About the Author
R. Kent Hughes (DMin, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is senior pastor emeritus of College Church in Wheaton, Illinois, and former professor of practical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Hughes is also a founder of the Charles Simeon Trust, which conducts expository preaching conferences throughout North America and worldwide. He serves as the series editor for the Preaching the Word commentary series and is the author or coauthor of many books. He and his wife, Barbara, live in Wyncote, Pennsylvania, and have four children and an ever-increasing number of grandchildren.
Read an Excerpt
EXODUS IS AN EPIC TALE OF fire, sand, wind, and water. The adventure takes place under the hot desert sun, just beyond the shadow of the Great Pyramids. There are two mighty nations — Israel and Egypt — led by two great men — Moses the liberating hero and Pharaoh the enslaving villain. Almost every scene is a masterpiece: the baby in the basket, the burning bush, the river of blood and the other plagues, the angel of death, the crossing of the Red Sea, the manna in the wilderness, the water from the rock, the thunder and lightning on the mountain, the Ten Commandments, the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, the golden calf, and the glory in the tabernacle.
Once heard, the story is never forgotten. For Jews it is the story that defines their very existence, the rescue that made them God's people. For Christians it is the gospel of the Old Testament, God's first great act of redemption. We return to the exodus again and again, sensing that somehow it holds significance for the entire human race. It is the story that gives every captive the hope of freedom. Thus it was only natural for African-American slaves — many of whom were Christians — to understand their captivity as a bondage in Egypt and to long for the day when they would be "free at last." The exodus shows that there is a God who saves, who delivers his people from bondage.
Exodus and the Bible
The word exodus means "exit" or "departure." It first appears at the beginning of chapter 19: "On the third new moon after the people of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt ..." (v. 1). When the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek, the verb used for their leaving Egypt was exodus. Eventually the word came to be used as a title for the whole book. The exodus, then, is a story of departure, an epic journey from slavery to salvation. As we study this book, the journey out of Egypt becomes part of our own spiritual pilgrimage. So how shall we make the journey? What is the best way to study Exodus?
First of all, our approach must be Biblical, which means that we must study the book of Exodus itself. We must study it chapter by chapter and verse by verse, seeking to understand the plain meaning of the text. And we must study the book as a complete literary whole. Some scholars view Exodus as a complicated web of human traditions that must be disentangled to be understood. Others argue that it is really two books in one. Chapters 1–14 contain the original story of Israel's salvation, they say, while the rest of the book consists of material that was added later, somewhat haphazardly.
It is probably true that Exodus was not written at a single sitting. Some parts of the book — especially the stories and songs — may have been passed down by oral tradition. Yet much of the epic seems to have been written by Moses himself. On several different occasions, God told Moses to write down his experiences: "Write this as a memorial in a book" (17:14); "Write these words" (34:27). Moses knew how to write, of course, because he had been trained in Pharaoh's court. So he was able to do as he was told, to write "down all the words of the LORD" (24:4). Some parts of Exodus may have been written down by someone else, especially the parts that describe Moses in the third person. Yet when Jesus quoted from Exodus (e.g., Mark 7:10; 12:26), he attributed what he was quoting directly to Moses, and we should do the same.
The important thing is to receive the book of Exodus as it has been given, which means studying it as one complete story. Like every other book in the Bible, Exodus is the living Word of God. It was breathed out by the Holy Spirit and written down by Moses for our spiritual benefit. What God has given us is not a random collection of documents, but a single book with a unified message.
Taking a Biblical approach also means reading Exodus in the context of the whole Bible, starting with the Pentateuch, "The Five Books of Moses." Exodus often looks back to the promises God made in Genesis. Whereas Genesis tells of the creation of the world, Exodus recounts the creation of a nation. The book also stands in close relation to the books of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. This is how one scholar explains the connection:
In the Pentateuch, considered as a whole, there are only five major themes: God's promise to the patriarchs; the exodus; God's Self-revelation in covenant and law at Sinai; the wandering in the wilderness; the entrance into Canaan. Three of these five major themes are treated at length in the book of Exodus and, in addition, it looks back to the first theme and on to the last. Moses' vision and call at Mount Sinai are deliberately shown as a fulfilment of God's promise to Israel's forefathers, while the book ends with a promise of God's leading till Canaan is reached. Therefore, while Exodus is only part of a wider and far larger whole, it is a real part and, in a sense, enshrines the heart of the whole pentateuchal revelation.
Beyond the Pentateuch, the book of Exodus has wider connections with the rest of the Old Testament. The exodus was the great miracle of the old covenant. Thus many passages in the Psalms and the Prophets look back to it as the paradigm of salvation. The people of Israel always praised God as the One who had brought them out of Egypt. The New Testament writers worshiped the same God, and thus they often used the exodus to explain salvation in Christ. Indeed, a complete understanding of the gospel requires a knowledge of the exodus. As we study the book of Exodus, therefore, we must follow the Reformation principle of allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture. In some ways the whole Bible is an extended interpretation of the exodus. Thus the way to understand Exodus is to study the book itself, in the context of the entire Bible.
The Exodus in History
Our approach to Exodus must also be historical. This book is more than merely a story; it presents itself as history, and thus the only proper way to interpret it is to accept it as a true account of the history of God's people.
Many objections have been raised to the historicity of Exodus. Some of these objections surround the date of the exodus. The Bible says that Solomon began to build the temple in Jerusalem "in the four hundred and eightieth year after the people of Israel came out of the land of Egypt" (1 Kings 6:1). We know that Solomon built the temple in or around 962 BC, which would place the Exodus around 1440 BC. The problem with that date is that it may not fit everything we know about ancient history, either in Egypt or in Israel. Other questions surround the miracles of Exodus. Did the Nile turn into blood? Did the Egyptians lose all their firstborn sons? Still other questions surround the journeys of the Israelites. Did they cross the Red Sea or the Reed Sea? Did they wander around Arabia or travel directly to Canaan?
Adding to the historical difficulties is the fact that Egyptian records make no mention of the exodus. One writer explains that "archaeologists to date have found no direct evidence to corroborate the biblical story. Inscriptions from ancient Egypt contain no mention of Hebrew slaves, of the devastating plagues that the Bible says preceded their release, or of the destruction of Pharaoh's army during the Israelites' miraculous crossing of the Red Sea (or perhaps the Sea of Reeds). No physical trace has been found of the Israelites' forty-year nomadic sojourn in the Sinai wilderness. There is not even any indication, outside of the Bible, that Moses existed." Some scholars doubt whether Israel was ever in Egypt at all. In the words of one professor, "the actual evidence concerning the Exodus resembles the evidence for the unicorn."
Some people don't think it matters very much whether the exodus happened or not. The history of Exodus, they say, is "less important ... than the quest for the moral and spiritual values that we might extract from this biblical story." This attitude calls to mind a scene from E. L. Doctorow's City of God in which two men are discussing the relationship between God and history. "God is ahistorical," one of them argues. He then proceeds to ask, "Do you believe God gave Moses the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments, on Mount Sinai?" After thinking for a moment, his friend replies, "Well it's a great story. I think I'm a judge of stories and that's a great story."
It is a great story, one of the greatest ever written. But is it also history? If not — if the exodus never happened — then the book of Exodus has little or no claim on our lives today. If there was no exodus, then there is no reason to believe in a God who has the power to save and no need to obey his commandments. This problem led the Jewish scholar Abraham Joshua Heschel to ask a provocative question: "If Moses ... failed to find out what the will of God is, who will?" Heschel concluded, "If God had nothing to do with the prophets, then He had nothing to do with mankind."
The truth is that God had everything to do with the prophets, and because he had everything to do with them, he has everything to do with us. One good reason to believe in the prophet Moses is that the book of Exodus fits everything we know about ancient history. Start with the date of the exodus. It is important to realize that the Israelites did not have an absolute calendar in the time of the patriarchs, and that the Bible's method of chronological reckoning sometimes involved some approximation. When the Bible says that Solomon built the temple 480 years after Israel came out of Egypt, it may not be giving us a statistic so much as a symbol. Four hundred and eighty is the product of twelve times forty, and forty is the number the Bible uses to represent a generation (e.g., Judges 5:31; Psalm 95:10). Thus 480 may be a round number used to indicate a dozen generations. However, most generations during the Biblical period were only twenty-five years apart, not forty. If there were twelve generations between Moses and Solomon, that would amount to roughly 300 years rather than 480, yielding a date for the exodus around 1260 BC.
A thirteenth-century exodus would fit the historical situation, including the chronology of the Pharaohs. While the Biblical Pharaoh is not named, it is not hard to guess who he might have been. The harsh Pharaoh who first enslaved the Hebrews may have been Seti I (1303–1290 BC). It was during Seti's reign that the Egyptians began to move their capital downriver to the Nile Delta. This move was significant because it required large building projects — perhaps including the store cities mentioned in Exodus 1:11 — in the region where the Israelites are known to have lived (the land of Goshen). Seti was succeeded by Rameses II (1290–1224 BC), who completed the move to the delta, using even more slaves to attempt even more elaborate buildings than his father. It was Rameses who completed the cities of Pithom and Rameses (or Raamses as the ESV has it — presumably the city was named after him).
On the other hand, the arguments for a fifteenth-century exodus are much stronger than is sometimes realized. If the 480 years are taken as chronologically exact, then the exodus occurred in 1445 BC, during the reign of Amenhotep II (1453–1425 BC), with Thutmose III (1483–1450 BC) having ruled as Pharaoh for most of Moses' life. There is substantial evidence that Thutmose, like Seti after him, engaged in major building projects in the Nile Delta. The city of Rameses need not have been named after Rameses II, as some have argued, for the name Rameses was an ancient one. Alternatively, Rameses may have been an anachronism — a name given later to a city built under Thutmose III. But the strongest argument in favor of an early exodus is that the chronological statements in Judges 11:26 (where Jephthah states that it had been 300 years since the conquest of Canaan) and Acts 13:19, 20 (where Paul posits 450 years between the flight from Egypt and the capture of Jerusalem) both support a mid-fifteenth-century exodus.
Like a thirteenth-century date, a fifteenth-century date for the exodus would fit what we know about slavery in Egypt. By the time of Moses there had been Semitic slaves in Egypt for several centuries. The most intriguing reference to them appears in a text called Leiden Papyrus 348, dating from the time of Rameses II, which contains instructions to distribute grain rations "to the 'Apiru who are dragging stones to the great pylon." Obviously, the 'Apiru (hapiru) were slaves. Some scholars believe that there may be a connection between the word 'Apiru and the word 'Ibri (also mentioned in the famous Tell el-Amarna tablets), from which we derive the word Hebrews. At the very least, it is historically certain that people of Semitic origin were enslaved by the Pharaohs during the decades leading up to the exodus.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Exodus"
Copyright © 2015 Philip Graham Ryken.
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Table of Contents
A Word to Those Who Preach the Word,
1 Into Egypt (1:1–7),
2 The New Pharaoh (1:8–21),
3 The Birth of a Savior (1:22-2:10),
4 Moses Takes Matters into His Own Hands (2:11–15),
5 Moses in the Wilderness (2:15–25),
6 The Burning Bush (3:1–9),
7 The Great I Am (3:10–15),
8 Wonders and Signs (3:16–4:9),
9 Here Am I ... Send Someone Else (4:10–17),
10 Back to Egypt (4:18–31),
11 Who Is the Lord? (5:1–9),
12 Bricks without Straw (5:10–21),
13 When Trouble Comes (5:22–6:5),
14 The Seven "I Wills" of Salvation (6:6–12),
15 They Were the Levites (6:13–27),
16 The Prophet's Prophet (6:28–7:7),
17 The Staff That Swallowed the Snakes (7:8–13),
18 River of Blood (7:14–24),
19 Why the Frogs Croaked (7:25–8:15),
20 The Finger of God (8:16–19),
21 Lord of the Flies (8:20–32),
22 A Plague on Your Livestock (9:1–7),
23 Can't Stand That Itch! (9:8–12),
24 The Worst Hailstorm Ever (9:13–35),
25 Something to Tell Your Grandchildren (10:1–20),
26 Heart of Darkness (10:21–29),
27 The Deadliest Plague (11:1–10),
28 The First Passover (12:1–13),
29 A Feast to Remember (12:14–28),
30 Out of Egypt (12:29–42),
31 This Do in Remembrance of Me (12:43–51; 13:3–10),
32 The Redemption of Sons (13:1, 2, 11–16),
33 Between the Desert and the Sea (13:17–14:14),
34 The Great Escape (14:15–31),
35 The Song of Salvation (15:1–21),
36 A Bitter Complaint (15:22–27),
37 Bread from Heaven (16:1–20),
38 A Sabbath for Man (16:21–36),
39 That Rock Was Christ (17:1–7),
40 Lift Up Your Hands (17:8–16),
41 Family Reunion (18:1–12),
42 Israel Gets Organized (18:13–27),
43 Kingdom of Priests (19:1–6),
44 Don't Touch! (19:7–15),
45 Smoke on the Mountain (19:16–25),
46 Written in Stone (20:1, 2a),
47 A Multiuse Item (20:2b),
48 Interpreting God's Law (20:3–17),
49 The First Commandment: No Other Gods (20:3),
50 The Second Commandment: The Right God, the Right Way (20:4–6),
51 The Third Commandment: Name above All Names (20:7),
52 The Fourth Commandment: Work and Leisure (20:8–11),
53 The Fifth Commandment: Respect Authority (20:12),
54 The Sixth Commandment: Live and Let Live (20:13),
55 The Seventh Commandment: The Joy of Sex (20:14),
56 The Eighth Commandment: What's Mine Is God's (20:15),
57 The Ninth Commandment: To Tell the Truth (20:16),
58 The Tenth Commandment: Being Content (20:17),
59 The End of the Law (20:18–21),
60 The Altar of God (20:22–26),
61 Bound for Freedom (21:1–11),
62 An Eye for an Eye (21:12–36),
63 Property Law (22:1–15),
64 Good Laws from a Great God (22:16–31),
65 The People's Court (23:1–13),
66 Three Pilgrim Feasts (23:14–19),
67 Guardian Angel (23:20–33),
68 The Blood of the Covenant (24:1–8),
69 They Saw God (24:9–18),
70 Freewill Offering (25:1–8),
71 The Ark of the Covenant (25:9–22),
72 The Bread of the Presence (25:23–30),
73 The Golden Lampstand (25:31–40),
74 The Tabernacle of God (26:1–37),
75 The Altar in the Courtyard (27:1–19),
76 A Priest before God (27:20–28:14),
77 Knowing God's Will (28:15–30),
78 Fit for a Priest (28:31–43),
79 The Ordination of Priests (29:1–21),
80 The Big Picture (29:22–46),
81 Sweet Altar of Prayer (30:1–10, 34–38),
82 Bought with a Price (30:11–33),
83 Art for God's Sake (31:1–11),
84 God's Holy Day (31:12–18),
85 Unholy Cow (32:1–6),
86 Go Down, Moses (32:7–14),
87 Oh, Brother! (32:15–24),
88 Who Is on the Lord's Side? (32:25–35),
89 With or Without You? (33:1–11),
90 Under the Shadow of His Hand (33:12–23),
91 When God Passes By (34:1–7),
92 God, and God Alone (34:8–17),
93 Staying in Covenant Love (34:18–28; 35:1–3),
94 Till We Have Faces (34:29–35),
95 A Heart for Giving (35:4–29),
96 Enough Is Enough! (35:30–36:7),
97 Building in Progress (36:8–38),
98 In God's House (37:1–29),
99 The Courtyard to God (38:1–31),
100 Aaron's Wardrobe (39:1–31),
101 Just like God Said (39:32–43),
102 When Glory Came Down (40:1–38),
Index of Sermon Illustrations,
What People are Saying About This
“This series resonates with the priorities of the pulpit. No academic aloofness here, but down-to-earth, preacher-to-preacher meat for God’s people.”Bryan Chapell, Pastor Emeritus, Grace Presbyterian Church, Peoria, Illinois
“The single best resource for faithful Biblical exposition available today. A great boon for genuine reformation!”Timothy George, Distinguished Professor of Divinity, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University
“There is a long history of informed, edifying Biblical expositions that have been mightily used of God to shape and strengthen the Church. These volumes admirably fit this tradition.”D. A. Carson, Cofounder and Theologian-at-Large, The Gospel Coalition
“Throughout the Christian centuries, working pastors have been proving themselves to be the best of all Bible expositors. Kent Hughes stands in this great tradition, and his exciting expositions uphold it worthily.”J. I. Packer, Late Board of Governors' Professor of Theology, Regent College
“It is a pleasure to commend this series of homiletical commentaries. They fill an enormous vacuum that exists between the practical needs of the pastor/teacher and the critical exegetical depth of most commentaries.”Walter C. Kaiser Jr., President Emeritus and Colman M. Mockler Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Old Testament, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary