The narrative of Exodus seeks to document the redemptive work of Yahweh in delivering Israel from slavery in Egypt and establishing a unique covenant relationship with the nation. Thus, Israel emerges from a chosen family into a chosen nation, and then the nation, Israel, enters into covenant relationship and is ready to enter the promise land. The book of Exodus covers 85 years of Israelite history. Scholars cannot determine the exact date of the Exodus from Egypt, proving it to be one of the major chronological problems in the study of the OT. Based on the literal or symbolic interpretation of biblical numbers, as well as extra-biiblical historical and archaeological evidence, scholars use a plethora of information to defend their arguments. Another scholarly debate rooted in Exodus is the route of the Exodus. The exact route of the Hebrew desert trek and the location of Mount Sinai remain uncertain. Scholars have proposed several different routes based on evidence from biblical text.
The message of Exodus is twofold, commissioning Moses to lead, and established and preserved the covenant ceremonies for the Israel. God considered Israel to be his special possession, a chosen people. He delivered them from Egypt, and judged the oppressing nation for their rebellion against Yahweh because they refused to recognize His divine sovereignty. Moses sought to explain that God has not only honored the covenant that he established with the patriarchs in Gen. 12-50, but also that He revealed Himself to the entirety of Israel. God’s chosen people are called to be a people set apart. The establishment of the covenant and ceremonial rituals, beginning in Exodus 23, preserved the identity of the Israelites as Yahweh’s people. God showed himself Lord to the Egyptians, as well as revealed his nature and person for Israel. Through the confrontation of the Pharaoh with the ten plagues, God established that he is greater than the false gods of the Egyptians. Lastly, God spoke directly to the Hebrews through the Decalogue, or Ten Commandments. These commandments brought a sense of righteousness to Israel’s religion and social life.
A modern reader of Exodus should focus their study on God’s great redemptive act, the revelation of God’s supremacy, and the establishment of the covenant, emphasizing historiography and theological teaching. Yahweh established a personal, close relationship with His people, calling them later in Deuteronomy 32:10, the ‘apple of His eye’. After delivering His people from oppression and establishing His supremacy over the pagan deities of the Egyptians, Yahweh confirms His covenant with the Israelites. Like Abraham, Israel must move, become a great nation, and find blessing through their seed. There is a sense of conditionality within this covenant, stating that the Hebrews must comply and obey the covenant in order to receive blessing. However, there is an unconditional nature to the covenant because God does not break the covenant despite the failure of Israel’s kingdoms and kings. The presence of God was symbolized by the tabernacle. In conclusion, although the mysterious presence of God was made manifest to Israel in alternative forms – a cloud and pillar of fire – the essential thrust of the Pentateuch narrative is the Lord dwelling in the midst of his people.