How Do the Two Halves of Exodus Fit Together?

The book of Exodus has always seemed a bit schizophrenic to me. The story grips the reader with the miracles, plagues, and the parting of the Red Sea in the first half. Then the second half turns to complaints, laws, and blueprints, with a few stories dropped in.

What gives?

How (I think) the two halves of Exodus fit together

I have been reading through Exodus as I prepare to teach a series on it this summer, and my working title of the series is “Saved to Serve.” I think that this gets at the main idea of the book, and bridges the two halves:

In 1-15:21 the Lord saves Israel.

In 15:22-40 the Lord tells Israel how they ought to serve him. Which, of course, they do imperfectly.

From what I have read so far, the key word of the book is “serve,” or “slave,” which come from the same root in the Hebrew, avd.

“So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves (avd) and made their lives bitter with hard service (avd), in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly mad them work as slaves avd)” (Exodus 1:13-14).

If you’re like me, in Sunday school you learned that Moses repeated said to Pharaoh, “Let my people go!” But that is not the full sentence Moses speaks.

But as you read further, you don’t get the idea that this book is merely about freedom from slavery. It’s actually about a transfer of slave owners. Here are some verses that I think get at this point.

Throughout the plague narratives, the command God gives to Moses to tell Pharaoh is, “Let my people go that they may serve (avd) me” (Exodus 7:16; 8:1, 20; 9:1, 13; 10:3). Finally, after Pharaoh paid the price of his firstborn son, he said to Moses, “Go, serve (avd) the Lord, as you have said.”

So the salvation Israel received was not merely a freedom from slavery, it was a transfer from being slaves of Pharaoh to being slaves of the Lord.

Exodus and the gospel

This reminds me of Romans 6:17-18, “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.”

The difference between Exodus and Romans, however, is that in Exodus, the idolatrous Egyptians received the plagues that allowed God’s firstborn son (Exodus 4:23) to get a new, loving master. In Romans, God’s Firstborn Son received the plague (Romans 5:9), that allowed us idolatrous sinners (Romans 1:24-25) to get a new master.

I’m still working this stuff out, so I’d love to hear what you think. Is this too reductionistic? Am I failing to integrate another major theme from Exodus? Let me know the comments!


  1. I think that you are on to something. I took nearly 18 months preaching through the first 20 chapters of Exodus and picked up on similar themes, but phrased them a bit differently. I saw that God had to free a nation in order to rear a nation. Like a father/child relationship, he had to teach his children dependence (chapters 15-19), rules (chapters 20-24), and respect (i.e. worship chapters 25-40) so that they could lead a life of peace (chapters 15-19), joy (chapters 20-24), and purpose (chapters 25-40).

    Hope this helps.

    • David, thanks for your comments. I like how you work out the father/child relationship, especially in light of Exodus 4:23.

      18 months! Whoa. I’m trying to do it in 14 weeks. I’m probably being unrealistic!

  2. Love your series title. Is it possible to approach Exodus as a book of revelation? They knew their Pharoah master, alright. As their slavery was transferred, they needed to get to know their new Master. God is introducing Himself to His people in ways they had never come close to knowing Him before. The people have “mountain top” experiences which bring exhilaration and praise, then things look bad and they wallow in discouragement and whining. As they learn more and more about their God they go from belief to doubt…belief to doubt. In times of belief (sometimes only Moses’ belief), they see their God of mercy. In times of doubt and rebellion, they see their God of discipline and justice. Living God’s way was a very specific way to live to set them apart from other nations. God revealed Himself and His ways to them, giving them the choice to trust Him or not…obey Him or not. Just a thought. Appreciate your connection from Exodus to Romans. And your reductionist beginning will surely lead to depth in your teaching.

    • While it might be anachronistic to call the giving of the law a “mountain top experience,” I think you have a point regarding the revelatory nature of Exodus. In each of God’s saving acts, he reveals himself in a new way. Progressive revelation and redemptive history go hand-in-hand.

  3. We are currently preaching through Exodus at our church in two series: Redeemed from Slavery (1-18) & Redeemed for Worship (19-40). We see the connection too. Thanks for writing on such a gospel-rich Old Testament book!