Overview of the Book of Exodus


Overview of the Book of Exodus

Author: The author is Moses.


To affirm the divine authority of Moses' leadership and of covenant law and worship regulations.

Date: c. 1446-1406 B.C.

Key Truths:

  • The Lord authorized Moses as Israel's leader to bring the blessing of deliverance from Egypt.
  • The covenant laws given by Moses were divinely authorized to lead to blessings for God's people.
  • Moses' regulations for worship at the Tabernacle were divinely ordained to lead to blessings for God's people.


Moses was the fundamental writer of Exodus (see "Introduction to Genesis: Author"). Some portions of the book explicitly declare their Mosaic origins. The Ten Commandments were originally "inscribed by the finger of God" on tablets of stone (Exod. 31:18; see also Exod. 32:15-16; 34:1, 28), but Moses delivered these laws to Israel. Moses also wrote the Book of the Covenant (i.e., Exod. 20:18-23:33; see Exod. 24:4, 7; 34:27). Beyond this, Joshua 8:31 refers to the words of Exodus 20:25 as being "written in the Book of the Law of Moses." Moreover, Jesus called Exodus "the book of Moses" (Mark 7:10; 12:26; Luke 2:22-23). It is likely that Moses employed scribes and that some later editing may have occurred, but the book itself and other Scripture support the traditional view that Moses was the author of this book.

The name Exodus is a Latin form of the Greek exodus, which means "exit" or "departure" (Luke 9:31). The book takes its name from the central event of Israel's departure from Egypt, which is recorded in the book's first 15 chapters. Exodus does not continue directly the narrative of Genesis 50, but its opening section, beginning with "These are the names," alludes to Genesis 46:8-27, where the names of the Israelites who went down to Egypt are listed. Exodus is a separate work, but it is part of the structure of the Pentateuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy).

Time and Place of Writing:

Although the main plot of Exodus stretches from the time of the Israelites' enslavement in Egypt to their receiving God's law at Mount Sinai, at least two remarks indicate that the book of Exodus reached its final form at a later date. Exodus 16:35 states that the people "ate manna forty years, until they came to a land that was settled; they ate manna until they reached the border of Canaan" (see also Josh. 5:10-12). Similarly, Exodus 40:38 states that "the cloud of the LORD was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel during all their travels." These references strongly suggest that Moses brought this book to its final form for the second generation of the exodus as the people waited on the plains of Moab (see Deut. 1:5). For these reasons, the book should be dated about 1446-1406 B.C., the time of Israel's 40 years of wanderings in the desert.

The date and route of the exodus have been subjects of considerable debate. Biblical chronology dates the exodus event at 480 years before the reign of Solomon (1 Kings 6:1) - at about 1440 B.C. This early date is consistent with Judges 11:26, which declares that 300 years had elapsed since Israel had entered Canaan. The 1440 B.C. date is also supported by Exodus 12:40-41, where 430 years is specified as the duration of Israel's stay in Egypt. The pharaoh of the exodus probably would then have been Thutmose III or Amenhotep II.

Advocates of a much later date appeal to the name Rameses as one of the store cities built with Israelite labor (Exod. 1:11). Rameses II (1290-1224 B.C.) is then taken to be the pharaoh of the exodus, thus setting the date as approximately 1270 B.C. This is held to be more consistent with the archaeology of cities destroyed in the region and with the lack of earlier settlement in Transjordan. However, more recent discoveries in Transjordan and a new evaluation of the destruction of Jericho have weakened the case for the later date.

The route of the exodus began at Rameses. Its exact location is the subject of considerable debate, although Tell el-Daba (modern Qantir) is the site most favored. From there the Hebrews journeyed south to Succoth (Exod. 13:20). Here, apparently unable to move on, they turned northward (Exod. 14:2). Three sites are mentioned: Baal Zephon, Migdol and Pi Hahiroth. Baal Zephon is associated with Tahpanhes, bordering Lake Menzaleh, one of the salt lakes between the Mediterranean and the Gulf of Suez. There were three possible routes of Israelite escape: The way of the land of the Philistines connected Egypt with Canaan by the heavily fortified coastal route. A second route, the way of Shur, began near the Wadi Tumilat in the delta area, crossed to Kadesh Barnea and branched off to Canaan. The Egyptian boundary wall of Shur may have been a major obstacle to this route. In leading the people south to southern Sinai, the Lord not only brought them to the mountain he had designated to Moses, but also distanced them from further contact with the Egyptians. The deliverance through the sea may have been on a southern extension of Lake Menzaleh.

The Sinai peninsula measures approximately 150 miles across at the top and 260 miles along the sides. It is flanked by two arms of the Red Sea: the Gulf of Suez and the Gulf of Aqaba (Elath). The Hebrews proceeded south along the west coast of the Sinai. The bitter waters of Marah (Exod. 15:22-25) are usually identified with modern Ain Hawarah some 45-50 miles south of the tip of the Gulf of Suez, but perhaps Ayun Musa would be a better choice. Elim, with its many springs and trees, has been identified as Wadi Gharandel, the encampment by the Red Sea (Num. 33:10), about seven miles south of modern Ain Hawarah. The Desert of Sin would be best identified with Debbet er-Ramleh, a sandy plain along the edge of the Sinai plateau. If the location of Mount Sinai is the traditional one of Jebel Musa, then the Israelites would have turned inland by a series of valleys to Jebel Musa, traveling through the desert of Rephidim, where they fought against the Amalekites (Exod. 17:8-16). Rephidim was the last encampment in the Desert of Sinai before their arrival at the sacred mountain. They proceeded to Mount Sinai (Exod. 19), where they received the law. Deuteronomy 1:2 agrees with such a location of Sinai. They then traveled the way of the Paran to Kadesh.

Purpose and Distinctives:

The book of Exodus has several major themes:

First, it tells how the Lord liberated Israel from Egypt to fulfill his covenant with the fathers.

A second major element of the book is the covenant revelation at Sinai.

The third theme is a result of the first two: the establishment of the Tabernacle as God's dwelling with Israel.

Each of these themes is a triumph of God's grace. The true God judged the gods and human rulers of Egypt as he delivered his people, came to speak with men at Sinai and identified his own presence with the tabernacle he instructed the people to build. The unfolding of these themes also reveals the Lord's holiness and grace in his covenant law and in the ceremonial symbolism of Israel's life and worship.

At the center of all of these divine actions is Moses, God's chosen servant. He mediated God's judgment against Egypt (Exod. 4:1-17) and was the one through whom God delivered Israel at the Red Sea (Exod. 14:31). Through Moses God gave his revelation at Sinai (Exod. 20:19). Moses also received and delivered the regulations for the tabernacle (Exod. 32-34). Although God's power and authority accomplished all these blessings for Israel, the book itself concentrates on Moses' role as God's servant.

Christ in Exodus:

Christians may learn about Christ through the book of Exodus in many ways. First, on a large scale, the way in which Israel was delivered from the hardship of slavery in Egypt to the promised land of divine blessing presents a major metaphor for God's saving work throughout history. God redeemed his chosen people from the powers of evil to which they had become enslaved, and he judged those powers and claimed his people as his firstborn son, a holy nation of priests among whom he dwelled by his Spirit. The pattern of divine victory over enemies, the establishment of the divine dwelling place and the abundance of blessings finds its greatest fulfillment in Christ's first and second advents (e.g., 1 Cor. 10:1-13; Eph. 2:14-22; Rev. 20:11-22:5).

Second, the Tabernacle and the services all pointed to Christ. In general terms, as the Tabernacle was the place of approachable divine presence on Earth, so Jesus dwelled (lit. "tabernacled") among us (John 1:14, 17). Beyond this, the provision of animal sacrifices as temporary remedies for Israel's sins anticipated the sacrifice of Christ's death, when sin was punished once and for all (Exod. 24:8; Matt. 26:27-28; John 1:29; Heb. 12:24; 1 Pet. 1:2). Moreover, the important event of Passover is fulfilled in Christ (1 Cor. 5:7).

The central role that Moses plays in this book also points to Christ. As the Israelites (even children) were "baptized into Moses" (1 Cor. 10:2) when the people were led through the Red Sea, so Christians, and their children, should be baptized into Christ. Moses was the great servant of the Lord who received God's words directly. The Gospel of Matthew especially presents Jesus as the fulfillment of this role of Moses by portraying Jesus as one who underwent his own exodus (Matt. 2:14-15), taught God's law on a mountainside (Matt. 5:1) and stood in complete harmony with Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17). As Moses was willing to die for the sake of the people (Exod. 32:10), so Jesus substituted himself for his people. The glory of God that reflected in the face of Moses (Exod. 34:29; 2 Cor. 3:8) is now reflected in those transformed by Christ's Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18).

Notes from the NIV Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, Dr. Richard Pratt, ed. (Zondervan, 2003).

Introduction Material:

Introduction to the Pentateuch


Copyright, Authors, and Theological Editors of the SORSB

Answer by Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr.

Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr. is Co-Founder and President of Third Millennium Ministries who served as Professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary and has authored numerous books.