Exodus is a story. It should be read as part of a continuing story. It follows on from what had started back in Genesis with God’s purposes for humanity through his creation of the world and creation of the people Israel. The book actually begins with the words ‘and these are the names’ which would be a strange way to start a new tale! Exodus explicitly connects us with what happened in the Garden of Eden, with Abraham, and then with his descendants as we left them in Genesis 50. It is the story of who Israel is as a nation, how they began, and what God is doing in and through them. The exodus story does not end in the last chapter of the book but takes us onward into the rest of the Pentateuch and then the unfolding First Testament of God’s history of promise, until it finds fuller meaning and fulfilment in Jesus and his people.
Exodus is a story of action. These actions reveal the identity and purposes of God and the people who are related to him. This ‘narrative’ frames and gives proper understanding of the other elements within the book. The ‘laws’ which are given as responses to the God they are now connected with and the instructions and significance of the tabernacle which is built must be interpreted by how they fit within the context of this story. They should not be read in isolation from it as stand-alone elements for us to use today. In the action of Exodus we encounter for the first time in the bible key motifs which will develop through its story: for example the words and ideas of ‘redemption’ and ‘salvation’, or a song of praise in response to God’s deeds and being. These lay the foundations for our understanding of such things – and this might not quite be what we assume!
Exodus is a carefully constructed story. We can be helped in understanding how its different parts fit together by keeping in mind the structure of the whole book. We might think of the main sections and themes in this way (with some summarising passages):
chapters 1-18 Redemption (Ex 6:2-8; 14:30-31)
chapters 19-24 Covenant (Ex 19:3-8; 24:3-8)
chapters 25-40 Presence (Ex 25:8-9; 40:34)
Interwoven with each of these wonderful realities are ‘complications’ and failures. These must also be appreciated as part of the story. They are also a warning to us and explain why more events must follow. For despite such wonderful redemption we see complaining and fear (chapters 15-17). At the very beginning of the covenant and despite the people’s promises to be faithful we watch corruption and disobedience (32). And after the tabernacle is finally completed to accommodate the promise of access to God’s presence, we are confronted strangely by exclusion from it (40:35). There is a deeper problem still, which in part is answered by the next book, Leviticus, and then most wonderfully in Jesus. And of course, despite all of God’s wonderful acts, most of the newly-freed nation will die in the desert and never enter the land of promise! We are caused to wonder what God is doing, and what will happen next.
Exodus is a united story. Often Christians are tempted to emphasise only one section (e.g. the story of liberation or the importance of the ten commandments); ignore another as largely irrelevant to us (e.g. all the information regarding construction of the tabernacle); or misuse some sections by ignoring where they fit within the history and theology of salvation articulated by the narrative (e.g. applying the laws directly to us without considering their place within the old covenant and our place within the new covenant). But all these sections are necessary to grasp the message of the book, and each must read alongside the other parts to gain a proper understanding. We need the whole story. It is then that its words, correctly handled, become divine communication in Scripture through which we also can come to know and serve God better.
Exodus was not initially our story. We are not ancient Israel. Yet it forms part of God’s story of acting in the world through Israel, and then that true Israelite, Jesus, so that this story does eventually include us. We read it first in its own context, but then in light of what happened next in Jesus, who brings about a greater exodus through his own exodus experiences.
Exodus is therefore also our story. Through reading and reflecting on it together God still speaks to us today! Do you want to know him and relate with him in good ways? Can you help others encounter and understand him, as he calls them into his great story? Then let’s help one another enter into this story, seeing its implications and enacting its applications. God can and will speak to us through his inspired story in Exodus. We trust his Spirit and the community of those walking in step with him to help all of us interpret it well and be guided by Scripture, as we take it to heart and live by it each day. In doing so, we will ‘moved’ ourselves, finding our ‘way out’ of all that limits or diminishes in the bondage of our age into the fullness of life which God in Jesus brings. We will know the God of redemption, covenant, and presence. We are also longing for something better, experiencing God’s liberation, embracing a new lifestyle, and entering a glorious new place. We will be a people who ‘Possess our destiny’.
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