtered by their captors, the Egyptians. The Egyptians had set to make the lives of the Israelites difficult. They made them to toil huge fields and build pyramids for them. When Moses was born, the Egyptians – afraid that the Jews would outnumber them — decided to murder all the boys born to the Jews. And, they also made them work harder, so as to break their resolve (Marshall, Para 6-8).
However, in the book of Exodus, we see Yahweh starting to fulfill the promises he had made to Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham. Despite the Israelites having been held in captivity for many years, God delivered them to freedom in their own home. God then founded the nation of Israel as a theocratic one, based on the covenant He made with Israelites on Mount Sinai (Swindoll, Para 5).
The 10 plagues: their houses being passed over by the angel of death, the splitting of the Red Sea, the power of God’s presence at the mountain, the issuing of the 10 commandments and placing them in the tabernacle, are the main events that form the basis of Judaism. These events also offer an important glimpse into the environment surrounding the writing of the text to a modern day reader of the scripture, and also enable the reader an overall understanding of God’s plan of redemption. The number of times the authors of the other books of the Bible quote the book of Exodus, and even the references to the book made by Jesus, are testament to the significance of the book (Swindoll, Para 5).
The running theme in the book of Exodus is God’s plan of redemption — how He delivered the Israelites from captivity. After the delivery, God gave the Israelites the Ten Commandments to help guide the people’s relationship with Him. He also gave instructions on how sacrifices could be made, as an act of worship. Just as importantly, He also gave them instructions on how to construct the tabernacle and by extension, the Tent in which it was to be placed because He wished to live among His people, and to show His glory (Exodus 40:34-35). The Sinai Covenant, which was represented at first through the Decalogue, is the basis of the beliefs of Judaism. Through His law, God states that everything in Life relates to Him, and that nothing is not within His power (Swindoll, Para 6&7).
The first book of the Bible — Genesis — offers the situational context behind the delivery of the Israelites from captivity, while the third book, Leviticus, is more of a completion of the Mosaic covenant stipulation given in Exodus. This was in terms of the context of the structure and function of the worship that was to be performed in the tabernacle by the Levites, and also in terms of the righteousness that was to be upheld by the nation of Israel. Thus, it can be safe to say that the book of Exodus fits between that of Genesis and Leviticus, in both a logical and theological manner. The act of redeeming the Israelites from captivity in Egypt is God’s fulfillment of one of the promises He had made to their ancestors, including Isaac and His father Abraham (DeCanio, Para 24).
The bringing of the people into a covenant agreement with Him is not only redemption of the whole nation of Israel, but also that of the individual people of Israel. The redemption, however, requires that the people of Israel should also be redeemed from sin so that Yahweh might live among them (DeCanio Para 25).
Exodus reveals how God made the Israelites special through the covenant, and by dwelling among them as their King. The book is also transitional in that it shows how God’s promise to Abraham is fulfilled as His Law. Even though the promise God made to Abraham and later to Jacob is the basis of His relationship to the people, His Law also becomes the ground for either blessings or curses on the succeeding generations, depending on whether or not they obey the Law. For God to fulfill the promises He made to Abraham, in our lives, there is a need for us to be faithful to God; faith, which is determined by our obedience to His Laws (DeCanio, Para 26).
In the book of Exodus, (chapter 1) describes the way Egyptians mistreated the Israelites. And since their actions and forced labor did not stop the growth of the population of Israelites on their land, the Egyptians decided to murder all new-born male Israelites. However, they did not succeed in killing Moses. Upon the birth of Moses (2), his family hid him for some time and then hatched a plan to save him.
They put him on a basket and floated him down the River Nile, to a place that was frequently visited by Pharaoh’s daughter. Pharaoh’s daughter found the baby and took compassion upon it. She decided to raise the baby as her own. When Moses had grown and became an adult, he attempted to help some Jews who were being mistreated by their Egyptian masters, and in the process, killed the Egyptian. He decided to flee the royal court and Egypt, and hid in the Sinai desert. While in the wilderness, he met and married Zipporah, and had children with her.
While herding sheep for Jethro (his father in law), God appeared to him in the form of a burning bush (3-4). God then told him to go back to Egypt, an instruction that would obviously have been difficult for him to obey. Nevertheless, he returned to Egypt and was used by God to deliver his people from oppression and captivity. God, through several natural and supernatural occurrences, showed his all-powerful nature (12-13) (“CHAPTER THREE Exodus: Deliverance and Covenant” Para 3&4).
The Egyptian army went after the Israelites, and when it looked as if the they were about to be destroyed, since they were trapped between the approaching army and the Red Sea, God parted the Sea into two, creating a way for them to pass. The Israelites went through with no harm. However, as the Egyptians attempted to follow them via the parted sea, they were drowned (14-15). Moses then guided the people to Sinai (16-18) (“CHAPTER THREE Exodus: Deliverance and Covenant” Para 3&4).
At Sinai, God gave the people His Law, and formed with them a binding covenant (19-24). Besides the covenant, He also told them how He was to be worshiped, and how they were to build the tabernacle (25-31). Not long after the Israelites had agreed to the covenant, they broke the agreement by worshiping an idol (the golden calf), instead of God (32-34). Even though the Israelites were supposed to be destroyed, God spared them and restored the agreement. The Israelites then built the place where God could dwell among them, in their camp. They referred to this tent as the tabernacle, and this was done while they were still at the foot of Mount Sinai (“CHAPTER THREE Exodus: Deliverance and Covenant.” Para5).
Culture and Customs at the Time
There are many traditions and customs that are referred to in the Bible. Some of them have been adapted into modern cultures. Some of the Hebrew customs recorded in the Book of Exodus, for example, in the wilderness around Mount Sinai, it was not surprising for one to see a burning bush because of the hot sun. However, in this case the bush was not being consumed by the fire (Exodus 3:2). It is through this act that God got the attention of Moses, and gave him the task of freeing His people from captivity. It is crucial to note that God often gets our attention in very unique ways, even in environments that we consider familiar. Another custom was that of removing shoes, God in his voice told Moses to remove his shoes because he was standing on holy grounds (Exodus 3:5). The scriptures reveal to us that, in that part of the world, one was supposed to remove their shoes when going into sacred places or houses. The action of removing shoes reflects holiness of the place. Moses was commanded to do this as he came closer to the burning bush (Minnicks, Para 1-3).
One of the other traditions in the Old Testament was the marrying of relatives. During those times, marrying of relatives was not viewed as incest as is shown in Exodus 6:20 that records a man named Amram marrying Jochebed (his father’s sister). Before Yahweh gave Moses the Ten Commandments, one could marry his sisters or aunts. However, this is no longer the case among Hebrews.
One of the clothes worn in the Middle East is a girdle (Exodus 12:11). This girdle, however, is a little different from the girdle as we know it today; it is a piece of cloth resembling a shawl that is wrapped around the waist. It used to serve as a belt, holding together the long robes.
Also in the book of Exodus, the Israelites were instructed to eat only bread baked without yeast for seven days (Exodus 12:15 NIV). This instruction stressed the need for people to be pure and not hasty; yeast in this context — symbolized contamination. God also instructed the Israelites on the way they could build places of worship and how they could worship Him. This was to prevent people from turning places of worshiping God into places of idolatry, and thus, he did not allow the stones at the altar to be curved into any specific shape (Exodus 20:25).
Among the Jews, it was also a common practice for people to take clothes and shoes as collateral for lending money. However, it was not kind to take one’s coat as collateral since that way one could be denying the owner something to cover him at night. Therefore a command was given to forbid the taking of clothes as collateral (Exodus 22:26-27) (Minnicks, Para 4-9).
How Various Elements Influence the text
The Historical Element
The historical perspective of the text is given in chapter one. The nation of Israel was in Egypt, Joseph was already long dead and the Pharaoh who was in charge was not cognizant of who Joseph was, or what he had done for Egyptians. In the course of the nation of Israel staying in Egypt, their numbers had greatly increased — a fulfillment of one of the promises God had made to Abraham (Gen 13:16), and thus, the Egyptians began to view the Israelites as a threat to their future well-being. To remove the threat, they forced all Israelites to slavery and servitude. However, the more they tried to break their resolve, the more the Israelites grew in numbers and spread out across the Egyptian territory (DeCanio, Para 6).
The Socio-cultural Element
There are two different dimensions of the socio-cultural environment of the book of Exodus. The two are separated by the exodus itself; one comes before it and the other after it. At first, when the Israelites were living in captivity in Egypt, they were organized in social communities or villages, based on their clans and tribes. Even though they were in slavery and bondage, they lived relatively well and had plenty to eat. However, after they decided to leave Egypt, everything changed. Although now free from Egyptian domination, they were now subjects of the Lord. Whereas, before they had lived in permanent houses, they were now constantly moving in tents and moving through the desert, before encamping on the foot of Mount Sinai. Moreover, food and water, which were sufficient in Egypt, were now inadequate, and they were entirely dependent on God for their daily needs (DeCanio, Para7).
The Theological Element
This looks at the book of Genesis and uses its theological revelation as its basis. Other major additions to the theological perspective include: the way God reveals himself through plagues, supernatural events, His covenant, and also anger and wrath at the disobedience of His commandments. The Mosaic covenant is, however, the most dominant of the additions to the theological perspective, since the covenant controls both the understanding of the book itself and the rest of the books that make up the Pentateuch (DeCanio, Para 8&9).
The Covenant as Explained and Experienced through the Text and the 21st Century
The book of exodus shows Yahweh’s miraculous acts through which He brings redemption to His people. Through His plagues and supernatural events, He makes Pharaoh to let His people go. The last plague to kill all the firstborns in Egypt, sparing those of the Israelites, was symbolically the destruction of Egypt’s firstborn, and the redemption of the firstborn of Israel. This is the Passover that is celebrated in both Christianity and Judaism. It was, however, not only deliverance from bondage, but also from sin. The Passover redemption showed the kind of redemption that God would later effect through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross to save or redeem all mankind (DeCanio, Para 22&23).
Even though the scriptures on the Passover do explicitly assert the effecting of redemption from sin, it is implied in three redemptive concepts. First, is that a lamb is used as a substitute sacrifice. Secondly, the blood of the lamb is used as atonement for sin, and lastly, there is a requirement for faith. These concepts represent what Christ did for all mankind on the cross (DeCanio, Para24). In the manner in which Israelites left Egypt, all believers are delivered from bondage and sin, making them subject to God. The blood of Jesus on the cross was the atonement for the sins of all believers. We are made holy and righteous in the eyes of God through the sacrifice of the body of His son Jesus Christ (10:10 NIV) (Swindoll, Para 8).
Even though God allows the descendants of Abraham to be oppressed, He promised Abraham that He will judge the nation that oppresses them, and He will deliver them from bondage to a land full of many possessions (Gen 15:14, 16). The judgment promised on the oppressors is shown in the following text: Exodus 7:14-11:8; 12:29-30; 14:23-31. The deliverance of the descendants of Abraham from captivity is revealed in Exodus 12:31-34; 40-41, 51. The importance of recording all these promises and many more that God had made to Abraham is to show that if the Lord has already begun bringing to fruition the promises He made to Abraham, why will He not fulfill all the others He had made? Thus, the start of these fulfillments brings about a sense of expectant hope for all the other promises to be fulfilled. Also, in the same way, the Israelites were redeemed from captivity; all believers have been redeemed from Sin and consecrated to the Lord.
DeCanio, Frank. “Analysis and Synthesis of Exodus.” Bible.org. 27 Mar. 2012. Web. 2 Oct. 2015.
Minnicks, Margaret. “Bible Customs: Book of Exodus.” Examiner.com. 25 Sept. 2014. Web. 2 Oct. 2015.
Swindoll, Charles. “Book of Exodus Overview – Insight for Living Ministries.” Book of Exodus Overview – Insight for Living Ministries. Web. 2 Oct. 2015.
“CHAPTER THREE Exodus: Deliverance and Covenant.” Chapter 3. Exodus. Web. 2 Oct. 2015.
Marshall, Logan. “The Story of Moses, the Child Who Was Found in the River.” The Story of Moses, the Child Who Was Found in the River. Web. 2 Oct. 2015.
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