Exodus is arguably the most important book of the Bible. The man who leads the Israelites out of Egypt, Moses, is the author of Genesis, or at least the named narrator, which means he tells or writes down the Genesis account after the exodus happens and the wilderness wanderings. So, although Genesis is first in order, it is second in importance.
It is probably also important draw some distinctions here. Right now we are reading what has traditionally been called the Pentateuch- the first five books of the Bible. They are sometimes referred to as the Law, or Torah. These are the five books that most synagogues have read publicly on Sabbath. They take them out and read them, week after week, straight through. They are considered that important in the life of the synagogue and the people of Israel.
The rest of the books of the Old Testament are also considered canonical and inspired by God, but somehow or other, they all exist and shine best in the light of these first five books. Maybe the only exception to this is the Psalms, which are a collection of Israel’s prayers. Luther considered the Psalms to be the “whole Bible in miniature.” Of course, there are lots of books of the Old Testament that are also wonderful and important—the prophets, wisdom literature, the historical books—but the first five books will always stand as a kind of foundation and first testament, and the book within these five that has pride of place is Exodus.
Why? Well, first of all because it is the story of Moses and the Exodus. Moses is not only the historian—he is also the lawgiver, the one who saw the face of God and lived. Exodus is also a book of three different but incredibly important stories. Chapters 1-13 record the exodus event itself, God’s liberation of the Israelites from slavery and bondage to Egypt. This story is an historical event that many can compare to the redemption or rescue we have experienced in Jesus Christ. Just as Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, so Jesus leads US out of sin and death and into the promised land of new life with God.
Chapter 13-18 record the wilderness wanderings. It’s important for us to remember that the Israelites, even when they were liberated from Egypt, still immediately fell into doubt and sin while in the wilderness. Yet God remained faithful and led the way. We might compare this part of their journey to the life we live as the baptized people of God. In baptism we are washed and redeemed, but in this life we still life as people on the way, in the wilderness, sinners in daily need of repentance.
Finally, chapters 19-40 record the people of Israel at Mt. Sinai. Here God gives the law through Moses (19-24), gives instructions for worship (25-31), and then it is shown, to us seemingly in a very redundant fashion, that everything God commanded is carried out (34-40). Here in these last chapters we witness the power of God’s word and command. Everything God says, Israel does. Clearly this was important to Moses, and so there is the repetition.
Some themes you can reflect on as you read this book include the following:
What might slavery in Egypt look like today in our own culture or lives? How is God working for liberation? Who is our Moses?
The Israelites made a covenant with God. What was their covenant? What is our covenant with God? How do we fail in our covenant? How is God faithful even when we fail?
How do we worship? What does God desire in our worship?
How do we think about “the law”, especially the 10 commandments? What can we learn, for example, by reviewing the Small Catechism and Luther’s explanation of the 10 commandments?