Calvin Theological Journal 36 (2001): 251-269

       Copyright © 2001 by Calvin Theological Seminary. Cited with permission.


                  The Coherence of Exodusl

                Narrative Unity and Meaning


                                      Arie  C. Leder


     Until the rise of modern criticism, studies of the Pentateuch focused on

problems in the reading and understanding of the received text  Although

incoherence in the biblical text had been noted before, it was the serious devel-

opment of the historically oriented critical methodologies in the eighteenth

century and beyond that gave birth and support to a consistent skepticism

about the historical, literary, and theological unity of this part of the Christian

Scriptures.  Enthralled by the inelegance of the pentateuchal text, criticism's

identification of the four underlying, primary sources of the Pentateuch left no

doubt about the incoherence of the received text.  Nevertheless, the critical

approaches also suggested the means for recovering a coherent message:

Disentangle the primary sources from the secondary accretions, identify their

historical and social location, and let these recovered primary sources speak.

Furthermore, by analyzing the relationship of the secondary and later editor-

ial additions to the identified earliest level of the text, scholars argued that it

was not only possible to recover the compositional process of the text but also

to understand the interplay of the different ideological positions represented

by the sources and the various additions.  Thus, by identifying the composi-

tional history of the received text, locating the underlying primary sources

within their sociopolitical and religious contexts, and understanding the inter-

play of the various layers, the historical critical methodologies sought to explain

the contradictions they identified and to support scientifically the continuing

meaningfulness of the received biblical text.

     The individual books of the Pentateuch, however, disappeared from view,

including from the textbooks that introduced theology students to the

Pentateuch because they were redistributed among the underlying sources.

Literary-critical excavation of the so-called primary documents of the

Pentateuch also reshaped pentateuchal theology and the studies of personages

of the Old Testament.2


     1 This article completes the study of Exodus begun in Calvin Theological Journal 34 (1999):


     2 See, for example, Robert H. Pfeiffer (Introduction to the Old Testament [New York:

Harper & Brothers, 1941], 129-292) who, although he acknowledges that the Pentateuch

"is a single work in five volumes and not a collection of five different books" (129), studies

the Pentateuch in terms of



CALVIN THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL                                     252

     Although the critical students of the Pentateuch held to the incoherence of

the received text, they held firmly to the coherence of the primary sources--to

the point of distinguishing clearly among the linguistic gifts and peculiar the-

ologies of their authors.3  Historical-critical studies, it was thought, would yield

a fuller comprehension of the text by integrating the results of these studies

into an understanding of the received text.  In some sense, then, a coherent

understanding of this ancient literature was the ultimate goal.  Nevertheless,

the academy's failure to integrate the results of historical critical exegesis into

a fuller understanding of the received text would leave Scripture fragmented

and, to a large extent, silent in the church.4

"documents." Otto Eissfeldt (The Old Testament: An Introduction, trans. Peter R Ackroyd

[New York: Harper and Row, 1965], 194-211) studies its "narrative strands."  Similarly, see

Ernst Sellin and George Fohrer, Introduction to the Old Testament, trans. David E. Green

(Nashville: Abingdon, 1968), 103-92, and Artur Weiser, The Old Testament and Its Deveiopment

 (New York: Association Press, 1963), 70-142. Contemporary introductions continue in this vein.

See Norman K Gottwald (The Hebrew Bible: A Socio-Literary Introduction [Philadelphia:

Fortress, 1985], 135-48), who introduces his readers to “The Great Traditionists of Ancient

Israel," and Anthony R Ceresko, Introduction to the Old Testament: A Liberationist Perspective

(Maryknoll: Orbis, 1992), 52-71.  This approach has also influenced the study of OT personalities;

see Rudolf Kittel, Great Men and Movements in Israel (New York: KTAV Publishing, 1968), 175-99

and his review of the "Great Narrators."  F1eming, James (Personalities of the Old Testament [New

York: Charles Scribner's, 1951], 196-209, 282-99, 425-42) treats 'The Yahwist," "The "Deuteronomists,"

and "The Priestly Writers."  For a brief description of the characteristics of the primary sources,

see Raymond B. Dillard and Tremper Longman III, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand

Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 40-42.  For an extended discus-

sion, see Antony F. Campbell and Mark A O'Brien, Sources of the Pentateuch: Texts, Introductions,

Annotations (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993).

     3 See, for example, Walter Brueggemann and Hans Walter Wolff, The Vitality of Old Testamen

Traditions (Atlanta: John Knox, 1975); the discussion in R. N. Whybray, The Making of the

Pentateuch:A Methodological Study (Sheffield, 1987), 47-48; and F1eming James' enthusiastic

description of the Yahwist (Personalities of the Old Testament, 196): "About me time when Elijah

and Elisha were doing their work in the northern kingdom there lived in the kingdom of Judah a

remarkable man, who, though his name is nowhere mentioned in the Bible, stands out today as

one of the supreme thinkers of ancient Israel.  This man is a discovery of modern scholarship. . . .

He was in all probability a single personality.  Many scholars, it is true, find two or more strands

of narrative. . . . But the J narrative taken as whole is so vivid and colourful, so fresh and full of

power, that we can hardly go far wrong in believing it to be the work of single great mind."

     4 See for example, James D. Smart, The Strange Silence of the Bible in the Church: A Study in

Hermeneutics (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1970).  Whether such integration would have been

possible is another matter, as James A. Wharton indicated (See below, footnote 5). The

academy's separation of the Bible from the church continues in its contemporary claims that

 the interpretation of biblical documents has no validity beyond "the assent of various interest

groups."  Such interest groups may, of course, include the church, but typically the reference

is to groups determined by ethnic, cultural, gender, or sexual-orientation interests.  David J. A

Clines, for example, writes:  there are no 'right' interpretations, and no validity in interpretation

 beyond the assent of various interest groups, biblical interpreters have to give up the goal

of determinate and universally acceptable interpretations, and devote themselves to producing

interpretations they can sell-in whatever mode is called for by the communities they choose

to serve.  This is what I call 'customized' interpretation."  In his "A World Established on

Water (Psalm 24) ," in The New Literary Criticism and the Hebrew Bible, ed. David J.A Clines

 and Cheryl J. Exum. (Sheffield:  JSOT, 1993), 87.                     

THE COHERENCE OF EXODUS                                           253


     In 1974, Brevard S. Childs addressed this failure in his critical theological

commentary on Exodus.5  In it he argued that the critical methodologies

should, and attempted to show how they could, contribute to an understand-

ing of the canonical text.  Thus, while he acknowledged the importance of his-

torical critical exegesis, he required this exegesis to enlighten the received,

canonical text.  And, when he declared the commentary's purpose to be theo-

logical and "directed toward the community of faith which lives by its confes-

sion of Jesus Christ,"6 he acknowledged and argued that the present shape of

Exodus, although a composite narrative, was the text to be explained, not the

reconstructed sources, traditions, or forms.  Although Childs did not argue for

the coherence of the received narrative, by subordinating critical exegesis to

the received shape of the text, he acknowledged the significance and influence

of the canonical text.  Recent introductions have begun to refer again to the tra-

ditional division of the Pentateuch7 and, in conjunction with the emergence of

the new literary approach,8 studies have defended the received shape of the

individual books of the Pentateuch and of the Pentateuch itself.9

    Since the eighteenth century, biblical studies have moved from under-

standing coherence and meaning as located in the world behind the text, in

which historical, critical, and compositional issues were crucial, to the world

of the text itself, where historical and compositional issues are less, and literary

concerns more, important.  Some exegetes, however, ignore both of these, sometimes


     5 Brevard S. Childs, The Book of Exodus: A Critical; Theological Commentary (Philadelphia:

Westminster, 1974).  Indicative of the response to this publication is James A Wharton's

critical, yet sympathetic, review, "Splendid Failure or F1awed Success?" Interpretation 29

(1975): 266-76.

     6 Childs, The Book of Exodus, ix.

     7 Brevard S. Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979).

Rolf Rendtorff, The Old Testament: An Introduction (Philadelphia: Forness, 1986). Joseph

Blenkinsopp, The Pentateuch: An Introduction to the First Five Books of the Bible (New York:

 Doubleday, 1991), but he does not employ the fivefold division.

     8 Distinguished from historical-critical literary readings, the newer approach focuses on the

text as we now have it, not on the reconstruction of the history of the text in conjunction with

the reconstruction of the history of the social context that produced the text.  See, for example,

Jean Louis Ska, "Our Fathers Have Told Us." Introduction to the Analysis of Hebrew Narratives

(Roma: Editrice Pontificio Instituto Biblico, 1990), andJ. P. Fokkelman, Reading Biblical Narrative:

An Introductory Guide, trans. Ineke Smit (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox, 1999).

     9 For example: Dennis T. Olson, The Death of the Old and the Birth of the New: The

Framework of the Book of Numbers and the Pentateuch, Brown Judaic Studies, no. 71 (Chico,

 Calif.: Scholars Press, 1985).  See also, Terence E. Fretheim, Exodus, Interpretation: A Bible

Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: John Knox, 1991), 6, 8; Arie C. Leder,

"An Iconography of Order: Kingship in Exodus. A Study of the Structure of Exodus" (Th.D.

diss., Toronto School of Theology, University of Toronto, 1992).  Terence E. Fretheim (The

Pentateuch, Interpreting Biblical Texts [Nashville: Abingdon, 1996]) focuses on the rhetorical

strategy that unifies the Pentateuch and its subunits.  See also Thomas W. Mann, The Book

of the Torah: The Narrative Integrity of the Pentateuch (Atlanta: John Knox, 1988).                           

CALVIN THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL                                     254


completely, to argue that the world in front of the text is the locus of coherence

and meaning.  That is, where Childs relativized the historical issues and linked

coherence and meaning to the canonical text, reader-response readings, even

those working with the received text, locate them beyond the text: in the reader

or the interest group to which the reader belongs.10

     In this article, I will argue for the coherence of Exodus from the point of

view of the text itself.  I will begin with a brief discussion of the nature of plot and

its conflictual aspect, demonstrate how Exodus is shaped by three major con-

flicts, and finally argue that these conflicts cohere within a larger conceptual

framework-the kingship pattern.


Narrative and Plot

     In its simplest form, narrative has a beginning, middle, and end.  It moves

from beginning to end by means of emplotted events, complications, and con-

flicts, to a resolution of the initially defined narrative problem.  "Plot," reasons


     determines the boundaries of the story as a meaningful whole.  These

     boundaries. . . in their own way, draw the horizon of our correct under-

     standing of the story: within it, the reader is looking for the connections

     between everything and everything else. . . . The full-grown story begins by

     establishing a problem or deficit; next it can present an exposition before

     the action gets urgent; obstacles and conflicts may occur that attempt to frus-

     trate the denouement, and finally there is the winding up, which brings the

     solution of the problem or the cancellation of the deficit.11

I will briefly illustrate with a brief overview of the entire biblical narrative.

     Adam and Eve's sin in the garden of Eden defines the narrative problem, or

     deficit--refusal of divine instruction and the consequent exile from the divine

     presence--that initiates a series of events, complications, and conflicts between

     the Creator and humanity that come to a certain resolution with God's selec-

     tion of Abram.  This selection of Abram begins another series of events, com-

     plications, and conflicts that concludes just before Israel's entry into the


    10 Alice L. Laffey (An Introduction to the Old Testament: A Feminist Perspective

[Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988]), ignoring both the traditional and source-critical segmentation,

focuses on the women of the Pentateuch; and also David J. A Clines, "A World Established

on Water (Psalm 24),” 87. Fretheim (The Pentateuch, 22-36) provides a brief review of the

 world behind, of, and in front of the text.

     11 Fokke1man, Reading Biblical Narrative, 77. Claus Westennann (The Promises to the

Fathers. Studies on the Patriarchal Narratives [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980], 36) writes

that "a narrative gives literary form to a sequence of events leading from tension to its

 resolution." Wesley A. Kart (Story, Text, and Scripture. Literary Interests In Biblical

Narrative [University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1988], 1-2) argues that

narrative as a primary form provides biblical material with its particular coherence within

which "other forms take their places or produce their particular kinds of tension."

THE COHERENCE OF EXODUS                                           255


Promised Land (Genesis-Deuteronomy).  Israel's entry into the land initiates

yet another sequence of events, complications, and conflicts that concludes

with the destruction of Jerusalem and Judah's exile from the presence of God

(Joshua-Kings).  Genesis through Kings, then, begins and ends with an exile;

but the narrative problem defined in Genesis has not yet been resolved.  Not

even the narrative directed at the postexilic community, Ezra through

Nehemiah, brings about a resolution; only a return to the land and a repetition

of the old problems (Neh. 13).  A Christian reading of the Old Testament nar-

rative understands that Jesus Christ's coming solves the problem of exile from

the presence of God, for he is "God with us" (Matt. l:16, 23; John 1:14), but

Christ's ascension complicates the narrative again for he is no longer with us as

he was during his earthly ministry.  Even though the Holy Spirit indwells the

body of Christ, the ecclesial community experiences much conflict John

16:33) as it awaits the anticipated resolution (1 Thess. 4: 13-18; Rev. 21).

      The entire biblical narrative, then, develops the problem of humanity's

refusal of divine instruction and the consequent exile from the presence of

God and emplots a sequence of events, complications, and conflicts that bring

God's people into his presence again, there to be instructed for life in that

divine presence.  Within this larger narrative, the Pentateuch develops a plot

that depicts a particular community, Abraham's descendants, on the way to the

presence of God, i.e., the Promised Land and the place the Lord chose for his

name to dwell.  Although Israel was graced by the presence of God and received

divine instruction at Sinai, the Pentateuch ends without complete resolution,

for Israel does not enter the land.12  Each of the books of the Pentateuch con-

tributes to this narrative uniquely, even Leviticus.13  In the rest of this article,

I will examine Exodus' contribution to the pentateuchal narrative, in particu-

lar, the development and coherence of its plot from the statement of the nar-

rative problem at the beginning to its resolution at the end.


   12 On me shape and theme of me Pentateuch, see David J. A. Clines, The Theme of the

Pentateuch, 2d ed. JSOT Supplement Series, no. 10 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press,

1997), and J. Severino Croatto, "Una promesa aun no cumplida: Algunos enfoques sobre

la estructura del pentateuco," Revista Biblica (Buenos Aires) 44 (1982): 193-206.  Much

of Severino Croatto's article is summarized in his 'The Function of the Non-fulfilled Promises:

Reading the Pentateuch from the Perspective of the Latin-American Oppressed People,"

in The Personal Voice in Biblical Interpretation, ed. Ingrid Rosa Kitzberger (London:

Routledge, 1999), 38-51.

    13 Although apparently a collection of laws, Leviticus' laws are set within a narrative

framework that begins with a reference to the Tent of Meeting (Lev. 1:1) from which the

 Lord instructs Moses what to say to Israel.  Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus

(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 5.  James W. Watts, ("Public Readings and Pentateuchal

Law," Vetus Testamentum 45, no. 4 [1995], 543) argues that "laws were intended to be

heard in the context of other laws and narratives surrounding them . . . Unlike law, narrative

invites, almost enforces, a strategy of sequential reading, of starting at the beginning

and reading the text in order to the end.  The placement of law within narrative conforms

(at least in part) the reading of law tothe conventions of narrative."  For more on the

reading of law within a rhetorical strategy see James W. Watts, Reading Law: The

Rhetorical Shaping of the Pentateuch (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999).                  

CALVIN THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL                                           256


Plot in Exodus

     In my discussion of plot, I will account for the entire Exodus narrative from

the point of view that conflict and its resolution is central to the understanding

of plot, though not its only feature.14  Thus, I will argue that Exodus is com-

posed of three major conflicts, each of which sets the stage for a subsequent

conflict.  Together, and in their sequence, these conflicts take the reader to

Exodus' resolution of the narrative problem defined in Exodus 1-2.


The Narrative Problem of Exodus

      Pharaoh's enslavement of Israel, as expressed in the forced building of the

store cities (Ex. 1:8-22; 5:1-23), constitutes the narrative problem, or deficit, of

Exodus.  As depicted in Exodus 1-2, the problem prompts the questions,

"Whom will Israel serve?" or, "Who will be Israel's master?  Pharaoh or God?"15

The answer at first appears to be clear from Exodus 15:21; after crossing the Sea

of Reeds, Israel is free from Pharaoh and his building project, but the people

do not yet know what it means to be with God as their new master.  These mat-

ters are addressed in the rest of the Exodus narrative.

     The narrative problem defined in Exodus 1-2, however, should also be read

as an integral part of the narrative problem of the Pentateuch, defined in the

opening chapters of Genesis.  Briefly stated, Genesis defines the problem as

humanity's exile from the presence of God, an exile caused by Adam and Eve's

refusal of divine instruction and the consequent human defilement of the pres-

ence of God in the Garden of Eden.  The narrative depicts God himself initiat-

ing the resolution of this problem by instructing Abram to leave his land and

to go "to the land which I will show you" (Gen. 12:1).

     God's address of this problem includes the promise to increase Abram's

descendants; a promise intended to fill the earth with those who acknowledge

the Lord (cf. Gen.1:28), not those who fill it with violence (Gen. 6:11, 13).  Those


     14 In his brief discussion of plot in Exodus, for example, Kort argues for three major

characteristics.  First, a complexity defined by three patterns: "an almost formulaic pattern

of repetition" between Moses and Pharaoh, the plagues, and the responses of Pharaoh;

a pattern of conflict and competition; and a melodic pattern that moves the narrative

forward. The second characteristic of plot is  the juxtaposition of divine description with

action. The final characteristic of plot in Exodus is "that it effects change."  Although Kort

mentions the wilderness and the mountain, his illustrations of these characteristics for the

 most part fail to take account of the narrative beyond the crossing of the Sea of Reeds.

Kort, Story, Text and Scripture, 27.  Another study that limits the discussion of plot in

Exodus to chapters 1-14 is David M. Gunn, "The 'Hardening of Pharaoh's Heart': Plot,

Character, and Theology in Exodus 1-14," in Art and Meaning: Rhetoric in Biblical

Literature, eds. David J. A Clines, David M. Gunn, and Alan J. Hauser (Sheffield:

JSOT, 1982), 72-97.

     15 On the role of Exodus 1-2 and the question that the Exodus narrative answers,

see Charles

Isbell, "Exodus 1-2 in the Context of Exodus 1-14: Story Lines and Key Words," in

Art and Meaning: Rhetoric in Biblical Literature, 37-61.

THE COHERENCE OF EXODUS                                           257


who fill the earth with violence are the nations, the descendants of Adam16 who

desire to make a name for themselves in the earth (Gen. 11:4, 5). This desire for

a name the Lord makes possible, but, at this time in the biblical narrative, and

only among the descendants of Abram does the LORD say: "I will make you into

a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be

blessing" (Gen. 12:2; cf. Gal. 3:8-9).  When this blessing begins to take historical

shape in Egypt (Ex. 1:7), Pharaoh objects to Israel's growth and forces the peo-

ple into his building projects. Because the language depicting Israel's forced par-

ticipation in Pharaoh's building program echoes Babel's attempt to resolve

humanity's problem independently of God,17 the text also evokes ancient Babel's

solution to the human problem.  It is from that human solution that God had sep-

arated Abraham, and provided him and his descendants with another building

program, although that is not explicit in Genesis 12:1-3.

     The narrative problem of Exodus, then, is rooted in the fundamental

human problem as depicted in the opening chapters of Genesis.  Within this

larger narrative context Pharaoh's hostility to Israel's phenomenal growth may

be read as opposition to God's promised resolution of the fundamental human

problem by means of a uniquely created human community, whose unique

role among the nations, especially its unyielding and undeflectable growth,

summons up fear and opposition.18  Stated simply, Pharaoh’s actions embody the

nations'19 desire to gather against the Lord and his anointed (cf. Ps. 2:2).  The

narrator uses three major conflicts to arrive at his resolution of the narrative

problem stated in Exodus 1-2.


The First Conflict: Pharaoh, the Lord, and Absolute Power

     Exodus 3:1-15:21 narrates the contest between Pharaoh and the Lord, medi-

ated by Moses, the Lord's messenger to Egypt and Israel.  Of the three main

characters, Israel is mostly passive at this time, their servitude renders them

unwilling participants (Ex. 5:20, 21; 6:9).  Two clusters of keywords define this

struggle:  the two nouns (rb,f,, hdAbof<) and one verb (dbafA) describing Israel's

servitude and the verbs describing Pharaoh's hardness of heart.20  God repeat-


     16 "The men" (NIV) translates the phrase MdAxAhA yneB; in which MdAxAhA surely recalls the

Adam of the opening chapters of Genesis.

     17 The materials used in the construction of Pithom and Rameses, brick and mortar (Ex. 1:13)

recall those used for the city and tower of Babel, brick and mortar (Gen. 11:3).

     18 See especially Ex. 1:12, 20.  Compare this episode with Acts 12, which narrates the

persecution of the church after the Passover, thereby recalling the Exodus experience,

and shows how persecution could not stop the spread of the word of God (12:14; cf.13:49-50).

     19 Balak's fear of Israel's numbers and his solution (Num. 22:2-6) recalls Pharaoh's response lo

Israel's increased numbers.

     20 For more on these keywords, and others in Exodus, see my article "Reading Exodus

to Learn and Learning to Read Exodus," Calvin Theological Journal 34, no. 1 (1999): 11-35. For

the discussion of the two above-mentioned clusters, see p. 27.                 

CALVIN THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL                                                        258


edly demands that Pharaoh let Israel go to serve him (4:23; 7:16;  8:1, 20; 9:1, 13;

10:3), but he refuses.  Pharaoh does urge Israel to leave and serve the Lord,

once before the final plague (10:24), and then after the death of the firstborn

(12:31).  He repents of these words, however, and pursues Israel into the sea

and with his army is swallowed by the earth at the command of the Lord (15:7;

cf. 7:12).  It is only when Israel sees the Egyptians lying dead on the shore that

it fears the Lord and puts its trust in him and in Moses (14:30, 31).  Thus, the

conflict between Pharaoh and the Lord is resolved.

     The resolution of the first conflict begets Israel's praise (15:1-21).  This song

reminds the reader of the wider perspective of the biblical narrative:  the

nations who will tremble at the passing of God's people (15:14-16), and the

establishing of the Lord's dwelling place (15:13, 17).  The trembling of the

nations indicates that Egypt is not the only nation for whom what God is doing

with Israel has consequences; the reference to God's dwelling place indicates

that building, especially royal construction (cf. 15:18), is within the scope of the

narrative's address of the problem defined in Exodus 1-2.  Identification of this

dwelling place with a particular mountain anticipates both the building pro-

ject, which will enable the Lord's presence in Israel's midst, and the place

where its design will be revealed, thereby also furthering the resolution of the

fundamental conflict between God and the nations stated at the beginning of

Genesis.  Although Pharaoh's death and Israel's separation and freedom from

Egypt resolves the conflict between God and Pharaoh, this resolution is not yet

the end of the story. Rather, it occasions the second conflict of Exodus.


The Second Conflict: Israel, God, and Complaints in the Desert

    With the conflict between God and Pharaoh resolved, the narrative begins

to develop the relationship between Israel and its new master, a relationship

characterized by complaints against Moses.  Israel's complaints about the lack of

water at Marah and food in the Desert of Sin contrast with the plenty of Egypt

(Ex. 16:3).  In answer to Moses' mediation, God provides Israel with water and

food with the result that, after Exodus 17:7, Israel no longer complains about

its sustenance in the desert.  These provisions, however, do not resolve the con-

flict between God and Israel because the real issue is not lack of sustenance but

Israel's failure to submit to God's instructions.

     Israel's complaints about water and food occur in the context of the Lord's

expectation that Israel submit itself to his law.  Thus, at Marah, the Lord tells

Israel that he will not bring the diseases of Egypt upon them if they pay careful

attention to his voice, his commandments, and decrees (Ex. 15:25-26).  Later,

after Israel disobeys his instructions concerning the manna, the Lord asks

Moses: "How long will you [pl.] refuse to keep my commandments and instruc-

tions?" (Ex. 16:28).  Thus, the narrative links Israel's sustenance in the desert to

its submission to God's instructions. In the desert pericope (Ex. 15:22-18:27)

the question to be answered is not: "Who is Israel's master?" or "Whom will

Israel serve?" Rather, after Israel's liberation from Egypt, the question becomes:

THE COHERENCE OF EXODUS                                           259


"What is the nature of Israel's service to the Lord?" or, more existentially, "How

will Israel survive outside of Egypt?"  The answer is: Submit to the Lord's com-

mands and decrees (Ex. 15:25-26; cf. Lev. 18:5; Deut. 8:321).

      Although Israel's complaints in the desert are found only in Exodus

15:22-17:7, legal vocabulary clustered at the beginning and ending of the

desert pericope create a frame (A-A')22 within which the entire

A                                                         A'

to judge (FpawA)                                                                               18:13, 16, 22:2, 26:2

judgment (FPAw;mi)                 15:25

to command (hUAci)                                           16:16, 24, 32, 34   18:23

commandment (hvAc;mi)         15:26

decree (qHo)                           15:25, 26                                           18:16, 20

law (hrAOT)                             15:25 (hrAyA)       16:4, 28                   18:16, 20

to obey (lql; lqoB; fmawA) 15:26                                                  18:19, 24


desert episode takes place and within which it should be read. Israel's survival-

whether they need food and water, is oppressed by their enemies (17:8-16), or suf-

fers internal problems (18)--depends on conformity to the instruction of the


     Submission to the Lord's instruction in the desert pericope, however, does

not bring the conflict between the Lord and Israel to a resolution.  It only sug-

gests an answer to the question: "How will Israel outside of Egypt (and not yet

in the land [cf. 3:8, 17]) survive?"  The final resolution to the conflict in the

desert is found in the Lord's covenant offer and Israel's submission narrated in

Exodus 19-24. At Sinai, confronted with the good things the Lord has done for

it (19:4), Israel promises submission to his words (19:8 [MyribAD;]), and in con-

sequence of the Lord's terrible descent, his presence and declaration of the

law, seals their submission with a self-maledictory oath (24:3, 7).  This act of vas-

sal submission brings the conflict between the Lord and his people to a legal

resolution and answer the question posed by the first conflict--"Whom will

Israel serve?"--because at Sinai Israel legally binds themselves to the Lord as

the special people he freed from the terrible bondage to Pharaoh (cf. 20:1-2).

After Israel seals the covenant, Moses ascends to the top of Sinai where, in

God's presence, he receives instructions23 for the construction of a building in


     21 For a crucial wordplay that points to the importance of law, see Raymond C. Van Leeuwen,

“What Comes Out of God's Mouth: Theological Wordplay in Deuteronomy 8,” Catholic Biblical

Quarterly 47, no. 1 (1985): 55-57.

    22 Leder, "Reading Exodus to Learn," 28.

    23 These instructions do not solve the narrative problem of refusal of instruction as defined in

Gen.2-3 (see p. 255 above); that function belongs to Leviticus.  The instructions in Exodus

are limited to establishing a vassal relationship between the Lord and his people and to the

construction of a building where the Lord will be enthroned amidst his people.      

CALVIN THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL                                     260


which the Lord would dwell in the midst of this special people.24  It is while

Moses receives these instructions that the third conflict arises.


The Third Conflict: Israel, God, and the Golden Calf

     Israel's complaints in the desert pale by comparison with its rebellious con-

struction of the golden calf, the antitabernacle project25 by which it defiles the

presence of God, compromises the covenant, and exposes itself to destruction

(32:10).  Such divine destruction Pharaoh experienced because of his stub-

bornness, and Israel, stubborn like Pharaoh (33:3, 5; 34:9),26 would similarly

have been consumed by God's anger were it not for the mediator God himself

appointed (32:11-14).  Israel suffers the consequences of their rebellion

(32:27-29, 35), but God relents of his anger, forgives their sin, and renews the

covenant (34:27-28).  God's forgiveness brings this conflict to resolution.

This resolution, however, does not constitute the end of the narrative.

Divine forgiveness only makes possible what God intended for his people: par-

ticipation in the construction of the sanctuary (Ex. 35-39).  God's grace makes

possible the construction of the building central to the expression of God's

kingship on earth: "Israel and the church have their existence because God

picked up the pieces."27  Because God forgave his erring and faithless people,

the fire that dwells28 in their midst did not consume them (40:34-38; cf. 3:3,

24:17), but it could have, and later did so (See Lev. 10:1-3 and Num. 11:1-3.).


    24 The text reads, "have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them"

(emphasis added).  The building itself has a secondary importance, it facilitates the

 Lord's dwelling among his people.

    25 For a brief discussion of this construction as an antitabernacle project, see Fretheim, Exodus,

280-81.  The verb hWAfA occurs 323 times in Exodus, 236 times in Ex. 25-40, a keyword in the

 instructions for the tabernacle and the description of Israel's compliance.  Before Israel

"makes" the tabernacle (Ex. 35:10), they "make" the golden calf (32:1, 4, 8).

     26 One of the words that describe Israel's stubbornness (hwAQA) also occurs in the triad

of verbs

that describe Pharaoh's stubbornness (dbeLA,  qzaHA, jwAQA).

    27Childs, The Book of Exodus, 580.  For more on the role of Ex. 32-34 in its canonical

context, see Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, 175-76.

    28 Read in isolation from Genesis, Exodus provides no hint that the theme of the Lord's

dwelling with Israel is part of its narrative agenda.  Seen from perspective of the narrative

problem defined by Genesis (exile from the presence of God), and its initial resolution

with the call to Abram (move toward the land, i.e., the place where the Lord would

dwell), the appearance of this theme at Ex. 25:8 is not a problem. References to the

 land in Ex. 3:8, 17 can then be read as part of the larger trajectory that will bring Israel

into the Lord's presence.  That Israel finds itself in God's "tabernacling" presence before

it gets to the land is also important: God's presence and the disclosure of Torah are

preland realities that are crucial for life in the land.  It is in the desert, at Sinai, that God

brings about a partial solution to the human problem:  He ends the exile of Adam's

descendants (those elected through Abraham) and teaches them to live by his word.

 In this manner, Israel is led to acknowledge that, like Egypt, the promised land has no

resources to effect such a resolution (Lev. 18:1-5), claims of the local religions to the


THE COHERENCE OF EXODUS                                           261


     The third conflict, and its resolution, also answers a question.  This time

it is:  "Who determines Israel's construction projects?"  The outcome of the first

conflict indicated that Pharaoh had no authority to make Israel build Pithom

and Raamses; the conclusion of this conflict is that Israel itself cannot make

such determinations either.  God's design would be followed (Ex. 25:9).



     Closely linked together, these major conflicts move the Exodus narrative

from one master and one construction project to another.  The close relation-

ship and special purpose attached to the relationship between the Lord and

Israel occasioned the struggle between Pharaoh and the Lord, during which

struggle Pharaoh forced Israel to construct his store cities (hOnK;W;mi).  Freedom

from Pharaoh's construction project led to Israel's complaints about suste-

nance in the desert.  The Lord's resolution pointed Israel to his instruction.

After Israel's submission at Sinai, the Lord discloses his desire to dwell among

his covenant people by means of a building he wants his vassals to construct

according to his own design. Later, after God forgives Israel's rebellious

antitabernacle construction project, Israel constructs the appurtenances of the

tabernacle (NKAw;mi), Moses assembles the tabernacle, and the Lord's glory

cloud dwells in it.29


Narrative and Coherence

     The Exodus narrative moves Israel, and the reader, from social chaos,

embodied in the forced building of Pharaoh's store cities, to social orderliness,

embodied in the construction project of a building that would be central to

Israel's existence as descendants of Abraham.  The forced building of Pharaoh's

store cities forms the deficit, with which the full-grown story begins, and the

construction of the tabernacle solves the problem by cancelling the deficit.30

The cancellation of the deficit, together with the overcoming of the obstacles

depicted in the three conflicts, presents the reader with a unified, coherent

narrative. The building programs, then, provide the key for a coherent reading

of Exodus. They also provide a link to a conceptual pattern that reinforces the


     29 The intimate links between the conflicts, and the move from one master and building project

to another, argues against the suggestion that chapters 1-15:21 form the climax of the plot of

Exodus and that, as such, these chapters generate meaning for the whole of the Pentateuch, as

Severino Croatto suggests ('The Function of the Non-fulfilled Promises," 49-50.  This thesis is

worked out in detail in his "Exodo 1-15: Algunas claves literarias y teologicas para entender

el pentateuco," Estudios Biblicos 52 [1994]: 167-94.).  Chapters 1:1-15:21 generate meaning

within the Pentateuch only as they contribute to the entire plot of Exodus.  Moreover, his

 failure to include chapters 15:22 through 40:34 excludes Exodus' solution to the narrative

problem stated in its opening chapters.

      30 Fokkelman, Reading Biblical Narrative, 77.

CALVIN THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL                                     262


coherence of Exodus:31 that of a king's doing battle against the threat of disor-

der in the realm.  In the remaining part of this article, I will refer to this con-

ceptual pattern as the kingship pattern.


Narrative Coherence and the Kingship Pattern

      The kingship pattern depicts a king who, when confronted with disorder in

his kingdom, seeks out the enemy, defeats him, and upon his return to the

imperial capital builds a structure emblematic of his victory.  The pattern is

most clearly demonstrated in the extra biblical Enuma elish and Baal epics and

other accounts of royal victory and temple building.32  The abundant evidence

of this pattern suggests it is a well-known literary configuration with central, cos-

mological significance.  Biblical studies has recognized the importance of this

conceptual pattern and has applied it to the Genesis account of creation,

Exodus 15, Psalms 74 and 89, and Isaiah 40-55,33 but its relevance for the entire


    31 Enrico Galbiati, La Struttum Letteraria dell'Esodo: Contributo allo studio dei criteri

stilistici dell'A.T. e della compasizione del Pentateuco, Scrinium Theologicum, III (Rome:

 Edizione Paoli, 1965), 307-17, suggests the Hittite treaties and ancient temple building

documents as literary genres useful for understanding the genre of Exodus, but he does

not develop the thesis. James Plastaras, in his The God of Exodus: The Theology of the

Exodus Narratives (Milwaukee: Bruce Publishing, 1966), 49-57,  suggests the lamentation

liturgy as the pattern for Ex. 1-15 with following correspondences: lamentation (Ex. 1-2),

salvation-oracle (Ex. 3:1-7:7), thanksgiving oracle (Ex. 15:1-21) with the latter two bracketing

Ex. 7-14.  C. Westermann, Praise and Lament in the Psalms, trans. Keith R Crim and Richard

N. Soulen (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1981), 260, also applies the lament form to Ex. 1-15.

    32 The temple for Shamash built by Yahdun-Lin after defeating rebel vassals, in James B.

Pritchard, ed. ANETSup (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), 120-21; the temple

built by Innana, at Agade, after Enlil had defeated Uruk, in Jerrold S. Cooper, The Curse of Agade

(Baltimore:John Hopkins University Press, 1983), 51, 11.1-9; and the temple of Gatumdug after

the defeat of Ur, in Jerrold S. Cooper, Sumerian and Akkadian Royal Inscriptions, vol. 1,

Pre-Sargonic Inscriptions (New Haven: The American Oriental Society, 1986), 43, 45.  See

also Hayim Tadmor, "History and Ideology in the Assyrian Royal Inscriptions," in Assyrian

Royal Inscriptions: New Horizons in Literary, Ideological; and Historical Analysis",

Orientis Antiqui Collectio, no. 17, ed. F. M. Fales (Rome: Instiuito Per L'Oriente, 1981), 13-33;

and A. S. Kapelrud, "Temple Building: A Task for Gods and Kings," Orientalia 32 (1963): 62. 

The argument is not one of material literary dependence but of literary convention or

similarity of sequence.

     33"The cosmogonic myths of kingship and salvation through the work of the divine warrior

have. . . profoundly molded the conceptual pattern of early Israel as reflected in her poetry."

Patrick D. Miller, The Divine Warrior in Early Israel (Cambridge: Harvard University Press,

1973), 117.  Bernhard W. Anderson, Creation versus Conflict: The Reinterpretation of Mythical

Symbolism in the Bible (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987), 11-42; Peter C. Craigie, “The Poetry of

Ugarit and Israel," Tyndale Bulletin 22 (1971): 3-31, esp. 19-24; Paul D. Hanson, The Dawn of

Apocalyptic: The Historical and Sociological Roots of Jewish Apocalyptic Eschatology

(Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979), 292-334; William R Millar, Isaiah 24-27 and the Origin of the

Apocalyptic (Missoula: Scholars Press, 1976), 71-81; Tryggve N. D. Mettinger, "In Search

of the Hidden Structure: YHWH as King in Isaiah 40-55," Svensk Exegtisk Anbok 51-52

(1986-1987): 153.

THE COHERENCE OF EXODUS                                           263


Exodus narrative has not yet been explored.54 The elements of the pattern

appear in the epics as follows.55


Enuma elish                                                               Baal and Yamm

1. The occasion for the conflict:                            1. The occasion for the conflict:

     a. Tiamat's revenge for Apsu's death                   a. Yamm's messengers demand Baal's

         I:I09ff.                                                                           tribute CTA 2, i: 11, 22, 32-38

     b. Marduk will fight for supreme author-              b. Ashtarte urges Baal to seize the

         ity III:65-66                                                                  eternal kingship CTA 2, i: 40ff.

2. The kingship:                                                   2. The battle:

     a. Kingship is bestowed IV: 14                            a. Baal battlesYamm CTA 2, i:11-17

         b. Baal defeats Yamm with a club

         CTA 2, i:18-31

3. The battle:                                                        3. The kingship:

     a. The battle IV:33-120                                        a. Baal's kingship is proclaimed CTA

          i. Marduk defeats Tiamat with a war-                      2, i:34

              bow IV:101                                                  b. The victory banquet CTA 3 A

          ii. Salvation of the gods IV: 123-46               c. Complaints: no house for Baal  

      b. The creation of man VI:1-44                                 CTA 3 C, E i:46                                

          d. Baal travels to Mt. Zaphon CTA 4,


4. The palace:                                                        4. The palace:

     a. Building of the temple Esharra VI:45- 77         a. A dwelling for Baal requested

         i. bricks made for one year VI:60                               CTA 4, iv:50

         ii. erected at beginning of second year                   b. Let a house be built CTA 4, iv:61

             VI:61-62                                                                 i. the mountains will bring gold

         iii. Marduk sits down in majesty VI:65                  and silver CTA 4, iv:80

         iv. a victory banquet VI:71-77                                    ii. lapis lazuli CTA 4, iv:81

      b. Marduk' s rule VI:78-81                                      c. Anat brings news of permission to

      c. Praise of kingship and proclamation of                 Mt. Zaphon CTA 4, iv:88

          the fifty names VI:104ff.                           d. House of Baal will be the size of

        Mt. Zaphon CTA 4, iv:119-20


  34 M Frank M. Cross, 'The Song of the Sea and Canaanite Myth," in Canaanite Myth and Hebrew

Epic (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1973), 142, 165, suggests the following as the mythic

pattern: the combat of the divine warrior and victory at the sea, the building of a sanctuary on the

mount of possession, and God's manifestation of eternal kingship.  He applies the return of the

divine warrior to take up kingship to the revelation at Sinai.  Craigie applies the pattern "conflict/order,

kingship, conflict, temple, kingship" to Ex. 15 in his 'The Poetry of Ugarit and Israel," 24, 25. A K.

Grayson, "Assyria and Babylon," 0rientalia 49 (1980): 154, in his discussion of display texts, lists

form number three as having the following format subject, temporal clause, narration of conquest,

and the description of building activities. See also Jon D. Levenson, Creation and the Persistence

of Evil: The Jewish Drama of Divine Omnipotence (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988), 75-76.

     35 For Enuma elish see Alexander Heidel, The Babylonian Genesis. The Story of Creation, 2d ed.

 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969). For the Baal and Yamm story, A Herdner, Corpus des

 tablettes en cuneiformes alphabtitiques, decouvertes a Ras Shamm-Ugarit de 1929 a 1939 (Paris:

 Impr. nationale, 1963). Cited as CTA.   

CALVIN THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL                                     264


e. Built by Kothar and Hasis CTA 4, vi:I7

i. to Lebanon for cedar CTA 4,

      vi: 19-21

ii. fire turns silver and gold into

        bricks on the seventh day CTA 4,


f. A victory banquet CTA 4, vi:39-55

g. Baal's rule CTA 4, vii:7, 9-12

h. A window is built in Baal's palace CTA

 4, vii: 13-28

 i. Palace is the place from which Baal

        speaks CTA 4, vii:29-55

     Although both epics employ the same major elements in similar patterns,36

there are some differences:  Marduk's kingship is proclaimed before the battle,

and the description of Baal's palace construction is more extensive. Extant

royal inscriptions recall the king's heroic deeds but do not regularly mention

conflict as an antecedent for the building of a temple. Nevertheless, Tadmor

has shown that when such inscriptions do change their format, they continue

to function as ideological expressions of royal rule.37  Later inscriptions extol

the king's might through his building accomplishments alone; his heroic deeds

are not mentioned.38  Thus, although these literary-historiographical conven-

tions were not strictly limited to a particular sequence they were continually

used to communicate the image the king wanted to project.39

     An examination of Exodus discloses a similar general pattern.

     1. The occasion for conflict:

          a. Pharaoh's oppression Ex. 1-2:25

          b. The Lord's messengers demand

               Pharaoh's submission Ex. 3:1-7:7


     36 See also Hanson, The Dawn, 302-3, who also suggests that this pattern is found in the

Apsu-Ea conflict in tablet 1: Threat (37-58), Combat-Victory (59-70), Temple built (71-77). 

Millar, Isaiah 24-27 and the Origin of Apocalyptic, 71-81, discerns the Baal-Yamm, Baal-

Anat-Mot, and Baal-Mot cycles. The Baal-Mot cycle includes a threat to consume humanity

 if Baal does not turn  over one of his brothers to satisfy Mot's rage (CTA 6v, 20-25).

     37 Tadmor, "History and Ideology," 14, 29. When justifying an irregular assumption of the

throne the document following the apology would conform to the typical narration of royal

achievements.  See his, "Autobiographical Apology in the Royal Assyrian literature," in History,

Historiography and Interpretation, ed. H. Tadmor and M. Weinfeld (Leiden: Brill, 1984), 37.

Carl Nylander writes of the "iconography of power" in his "Achaemenid Imperial Art, " in

Power and Propaganda: A Symposium on Ancient Empires Studies in Assyriology, no. 7,

ed. Mogens Trolle Larsen (Copenhagen: Akademisk Foriag. 1979), 356.

    38 Tadmor, "History and Ideology," 24.

    39 Ibid., 14.  The pattern does not need to be copied slavishly, as Hanson, The Dawn, 303,

argues in his discussion of judges 5. Later (pp. 308-11), he discusses the prophetic abandonment

of the (royal) pattern and its reemergence in the exilic and postexilic eras.


THE COHERENCE OF EXODUS                                  265


2. The battle:

     a. The conflict                                                  Ex. 7:8-11:10

     b. The exodus                                                   Ex. 12:1-13:16

     c. Pharaoh'sdefeat                                            Ex. 13:17-14:31

3. The kingship:

     a. The Lord's victory and proclamation

         of kingship                                                   Ex. 15:1-21

     b. The Lord takes Israel to Mt. Sinai                  Ex. 15:22-19:2

     c. The Lord makes Israel his people                  Ex. 19:3-24:11

4. The Lord's palace:

      a. The Lord will dwell among Israel                  Ex. 24:12-25:9

      b. Building instructions                                    Ex. 25:10-31:18

      c. Israel's rebellion                                           Ex. 32:1-34:35

      d. Tabernacle and furniture crafted                   Ex. 35-39:31

      e. Moses inspects the work and

          blesses the people                                                 Ex. 39:42, 43

      f. Moses instructed to set up NKAm;mi on

         first day of second year                                Ex. 40:1, 2

      g. Moses sets up the tabernacle in seven acts    Ex. 40:17-33

      h. The Lord dwells in the NKAw;mi                       Ex. 40:34-38


     There are significant differences between Exodus and the nonbiblical

stories. The Lord builds his own palace; Baal needs El's consent.40  The

Lord's people craft the tabernacle and contribute the gold and silver

themselves; in the Baal epic the gods' craftsman, Kothar wa Hassis, does

all the work, and the materials were generally brought in from the mountains.41 

Finally, where in the ancient Near East temples were considered a resting

place for the gods,42 in Exodus the NKAw;mi is only the temporary means for

the Lord's dwelling in the midst of (Ex.


   40 Cross, Canaanite Myth, 142.

    41 Gudea brought the materials from the Cedar mountain, having made paths and quarries

where none had gone before. "Cylinder A, " xv-vxi 24.  Eanatum brought white cedar from the

mountains (Cooper, Sumerian and Akkadian Royal Insripiptions, 49).  Bringing in such materials

and the finest crafts from the periphery to the cosmic center represents the completeness of

creation at its center: "at the center of the world there is everything, all is known, all is possessed-

creation is complete."  Mario Liverani, 'The Ideology of the Assyrian Empire," in Power and

Propaganda, Copenhagen Studies in Assyriology, no. 7, ed. Mogens Trolle Larsen

(Copenhagen: Akademisk Forlag, 1979), 314.  See also Pritchard, ANETSup, 275-76 on

Tiglath-Pileser I and Assurnasirpal II's journeys to get cedar from the mountains.

    42 See CTA 6 iii, 18 and also Weinfeld, "Sabbath, Temple and the Enthronement of the Lord-

the Problem of the Sitz im Leben of Genesis 1:1-2:3," in Melanges bibliques et orientaux en

l'honneur de M. Henri Cazelles, ed. A. Caquot and M. Delcor (Neukirchen: Neukirchener

Verlag. 1981), 502, note 2.

CALVIN THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL                                     266


25:8; 1 Kings 8:27-30), and later for leading, his people.  Nevertheless, the gen-

eral coincidence of the pattern allows a reflection on its usefullness for under-

standing the coherence of Exodus.

    The kingship pattern does not structure but underscores the coherence of

the narrative and provides a key to its meaning.  It underscores the coherence of

Exodus first, not only because Exodus employs all the elements of the pattern in

telling its story but also because the pattern accounts for the entire narrative,

unlike the lamentation liturgy suggested by Plastaras and Westermann, which

accounts only for Exodus 1:1-15:21.43  Second, because the pattern reaches its cli-

max in a building project, it reinforces the literary frame of the narrative:  the

building of Pharaoh's store cities in Exodus 1 and the construction of the Great

King's earthly dwelling place in Exodus 35:4-40:33.  In this connection, it is

important to recognize that the Hebrew hdAbofE is used to describe Israel's work

on the tabernacle (NKaw;mi 39:32, 42) and its work on the store cities (tOnK;W;mi,

1:14 ["slavery," 2:23, 6:9]). The difference between the two projects is that

Pharaoh forced Israel to build his cities, whereas the Lord's forgiveness led Israel

voluntarily (Ex. 35:21; 36:6b) to participate in the construction of the taberna-

cle.  In addition, and related to the former, the fourth element of the pattern,

the building project, coincides with the narrative's cancellation of the deficit.

The cancellation of this deficit is supported by the wordplay between tOnKW;mi

(Ex. 1:14) and NKAw;mi (39:32,33,40; 40:2, 5, 6,9, 17, 18, 19, 21, 22, 24, 28, 29, 33,

and esp. 34-38).  Third, the elements of the pattern link the tabernacle section,

both covenant and tabernacle instructions, naturally to the preceding events

that took place in Egypt, the desert, and at Mt. Sinai and cast them into a coher-

ent narrative.  In a cultural context where the kingship pattern was prevalent, it

would only be natural to read, after consolidating the victory at Sinai, that the

victorious king engaged in a construction project to memorialize the event in

some way.  In these ways, the kingship pattern supports the coherence of the

narrative discerned in its plot structure and development.

     The completion of the kingship pattern in Exodus 40 also brings us back to

the deficit with which the biblical narrative begins in Genesis: Adam and Eve

expelled from God's presence in the Garden of Eden for refusal of divine

instruction.  In Exodus, when the glory cloud fills the newly constructed taber-

nacle, God dwells in the midst of the descendants of Adam and Eve through

Abraham and Sarah.  Adam's descendants are in God's presence not because

they found their way back but because God has brought them to himself (Ex.

19:4).  Moreover, they are not in his immediate presence; Israel's sinfulness

requires a distance (Ex. 19:13; cf. Num. 1:53) that can only be overcome by a

specially appointed priesthood (Ex. 29:1; Num. 18:1-7; cf. Heb. 9:19-25). The


     43 See footnote 31.

THE COHERENCE OF EXODUS                                           267


elements of the text that point us in this direction are the phrases in Exodus 39

and 40 that recall the creation narrative:44


Thus the heavens and the earth                          So all the work on the tabernacle

were completed.                                                          was completed. (Ex 39:32)

By the seventh day God had finished                           And so Moses finished the work.

the work he had been doing (Gn 2:1-2)                        (Ex 40:33)


God saw all that he had made, and                              Moses inspected the work and saw

(behold, [hn.ehi]) it was very good.                                (behold, [hn.ehi]) they had done it

(Gn 1:31)                                                                    just as the Lord had commanded.

                                                                                    (Ex 39:43)


And God blessed the seventh day. . .                       And Moses blessed them. (Ex 39:43)



and made it holy. . . (Gn 2:3)                                    . . . consecrate (the tabernacle and

the altar) (Ex 40:9,10)



This evocation of Genesis 1 and 2 suggests that a proper understanding of the

coherence of Exodus is linked to the exposition of the fundamental conflict

between God and humanity depicted in Genesis 1-3.  With that fundamental

conflict in mind, Exodus resolves, tentatively, the problem of humanity's exile

from God's presence but does not provide the instruction that safeguards life

in the divine presence. Leviticus provides that aspect of the solution to the


     The kingship pattern also lends conceptual coherence to Exodus by ren-

dering explicit the meaning implicit in the royal metaphor that shapes Exodus

throughout.  The noun king is applied consistently to Pharaoh but never to the

Lord; his royal status is acknowledged only in the clause "The LORD will reign "

(j`lom;yi hvhy, Ex. 15:18).  The Lord's kingship does not, of course, depend on

the title; his actions disclose who he is. Only a Great King could have done to

Pharaoh and Egypt what he did.  The kingship pattern supports this not only in

the conflict with Egypt but also in the rest of the narrative, including Israel's sur-

vival in the desert where God's divisions travel to Mt. Sinai, a journey not unlike


     44 Moshe Weinfeld, "Sabbath, Temple and the Enthronement of the Lord," 503-4.  These links

between Genesis and Exodus are widely recognized.  Erich Zenger, Gottes Bogen in den Wolken

(Stuttgart: Verlag Katholiscbes Bibelwerke, 1983), 170-75; Nehama Leibowitz, Studies in Shemot,

 part 2, trans. Aryeh Newman (Jerusalem: Haomanim Press, 1983), 477-79.

CALVIN THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL                                     268


the return45 to the empire's center,46 its capital, of the great armies of an ancient

overlord such as Shalmaneser III or Assurnasirpal; the solemnization of

suzerain-vassal covenant between the Lord and Israel; and the instructions and

final construction of a royal dwelling place.


The Meaning of Exodus

    As a "royal inscription" of a Great King's victory over disorder in his empire,

Exodus not only recalls the fundamental conflict between God and humanity

and proclaims the Lord's victory over it at the Sea but also witnesses to the con-

struction of a concrete historical monument that proclaims his cosmic47 rule

from a historically particular building: the tabernacle in the midst of Israel.  As

a coherent royal inscription, Exodus must be heard as a whole--not from the

perspective of one of its subplots, such as the victory at the Sea48--or even that

of the Sinai covenant legislation but from the viewpoint of the cancellation of

the narrative deficit: the "incarnation" of the triumphant King in the midst of

his vassal people in the tabernacle. Neither victory at the Sea, Israel's submis-

sion to the covenant, nor the Lord's forgiveness of Israel's idolatry--individu-

ally or together--can express the full meaning of the Exodus narrative for they

do not resolve the fundamental narrative problem of the Pentateuch that

Exodus' plot structure develops: disobedient humanity's exile from God's pres-

ence.  That resolution only occurs with the glory cloud's indwelling of the taber-

nacle.  From this building Israel receives the holiness instructions that permit

life in God's consuming fire presence (Lev. 1:1-2).


     45 Israel's depicted military journey through the desert has analogues in the royal annals of

Shalmaneser III and Assurnasirpal where itineraries depict royal military marches with river

crossings, problems of finding water, military exploits, hunting, and the receiving of tribute. See

Graham I. Davies, "The Wilderness Itineraries: A Comparative Study," The Tyndale Bulletin 25

(1974): 58.  In the same article, Davies argues that "the itineraries comparable to Numbers 33:1-49

from the Ancient Near East relate exclusively, so far as our evidence goes, to royal military

campaigns.  It may therefore be due to the conception of the wilderness period as a military

expedition that an account of it in the form of an itinerary was composed," 80.  For further

studies on these itineraries as royal military marches see George W. Coats, 'The Wilderness

Itinerary," Catholic BiblicalQuarterly 34 (1972): 147-48; Graham I. Davies, "The Wilderness

Itineraries and the Composition of the Pentateuch," Vetus Testamentum 33 (1983): 1-13; Albrecht

Goetze, "An Old Babylonian Itinerary," Journal of Cuneiform Studies 8 (1954): 51-72.

     46 On temples, mountains as cosmic center, see Othmar Keel, The Symbolism of the Biblical

World: Ancient Near Eastern Iconography and the Book of Psalms, trans. Timothy J. Hallett

(New York: Seabury, 1978), 113-20. Jon D. Levenson, Sinai and Zion: An Entry into the Jewish

Bible (Minneapolis: Winston Press, 1985), 111-76.

     47 On the theology of creation in Exodus, especially in the plagues' narrative, see Terence E.

Fretheim, Exodus.  Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville:

John Knox, 1991),105-132, and his "The Plagues as Ecological Signs of Historical Disaster," 

Journal of Biblical Literature 110 (1991): 385-96.

    48 So J. Severino Croatto, see above footnote 29.

THE COHERENCE OF EXODUS                                           269


     It is this building, the place the Lord chose for his name to dwell, especially

in its subsequent transformation as the temple on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem, that

is central to the Lord's administration of his rule over Israel (1 Kings 8:22-53).

The nations will also stream to Jerusalem and from it the torah, the Lord's

instruction, will flow to them (Isa. 2:2-4; cf. Isa. 19 with respect to Egypt and

Assyria), for none of Adam's descendants can do without God's presence or his

instruction.  However, when Israel defiles God's presence, the glory cloud

departs from the temple (Ezek. 8-10), God permits his servant Nebuchad-

nezzar Jer. 25:9; 27:6; 43:10) to destroy Jerusalem and the temple, and

removes Israel from his presence (2 Kings 24:3, 20; cf. 2 Kings 17:18, 20, 23).

According to the New Testament, the body of Christ becomes the temple of

God's presence John 1:14; 2:20-21; 1 Cor. 3:16) and Jerusalem loses its cen-

trality:  The Lord's disciples move from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth (Acts

1:8) with the good news of the gospel, the torah of the LordJesus.49  Thus, the

building project begun in Exodus continues until a temple is no longer neces-

sary and all the nations enjoy the presence of the Great King and walk by the

light of the Lamb in the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:22-27), the joy of the whole

earth (Ps. 48:2) .




     49 For a fuller treatment of the temple and Torah as fulfilled by Christ's ministry, see David E.

Holwerda, "Jesus and the Temple: A Question of Essence," and "Jesus and the Law: A Question

of Fulfillment," in his Jesus and Israel: One Covenant or Two? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,

1995), 59-83, 113-45.




This material is cited with gracious permission from:

           Calvin Theological Seminary
                        3233 Burton St SE
                        Grand Rapids
, MI  49546



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