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.
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!