If you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you, out of all peoples, shall be my treasured possession. . .For me you shall be a kingdom of priests, a holy nation.
Exodus (it means “departure,”) the second book in the Old Testament, recounts the Israelites’ escape from slavery and oppression in Egypt. They had prospered there for many years under the benevolent rule of the Pharaoh. But the next Pharaoh (Ex 1:8), freaked out by the Israelites’ increasing wealth and population, subjects them to forced labor. Eventually, God hears their “groaning” and calls Moses to lead them out of Egypt to the land he had promised.
Moses is a bit sheepish about the whole proposition, claiming he is slow and inarticulate and that no one— least of all Pharaoh— will listen to him. So God appoints Aaron, Moses’ brother, to do the talking and to be Moses’ right hand man. The second problem is that Pharaoh isn’t about to let the Israelites go. Why? Because God has “made him obstinate” (Ex 4:21). This makes no sense; then again, we’re talking about God and, as you might expect, there’s a method to his madness. Pharaoh’s obstinacy gives Moses and Aaron the chance to display the power God has bestowed upon them; they perform all kinds of “signs and wonders,” including ten plagues. Snakes, frogs, boils, blood, and other misfortunes befall the Egyptians, but Pharaoh remains unmoved until the final plague, that of the death of the first-born, the one that gives rise to Passover. Sure enough, after this Pharaoh tells the Israelites to get out of Dodge.
In the desert, God takes care of his chosen people: He parts the Red Sea, allowing them to escape Pharaoh’s armies (who don’t fare well that day). He gives them food to eat (manna) and water to drink. Yet, despite all of that, the Israelites complain— constantly. All that whining annoys God, but he persists in his mercy, guiding them to Mount Sinai. There God makes his covenant— giving them a way of life to follow, comprehensive teachings, including the 10 commandments. Moses gets it all down, and the people vow to live by them. Moses then disappears up the mountain.
Well, out of sight appears to mean out of mind. Unsure of Moses’ fate, the people get Aaron to build a Golden Calf as their god— which makes the real God really mad. Moses convinces God to chill out, but gets so ticked off himself that he breaks the stone tablets of the Law. In the end, the covenant is renewed, and the remainder of Exodus contains details of the Law and suggestions on how to build a portable sanctuary.
Like Genesis, Exodus, which is the second book in the Pentateuch, was written over several centuries by multiple authors. The actual escape from Egypt most likely occurred in the 13th century B.C. For Christians, many parts of Exodus are reflected in the New Testament— Jesus dies during Passover, is seen as a sacrificial lamb. Jesus describes himself as “the bread of life” (John 6:35) after discussing the manna in the desert. Like Moses, Jesus is seen as a giver of a new law (John 1:17).