Book of Exodus



reproduced from A Survey of the Tanach for the Practical Messianic

Approximate date: 1440-1400 B.C.E. (Right); 1300-1200 B.C.E. (conservative-moderate); 500s B.C.E. (Left)

Time period: Ancient Israel in bondage to the Egyptian superpower

Author: Moses exclusively (Right); Moses, Joshua, and later editors (conservative-moderate); compiled traditions and mythologies (Left)

Location of author: wilderness journey after the Exodus (Right, conservative-moderate); Babylon and/or Land of Israel (Left)

Target audience and their location: wilderness journey after the Exodus (Right, conservative-moderate); Babylon and/or Land of Israel (Left)

Theological Summary: The Hebrew title of the second book of the Bible is Shemot (pronounced Shemos in the Ashkenazic tradition), meaning “Names,” derived from its first sentence, “Now these are the names of the sons of Israel” (1:1a). The term “Exodus” used in our English Bibles is derived from the Greek Septuagint, which designates this text Exodos. A transliterated form of Shemot, Oualesmoth, is used in some ancient Greek Bibles,[1] and others may use the form Exagogue.[2] The terms Exodos and Exagogue both convey the idea of a departure or going out, which are obviously major themes of the book.

In its opening lines, the Book of Exodus calls us to consider the family that has grown exponentially from the characters Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph,[3] and immediately records how God has been faithful to them to multiply their descendants. The text of Exodus, though, transitions us from the promises given by God to the fulfillment of those promises. Exodus is a profoundly important text for anyone wanting to understand the work of God throughout history. Regardless of one’s theological orientation, “The Exodus from Egypt provides a focus for the OT, and has influenced its entire understanding of God” (Clements, IDBSup).[4] As the departure of the Ancient Israelites from Egyptian bondage is the major theme of Exodus, it is not surprising that it has influenced a great number of “‘theologies of liberation’ movements” (Sarna).[5]

Anyone who reads the Bible will notice that the Book of Exodus records some of its greatest and most profound events.[6] The deliverance of an Israel enslaved by Egypt, via God Himself, and God’s judgment on the ancient world’s major superpower, feature prominently in the opening chapters. We see the beginning of Israel being called out and consecrated as God’s special nation for His service. We also see the gift of the Law given by God to Israel to help them accomplish the task of testifying of His might and power to the world.

The Jewish theological tradition primarily views the Book of Exodus as the key text concerning the giving of the Torah to Israel. This Torah is to make Israel special among all the nations of the world. While not denying the importance of the giving of the Law, the Christian theological tradition generally extends the meaning of Exodus’ events as prefiguring Yeshua and His sacrifice for humanity.[7] From both perspectives, Exodus is a critically important text. Without the Exodus of Israel from Egypt, it is valid to say that you have no Judaism.[8] Without the Exodus and Passover Lamb, what prophetic typology does Yeshua the Messiah come to significantly fulfill?[9]

The Book of Exodus opens with the birth of Moses and his being separated out by God (chs. 1-4). After being spared from certain death and being raised in the Egyptian court, Moses discovers that he is an Israelite and is forced out into the wilderness. God first reveals His Divine Name YHWH to him (6:3), indicating that as the “I AM” that He is the God of Abraham who continues to be real and faithful to his descendants.[10] Moses is used by God as His vessel against the Egyptians (chs. 5-14), as God issues extreme judgments upon Egypt that culminate in the radical removal of His people via the Red Sea crossing. This is very unique for the Ancient Near East, because we see God actively intervening on behalf of His people,[11] and furthermore in total control of the very elements that judge those who are oppressing them. A major feature of this judgment includes the death of the firstborn and the establishment of Passover (12:43-49).

A sizeable part of Exodus includes the covenant that God establishes with His people while in the desert (chs. 15-34). Arguably, the most significant segment of this is the giving of the Ten Commandments (20:2-17). In these sections of Exodus, we see that Israel agrees to stipulations consistent with Ancient Near Eastern covenants involving blood sacrifice.[12] While this is all being finalized, though, the Israelites rebel and worship the golden calf, thinking that Moses is dead on Mount Sinai (32:4). In spite of this, God forgives Israel and gives them instructions concerning the Tabernacle (35-40:33). This is a strong indication that God desires to be among and dwell with His people (40:34-38),[13] something that was very unique for the time and region, because in other beliefs humans were almost always seen as being the slaves of the deity, not those the deity wants to have a relationship with.

As with the rest of the Torah, the authorship of Exodus is vigorously debated in modern theology. The authorship of Exodus cannot be divorced from the overall authorship of the rest of the Pentateuch, notably including Genesis.[14] The two general positions asserted among theologians are: (1) conservatives who adhere to some kind of Mosaic involvement in Exodus’ composition, and (2) liberals who deny any kind of Mosaic involvement in Exodus’ composition.

On the whole, conservative theologians hold to Moses being the principal author of Exodus. Walter C. Kasier, Jr. notes that “There are several internal claims in Exodus that directly ascribe authorship to Moses. He is told to record on a scroll the episode of Israel’s victory over Amalek (17:14). He is instructed to write down the Ten Commandments (34:4, 27-29). He ‘wrote down everything the LORD said’ (24:4), which included at least the Book of the Covenant (20:22-23:33)” (EXP).[15] Mosaic authorship of Exodus in association with its events is asserted all throughout the Tanach (Joshua 1:7; 8:31-32; 1 Kings 2:3; 2 Kings 14:6; Ezra 6:18; Nehemiah 13:1; Daniel 9:1-13; Malachi 4:4). The testimony of the Apocrypha ascribes authorship to Moses (Sirach 45:5), and most notably so does the Apostolic testimony of the New Testament (Luke 16:29; John 7:19).

Conservatives often assert that “a great many Near Eastern literary sources such as annals and court histories show that events of any significance were recorded at the time they occurred or shortly thereafter” (Harrison, ISBE),[16] which would require that the events of the Exodus be recorded at a time adjacent to them having taken place. It is notable, though, that conservative theologians, while asserting primary Mosaic composition of Exodus, do not deny additional editing of the text by others, notably Ezra the Scribe at the return of the Jewish exiles from Babylon (b.Sanhedrin 21b).[17] This may also include the involvement of scribes employed by Moses himself in composing the text in a more final form.[18] The non-liberal Jewish tradition affirms the giving of both the Written and Oral Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai (m.Avot 1:1).

Harrison indicates, “Those who [support] the Mosaicity of Exodus [are] generally ready to admit that it was not by any means written as a continuous narrative; that there may well be indications of editorial activity, some perhaps emerging from the post-Mosaic era, and that quite probably the earliest portion of the book to be committed to writing after the Decalogue and the Covenant Code was the Song of Moses and Miriam.”[19] Some things that could have been clarified by redactors after Moses include the explanation of the manna phenomenon (16:33-36), as well as the description of Moses as “greatly esteemed in the land of Egypt” (11:3). “Moses could hardly be expected to have described himself as being of impressive stature in Egyptian society. But even here little prevents this from being a typical marginal gloss that was incorporated into the text at a later stage” (Harrison, ISBE).[20] Some assert that there may also have been modifications made to the Book of the Covenant section after Moses’ death.[21] As with Genesis, the idea of sole Mosaic authorship of Exodus, without any post-Mosaic changes, is present in the vast majority of today’s Messianic community, often with no room for an engaged interpreter to maneuver.

It is notable that conservative theologians are not agreed on the exact timing of the Exodus. While most will agree that the entry of Jacob and his family into Lower Egypt is probably connected somehow with the Semitic Hyksos invasion,[22] the timing of the Exodus is often divided into two camps: (1) those who advocate it having occurred in the Fifteenth Century B.C.E.,[23] and (2) those who advocate it having occurred in the Thirteenth Century B.C.E.

Those who advocate that the Exodus occurred in the Fifteenth Century B.C.E. (1400s) do so based on a strict literal reading of 1 Kings 6:1, which says that the reign of Solomon commenced “in the four hundred and eightieth year after the sons of Israel came out of the land of Egypt,” calculated in conjunction with Exodus 12:40-41.[24] Notable advocates of this view include Merrill F. Unger[25] and Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. It is probably safe to say that most in today’s Messianic community would hold to a Fifteenth Century B.C.E. view for the Exodus.

Those who advocate a Thirteenth Century B.C.E. (1200s) dating for the Exodus usually place it as having taken place during the reign of Ramses II (1290-1224 B.C.E.). Concurrent with this is an appeal made to the Merneptah stela, which refers to “Israel” living as a group in Canaan by 1230 B.C.E.[26] Advocates of a Thirteenth Century B.C.E. view consider the contemporary Egyptian history as being most favorable to the Exodus.[27] They often consider the 480 years referenced between the Exodus and reign of Solomon to be a rounded number, assuming that it represents twelve generations of forty years, and believe that it should be reduced.[28] In support of this position is the fact that the LXX rendering of 1 Kings 6:1 has the “four hundred and fortieth year” (LXE) mentioned, which indicates that the exact number could be less. Notable advocates of this view include K.A. Kitchen and R.K. Harrison. This is also the view of the author.

Reaction against a Thirteenth Century dating of the Exodus often comes because it could imply that a rounded number was used for the participants in the Exodus from the 603,550 males recorded in Numbers 1:46. (Consult the entry for Numbers for a consideration of this issue.) Dillard and Longman, advocates of a Fifteenth Century B.C.E. Exodus, do note however, “There are arguments for a late date for the Exodus…and in favor of a smaller number of Israelite participants…that treat the text with integrity.”[29]

Another debate among conservative theologians is the route of the Exodus from the Northern Route to the Southern Route to the relatively new Arabian Route theories.[30] A consensus forum on these, and other postulations, has not been held due to the lack of research as a result of the volatile politics in the region today. This largely prevents Biblical archaeologists from researching the possible sites that the Ancient Israelites traversed. In all honesty, it is difficult to determine with total accuracy the actual route of the Exodus.

Most liberal theologians doubt the historicity of the Exodus, often because of the lack of external evidence from texts outside the Biblical narrative.[31] There is a large tendency among liberals to view the Exodus as a symbolic account of God’s deliverance of His people, not to be taken literally, but as a metaphor that God is interested in justice upon evil. Oftentimes liberal scholars will try to provide more of a “natural explanation” for the events of the Exodus, and conclude that even if any such events did remotely take place, the author(s) of Exodus certainly exaggerated them for either effect or certain theological ends.

When it comes to the composition of Exodus, liberals generally assert it to primarily be a composition of the so-called J and E sources, the Yahwist and the Elohist, with possibly some P additions from the Priestly source. (See Genesis entry for a summarization of the JEDP documentary hypothesis.) This is a view adhered to by both liberal Christians and Jews,[32] who date Exodus’ composition to the Sixth Century B.C.E. with the Jews having returned from Babylon. A few classical liberals date Exodus’ composition no earlier than the Ninth Century B.C.E.[33]

In the liberal theological schema, the position of Moses as an important figure used by God is widely disparaged. Moses in extreme cases is sometimes asserted as being “only a minor tribal sheik, whose grave was encountered by some group on its way into the land, and was only gradually drawn into the traditions” (IDB).[34] In this construct, the Exodus is a total fabrication of myth, with a deceased “Moses” lending his name to a story composed by a nomadic group of travelers in Canaan. While this view is not adhered to by all liberals, many liberals doubt the historicity of all of the events ascribed as involving Moses. Even when affirming the existence of some kind of Moses, liberals still must say, “it appears that we can know very little about the part originally played by Moses in the events described” (Clements, IDBSup).[35]

Liberal Christian theologians are often in a very uneasy situation as Yeshua and the Disciples, as well as the Church Fathers, all treat Moses as being a real person,[36] and the Exodus being an actual event.

There are four major textual traditions attesting for the existence of the Book of Exodus: the Hebrew Masoretic Text (MT), Greek Septuagint (LXX), Samaritan Pentateuch (SP), and the Dead Sea Scrolls. It is notable that “The Hebrew behind the Greek Exodus seems to have differed from MT more than the other books of the Pentateuch” (Sarna, ABD),[37] and the Samaritan Pentateuch likewise has some significant additions.[38] The Dead Sea Scrolls also have some significant variants that often correspond to the Greek LXX and SP.[39] In our theology today, we have to weigh the usage of the LXX by the Apostles in their writings as carrying some kind of authority, and cannot ignore it in our exegesis of Exodus, as they might be employing some of those textual variants in their quotations.

Anyone who surveys the Book of Exodus should easily see that the overarching themes of the text are the deliverance of Israel from bondage and the presentation of God’s constitution to them.[40] The major places of the events are Egypt and Sinai. How we consider these things in our understanding as Messianic Believers today can be a bit challenging, as some are just now beginning to examine Exodus in greater detail. However, Exodus forms a major basis for us seeing how God interacts with others in the Bible, so its message can by no means be ignored—especially in a world today that largely asserts that if there is a God, he/she/it must take a “hands off” position in running the universe. When one reads Exodus, one clearly sees that the Lord God of Israel is One who directly gets involved in the affairs of humanity.

Four major themes that we see present in Exodus are: (1) God directly intervening in the lives of His people, (2) He provides for His people’s needs, (3) God wants His people to succeed, and (4) God makes plans to live among His people with the Tabernacle. In the backdrop of the Ancient Near East, these were all concepts that were widely foreign and make the God of Israel quite unique.

Other major themes that we see in Exodus are the figure of Moses acting as a mediator between Israel and God. Understanding Moses’ work will help us to better understand the work of Yeshua presently mediating between humanity and God. Furthermore, the idea of God’s covenant with Israel continues on throughout most of the Bible. Entry into a covenant relationship with God is not significantly altered until Yeshua the Messiah enters the scene, and this entry is clearly transferred from being “circumcision” to faith in Him. On the whole, though, the concept of having a covenant relationship with God is very similar.

There are some significant Messianic weaknesses of Exodus that need to be remedied. On the whole, most Messianic congregational leaders and teachers are ignorant of liberal theories surrounding Moses and the Exodus. When someone watches a television program on the Discovery Channel or History Channel about the Exodus, and then asks questions in a Bible study, he or she often cannot get a valid conservative response. Furthermore, Messianics who study the Torah on a consistent basis need to understand the Book of Exodus in the context of Ancient Egypt,[41] a suzerain-vassal treaty/covenant of the Ancient Near East,[42] and the giving of the Torah against the backdrop of other ancient codes of law.[43] Unfortunately just like Genesis, some Messianics have an “overly mythical” view of Exodus that largely comes from consulting ultra-Orthodox and Chassidic Jewish sources. This needs to change in the future, and we need to engage with more conservative, historically conscious scholarship.

As Believers in Yeshua the Messiah, the Book of Exodus shows us many things that must be understood if we are to more fully understand His entry into the world as the culmination of what the Exodus represents. Furthermore, we need not fall prey to liberal theologians who deny the Exodus, because the testimony of Yeshua and the Apostles confirms the existence of Moses and its historicity.[44] Unfortunately, this is a safety net that liberal Jews do not have.


Dillard, Raymond B., and Tremper Longman III. “Exodus,” in An Introduction to the Old Testament, pp 57-82.
Clements, R.E. “Exodus, Book of,” in IDBSup, pp 310-312.
Dozeman, Thomas B. “Exodus,” in New Interpreter’s Study Bible, pp 85-144.
Harrison, R.K. “The Book of Exodus,” in Introduction to the Old Testament, pp 566-588.
____________. “Exodus, Book of,” in ISBE, 2:222-230.
Jones, Hywel R. “Exodus,” in NBCR, pp 115-139.
Kaiser, Jr., Walter C. “Exodus,” in EXP, 2:287-497.
McComiskey, Thomas Edward. “Exodus, Book of,” in NIDB, pp 334-335.
Sarna, Nahum M. “Introduction,” JPS Torah Commentary: Exodus, pp xi-xv.
_______________. “Exodus, Book of,” in ABD, 2:689-700.
Tigay, Jeffrey H. “Exodus,” in Jewish Study Bible, pp 102-202.
Wright, G.E. “Exodus, Book of,” in IDB, 2:188-197.


[1] Nahum M. Sarna, JPS Torah Commentary: Exodus (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1991), xi; Nahum M. Sarna, “Exodus, Book of,” in ABD, 2:690.

[2] Sarna, Exodus, xi.

[3] Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, 566; R.K. Harrison, “Exodus, Book of,” in ISBE, 2:222; Thomas Edward McComiskey, “Exodus, Book of,” in NIDB, 334; Sarna, “Exodus, Book of,” in ABD, 2:690.

[4] R.E. Clements, “Exodus, Book of,” in IDBSup, 312.

[5] Sarna, Exodus, xi.

[6] Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., “Exodus,” in EXP, 2:292-293; Dillard and Longman, pp 64-65.

[7] G.E. Wright, “Exodus, Book of,” in IDB, 2:188.

[8] Sarna, Exodus, xiv.

[9] Dillard and Longman, pp 66-67.

[10] McComiskey, “Exodus, Book of,” in NIDB, 334.

[11] Sarna, Exodus, xiii; Sarna, “Exodus, Book of,” in ABD, 2:699.

[12] Hywel R. Jones, “Exodus,” in NBCR, 118.

[13] Dillard and Longman, pp 68-70.

[14] Harrison, “Exodus, Book of,” in ISBE, 2:222.

[15] Kaiser, in EXP, 2:287-288; cf. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, 569; Dillard and Longman, 58.

[16] Harrison, “Exodus, Book of,” in ISBE, 2:223-224.

[17] Cf. Ibid., pp 224, 226.

[18] Ibid., 2:226-227.

[19] Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, 568.

[20] Harrison, “Exodus, Book of,” in ISBE, 2:227.

[21] Harrison, Introduction to Old Testament, pp 570-572; Harrison, “Exodus, Book of,” in ISBE, 2:229.

[22] Harrison, “Exodus, Book of,” in ISBE, 2:227.

[23] Jones, “Exodus,” in NBCR, 115-116.

[24] Sarna, Exodus, xiv-xv; Dillard and Longman, 59.

[25] Jones, in NBCR, pp 115-116.

[26] Thomas B. Dozeman, “Exodus,” in New Interpreter’s Study Bible, 86.

[27] Sarna, “Exodus, Book of,” in ABD, 2:696-669.

[28] Jones, “Exodus,” in NBCR, 116.

[29] Dillard and Longman, 62.

[30] Duane A. Garrett, ed., et. al., NIV Archaeological Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), pp 108-112; cf. Kaiser, in EXP, 2:291-292.

[31] Wright, “Exodus, Book of,” in IDB, 2:190-192; Clements, “Exodus, Book of,” in IDBSup, 312; Sarna, “Exodus, Book of,” in ABD 2:696-698; Jeffrey H. Tigay, “Exodus,” in Jewish Study Bible, pp 103-104; cf. Kaiser, “Exodus,” in EXP, 2:288-290.

[32] Wright, “Exodus, Book of,” in IDB, 2:192-194; Tigay, “Exodus,” in Jewish Study Bible, pp 104-105.

[33] Harrison, “Exodus, Book of,” in ISBE, 2:225.

[34] Wright, “Exodus, Book of,” in IDB, 2:195; cf. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, pp 568, 574.

[35] Clements, “Exodus, Book of,” in IDBSup, 311.

[36] Wright, “Exodus, Book of,” in IDB, 2:195.

[37] Sarna, “Exodus, Book of,” in ABD, 2:691.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Jones, in NBCR, 115.

[41] Sarna, “Exodus, Book of,” in ABD 2:697-698.

[42] Harrison, “Exodus, Book of,” in ISBE, 2:229.

[43] Wright, “Exodus, Book of,” in IDB, 2:192; Jones, in NBCR, 118-119.

[44] Dillard and Longman, pp 66-67.

About J.K. McKee 635 Articles
J.K. McKee (B.A., University of Oklahoma; M.A., Asbury Theological Seminary) is the editor of Messianic Apologetics (, a division of Outreach Israel Ministries ( He is a 2009 recipient of the Zondervan Biblical Languages Award for Greek. He is author of numerous books and commentaries, dealing with a wide range of topics that are important for today’s Messianic Believers.

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