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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

Exodus as Theology.

1.

Exodus is based on a thoroughly monotheistic world-view. Even though YHWH is known by a name distinguishing him from other gods, he is the only God who counts as such: the others are mere idols. He is the creator ( 4:11 ), and to him the whole earth belongs ( 9:29; 19:5 ). Yet he has committed himself to one people, the people of Israel, long in advance ( 6:3 ), and in return asks for their exclusive commitment to him ( 20:3 ). Although his presence and power is made known to the Egyptians ( 7:5 ) and to the whole earth ( 9:16 ), it is permanently promised to Israel ( 29:45–6 ) in a specially beneficent form: he will ‘dwell among them’.

2.

This is not simply the theology found in Exodus: the story which it tells is intended as the foundation and legitimation of this theology. YHWH demonstrates that he is the God of all the earth in his victory over Pharaoh. No other god even enters the contest. He demonstrates his commitment to Israel in his calling of Moses, his revelation of his name, his deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt, and his appearance to them at Sinai. The covenant which he offers the Israelites embodies the basic demand that they should be committed to him alone, and governs the entire story of the nation from this point onwards. The instructions he gives to Moses in 25–31 are intended to govern the way in which his presence with his people is to be safeguarded for all time.

3.

Obviously in the above two paragraphs I have combined points from the two or more main writers of the book. P's particular contributions are the recollection of the promise to the ancestors, the definition of the name YHWH as a new revelation, and the instructions for the building of the sanctuary for his presence.

4.

Exodus raises questions about the character and motives of YHWH, which can be followed through the commentary. Miranda (1973: 89) asserts that (in J) YHWH acts to deliver the Israelites from slavery simply because he is the God of justice who delivers the oppressed, and not because they are his people or because of any prior commitment. In the text as it stands the prior commitment is clearly stated ( 2:24 (P)). Even in J the prior connection between YHWH and the ancestors is emphasized. That is not to say that YHWH does not act because of his justice; ‘justice’ in the HB is a term of relationship, and denotes, among other things, acting in accordance with the commitments one has to other particular people. YHWH's self-proclamation in 34:6–7 lays great stress on the virtues of relationship, and his compassion, also emphasized there, has to be seen in that context.

5.

There is, however, an increasing emphasis as one moves into the plagues narrative and beyond on YHWH's action for his own sake: ‘that the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD [YHWH]’ ( 7:5 ). YHWH's need to achieve a resounding victory over Pharaoh leads him to manipulate him into fruitless opposition (see EX 7:6–11:10 ). His motive appears to be not so much compassion for or commitment to Israel as the need to have his own Godhead recognized (Durham 1987: 99; Gunn 1982: 84). This is a particular emphasis of the P material, though it is not absent from J. However, the ancient reader would have seen it differently. Human patrons' generous treatment of their clients redounded to their honour; likewise there was no contradiction between the divine patron's commitment to his people and to his own glory. Moreover, the good order of the world demanded that its ruler should be recognized.

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