The book of Exodus contains some of the most dramatic passages in the Bible: baby Moses being placed in a basket in a river after Pharaoh’s command to kill Israelite male babies and being found and rescued by Pharaoh’s daughter, God speaking from a burning bush, the plagues in Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, Moses receiving the Ten Commandments, the golden calf.
But Exodus also contains chapters that seem a little tedious at first, like the instructions for the tabernacle and all its furnishings and the priests’ wardrobe.
A good study Bible like the ESV Study Bible and a short commentary like Warren Wiersbe’s Be Delivered (Exodus): Finding Freedom by Following God help fill out understanding of these passages.
At the end of Genesis, Joseph had brought his family to Egypt to provide for them during the prophesied famine. He knew this people would be returning to their homeland, but evidently he didn’t expect that to happen in his lifetime. He made his family promise to take his bones with them when they went back.
Wiersbe notes that “the Hebrew text of Exodus begins with the word and, for God is continuing the story He started in Genesis” (p. 17). We’re not sure how much time passed before “there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8), but by that time all Joseph’s generation had died off (1:6) and the children of Israel had multiplied so much that Pharaoh was afraid they could turn on Egypt. So the Egyptians “ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves and made their lives bitter with hard service” (1:13-14). Pharaoh went so far as to call for the killing of Israel’s male babies.
After Moses’ miraculous deliverance, he got off to a rocky start trying to help his brethren: in trying to save one from a fight, he killed an Egyptian. When he realized his deed was known, he fled, married, and tended sheep for 40 years, until God called to him from a burning bush. After a lot of convincing, Moses answered God’s call to go back to Egypt to deliver Israel from 400 years of slavery.
That process did not go as Moses had thought it would, but God was in control. The plagues sent on Egypt were not random. Each plague countered a god the Egyptians worshiped. God was not just rescuing His people: He was making Himself known as the one true God. There’s evidence that at least some Egyptians came to believe on Him.
After Pharaoh finally let Israel go in defeat, they started a new chapter. Not only did God miraculously deliver them: He wanted to actually dwell among them. He taught them His ways and gave them instructions for building a meeting place.
But, though they had been delivered from Egypt, they still carried Egypt in their hearts. They complained over every little thing and blamed Moses. God was patient with them at first: they had been in Egypt for a long time and needed to become better acquainted with Him and trust Him. Eventually the people made a golden calf to worship while Moses was away receiving God’s law. And God had to deal with that. Moses’ intercession in 32:30-34 and chapter 33 are some of the most touching places in the Bible.
When the people repented, they responded to God’s command and made the tabernacle just as God had instructed. And God’s glory filled the tabernacle.
There’s a lot of symbolism in the different parts of the tabernacle, and that’s one area where study Bibles and commentaries help a lot. Wiersbe’s book had a diagram and the ESV Study Bible had several drawings about what the tabernacle and its parts looked like. Wiersbe went into a lot of detail about what each part represented.
Wiersbe’s overarching theme was freedom: the Israelites needed to be freed from Egypt physically but also in their hearts.
Fools use freedom as a toy to play with; wise people use freedom as a tool to build with (p. 13).
Exodus teaches us that freedom is not license and discipline is not bondage. God tells us how to enjoy mature freedom in His will, a quality that is desperately needed in our churches and in our world today (p. 13).
I have multitudes of places marked, but here are a few other quotes that stood out to me:
God used Israel’s experiences in Egypt to prepare them for the special tasks He gave them to accomplish on earth: bearing witness to the true and living God, writing the Holy Scriptures, and bringing the Savior into the world (p. 18).
The phrase as weak as a baby doesn’t apply in the kingdom of God, for when the Lord wants to accomplish a mighty work, He often starts by sending a baby. This was true when He sent Isaac, Joseph, Samuel, John the Baptist, and especially Jesus. God can use the weakest things to defeat the mightiest enemies (1 Cor. 1: 25–29). A baby’s tears were God’s first weapons in His war against Egypt (p. 21).
What does it mean to harden your heart? It means to see clear evidence of the hand of God at work and still refuse to accept His Word and submit to His will. It means to resist Him by showing ingratitude and disobedience and not having any fear of the Lord or of His judgments. Hardhearted people say with Pharaoh, “Who is the LORD that I should obey His voice?” (5: 2) (p. 41).
The same sun that melts the ice also hardens the clay. It all depends on the nature of the material (p. 41).
There was one place where I disagreed with Wiersbe. He says of Moses’ famous argument about why he couldn’t do what God commanded in Exodus 3-4 , “Moses was clothing his pride and unbelief in a hollow confession of weakness” (p. 26). I don’t think his claims of weakness were hollow. When Moses left Egypt, he was a wanted man. His misguided attempts to help his brethren had backfired. God didn’t say Moses was wrong when Moses listed his weaknesses. But God promised to be with him and give him everything he needed. I can identify with Moses a lot in these passages and have to lean on the same truth: that it’s through God’s presence and ability that I can accomplish anything for Him.
One aspect I noticed in this trek through Exodus was how Moses grew as a leader from quaking in his boots to confident in God’s working.
Overall I found this commentary very helpful and informative.