Study 19: Reading Exodus

Who is the LORD that I should obey His voice and let Israel go?

Exodus 5:2

We are continuing our study on Hermeneutics, this time looking at the book of Exodus and applying the principles we’ve learned to draw out the theological message Moses intended for his audience.

The book of Exodus has provided a deep resource for Bible-story-time for parents everywhere. However, before getting carried away with the drama of plagues, sea split in two and fiery tornadoes… let’s apply our hermeneutics and understand the point of the book!


Moses is the author (see 17:14; 24:4), writing to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob during their wilderness journey to Canaan.

Gleason Archer notes: “The information needed to make the book of Exodus intelligible is supplied by the book of Genesis. It is in Genesis that the promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are spelled out… Moreover, the fact that Exodus 1:1 begins with the word and suggests that it was intended to follow the preceding book. 

The Plot

  • Dire threats to the descendants of Jacob:  slavery and genocide (1-2)
  • The exile and call of Moses (2-4)
  • The destruction of Egypt by nine Plagues (5-10)
  • The 10th Plague and the Passover (11-13)
  • Rescue at the Red/Reed Sea (14-15)
  • Rescue in the wilderness—water, food, Amalek, efficient court system (15-18)
  • Covenant ratification at Mt. Sinai (19-24)
  • Tabernacle design and duties revealed (25-31)
  • The golden calf and Yahweh’s forgiveness (32-34)
  • The completion of the tabernacle (35-40)

Significant Speeches by Significant Characters


  • Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, “Israel is My son, My firstborn. So I said to you, ‘Let My son go that he may serve Me’; but you have refused to let him go. Behold, I will kill your son, your firstborn.”‘  (4:22-23)
  • I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you to the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession; I am the LORD.  (6:6-8)
  • You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation…  (19:4-6)


  • Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the LORD which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever. The LORD will fight for you while you keep silent.  (14:13-14)

Significant Speeches by Insignificant Characters

Pharaoh’s Magicians: ” This is the finger of God.” (8:19, after the 3rd Plague)

The Egyptian Chariot Drivers: “Let us flee from Israel, for the LORD is fighting for them…” (14:25)

Moses’ Father-in-Law: “Jethro rejoiced over all the goodness which the LORD had done to Israel, in delivering them from the hand of the Egyptians. So Jethro said, “Blessed be the LORD who delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of Pharaoh, and who delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know that the LORD is greater than all the gods; indeed, it was proven when they dealt proudly against the people.” (18:9-11)  

Key Editorial Insights/Summaries

2:23-25 Israel’s groaning and God’s remembrance of His covenant with Abraham
14:30-31 God’s act and Israel’s belief

Key Rhetorical Question

Pharaoh: “Who is the LORD that I should obey His voice to let Israel go?” (5:2)

Pharaoh’s servants: “Do you not realize that Egypt is destroyed?” (10:7)

The People at Meribah: “Why, now, have you brought us up from Egypt, to kill us and our children…? Is the LORD among us, or not? (17:3, 7)

Moses to Israel at Meribah: “Why do you test the LORD?” (17:2)

Moses to God: “Is it not by Your going with us, so that we… may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth?” (33:16)

Repeated Words or Phrases

Exodus 1:7.  The sons of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly, and multiplied, and became exceedingly mighty, so that the land was filled with them. (see also 1:10, 12)
Compare Genesis 17:2, I will establish My covenant between Me and you, and I will multiply you exceedingly. (see also Gen 12:2; 15:5; 16:10; 17:6-7; 22:17; 35:11, etc.)

The God of your fathers (3:6, 13, 15, 16; 4:5) and Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (2:24; 3:15-16; 4:5; 6:3, 8; 32:13; 33:1)
The book of Exodus reaches back to Genesis to find hope of deliverance in Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

First use:  God of Pharaoh—I will harden his heart (Ex 4:21)
God the active agent:  God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; and of the Egyptians generally at the Red Sea 14:4, 8,17)
Pharaoh the active agent:  Pharaoh hardened his heart (8:15, 32; 9:34)
Agent unstated:  Pharaoh’s heart was hardened (7:13, 22; 8:19; 9:7, 35)
Note: These verses (along with Ex 33:19) were used by the apostle Paul as a key factor of his argument that God is sovereign over belief and forgiveness (Rom 9:6-18). 

Land  (as promised by God; cp. Gen 12:7; 15:18-21; 35:12; 50:24)
Exodus 3:8.  I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey … (see also Ex 6:4, 8; 12:25; 13:5, 11; 15:17; 20:12; 23:23, 29-31; 32:13)

This is the key word in the first half of Exodus.  Both the descendants of Jacob specifically and the ancient world generally were tragically deficient in their knowledge of Yahweh.  The events of the Exodus were enacted by God to correct that ignorance.

Of Yahweh knowing Israel: “God saw the sons of Israel, and God took notice of them [Heb:  knew them].”(2:25)
As the apostle noted in Galatians 4:9, it is always of first priority that God know us, and subsequently that we know Him.  Therefore, the book of Exodus starts with God knowing Israel.
Of Pharaoh knowing Yahweh: “Who is the LORD that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and besides, I will not let Israel go.” (5:2) “I will send all My plagues on you and your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is no one like Me in all the earth.” (9:14)
Of Israel knowing Yahweh: “Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the LORD your God…” (6:7) “…I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may perform these signs of Mine among them, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son, and of your grandson, how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and how I performed My signs among them, that you may know that I am the LORD.  (10:1-2)
Of the nations—personified in Jethro—knowing Yahweh: “Now I know that the LORD is greater than all the gods; indeed, it was proven when they dealt proudly against the people.” (Ex 18:11; cp. Joshua 2:9)  
Of Moses knowing Yahweh: “…You have said, ‘I have known you by name, and you have also found favor in My sight.’ Now therefore, I pray You, if I have found favor in Your sight, let me know Your ways that I may know You, so that I may find favor in Your sight… Show me Your glory!” (33:12-13, 18)

Observation: Moses felt inadequate to lead God’s people until He knew God—especially God’s compassionate forgiveness.  It’s noteworthy that God’s self-revelation in response to Moses’ request included His goodness and absolute sovereignty (33:19), His patient compassion and loyal covenant love (34:6), and also His unswerving justice (34:7).
Moses’ response to his new, profound knowledge of God was worship:  Moses made haste to bow low toward the earth and worship (34:8).  
Point: To lead God’s people, a man must have a convinced knowledge of God’s goodness and sovereignty; furthermore, he must have a mature and worshipful understanding of God’s justice and loyal, forgiving compassion.  

Echoed in the rest of the OT
Joshua 2:9-11 (Rahab); 3:10 (Israel); 4:24 (all the peoples of the earth) 1 Sam 17:46 (Goliath) 1 Kings 8:60 (all people); 18:37 (Israel); 20:28 (Ahab) 2 Kings 5:15 (Naaman the leper); 19:19 (all the kingdoms of the earth) 1 Chron 28:9 (Solomon)
2 Chron 33:13 (Manasseh) Hosea 4:6, My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge. Isaiah 5:13, My people go into exile for their lack of knowledge. Ezekiel uses the phrase, that you/they will know the LORD, fifty-four times.

Repeated Themes

God’s Unique Protection of Israel

  • But against any of the sons of Israel a dog will not even bark … that you may understand [know] how the LORD makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. (Ex 11:7)
  • You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. (19:4)

Antagonism toward Moses’ (and thus God’s) Leadership 

  • The people’s churlish rebellion against Moses and God regarding water and food in the book of Exodus (Ex 15:23-25; 16:2-3; 17:1-2) would reach its final expression in the book of Numbers.

The Mosaic/Sinaitic Covenant

“[By this covenant,] the Abrahamic nation would become a microcosm of the kingdom of God and would function in that capacity as an agency by which God would reconcile the whole creation to Himself.”  (in Zuck, A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament, 27)

Interestingly, this covenant is usually named after its mediator, rather than its recipients.  To parallel the Noahic, Abrahamic, and Davidic Covenants, the covenant of Sinai would most accurately be labelled the Israel Covenant.

The Setting:  the Peaceful Year at Mt. Sinai
God did not lead Israel directly from Goshen to the promised land, because a number of important preliminaries had to be put in place before the nation went to war.  The relationship between Israel and Yahweh had to be clarified.  They needed an authoritative moral and civil law code.  They needed a place to meet Yahweh, and they required authoritative regulations governing His worship.  All this was accomplished in the peaceful year they spent encamped at Mt. Sinai.

“Before this moment in her history, Israel had had no experience in self-government; in fact, she had no laws of her own and no identity as an organized people. (Kaiser, A History of Israel, 117)

“As Israel had been making her way from Egypt to Sinai during the prior sixty days, she had been only a vast host of people with little order or organization.  Except for size, she could scarcely be called a nation.” (Leon Wood, A Survey of Israel’s History, 143)

Key Concept:  Yahweh, the Victorious Warrior King
The LORD is a warrior; The LORD is His name …. The LORD shall reign forever and ever. (Ex 15:3, 18)

As King, Yahweh had:

  • rescued Israel from slavery and genocide 
  • provided military protection from both Egypt and Amalek
  • provided basic needs (water and food)
  • provided a just, efficient court system

What does anyone want from government except protection from violent enemies, assurance that life’s physical necessities will be available, and an even-handed, efficient court system?

Summary of Exodus 19-40

The Covenant Proposed

  • Its Basis: 19:4 “I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself…”
    • “Yahweh graciously chose, protected, guided, and helped Israel and her ancestors from the very beginning of Creation to their arrival at Mount Sinai—with the implication that Israel has every reason to be grateful to Yahweh and to accept Yahweh’s generous covenant.”  (Dorsey “Can These Bones Live?”, in Evangelical Journal, 1991, 16)
  • Its Duties 19:5. “If you will indeed obey My voice…”
  • Its Benefits
    • Unique relationship with God:  You shall be My own possession (19:5)
    • Unique access to God:  You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests (19:6)
    • Unique status before God:  a holy nation (19:6)
    • “Israel must be viewed as bearing a mediatorial responsibility, of serving as an intercessor between a holy God and all the peoples of the earth… that God and the peoples of earth might have unbroken communion.” (in Zuck, A biblical Theology of the Old Testament, 13)
  • Its Preliminary Acceptance
    • Exodus 19:8.  All that the LORD has spoken we will do!

The Covenant Expounded
Its General Stipulations: The Ten Commandments (Ex 20)
Its Specific Stipulations: the “Book of the Covenant” (Ex 21-23)

The Covenant Ratified
On earth (24:7-8)
In heaven (24:9-11)
Exodus 24:10-11.  They saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself. Yet He did not stretch out His hand against the nobles of the sons of Israel; and they saw God, and they ate and drank.

The Covenant Broken
The golden calf apostasy (Ex 32)

The Covenant Renewed
Levitical cleansing of the camp (resulting in the priestly covenant, Ex 32:25-29; Mal 2:4), Moses’ intercession, and God’s gracious forgiveness (Ex 33-34)

The Covenant Presence (of Yahweh)

  • Promised: My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.  (Ex 33:14)
  • “Exodus is indeed the book of the presence of the Lord among his people.”  (The Message of Exodus, BST, 195)
  • Fulfilled in the Tabernacle

The Tabernacle or Tent of Meeting, as it was also called, was God’s travelling military headquarters. It visibly represented Yahweh’s presence with His people. However, since Yahweh was a divine King, it was also a place of worship. Therefore, Exodus 25-31 and 35-40 detail the furniture, structure, and priests of the temple-tent where Israel met God.

There I will meet with you; and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak to you… (25:22)

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. (40:34)

Christological Allusions

The Passover lamb (Ex 4:22; 12:23; 1 Cor 5:7) 
God’s redemption of a people for His own possession (Ex 6:6; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:9-10)
Moses as covenant intercessor (Ex 32:11-14, 30; 34:9; Heb 8:6)
The Angel of the Lord (Ex 23:20-21; 1 Cor 10:4)

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