The three great themes of Exodus are the deliverance God brings to His people, the giving of the law, and the establishment of the tabernacle. There are other important themes as well, such as the recurring disobedience of the people. Remember as we work through the Bible, each book contributes to the grand theme of all Scripture, which is the redemption of God’s people, accomplished in the context of His reconciliation of all things in Heaven and on earth (Col. 1:20).
“And the Lord said unto Moses, Go on before the people, and take with thee of the elders of Israel; and thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river, take in thine hand, and go. Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the name of the place Massah, and Meribah, because of the chiding of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the Lord, saying, Is the Lord among us, or not?” (Ex. 17:5–7).
Summary of the Text
What are the dates of the book? The book of Exodus begins with the death of Joseph (c. 1600 B.C.), but most of it centers on Israel’s encampment at the base of Mt. Sinai (c. 1440 B.C).
The first part of Exodus is simply narrative (Ex. 1-20), showing the deliverance from Egypt and culminating in the giving of the Ten Commandments. In chapters 21-24, we find a collection of assorted laws which amplify the Ten Commandments, and then the last part of the book concerns the building of the tabernacle (25-31). Woven throughout the whole thing we find the grumbling and disobedience of Israel.
The Definition of Israel
This is the book that defines Israel for us. There are three distinctives that set Israel apart from other nations. The first is their national deliverance from the tyranny of Pharaoh. They have ahistorical foundation as a people together. Second, on the basis of this deliverance, this exodus, God gives them His law as a sign of His grace to them. Note particularly the preamble to the Ten Commandments. God identifies Himself as the one who brought them out of the house of bondage, and so the law represents moral liberty. Third, God establishes His tabernacle in their midst so that His presence might be with them. This means that God delivered them, Godinstructs them, and God accompanies them.
If you look at the sweep from Genesis to Revelation, you notice the pattern—from Garden to Garden City. The biblical story summarized is Paradise, Paradise Lost, and Paradise Regained. The beginning of an Edenic reestablishment is seen in this book, when the tabernacle is built (an artificial mountain, an artificial Eden). Eden was on a mountain (four rivers had their headwaters there), and God walked with Adam and Eve there. Now cherubim again guarded the way to the mercy seat just as the way back to the tree of life was guarded.
In this book, God adopts Israel as His firstborn son (Ex. 4:22-23). The firstborn of Egypt are all slain, the firstborn of Israel are all spared, and Israel becomes the firstborn of God.
An Unlikely Deliverer
Moses began his career as a likely deliverer. Since God doesn’t work that way usually, He began by turning His likely savior into an unlikely one. When Moses was suitably unsuitable, YHWH appeared to him in the burning bush.
God loves cliffhangers. Throughout Scripture, He delivers His people at the very last moment, and in the Exodus, He does it for millions of people all at the same moment. Pharaoh’s chariots are at their back, and the Red Sea is lapping at their toes, and Moses was perhaps wondering what he had gotten himself into.
A “suitable” deliverance, according to our lights would have been for Moses to face down Pharaoh with an army at his back. Well, he did have an army there, but it was the wrong one.
The ten plagues that reduced that era’s great superpower to a smoldering ruin are interesting on various levels. The plagues are first aimed at the various gods of Egypt. Second, the plagues represent a “decreation” move—darkness instead of light, animals dying instead of being created, the first born destroyed instead of established. Third, the plagues provide a kind of counterpoint to the ways in which Israel disobeyed after their deliverance. “Because all those men which have seen my glory, and my miracles, which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have tempted me now these ten times, and have not hearkened to my voice” (Num. 14:22).
Grumbling and Complaining
Note the introduction of the grumbling motif into Scripture. After God had delivered the people wonderfully, it didn’t take them long to fall back into unbelief. Also mark the fact that you can only repent of grumbling—you can’t steer your way out of it. Look what happened when Aaron tried to “steer” the people’s apostasy in the golden calf incident. He tried to establish syncretistic worship, using an idol in a festival of YHWH. No good at all.
This is a realistic story of deliverance, not a hagiographic story of the bad guys drowned in the Red Sea, with the good guys wearing white bath robes, saying, “Lo!” and “Verily!” No, they were usually muttering in their tents with the Hebrew equivalent of razzum- scazzum.
Jesus in Exodus
The Exodus becomes a grand theme in Scripture for all manner of deliverance. It is a rich source of allusion for all subsequent biblical writers (Dt. 4:32-34). “And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias: Who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease [hisExodus] which he should accomplish at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:30– 31).
With all this established, let us return to our text. The apostle Paul throws some additional light on it. “And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ” (1 Cor. 10:4). Christ was the Rock the people drank from, but this means He was also the Rock that Moses was commanded to strike.
They quarreled with Moses, and said he had to give them water. The word here would better be rendered as “lodged a complaint,” or “filed a suit,” or “laid a charge.” Meribah was Lawsuit City. They came first against Moses, but the real issue was whether God was with them or not.
The staggering thing here is not that the people brought a charge, indicting the Lord. The astonishing thing is that God accepted the indictment. Formal charges were filed. God said that Moses was to go in front of the people, with the elders of Israel accompanying him as witnesses. Take a particular rod, He said, the same one you used to turn the Nile to blood. God said that He would then stand before Moses on the Rock, identifying with it. Moses was then to take the rod ofblood, and strike the Rock, and water will flow from it. What flowed from the side of Christ when the Roman soldier struck Him with his spear? Water and blood (John 19:34).
What must the thirsty do? They must drink from the water that flows from Christ (John 7:38). But there is no water unless Moses strikes.