Exodus Introduction 2
Exodus means “the way out” (ex + odos) and comes from the Greek Septuagint. This is the Bible used in the early church. The Jewish Bible was originally in Hebrew (with some isolated exceptions). In the Hebrew Bible this is called “the book of ‘And these are the Names’” (which is the opening words of the scroll). The five scrolls which make up the Torah are understood to be of central import to the Jewish faith; and arguably Exodus is the most important book of their Bible. Certainly, the story which constitutes the Jews as God’s people is the exodus from Egypt and the covenant at Sinai. A sixth book, Joshua, concludes the initial narrative, recounting the entrance into the Promised Land. The book of Judges provides an expansion on this process and Samuel and Kings then provide the culmination of God’s Promise and the tragic failure to heed God’s warning.
Scholars discern several original sources in these works, based on language, theology, and themes. The general theory is that there was a Priestly author, one who wrote calling God “YHWH”, another who wrote calling God “Elohim” and the Deuteronomist (who wrote the extensive “history”). There was some point when this was all compiled (and there are layers of editors who combined different materials). Some of the tension in the Jewish Bible around cultic worship (especially in prophetic literature). The complex process of oral tradition and written documents, compilation and editing, all under the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit, is not ours to discern. Suffice to say that there will be times when we ‘hear’ the different voices, and at times they will be in harmony and at other times more dissonant. Life is complex and so is the faith. God is bigger than our little theories or any human language. Fundamentalists say Moses wrote it all, supernaturally, and that is all there is to it. Remember, “author” is the root of “authority”. Also the other “historical” books are called the prophets in the Jewish Bible. Moses is the one whom God communicated with and through, but the written books we read refer to him in third person and occasionally make inadvertent contemporary references which makes me think that someone else wrote the final version, later in time. Remember, the Jewish rabbis have long held that Moses received both the written Torah AND the oral interpretation of it at Sinai. The oral tradition is on equal footing as revelation! This is lost on most Christians as we would not be familiar with it at all.
The first five books, called the Torah, contain much more than Law. Genesis begins with a creation account and several narratives leading up to Abraham. The covenant with Abraham is central to understanding the ‘fount’ of the Jews. However, most of the Jewish Bible does not refer much to Abraham. It is fair to say that the exodus experience was more important theologically for the people of God.
“Abraham and Obedience to the Law”
(Genesis 26:5) Isaac went to Gesar (Philistines) during a famine and God warned him not to go to Egypt but to go where God sent him, and to sojourn in this land. God says that He will make Isaac fruitful because of His promise to Abraham. “because Abraham obeyed Me and kept my charge: My commandments, My laws, My teachings.”
“Shama” is the Hebrew word of listen. It is the root of the name Samuel (hear God, God hears). It means to listen, to hear, give heed and by extension obey.
There are four words which are interrelated. “mishmereth, mitzvah, chuqqot, torah.” All four are feminine nouns.
Mishmereth comes from a root meaning to guard or watch as a sentry, by extension it came to mean observe a duty or obligated service. So the connotation is to be given “a charge”.
Mitzvah comes from a root meaning to command, give an order, charge, appoint or send (as a messenger). It means a commandment, precept, law or ordinance.
Chuqqot comes from a masculine noun and (both) means prescription, statute, ordinance, a limit (how far one can go in time or space)
Torah comes from a root verb means to throw, cast, pour; point out, show; direct, teach, instruct. Its strongest connotation is to shoot an arrow. So torah means law, direction, instruction, custom or manner. Probably instruction is the best translation.
We spend so much time pulling this verse apart because it demonstrates the heart of Jewish response to God. Faith/trust and love is obedient. It complies with God’s will (vs. Adam who does not). The wide range of synonyms for “law” (in the broad sense) is also symptomatic of the central place of “law” (Divine Instruction). Interestingly, rabbis debated if Abraham kept all the Jewish Law (written and oral) pre-emptively or this simply means what God told him to do. In Exodus, we will see the Laws/Instruction spelled out more clearly.