What comes to mind when you think of the book of Exodus? Maybe a mysterious talking, burning bush? Or a baby boy in a basket, floating down the Nile all by himself? Some might instinctively see a Charleton Heston kind of Moses, while others imagine the cartoon Israelites from The Prince of Egypt movie.
Either way, the Exodus scroll presents one of the more popularized Bible stories. But familiarity can sometimes be misleading. Do we understand the whole story, or are we assuming we get it because certain scenes are so familiar?
If the whole Exodus story belongs to a bigger, more global and comprehensive human story, then that’s a story we want to know! We want to see how the two narratives work together because Exodus is part of Jesus’ story too. And if it’s part of Jesus’ story, then it’s part of our story.
From the opening paragraphs to the closing lines, a life-and-death conflict intensifies throughout the scroll, and Exodus becomes a story about human evil overwhelmed and changed by divine blessing. It's about God's promise not only to guide people to a resource-rich land, but also to liberate people out of oppresive slavery and into the flourishing freedom he intends for all humanity.
Movements in the Book of Exodus
At BibleProject, we are on a journey through the movements of Scripture. In the BibleProject app, are following key patterns and discovering unique connections along the way. The Exodus scroll has three literary movements. As a quick reminder, a movement is a group of stories or poems that have been arranged together into a meaningful whole.
Let's take a look!
The Story Continues
The story of Exodus begins in the land of Egypt. Right away in the first movement, readers hear an echo of God's voice through Pharaoh's voice in Exodus 1:7. Pharaoh sees how much fruitfulness and multiplication is happening in the Israelite community, which drives him to feel threatened and angry.
But wasn't it God himself who first told humanity to have babies and families⏤to "be fruitful and multiply" (Gen. 1:28)? That command from God shows that he wants people to be free, alive, and part of creating new life. The fact that Pharaoh feels threatened by this shows that he wants the people to be his possessions—controlled by him and making material products for him. Pharaoh would rather have Israel die than be free.
This battle between Pharaoh’s way and God’s way continues throughout Exodus, but this isn’t where the battle started. The slavery versus freedom battle started in Genesis.
When humanity rejects God’s gift of life and tries to redefine reality (Gen. 3), they are exiled from Eden. From there, humanity experiences a dark downward spiral, but God has not forgotten how to bring light into the darkness. And because of his love for humanity, he promises to restore the Eden blessing to all creation through one man’s (Abraham) family (Gen. 12).
Throughout the Genesis scroll, we see God’s promise prevail in spite of vicious wars, hopeless famines, deceitful husbands, impatient matriarchs, jealous brothers, and family betrayals. Even poisonous snakes! But the scroll ends on a cliff-hanger. What is going to happen to this family in Egypt?
According to Pharaoh, the Israelites’ fruitfulness and multiplication is not good. But why? He sees this growing Israelite group as a threat to his power, so he attempts to destroy the Israelites by brutally enslaving them and using them for hard physical labor (Exod. 1:8-11).
God's plan is to bless people, but Pharaoh's plan consumes them.
People start screaming for help, crying out to God, when their lives are being taken. Pharaoh orders his soldiers to start killing Israelite children! And here the story pivots⏤Pharaoh says, “Throw the firstborn baby boys in the Nile!” And God says enough is enough: “I have heard their cry … I have come down to deliver them …” (Exod. 3:7-8).
An Israelite mother trying to save her newborn son places him in a basket and sends him floating, alone, down the Nile River, right into the Pharoah’s own family (Exod. 2:1-10). That baby boy, Moses, eventually grows to become the man God partners with to defeat Pharaoh and lead Israel.
Out of Slavery
Years later, God appears to Moses in a burning bush and tells him to confront Pharaoh by ordering him to release the Israelites. Moses is understandably nervous, so he asks God to send someone else. But God promises to stay with him (Exod. 3:12) and to have Moses’ brother Aaron do the public speaking. God helps. He is with Moses.
Moses confronts Pharaoh, but he refuses to let the people go (Exod. 5). And God responds by sending 10 plagues, each one confronting Pharaoh and the Egyptian gods (Exod. 7-10). After every plague, Moses offers Pharaoh a chance to humble himself and set the Israelites free.
As the story continues, Pharaoh’s pride leads to the loss of his own son, finally compelling him to set the Israelites free. They quickly depart, but Pharaoh gathers his army and chases after them into a geographical corner for a final showdown. He expects his armies to slaughter the Israelites, who are now pinned between the advancing armies on one side and the deadly waters of the sea on the other. Death feels unavoidable.
But through Moses, God parts the water and creates a dry road through the sea, and they escape through the water to safety (Exod. 14:26-29).
Then the credits roll, and Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey start singing about wonderful miracles that can happen “when you believe.” Just kidding—this is not The Prince of Egypt animated film!
This part of the Exodus story does conclude with a song though. It’s the first song of praise in the Bible, “The Song of the Sea” (Exod. 15). Aaron's sister Miriam, a prophetess, gathers drummers and dancers together for a musical celebration that retells the story of God rescuing Israel from bondage.
God is on a mission to confront evil and brokenness in this world. He redeems those enslaved to evil and brings them to the promised land where he will live among them. This is what happens when God becomes king over his people—they are free, alive, and part of ruling and creating new life. “Set my people free!”
Adventuring Toward the Promise
The story continues in the second movement of Exodus with an invitation into God's Kingdom. At the foothills of Mount Sinai (Exod. 19), God invites the nation to enter into a covenant partnership with him. He is working to restore his Eden life blessing to all nations through the Israelites (see Gen. 12, 15, 17), and if the people of Israel obey the terms of the agreement (e.g. Exod. 20, the ten commandments), they will become a “kingdom of priests” (Exod. 19:6) who will represent God to the nations.
In the third and final movement of Exodus, Moses receives detailed instructions for a sacred tent called the tabernacle—a micro-Eden where God and Israel can meet together in peace (Exod. 25-31). It’s like a portable garden! But while Moses is up on the mountain receiving God’s instructions, the Israelites are making an idol of a golden calf to worship, already breaking the first two commandments (Exod. 32).
God is not happy, but Moses prays for the people by appealing to God’s character and his reputation among the nations. God accepts Moses’ prayer and relents, forgiving the Israelites and renewing his covenant with them. God could walk away, but instead he chooses to remain faithful to his promises (Exod. 34:6-7).
As the scroll comes to an end, the people finish the tabernacle, and God’s glorious presence hovers over the tent (Exod. 40:34). But when Moses tries to enter the tent, he is blocked from entering, and the scroll comes to a sudden end. We see now that Israel’s sin has damaged their covenant relationship in more ways than we had realized.
The Exodus scroll opened with Pharaoh’s evil threatening Israel, but as the story comes to an end, Israel has become its own worst enemy. The sin and idolatry of God’s own people is now the greatest threat to his covenant promises.
How is God going to heal the damage that humanity continues to cause without dominating them with force? Even as God invites them to experience life and blessing from him, the people still choose destruction and corruption so often that it leaves us wondering: How will God and his people ever be together again?
We’ll have to check out the Leviticus scroll to see what happens next.
Journey Through Exodus With Us
At BibleProject, we are on a journey through the movements of Scripture, and we are following key patterns and discovering unique connections along the way. We invite you to continue (or begin!) this journey with us through an ancient story and see how the whole Bible is one unified story that leads to Jesus.
As we journey through the Exodus scroll, we will collect links throughout the movements that will expound upon different patterns (e.g. God’s name, the test, and the temple). It’s going to be fun! We might even notice something in the Exodus story that we have never seen before.