Re-reading Exodus 1:1-7:7 a few times in preparation for next Sunday's sermon, I have been struck again by just how well-crafted the book of Exodus is.
Here are a handful of details that I observed in those chapters, that are reproduced here in the hope that they might intrigue a few people to read the book of Exodus again. What, I think, we need is to read the whole book (because it functions and speaks to us as a whole), but to combine that with close attention to the details.
- Chapter 1 sets the scene for the birth and protection of Moses in chapter 2. But it also cumulatively shows the conditions that Israel needed to be rescued from. Harsh labour (1:11-14) is followed by infanticide (1:15-22).
- Note that the Levite origins of Moses are important – they are stressed in 2:1 and also in chapter 6.
- Moses was brought up as an Egyptian (see, for example, what Reuel’s daughter’s say in 2:19, as well as 2:10). He’s thoroughly assimilated. The question is: In the conflict between the Egyptians and their Hebrew slaves who will Moses identify with. The comfort is all on the Egyptian side, and he is a royal Egyptian at that. That makes 2:11-12 additionally significant – he chooses to side with the Hebrew.
- Moses met his wife by a well. Like Isaac (indirectly, via his servant) and Jacob.
- In 2:24-25, there are 4 verbs that all have “God” as their subject. God heard… God remembered… God saw… God knew. In the Hebrew, there is no need to put “God” as the subject of those verbs. It may be necessary to say “God heard”, but thereafter it would be normal style simply to say “he remembered… he saw… he knew”. But each of these verbs has the word for “God” (
אֱלֹהִים) as the explicit subject. This has the effect of drawing the reader’s attention to this as a deliberate list. The stress is on the fact that God did these things, and we are to see clearly that these are the 4 things that God did at this point.
- 3:1-4:17 is an extended dialogue between Moses and God. This is the first time that God has spoken in Exodus, so is significant. Until this point, God has been at work; this has either been behind the scenes entirely (“the more he oppressed them, the more the people multiplied”, implying that God was behind it), or with the narrator explaining God’s concern as an aside and without God intruding into the narrative. The turning point is 2:23-25, where God heard, remembered and knew. Immediately following that, he has a lengthy discussion with Moses.
- In 3:7-8, as God speaks to Moses of his plan to deliver his people, 3 of the 4 verbs from 2:24-25 are back. “I have surely seen… I have heard… I know”. We don’t get the assertion that God remembers his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but we don’t need that because God introduced himself as the God who is bound by covenant to these 3. What is added is the new assertion that God has “come down”, because he now has.
- Note the tension on who the protagonist is. God is the one who is working his purpose out. But he resolves to deliver the people through Moses. God seems to need Moses to be willing to go to Pharaoh for his plans for deliverance to work out.
- Note the contrast between Jethro and Pharaoh. In 4:18, Moses says “please let me go” and Jethro says “Go in peace”. (The verbs are not the same. In 4:18, Moses asks to go using
הָלַכ, whereas with Pharaoh he seems to ask Pharaoh to “send them” away using שָׁלַח).
- Note the irony in 5:3 – if the people of Israel disobey God’s request to worship him in the wilderness, the risk is that “pestilence or… the sword might fall upon them”.
- Note the change of tense between 6:4-5 and 6:6-8. I established, I have heard, I have remembered. Followed by: I will bring out, I will deliver, I will redeem, I will take, I will be, and I will bring into.