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The Exodus from Egypt

Introduction to the Book of Exodus

  • The title is from the Greek word exodos meaning “going out,” while the Hebrew title Ve’elle shemot means “these are the names” from the first verse.
  • Date: 1 Kings 6:1 puts the exodus 480 years before the 4th year of Solomon’s reign in 967 BCE (=1447 BCE), but the store-cities Pithom and Ramses (Exod 1:11) seem to put the story in the reigns of Seti I (1294-1279 BCE) and Ramses II (1279-1213 BCE). Some speculate a link between the Hyksos in Egypt or the Habiru in Canaan.
  • Archaeology: material evidence for a mass exodus of over 600,000 Israelite men (cf. Numbers 1:46; 26:51) has not yet been uncovered, but Pharaoh Merneptah’s Stele (1209 BCE) notes an “Israel” in Canaan. Perhaps a smaller group escaped Egypt to join indigenous Canaanites in rural settlements in the hill country by the Jordan.
  • Oral tradition: “Sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea” (Exodus 15:21).
  • Outline: deliverance from Egypt (ch. 1-18); the covenant at Horeb/Sinai, and the construction of the portable tabernacle where the divine presence will dwell with his people (ch. 19-40)
  • Theology: Yahweh redeems Israel from slavery and establishes a covenant or binding agreement with them. The people ought to respond to unmerited divine election by obedience to the terms of the covenant in the Mosaic law.

Moses’ Birth (Exodus 2:1-10)

  •  Joseph is forgotten and the increasing numbers of Israelites are deemed a threat, so they were enslaved.
  • When the Israelite boys were thrown in the Nile, a mother hid her son in a basket floating among the reeds on the river’s brink. Pharaoh’s daughter found the Hebrew child and named him “Moses.” The biblical text relates the name to the Hebrew verb mashah or “draw out.”
  • Sargon of Agade (2371-2316 BCE): by 1900 CE archaeologists recovered three copies of “The Story of Sargon’s Birth.”

The Call of Moses (Exodus 3:1-4:17)

  • The bush that would not burn up.
  • Objections: who am I, who are you, and what if they do not believe me (cf. the signs of the staff, leprous hand, and water of the Nile to blood)? Moses protests that he is “heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue.”
  • What is meant by Ehyeh asher ehyeh (“I am who I am” or “I will be what I will be”)? The word ‘ehyeh seems to be a play on YHWH.
    • an evasion of Moses’ question to prevent the misuse of God’s name
    • “I am the one who is” (LXX: ego eimi ho ōn) as the eternal, unchanging being
    • the one who causes to be as the creator
    • faithfully present with the people
    • See further Andrea Saner’s article “God and Being in Exodus 3:13-15″
  • Tetragrammaton: four consonants (yod-heh-vav-heh). Jews substituted adonai (lord) rather than pronounce the divine name. The name “Jehovah” is a mistranslation based on the Hebrew consonants and the vowel markers for adonai (אֲדנָי).
  • In the New Testament, Jesus receives the divine name (cf. Philippians 2:6-11).

The Plagues

  • 10 plagues: Nile to blood, frogs, gnats/mosquitoes/lice, flies, death of livestock, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, death of firstborn.
  • Naturalistic explanations or theological polemic: “… on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD” (Exodus 12:12) (see Ziony Zevit “Three Ways to Look at the Ten Plagues“)

Pesach (Passover)

  • The Israelites put a lamb’s blood on their door-posts to be protected from the plague of death on the first-born son. After this, Pharaoh released them from slavery, but later pursued the Israelites and was drowned in the “Sea of Reeds.”
  • The head of the household presides over the retelling of the story on Seder (Passover meal). The youngest child asks four questions beginning with “why is this night different from all other nights?”
  • The feast of unleavened bread (matzah), since they fled Egypt in haste.

The Decalogue

  • Two forms of the Decalogue in Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21. It is numbered slightly differently in Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant traditions.
  • Does the golden calf violate the command about worshiping other deities or the command to not make an image of Yahweh (cf. Exodus 32:1-6; 1 Kings 12:25-32)?

The Failure of the First Generation

  • “Numbers” comes from the Greek Arithmoi and relates to the military censuses in chapters 1 and 26; the Hebrew Bemidbar derives from “in the wilderness.”
  • Moses sends twelve spies to scout out the land of Canaan for forty days, but ten report that the inhabitants are too strong and the people refuse to take the land (Numbers 13-14). The inhabitants are compared to the Nephilim (cf. Genesis 6:4).
  • They are punished to wander forty years in the desert, one year for every day the spies scouted the land until the wilderness generation dies off with the exception of Joshua and Caleb.
  • Complaints about the wilderness (11:1-3), starvation (11:4-6), meat (11:18-20), and thirst (20:2-5). Moses sins when dealing with this last complaint, with the result that he will not enter the Promised Land (20:7-12)
  • Miriam and Aaron complain about Moses’ marriage to a foreign woman and see their own status as equivalent to his (12:1-16). Dathan and Abiram complain against Moses and Korah leads a group of Levites to protest Aaron’s priesthood (16:1-17:12).



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