The book of Exodus is so-called because it describes the exodus of the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. In the book we see some of the great miracles that God performed on behalf of His people, which are mentioned throughout the rest of the Bible: the plagues of Egypt, the crossing of the Red Sea, the giving of manna and water from the rock, and the continual rebellion by the children of Israel. We are introduced to Moses, who is a key figure throughout the Bible. We see the giving of the law and the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai, and God’s instructions concerning the tabernacle. The first part of the book is narrative and quite easy to read; the second part starts to catalogue some of the laws given by God to the nation of Israel. While many of these may seem irrelevant to us, we can find great treasure in them if we remember Col. 2:17 – “These are a shadow of the things to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.”
Chapter 1: Slavery in Egypt
Following on from the end of Genesis, where Joseph the son of Jacob (Israel) had been second-in-command under Pharaoh, several generations passed and the family of Jacob, who had gone down into Egypt as seventy people, multiplied into hundreds of thousands. Then a new king arose in Egypt, who did not know the history of these people. Feeling threatened by them, he made them slaves.
Chapter 2: The birth of Moses
God saw the suffering of His people, and appointed Moses to be their leader. In Exodus 2 we see the circumstances surrounding Moses’ birth: how Pharaoh had decreed that all baby boys born to the Hebrews were to be killed, how Moses’ mother put him in a basket in the reeds by the Nile river, how Pharaoh’s daughter found him and adopted him as her own son. Moses is a remarkable figure. He grew up in the palace of Pharaoh, no doubt receiving an excellent education in that society. He became a prominent official, and when he was older, he tried to go to the rescue of one of his fellow Hebrews, but was shunned by them. Fearing for his life, he fled to the desert of Midian, where he lived with Reuel and his daughters for several years.
Chapters 3-4: The calling of Moses
In chapter 3 we see God calling Moses to be Israel’s leader. We have the famous incident of the burning bush that was not consumed. Incidentally, this is a picture of grace: a thorn bush (a symbol of the curse, or sin) being burned (in judgement) but not being destroyed. Here we also see God pronounce His name as ‘I AM’ (Ex. 3:14).
Moses knows he is talking with God, but he begins to make excuses about why he isn’t the man for the job. ‘What if they don’t listen to me?’ he says. God gives him the power to work miracles as proof of his commission. Finally Moses says, ‘O Lord, please send someone else. I am slow of speech and tongue.’ You can feel God getting exasperated with this man, and suggests that Moses’ brother Aaron would go with him to be his spokesman.
Chapters 5-6: Moses returns to Egypt
In chapter 5, Moses returns to Egypt and he and Aaron go to speak with Pharaoh about releasing the Israelites. But Pharaoh refuses, and makes their work even harder: up to this point, they had been given straw with which to make bricks. But now, he ordered that they gather their own straw as well. The people rightly complain, and again God has to encourage Moses to keep going with what He has called him to do.
In the second part of chapter 6, we are given the genealogy of Moses and Aaron. We discover they are from the tribe of Levi, from the line of Kohath. This will become important later when Aaron is made high priest of the nation and the Levites as a tribe are set aside to serve God.
Chapters 7-11: The ten plagues
Once Moses returns from Midian to Egypt, God brought ten plagues of judgement upon Egypt. This is remembered throughout the rest of the Bible and certain plagues are referred to individually (e.g. Ps. 78:44-51, Rev. 11:6). No two plagues are alike, although they do follow patterns and progressions: involving Moses’ rod, Aaron’s rod, Moses warning Pharoah or not, the plague affecting all the people or just the Egyptians, etc. After each plague we read how Pharaoh hardened his heart (and for the later stages, how God hardened his heart even further). The ten plagues culminate in the death of the firstborn, which God had told Moses would happen before He sent any of the plagues (Ex. 4:21-23). It is interesting to note that each of the plagues affects a certain thing that was considered a god or divine in Egyptian society at the time.
Chapters 12-13: The Passover
In chapter 12 God gives Moses specific instructions concerning the Passover: the last meal the Israelites were to have in Egypt. This would go on to become an important remembrance for the Israelites through all generations even to today with the Passover feast, but it also has significance for us as Christians, as the Passover lamb is symbolic of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 5:7). The Israelites were commanded to sacrifice a lamb, cook and eat it, and smear its blood on the doorframes of their houses. If they did this, God promised that the angel of death would pass over their houses. That night, the angel of death slew every firstborn male in every house that did not have blood on the doorframes. This was the tenth plague, after which Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and commanded them to leave Egypt.
Chapters 14-15: Crossing the Red Sea
Crossing the Red Sea was one of God’s greatest miracles, remembered throughout the Old Testament. The Israelites had left Egypt and were being led by the pillar of cloud and fire. The Egyptian army pursued them. God parted the Red Sea and enabled the Israelites to cross over, while the cloud kept the Egyptians from reaching them. Once the Israelites had crossed, the cloud lifted and the Egyptians started to pursue them. God instructed Moses to stretch out his hand over the sea, and it flowed back in so that the Egyptians were destroyed. So began the Israelites’ journey through the wilderness.
Chapters 16-18: The start of the journey
It took two years for the Israelites to reach Mount Sinai. A few events from during that time are recorded in chapters 16-18, namely how the people complained about food and God gave them manna and quail to eat, how the people coplained about water and God opened the rock for water to flow out, how the Israelites were attacked by the Amalekites (an event that would be remembered in Deut. 25:17-19), and how Moses’ father-in-law came to visit him and gave him advice on how to lead the people.
Chapters 19-24: The giving of the law at Mount Sinai
In Exodus 19 we see Moses and the children of Israel arrive at Mount Sinai. This would be a turning point in the nation’s history, for it was here that God gave them the Law as His covenant with them through Moses (hence, the Mosaic covenant). This was not an unconditional covenant like that made with Abraham, which depended solely on God’s faithfulness. The blessings promised by God to the Israelites under the Mosaic covenant were conditional upon them keeping His Law.
The giving of the Law starts with the well-known Ten Commandments (Ex. 20). Other civil laws follow, concerning servants, recompense for injuries and damage to property, social responsibilities, justice, the Sabbath and festivals. In Ex. 24 God confirms the covenant by having Moses read the Law to the people and sprinkle them with sacrificial blood. When we read through these laws, the words of Jesus come to mind about the two greatest commandments that sum up all the others: firstly, to love God supremely, and secondly, to love our neighbour as ourselves.
Chapters 25-31: Instructions about the tabernacle
After this we see Moses return to the top of Mount Sinai, where God gives him instructions concerning the tabernacle and the items to be placed within it. There is a lot of detail given in these chapters concerning the measurements and the materials for these items. But rather than skimming over it (or neglecting to read it altogether), there are things we can learn and notice. The author of Hebrews alerts us to this: “They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and a shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: ‘See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain’” (Heb. 8:5). Apparently, God didn’t just tell Moses what to make, but He showed him. These items reflect items that are in heaven, in God’s throne room. And each item relates to Jesus Christ: the altar of sacrifice (Christ our sacrifice), the bronze laver for washing (Christ who cleanses us), the table of shewbread (Christ the bread of life, John 6:48), the menorah/lampstand (Christ the light of the world, John 9:5), the golden altar of incense (Christ our intercessor), the ark of the covenant (Christ who kept the Law perfectly), the mercy seat (Christ who atones for us).
God also gives Moses instructions about the priestly garments and the consecration ceremony for the priests, namely Aaron and his sons. He also tells Moses about Bezalel and Oholiab, two men He had given skill to make everything that was required.
Chapters 32-34: The golden calf, etc.
Following the glorious topic of the sanctuary to be built for God, Moses comes down the mountain to find the Israelites falling into their worst sin yet: worshipping a golden calf idol. Moses was filled with righteous anger and breaks the two tablets of stone that God had given him, with the Ten Commandments written on them. After atonement had been made for the people, God instructs Moses to bring new tablets to the mountain to replace the ones that were broken. In this section we also read about how Moses’ face would glow after he had been with the Lord, and his desire to see God’s glory.
Chapters 35-40: Constructing the tabernacle
The final chapters of the book of Exodus (ch. 35-40) are quite similar to ch. 25-31. There, we saw God giving instructions to Moses concerning the construction of the tabernacle; here, we see the work carried out and completed. It was all done exactly as God prescribed, and when it was completed and set up, the glory of God came and dwelt there. The tabernacle layout was incorporated into the temple later on in Israel’s history, once they came into the Promised Land and Jerusalem was established as the capital under David and Solomon.
Exodus is a book of struggle and accomplishment, of failure and mercy, of promise and hope for the future. At the start of the book, Israel was in Egypt as an extended family; at the end of the book, they are a nation being led to their homeland. We are introduced to the key figures of Moses, Aaron, and Joshua. We see God’s miraculous hand, the giving of the Law and the establishment of the priesthood. Throughout the book we see events and symbols pointing to Jesus Christ. If you find it hard going when you are reading, just try putting Jesus in the centre of it.