An Overview of Exodus in the Bible

Review key facts and major themes for Exodus -- the second book in the Bible.

(c) Pat Canova / Getty Images

When we think of the Book of Exodus in the Bible, we often think first and foremost of God's Law. That makes sense, given that Exodus contains the record of God delivering the Ten Commandments to Moses, along with several other laws and instructions.

However, at the core, the Book of Exodus does more story-telling than law-giving. Specifically, Exodus tells the story of how God rescued His people from bondage and brought them to the land He has promised.

As we'll see, God's rescue of the Israelites through Moses is an important foreshadowing of how Jesus rescued all people from the bondage of sin.

Let's start by looking at some key facts to set the context.

Key Facts

Author: Most Old-Testament scholars throughout history have agreed that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. (Note: these five books are often referred to as The Pentateuch.)

In recent decades, some modern scholars have questioned Mosaic authorship for some or all of the books in the Pentateuch. However, the best evidence available still points to Moses as the author for Exodus and the other four books. This includes evidence within the text itself, given that several Scripture passages refer to Moses writing down what God revealed to him. 

For example:

Moses came and told the people all the commands of the Lord and all the ordinances. Then all the people responded with a single voice, “We will do everything that the Lord has commanded.” And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. He rose early the next morning and set up an altar and 12 pillars for the 12 tribes of Israel at the base of the mountain.
Exodus 24:3-4 (emphasis added)

If you would like to see a more detailed explanation of why Moses remains the best candidate as the author of the Pentateuch, you can find it in the "Key Facts" section from my Introduction to the Book of Genesis.

Date: Scholars throughout history have placed the date for the actual exodus -- the Israelites' escape from Egypt -- at around 1445 B.C.

Therefore, the Book of Exodus was written at some point between that date and Moses' death, which was likely in 1406 B.C.

Background: When writing the Book of Genesis, Moses recorded events that took place well before his time. In contrast, Moses was an eyewitness to most of the events that took place throughout the Book of Exodus. In fact, Moses himself is the main character and primary driver of most of the events that took place throughout the book.

Similarly, the Book of Genesis covers a huge scope of years -- from the creation of the universe all the way to the death of Joseph in Egypt. Exodus, however, is much tighter in scope. After skipping over about 300 years of the Israelites' growth as a nation in Egypt, the text details how God's people were forced into slavery at the hands of the Egyptions.

From that point on, Exodus becomes the story of Moses -- specifically, the story of how God used Moses to provide salvation for His people.

Interestingly, the key elements of that story were revealed to Abraham in the Book of Genesis:

12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 13 Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions.
Genesis 15:12-14

Major Themes

The Book of Exodus can be divided into two main halves:

  1. The conflict between the Israelites and the Egyptians, which ultimately resulted in the Israelites' miraculous escape and mass journey into the wilderness.
  2. God revealing Himself to Moses and the Israelites on Mount Sinai, which included the giving of the Ten Commandments and other instructions for how the Israelites were to live as God's chosen people.

When we examine the first half of the Exodus narrative, the major theme that jumps out from the text is God's power to save His people. The early chapters of Exodus show how the Egyptians had snared the Israelites in a bondage from which they could not escape on their own. God's people needed a savior.

Fittingly, the next several chapters of the book tell the story of that savior -- Moses.

Miraculously saved by God as an infant, Moses grew up in the house of Pharaoh. Yet, surprisingly, he retained a knowledge of his heritage and a desire to benefit his fellow Israelites. Even when Moses was expelled from Egypt, God continued to prepare him and raise him up as the savior for His people.

By the time we get to Exodus 7, the stage has been set for a major showdown between God and the mighty nation attempting to enslave His people. This showdown includes several famous stories that even casual Bible readers will be familiar with -- the 10 Plagues, the Passover, the Parting of the Red Sea, and so on.

In the end, God is victorious. He proves His power over not only the Egyptians as a nation, but also the Egyptian gods. God is mighty to save His people.

As we move to the second half of the book, we see God instructing the Israelites on what it meant to live as His chosen people. This included the giving of the Law, the institution of the Passover and other symbolic feasts, instructions for the tabernacle, and so on.

Finally, a third major theme that is present throughout the Book of Exodus is the failure of God's people to follow Him faithfully. Whether it's Moses asking God to find another leader for the Israelites, the Israelites themselves grumbling about lack of food in the wilderness, Aaron the priest leading the people to disobey God by worshiping the golden calf, or several other examples -- Exodus contains all kinds of proof that people are not able to abide by God's laws and follow Him in their own strength.

These failures are especially important because they point ahead to our need for a spiritual Savior.

Key Scripture Passages in Exodus

13 Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”
Exodus 3:13-14

21 Then Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go at once and select the animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb. 22 Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe. None of you shall go out of the door of your house until morning. 23 When the Lord goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down.
Exodus 12:21-23

And God spoke all these words:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before[a] me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
Exodus 20:1-11

[Note: Click here to read more about the Ten Commandments.]

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O'Neal, Sam. "An Overview of Exodus in the Bible." ThoughtCo, Apr. 1, 2016, O'Neal, Sam. (2016, April 1). An Overview of Exodus in the Bible. Retrieved from O'Neal, Sam. "An Overview of Exodus in the Bible." ThoughtCo. (accessed February 20, 2018).