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Bible Dictionaries
Exodus, Book of

Holman Bible Dictionary

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The central book of the Old Testament, reporting God's basic saving act for Israel in the Exodus from Egypt and His making of His covenant with the nation destined to be His kingdom of priests.

Literary Setting The Book of Exodus is the second book of the Old Testament and of the Pentateuch. See Exodus 1:1 ). God delivered the baby Moses from danger, and he grew up in pharaoh's court as son of pharaoh's daughter. Still he cared for the Israelites. Trying to protect one of his own people, he killed an Egyptian. Thus Moses had to flee to the wilderness of Midian, where he helped seven endangered shepherd girls. He settled among them and married one of the girls. There, God called him at the burning bush of Mount Horeb/Sinai and sent him back to rescue Israel from Egypt (Exodus 2-4 ). With his brother Aaron, he faced a stubborn pharaoh, who refused to release the Israelites. When pharaoh made life harder for Israel, the Israelites griped about Moses. God took this as opportunity to reveal Himself to Israel, to pharaoh, and to the Egyptians. God brought the plagues upon Egypt. Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let Israel go until his firstborn son and the eldest sons of all Egypt died in the final plague. This tenth plague became the setting for Israel's central religious celebration, that of Passover and Unleavened Bread in which Israel reenacted the Exodus from Egypt and rejoiced at God's supreme act of salvation for His people (Exodus 5-13 ). As Israel fled Egypt, the pharaoh again resisted and led his army after them. The miracle of the Red Sea (or perhaps more literally, the Sea of Reeds) became the greatest moment in Israel's history, the moment God created a nation for Himself by delivering hem from the strongest military power on earth as He led them through the divided waters of the sea and then flooded the sea again as the Egyptians tried to follow (Exodus 14:1 ).

After celebrating the deliverance in song and dance (Exodus 15:1-21 ), Israel followed God's leadership into the wilderness, but soon the difficult wilderness life proved too hard. The Israelites cried for the good old days of Egypt, even after God supplied their food and drink needs and after He defeated the Amalekites (Exodus 15:22-17:15 ). Moses' father-in-law Jethro brought Moses' wife and children back to him in the wilderness and praised God for all that He had done for Moses and the people. Jethro also advised Moses how to organize a more efficient judicial system, relieving Moses of stress (Exodus 18:1 ). Then Israel came to Sinai, where God called them to become His covenant people, a holy nation to carry out Abraham's mission of blessing the nations. God gave the Ten Commandments and other laws central to the covenant (Exodus 19-23 ), and then confirmed the covenant in a mysterious ceremony (Exodus 24:1 ). Moses went to the top of the mountain to receive the remainder of God's instructions, especially instructions for building the sacred place of worship, the tabernacle (Exodus 24-31 ). Impatient Israel got Aaron to build an object of worship they could see, so he made the golden calf. The people began worshiping. This angered God, who sent Moses back down to the people. Moses prayed for the people despite their sin, but then saw the people's sinful actions and threw the tablets with the law to the ground, breaking them. Moses again went up and prayed for the people. God punished them but did not destroy them as He had threatened. God showed His continued presence in the Tent of Meeting and in letting His glory pass by Moses (Exodus 32-33 ). God then gave Moses the law on two new tablets of stone and renewed the covenant with the people, providing further basic laws for them. Such intense communication with God brought radiance to Moses' face (Exodus 34:1 ). Moses then led Israel to celebrate the Sabbath and to build the tabernacle (Exodus 35-39 ). Moses set up the tabernacle and established worship in it. God blessed the action with His holy glorious presence (Exodus 40:1 ). This provided the sign for Israel's future journeys, following God's cloud and fire.

Theological Teaching In Exodus Israel learned the basic nature of God and His salvation. They also learned the nature of sin, the characteristics of God's leader, the components of worship, and the meaning of salvation. In Exodus Israel learned the identity of the people of God.

God is Ruler of the world, able to act for His people even on the home territory of the world's most powerful political and military force. God chooses to act for the people He elects. God knows the situation of His people even when another nation has forced them into slavery. God saved His people through calling out a leader to communicate God's will and to face their enemies. God empowered the leader at a time of the leader's personal weakness rather than at a time of strength. He worked in the forces of nature to show His unequaled power and to demonstrate His concern for His own people. Salvation for His people involved punishing their sinful enemies, and especially their stubborn leader.

Salvation, power, and concern was not all God revealed of Himself. He also showed a holy nature in that special preparations were made to enter His presence. He revealed His great glory, so majestic even the leader could not view it. Most of all, He revealed His will to be present among His people and lead them through their daily activities.

In so doing, He showed the way He expected His people to live, a way of holiness, a way of priesthood among the nations. This way centered on life guided by the Ten Commandments. Such a life reflected the nature of God Himself, who could be identified as “The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty” (Exodus 34:6-7 ).

God expected His people to live the way of holiness, the way of the Ten Commandments. Failure to do so is sin. Sin centers particularly in giving another god credit for what God has done and in worshiping what human hands have made rather than the true God who allows no images of Himself. To avoid sin, God's people had to follow God's chosen leader, even when the path led through the wilderness and demanded a life-style lacking in some of the food and luxuries they had learned to take for granted. The leader followed God's will and not the people's. In so doing, the leader interceded with God for a sinful people, willing to give up his own place with God in exchange for the people's salvation. Only a leader who communed face to face with God could develop such an attitude. Thus Moses became the leader without parallel for Israel.

The leader's lasting role included the establishment of a worship place and worship practices. God's people gained their identity in worship. The leader showed them when, where, and how to worship.

The people offered worship because They had experienced God's salvation. For them salvation meant physical deliverance in military action against a powerful world enemy. It involved following God's instructions and waiting for God's miraculous help. Salvation set up a relationship between God and the people, a relationship based on God's initiative in delivering the people and on God's initiative in inviting the people into covenant relationship. See Covenant . This meant the people could trust God to lead them through their personal and national history. It also meant that God expected a trusting people to obey Him as He set out the way of life they should follow. Salvation was not just receiving God's salvation. It was following in faith the life-style God described for them.


I. God Saves His People (Exodus 1:1-4:17 ).

A. God's people face oppression in fear (Exodus 1:1-22 ).

B. God raises up a deliverer for His oppressed people (Exodus 2:1-4:17 ).

II. God Sends His Leader on a Difficult Mission (Exodus 4:18-7:2 ).

A. God uses all means to accomplish His will against an ungodly ruler (Exodus 4:18-26 ).

B. God fulfills His angry promise to provide a helper for His leader (Exodus 4:27-31 ).

C. God's leader delivers God's message to pagan leaders (Exodus 5:1-23 ).

D. God promises deliverance to a deaf people (Exodus 6:1-9 ).

E. God reaffirms His insecure leaders (Exodus 6:10-7:2 ).

III. God Reveals Himself in Punishing His Enemy (Exodus 7:3-12:30 ).

A. God is sovereign over enemy powers (Exodus 7:3-13 ).

B. Miracles do not bring belief (Exodus 7:14-25 ).

C. Enemy powers seek compromise not conversion (Exodus 8:1-15 ).

D. God's power convinces enemy religious leaders (Exodus 8:16-19 ).

E. Political deceit cannot defeat God's purposes (Exodus 8:20-32 ).

F. God's power is superior to pagan religious symbols (Exodus 9:1-7 ).

G. God's power affects people as well as animals (Exodus 9:8-12 ).

H. Terror and admission of sin are not adequate responses to the actions of the only God (Exodus 9:13-35 ).

I. God's saving acts are to be taught to coming generations (Exodus 10:1-20 ).

J. God's will must be followed completely (Exodus 10:21-29 ).

K. God distinguishes between His people and His enemies when He punishes (Exodus 11:1-10 ).

L. God judges other gods but preserves an obedient people (Exodus 12:1-13 ).

M. God's people are to remember and celebrate His deliverance (Exodus 12:14-28 ).

N. God punishes His proud, stubborn enemies (Exodus 12:29-30 ).

IV. God Reveals Himself by Delivering His People from Bondage (Exodus 12:31-15:21 ).

A. God delivers and blesses His people and those who join them (Exodus 12:31-51 ).

B. God instructs His people to remember, celebrate, and teach His mighty salvation (Exodus 13:1-16 ).

C. God leads and protects His obedient people (Exodus 13:17-22 ).

D. God gains glory and evokes faith by saving His troubled people (Exodus 14:1-31 ).

E. God's people praise Him for their deliverance (Exodus 15:1-21 ).

V. God Provides for His Doubting, Complaining People (Exodus 15:22-18:27 ).

A. God promises healing to an obedient people (Exodus 15:22-27 ).

B. God reveals His glory and tests His people's faith while meeting their needs (Exodus 16:1-36 ).

C. Doubting people test God's presence (Exodus 17:1-7 ).

D. God delivers His people and permanently curses their enemy (Exodus 17:8-16 ).

E. Foreign relatives testify to God's superiority over all gods (Exodus 18:1-12 ).

F. God's people must have effective teaching and administrative leadership (Exodus 18:13-27 ).

VI. God Covenants with His People (Exodus 19:1-20:21 ).

A. God's covenant is based upon His act of deliverance and upon the people's obedience as a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:1-8 ).

B. God prepares His people for His coming down to make a covenant (Exodus 19:9-15 ).

C. God's awesome presence confirms His covenant (Exodus 19:16-25 ).

D. The Ten Commandments are God's covenant ground rules for life with Him (Exodus 20:1-17 ).

E. Awestruck people need a human mediator with the holy God (Exodus 20:18-21 ).

VII. God Gives Civil, Ceremonial, and Criminal Laws to Help His People (Exodus 20:22-23:33 ).

A. Instructions for acceptable worship (Exodus 20:22-26 )

B. Treatment of Hebrew slaves (Exodus 21:1-11 )

C. Dealing with a person who injures or kills another person (Exodus 21:12-32 )

D. Justice for damage done to another's property (Exodus 21:33-22:15 )

E. Justice when a virgin is seduced (Exodus 22:16-17 )

F. Punishment for sorcery, bestiality, and idolatry (Exodus 22:18-20 )

G. Care for the stranger, widow, orphan, and poor (Exodus 22:21-27 )

H. Respect for God and human rulers, dedication of children, and being holy (Exodus 22:28-31 )

I. Practice honesty; do not hurt the righteous or innocent (Exodus 23:1-9 ).

J. Keep the sabbatical year, the Sabbath day, sacred occasions (Exodus 23:10-19 ).

K. God will provide spiritual guidance (Exodus 23:20-33 ).

VIII. God and His People Must Ratify the Covenant (Exodus 24:1-18 ).

A. The people commit themselves to do God's will (Exodus 24:1-11 ).

B. God ratifies the covenant with His holy presence (Exodus 24:12-18 ).

IX. God Plans to Be Present with His People (Exodus 25:1-31:17 ).

A. As their hearts move them, people are to give for God's worship place (Exodus 25:1-7 ).

B. God will dwell among His people in His place of holy worship (Exodus 25:8-27:21 ).

C. God's minister mediates His holy presence for a holy people (Exodus 28:1-29:37 ).

D. People respond to the holy Presence with sacrificial giving (Exodus 29:38-30:38 ).

E. Craftsmen respond to the holy Presence by dedicating God-given skills (Exodus 31:1-11 ).

F. People respond to the holy Presence with Sabbath worship (Exodus 31:12-17 ).

X. God Restores a Sinful People (Exodus 31:18-34:35 ).

A. God provides guidelines for life in His presence (Exodus 31:18 ).

B. An impatient people break the covenant by making and worshiping other gods (Exodus 32:1-6 ).

C. God reacts against a disobedient people in wrath (Exodus 32:7-10 ).

D. Intercessory prayer brings divine repentance (Exodus 32:11-14 ).

E. Judgment comes to a disobedient people through God's chosen leaders (Exodus 32:15-29 ).

F. A mediator's majestic intercession is not sufficient (Exodus 32:30-35 ).

G. God withdraws His immediate presence from a sinful people (Exodus 33:1-4 ).

H. Mourning and repentance, even by a disobedient people, catch God's attention (Exodus 33:5-6 ).

I. Worship at God's chosen place is an essential element in restoring the covenant (Exodus 33:7-11 ).

J. The unseeable presence of God reaffirms the covenant relationship (Exodus 33:12-23 ).

K. God renews His covenant with His people (Exodus 34:1-35 ).

XI. God Honors the Obedience of His People with His Holy Presence (Exodus 35:1-40:38 ).

A. God gives His people specific requirements (Exodus 35:1-19 ).

B. Obedient people provide resources and skills needed for God's work (Exodus 35:20-36:7 ).

C. Obedient people use their resources to build God's dwelling place (Exodus 36:8-39:43 ).

D. The leader of God's people prepares for worship (Exodus 40:1-33 ).

E. God's presence fills the worship place continually for His obedient people (Exodus 40:34-38 ).

Trent C. Butler

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Exodus, Book of'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hbd/​e/exodus-book-of.html. 1991.
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