Lesson 1 of 5
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Summary of Exodus

Exodus begins with a depiction of Israel’s servitude in Egypt and God’s selection of Moses to move Israel out of that servitude. Pharaoh contests this intention of God, and God responds by sending plagues on Egypt that culminate with the death of the firstborn and deliverance at the sea. Israel prepares for this deliverance by founding the Passover and responds with triumphant singing after the deliverance. Israel journeys to Sinai, murmuring along the way. At Sinai, Israel receives the Ten Commandments and the covenant relationship is established. While Moses is receiving additional instructions from God on Sinai-notably the designs for the tabernacle-Israel rebels by building the golden calf. Moses intercedes successfully for Israel, and God relents and recommits to the covenant. Israel then builds the tabernacle as instructed.


The foundational narratives of the book of Exodus seek to articulate the Lord’s claim to Israel’s allegiance and to shape the identity of Israel, its liturgical practices, and its legal traditions.


Exodus is the second book of the Old Testament. It follows Genesis and precedes Leviticus.


Traditionally Moses is understood as the author, although the book of Exodus does not make that direct assertion. While many interpreters concede great antiquity to many sections of the book and even consider Moses at the core of its origin, Moses is not seen as the single author in a contemporary sense of authorship. One view is to posit extensive documents that were later merged into the common narrative we now have. Another view posits continued editorial development with concerns of later generations periodically reflected in the narrative, with the result being layers within the final narrative rather than the merger of preexistent narratives.


Dating the book of Exodus is interconnected with the issue of authorship. If Moses is regarded as the sole author, then the date of composition is several centuries before the time of David. If one adopts the documentary hypothesis, then the earliest strand was written in the period of David and Solomon and the latest in the exilic or postexilic period, with final editorial work being completed in the postexilic era. If one understands the origins of book along a more supplementary model, then composition extends from a time prior to David to the postexilic period.


Exodus narrates Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian tyranny, the establishment of God’s covenant with Israel, the reception of core commandments at Sinai, the paradigmatic rebellion of Israel in the golden calf incident, and the obedient building of the tabernacle through which God would be present to accompany Israel to the promised land.


The book of Exodus can be read as testimony. Exodus narrates the movement from servitude in Egypt to serving Yahweh, the Lord. The preface to the Ten Commandments sets the core message: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (20:2). From this core, Israel forges practices of social justice and liturgical commemoration. The book also attests to Israel’s persistent and increasing rebellion against serving Yahweh. The foundational narratives of Israel’s rebellion and obedience are bracketed by Yahweh’s persistent fidelity to the covenant with Israel. Readers are to understand these narratives as anchor points for shaping the covenantal story from generation to generation.