Calvin Theological Journal 34 (1999): 11-35

                  Copyright © 1999 by Calvin Theological Seminary. Cited with permission.


                          Reading Exodus to Learn and

                             Learning to Read Exodus


                                                   Arie C. Leder


     Those who read little, learn little about reading; but the little they learn is

applied to all they read.  Contemporary devotional reading of Scripture has

much in common with the fragmentary approach of the critics a generation

ago:  here a verse, there a clause, everywhere a tidbit.  But, with the possible

exception of individual proverbs,1 biblical texts do not suffer fragmentary read-

ing willingly nor with impunity.  Like a love letter, they are meant to be read in

their entirety, from beginning to end.  Only by reading and rereading will the

addressed lover encounter the depth of the sentiments expressed and thus

learn to read the letter as it was intended to be heard.  That takes time, com-

mitment, and concentration.  Unlike a love letter, however, reading of Scripture

is a communal activity.  We do not come to Scripture de novo; we read through

the well-informed eyes of our ancestors in the faith.  By reading and rereading

in their light, we learn to read Scripture, we hope, as it was intended to be

heard.  In addition to time, commitment, and concentration, this will require

the humility to listen to those who have gone before us.

     Of course, reading starts with the text itself. But, what is the shape of the

text?  Where do we begin and end?  When we select a novel by P. D. James or a

sonnet by Browning, the question seems almost impertinent.  But a comparison

of commentaries on the Pentateuch published in this century will reveal great

disagreement: Pentateuch, Hexateuch, or Tetrateuch?  Genesis, Exodus,

Leviticus, and so forth, or J, E, JE, D, or P, or maybe the Sinai pericope (Ex. 19-

Num. 10:10)?2  Similarly the extent of pericopes within Exodus: 1:1-2:25 or

1:1-2:22?  2:23-4:17 or 3:1-4:31?  In this article, I will read the text traditionally

known as Exodus using six steps that will require time, commitment, and con-



    1 The social use of proverbs appears to give them an independent existence. Nevertheless,

whether social or literary, proverbs function in context.  In Scripture they are all embedded in

larger textual reality.  See Raymond C. Van Leeuwen, Context and Meaning in Proverbs 25-27,

SBL Dissertations Series 96 (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988).

     2The docmentary hypothesis is now in disarray, its relationship to the newer literary reading of

Scripture is not at all clear.  See the work of Terence E. Fretheim. Exodus. Interpretation (Louisville:

John Knox. 1991). 5-7; idem, The Pentaeuch, Interpreting Biblical Texts (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996).



CALVIN THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL                                12


Defining Six Steps for Reading to Learn


The Beginning and Ending of the Text

     Before reading the entire narrative it is helpful to become familiar with the

beginning and ending of the text.3  Examining these will alert the reader to the

narrative problem and its basic themes, usually defined at the beginning, and

the manner of their treatment and resolution at the end.  Familiarity with the

rhetorical device of repetition of key words and phrases will enable the reader

to recognize the parameters within which the narrative unfolds.  This technique

discloses the frame4 within which the narrative action takes place and the frame

that limits the reader's narrative field of reference.  For example, after deter-

mining that Exodus 1-40 is the object of our analysis, study of the desert narra-

tive will be limited to 15:22-18:27.  It will exclude the desert narrative in

Numbers, except for purposes of comparison.5  Within the parameters

described by the text's beginning and ending, it will be the reader's task to fix

precisely what the text says, and to explain how the text does so.  The same

mechanism applies to the definition of pericopes within Exodus.


Reading the Entire Text

     Consideration of the beginning and ending naturally leads to the following

step:  to discern the relationship between the beginning and the ending by

reading the entire text, observing throughout the reading how the initial

motifs, or narrative problem, develop to a final resolution.  While this step

assumes that the text between the beginning and ending is capable of devel-

opment or organization, it does not determine the nature of that organization.

Thus, the narrative order of the text is not imposed, nor predetermined, but

searched out.  Reading the entire text in one sitting is preferrable in order to

receive the maximum impact of the narrative's continuity and development.  If

this is not possible, two or three sittings will do.



     3 The importance of understanding the beginning and ending of a literary unit was emphasized

byJames Muilenburg ("Form Criticism and Beyond," Journal of Biblical Literature 88 [1996]: 12-13):

"The first concern of the rhetorical critic. .is to define the limits or scope of the literary unit, to recognize

how it begins and how it ends. . . . A second clue for determining the scope of a pericope is to discern

 the relation of beginning to end, where the opening words are repeated or paraphrased at the close. . . ."

 In his study of the Pentateuch (The Pentateuch, 43-56), Fretheim discusses the beginning and ending

of the Pentateuch.

    4 The consequences of breaking such a frame and the significance of a text are discussed by

Erich Auerbach when treating the secularization of the medieval mystery plays, in Erich Auerbach,

 "Adam and Eve," in The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, trans. Willard R Trask

(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968), 160.

      5 Under the influence of the critical methodologies these two distinct narrative units were often

 treated harmonistically.




Key Words and Phrases

     Throughout this reading, the reader should note the themes that are devel-

oped and the new ones being introduced.  These are often indicated by key

words or phrases.  A keyword, or phrase, is

     repeated meaningfully within a text or series of texts. Not every word or root

     which is repeated within a text or sequence of texts can be considered a key

     word.  In this connection attention should be paid to three aspects: (1) how

     frequently the word is used in the Bible; (2) how frequently the word is used

     within the text or series of texts; (3) how near the repeated words are as

     regards their position in the text.  The greater the frequency of the word in

     the Bible, the more densely should it occur (more often or with greater

     proximity); and the rarer it is, the less intensively need it occur (less often

     and at a greater distance).6

The clustering of key words in a text and their reappearance or absence in sub-

sequent, or slightly different contexts, contribute to meaning of the text byway

of commentary, analysis, anticipation, or dramatic assertion. Sometimes a key

word repetition involves paranomasia, a play on words, by means of a small

vowel or consonantal change.

Consider the following examples from Genesis.7  The word there (MwA) plays a

crucial role in Genesis 11:1-9.  In this brief narrative there refers not only to the

place of humanity's gathering but also to the location from which the Lord

scatters them.  At the same time, name (Mwe) occurs twice:  Humanity wants to

make a name for itself; it receives a name from the Lord-Babel, "confusion."

Thus, there where humanity wanted a name, becomes the there from which

humanity is expelled and where it receives a name.  Significantly, Mwe, the word

name reappears in Genesis 12:2.  The Lord will make Abram's name great, not

Abram in the style of Babel.  Another significant repetition in the Babel narra-

tive, the phrase, "all the earth" (Cr,xAhA-lKA) occurs once at the beginning, twice

in the development of the narrative, and twice in the last verse.  As with the

words there and name, this phrase participates in the divine reversal of human

intentions.  Both of these keywords and phrases frame the text with vocabulary

crucial for the depiction of the text's central action and for defining the outside

limits of the text.  The mini clusters of the key words and the key phrase at the

end of the text underscore its central interest and the reversal.  Thus, key words

and phrases not only contribute to understanding the significance of the text

but also to its structure.


       6 Shimon Bar-Efrat, Narrative Art in the Bible (Sheffield: Almond Press, 1989), 212.

      7 From here on, Gen. 11:1-9 will be the illustrative example.




The Organization of the Text

    A single reading of a text is insufficient to determine the narrative order,

organization, or structure of the text.  Several attentive readings of the text that

include examination of the beginning and end of the narrative, its develop-

ment, and the occurrence and location of key words prepare the reader for the

next step:  an examination of the text to determine its organization or structure.

Staying with our example of Genesis 11:1-9, the following observations are per-

tinent.  An examination of the narrative and speech portions shows that in

verses 1-4, the narrative focuses on what the human community proposes to do

in order to prevent being scattered about the earth.  But in verse 5, the text

switches to the divine perspective.  When God comes down to examine the sit-

uation, his speech of reversal mimics the residents' speech ("Come, let us. . . ,"

vv. 3, 4; "Come, let us . . . ," v. 7).  Thus, the narrative movement from the

expressed desire of "all the earth" to build community and a reputation, to the

divine response that ends in the dispersal of the community with an unwanted

reputation, suggests that the text is composed of two scenes: verses 1-4 and 5-9.

Verse 5 functions as the pivot upon which the reversal turns: "But the Lord

came down. . . . "8

     This brief study of Genesis 11:1-9 also suggests four criteria for discerning

the text's constituent parts, either internally or in relationship to its context.

First there is a significant shift in major characters, from the human to the

divine; or place, from the perspective of the earth to that of heaven. The inclu-

sios or frames created by the appearance of Mwe-MwA and Cr,xAhA-lKA at the begin-

ning and ending of the text is an example of how, second, framing repetitions

are useful devices for uncovering the structure of a text. Third, iconographic

grouping around a particular theme, present in Gensis 11:1-9 in the moving

toward a place for unity and the scattering from that place provides narrative

unity. Hence, the shift to another theme also suggests that the narrative is mov-

ing to depict another concern. Finally, the presence of a culminating, or sum-

marizing scene at the end of a series of episodic scenes, indicates the end of a

narrative section. Genesis 11:1-9 itself is the last narrative scene of Geneses 1:1-

11:26 (Gen. 11:10-26 is genealogical).  The first two criteria for distinguishing

scenes are well known and acknowledged in biblical and literary studies; the

others merit further consideration.  I will briefly discuss these with reference to

ancient Near Eastern pictorial narrative.

     Irene J. Winter's study of the Standard of Ur shows that the narrative is com-

posed of a series of registers.  Reading from the bottom up,


    8 For a more detailed exposition of this text and other factors for determining the structure, see

J. P. Fokkehnan, Narrative Art in Genesis:  Specimens of Stylistic and Structural Analysis (Assen:

Van Gorcum, 1975), 11-45. For a briefer analysis, see Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15 (Waco: Word,

1987), 234-46.                                                                                      




     the horizontal registers progress from battle chariots at the bottom to the

     gathering of prisoners in the middle to the presentation of the prisoners

     before a larger central figure, presumably a ruler, at the top.  On the other

     side, the scene proceeds from the amassing of pack animals and goods in the

     lower register to the procession of food animals and men bearing fish in the

     middle to the banquet in the upper register that is again dominated by a

     slightly larger figure in a flounced skirt, probably the ruler.  In fact, the dom-

     inant, primary position of the ruler at the center of the upper register of the

     battle side, the culmination of the sequence, is comparable to the position

     of Eannatum in the upper register of the Stele ofVultures.9

According to Winter each register is unique in its depiction by means of the

technique of iconographic grouping, in which each register is dominated by

one central image or icon: amassing for battle, presentation of prisoners, and

so forth.  The juxtaposition of the individual registers forms a series of episodes

whose narrative progression is linear and tends to a particular image that the

artist wants to impress upon the audience. This impression the artist places at

the end of a series of narrative reliefs, in the culminating scene, a register that

summarizes the essence of the antecedent account by depicting the central

event and its major characters.  According to Ann Perkins, the culminating

scene depicts "one group of figures, one moment of time, at the climax of a

series of events."10

     Iconographic grouping and the culminating scene as organizational devices

are not foreign to biblical literature.  For example, Ian Parker Kim argues that

the "disappearance of three royal enemies in the first part of the frame story is

paralleled by the appearance of three royal enemies in the second part of the

frame story."11  Grouping of particular characters serves to segment a particular

unit and helps us to understand some of is thematic significance. Genesis 11:1-

9 fits Perkins' definition of a culminating scene.  It stands at the end of a series

of events (from creation to this narrative moment), there is a basic group of fig-

ures (the Lord and the descendants of Adam [MdAxAhA yneB; 11:5]) at one


     9 Irene J. Winter, "After the Battle Is Over: The Stele of Vultures and the Beginning of

Historical Narrative in the Art of the Ancient Near East," in Pictorial Narrative in Antiquity

 and the Middle Ages, ed. Herbert L. Kessler and Marianna Shreve Simpson (Washington:

National Gallery of Art, 1985), 19. See also her "Royal Rhetoric and the Development of Historical

Narrative in Neo-Assyrian Reliefs," Studies in Visual Communication 7 (1981):2-38.  These

studies develop concepts presented in a 1955 symposium on visual narrative.  See articles by

Carl H. Kraeling, Ann Perkins, and Hans G. Gilterbock in volume 61 (1957) of the American

Journal of Archaeology.  I developed this material in relationship to Exodus in my, "An Iconogaphy

of Order: Kingship in Exodus. A Study of the Structure of Exodus" (Th.D. diss., University of

Toronto, 1992).  See also Marilyn Aronberg Lavin, The Place of Narrative: Mural Decoration

 in Italian Churches, 431-1600 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,l990).

     10 Ann Perkins, "Narration in Babylonian Art, " American Journal of Archaelogy 61 (1957): 55.

     11 Ian Parker Kim, "Repetition as a Structuring Device in 1 Kings I-11," Journal for the Study

of the Old Testament 42 (1988): 42.                                                                               15



moment in time (the expulsion by confusion).  The image this scene leaves

behind is clear: Adam's descendants cannot thwart the Lord's purposes, they

will have to take account of heaven in all their cultural activities.


The Argument

     The first four steps constitute a geographic reconnaisance of the text in

which the reader becomes familiar with the landscape of the text; its hills, val-

leys, straight places, and unexpected features.  Moving from this reconnaisance

to the text's significance without keeping its major features in mind allows the

reader to forget or avoid parts of the textual landscape.  For example, discus-

sions of the Babel passage often emphasize the tower but forget both the city

and the fact that after the Lord's descent, they stopped building the city, not the

tower.  (Artistic reprsentations of this narrative often depict an unfinished

tower.)  By neglecting the city, the reader can also ignore the city-state imperial

structure of that time, a not unimportant feature for hearing the text.  Similarly,

Exodus commentaries often pay only lip service to the tabernacle section,

although it occupies ten chapters of the narrative.  Such a practice can only

result in a superficial grasp of the text's significance.

    Thus, after reviewing the beginning and the ending, understanding the

development of the narrative with its key words and phrases, and discerning

the structure or narrative order, it is important to state the argument12 of the

text.  The argument, the subject of the discourse or an outline, not a debate or

controversy, consists of a reduced narration of what the text recounts in great

detail; at the same time it preserves substantively the most important details.

The purpose of this exercise is to fix most exactly and clearly what the surface

structure of the narrative states before moving on to the significance of the

text.  By using the text's own narrative sequence and vocabulary, closeness to

the text is best preserved. Stating the argument of the text is the crucial first

step toward understanding its purpose or intention. As an example, I suggest

the following as the argument of Genesis 11:1-9:

     When all the earth was of one speech people gathered at Shinar.  There they

     decided to build a city with a tower to make a name for themselves and to

     keep from being scattered over the earth.  The Lord came down to see the


     12 Calvin prefaces his commentary on Genesis with an argument.  See his Commentaries on

the First Book of Moses called Genesis, trans. John King (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981), 57-66.

The argument proper is stated on pp. 64-65.  For further discussion on argument and scope see

Gerald T. Sheppard, "Between Reformation and Modern Commentary: The Perception of the

Scope of Biblical Books," in A Commentary on Galatians: William Perkins, Pilgrim Classic

Commentaries, ed. Gerald T. Sheppard (New York: Pilgrim, 1989), xlviii-lxxvii. A good

contemporary example of the argument, called the story line, of the Pentateuch is found in Joseph

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

Doubleday, 1992), 31-33. Because Genesis 11:1-9 is short, the argument seems inordinately long.

This is the result of paying close attention to several key words that are crucial for the text's

significance.                                                                                                      16



     city and its tower Adam's descendants were building.  Having determined to

     confound them by confusing their language, the Lord scattered them over

     the whole earth, so they stopped building the city.  He called the city Babel

     because from there he confused their language and scattered them over all

     the earth.

Note how I have maintained the text's indefinite subject "they" until they are

defined as "Adam's descendants" in the context of the Lord's descent (v. 5).

This crucial conjunction of subjects in the middle of the text coincides with the

pivot fiat divides the text into two subunits.  Naming the Babel builders

"Adam's descendants" also links this text with the beginning of human history

and the first city builder, Cain, firstborn son of Adam (Gen. 4:17) .


The Theme

     When the argument of the text is clearly formulated, including the essential

details of the text, it is possible to define the theme of the text.  By removing the

details of the argument, the theme appears as the clearest expression of what

the author wants to communicate.  Thus, the theme of Genesis 11:1-9 is:  The

Lord scatters the descendants of Adam over the whole earth by confusing

their language at Babel.

     In summary, the steps for an attentive reading13 of the text are:  (1) Examine

the beginning and ending of the narrative.  (2) Read the entire text to uncover

the development of the text.  (3) Identify the key words and phrases. (4)

Determine the text's organization or structure.14  (5) State die argument of the

text.  (6) Formulate the theme of the text.  In the rest of this article, I will use

these steps to read Exodus.


Learning to Read Exodus

The Beginning and Ending

     An examination of the beginning and ending of Exodus uncovers several

themes indicated by the repetition of key words or phrases.  They are blessing,

filling the earth, building, slavery, and the mountain.  Together they form the

frame within which the narrative action takes place.  I will briefly examine each

one of these elements of the frame.


     13 These ideas for reading a text are based on the work of Fernando Lazaro Carreter and

Evaristo Correa Calderon, Como se comenta un texto literario (How to Explain a Literary Text

[Madrid: Ediciones catedra, 1980]).

     14 As discussed above, the following would be involved in the definition of structure:  (a)

major change in characters or shift of location, (b) framing repetitions, (c) iconographic grouping,

and, (d) culminating scene.


CALVIN THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL                                18

From Blessing to Blessing

     After reviewing the arrival of Jacob and his sons, the opening verses of chap-

ter 1 recall Joseph's earlier arrival and his death. But death will not be the last

word for these descendants of Abraham, for they live under the marvellous

promise of blessing (Gen. 15:5; 22:17).  Using the familiar words of the blessing

from Genesis 1:28; and 9:1,7, repeated to the patriarchs (Gen. 17:2, 6; 26:4, 23;

35:11), the Exodus narrative counters death in Joseph's generation: "but the

Israelites were fruitful (hrAPA) and multiplied greatly (CrawA and hbArA) and

became exceedingly numerous (McafA), so that the land was filled (xlemA) with

them" (1:7).  The Lord's promise of blessing to Israel is fulfilled in Egypt more

than that, since these words echo the blessing spoken in Genesis 1 and 9, the

Lord's benediction upon all the descendants of Adam and Eve (the nations) is

also partially fulfilled.  That is, even as all the world came to Egypt to be saved

from death by famine through the work of Joseph son of Abraham (Gen. 41:56-

57), so now in Egypt, what God wanted for the world is coming true through

the instrumentality of Abraham (Gen. 12:3).  Exodus begins with a word of

blessing, and it reminds the reader that what God began to do with Abraham is

being fulfilled in Egypt.

     Exodus also ends with blessing.  After Israel makes the tent of meeting, its

furnishings, and the priestly apparel, we read:  "The Israelites had done all the

work just as the Lord had commanded Moses.  Moses inspected the work and

saw that they had done it just as the Lord had commanded.  So Moses blessed

them" (39:42-43).  Two things are remarkable about this text:  its echo of

Genesis 1:31-2:3 and the object of Moses' blessing.

     Parallels between Exodus 39-40 and Genesis 1:31-2:3 have long been recog-

nized.15  Pertinent are the following texts:

Genesis                                                                      Exodus

God saw all that he had made                                   Moses inspected the work

(hWf rwx lk) and it (hnhv) was              (hkxlmh lkA) and saw that they

very good. (1:31)                                                      had done it (htvx UWf hnhv) just

as the Lord had commanded39:43

Thus the heavens and earth were                              So was completed all (lk lktv

completed (Ulkyv) in all (lkv)                                the work on the Tabernacle,

their vast array. (2:1)                                                the Tent of Meeting. (39:32)

God finished the work he had                                   And so Moses finished the work.

been doing (. . . Myhlx lkyv               (hkxlmh tx hwm lkyv)  hWf rwx Otkxlm) (2:2)                                                (40:33)


      15 Nehama Leibowitz discusses Abranavel's and Rashi's comments on the parallels. She also

states that Martin Buber discovered seven correspondences between the creation and tabernacle

accounts.  See her Studies in Shemot: Part Two, trans. Aryeh Newman (Jerusalem: World Zionist

Association, 1983), 479.  See also Moshe Weinfeld, "Sabbath, Temple and the Enthronement of the

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

 l'honneur deM. Henri Gazelles, ed.A Caquot and M. Delcor (Neukirchen-Vluyn, 1981), 501-12.                                                                                                                                    18



And God blessed (jrbyv) the                                   So Moses blessed them (Mtx

seventh day. (2:3)                                                      jrbyv) (39:43)

     These parallel texts in Exodus describe Israel and Moses doing what God

does in Genesis:  the work of creation and blessing.  Minimally this suggests that

the activities of creating and making the tabernacle are linked--maximally that

they are analogical--the tabernacle being a microcosm of the creation. This

analogy is reinforced by the reference to Israel's work on the tabernacle (NKaw;mi

tdabofE-lKA, 39:32) and its echo in Genesis 2:15, where Adam and Eve are

instructed to work (dbafA) and guard (Gen. 2:15) the garden in God's pres-

ence.  Gordon J. Wenham has argued that these verbs are only used elsewhere

to describe the Levites' duty in working and guarding the tabernacle.  He con-

cludes that "if Eden is seen. . . as an ideal sanctuary, then perhaps Adam should

be described as an archetypal Levite."16  If this is a correct reading, it suggests

that Israel's work (hdAbofE)17 on the tabernacle is similar to that of Adam's:

priestly activity in the mediate presence of God.

     Strikingly, after finishing their "priestly" work, the Israelites bring the appur-

tenances of the tabernacle to Moses and he blesses them, even as God had

blessed Adam and Eve (Gen. 1:28).  At the end of Exodus, the descendants of

Adam and Eve by way of Abraham receive Moses' blessing.  Unlike the rest of

Adam's descendants who continue life outside of God's presence, these chil-

dren of Adam and Abraham are beginning to enjoy the presence of God again

and to do the work for which all of Adam's descendants were created.

      The blessing of Moses in Exodus 39, then, fulfills a double duty:  It recalls

God's blessing depicted at the opening of Genesis as well as the blessing to

which Exodus 1:7 refers by means of its vocabulary.  Thus, the ending of Exodus

links Israel to God's universal purposes both by recalling the beginning of the

biblical narrative and by the particularist application of the blessing at the

beginning of Exodus--an application operative in the Old Testament epoch of

the biblical narrative.  It is the particularist application of blessing, by reference

to Israel's growth and priestly work in the Lord's mediate presence, that forms

a frame for the Exodus narrative.


From the Filling of the Land to the Filling of the Earth

     As a result of the Lord's blessing, Abraham's descendants fill the land (MtAxo

Cr,xAhA xlem.ATiva, 1:7; cf. Gen. 1:28: (Cr,xAhA-tx, Uxl;miU) of Egypt.  In the opinion

of the lord of the land, Israel's swarming multitudes threatens its stability.  With


     16 Gordon J. Wenham, “Sanctuary Symbolism in me Garden of Eden Story." in Proceedings

 of the Ninth World Congress of Jewish Studies: Division A, the Period of the Bible (Jerusalem:

World Union of Jewish Studies, 1986), 21.

     17 This noun along with db,f, and the verb dbafA; form an import cluster of key words that focus

the narrative on Israel's servitude, whether that of Pharaoh or of me Lord.                       19

CALVIN THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL                                20


Babel-like language18 the text describes Pharaoh's cruel attempts to contain

Israel, but the harder he works them the more Israel grows (1:12, 20) and, pre-

sumably, fills the land.  At the end of the narrative, after Moses assembles the

tabernacle "the glory of the Lord filled (xlemA) the tabernacle" (40:34, 35).  This

key word repetition of the verb "to fill" forms an inclusio for the book.  What, is

the relationship between the occurrences of this verb at the beginning and

ending of Exodus?

    "The land" (Cr,xAhA) can refer to a specific country such as Canaan (Gen.

12:1), or the whole earth as in Genesis 1:1, 28.  Egypt is obviously the primary

referent in Exodus 1:7, but its specific blessing vocabulary recalls Genesis 1:28,

which focuses on the whole earth.  This requires that "the land" in 1:7 perform

double duty, a task that supplies a profound ambiguity in 1:7: Israel's filling of

the land of Egypt is not only a realization of God's promises to Abraham but

also a partial realization of the Lord's purposes for Adam's descendants--to fill

the whole earth.  Again, the redemptively particular work of the Lord is linked

with his originally universal purposes.

     Similarly the Lord's "filling" the tabernacle in Exodus 40. Numbers 14:21

states what is apparently a present reality: "as surely as the glory of the Lord fills

the whole earth" (Cr,xAhA-lKA-tx, hvhy-dObk; xlem.Ayiv;),  as do the words of the

cherubim:  "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his

glory" (Isa. 6:3).  This reality, that the whole earth is full of the glory of the Lord,

is only revealed to Israel at this point (cf. Ps. 147:19-20); it is not acknowledged

by the rest of Adam's descendants.  According to Paul, it is sinfully ignored

(Rom. 1:18-20).  But in Israel's midst this reality is anticipated by the Lord's fill-

ing of the tabernacle, the microcosm of the creation.  Thus, Israel's filling of

"the land" and the Lord's filling of the tabernacle both anticipate subsequent

redemptive acts that will more fully disclose this truth (John 1:14): the Lord fills

the earth (Acts 1:8) with his people (Acts 2:4; Eph. 1:23; Col. 2:10).


From Building for Egypt to Construction in the Presence of God

     Pharaoh's fear of Israel's rapid growth generates his decision to force Israel

to build the store cities of Pithom and Rameses.  The decision to limit Israel's

growth by subordinating her strength to the extension of Pharaoh's renown

sets him in conflict with the Lord's promise to bless Israel by immense growth.

It is not strange, therefore, that the construction materials, "mortar and bricks"

(Mynibel;biU rm,HoB;, 1:14) recall the Babel episode (Gen. 11:3).  This paradigmatic

episode for human cultural rebellion against God now functions as the

hermeneutical background that defines Pharaoh's action as a challenge

against the Creator.  But his challenge fails; Abraham's descendants swarm all

over Egypt (1:7, 12).  Nevertheless, Pharaoh insists on yoking (dbafA), 1:13, 14)


      18 Note the imperative plus cohortative construction hmAK;Hat;ni hbAhA in 1:10 and the building

materials: brick and mortar in 1:14 (cf. Gen. 11:3, 4).                                                       20




Israel to the interests of his rule; their work (hdAbofE), 1:13, 14) will build

Pharaoh's store cities (tOnK;s;mi yrefA), 1:11).

     At the beginning of Exodus, Israel, vassals of the Lord because they are

Abraham 's descendants, is Pharaoh's de facto vassal people; they work to build

his store cities (tOnK;m;mi yrefA).  When the Lord acknowledges their cries, he

remembers his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (2:23-25) and begins

a process that ends in Pharaoh's defeat, Israel's rescue, and a formal covenant

ceremony that makes them his special people (19:4-6).  At the end of the nar-

rative, they are still building, but now they are constructing the tabernacle

(NKaw;mi + hDAbfE, 39:32).  Thus, the text links Israel's work on the cities and

Lord's dwellingplace by assonance:  miskan/mishkan.  With this wordplay, the

text constructs a frame for the narrative:  the building of the kingdom of

Pharaoh and the building that expresses the reign of God.


From the Land of Slavery to the Land of Service

    In addition to Israel's growth, Pharaoh fears that Israel may "go up from the

land" (Cr,xAhA-Nmi hlAfAv;, 1:10).  Their leaving implies a loss of valuable service

and a loss of face for Pharaoh.19  But, by the end of the narrative, Israel is on the

way, although not on their own; their movements depend upon the lifting

(hlAfA) of the glory cloud from the tabernacle (40:36, 372).

      Israel is on the way to the Promised Land.  Although the words the land do

not occur at the end of the narrative, the audience knows the promise that the

Lord will take them from Egypt, "to bring them up out of that land into a good

and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey" (wbAd;U blAHA tbazA

Cr,x,-lx, hbAHArU hbAOF Cr,x,-lx, xvhiha Cr,xAhA-Nmi OtlofEhal;U), 3:8). The verb

"to bring up" (hlAfA) is also used to depict the movement of the glory cloud

from the tabernacle (40:36-38).  Israel has become a pilgrim community, but

does not wander aimlessly in the desert; the glory cloud leads.  Thus, the goal is

clear:  The Lord is directing them toward the land of Abraham's hope (Gen.

12:1), there to serve him alone (dbafA, 23:24, 25).


From the Mountain to the Tabernacle

    In the opening scene of Exodus 3, God speaks to Moses from the burning

bush in the vicinity of "the mountain of God."  In the presence of this theo-

phanic fire (wxe, 3:32) Moses must remove his shoes.  Similarly, when the fire

appears on Mt. Sinai,20 God prohibits Israel from coming close, lest they die


      19 Moshe Greenberg writes that "our story assumes that Pharaoh claimed absolute authority

over all in his domain.  For the Israelites to win their freedom . .would not have been so much a

 loss to Egypt's economy . . as a blow to that authority."  Later, concerning the phrase, "going up
from Egypt," he comments that it "is thematic to the whole account of the Egyptian sojourn."  See
his Understanding Exodus (New York: Behrman House, 1969), 22-23.                         

CALVIN THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL                                22


(19:13).  After the covenant has been sealed, Israel sees the glory of God as "a

consuming fire" (tl,k,xo wxe, 24:17) in contrast to "the bush which did not

burn" (lKaxu Un.n,yxe hn,s;hav;, 3:2).  The fire of the Lord's presence is potentially

life threatening for Israel.  At the end of the narrative this dangerous presence

is in Israel's midst, hovering over the tabernacle (40:38).  The theophanic fire

is also part of the frame that encloses the Exodus narrative.



     The frame of Exodus enables an integral reading of the narrative by com-

pelling the reader to account for the whole text according to its elements as

repeated at the beginning and the ending.  Recognizing these elements will

guide the reading of the entire text by reminding the reader of the narrative

threads interwoven throughout the text and by moving the reader toward the

consciously designed ending.21  Attention to these elements and the way they

develop also helps avoid a tendentious or partial intetpretation.22  This frame

tells the reader that the narrator takes Israel from slavery to Pharaoh to service

in the presence of God.  The narrator tells this story by organizing the para-

graphs, or subunits, into the narrative before us.  So that the audience will prop-

erly hear this narrative, essential to its being and survival, it is crucial to discern

the limits, organization, and juxtaposition of these subunits.


The Development of the Narrative

     Reading Exodus from beginning to ending helps the reader to become

familiar with the landscape of the text so that subsequent detailed study is

anchored in and shaped by the contours of the text's particular interests.  Such

a reconnaissance seeks answers to questions such as:  What is happening?  Who

is involved?  What literary devices shape the narrative?  Where do significant


     20 The bush (hn,s;ha) anticipates Sinai (ynaysi), as do Greenberg, Understanding Exodus, 69-70,

Fretheim, Exodus , 55; and Benno Jacob, The Second Book of the Bible: Exodus, Trans. with an

 introduction by Walter Jacob (Hoboken, NJ.: KTAV, 1992), 50.

     21 It is important to recognize that canonical literature is read often, that the reader does not

come to the text de novo, but time and again.  Unlike mystery novels, it is crucial to read the Bible,

and the individual books within it, in the light of the ending.  Without the ending, of Exodus or

Scripture as a whole, we would be engaged in a "hopeless" reading.

    22 For example, readings of Exodus that focus primarily on the liberation from Egypt such as J.

Severino Croatto, Exodus: A Hermeneutics of Freedom (New York: Maryknoll, 1981) Jorge V. Pixley,

On Exodus: A Liberationist Perspective trans. Robert R Barr (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1987); or, a reading

 that reduces to a minimum the interpretation of the tabernacle narrative such as Rita J. Burns,

Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers with Excurses on Feasts/Ritual and Typology (Wilmington: Michael

Glazier, 1983), 180-81.  This is typical of many commentaries on Exodus.                                                                                                                                                 22



changes in texture occur?  What are the markers that indicate such changes?

Now that some of these questions have been addressed in the opening and

closing chapters of Exodus, I turn to a first reading of the text to discern the

development of the narrative.


Reading Exodus from Beginning to End

     The opening chapters introduce the protagonists of the narrative:  Israel,

Pharaoh, Moses, and the Lord.  They also define the narrative problem:

Pharaoh's oppression of Israel.  This oppression occasions the conflict between

him and Israel's Lord.  The conflict develops when Pharaoh rebuffs God's mes-

sengers, denies knowing the Lord (5:2), refuses to let Israel go, and increases

her burdens.  Through Moses, the Lord announces the plagues that will cause

Pharaoh, Egypt (7:5, 17; 8:22; 9:14), and Israel (10:2) to know that the Lord is

God alone.  These plagues will also proclaim his power to the nations (9:16).

But Pharaoh stubbornly refuses.  When the tenth plague overwhelms Egypt's

firstborns on Passover night, Pharaoh relents and sends Israel away to serve the

Lord, but he repents of this and pursues Israel into the waters of the Sea of

Reeds.  The Lord manipulates the waters of judgment so that Egypt drowns and

Israel passes through safely.  When the people of God see their enemy dead on

the seashore, they believe in the Lord and his servant Moses (14:30-31; cf. 4:1,

4,8-9).  Led by Moses and Miriam, Israel sings the Lord's praises (15:1-21).

     The narrative problem enunciated in chapters 1-2 has been resolved:  The

Lord heard Israel's cry (2:23-25; 3:7-8) and answered with convincing signs of

his power.  Israel is free from servitude to Pharaoh.  The development and res-

olution of the narrative problem occur within a conceptual framework familiar

to Israel: the movement from lament to praise.23  The psalm of praise, then,

effectively concludes the narrative.24

     Because Pharaoh has died, it would seem that the exodus narrative should

come to a close with the psalm; the common use of Exodus suggests this. But

the journey begun on Passover night (12:37) moves beyond the sea, into the

desert (15:22), where Israel wanders for some time (16:1; 17:1; cf. 19:2).  This

move in to the desert, away from Egypt, is a further development of the promise

that God would take Israel to the Promised Land (3:7-11).  But, although the

direction is clear, the goal will not yet be realized.  The new location is crucial:

On the way to the land, that is, in the desert, the narrative develops the theme

of dependence upon the Lord. In the inhospitable desert, Israel receives water,


      23 On the lament pattern as a basis for understanding Exodus 1-15:21 as a unit see James

Plastaras, The God of Exodus: The Theology of the Exodus Narrative (Milwaukee: Bruce

Publishing, 1966), 49-57, and C. Westennann, Praise and Lament in the Psalms, trans. Keith

R Crim and Richard N. Sowen (Atlanta:John Knox, 1981), 260.

     24 Other psalms that close a narrative: Gen. 49; 2 Sam. 22, 23:1-7.  Psalms that are part of a

narrative opening: I Sam. 2:1-10; Luke 1:46-55; 67-79.                                                     23

CALVIN THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL                                24


manna, and divine protection from the nations represented by Amalek.  All this

is to break her dependence upon Egypt (cf. 16:3).  The narrative memorializes

Israel's unwillingness, her murmuring against God, and the embarrassing

praise of God and wise administration offered by a Gentile, Jethro, Moses'


     Noteworthy at the beginning and ending of this material are the clusters of

legal vocabulary (15:25, 26; 18:13, 16, 22-26).  They not only anticipate the

Lord's Sinai speech and suggest that Israel's life outside of Egypt needs the

Lord's particular word but also frame the desert narrative.  By framing Israel's

desert experience, these clusters require the reader to put on the lenses of

torah (15:25; 18:16).  Bitter service to Pharaoh is a distant memory; now Israel

learns to live with the Lord's sweetener of the bitter waters in the desert torah

(15:25; cr. Ps. 19:8-10).  Self-determination is not a possibility for Israel.

     Although Israel remains in the desert, with Exodus 19:1-2 the narrative

begins to focus on a specific location within the desert the25 mountain (19:2; cf.

3:12).  Even though the mountain is mentioned in 18:5, the text indicates anew

thematic development by the summarizing disjunctive clauses in 19:1-2, which

reach back to Egypt and depict Israel's journeys from Rephidim to Sinai.

Exodus 19:3 begins the narrative proper of this subunit, an account of Moses'

ascents into and descents from the presence of God during which he receives

and transmits to Israel the Lord's words.  Israel may not touch the mountain nor

ascend into God's immediate presence, on pain of death (19:12-13; cf. 20:18-19).

In God's dangerous presence, Israel vows covenant obedience (19:8; 24:3, 7)

with a self-maledictory oath (24:8).  After this, Moses alone ascends into the

glory cloud and stays there for forty days and forty nights (24:18).

     The narrative accounts of Moses' ascents and descents26 in chapters 19 and

24 frame the covenant instruction material (20:1-17; 21:1-23:19) and embed it

in a narrative that depicts the presence of a God that Israel has heretofore not

experienced.  This fiery presence of God provides motivation for Israel's obe-

dience at the mountain of God's self-disclosure and warns against faithlessness.

Moses' final ascent brings him into the presence of God that Israel thought

"looked like a consuming fire" (24:17).


     25 The article suggests a specific mountain, which in the context of Exodus can only be the

mountain where God revealed himself to Moses, the mountain of which he said "you" (pl.) will

worship me there (3:12).

      26 Moses' ascents to and descents from Sinai continue up to and including Exodus 34. Some

commentators argue that these form segmentation markers: Thomas B. Dozeman, "Spatial Form

in Exodus 19:1-8a and in the Larger Sinai Narrative," Semeia 46 (1989): 96; Rolf  P. Knierim, "The

Composition of the Pentateuch," in Seminar Papers: The Society of Biblical Literature Annual

 Meeting (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1985), 400-403, argues that this pattern organizes Exodus

 19:3-39:43. He takes 34:29-39:43 as the last unit.  However, the Lord's speeches in 25-31 are

instructions for the building of the Lord's dwelling, not covenant stipulations or instruction.




     The Lord's first speech to Moses at the top of Sinai, however, initiates a

wholly new, and unexpected, theme: the building of a sanctuary for the Lord's

dwelling in Israel's midst (25:8-9).  Mimicking the creation account,27 there fol-

low six speeches detailing the offerings, the specifications for the sanctuary fur-

nishings and the sanctuary, the design of the priestly appurtenances and the

instructions for their consecration, and instructions for Bezalel and Oholiab

(25:1-31:11).  The seventh speech (31:12-17) reminds Israel to observe the

Sabbath as a sign for the generation to come "so that you may know that I am

the Lord, who makes you holy" (31:13); they are to celebrate it "for genera-

tions to come as a lasting covenant" (31:16).28  Then, the Lord gives Moses the

two tables of the Testimony (31:18).

     The distance between God and Israel, already defined in chapters 19 and 24,

is redefined in these seven speeches.  Where before God brings Israel to himself

(19:4) but keeps them at a safe distance (19:12-13), now he wants to dwell in

Israel's midst.  Even so, the distance is maintained by God's special design of the

the tabernacle (25:9).  Israel's nature requires the distance; God's grace designs

an "incarnational" medium by which the distance is minimized and the near-

ness maximized so that he might meet with his people.  With the tabernacle,

God is creating space for his people to know and enjoy him forever (29:43-46).

     Throughout 25-31, Moses remains in God's presence at the top of Sinai.

Abruptly, however, the narrative shifts the reader's attention to the people who

are awaiting Moses at the foot of Sinai (32:1).  Motivated by the people's impa-

tience, Aaron fashions a calf in whose presence Israel worships God with a mix-

ture of prescribed and alien elements (32:6).  Israel's corrupt worship in the

Lord's presence brings on his wrath.  Were it not for Moses' intercession in

God's immediate presence, Israel would have been consumed by God's anger

(32:7-14; cf. 3:2-5).  Thereafter Moses descends and breaks the tables of the law,

thereby symbolizing the broken covenant; three thousand Israelites die at

the hands of the Levites (32:15-29).  When Moses ascends to plead for pardon

(32:30), the Lord first reminds him that the sinners will die for their own rebel-

lion (32:33) and then declares that Moses will not accompany Israel to the

Promised Land because their stubbornness ("stiffnecked," Jrefo-hw,q;, 33:3, 5;

34:9; cf. 32:9) may provoke divine destruction.29  Moses continues to plead that

God be present with his people and that he show him his glory.  The Lord

grants his requests and speaks a word of mercy (33:12-23).  Moses then prepares

two new stone tablets upon which he will write the words of the covenant again


     27 See Peter J. Kearney, "Creation and liturgy: The P Redaction of Ex 25-40," Zeitschrift fur

die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 89 (1977): 375-87.

     28 See Rolf Rendtorff. "'Covenant' as a Structuring Concept in Genesis and Exodus. Journal

of Biblical Literature l08 (1989): 385-93.

     29 The narrative describes Israel with vocabulary reminiscent of Pharaoh's hardness of heart:

See the verb (hwAqA) in 7:3 and 13:15 and the adjective in 1:14 and 6:9.  How does Israel hear this?


CALVIN THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL                                26


(34:1-4, 27-28).  Before the covenant renewal takes place, the Lord reveals his

compassionate and gracious nature:  He is slow to anger but will not let the

guilty go unpunished (34:6-7).  This compassionate and gracious God renews

the covenant and forgives his stubborn people.  Moses again descends, this time

with the tablets of the renewed covenant.  Thereafter, whenever Moses consults

with God in his presence, he veils his face to protect Israel from the full glory

of God (34:29-35).

     In these chapters, Israel experiences God's anger and his mercy.  God has

delivered Israel a second time, this time from themselves.  Now they are not

only free from Pharaoh but also forgiven by God.  Only so do they begin to fash-

ion the appurtenances of the tabernacle.  A thematic change in 35:1-3 takes the

reader back to the subject of the Sabbath, treated immediately before the nar-

rative of Israel's corruption of the Lord's presence (31:12-17).

     After the golden calf episode, Moses assembles the community and trans-

mits the Lord's instructions for the offerings (cf. 25:1-7) necessary for the con-

struction of the tabernacle.  Israel willingly offers more than necessary and,

under the leadership of Bezalel and Oholiab, begins the building project (35:1-

36:7).  Israel obediently manufactures all the necessary items for the tabernacle,

ending with the gold plate for Aaron's turban upon which is inscribed: "Holy

to the Lord" (36:8-39:31).  Then, in a narrative evocative of Genesis 1:31-2:3, 30

Israel completes the work of the tabernacle in perfect obedience and brings all

the items to Moses (39:32-41), who blesses them (39:42-43).

     Moses assembles and consecrates the tabernacle and the priesthood on new

year's day:  the first day of the first month, in the second year (40:2, 17; cf.

12:1).31  After Moses finishes his work (40:33), the glory of the Lord fills the

sanctuary:  God is in the midst of and leads his forgiven people on their journey




     After reading through the development of the Exodus narrative from begin-

ning to end, I conclude that Exodus is composed of six major narrative sub-

units: 1:1-15:21; 15:22-18:27; 19:1-24:18; 25:1-31:18; 32-34; and 35-40.32 But what


      30 See pp.18-19 above.

      31 On this day the flood waters dried up from the earth and Noah removed the covering from

the ark, Genesis 6:13.

      32 I discuss this segmentation more fully in my, "An Iconography of Order: Kingship in

 Exodus. A Study of the Structure of Exodus,. 116-332.  For recent studies with a similar

segmentation see, Walter Brueggemann, "The Book of Exodus," in The New Interpreter's

Bible, vol. 1 (Nashville: Abingdon, 1994),687-89; Everett Fox, "On the Book of Exodus

and its Structure, in his The Five Books of Moses:  A New Translation with Introductions,

Commentary and Notes (New York:  Schocken, 1995), 241-47.  A different arrangement is

 proposed by Mark S. Smith, "The Literary Arrangement of the Priestly Redaction of

Exodus: A Preliminary Investigation, Catholic Biblical Quarterly 58, no. 1 (1996): 25-50.                                    26



is the interrelationship among the subunits?  In the following part, I will begin

to answer this by pointing to the themes of Exodus as indicated by key words

and phrases.

The Key Words of Exodus

     In this section, I will focus on clustered key words and phrases that not only

emphasize the major themes but also support the definition of the major nar-

rative subsections of Exodus as defined above.

     The first important cluster of key words refers to servitude (hdAbofE. db,f,.

dbafA) and occurs approximately ninety-seven times in the Exodus narrative.

They are distributed as follows: sixty-seven times in 1:1-15:21, seventeen times

in 19-24, two times in 32-34, and eleven times (only hdAbofE) in 35-40.  Within 1:1-

15:21, these words occur thirty-three times in the plagues pericope (7:8-11:10).

The heavy concentration of this word complex and its complete absence from

15:22-18:27 suggests that 1:1-15:21 forms a major narrative subunit that answers

the question:  Whom will Israel serve, Pharaoh or the Lord?  The song at the sea

declares that the Lord reigns forever (15:18); the construction narrative

depicts Israel's performing "work" (hdAbofE, 39:32, 42; cf.1:13, 14) on the Lord's


     Other key words help answer this question and support the argument that

1:1-15:21 forms a subunit.  First, the verbs describing the hardening of

Pharaoh's heart (qzaHA. hwAqA. dbeKa), whether Pharaoh or the Lord is the subject

of these verbs,33 occur throughout.  Second, the verb "to know" (fdayA) describes

the result of God's mighty acts in Egypt:  Pharaoh, Egypt, Israel, and the nations

will acknowledge the Lord as God. Third, "to believe, to trust" (NmexA)34 in the

Lord or Moses, a theme introduced at the time of Moses' commissioning, is

resolved at the sea when Israel sees her enemy lying dead on the seashore and

then believes in the Lord and his servant Moses (14:31).

     These key words, along with the movement from lament to praise and the

resolution of the conflict depicted in the opening chapters, support the con-

tention that 1:1-15:21 forms a major narrative subunit.

     As already observed in the reading of Israel's desert experience, the geo-

graphic shift to the desert distinguishes this part from the previous narrative.

Several clusters of key words support this contention. The key words test (hsAnA),

15:25, 16:4; 17:2, 7), bread (MH,l,, 16:3, 4, 8, 12, 15, 22, 29, 32), water(Myima,

15:22, 23, 25, 27; 17:1, 2, 3, 6), to complain (NUl, 15:24, 16:2, 7, 8, 9, 12; 17:3),

and to set out (fsanA, 15:21, 16:1; 17:1) typically occur in 15:22-17:7, which

depicts Israel's


       33 Pharaoh hardens his heart ten times (7:13, 14, 22; 8:11, 15, 28; 9:7, 34, 35; 13:15); the Lord

also hardens Pharaoh's heart ten times (4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8, 17).

     34 The verb occurs in 4:1, 5, 8, 9, 31; 14:31. Gerhard von Rad ("Beobachtungen an den

Moseerzahlungen Exodus 1-14,"  Evanglilische Theologie 31 [1971]: 579-88) called attention

to the overarching function of this key word.                                                                   27

CALVIN THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL                                28

perceived threat to her life, the Lord's sustenance in the desert, and the pro-

bative value of the experience.  In 17:8-18:27, the key words are to do battle and

battle (hmAhAl;mi MHalA, 17:8, 9, 10, 16)), hand (dya, 17:9, 11, 12, 16; 18:9, 10), to be

heavy, weighty (dbeKa, 17:12; 18:18), to sit (bwayA, 17:12; 18:13, 14), to judge (FbawA,

to save, deliver (lcanA, 18:4, 8, 9, 10), and the phrase everything the Lord/Moses

 had done (hvhy-hWAfA-rw,xE-lKA-tx,, 18:1, 8, 9, 14, 17, 20, 24).  With these, the

text develops the themes of external and internal threat as represented by Amalek

and disputes among the people and how they are resolved.

       Most important, however, is the clustering of legal vocabulary at the begin-

ning and end of this unit:  to judge and judgment (FPAw;mi FpawA, 15:25; 18:13, 16,

222, 262), decree (qHo, 15:25, 26; 18:16, 20), to command and commandment

(hvAc;mi hUAci, 15:25; 18:23), to listen to (lOqB; or  LOql; fmawA, 15:26; 18:19, 24),

and to instruct and torah/law (hrAOR. hrAyA, 15:25; 18: 16).  By framing the text with

these clusters, the narrator leads the audience to evaluate the narrated events

from the perspective of God's law as the giver of life, sustenance, and order.  It

also defines 15:22-18:27 as the second major narrative subunit.  The subsequent

shift to a specific location in the desert, Mt Sinai (19:1-2), argues for the begin-

ning of a new unit and therefore supports the claim that 15:22-18:27 is the sec-

ond major narrative unit.

     The shift to Sinai in chapter 19 includes a different vocabulary.  Three of the

following five chapters deal almost exclusively with legal, not building, instruc-

tions, and the other two narrate the offer and sealing of a covenant.  This sug-

gests that the central concern in these chapters is covenant stipulations.  The

clustering of related terminology supports this: the word (in reference to the

Lord's words; rbADA, 19:6, 7, 8, 9; 20:1; 22:92, 23:7, 8; 24:32, 4, 8,14); covenant

(tyriB;), 19:5; 23:32; 24:7, 8); judgment (FPAw;mi, 21:1, 9, 31; 23:6; 24:3); and

Israel's vow of submission (19:8; 24:3, 7).

     Another cluster of words describes the ascents and descents of Moses on the

mountain, the descent of the Lord on the mountain, and the fiery presence of

the Lord. They are:  to go up (hlAfA, 19:3, 13, 18, 20, 24; 24:1, 2, 9, 12, 13, 15, 18);

to descend (drayA, 19:11, 14, 18, 20, 21, 24, 25); mountain (rha, 19:2, 3, 11, 122, 13,

14, 16, 17, 182, 203, 232; 20:18; 24:4, 12, 13, 152, 16, 17, 182), the Lord's instruc-

tions that Israel stay at the foot of the mountain (rhAhA tyTiH;taB;, 19:17; rhAhA

tHata, 24:4), and fire (wxe, 19:18; 24:17).  The use of mountain and the verbs of

ascent and descent almost exclusively in chapters 19 and 24 supports the con-

tention that they form a frame for these chapters and argues for the conclusion

that 19-24 form the third narrative subunit.

     The speeches of building instruction in Exodus 25-31 and compliance with

those instructions in 35-40 distinguish these as separate units within the larger

narrative.  Since both deal with the structure that will facilitate the Lord's pres-

ence among his people (25:8), it will be helpful to treat the keywords they have in

common at the same time.  We will not address the obvious repetition of            28


those words that depict the tabernacle and priestly appurtenances.

    Both instruction and construction units begin with instructions concerning

the offerings of basic materials for the tabernacle construction:  The Lord

instructs Moses in 25:1-9, and Moses teaches Israel in 35:3-36:7.  The Lord says:

     Tell the Israelites to bring (HqalA) me an offering (hmAUrT;).  You are to

     receive (HqalA) the offering (hmAUrT;) for me from each man whose heart

     prompts him to give.  These are the offerings (hmAUrT;) you are to receive

     (HqalA): . . then have them make (hWAfA) a sanctuary (wDAq;mi) for me, and I

     will dwell (NkawA) in their midst.  Make (hWAfA) this tabernacle (NKAw;mi) and all

     its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you. (25:1-3a, 8-9)

After the Lord forgives Israel and renews the covenant, Moses instructs Israel:

     Take (HqalA) from what you have, an offering (hmAUrT;) for the Lord.

      Everyone who is willing is to bring an offering (hmAUrT) of gold, silver. . . .

All who are skilled among you are to come and make (hWAfA) everything the

Lord has commanded:  the tabernacle (NKAw;mi) with its tent and . . (35:5, 10-11a).

      The key words in bold lettering underscore the central action of these two

narrative units: Moses gives Israel the Lord's instructions to take (HqalA, 25:22,

3; 27:20; 28:5, 9; 29: 15, 31 [plus twelve times]; 30:16, 23, 34; 35:5; 36:3; 40:9)

her free-will offerings (hmAUrT;, 25:22, 3; 29:27, 283; 30:13, 14, 15; 35:52, 21,

242; 36:3, 6), and from them make (hWAfA, 212 times) the Lord's dwelling place (NKAw;mi,

fifty-six times; "tent of meeting," dreOm lh,xo, thirty-four times).35

     Three other key words suggest the purpose of the instruction and construc-

tion accounts:  sabbath, to meet, and to dwell.  Sabbath occurs only a few times

(31:13, 14, 152, 162; 35:2, 3).  Its narrative location at the end of the instruction

and the beginning of the construction account, however, is crucial because it

argues for an intimate connection between the Sabbath and the building of the

tabernacle.  Childs, for example, contends that they are "two sides of the same

reality" and that "the witness of the tabernacle and that of the sabbath both tes-

tify to God's rule over his creation (31:17). "36  The narrative location also forms

a frame around the apostasy of Israel and the Lord's renewal of the covenant,

thereby distinguishing it from the instruction and complinace narratives.  If, in

reference to the tabernacle accounts, sabbath evokes the Lord's rule, its linkage

to the rebellion of Israel argues that Israel violated that rule.  Moreover, if sab-

bath evokes the Lord's rule over creation, then the verbs to meet (dfayA, 25:22;

29:42, 43; 30:6, 36) and to dwell (NkawA, 25:8; 29:45, 46; 40:35), along with taber-


     35 The word sanctuary (wDAq;mi) occurs only in 25:8 (cf. 15:17).  The two words for the Lord's

dwelling place are the occasion of many studies arguing for different historical traditions con-

cerning the tabernacle or tent of meeting.  See Childs, The Book of Exodus, 584-93, for his

discussion of Exodus 33:7-11. Note also 39:32, which states "the work on the tabernacle: the

Tent of Meeting, was completed." The appositive "the Tent of Meeting" argues that the

received text points to the same referent.

     36 Childs, The Book of Exodus, 541-42.                                                        29

CALVIN THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL                                30

nacle and tent of meeting, evoke the place from which the Lord's rule emanates

upon the earth, and the people among whom he effects his particular rule.

     Finally, although to bless (j`rB) is technically not a key word in the taberna-

cle accounts since it occurs there only once (39:43), it is linked with the key

word work, which occurs in the instruction and compliance narratives (hkAxlAm;,

31:3, 5, 14, 152; 35:22, 21, 24, 29, 31, 33, 352; 36:1, 2, 3, 42, 5, 6, 72, 8; 38:242;

39:43; 40:33).  The construction narrative, and thus Exodus, ends with Moses'

blessing Israel even as God had blessed the seventh day (Gen. 2:1-3) after God

had finished all his work.  Remarkably, then, Exodus ends where Genesis begins. 

Or, to put it another way:  The end of Exodus picks up where Adam's and Eve's

sin created a disjunction between the presence of God and human history.37

     The golden calf account, located between the instruction and construction

narratives, presents, develops, and resolves the problem of Israel's rebellion in

the Lord's presence.  Located here, it forms a significant transition from the

instruction to the construction account Those who manufacture the taberna-

cle parts and its furniture have experienced the justice and mercy of God.

Could a rebellious people participate in such a construction?

      Keywords remind us of Exodus 19-24 and Moses' ascents and descents (see

the uses of xOb hlAfA drayA) on the mountain of God (rha, 32:1, 12, 15, 19; 33:6;

34:22, 32, 4, 292,32).  But where 19-24 focuses on the making and sealing of a

covenant, in 32-34 the issue is Aaron's and Israel's making (hWAfA, 32:1, 4

[+ fourteen occurrences]) a golden calf (lg,fe 32:4, 8, 19, 20, 24, 35).  In the

light of the significance of the verb to make in the tabernacle accounts, this sug-

gests that Aaron's making of the calf is an antisanctuary activity.38  The conse-

quences are disastrous.  The Lord distances himself from Israel when he

describes them to Moses as "your people" (j~m.;fa; plus thirty-two other occur-

rences of it in 32-34), declares his intention "to exterminate" (hlAKA, 32:10, 12;

33:3, 5) this "stiff-necked" (Jr,fo-hweq;, 32:9; 33:3, 5; 34:9) people and make,

(hWAfA, 32:10) a great people out of Moses.  Moses reminds God that Israel is

"your people." The deadly prepositional reparte concludes with a summary

statement:  "Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people (Om.fa the

disaster he had threatened" (32: 14). In this connection, the verb to exterminate


     37 The verb to bless in 39:42 is linked to to sanctify in the Lord's sabbath speech in 31:13.

 These texts then recall the seventh day speech of Genesis 2:1-3 in which the Lord blesses

and makes holy the seventh day.  Remarkably, in Exodus, Israel, and not the Sabbath is the

object of the Lord's sanctifying power.  Similarly Israel, and not the Sabbath, is the object

of Moses' blessing.  In Exodus, these verbs appear in the reverse order: to bless and to

sanctify (Gen. 2:3) and to sanctify (Ex. 31:13) and to bless (Ex. 39:43).  This reversal of crucial

words is common with quotations and references to other texts according to Moshe Weinfeld,

'The Decalogue: Its Significance, Uniqueness, and Place in Israel's Tradition, in Religion and

Law: Biblical-Judaic and Islamic Perspectives, ed. Edwin B. Firmage, Bernard G, Weiss, John

W. Welch (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1990), 19.

      38 Fretheim, Exodus, 280.                                                                            30



(hlAKA) assumes importance because of the manner in which its conjugated

forms mimic the verb to consume (lkaxA) in 3:3.  If Israel is stiff-necked like

Pharaoh, they are also in danger of suffering the destruction the Lord brought

upon him. If Pharaoh stood in the way of the Lord's glory and was destroyed,

how much more when Israel gives the Lord's glory to another?  Fire comes close

(wxe, 32:20, 24), and some suffer the Lord's anger.  And when the Lord reveals

he will not lead Israel to the land, Moses' appeals move the Lord so that his

presence (MyniPA, thirty times in 32-34) does accompany Israel.  The Lord reveals

his mercy, renews the covenant, and inscribes his words on the tablets (HaUl,

32:152, 162, 19; 34:13, 42, 28, 29) again.  The unique constellation of keywords

and phrases in the golden calf account strongly argues that it is a narrative sub-


     My brief examination of clusters of key words and phrases supports the seg-

mentation of Exodus into the six major narrative subunits mentioned above:

1:1-15:21; 15:22-18:27; 19:1-24:18; 25:1-31:18; 32-34; and 35-40.  But there

remains the matter of the interrelationship among these subunits.


The Structure of Exodus

     Until recently, arguments for a double or triple organization of Exodus were

common, and appeared to be based primarily on the geographic movement of

the narrative.39  Closer examination of such analyses, however, would disclose

underlying historical-critical assumptions that separated the Egypt and Sinai

traditions and that argued that these were only subsequently linked by a redac-

tor.  Assumptions about the nature of historical narrative--it must flow unim-

peded (Gressman)--and law--the priestly tradition reflects the dry legalism of

later Judaism (Wellhausen)--also contributed to the exegetical and herme-

neutical separation of the two traditions that not only distinguished history and

law but also separated the gospel of salvation from Egypt from the law of God's

covenant.  Although Fretheim and others have recently challenged this separa-

tion of law from narrative, the exegetical use and devotional reading of Exodus

still reflects an antipathy toward the legal material and a preference for the nar-

rative and its story of redemption.

      The distinction between the genres of law and narrative has also led com-

mentators to define a "Sinai pericope" that moves well into Numbers:  Exodus

19:1-Numbers 10:10, which ignores the received segmentation between

Exodus-Leviticus and Leviticus-Numbers.40  It is also true, however, that Israel


     39 Double: 1:1-18:27: The exodus from Egypt; 19:1-40:38: The giving of the law on Sinai.

Triple: 1:1-15:21: The events taking place in Egypt; 15:22-18:27: The events taking place in

 the desert; 19:1- 40:38: The events taking place on Mt. Sinai

      40 S. R Driver, The Book of Exodus (Cambridge: University Press, 1929), 168. Georg Beer

and Kurt Galling, Exodus, Handbuch zum Alten Testament (Tubingen: Mohr, 1939), 84. There

remains, however, the problem that these segmentations erase the received boundaries

between Exodus and Leviticus and Leviticus and Numbers, thereby removing one book

effectively from discussion.                                                                                                                    31

CALVIN THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL                                32


camps at Sinai from Exodus 19:1 through Numbers 10:10, that this material is

mostly instructional, and that from Numbers 10:11 the people continue the

journey they began in Exodus 12:37.  This observation, then, has the benefit of

emphasizing Sinai as the central locus of divine self-disclosure.  And, by extend-

ing this Sinai narrative to include Exodus 15:22-18:27 and Numbers 10:11-

20:13, the memory of Israel's desert experiences, one before and the other

after the Sinai theophany, the narrative frames this central location.  These

desert experiences, however, are dissimilar: Before the Sinai theophany, Israel

complains without consequences; after Sinai, God judges Israel for their com-

plaints.  Theologically, this suggests that the fiery presence of God in Israel's

midst as they journey toward the land, not yet a narrative reality in the first

desert pericope, creates a new community that ignores the divine presence

only at their peril.

     This brief discussion argues for two conclusions.  First, the nature of the lit-

erary organization is not neutral--it has hermeneutical significance and theo-

logical consequences.  Second, the discussion of the larger Sinai pericope

suggests that the commingling of narrative and law is not a problem to be

solved historically.  To the contrary, the present form of the text argues that we

read the divine speeches of instruction as embedded in a larger and continu-

ing narrative without positing a tension between narrative and law.  This has

the effect of letting the flow of narrative shape the hearing of law.41  Without

narrative, law has no context within which its demands make sense; without law,

narrative has no power to define the world it depicts.  Narrative and law work

together to create a text that uniquely shapes the audience's hearing and

response.  In order to allow the narrative to maximally shape the audience, it is

important to discern its rhetorical strategy on the level of its macrostructural


     Exodus 25-40 provides an important clue for defining the interrelationship

among the six narrative subunits:  Chapters 25-31 and 35-40 are linked as

instruction and construction narratives. The insertion of chapters 32-34

between them creates a chiastic arrangement.  Construction of the tabernacle

does not take place until the narrative has moved through Israel's rebellion to

its forgiveness. If this is such an obvious linkage, why then do so many still read

19-24 with the tabernacle section?  One answer is that both 19-24 and 25-40 con-

tain legal material and much of it reflects the style of the priestly tradition (P).

But, is this enough to conclude that 19-24 be read with the tabernacle section,

or should it be read with the antecedent material?

     Several arguments call for the conclusion that chapters 1-24 also exhibit a

chiastic arrangement.  Thematically the narrative develops toward Sinai in a


     41 James W. Watts ("Public Readings and Pentateuchal Law," Vetus Testamentum 45,

no. 4 [1995]: 543) argues that "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 the law to the conventions

of narrative. "




movement from disorder to order.  At the beginning of the narrative, Israel is

under Pharaoh's control until the Creator's power produces massive disorder

in Egypt and the waters of judgment swallow Pharaoh and his army.  Shortly

after moving through the Sea of Reeds into the desert, Israel complains of

thirst.  The Lord sustains them with gifts of water and manna, and defends them

against Amalek.  Jethro's wisdom enables Moses to administer the Lord's will:

his torah.  After they arrive at Sinai, Israel vows allegiance to the Lord; life will

now be determined by the stipulations of the covenant.  Life with God at Sinai

is radically different from that in Egypt.  The two places are linked as antipodes:

unwilling slavery and disorder versus willing vassaldom and order.  Egypt and

Sinai are also connected sequentially by itinerary notices (fsanA, 12:37; 13:20;

15:22; 16:1; 17:1; 19:2) that serve as a transition device: They take Israel from

Rameses (12:37; cf. 1:11), the place of Israel's bitter servitude, to Sinai (rhAhA

dg,g,, 19:2) where they willingly submit to the Lord (19:8; 24:3, 7).  Finally, a the-

matic change separates 19-24 from the following chapters. Although Moses

ascends to the Lord's presence to receive the tablets of the law (24:12), God's

speeches in 25-31 are dedicated to the tabernacle instructions, not covenant

making.  This unexpected thematic change creates a major narrative break.  For

these reasons, I suggest that the Egypt and Sinai narratives form the outer ele-

ments of a chiasm:  At Sinai the former slaves of Pharaoh willingly become the

servants of the Lord.  The desert narrative provides a transition that comments

on certain aspects involved in the change of masters.

    Combining the reading of the entire narrative with the insights gained from

the clusters of keywords, I understand the interrelationship of the subunits as

of Exodus follows:

     A  Royal Conflict From Slaves' Lament to Servants' Praise (1-15:21)

     B The Desert: Learning to live with God (15:22-18:27)

     Al The Mountain of God:  We will do all we have heard! (19:1-24:18)

     C Tabernacle and Sabbath:  Let there be a sanctuary! (25:1-31:18)

     D Corruption in God's Presence:  like Pharaoh, like Israel! (32-34)

     C1 God's Presence in the Tabernacle:  And it was so! (35-40)

In this structure the sigla A-A' and C-C' point to the basic narrative movement

in each half; B and D indicate the transitions from one aspect of this move-

ment to the other.  This structure suggests that even as B and D nuance the

antecedent narratives (A and C) so they shape the audience's hearing of the

subsequent narrative (A' and C').  That is, the desert and the apostasy narratives

nuance the audience's hearing of the covenant making and the construction

of the tabernacle.

     This double triadic structure of Exodus depicts a consistent move from

Egypt into God's presence at Sinai and the consequent design of an instrument

for God's dwelling in the midst of his people and his continuing presence on

their continuing journey from Egypt to the Promised Land.


CALVIN THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL                                34


The Argument of Exodus

       Having examined the beginning and end of Exodus, followed its develop-

ment from the initial definition of the narrative problem to its resolution, dis-

cerned clusters of key words and phrases, and defined the organization of the

text, I will now state the argument, or the subject of the account, in a brief nar-

ration of what the text recounts in greater detail.

      Fearing Israel's enormous growth, Pharaoh enslaves them to build his cities

      and devises a plan to murder all newborn males; but Israel continues to

      grow.  After God acknowledges Israel's oppression, he rescues them from

      stubborn Pharaoh by mighty and terrible acts, announced and mediated by

      Moses.  On Passover night, Pharaoh urges Israel to leave the land, but he

      recants and pursues Israel into the sea. The Lord moves the waters to defeat

      Pharaoh but he lets Israel pass through on dry ground. After praising God

      for his great salvation, Israel enters the desert where they complain to Moses

      about lack of water and bread.  In the desert God supports Israel with water

      and manna; he also defends them from Amalek's attack.  Jethro, the

      Midianite priest, visits the camp, praises God when he hears about Israel's

      escape, and helps Moses in the judicial administration of the people. The

      Lord brings Israel to Sinai where he makes a covenant with them and Israel

      promises faithful obedience. Afterward God calls Moses to meet him at the

      top of mount Sinai. (1:1-24:18).

      At the top of Sinai, Moses receives instructions for Israel to collect offerings

     and to make a sanctuary for the Lord to dwell in their midst. While God is

     speaking to Moses, Israel organizes a corrupt worship of the Lord with a

     golden calf. This provokes the Lord to destroy Israel, but Moses intervenes

     on Israel's behalf.  Although Israel suffers the Lord's punishment, he for-

     gives his people, promises to lead them to the Promised Land, and renews

     the covenant.  After this, Israel obediently manufactures the various ele-

     ments of the tabernacle complex and brings them to Moses.  He inspects

     Israel's work and then blesses them.  On the first day of the second year,

     Moses assembles and consecrates the tabernacle and the priesthood.  Then

     the glory of the Lord fills the tabernacle; the fiery cloud guides Israel on

     their journey (25:1-40:38).

I have written the argument to reflect the narrative structure and to conserve

the movement from Egypt to Sinai, and that from instruction to construction.

According to the working definition, the argument is descriptive; no interpre-

tation42  of the text should intrude at this stage, only a keen appreciation of the

narrative movement from beginning to end.


       42 It is, of course, true that interpretation begins with the act of reading and discerning

structure. I mean at this stage to describe as objectively as possible what the text before the

audience says, given the structure for which I am arguing.




The Theme of Exodus

     For preaching purposes, the theme of a narrative or its subunit should have

only one subject and a predicate in order to clearly hear who does what in the

narrative.  This is an extremely difficult, if not impossible, task for a larger nar-

rative.  But the statement of the argument already provides us with a good

reduced version of the narrative.  I begin, then, with a thematic statement, prod-

uct of keeping the essentials of each major subunit and of removing details.

By mighty signs of power, the Lord rescues Abraham's abundant descen-

dants, Israel, from Pharaoh's slavery in Egypt, sustains them in the desert,

and brings them to covenant with him at Mt. Sinai.  Through Moses, the

Lord instructs Israel to make him a dwelling place; but instead, Israel makes

a golden calf.  After God pardons their rebellion, Israel makes the taberna-

cle and Moses assembles it.  Then the glory of the Lord fills the tabernacle

and leads Israel on their journey.

     This thematic statement can be further reduced to:  By mighty signs of power

theLord rescues Israel from Pharaoh and brings her to his presence at Sinai in

order to dwell in her midst by means of the tabernacle.  Exodus 29:43-46

could be considered the narrative's own thematic statement.



      In this article, I have provided a brief, first reading of Exodus as an exercise

in reading a larger biblical narrative.  By following these steps the reader can

appropriate the narrative flow such that subsequent readings of smaller peri-

copes can be placed in the light of the whole narrative.  This reading has also

shown that the commingling of narrative and instructional genres is not an

obstacle to understanding the Exodus narrative.  But, there remains the ques-

tion of the coherence of Exodus; what gives the narrative its unity.  This I will

address in a later article.





This material is cited with gracious permission from:

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



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