4 Reasons You Should Preach through Exodus
My goal in this article is to persuade you to preach through the whole book of Exodus. There will be apparently 60 or so other articles in this series, each making a case for another biblical book. So folks, this is a win-win. There’s not a bad car in the lot. That said, Exodus is what this article is selling.
Here’s my best stab at a one sentence summary of the book: Exodus proclaims God’s great act of delivering his people from bondage, gifting them his law, and inviting them into intimate fellowship with himself. Rescue, commission, communion. Egypt, Sinai, tabernacle (Exod 1–18; 19–24; 25–40).
FOUR REASONS TO PREACH THROUGH EXODUS
I want to offer you four reasons to preach through Exodus. First, though, a brief caveat: so far I’ve only preached through chapter 13, roughly the first third of the book. So my reasons will tilt somewhat toward the front end of the book.
1. Exodus broadcasts the name of God.
First, Exodus broadcasts the name of God. See especially Exodus 3:14–15; 6:2–8; and 34:6–7. In Exodus 3:14–15 God reveals to Moses his personal, proper name, YHWH. The Israelites already knew this name, but they didn’t yet know what it meant. They didn’t yet know the story this name would tell. But when God redeemed them, they’d know:
Say therefore to the people of Israel, “I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.”
Exodus is one of the deepest sources for the doctrine of God in all of Scripture. The God Exodus proclaims is utterly holy (3:5), self-sufficient and sufficient to save (3:14), perfectly faithful (6:4), severe in justice (10:2), and abounding in compassion (34:6–7).
Preach Exodus and bring your people face to face with its incomparable and inexhaustible God.
2. Exodus pivots on the promises of God.
Second, Exodus pivots on the promises of God. Even when Exodus begins, with Israel sojourning in Egypt, God is fulfilling his promises (1:1–7). His people have been fruitful and multiplied; he has made Abraham into a great nation. And the rest of Exodus is a great ringing record of God keeping promise after promise (e.g., 2:23–25; 3:7–10; 3:12; 6:4; 12:40–41; 13:19).
One of the central challenges of the Christian life is the struggle to trust God’s promises. Few things strengthen and sustain our faith like seeing God’s “I will” become “I did.”
3. Exodus proclaims that true freedom is found in willing submission to God.
One of the most devastating and deeply rooted lies in our culture is that “freedom from” is enough. We cherish freedom from tradition, from inhibition, from laws, from limits, from obligations, from nature. But true freedom always requires “freedom for.” We are creatures with a purpose, a built-in end. True freedom is only found in willing submission to God.
God didn’t set Israel free from slavery to Pharaoh so that they could then invent their own identities and design their own lifestyles. No, he set them free so that they would become his. The exodus was a transfer of ownership, from one master to another. And only in total service to God can we find perfect freedom. As Alastair Roberts and Andrew Wilson put in in their excellent new book Echoes of Exodus, “Those who serve Pharaoh become beasts and perish. Those who serve the Lord become priests and flourish” (147).
In the grammar of the exodus, “Let my people go!” is not a complete sentence. That sentence almost always concludes: “that they may serve me” (7:16; 8:1; 8:30; 9:1; 9:13, etc.).
Exposing the empty promises of “freedom from” and exulting in the “freedom for” that we find in serving God is one of the most urgent, crucial, and life-giving tasks facing the church today. So preach through Exodus and show your people that we’re rescued from slavery to sin, for worship (Exod 14:1–15:21), trust (15:22–18:27), holiness (19:1–20:21), justice (20:22–24:18), and to dwell with God (25–31). Why yes, those are my next several sermons, how could you tell?
4. The exodus is the definitive saving event of the Old Testament and a crucial key to the whole Bible.
Honestly, this reason is probably why a disproportionate number of you, dear preacher-readers, already have preached through Exodus. But if you haven’t, get on it. The exodus is the definitive paradigm of redemption in the whole Old Testament. Later events—like the entry into and conquest of the land—recapitulate it. The Psalms celebrate and reflect on it. The prophets predict a new exodus patterned after it (e.g., Isa 40:1–11). Crucial New Testament terms like “redemption” derive from the Exodus, when God rescued his people at the precisely calculated cost of one lamb per household (Exod 12:1–13).
God’s entire plan of salvation is exodus-shaped. The whole of Scripture is exodus-shaped. So, if you want virtually endless opportunities in every sermon to help your people put the whole Bible together, preach through Exodus.
But you might be thinking, “How?” If you’ve never preached through a large Old Testament book like Exodus before, it can seem daunting. Your options seem to be either unmanageably large sections of text or an unmanageably long series. I’m sure what I’ve planned can be improved, but here’s how I’ve tried to split the difference, with eleven sermons through the whole book. It seems to be working so far:
Some of these could easily be divided. I leave that to you. But in however many sermons, at whatever textual altitude, I hope you will slot Exodus into your preaching schedule, and soon.
ON COMMENTARIES AND OTHER RESOURCES
- By far the most homiletically and pastorally useful commentary I’ve found on Exodus is Alec Motyer’s 2005 volume in the Bible Speaks Today series. This is one to save until you’ve done your own work, or you’ll be tempted to let Motyer do it all for you.
- John Currid’s two-volume Evangelical Press commentary is exegetically on-point and offers insightful analysis of Egyptian customs and deities that doesn’t overpower the biblical text.
- Desmond Alexander’s new Apollos volume is so hefty that I’ve only consulted it for details, but it’s often helpful.
- Douglas Stuart’s NAC commentary is detailed and worthwhile; it often has useful analysis of literary structure.
- Peter Enns wrote his NIVAC commentary before he went off the deep end; between you and me, it’s actually one of the best, both exegetically and for connecting the dots to the rest of Scripture and the modern world.
- If you’d like to read a little more widely, Terence Fretheim’s concise Interpretation volume is often penetrating, rightly grasping irony and narrative drama (though he’s often wildly off-base, in the neighborhood of “open theism”).
- If you know Hebrew, the Jewish scholar Umberto Cassuto’s work has a high concentration of exegetical nuggets.
- Also, when in doubt, consult Calvin! See his Harmony of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Calvin’s spiritual insight often outweighs all modern commentators combined.
Two books on the Pentateuch that I’ve found helpful are, first, the Jewish literary scholar Robert Alter’s The Five Books of Moses. He offers a fresh and vivid translation of the whole Pentateuch with brief commentary below. And, second, the late John Sailhamer’s The Pentateuch as Narrative includes compact, overview-style commentary on all of Exodus that often affords bigger-picture insights.
In terms of other resources on Exodus, tippity-top honors go to Andrew Wilson and Alastair Roberts’ new book Echoes of Exodus. The book will make not only Exodus but the whole Bible come alive in a new way. Dig Even Deeper, by Andrew Sach and Richard Aldridge, despite its woefully misleading title, is actually a compact expository commentary on Exodus that is frequently insightful. And finally, Tremper Longman’s How to Read Exodus is helpful for getting the big picture before you dive in.
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More articles in this series: