Exodus Book of
Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature
Exodus, the second book of Moses, so called from the principal event recorded in it, namely the departure of the Israelites from Egypt. With this book begins the proper history of that people continuing it until their arrival at Sinai, and the erection of the sanctuary there. It transports us in the first instance to Egypt, and the quarter in which the Israelites were domiciled in that country. We do not find in the Pentateuch a real history of the people of Israel during this period. Such a history, in the more strict acceptation of the term, has no place in an historical sketch of the kingdom of God, where the mere description of the situation and condition of the people is all that is requisite. From that description we learn satisfactorily how the people of the Lord were negatively prepared for the great object which God had decreed with regard to them. This is the important theme of the history of the Pentateuch during the whole long period of four hundred years.
Exodus is very circumstantial in its account of the life of Moses, which, instead of partaking of the character of usual biography, manifests in all its details a decided aim of evincing how, by the miraculous dispensation of the Lord, Moses had been even from his earliest years prepared and reared to become the chosen instrument of God. In this book is developed, with particular clearness, the summons of Moses to his sacred office, which concludes the first important section of his life (Exodus 1-6). No human choice and no self-will, but an immediate call from Jehovah alone could decide in so important an affair. Jehovah reveals Himself to him by His covenant-name, and vouchsafes him the power to work miracles such as no man before him had ever wrought. It was not the natural disposition and bent of his mind that induced Moses to accept the office, but solely his submission to the express will of God, his obedience alone, that influenced him, the lawgiver, to undertake the mission. The external relation of Moses to his people is also clearly defined (comp. ex. gr. , sq.). This furnishes the firm basis on which is founded his own as well as Aaron's personal authority, and the respect for his permanent regulations.
A new section (Exodus 7-15) then gives a very detailed account of the manner in which the Lord glorified himself in Israel, and released the people from the land of bondage. This section of the history then concludes with a triumphal song, celebrating the victory of Israel.
In Exodus 16-18 we find the introduction to the second principal part of this book, in which is sketched the manifestation of God in the midst of Israel, as well as the promulgation of the law itself, in its original and fundamental features. This preparatory section thus furnishes us with additional proof of the special care of God for His people; how He provided their food and water, and how He protected them from the assaults of their foes. In , sq., not all, but only the remarkable resting-places are mentioned, where Jehovah took special care of his people. In the account (Exodus 18) of the civil regulations framed by the advice of Jethro, a strong line of demarcation is drawn between the changeable institutions of man and the divine legislation which began then to be established, and which thenceforth claims by far the greatest part of the work.
At the commencement of the legislation is a brief summary of the laws, with the Decalogue at their head (Exodus 19-23). The Decalogue is the true fundamental law, bearing within itself the germ of the entire legislation. The other legal definitions are only farther developments of the Decalogue. These definitions manifest the power and extent of the law itself, showing what an abundance of new regulations result from the simple and few words of the Decalogue. Upon this basis the covenant is concluded with the Israelites, in which God reveals Himself in agreement with the understanding and the exigencies of the people.
Not until this covenant was completed did it become possible for the Israelites to enter into a communion with God, confirmed and consecrated by laws and offerings, and thereby to receive further revelations from Him (Exodus 24). Whatsoever after this, in the twenty-fifth and in the following chapters, is communicated to the people, concerns the dwelling of God in the midst of Israel. By this dwelling of God among Israel it is intended to show, that the communion is permanent on the part of God, and that on the part of the people it is possible to persevere in communion with God. Consequently there follows the description of the sanctuary, the character of which is symbolical. The sacred symbols are, however, not so much expressed in formal declarations, as contained in the whole tenor of the descriptions. The symbolics begin with the central point, the holy of holies, which unites in itself the impeaching law and the redeeming symbol of divine mercy, and thus sets forth the reconciliation of God with the people. This is followed by the description of the sanctuary, representing those blessings which through the holy of holies were communicated to the subjects of the theocracy, and serving as a perpetual monument of Israel's exalted destiny, pointing at the same time to the means of attaining it. Last comes the description of the fore-court, symbolizing the participation of the people in those blessings, and their sanctified approach to the Lord.
The description then proceeds from the sanctuary to the persons officiating in it, the priests, characterized both by their various costumes (Exodus 28), and the manner of their inauguration (Exodus 29). Then follows, as a matter of course, the description of the service in that sanctuary and by those priests, but merely in its fundamental features, confining itself simply to the burnt and incense offerings, indicating by the former the preparatory inferior service, and by the latter the complete and higher office of the sacerdotal function. But, by contributing to the means of establishing public worship, the whole nation shares in it; and therefore the description of the officiating persons very properly concludes with the people (Exodus 30). As a suitable sequel to the former follows the description of the use and nature of the implements requisite for the service of the priests, such as the brass laver for sacred ablutions, the preparation of the perfume and anointing oil ().
These regulations being made, men endowed with the Spirit of God, were also to be appointed for making the sacred tabernacle and all its furniture (). The description of the sanctuary, priesthood, and mode of worship, is next followed by that of the sacred times and periods (, sq.). Of the sacred times there is here only appointed the Sabbath, in which the other regulations are contained as in their germ. God having delivered to Moses the tables of the law, the construction and arrangement of the tabernacle might thus at once have been begun, had its further progress not been interrupted by an act of idolatry on the part of the people, and their punishment for that offence, which form the subject of the narrative in Exodus 32-34. Contrary and in opposition to all that had been done by Jehovah for and in the presence of Israel, the formidable apostasy of the latter manifests itself in a most melancholy manner, as an ominously significant prophetic fact, which is incessantly repeated in the history of subsequent generations. The narrative of it is therefore closely connected with the foregoing accounts—Jehovah's mercy and gracious faithfulness on the one hand, and Israel's barefaced ingratitude on the other, being intimately connected. This connection forms the leading idea of the whole history of the theocracy. It is not till after the narrative of this momentous event that the account of the construction and completion of the tabernacle can proceed (Exodus 35-40), which account becomes more circumstantial in proportion as the subject itself is of greater importance. Above all, it is faithfully shown that all was done according to the commands of Jehovah.
This brief statement of the contents of the book of Exodus will show that in the descriptive history a fixed plan, in conformity with the principles above stated, is consistently and visibly carried through the whole of the book, thus giving us the surest guarantee for the unity of both the book and its author.
For neological criticism it was of the utmost importance to stamp this book as a later production, the miracles contained in its first part but too manifestly clashing with the principles in which that criticism takes its rise. Its votaries therefore have endeavored to show that those miracles were but mythological fictions which had been gradually developed in process of time, so that the very composition of the book itself must necessarily have been of a later date. Neither do we wonder at such attempts and efforts, since the very essence and central point of the accounts of the miracles given in the book are altogether at variance with the principles and the criticism of the rationalist system, which can by no means admit the rise and formation of a people under such miraculous circumstances, such peculiar belief, and, in a religious point of view, such an independent existence. Indeed, the spiritual substance of the whole, the divine idea which pervades and combines all its details, is in itself such a miracle, such a peculiar and wondrous phenomenon, as to lend natural support and undeniable confirmation to the isolated and physical wonders themselves; so that it is impossible to deny the latter without creating a second and new wonder, entirely adverse to the whole course of the Jewish history. Nor is that part of the book which contains the miracles deficient in numerous historical proofs in verification of them. As the events of this history are laid in Egypt and Arabia, we have ample opportunity of testing the accuracy of the Mosaical accounts, and surely we find nowhere the least transgression against Egyptian institutions and customs; on the contrary, it is most evident that the author had a thorough knowledge of the Egyptian institutions and the spirit that pervaded them. Exodus contains a mass of incidents and detailed descriptions which have gained new force from the modern discoveries and researches in the field of Egyptian antiquities. The description of the passage of the Israelites through the desert also evinces such a thorough familiarity with the localities as to excite the utmost respect of scrupulous and scientific travelers of our own time for the authenticity of the Pentateuch. Nor is the passover-festival, its rise and nature, less confirmatory of the incidents connected with it. The arrangements of the tabernacle, described in the second part of Exodus, likewise throw a favorable light on the historical authenticity of the preceding events; and the least tenable of all the objections against it are, that the architectural arrangements of the tabernacle were too artificial, and the materials and richness too costly and precious, for the condition and position of the Jews at that early period, etc. But the critics seem to have overlooked the fact that the Israelites of that period were a people who had come out from Egypt, a people possessing wealth, Egyptian culture and arts, which we admire even now, in the works which have descended to us from ancient Egypt; so that it cannot seem strange to see the Hebrews in possession of the materials or artistical knowledge requisite for the construction of the tabernacle. Moreover, the establishment of a tent as a sanctuary for the Hebrews can only be explained from their abode in the desert, being in perfect unison with their then roving and nomadic life. The extremely simple and sober style and views throughout the whole narrative afford a sure guarantee for its authenticity and originality. All the incidents related in it are described in plain and clear terms, without the least vestige of later embellishments and false extolling of former ages. The whole representation indicates the strictest impartiality and truth. On the literature of Exodus, see Pentateuch.
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Exodus Book of'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature". https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​kbe/​e/exodus-book-of.html.