The book of Exodus is a very famous, exciting and dramatic book. Why? Well there is Moses and the burning bush, there is Pharaoh and the ten plagues, there is the escape from Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea, there is manna from heaven and a pillar of fire in the sky, there is a burning Mount Sinai and the ten commandments, there is the golden calf and God revealing himself to Moses.
But wait a minute!
Twelve chapters are FAR from famous, exciting and dramatic. We get lots of details about a tent being built (Exodus 25-31) and then lots of details of the tent being built (Exodus 35-40). And it seems very tedious and repetitive. We want more parting of the Red Sea and pillars of fire…not details about acacia wood, the length of frames, explanations into the colour of cloth and all the laborious details that are contained in these 10 chapters. Having to read six chapters is bad enough…but another six of basically the same stuff, that is too much!
So for many readers of Exodus we can easily read all the fun stuff but glaze over the details of the tabernacle. And we do that to our loss! The focus and climax of the book of Exodus is the building of the Tabernacle as this is an event of such enormity we need to slow down and take it in…God is here, and like Moses we are standing on holy ground, so take off your sandals! The overarching theme of the book of Exodus is the ‘God’s presence with his people’ which, once you have understood the bible story* and particularly the story of Adam and Eve being kicked out of God’s presence, is no small thing. There is a paradox to God’s presence in the book of Exodus “He is here…but don’t get too close.”
The Structure of the book of Exodus
The structure of the book of Exodus is easy to follow, based on the three main climaxes in the book
(1) The Exodus – The God who delivers (chapters 1-15)
The first 15 chapters retell the story of God rescuing the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. The story of Exodus picks up where the story of Genesis finishes where Joseph’s brothers had come to live in Egypt due to a famine in Canaan (compare Exodus 1:1 with Genesis 46:8). The first word in the Hebrew is the word ‘and’, which underlines that this is a continuation of the story. But as 400 years pass, the Israelites quickly grow to be a very large people group and Pharaoh feels threaten and makes them slaves. The people cry out to God and so starts the story of deliverance and emancipation, though there are many twists and turns as Pharaoh’s stubborn heart is revealed. Key to this part of the story is that there is battle of two kings going on – Pharaoh and Yahweh, and ultimately Yahweh is shown to be the true king (Exodus 15:11). The final plague is that of the firstborn, where the blood of lamb over the door posts of the Israelites saves them from the destroying angel. Pharaoh finally let’s the people go, only to turn back on his word and chase the Israelites. God then parts of the Red Sea, saving the Israelites and destroying Pharaoh and his chariots.
So God delivers the Israelites from slavery.
(2) The Law – The God who demands (chapters 16-24)
After delivering the Israelites, God then leads them through the desert (which reveals there hearts are as hard as Pharaoh as they grumble and complain!) to Mount Sinai where God makes a covenant with his people. Like a marriage, there are obligations of the covenant (laws) and these laws, summarised in the 10 commandments, reveal God’s character and nature, which Israel must now learn/become.
The reason why Israel must obey the law is because it reflects God’s nature. The law is God’s cosmic order which will now be reflect in Israel’s daily life” (Enns)
Unfortunately, no sooner has the law been given and the marriage ratified, the marriage is in jeopardy and divorce is on the cards, as Israel breaks the covenant and start worshiping a golden calf. Again Israel’s heart are shown to be as wicked as Pharaoh’s.
(3) The Tabernacle – The God who dwells (chapters 25-40)
After God delivers the Israelites and makes them his people through the covenant at Sinai, God gives instructions for them to build the tabernacle. The tabernacle had three main sections, a courtyard, the main tent (the tabernacle) and another tent within the tabernacle (know as the Holy of Holies) inside the main tent which contained the ark of the covenant which contained the 10 commandments. God’s presence was above the ark of the covenant.
There are three key things to notice about the Tabernacle (which help us understand why the details are so important).
- Garden-like – the tabernacle is full of flowers and other floral images. This tells us that God is restoring Eden. The tabernacle is an act of re-creation.
- King-like – the tabernacle is full of gold and purple, colours appropriate for a king and a palace. This tells us that God is coming to live in his earthly palace. The king is back!
- Angelic – there are cherubim everywhere, particularly as you get closer to the centre (God’s presence was actually between two cherubim which were on-top of the ark – see Exodus 25:17-22) which tells us that heaven has come to earth. This is a place fit for heavenly beings!
These three things remind the reader that…God is here, as king, redeeming and re-creating, to restore eden and bring his presence to earth.
So the God who delivers Israel from slavery, then enters a covenant with them on mount sinai, now comes to dwell with them. God’s presence with his people is the climax of the book and the thing that Moses is most desperate to secure, as this is what makes God’s people different from all the other nations (see Exodus 33:15-16)
Applications for today
It is interesting to note a few applications for us today, from the structure of the book of Exodus.
- God delivers before he demands. Salvation was always by grace, not works. The law is given after God’s makes Israel his people, to show them how to live as his people. The law only makes sense to those that are already redeemed. So to we obey Jesus because he has already saved us (John 15)
- Exodus becomes the model of salvation in the New Testament. Jesus himself describes his journey to the cross as his exodus/departure (Luke 9:51) and he is the passover lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7) and his blood saves us from God’s judgement and is the blood of new covenant (Mark 15:24). We too then have to pass through the waters of baptism, as we are saved from slavery to sin, through this earthly life, into our heavenly home with God.
- God’s presence is our great reward. God’s ultimate blessing is not that he gives us ‘things’ but that he gives us himself. He is our prize and joy. He is the one who meets our hearts desires.
- We are transformed as we behold God’s glory in Jesus. Moses was transformed in the presence of God so he had to put a veil over his face because it shone (Exodus 34:29-35), and Paul says we transformed as we behold Jesus in the gospel (2 Corinthians 3:12-18)
- The law points forward to Jesus our saviour. The law revealed God’s standard to the Israelites and quickly it revealed their sin. They could not live up to the standards, and therefore needed saving. So Galatians 3-4 tells us that the law was put in place to lead us to Christ, to find salvation in him. Jesus paid the penalty of our law-breaking and took the curse of the law for us (Galatians 3:13).
- The law is written on our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Not only did God send us his Son to pay the penalty for our sin, he sent his Spirit, to enable to us to live by God’s standards. He gives us both the desire and power to obey God’s law of love (Galatians 5:15-26). This will be a key part of our series in Exodus, to help us learn about the person and the work of the Holy Spirit**
Here is how we are going to break the book up (into 10 parts), the different chapters that we’ll cover each week (though we will not look in detail at every chapter) and the titles that will govern our series.
- April 8th – Exodus 1-2: Slaves in Egypt – is God absent?
- April 15th – Exodus 3-4: Moses and the burning bush
- April 22nd – Exodus 5-11: The 10 plagues – who is in charge?
- April 29th – Exodus 12-15: The great escape
- May 6th – Exodus 16-18: Life in the desert
- May 13th – Exodus 19: Sinai – A kingdom of priests
- May 20th – Exodus 20-24: The law of perfect freedom
- May 27th – Exodus 32-24: The golden calf
- June 3rd – Exodus 25-31: The tabernacle part one – encountering God
- June 10th – Exodus 35-40: The tabernacle part two – transformed by God
*God’s Presence in the bible story
Eden – In the beginning mankind lived in the presence of God and the world was ‘all as it should be’ – there was Shalom, wholeness, flourishing and unity. When Adam and Eve turned their back on God, disobeying him and choosing to live their own way, they were thrust out of God’s presence, out of the garden of Eden and everything begun to unravel…there was no longer unity and flourishing, but alienation and deterioration, in our relationship to God, to one another, within ourselves and towards our planet. But God was determined to come back and be united with us, so we see a progression in the bible story.
Israel – Initially there are some theophanies (appearances of God), for example Exodus 3 and the burning bush or Exodus 13 the pillar of cloud/fire or Exodus 19 and fiery Mount Sinai (and there are many more before/after these). These are usually terrifying and the general message is “don’t get too close.” Then we have the tabernacle which is instituted under Moses in Exodus (the moving presence of God) which becomes the temple under King Solomon in 1 Kings (God’s presence in Jerusalem), which the Psalmists rejoiced in (Psalm 48) and longed for (Psalm 84). However both the tabernacle and the temple emphasised the challenge of entering God’s presence, or getting too close, because only the High Priest once a year could enter, and even then only after making sacrifices for his sin (Leviticus 16). So we’re not really ‘back in Eben’…our sin has not been dealt with and therefore we cannot access God’s presence. Healing has not yet come to our lives or the world, hence the story of the golden calf…just after God makes a covenant with Israel, they immediately break it.
Jesus – As we enter the New Testament Jesus is called Immanuel because he is “God with us” (Matthew 1:23) and he himself ‘tabernacled amongst us’ (John 1:14). He was the true temple (John 2:19) where we can meet with God…except now we don’t have to be scarred, we can touch him and draw near. Why? Well in the end Jesus was thrust out of God’s presence just as Adam and Eve were thrust out of the garden, to take the penalty for our rebellion and enable us to bring us back into the presence of God (see Hebrews 8-10). On the cross Jesus cries out “my God my God why have you forsaken me” while at the same time the curtain in the temple was torn in two (Mark 15:33-39). In other words Jesus dies, as our High Priest, to get us back into Eden, to get us back into the presence of God, so we can approach God boldly (Hebrews 4:14-16, Hebrews 10:19-22).
The Holy Spirit – As Jesus departs he then promises the Holy Spirit will be with the disciples and in the disciples (John 14:15-17). This promise becomes a reality on the day of Pentecost when, in a Sinai like moment, the Holy Spirit comes down and there is a violent win and tongues of fire (Acts 2:1-4). The Holy Spirit is the one who fills us and writes the law on our hearts, not on tablets of stone (Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Ezekiel 36:24-28) and enables us to live according to God’s standards (Galatians 6:15-23). Just as God equipped Moses to do what he called him to, so he equips us, he gives us the desire and the power to follow God’s ways.**
The Church – The Apostles Peter and Paul then unpack in their letters to the churches that the church corporately (1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 1 Peter 2:4-8, Ephesians 2:19-22) and Christians individually (1 Corinthians 6:19) are now the place where God’s presence dwells by the Spirit…we are now the temple! We are little temples, walking around the streets of Dublin, representing God to people and bringing his love, hope and healing to a world that has been cast out of Eden. Our role is to bring as many others into the presence of God, back into relationship with him, through our witness (Matthew 4:14-16, 1 Peter 2:9-12).
The New Heavens and the New Earth (the garden-city) – how does the bible story end? Not us with us going up to heaven but, just as in Exodus, heaven coming down to earth. Just listen to what John says (Revelation 21:1-5)
Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling-place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death” or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ 5 He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’
The bible story ends where it started, mankind in the presence of God. Eden has been restored, though now it has become a great city…a garden-city, the New Jerusalem. As one commentator put it
“The final chapter of the book of Revelation bring us back to the Garden of Eden, complete with the tree of life (22.2). At that time, the curse pronounced in the first garden scene will no longer exist (vs3). After a long and costly detour, that required the blood of God’s Son to correct, creation is set back on track. The church’s Exodus is complete. God’s holy people have truly entered the Promise land” (Enns, in the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology)
**So throughout our series in Exodus, we’ll often look at how Jesus fulfils all that the book of Exodus points, but also how we, by the Holy Spirit, continue to live in light of all he did. When we think about God we often think of God The Father, or of Jesus, but how often do we think of The Holy Spirit? The book of Exodus is a great place for us to start learn more about the work of the Spirit, and co-operate more with his work in our lives. God is here…by his Holy Spirit!Do join us on a Sunday for our series, 4:15pm at Synge Street Secondary School
For an overview of the book of Exodus do watch these two excellent videos by The Bible Project