Book of Exodus
The Book of Exodus, its name meaning “a going out,” was written by Moses, as most believe. The central event of this book is Israel’s escape from Egypt, and the instructions and building of the tabernacle. We see the conclusion of Genesis as detailing Jacob’s family settling in Egypt.
We see in the beginning of Exodus that Jacob’s family was settled in Egypt as a small community. God promised them that they would grow into a nation, and so over the following hundreds of years, they increased in number and influence until they dominated the Northeast corner of Egypt. At this time then, Egyptian rulers were no longer allowed to be kind to the Israelites. Pharaoh had feared that if an enemy was to invade from the Northeast corner, that the Israelites might join against him. Therefore, Pharaoh acted upon the situation and took control of the Israelites by moving them into slavery. He effectively used them to build cities that would keep army supplies. He tried to control the Israelite’s population by forcing a policy of child slaughter. This plan didn’t go well, because the Hebrew midwives feared God more than they did Pharaoh.
Then, Moses was born. Moses was soon the person that God chose to save His People and lead them out of Egypt. By the time he was forty years old, God chose him to deliver Israel from the oppression of Egypt. Moses got scared that he wasn’t ready, when out of anger killed an Egyptian. Nobody was able to recognize him as the deliverer, so to save his life; Moses fled Egypt. After remaining in Midian for forty years, God prepared Moses all this time to deliver the Israelites from Egyptian bondage – for they were suffering greatly. Therefore, while Moses was shepherding in Mount Sinai, God appeared to Moses in a burning bush. God spoke that He was going to use Moses to deliver His People from bondage in Egypt and bring them into the Promised Land: Canaan.
If Moses were to present himself to the Israelites, especially as the one who’d lead them out of Egypt, he would have to convince them of God’s promises. The simple instructions enabled Moses to present God’s power, so that the stubbornness would be absolved and Pharaoh’s hardness of heart was to be resolved. Moses’ first meeting with Pharaoh was a disaster, as Pharaoh had no fear of Yahweh or no concern for His People. No one was interested in Moses’ explanations. After giving Moses a final chance, God sent plagues, nine total, to Egypt – each plague after was more intense than the former. Even after all the plagues, Pharaoh would still not release the Israelites – and Moses would figure that reasoning with Pharaoh had ended. So, the Israelites escaped the judgment of the plagues, and each family would be delivered from judgment only by killing a sacrificial animal as substitute for it, and sprinkling the animal’s blood on the door of the house where the family lived. The Passover feast was for an animal to be roasted completely over an open fire – and the bread was unleavened. Meat was not to be eaten for the next day. Throughout the future in Israel, they were never to forget the hasty departure from Egypt. The Feast of Unleavened Bread was an annual festival, which was to remind people of Israel of their deliverance from bondage.
After this, descendants of Jacob departed from Egypt. Also, since God spared the firstborns of Israel, they would rightly belong to Him. The people acknowledged the firstborn belonging to God by dedicating them to God in an act of worship as we see in chapter 13. This consecrated the entire nation to God, since Israel – as a whole, was God’s firstborn. Animals considered ceremonially clean, as sheep and cattle for example, were dedicated to God by means of sacrifice. But, animals considered ceremonially unclean (therefore unfit to be offered as sacrifices), as donkeys for example, had to be redeemed. They were brought back to God through a payment of a clean animal in the place of the unclean. If the animal was not redeemed, it was then destroyed. Human sacrifice, however, was strictly forbidden. Children (firstborn) were presented to God, and then were redeemed by a payment (using money).
After a war between the fighting countries, Israelites triumphed over the Egyptians, and then journeyed over to Sinai. Arriving there, this marked the fulfillment of God’s promise to Moses (with the burning bush), and although it took a few months for the journey, it was by God’s power it occurred. God chose Israel as His People, and the blessing of the Abrahamic covenant meant that Israel was indeed His People. People received the detailed requirements of the covenant and God spoke unto Moses at the Mount. What He spoke was the foundation of the Mosaic Law. In this, the Ten Commandments were given.
The first three of the Ten Commandments were concerned with the attitudes to God, for He alone was the one, true God. No image of any kind was to be the object of worship. His people were not to misuse His name. Going forward, the fourth commandment showed that people should remember the Sabbath and to keep it holy. The remaining six commandments dealt with people’s duties and how they should treat each other. Things such as murdering, committing adultery, stealing, or bearing false witness against a neighbor was for people so that people could dwell in harmony and love, I believe.
Hebrew laws were generally of two different kinds; absolute standards (usually negative), and then there were judgments – which were used for future standards. Laws were crafted for so many reasons, which include slavery. Later, in chapter 24 as we see, the covenant with Moses was sealed. The blood ritual method had been put into place, where half of the blood was thrown up against the altar and half onto the people. It was evidence of life laid down to release a person under condemnation of death. The blood sealed on the covenant at Sinai speaks of Israel’s release from the penalty of past sin – so the nation can become holy and dedicated unto God.
The tabernacle was to be created, as a permanent sign that He dwelt among them and was indeed part of them. It was also known as the tent of meeting, and as the tent of the testimony – which reminded people that it was a meeting place and a testimony of God – the law – that was to guide their lives. While He dwelt with them, sometimes distance would be created, because they would be sinners – but that He is holy. So therefore, they had to come to the priests and offer sacrifices, and then the priests would approach God on their behalf. This was also to show that people could trust in God (who would forgive them).
Soon, we learn about the ark of the covenant. Inside of it were two stone tablets on which the Law was written – and was a constant reminder to Israel that God dwelt among them as the Lawgiver. The sacred part of the ark was the mercy seat. Two cherubim were attached to the top of the mercy seat – which would probably symbolize divine protection of the seat, the ark, and the tablets. The high priest would make atonement for the sins of the people, when he entered the Most Holy Place, once a year. The mercy seat emphasized that people were still sinners who were dependent entirely upon the mercy of God for salvation.
After this, we see two pieces of furniture that were placed opposite of each other on the sidewalls of the Holy Place. The table, which would have twelve small loaves of bread arranged in two rows of six – refreshed on every Sabbath day likely symbolizing God’s provision. The other one was the lampstand, which was another piece of furniture, and it held seven lamps. Later, we see the altar of burnt offering (or brazen altar) set up, where animal sacrifices were offered. Also, the altar of incense was created later for the burning of incense.
After the tabernacle was planned, God now provided further for establishing a priesthood. Aaron was appointed high priest and his sons as assistants (ordinary type priests). Only male descendants of Aaron (directly descendant) could be priests. Further, it was revealed that only those of the same tribe as Aaron, the tribe of Levi, could assist in basic matters of the tabernacle – especially preservation and assembly. Priests had been required to offer sacrifices on behalf of those who brought them. They served as mediators between the people and God.
Other things about the tabernacle were detailed, especially on building and maintaining it. We see anointing oil being presented in the thirtieth chapter, as holy oil would be poured over things representing that they were set apart for the service of God. People were to be reminded also of the Sabbath day, when they tried to work on the tabernacle during the Sabbath. Moses then went down from the mountain after hearing all of the instructions to put it all into practice.
When Moses came down, he had found out that the people had made an idol: a golden calf. God wanted them wiped out because of this sin and start afresh, but Moses appealed to Him and pleaded that He wouldn’t wipe out Israel. Knowing that God was angry with the people, he went to the people and broke the tablets in front of them – which probably symbolized that they’d broken God’s Law. He then destroyed the calf, grinding it into powder, mixing it with water, and made the people drink of it. Moses held Aaron responsible, because he should’ve opposed the situation of idolatry instead of following it. So, once the tabernacle was constructed and in use, only those of the tribe would be servants of God. Moses had a genuine love for the people and was saddened by their actions, and was even willing to die on their behalf – thus being punished for them. But, God wouldn’t accept this sacrifice, because all were sinners.
So later, the covenant was re-established, because the old way was failed. God renewed His covenant with Moses, promising Israel provision and protection. Through this re-establishment of the covenant, it gave Moses and the people more confidence. The construction of the tabernacle, as we see in chapter 35, began. In just one year after leaving Egypt, the Israelites set up the tabernacle. A cloud rested upon it, which was the visible evidence that God dwelt among His People – especially as the object of their worship.