Exodus: The Making of a People
The second book in the section of biblical writings known as the Law
(Torah) is Exodus. In the Hebrew Bible, the title of the book of Exodus
is Shemoth, or names.
After the Israelites came to Egypt, their number increased greatly.
Pharoah perceived the growth of this foreign population to be a threat
to national security, so the Iraelites were enslaved by the Egyptians.
The Israelites suffered greatly under the oppressive whips of their
Egyptian taskmasters and began to cry out to the Lord for redemption
The major theme of the book of Exodus is the Lord of Israel's
compassion for his chosen people and his plan to raise up a
kinsman-redeemer to lead them out of Egyptian bondage and into the
promised land of Canaan. The story begins with a decree from Pharoah to
kill all baby boys. One Israelite woman, in order to preserve the life
of her son, puts him into a basket and hides him in the rushes by the
edge of the river. One day when Pharoah's daughter is bathing in the
river, she finds the baby and brings him into her own house to care for
him. Because she drew him forth from the river, Pharoah's daughter
names the child Moses, which is a play on the Hebrew word meaning to
draw out. Ironically, she also hires the baby's real mother to nurse
When Moses grows into manhood in the house of Pharoah, he begins to
observe the mistreatment of his Israelite kinsman. One day, he kills an
Egyptian taskmaster who was beating a slave. Since there were witnesses
to this murder, Moses leaves Pharoah's house and spends the next
several years in the desert of Sinai.
One day, as he was tending the flocks of his father-in-law, Moses sees
a strange sight: a bush burns without being consumed. A voice
from the burning bush commands him to tell Pharoah to release the
Israelites. The voice identifies itself as that of the Lord God of
Israel. After an initial reluctance, Moses goes to Pharoah to demand
that he release the slaves so they might worship him in the wilderness.
Pharoah will not release the slaves, but finally decides to do so after
Moses brings a series of ten plagues upon the Egyptians, the last of
which is the death of the firstborn of every Egyptian household.
The Israelites leave Egypt and, through many signs and wonders, are
sustained in the wilderness of Sinai for a period of 40 years. The Lord
also gives Moses the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai.
The book of Exodus concludes with the building of the Tabernacle as a
portable place of worship. As the Israelites continue their journey
through the desert, they are led by a pillar of cloud by day and a
pillar of fire by night.
The themes contained in the book of Exodus provide the major
theological foundations for the development of Judaism throughout the
history of the nation of Israel.