Summary: What can we learn today from the history of Ancient Israel?
An Introduction to the Book of Exodus
The Book of Exodus is the second of the five books of the Bible written by Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. These five books are called the Torah by the Hebrews, which means “law” or “instruction.” The Greek name is Pentateuch which is derived by the Greek word for “Five.” The translated name of the book means “These are the generations” which are the words which begin the book. The Greeks called this book “Exodus” which is the same as in English. This word means “the way out” which is the central theme of the book. It records the liberation of the People of Israel from Egyptian slavery. Yahweh calls them out into the desert to lead them to the land He had promised to give to the descendants of Abraham.
Exodus has to be understood in its contexts. One of these is that the Torah was written to prepare the children of Israel for the occupation of the land of Canaan. Genesis sets up Exodus in telling the history of God from Creation until the journey of the sons of Jacob from Palestine. History gives identity to a group of people. In fact, when an enemy wants to destroy a people group, it first destroys its history. We see this happening in America today with the tearing down of statues, the failure to teach civics, and to replace the American History curriculum with the mostly fictitious 1619 project. The first gift of Yahweh to his people was to tell them their story. Genesis is a special kind of history. Men write history to establish their identity. The feminists were not happy with “his story,” so they added “her story.” History is a mixture of science and art. Certain themes are selected and others rejected to promote the narrative the historian wants to present.
God has a story as well. But unlike the Iliad and the Odyssey which mixes historical happenings with myth, God’s story does not contain myth. We are presented with real people who lived in real times. God’s story actually dispels commonly held myths of the people of the Ancient Near East and the practices derived from them. But the events are not an exhaustive history of the lives of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, for example. That book would take several lifetimes to read. God knows all the details just as He know us. Let this be sufficient. Rather, the narratives and other material in Genesis are selected to present a worldview for the Children of Israel. They had been in Egypt for 400 years. They had lost much of their identity there and also picked up Egyptian worldviews and identity. The Canaanites in the land they were going to also had their worldview and customs. For Israel to survive as a people, they would need their own distinctive identity. This is what would happen in the wilderness. They needed to know God’s story, not history or herstory. When we put together God and the old English work for story which is “spell,” we end up with “gospel.”
Genesis records Abraham having to go with Lot into Egypt because of a famine. There he falls into favor with Pharaoh. Bu later he falls out of favor due to his deception over Sarah. He is thrown out of Egypt and takes many riches with him. These riches would later become a snare and cause a division between Abraham and his nephew Lot. The Children of Israel would also find their spoiling of Egyptian goods to be a snare which led to the worship of the Golden Calf. This is just one of the examples how certain events were selected by God. History seems to repeat itself. What is necessary to learn from them. Abraham was one who lived his life between Babylon and Egypt. This also seems to be the history of the Children of Israel as well.
Genesis transitions smoothly into Exodus, even though hundreds of years had passed. Genesis ends with Joseph’s death. He gave command to have his bones taken to the family burian cave in Hebron, which was the only piece of real-estate owned by Abraham who had been given the promise of Canaan land for his descendants to live in. But instead of taking Joseph’s bones there, they mummified him and put him into a sarcophagus in Egypt. He wanted to be counted with his brethren in Canaan, but instead was given the rites of the Egyptians. So there is a sense of prophetic expectation at the end of Genesis. The story does not end by Joseph’s brethren failing him. Joseph’s bones would be taken home by Moses. His final identity would not be as an Egyptian but a Hebrew. God’s promise would come to pass, although not as fast as would be hoped. Likewise, in our lives, we don’t make the transition from our old man to the new man as quickly as we might like. Moses was raised in all the wisdom and learning of Egypt. We will see as we go through Exodus that God also prepared him his Israelite identity in having been given by Pharaoh’s daughter back to his own birth mother to nurse. In the end, Moses would identify with Israel and not Egypt.