Study Guide

Book of Exodus Summary

Book of Exodus Summary

A lot goes down in Exodus, so let's break it down into five sections.

Setting the Stage

The Israelites are right where we left them in Genesis, hanging out in Egypt and multiplying. But then a new Pharaoh comes to power, and he starts enslaving the Israelites. When he gets worried about how many Israelites there are, he orders that all Egyptians must help to kill all male Israelite babies to control the population. Talk about a morally fraught order.

One baby boy, Moses, survives because his mother puts him in the Nile and he's picked up by Pharaoh's daughter. Moses grows up as an Egyptian prince, but then kills an Egyptian overseer when he sees the man beating an Israelite, one of Moses's kin. Drama's a-brewing.

In The Wilderness

Moses heads out of town because of what he did, and finds himself in the wilderness. Eventually, Moses has an encounter with God, who appears to him out of a bush that's engulfed in flames, but does not burn. (This was before things like that were all postmodern and hipster cool). God's message: Moses and his brother Aaron must go to Egypt to free the Israelites.

Let My People Go!

Moses and Aaron ask Pharaoh really nicely if he'll set the slaves free, but God makes him give the brothers a big, fat "get lost." God then decides to show off for everyone, raining ten plagues down on Egypt: bloodied water, lice, flies, livestock diseases, boils, skyfire, locusts, and impenetrable darkness. Then, to top it off, God finally slays each Egyptian firstborn. Talk about a show of force. Pharaoh lets the Israelites go, but then changes his mind. What can we say? He's a fickle guy. 

Run!

The Egyptians pursue the fleeing Israelites to the Red Sea. God and Moses split the sea apart, allowing the Israelites to cross the water. Trippy as this journey is, they get across. Pharaoh enters after them, but God closes the sea, and the Egyptians drown. Womp womp.

Now What?

Now the Israelites are in the desert. God helps them solve basic food and water problems, and they set about coming up with rules for the new nation. God gives Moses the Ten Commandments, but Moses smashes the tablets when he sees that the Israelites have been worshipping a golden calf (on Aaron's permission) while Moses was chatting with God. Idolatry? That's the ultimate betrayal.

The desert covenant is then renewed, and Moses and Aaron build the Tabernacle, God's home among the Israelites in the desert. And that's that. Hunky dory, we say.

  • Chapter 1

    So It Begins

    • Remember Jacob and Joseph from Genesis? They're back. And boy, did they have a lot of kids. The whole place is "filled" with their offspring (1:7).
    • Notice how the boys get names in the book, but the girls don't. Just the way it was back then.
    • A new god-king Pharaoh rises to power in Egypt. Yep, god-king—the Pharaohs in Egypt had divine power as kings.
    • Joseph was around before his time, so Pharaoh doesn't really think about the help Joseph gave his predecessor. Instead, he gets all freaked out about all these Israelites and thinks they'll turn on the Egyptians if there's a war.
    • Sounds familiar, right? It's kind of like the Japanese internment during World War II, when the U.S. feared that Japanese Americans would help the Japanese during an invasion.
    • So Pharaoh decides to make the Israelites do forced labor for Egypt in service to their new uber-civilization. Pyramids, anyone?
      But the Israelites just keep on multiplying. Yowza.
    • Pharaoh asks two Hebrew midwives, Puah and Shiphrah, to kill all the Israelite male babies. Remember, power lives in this age with men, so if there are no Hebrew men around, Pharaoh wins.
    • One quick historical note. Ancient Israel is caught between two dueling powers, one in Egypt and one in Mesopotamia. It's like Connecticut, where you're either a Red Sox fan or a Yankees fan depending on where you live. That means that technology comes from one or the other—like the Egyptian birthing device they're talking about in 1:16. A birthstool is kind of like ancient stirrups.
    • Back to the story. The midwives lie to Pharaoh about killing babies and God rewards them for preserving life.
    • Pharaoh gets super annoyed and orders all Egyptians to kill newborn Israelite boys.
  • Chapter 2

    Life of Moses, Volume 1: The Early Years

    • Funny how condensed the Bible can be when it wants to. Modern retellings of Exodus (like The Prince of Egypt) focus a lot on Moses's early years. The actual text, though, only gives this period of Moses's life one measly chapter. He goes from birth to married in a mere 25 verses. Keep your eyes on this guy.
    • So here's how it goes down.
    • A boy is born to a Levite Hebrew woman who hides him for three months—remember the whole kill-the-firstborn thing? Then she puts him in a basket in the reeds of the Nile, and asks Miriam (the boy's sister) to keep an eye on him.
    • Meanwhile, Pharaoh's daughter is taking a bath in the river. She finds the baby and thinks he's cute. She wants to keep him after recognizing that he must be one of these Hebrew boys.
    • Conveniently, Miriam shows up and says, "I can find you a woman to breast feed this kid!" So Miriam runs and gets the baby's mother to do the job.
    • The kid grows up past breastfeeding age, and Pharaoh's daughter takes him as her son. She calls him Moses, which means "I took him from the water." Moses is an Egyptian name, incidentally.
    • Moses grows up knowing he's a Hebrew in Pharaoh's household. One day, he goes for a jaunty stroll to see his Hebrew brethren and sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew. He makes sure no one's around, kills the Egyptian, and leaves.
    • A quick note: "Hebrews" and "Israelites" mean the same thing. "Hebrews" comes from the word for the Hebrew language, and "Israelites" comes from Israel, the land of the Israelites. Today, an equivalent of this might be "English-speaker" versus "American" or "British"; but for our purposes, "Hebrews" and "Israelites" refer to the same group.
    • Later, Moses sees two Hebrews fighting and breaks it up. The Hebrew yells, "Who made you a judge and ruler over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?" (2:14)
    • Moses freaks out and runs away.
    • Pharaoh finds out.
    • Moses settles in Midian and helps out some Midian women trying to tend their father Reuel's flock.
    • The women tell Reuel about the help Moses gave them, and Reuel gives Moses one of his daughters, Zipporah, as a thank you. Yeah.
    • They have a son and name him Gershom.
    • Pharaoh dies. 
    • God is still around—he remembers his covenant with the Israelites and hears their cries.
  • Chapter 3

    The Burning Bush… Say What?

    • Moses is guarding his father-in-law's flock of sheep, and he wanders with them "beyond the wilderness" (3:1) to Horeb, the mountain of God.
    • An angel of God appears to him in the form of a bush that's on fire but doesn't burn. Now that's a trick.
    • Moses checks out the situation, naturally.
    • God addresses Moses and tells him that he's back to help the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt. And guess what? Moses has to lead them.
    • Moses, a bit freaked out by all this, asks God why he's been chosen for the job.
    • God tells him not to worry, that he'll do all the heavy lifting. There'll be miraculous wonders, a new home for the Israelites ("a land flowing with milk and honey" [3:8]), and lots of shiny stuff for the Israelites ("You shall plunder the Egyptians" [3:22]).
    • God also reveals his name to Moses, and identifies himself as "the God of your ancestors." 
    • Moses's mouth drops to the ground.
  • Chapter 4

    Moses Becomes SuperMoses

    • Moses asks God what he should do if the Israelites tell him to get lost.
    • God gives Moses three miracles to perform: His staff can now turn into a snake and back into a staff; his hand can turn leprous then become healthy again; and the water that Moses draws from the Nile can turn to blood. Cool bag of miracles.
    • Moses tells God that he's never been a great talker. God reminds Moses that he, God, created Moses's mouth, so it shouldn't be a big deal.
    • Just to be sure Pharaoh gets the message, God appoints Aaron, Moses's brother, to speak for Moses. God says to Moses, "He [Aaron] shall serve as a mouth for you, and you shall serve as God for him" (4:16). There's a chain of command here, folks.
    • Jethro, Moses's father-in-law, gives Moses permission to go back to Egypt, and Moses takes his wife and sons (notice how we only heard about the birth of one) on a donkey. Road trip!
    • God tells Moses to use the miracles, but says, "I will harden Pharaoh's heart, so that he will not let the people go" (4:21). God also threatens to kill Pharaoh's firstborn son if he doesn't let Moses do his thing.
    • Interlude time. Exodus 4:24-26 is a weird one. Here's the passage: 
    • On the way, at a place where they spent the night, the Lord met him and tried to kill him. But Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son's foreskin, and touched Moses' feet with it, and said, "Truly you are a bridegroom of blood to me!" So he let him alone. It was then she said, "A bridegroom of blood by circumcision."
    • Hmmm. The trouble is, "him" in verse 24 could refer to Moses or Moses's son. Many scholars think that this passage is a point at which the writers wanted to replace child sacrifice with circumcision. Either way, it's a funky one, so heads up.
    • God commands Aaron to meet Moses at Mount Horeb. They hang out for a while, catch up, and then go assemble the Israelite elders. Aaron talks, Moses shows off his miracles, and the people decide that these guys should be in charge. 
    • Deal.
  • Chapter 5

    Regional Grain Dispute Politics

    • Moses and Aaron ask Pharaoh to let the Israelites go into the wilderness and worship for a few days. Heads up: they do not ask for complete freedom. This isn't a revolution yet.
    • Pharaoh says he's never heard of God… so no.
    • He also tells the Israelites that they must now deliver the same number of bricks per day, but that from this point on, the Egyptians will no longer provide straw. In today's terms, this would be like receiving a government contract to build a building, and then having the government illegalize the sale of steel and concrete to your company.
    • The Israelite supervisors go and talk with Pharaoh, but he tells them to get lost. Think of this as a kind of regional trade dispute. Even though the Bible makes it seem like the Israelites were slaves, these negotiation scenes suggest a kind of work relationship. Nobody negotiates with their master, right?
    • Moses is berated by the Israelite supervisors, and he asks God why he was sent here if God is doing nothing to help.
  • Chapter 6

    God's Plan and Some Begats

    • God assures Moses that, really, it's all good and life will turn out okay for the Israelites. He promises to fulfill his covenant with the patriarchs, give the Israelites the land of Canaan (modern day Israel, Jordan, etc.). And he even reveals his true name—YHWH—to Moses.
    • God basically turns this thing into a freedom fight. Before, Moses was supposed to get the Israelites a few days in the wilderness for worship, but now God wants to free the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Big job.
    • Exodus 6:14-27 is a big genealogy of both Aaron and Moses. It gives them street cred in the biblical universe—this isn't exactly a rags to riches-oriented society. Family matters, and demonstrating that Moses and Aaron aren't just "some dudes" is a big deal.
    • Also, check out how much power the Biblical writers have over their work. If they want to insert a thirteen-verse interlude of crazy-sounding names, they get to. 
    • But you know what? If we want to skip over it while reading, we get to. Take that, Bible.
  • Chapter 7

    Magic Tricks and the First Plague

    • God again comes to Moses and Aaron, and says to Moses, "I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet" (7:1). He's not making Moses a god, but he is giving him divine powers.
    • God again promises to make Pharaoh stubborn so that the Egyptians can witness God's power. There's no show if he says go.
    • Aaron gets his turn using the magic snake-staff, but the Egyptian priests turn all of their staffs into snakes, too. Not to be outdone, Aaron's snake eats all the others. Grizzly.
    • God gives the pair the go-ahead, and Moses and Aaron use their power to turn the Nile's waters into blood. The fish all die and the Egyptians have to dig wells for water. Again, Pharaoh's priests replicate the miracle, and so Pharaoh goes back to his day job unimpressed by God's power.
    • Read Chapter 7 carefully, and you'll notice that it's kind of hard to tell at points whether Moses or Aaron is doing the magic. Here's an example:
    • Moses and Aaron did just as the Lord commanded. In the sight of Pharaoh and of his officials he lifted up the staff and struck the water in the river, and all the water in the river was turned into blood. (7.20)
    • If the story was originally just about Moses, somebody did a very good job of making sure that Aaron was as involved as possible in the new draft. Convenient for anyone claiming descent from Aaron, right?
  • Chapter 8

    Plagues 2, 3, and 4: Frogs & Bugs

    • God, Moses, and Aaron again team up to dump thousands and thousands of frogs onto the Egyptians. Pharaoh's magicians can reproduce the miracle, ironically only worsening the problem. Oops.
    • Moses and Aaron ask Pharaoh when he'd like the frogs removed, and Pharaoh lets them know he'd like the friendly amphibians gone by the following day. Moses and Aaron pray, and the frogs leave.
    • Pharaoh, happy that his bed is frog-free, decides to ignore the Israelites' requests for freedom.
    • Next plague. Gnats. Millions and billions and shmillions of gnats. Everywhere. On animals, people, the works.
    • This time, the magicians in Pharaoh's entourage can't replicate the miracle. They tell Pharaoh, "Look man. Even we can't do this. Maybe this God character has some skills." 
    • Pharaoh ignores them.
    • God tells Moses to go to Pharaoh as he washes himself in the river. This happens with pretty much every plague. Think of it as God's good-morning-TPS Report to Pharaoh.
    • As if gnats weren't enough, get ready for plague #4. Flies. Everywhere.
    • This time, God notes that he will ensure that the Israelites' homes are protected from the plague, just to make sure Pharaoh gets the message.
    • Weirdly, God says that he will set apart "the land of Goshen," where the Israelites live. The text is unclear with us here. Do the Israelites live among the Egyptians, or next to them? In 7:22, God mentions that Goshen shall be set apart, but in 7:25, Pharaoh tells the Israelites to stay "within the land," implying that they were in the land to begin with. It could be a writer's mistake, the result of two texts being melded together, or we just might not understand Goshen. Food for thought.
    • Pharaoh finally tells Moses to go take his people around the block for their little religious stroll. Moses reminds Pharaoh that it would be insensitive for the Israelites to worship near the Egyptians, and Pharaoh agrees. 
    • Moses asks God to lift the fly plague, and God does it. Pharaoh again "hardens his heart, and would not let the people go" (8:32).
  • Chapter 9

    Plagues 5, 6, and 7: Fire, Brimstone, and Disease

    • Plague #5 comes sweeping in. All Egyptian-owned livestock—donkeys, cows, sheep, camels, and horses—are hit with a nasty thing called pestilence, a disease that wipes them out. All Israelite livestock are spared. Natch.
    • Pharaoh again refuses to let the Israelites go. He's really not getting the picture.
    • Plague #6 is a nasty one. Moses takes some kiln soot (dust gathering at the bottom of a pottery oven), throws it in Pharaoh's face, and nasty boils pop up all over all the Egyptians' bodies. Ew.
    • Pharaoh's magicians not only can't fix this plague, but they actually fall before Moses.
    • God again makes Pharaoh stubborn, and so Pharaoh plays his part and refuses to let the Israelites go.
    • God explains to Moses why he continues to "harden Pharaoh's heart," saying, "I have let you [Pharaoh] live to show you my power and to make my name resound through all the earth" (9:16). So this is all for self-exaltation?
    • God unleashes Plague #7. This is it, folks. The original fire and brimstone passage. The seventh plague is a huge amount of hail, accompanied by fire raining from the sky. And guess what? None of it hits the Israelites. 
    • Pharaoh finally relents, and tells Moses to call off the fire. Moses does so, but then Pharaoh decides—surprise!—to keep the Israelites in slavery.
  • Chapter 10

    Plagues 8 and 9: Locusts and Darkness

    • Team Israelite threatens to unleash locusts on Egypt if Pharaoh continues to be a meanie. Pharaoh's advisers tell him to release the Israelites, and so Pharaoh asks Moses how many Israelites Moses and Aaron intend to take into the wilderness.
    • Moses and Aaron tell Pharaoh that they're taking everyone.
    • Pharaoh laughs out loud, and tells Moses to get lost.
    • Bad movie, Pharaoh.
    • Locusts devour every green thing in Egypt: "Nothing green was left, no tree, no plant in the field, in all the land of Egypt" (10:15).
    • Pharaoh says he'll let everyone go if the locusts go, so Moses and God lift the plague. God again hardens Pharaoh's heart, and he reneges on his promise again.
    • Next up, God unleashes Plague #9, a darkness that covers all of Egypt. This isn't normal darkness. God describes it as "a darkness that can be felt" (10:21). Yikes.
    • Pharaoh again tells the people to go, but asks Moses to leave the Israelite livestock. After all, the Egyptians' animals are all dead. Moses tells Pharaoh that that isn't cool, and Pharaoh gets super annoyed. He tells Moses that if he, Pharaoh, ever sees Moses again, he'll kill him.
  • Chapter 11

    Prepare for the Final Plague

    • God lets Moses know that something big is coming. God instructs Moses that the Israelites should all ask their neighbors for silver and gold. 
    • Moses tells Pharaoh that God will claim every Egyptian firstborn (the prince, the slaves' first sons, the animals' firstborn—everyone) at midnight. That means they'll die.
    • Yikes.
    • And guess what? Pharaoh refuses to let the people go after God hardens his heart again.
  • Chapter 12

    Everybody Out!

    • This is it. The big one. God and the destroyer kill every firstborn Egyptian, from the prince right on down to the firstborn calves. Exodus tells us in 12:30 that, "There was not a house without someone dead." Grisly.
    • The Egyptians, including Pharaoh, have had enough and tell the Israelites to get lost ASAP.
    • The Israelites leave so quickly that their bread doesn't rise in the oven, but they do save enough time to "plunder" the Egyptians of all their gold and silver (12:36).
    • Exodus tells us that 600,000 men, plus some unmentioned number of women and children, left Egypt at the end of 430 years in that land. Time out: 600,000?! The world population at the time was less than 50 million people, so we're talking at least 2% of the entire planet's population. That's a lot of people.
    • Archaeologically, there is no evidence for any kind of migration of this size. That's not to say that it didn't happen, though. After all, the ancient Egyptians didn't like to record their defeats, so even if some form of a migration happened on a smaller scale, the scribes would not have written it down.
    • Back to the story. In 12:43-50, God tells the Israelites how to include other peoples in the Passover ceremony—they must be circumcised. 
    • P.S. In the beginning of Chapter 12, God gives instructions for the Passover ceremony that marks his liberation of the Israelites from Egypt. Basically, you kill a lamb, paint its blood on the outside of your door, and eat unleavened bread (bread that doesn't rise). The blood tells God not to destroy an Israelite's house, and the bread signifies that the Israelites had to leave quickly. So why did we talk about this first piece of the chapter last? Because this stuff is more "rules and regulations"—the story doesn't really start until 12:21.
  • Chapter 13

    Recap, Circumcision, and Magic

    • Moses reminds the people how big a deal their liberation from Egypt was, and proclaims that the festival of the Lord will occur every year to commemorate the event.
    • This was the guy who said he wasn't qualified to do the job. Just look at him now!
    • Circumcision is established as a way to mark God's covenant on males.
    • In a not-so-great turn of events, God steers the Israelites away from the land he promised them. He does this because the Philistines, a coastal nation, are in the way of Canaan, the land God promised the Israelites.
    • God is worried that if the Israelites get into a war with the Philistines, they will forget that he, God, just saved them. So they go the long way around.
    • God leads the people "in a pillar of cloud by day," and "a pillar of fire by night" (13:21-22). Whoa.
    • Moses takes the bones of Joseph with him because Joseph had wanted to be moved with his people.
  • Chapter 14

    The Parting of the Red Sea

    • God tells Moses to take the Israelites in a funky direction so Pharaoh will think they're aimlessly wandering around. God will also harden Pharaoh's heart so that he regrets letting the Israelites go.
    • Pharaoh's heart is hardened. Again.
    • Pharaoh decides to go after the Israelites. He rallies 600+ chariots to do the job.
    • Quick note: here's a great example of the text contradicting itself a little bit. If Israel has 600,000 men, then how does Pharaoh expect to beat them with 600 chariots? The text could be trying to make Pharaoh seem stupid, or it could be the work of two different writers. You decide.
    • Back in the story, the Israelites see the Egyptians advancing, and start panicking.
    • When Moses cries out to God, God tells him to stretch out his hand and divide the sea.
    • God's angel keeps the Egyptian army at bay while the sea opens up to create a passageway. The Israelites pass through the sea on dry land. 
    • Picture that. Seriously.
    • The Egyptians follow the Israelites, but God closes the sea on them once the Israelites are through. 
    • Yep, the Egyptians all drown. Yikes.
  • Chapter 15

    Sing! Sing! Sing!

    • Moses and the Israelites sing a song to God after their triumph. Wouldn't you be singing after that?
    • The song that the Israelites sing has a ton of historical nuggets: it talks about the character of God, has a different understanding of water (check out "Symbols" for more), and also celebrates the destruction of the Canaanites.
    • But wait. The Israelites haven't even gone into Canaan yet, so what's going on? There's a contradiction in the text.
    • This one's a sure bet. Why would you sing about something that hasn't happened yet?
    • We're pretty sure we have two texts from different times that were combined; so what we see looks like a contradiction, but it's just two different pieces of literature that got combined years after both were written. Voilà!
    • Back in the story, Miriam sings her own, slightly shorter, song.
    • As they're traveling in the deserts, the Israelites can't find fresh water. They complain to Moses, who asks God for help. The solution? Moses throws a piece of wood into the brackish water, and it becomes sweet. 
    • God makes a rule that if the Israelites do right by God's rules, they won't be punished with the diseases the Egyptians got. Thanks, God.
  • Chapter 16

    Food, or Something Like It

    • Not surprisingly, the Israelites get hungry.
    • They complain to Moses, who asks God for help.
    • God tells Moses that each day, he will give the Israelites food, but that they can't take more than their fill for one day. Every sixth day, he will give them twice as much food, so that on the seventh day (the Sabbath), he can take a break.
    • Moses and Aaron announce this to the people, and just like that, a bunch of quail show up in the camp as meat.
    • Then, some weird stuff, "on the surface of the wilderness, a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground," rains down (16:14). Everyone wonders what it is, but they eat it anyway. Hey, they were hungry.
    • The Israelites call the food "Manna," and describe it as "like coriander seed, white, and with the taste of wafers made with honey" (16:31).
    • The Israelites have trouble following God's instructions to finish all the manna each day; and when they try to save it, it gets all nasty with worms. Yum.
    • When they save it on the sixth day, it keeps for the next day, but some people go out on the seventh day looking for it anyway, even though God said it was a day of rest.
    • God gets annoyed. Duh.
    • Moses and Aaron save some of this stuff and eat it for forty years in the desert. Yep—forty years.
  • Chapter 17

    The Israelite Water Board Convention and Amalek

    • Again in the desert, the Israelites do some more complaining. This time, it's about the lack of water. The desert is one dry place.
    • Moses asks God for help again, and God shows Moses a rock. Moses hits the rock with his magic staff, and water pours out.
    • That was easy.
    • Next up, another tribe, the Amalekites, attacks. Moses chooses his lieutenant, Joshua, to go out and fight the enemy.
    • As long as Moses holds his staff up on his outpost looking out at the battle, the Israelites win. But eventually Moses gets super tired. Solution? Aaron and another guy rig a rock to hold Moses's arm up in place the whole day. Genius.
    • The Israelites win.
    • A quick note on "the wilderness of Sin." It's not a sinful wilderness. Sin was actually an ancient deity of the moon. It's like when people say, "These are the woods of John the Baptist," or something else like that.
  • Chapter 18

    Jethro and the Israelite Court System

    • Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, comes for a visit. He brings Moses's wife Zipporah and Moses's sons Gershom and Eliezer (who finally has a name). It's unclear whether Moses and Zipporah were getting along well before this.
    • Moses fills Jethro in on all that has happened to the Israelites, and not surprisingly, Jethro is amazed.
    • Jethro, Moses, and Aaron worship and eat together. Like ya do.
    • We finally get an idea of Moses's day job: he's the judge of all the Israelites. 600,000+ people. Think about that.
    • Jethro knows this is tough business. He tells him, "This is nuts. You'll tucker yourself out doing all this. Why don't you appoint some minions who will apply God's laws? Just take the big cases for yourself."
    • Moses agrees that this is a way better idea than what he's been doing. 
    • Having been the perfect plot-mover, Jethro goes home to Midian.
  • Chapter 19

    The Holy Zone

    • Three months after leaving Egypt, the Israelites arrive at Sinai.
    • God tells Moses to assemble everyone for a big announcement. But one thing: they can't come up onto the mountain (where Moses chats with God) or they'll die. Noted.
    • Everyone washes up to look nice for the party.
    • God descends upon the mountain in fire, smoke, and eerily loud trumpet blasts. 
    • God tells Moses, "Do not let either the priests or the people break through to come up to the Lord; otherwise he will break out against them" (19:24). Notice here that access to God is restricted to the few. For a guy who wants to adopt these people as his own, God doesn't seem to want to get too close to them.
  • Chapter 20:1-21

    The Ten Commandments

    • Big chapter, people. Heads up.
    • The Ten Commandments are some of the most influential words in the entire Bible, and they've influenced thousands of years of Western thinking. Even in our day-to-day lives, the Ten Commandments resonate with how people think about right and wrong. As you go through them, think about how they relate to your life. We dare you.
    • God gives the people the Ten Commandments orally. Let's tackle them one by one. 
    • Commandment One: We're Exclusive…or are we?
    • "You shall have no other gods before me." (20:3)
    • "Before" has also been translated as "besides." Naturally, this has provoked a lot of debate. "Before me" seems to imply that the worshipper can mess around with other gods as long as God is number one, but "besides me" implies an exclusive relationship. See how this can get tricky?
    • If this sounds like two lovers talking about their relationship, then you're on the right track. God often acts like a spurned lover, and there are a lot of complicated issues in this marriage. Bottom line: God is getting promoted. 
    • Commandment Two: No Idols. Ever.
    • "You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments." (20:4-6)
    • Back in the ancient world, idol worship of statues and other objects was very common. It's pretty natural to attach yourself to an object, if you think about it.
    • The main idea here is that these idols were contrary to the religious ideas of the writers. They believed that their God held something more intangible, more powerful than could be produced in a crude clay statue.
    • This doesn't mean that God doesn't appear to the Israelites physically. No one is saying "God is an idea, not a force." After all, God is saying this to the Israelites in person in smoke and fire.
    • What the Commandment does say is, "We're not going to engage in this particular form of physical worship anymore."
    • Commandment Three: Oaths, Swearwords, and Blasphemy
    • "You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name." (20:7)
    • This one is all about respect for God. For the ancients, it wasn't a ban on naughty words, but an attempt to elevate God's name and give it some cultural currency. In other words, the writers wanted to make sure that God's name had some panache behind it.
    • Think about The Godfather when Vito "swears on the souls of his grandchildren," or when Westley in The Princess Bride refuses to accept Inigo's word as a Spaniard because, "I've known too many Spaniards." Oaths means something and the writers here are just trying to give this stuff a punch.
    • Blasphemy isn't just a ban on swearwords, but a ban on using God's name flippantly. 
    • Commandment Four: Chillaxin' on a Weekend
    • "Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it." (20:8-11)
    • When you think about it, this is a pretty good idea for society. Why shouldn't everyone just work all the time? We'd get way more done. Especially for the ancients, who had crops to worry about, this was a big deal.
    • Taking aside one day for higher concerns (like God) is a major breakthrough because it moves the ancient world from pure survival mode to a more cosmopolitan way of life. If you're thinking about the next place to find food all day, you definitely aren't thinking about man's condition in the universe. 
    • Commandment Five: The One Parents Always Cite
    • "Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you." (20:12)
    • This one isn't just an attempt by parents to overcome their children. It's about setting up a society that works, and works well.
    • Here's the thing. You probably can't have a functional society that standardizes parental disrespect (unless you're George Orwell and this is 1984). 
    • Commandment Six: Killing…or Murder?
    • NRSV: "You shall not murder." (20:13)
    • KJV: "Thou shalt not kill."(20:13)
    • Ah, translations.
    • "Murder" implies that you took another life for your own advantage. "Killing" might imply that there was a better reason—after all, Moses himself killed a man. This is nasty moral territory, folks.
    • Given that God himself authorized Israelites to kill Amalekites, it's reasonable to assume that this rule only applies to your community. War seems like an exemption, and God himself takes life. It's messy, but the writers probably left it that way intentionally. 
    • Commandment Seven: No Adultery
    • "You shall not commit adultery." (20:14)
    • Remember, in ancient times, one man could have multiple wives, no problem. This isn't a romantic endorsement of marriage or anything. The writers are just trying to make sure that their society has rules.
    • What this passage is really saying is that a married woman cannot have sex with a man who is not her husband. Sorry, gals—that's just the way this world worked.
    • Commandment Eight: No Stealing
    • "You shall not steal." (20:15)
    • Seems pretty straightforward, right? But what about the Israelites "plundering" the Egyptians in 3:21-22? Wouldn't you say that counts as a kind of stealing?
    • Also, what about taking the land in Canaan that God himself said belonged to other people? God has made it clear from the beginning that he's giving the land of others to the Israelites. Is that stealing, or just ancient regional politics?
    • Yeah, it's complicated.
    • Commandment Nine: Testifying and Witnessing
    • "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor." (20:16)
    • Basically, you could take this two ways. You could interpret in Law & Order style and say that this commandment only prohibits lying on the stand in a trial. So if you see something happen, you can't lie about it when asked by the man. Makes good social sense, right?
    • You could also take it as a complete ban on all lying. On a smaller scale, isn't lying bearing false witness? If you're not being truthful, then aren't you technically just a bad witness to life?
    • In both cases, here's another attempt to regulate society and create a functional system of laws. That's not to say that there were no laws before the Commandments, but this represents an attempt to get everything written down. 
    • Commandment Ten: Hey Jealousy
    • "You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor." (20:17)
    • On one level, this seems like a good idea. Envy and jealousy produce crime, so why not just ban it?
    • A few historical goodies on this commandment. First, doesn't this seem like a way for people to deal with social inequalities? If everyone had an identical ox, why would you need to be envious of someone else's?
    • Second, check out how "wife" gets lumped in with all kinds of property. That's just the way it was. Slavery is also taken for granted. No surprise there, since it's all over the Bible.
    • Finally, did you notice that the images on this list are very pastoral? It's basically farm equipment and animals. Moses's is a very farming-oriented society. What would you put on today's list? iPads? Computers? Houses? Money? 
    • The End
    • And that's it. Those are your ten commandments.
    • But we're not done. Duh.
    • Think about these commandments in this way: If you're a city planner, would you put up a "No Smoking" sign in a place where people don't smoke? Of course not. We're not saying that the ancient world was anarchy before these commandments, but you wouldn't make rules unless you had good reason. Whoever wrote this stuff (God, Moses, the Biblical writers, or your grandmother) had a very certain idea in mind about how they wanted society to look.
    • When we think of this chapter in a literary framework, even more question pop up: How would these rules look if Moses had said them? How would they look if God wasn't cloaked in fire and smoke? The point is that context matters. If Dumbledore or Gandalf says something, we shut up and listen. There's some speculation that the writers of the Exodus story inserted these rules to make them seem like God said them—if that's the case, it's kind of a brilliant strategy.
    • If you want to dig into the archaeological, legal, and historical meat of these commandments, you'll find endless work on the subject. Most scholars agree that whoever wrote these commandments was heavily influenced by the world around them. Basically, the list boils down to Hittite influences to the north, Egyptian influences from the south, and Mesopotamian influences from the west. Hammurabi's Code looks an awful lot like the Ten Commandments, and Hittite treaties may have also been at work. 
    • A quick dip back into the story: After God gives out the Commandments, the people freak out and tell Moses that he should be the one talking to God. They're too scared. We might be, too.
  • Chapters 20:22 - 23

    The Book of the Covenant

    • Whoa. Why are we suddenly combining all these chapters?
    • Fear not, Shmoopers. We've got your back. This chunk of Exodus is considered to be one of the oldest pieces of legal mumbo-jumbo in the entire Bible.
    • The thing is, the tone and content of this group of writings doesn't match the Ten Commandments and the stuff before it. We basically go from cosmic concerns about human life to technical laws about slaves and property.
    • The document looks a lot like Mesopotamian legal code, and the Hebrew itself is a bit older. If you were writing this volume, and you needed to insert an older document into the new stuff, the moment right after the Ten Commandments is a great place to do it. It's like a network putting a new TV show on right after something they know people will watch. Better ratings, you know?
    • P.S. This all comes to us as a revelation from God to Moses. Apparently God is a sucker for property law.
    • The whole thing is worth reading, but we're going to give you a greatest hits section that gets at all the relevant pieces. Most of these laws are laid out in a format that was very common in the ancient world at the time: "If…then…" Hypotheticals were the basis for law—and for exceptions to it.
    • Okay. On your mark, get set… 
    • 20:22-26: Altar Law
    • God makes it clear here that he doesn't want any gold or silver idols around his altar: "You shall not make gods of silver alongside me, nor shall you make for yourselves gods of gold. You need make for me only an altar of earth and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings" (20:23-24). This sounds kind of new age. Back to the earth, right? Also, check out how pastoral this statute is; anyone could build an altar to this guy. Oh, and one other thing: if you use stones, just make sure that they're not "hewn" stones that have felt iron. Only the super-organic stuff.
    • 21:1-11: Slave Law
    • Here we get some specifics: Male Hebrew slaves have to serve six years; children born to slaves remain slaves; female slaves can be used as concubines; and some slaves, if they don't want to be freed, can be enslaved for life. Bottom line: slavery was a huge part of ancient culture. 
    • 21:12-27: Violence Law
    • Punishments abound here. Unpremeditated murder gets you sent away, but premeditated murder, kidnapping, matricide, and patricide all get you killed.
    • Notice how infanticide isn't mentioned at all. Why? Because child sacrifice was a reality. (But in 21:22, the author notes that injuring a pregnant woman and inducing miscarriage has a financial penalty.)
    • Check out this passage in 21:20-21: "When a slave owner strikes a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished. But if the slave survives a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner's property." Yowza. Talk about walking a fine line between gruesome murder and property management. That's how these people thought, though. Slavery just was a part of life.
    • P.S. Famous line alert! When the author talks about injuring a pregnant woman, he notes that, "If any harm follows [the woman's miscarriage], then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe." (21:23-25). There it is. Biblical justice in action. 
    • 21:28-36: Property Law
    • Basically, don't be dumb with your animals. If a crazy, wild ox you own kills someone, it's your fault. If a docile, nice ox kills someone, it's not your fault. Common sense type stuff.
    • But check out how stinkin' specific the passage gets though: "If someone leaves a pit open, or digs a pit and does not cover it, and an ox or a donkey falls into it, the owner of the pit shall make restitution, giving money to its owner, but keeping the dead animal."
    • Well, we're glad we settled that. At least we get to keep the dead animal. 
    • 22:1-15: Restitution Law (Compensation)
    • Even though the Ten Commandments tell the Israelites not to steal, they have laws just in case someone does it.
    • Notice how agricultural these laws are. We're done talking big-time revolution/freedom story, and we're on to drab legal jargon about how many oxen Bob should get for his stolen one.
    • These animal laws certainly make us think twice about whether this is a different text from a different time. It's like moving from a Ben Stein lecture to a Michael Bay movie, Bible style. 
    • 22:16-31: Sorcery, Betrayal & Child Sacrifice
    • Just when you thought things couldn't possibly get any more boring, suddenly we get this crazy set of laws.
    • Verses 16-18 deal with women's issues, which, needless to say, were a lot more messed up back in the day. We get prohibitions against female sorcery ("You shall not permit a female sorcerer to live") and a determination that a man who sleeps with a virgin shall "pay an amount equal to the bride-price for virgins" in case her father doesn't want to sell her. Yowza.
    • Then, we get prohibitions against bestiality ("Whoever lies with an animal shall be put to death"), sacrificing to other gods, and an important paragraph on reciprocal justice.
    • What is reciprocal justice? Have a look-see: "You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. You shall not abuse any widow or orphan. If you do abuse them, when they cry out to me, I will surely heed their cry; my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children orphans."
    • Basically, the idea is that your experiences should dictate both your actions and their consequences. We're not quite at the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12), but you can see the idea emerging in these kinds of passages.
    • As if all that weren't enough, we then move on to banking interest law, pawn law, rotten meat law, offering law, and a law against cursing your leader. Rapid fire, boom, boom, boom.
    • Finally, we get something big in 22:29-30. Child sacrifice law. Child sacrifice was common in the ancient world, but the Israelites wanted to replace it with circumcision. You can feel the tension between those two in this passage: "The firstborn of your sons you shall give to me. You shall do the same with your oxen and with your sheep: seven days it shall remain with its mother; on the eighth day you shall give it to me."
    • Ever wondered why Jewish male babies are circumcised eight days after they're born? Sounds like a way better deal for the firstborn than death.
    • 23:1-9: Universal, Fair Justice
    • This one's easy: don't mess with other people.
    • Don't lie at someone else's trial; bring back Bob's donkey when it gets lost; don't take bribes; be nice to immigrants.
    • Oh, and here's an interesting issue that relates to our times: "When you bear witness in a lawsuit, you shall not side with the majority so as to pervert justice; nor shall you be partial to the poor in a lawsuit." Decide the case on its own merits, and don't be biased against one side. Sounds like the pledge they make you take at jury duty. 
    • 23:10-13: A Sabbath Year?
    • Yep, the Sabbath doesn't only apply to weeks—it applies to years.
    • If you're a farmer, save enough during years 1-6 because in year 7, the poor and the wild animals get to use your fields. If you were a farmer, how would you feel about this?
    • Turns out this is actually smart in agricultural terms. Some crops, like cotton, tax the land, and you can't grow anything on the soil until the nutrients are replenished. 
    • 23:14-19: Festivals, Fairs & Pageants
    • Festival time, folks. God declares that three festivals shall be held each year: one at Passover; the Festival of Weeks, now celebrated as Shavuot in Judaism, at the beginning of the harvest; and the Festival of Booths, now celebrated as Sukkot in Judaism, at the end of the harvest.
    • These are big moments for the ancients. Eventually, they'll pilgrimage to festivals at the Temple of Solomon. 
    • 23:20-33: Conquering Canaan
    • God promises that an angel will aid the Israelites in their conquest of Canaan and warns the Israelites not to be seduced by the inhabitants' worship of other gods. No matter how low-cut their dress.
    • God also mentions that he won't get rid of all of these people overnight. Otherwise, the wild animals would overwhelm Israel (you'd think they could handle things with 600,000 men). 
    • Instead, it'll happen gradually over a number of years.
  • Chapter 24

    Who's On First?

    • Whew. Now that all that nice legal mumbo jumbo is over (hint: it's not), let's get back to our tour of Mount Sinai.
    • God tells Moses in 24:1-2, "Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and worship at a distance. Moses alone shall come near the Lord; but the others shall not come near, and the people shall not come up with him."
    • Basically, this is Moses's party. The elders get to witness stuff, but they can't really be in tune with God like Moses can.
    • Moses goes to the people and reads to them from the Book of the Covenant. You know, just some light reading.
    • Everyone is hunky-dory, so Moses sprays the people with animal blood to make everything nice and official. Talk about the blood oath of blood oaths.
    • Here's where things get confusing. Moses and the elders go up to see God, and the text is pretty explicit about them doing it together. Didn't God say that this was a Moses-only club?
    • Here's the actual text in 24:9-10: "Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there was something like a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness." Seems like some hardcore chilling to us.
    • Then, by verse 12, we're back to square one. Moses puts Aaron in charge of the people, goes up to Mount Sinai, and enters the cloud of God: "Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights." This time, it sounds like it's a Moses-only gathering.
    • So why is verse 12 (where Moses goes in alone) paired with verses 9-10 (where they all go together to check God out)? Could this be two different texts spliced into one product? See if you can divide up the chapter.
  • Chapters 25 - 31:18

    The Priestly Shopping List

    • Okay, Shmoopers. We're going to be completely straight with you. This whole section has some important pieces, but to be frank, it's very long and very boring.
    • Talk about a letdown. We just saw God engulf Moses in a cloud of divine stormfire, and now we get this huge section on ritual. Whoop-dee-doo. It's a total Buzz Killington.
    • We'll give you the rundown here, but check out the "Symbols" and "Themes" sections for some more, um, fun thoughts on these chapters.
    • A brief introduction before we deal with all of this. Why would an author go from fire and brimstone to legal jargon almost immediately? It breaks the tension, bores the casual reader, and isn't very helpful unless you're a priest.
    • So let's assume that these passages don't come from the time the Israelites were in the desert. The whole section's tone, purpose, and writing style are completely different than what comes before it—and after it, for that matter.
    • But even if they weren't stuck in the desert, how is the average Israelite supposed to get all the stuff mentioned here, like gold, silver, opals, iron, and jewels? This stuff doesn't exactly grow on cacti in the desert or even on your local organic Israelite farmer's land.
    • The point is that this piece of text has a distinct purpose from the rest of the Exodus story. It wasn't written by or for an average worshipper. More likely, it was written by someone who had a vested interest in the priesthood. Think about it: would a doctor write a memo full of industrial jargon? Of course not. You write what you know, and this passage is no exception.
    • And who wants to read lines and lines and lines of specific instructions for how to meld gold? Only people who meld gold every day. This section of Exodus was written by priests, for priests.
    • Okay, let's dive in.
    • 25:1-9: The Checklist and The Receptacle
    • God gives Moses a nice big list of things he'll accept as offerings. Notice how every one of these things has some association of luxury.
    • He also says he's about to give Moses directions for building a place to house all of this stuff. God needs a pad, and he's going to tell them how to build it. 
    • 25:10-30: The Ark of the Covenant
    • Indy, just grab it! Okay, so Harrison Ford wasn't in the Bible, but all of those Ark legends come from this one spot, where God gives the Israelites instructions on how to build the thing. See more about the Ark in our "Symbols" section.
    • 25:31-39: Lampshades…No, Lampstands!
    • Ever heard of a menorah? Or a candelabra? Or a free-standing chandelier? Yup. That's this thing. Check out the image in 25:33, where the writer says that the candle-holder's cup should look like "almond blossoms." Not only is that a beautiful image, but it's super naturalistic. The fire on the gold looks just like blossoms on a tree.
    • Never let anybody tell you differently: these writers had style. 
    • Chapter 26: The Tabernacle's Structure
    • The Tabernacle is a little more low-profile in our pop culture than the Ark, and we actually have no archaeological dirt on the thing. It is a tent, after all.
    • In a nutshell, the idea of the Tabernacle is to make a place for God on earth—it's his home in the desert. It holds the Ark of the Covenant, the Altar of Burnt Offering, and the Altar of Incense.
    • Fancy.
    • 27:1-8: Burn It All!
    • God ordains that an altar should be put in the Tabernacle for burnt offerings. And it has horns! Say what? Check out our "Symbols" section to find out why.
    • 27:9-19: In The Court of the Crimson King
    • Basically, the court is just an open area surrounding the holy objects inside the Tabernacle. Like the other objects, they have their own special design, makeup, and instructions.
    • The image the writer creates here is beautiful: you enter this nice-smelling tent, and the wind blows the sides of the tent so the air ripples surround you and the Ark. Pretty nice break from the desert heat.
    • 27:20-21: Oil
    • This short section just specifies that only the most "pure oil of beaten olives" should be used for the big candle-holder. It is also meant to stay burning day and night (humans like the idea of foreverness).
    • If the ancients knew one thing, it was olive oil
    • 28:1-29:37: Makeover Time…for Priests?
    • This section deals with the way an Aaronite priest (related to Aaron) should dress and be ordained. This was an important process for the priesthood (who do you think is writing this section?), but also for Israelite culture in general. These are their spiritual and political leaders, after all.
    • Think of it in terms of a presidential inauguration, getting a degree, or being promoted. We have manuals, traditions, and books about that stuff and the rituals surrounding it, so why shouldn't the Israelites have had the same thing? 
    • 29:38-46: Lamb Tartare
    • Here God indicates what he wants for dinner each night.
    • Well, maybe not dinner, but God needs burnt offering every day. It's just part of the deal.
    • God even provides us with a little recipe: "and with the first lamb one-tenth of a measure of choice flour mixed with one-fourth of a hin of beaten oil, and one-fourth of a hin of wine for a drink offering." This is all about using materials at your disposal to honor God and the priests.
    • Even though these are seemingly minor regulations about how and when to kill an animal, the writer follows up with a dramatic reminder of why they do this. God says, "I will dwell among the Israelites, and I will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them; I am the Lord their God." Can't get much clearer than that. (Why=God.)
    • 30:1-38: Nifty Incense, Censuses, and Another Altar
    • In this chapter, we get more instructions on how to build the Altar of Incense, a special basin for the priests to wash in, and recipes on how to prepare special oils and incenses for the Tabernacle.
    • God also demands that a census be taken of all Israelites over 20. Oh, and you have to pay a little "ransom" or tax when you register: "When you take a census of the Israelites to register them, at registration all of them shall give a ransom for their lives to the Lord, so that no plague may come upon them for being registered" (30:12). For giving money, they get access to the Tabernacle's benefits, i.e., divine protection.
    • In terms of the census, the Bible take steps to ensure that the count is accurate and not based on class: "The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less, than the half shekel, when you bring this offering to the Lord to make atonement for your lives" (30:15). Every life here is worth the same. A pretty interesting pronouncement right in the middle of a section about how awesome and cool priests are. 
    • 31:1-11: Introducing the Builders
    • Now God introduces the guys who are going to be the primary contractors on this job, Bezalel and Oholiab. They're skilled and majorly cool.
    • Think about why the Bible bothers to mention these guys. To give them glory? To glorify their houses or tribes? Or maybe they were just hanging around when all of this stuff was going in the book. 
    • 31:12-18: Sabbath Rocks
    • Don't worry, we're almost done.
    • Now God repeats his command to Moses that the Sabbath should be sacred. Basically, if you do any work on this appointed day, you'll be "put to death" (31:14). It's not just a designated rest day, but also a memorial to God's power and example. After all, in Genesis, he created the world in six days and then took the day off. Why shouldn't everyone else do the same? It's a bonding thing.
    • Then, in verse 18, God gives Moses the two stones with the Ten Commandments inscribed on them.
    • This is a big handover, folks. God wrote these with his own hand, and now he's giving them to Moses so that he can give them to the people.
    • It's no coincidence that this big moment is paired with the instructions about the Sabbath; it gives the whole Sabbath thing some major hype.
  • Chapter 32

    The Golden Calf

    • Spoiler alert: this chapter is where the Israelites screw up big time, and Moses has to bail them out. Here's how it all goes down.
    • While Moses was chatting up God on the mountain for forty days, the people were getting antsy. Moses did just sort of wander off into the desert, claiming he knew where he was going. What gives?
    • So the people go to Aaron and tell him to give them gods to worship.
    • Aaron, without batting an eyelid, tells the Israelites to bring him their gold, and he casts a giant golden calf out of their trinkets. Impressive.
    • Aaron then flips the party switch, and everyone rejoices around the golden calf.
    • God is obviously not happy—remember the first commandment? He tells Moses to hang out for a few minutes while he destroys all the Israelites. Afterward, God promises, he will make a great nation of Moses (sound familiar?).
    • Moses convinces God to chill out, reminding him that they just did all this work to get these people out of Egypt.
    • Then he takes the tablets written by God down the mountain. Joshua hears the party noises, and wonders if the camp is under attack. Moses tells him that these people are as good as doomed.
    • Moses reaches the camp, sees everyone rejoicing around, and smashes the tablets in anger. Then he burns the calf, grinds it up into powder, mixes the gold-dust with water, and forces the Israelites to drink it.
    • Ew.
    • Moses yells at Aaron, who blames the people; he says, "I threw [the people's gold] into the fire, and out came this calf!" (32:24).
    • Moses draws a line in the sand, and the Levites (a tribe of Israel) come over to Moses. He tells them to kill three people each. Yep. About 3,000 Israelites are slaughtered by the Levites. Didn't it say somewhere that murder was bad?
    • Moses pleads the people's case with God, and God sends a plague down on the Israelites for their disobedience. 
    • Not a great day for these people.
  • Chapter 33

    Closing Time

    • God tells Moses to peace and that the land of Canaan will be his for the taking.
    • He also tells Moses that he, God, will no longer be personally accompanying the people. He's kind of sick of them: "Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, or I would consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people."
    • Ouch.
    • We get a nice image of "The Tent of Meeting," where the Israelites, God, and Moses used to hang out. But it's all over now.
    • God tells Moses how they'll rewrite the Ten Commandments. Moses even gets to look at God—but not at his face. Mysterious.
  • Chapter 34

    Moses Becomes Stanley Kubrick and Everyone Goes Home Semi-Happy

    • God tells Moses to recut some stone for new tablets and meet him on the mountain alone. Spooky much?
    • God proclaims his power with this nifty poem in 34:6-8:
    • "The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth,/ Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation."
    • Basically, God wants to have his cake and eat it too. He wants to be seen as mercifully stern and sternly merciful at the same time. Confused? Read about God in our "Figures" section.
    • God renews the covenant with Moses and tells him that new wonders will be on their way when God drives the inhabitants of Canaan out for the Israelites.
    • One warning, though: there must be no hanky-panky with any Canaanite girls or Canaanite gods. He tells Moses that the Israelites must stick to their ritual guns, or else.
    • God reiterates that all the firstborn belong to him (in terms of circumcision). He repeats festival law and notes that "the best of the first fruits of your ground you shall bring to the house of the Lord your God" (34:26). Gotta give God the best. 
    • In an interesting twist, God tells Moses that the Ten Commandments will now be dictated; God won't write them himself, but Moses will write down what God says.
    • When Moses comes down from the mountain this time, his face shines when he looks at the people. 
    • Everyone's freaked out, naturally, so Moses puts on a veil to cover himself.
  • Chapters 35-40

    Just Do It Already!

    • In a super small nutshell, these chapters have one event:
    • Moses and the Israelite builder get to constructing the Tabernacle to the exact specs that God gave them in Chapters 25-31. God comes down to hang out in it, and the Israelites move whenever God's cloud of fire leaves the tent. "But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day that it was taken up" (40:37). That's it. That's the end of Exodus.
    • The literary structure of this section is almost exactly the same as all the regulations for the Tabernacle in Exodus 25-31. So, in 25-31, if God said, "Bob, you should go over there, and build a box, and this box should be 2.5x1.5x1.5 cubits," then Exodus 35-40 says it this way: "Bob went over there, built a box, and the box was 2.5x1.5x1.5 cubits."
    • Since the text here is the same, check out our analysis of "Chapters 25-31" to understand why the text uses this kind of language.
    • But let's consider a larger question. In Genesis, the writers spent a few chapters trying to sum up the creation of the universe. In Exodus, the writers spend about five times as much space on the Tabernacle specs—down to the last cubit. Why is this? Why repeat this kind of text?
    • For starters, we have to remember that whoever was writing this text had a huge interest in the Tabernacle. Biblical writers don't repeat unimportant things, so the specs are really important. If you needed to include blueprints for your club's headquarters and info on the club's origins in the same document, what would you spend more time on? Probably the blueprints: they mean continuity for everything else; and if that building isn't built perfectly, the rest won't get preserved.
    • People also speculate that this section of Exodus was written by a source within the priesthood. Remember, the forerunners of the priests—Aaron—screwed up big time with the golden calf. Could all of these repetitions be trying to make up for that? Maybe the writer wanted to focus the reader's attention on the priests' new source of power rather than their old source of disgrace.
    • One final note about the end of Exodus. Then we're done, we promise.
    • God had said before that he wasn't going with the Israelites into Canaan. Remember? In 33:3, he said he was done with them: "I will not go up among you, or I would consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people."
    • But by the time we get to the end of Chapter 40, the spirit of God is hanging out in the Tabernacle. Explanations? It could be just an angel. Or God could have meant that he would go with the Israelites to Canaan but not into it. 
    • When it comes down to it, the Biblical presence of God is its own thing entirely, and no one seems to be able to figure it out.