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The second book of the Pentateuch is called Exodus, from the Greek word for “departure,” because its central event was understood by the Septuagint’s translators to be the departure of the Israelites from Egypt. Its Hebrew title, Shemoth (“Names”), is from the book’s opening phrase, “These are the names….” Continuing the history of Israel from the point where the Book of Genesis leaves off, Exodus recounts the Egyptian oppression of Jacob’s ever-increasing descendants and their miraculous deliverance by God through Moses, who led them across the Red Sea to Mount Sinai where they entered into a covenant with the Lord. Covenantal laws and detailed prescriptions for the tabernacle (a portable sanctuary foreshadowing the Jerusalem Temple) and its service are followed by a dramatic episode of rebellion, repentance, and divine mercy. After the broken covenant is renewed, the tabernacle is constructed, and the cloud signifying God’s glorious presence descends to cover it.
These events made Israel a nation and confirmed their unique relationship with God. The “law” (Hebrew torah) given by God through Moses to the Israelites at Mount Sinai constitutes the moral, civil, and ritual legislation by which they were to become a holy people. Many elements of it were fundamental to the teaching of Jesus (Mt 5:21–30; 15:4) as well as to New Testament and Christian moral teaching (Rom 13:8–10; 1 Cor 10:1–5; 1 Pt 2:9).
The principal divisions of Exodus are:
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