With its rich complement of narrative, poetic, and prescriptive materials, Exodus, the second book of Jewish and Christian scriptures, develops an epic drama that occupies the center of the Pentateuch’s testimony about the beginnings of God’s reign over and amidst a select people, commissioned for exemplary service among the dispersed nations of the world. Although the drama’s cast is much larger, the major segments of plot focus on the close but often uncomfortable associations that emerge among three principals. First, the deity—who is self-disclosed as “the Lord [Yahweh]”—demonstrates preeminent cosmic as well as historical sovereignty by extricating Israelite aliens from vassalage in Egypt, reclaiming them with intention to fulfill promises made to their ancestors. Second, Israel’s corporate identity as the Lord’s uniquely cherished possession is consolidated but not without complications that threaten to sever the redefined relationship. Israel’s national vocation survives initial crisis. It is made sustainable on the basis of correlative instruments of covenant and cultus, which establish fundamental boundaries, mutual expectations, and effective institutional supports, including means for renewal of the relationship should it ever again become damaged—as it inevitably will, given the fragility of human commitments.

Outside of the Pentateuch, Hosea 13:4 provides an early (mid-eighth century B.C.E.) synopsis of this compact between singular God and Israel: “I, Yahweh, am your deity from the land of Egypt; you have not known any deities apart from me, nor is there a savior except for me” (author's translation; see also 2:15 [MT 17]; 12:9 [MT 10]; cf. Amos 2:10; 3:1–2; 9:7; Mic 7:15). However, in the greatly expanded versions of this oracular witness as they are interwoven in the book of Exodus a third protagonist is featured. The conjunction between Yahweh and the community of redeemed slaves is inaugurated and implemented through the agency of Moses, who is more than a convenient adjunct or prophetical facilitator, as Hosea 12:13 [MT 14] seems to suggest he was (cf. Mic 6:4). In the Pentateuch’s model of ancient Israel’s normative Yahwism, Moses is an outsider who becomes the indispensable insider. His tested competence to converse intimately with and to act on behalf of both of the other principal parties personifies their relationship. As a consequence, Moses becomes ancient Israel’s foremost leader, who is empowered to expound the foundational legacy of Torah that deeply affects and occasionally competes with the theological testimony of the other major corpora of the Jewish and Christian scriptural canons. The bonded triad of patron deity, the people Israel, and Moses forms the matrix that shapes the theological-political testimony of the book of Exodus in both its Pentateuchal and larger biblical settings.

Compositional Character, Recensional Components, and Purpose.

Critical scholarship has continued to debate issues of the number, scope, provenances, and historical veracity of documentary sources and redactions that are evidently represented in the received texts of the Pentateuch. But some new perspectives have emerged in recent decades. Although these views have neither negated nor replaced older, still cogent analyses of compositional complexities, they have introduced modifications that encourage greater sensitivity not only to characteristic theological themes but also to the significance of contextual hermeneutics in the long-term development and literary presentation of the Pentateuchal traditions.

Textual lineages and prototypes.

Of utmost importance for readjustment of critical viewpoints are the caches of manuscripts discovered since 1947 in caves near Qumran and at other sites in the Judean wilderness, popularly known as the “Dead Sea Scrolls.” Fragmentary though they are, these documents—written mostly in Hebrew but with a few in Aramaic or Greek and dating to the final centuries of the Second Temple period and its immediate aftermath—provide hard data that shed considerable light on the textual formation and transmission of early Jewish literature. Exodus is prominent among the scriptural books that merit particular attention in this regard. (The manuscript evidence is catalogued in Berthelot and Legrand, 2010; see also, e.g., the essays of Ulrich, Tov, and VanderKam in Moriya and Hata, 2012.)

Most of the novel readings and rarely or randomly attested “variants” displayed in these Exodus scrolls will have little, if any, lasting impact on issues of critical interpretation. However, some variant readings are more substantive. They are emblematic of manuscript families that belong to textual lineages, which can now be plotted from pre-Hellenistic antecedents through to the crystallization in the first centuries C.E. of the major text types already familiar in the Masoretic and other “versional” transmissions. This evidence reveals that during the middle through late Second Temple period (ca. 375 B.C.E.–70 C.E.) Exodus existed in several studied scribal recensions. Some scholars are now identifying these recensions as different—parallel or sequential—“editions” of the book. (In effect, every reproduction of a manuscript provided opportunity for the scribe to create a new “edition.” The terminology of “recension” imputes to some such reproductions a stronger element of informed scribal deliberation and purpose.) Thus, the conspicuous conservatism of the so-called proto-Masoretic or proto-Rabbinic family of manuscripts preserves a restrained text of Exodus that may have been fashioned already in the late fifth century B.C.E., possibly in connection with the restoration-era reforms attributed to the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah (cf. Ezra 7:11–26; Neh 7:73B—9:37). Also recensional are many of the harmonizing expansions, grammatical adjustments, and more extensive alterations of Exodus traditions, variously exhibited in texts that have been labeled “Septuagintal,” “proto-Samaritan,” and “reworked Pentateuch.” The evidence suggests that multiple recensions were not only tolerated by the Essenes of Qumran and some other Jewish communities of the period but prized, probably because they served complementary needs of both preserving and modernizing traditions considered authoritative for the maintenance of corporate identities within the broader spectrum of Judaism.

From this new perspective it has become much more difficult to make a sharp distinction between early “biblical” texts of Exodus and derivative literature such as the pseudepigraphical book of Jubilees and the Qumran Temple Scroll. The latter works, which provide precedents for the interpretative paraphrases of scripture found only a little later in the writings of Philo of Alexandria and Josephus, among others, can no longer be marginalized as merely sectarian or of peripheral significance in the development of classical Jewish thought.

More important, the several textual lineages displayed by the Judean scrolls attest the kinds of editorial redrafting and creative supplementation that seem to have been employed in the formative stages of the literary development of Exodus. The apparent doublets and distinctive features of language, style, and theme that source criticism considered indicative of the Pentateuch’s anthological character—notably the components identified as “Yahwistic” (J), “Elohistic” (E), “Deuteronomic” (D), “Deuteronomistic” (Dtr), and “Priestly” (P)—may, at least in some of these cases, represent not originally independent documents that were combined by a series of redactors but consecutive recensional editions in a still supple, expandable transmission of ancient Israel’s ancestral lore. In short, recognition of this possibility shifts or enlarges the critical focus—away from presumption that the Pentateuch is a mechanical composite of variously authored writings to how it remained a work in progress as traditional materials, oral and written, were shaped over the course of centuries, usually by anonymous but intentional scribal revision. (To be sure, interpretation outside the protected texts of both Jewish and Christian scriptures increasingly became the norm in circumstances that prevailed from the late second century C.E. onward.)

The work of learned scribes.

Scribal practices and hermeneutical interests exhibited in the Judean scrolls are widely attested elsewhere and much earlier in ancient Near Eastern literatures (see Tov, 2004; van der Toorn, 2007). These correspondences invite closer comparison of literary processes and their products, even though varying degrees of temporal distance and cultural difference should be recognized in doing so.

A parallel to the lengthy tradition-historical formation of Exodus is supplied by cuneiform texts that illustrate continuous scribal authorship of narratives featuring the hero Gilgamesh. Transmission remained fluid from Sumerian antecedents at the end of the third millennium B.C.E. until the crafting of a Babylonian standard version of the Gilgamesh Epic in the Late Bronze Age (ca. 1400 B.C.E.), a version that subsequently acquired quasi-canonical status in curricula of Mesopotamian scribal schools. Closer to Exodus—in thematic content, plot, and ideological purpose—is the cuneiform “Creation Epic,” Enīma Eliš, several of whose mythological antecedents can be identified (see Lambert, 2013; Machinist, 2005). This composition is an elaborate, eclectic, and immensely influential work of political theology. In copies recovered from the remains of Ashurbanipal’s libraries at Nineveh and elsewhere (ca. 600 B.C.E.), it is still extant in a Babylonian standard version that celebrates Marduk’s victory over cosmic forces of disorder and his exaltation to preeminence in the Mesopotamian pantheon, together with the imperial ascendancy of his sanctuary-city Babylon. And there are also contemporary copies attesting a recension that substitutes Assyria’s tutelary god Aššur for Marduk, to tout the hegemonic claims of the vast Neo-Assyrian Empire. These versions also acquired quasi-canonical status, as exemplified by scribal commentaries on them as well as by their continuing liturgical use in Akῑtu festivals, beyond the Persian and Hellenistic periods into the centuries of late antiquity (see Frahm, 2011).

Such long-lived cuneiform traditions are particularly relevant as parallels to the recensional formation of the book of Exodus. Evidence continues to accumulate showing that scribes schooled in cuneiform writing and literature were resident in or near Jerusalem and other major urban centers of Syria and Palestine, initially during the Late Bronze “Amarna” Age of Egyptian empire (fourteenth century B.C.E.), shortly before Israel’s emergence in Canaan as a tribal confederation, but also later in the Iron Age (see van der Toorn, 2000). In the eighth through sixth centuries B.C.E., trained scribes were needed to staff the Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian or “Chaldean” provincial administrations, whose sway included the erstwhile realm of the northern kingdom of Israel (e.g., 2 Kgs 17:24–41; 18:9–12) and, not long after, Judah’s territories too (2 Kgs 18:13—19:37; 25:22–26). In light of this, it is certainly reasonable to think that competent Israelite and Judahite scribes, whose duties could include diplomatic service in addition to official record keeping and correspondence, were exposed to Mesopotamian literary traditions long before the sixth-century Babylonian Exile (see Aster, 2007). Conversely, it is unnecessary to suppose that the Pentateuch, simply because it shows knowledge of cuneiform narrative and legal traditions (e.g., Gen 6–8; Exod 2:1–10; 21:1–36; Deut 13; 28), must have been substantially the product of the Exile and Persian period.

The grave challenges posed by the military and cultural assaults of Assyria’s Tiglath-Pileser III (r. 745–727 B.C.E.) and his successors provide a persuasive context for both the flourishing of Israelite and Judahite learned scribalism and the contemporary revisions of Exodus traditions that the scribes produced. In significant measure, their interpretative work was designed to consolidate Israel’s threatened theopolitical identity and, thus, to serve as a bulwark against intrusive imperialist ideologies of the competing Mesopotamian and Egyptian superpowers (cf. Isa 10:24–27; Jer 2:18; Hos 9:3; 11:5, 11; 12:1 [MT 2]). Remembering how New Kingdom Egypt had formerly been unable to thwart Yahweh’s sovereign agenda supported belief that Assyria and, later, Babylon were also vulnerable to divine judgment (e.g. Lev 26:44–45; Deut 4:25–40; 2 Kgs 19:8–37; Isa 10:5–19; 27:12–13; Jer 50:17–20).

Principal recensions.

The external evidence is thus consistent with the Pentateuch’s own literary configuration in supporting the identification of at least three major stages of recensional development of the Exodus traditions, between the mid-eighth century, when some of these same traditions are sketched by the prophet Hosea and others, and the restoration era that began in the late sixth century B.C.E. and continued into the fifth. (This formulation does not deny that the roots of these traditions may have been much earlier.) Not surprisingly, the literary profiles of the later recensions, including their bolder theological reflections, are the easiest to discern. (For the ongoing critical discussion of such matters, see Blum, 1990; Blenkinsopp, 1992; Van Seters, 1994; Johnstone, 1998; and the essays collected in Dozeman et al., 2011.)

Scholarly discussion indicates broad support for associating P scribal contributions to the Pentateuch with postexilic and perhaps even earlier exilic stages of authorial reworking and supplementation of a written archive of Mosaic Torah. The P edition or editions provided an extensively remodeled framework for a revised presentation, which is sufficient to account for the overall shape not only of the book of Exodus but also of the entire Pentateuch, although this does not necessarily preclude later retouching. The P framework was designed particularly to accommodate the incorporation of additional material, especially blocks of sacerdotal prescriptions. In Exodus, P augmented a basic, inherited scenario in which Yahweh’s definitive victory over Pharaoh and Egypt was followed by preparations at Sinai/Horeb for Israel’s continued passage through the wilderness to take possession of its long-promised homeland. Here, P’s emphases are programmatic. They include virtual apotheosis of Moses (7:1) but even more intentionally an elevated role for Aaron (e.g., 7:1–13; 28:1–30; cf. 6:13–30; Lev 8–10; Num 3:1–3), graphic depictions of Yahweh’s warfare in and against Egypt (e.g., 8:12–15; 9:8–12; 12:12; 14:1–2, 15–18), and a chronology of events that comports more closely with the early Jewish liturgical calendar and sabbath observance (e.g., 12:1–20; 16:23–30; 19:1; 31:12–17; 35:1–3; 40:2, 34–38; cf. Lev 23:33–43). Its lengthiest signature contribution in Exodus is the revelation at the summit of Sinai to Moses of the blueprint for the mobile “tabernacle” sanctuary and accoutrements (Exod 25:1—31:18), followed by a parallel report of the blueprint’s exacting implementation (35:1—40:38). This utopian agenda promoted the aspirations of returnees from the Babylonian Exile and continued to inform the cultic institutions and practices of Second Temple Judaism (e.g., Sir 50:1–24).

Agreement is lacking with regard to the most appropriate designation for the version of the archive that P reworked. It should, of course, have consisted of some configuration of the literary components identified in Exodus as “Non-P.” This label is now used by a number of critics (e.g., Dozeman, 2009, pp. 31–43), even though it fails to suggest either the character and scope of these predecessor materials or their purpose. Because there are strong indications of continuity between significant strands of “Non-P” in Exodus and the books of the Former Prophets (Joshua through Kings), the underlying version most likely belonged to an edition or editions of a “Primary History” whose final compositional stages—patent in Deuteronomy—are usually characterized as “Deuteronomic” (D) and/or “Deuteronomistic” (Dtr).

Supplementation attributable to D/Dtr in Exodus itself is relatively modest. Its influence is, however, exemplified by the reworked and remarkably candid dialogues between Yahweh and Moses that elaborate the latter’s two commissions: the first persuading him to represent Yahweh through word and deed in gaining Israel’s release from servitude in Egypt (3:1—4:17) and, especially, the second, in the wake of the “golden calf” crisis, enabling him to act as Yahweh’s personal, embodied surrogate in leading a chastened community of Israel into possession of its promised homeland (32:1—34:28). The trajectory of D/Dtr revision leads through Deuteronomy (e.g., 29:1 [MT 28:69]—31:23), Joshua (e.g., 1:1–9; 23), and beyond, apparently culminating in late Judahite and exilic efforts to account for the national disasters that decimated “all Israel” and, if still possible, to salvage through repentance opportunity for corporate survival (e.g., 2 Kgs 17:7–41; 23:1–27; cf. Jer 7:21–26; 16:10–15; 31:31–37). Accordingly, the D/Dtr work insists that Israel’s present and future circumstances, like those of its covenantal past, are contingent upon its trust in and strict fidelity to the constitutional Torah legislated for it through Moses (e.g., Exod 4:11; 13:9; 15:26; Deut 5:28–33; 28:58–61; Josh 23:1–13; 1 Kgs 2:1–4; 2 Kgs 17:19–20).

Antecedent E and J versions of Exodus are compatible with, if not required by, the salient evidence of variations in theme and terminology embedded in the narratives of deliverance from Egypt, the wilderness sojourn, and covenant making at the mountain of God (e.g., Propp, 1999, pp. 49–52, 2006, pp. 723–734; Collins, 2001; Graupner, 2002; Baden, 2009; Yoreh, 2010). These versions quite possibly belonged to pre-D/Dtr editions of a cumulative Primary History. Their variations provide, in any case, data attesting the longer-term growth of Exodus traditions, which is also evident in eighth-century Israelite and Judahite prophecy and other preexilic sources (esp. Num 24:8; Deut 32:10–12; 33:1–5; Judg 2:1–5; 5:2–31; Ps 78). However, an important concern shared by the putative E and J versions in their recombinant form is the foundational understanding of “Israel” as a covenanted confraternity of Jacob’s heirs, encompassing not only Ephraim and other northern tribes (cf. Ps 80) but also Judah and its fraternal constituents (esp. Exod 1:1–5; 19:3–6; 24:4; cf. Gen 46:2–4; Deut 33:8; Isa 5:7; Hos 1:10-11 [MT 2:1–2]; 5:8–15; 6:4; Amos 3:1; Ps 114:1–2).

If Exodus thus preserves at least a thrice-told and interpreted tale, the distinctive emphases of the layered recensions are complementary. Although not homogenized, they afford a reasonably coherent theological reading of the whole.

Remembrance and renewal.

Previous generations of critical scholarship mined the literary deposits in Exodus and other parts of the Pentateuch for nuggets of “historical memory.” The premise was that recovery of such archaic data should facilitate reconstruction of a more credible picture of when and how at least some segments of early Israel escaped from servitude in Egypt, sojourned for a generation or so in the wilderness of northern Sinai, and eventually introduced their interpretation of these experiences to kindred populations in Canaan (e.g., Gressmann, 1913; Buber, 1946; Noth, 1972; and esp. Cross, 1973; 1998, pp. 22–52, 53–70; Weinfeld, 1987; de Moor, 1997). Though sometimes denigrated as too speculative, this work remains cogent, not least because of what it has so far failed to discover.

The presence in Exodus of some authentic reverberations of harsh Egyptian treatment of Asiatic prisoners and other occasional tenants, especially during the Ramesside period of empire (and possibly later amplified by comparable Solomonic practices [1 Kgs 9:15–23]), is not in serious dispute. Nor is general familiarity with Egyptian geography and culture. But nothing verifiably archaic has been retrieved either from the text of Exodus itself or through close comparative study of antique Egyptian sources that establishes a firm chronology for or a historiographical account underlying the book’s sequence of dramatized episodes. (For various perspectives, see e.g. Redford, 1992; Hoffmeier, 1999; Hendel, 2001; Davies, 2004; Russell, 2009.) What Exodus traditions preserve are not reliable historical recollections of persons and discrete happenings per se but rather socially constructed commemoration that is constitutive of “collective memory” (Assmann, 1990; 1997; Brettler, 2001; Smith, 2002; Meyers, 2005, pp. 2–12). Particularly in its later stages of formation, Exodus is designed to keep in focus liturgically shaped remembrances of how Israel gained its sense of corporate selfhood as the firstborn people of Yahweh and, accordingly, to underscore what Israel must do, and refrain from doing, in order to safeguard and renew this unifying covenantal self-image.

Celebrations and related cultic practices that inculcate communal memory receive prominent attention throughout Exodus. They indicate that, as articulated here, the identities of Yahweh and Israel are reciprocally definitional. To themselves and outsiders alike, each is known and named in relationship to the other: Yahweh, revealed as Israel’s only God, and Israel, chosen to become Yahweh’s prized possession among the nations (e.g., Exod 6:6–7; 19:4–6; 32:11–12; cf. Deut 26:17–19; 28:10; Josh 7:9; 9:9). These identities remain secure only so long as the bond between them—forged through the events as the book of Exodus dramatizes them—is regenerated in the consciousness of both parties.

This is most conspicuous in the segments of instruction in Exodus 12–13. Observance of the conjoined festivals of Passover/Pesaḥ and Unleavened Bread/Maṣṣôt is to be fixed in Israel’s religious practice throughout its generations. Each celebration is specifically identified as a communal “memorialization” (zikkārôn, rendered “remembrance/reminder” in NRSV) of Yahweh’s action against Egyptian tyranny in favor of the enslaved Israelites (12:14, 25–27; 13:3, 8–10). Ritualized commemoration thus reinforces confidence in a still applicable agenda of divine providence (e.g., 15:1–21; Isa 43:14–21; 51:9–11; Jer 16:1–15; 23:7–8) whose ethical implications resound in Pentateuchal traditions of law (e.g., Exod 22:21-27 [MT 20–26]; 23:9; Lev 19:33–36; Deut 10:17–22; 15:15; 24:7–22).

While there are in the book other noteworthy reminders of divine providence (Exod 16:32–33; 17:14–16; 20:8–11; 23:14–19; 34:10–27), none is more efficacious than the divine name “Yahweh” itself. Its proper, protected use acknowledges Yahweh’s sovereignty as Israel’s only God; it also allows the deity’s gracious presence to be invoked, above all in contexts of worship where divine blessing is sought and formally bestowed through priestly mediation (e.g., 3:13–17; 6:1–8; 34:5–9; cf. 20:7, 24; 23:20–21; Num 6:23–27; 14:17–19; Deut 10:8). The divine personal name is thus an aid to Israel’s memory but, more, it grants access to the one so named. The counterpart theme, as attested primarily in P material, is that the official cultus maintained by Aaron and company serves to keep memory of Israel’s sodality constantly before Yahweh, thereby singling out for favorable divine attention those worshipers who are legitimate heirs of the covenantal promises made to their ancestors (Exod 2:24; 6:5; 28:9–30; 30:11–16; 32:13; 39:6–7, 13). In sum, the integrated recensional editions of Exodus dramatize ancient Israel’s collective memory of how and for what immediate and enduring purposes it acquired its identity as the foremost people of the God whose exalted name they bear in witness to the world.

Divine Self-Disclosures and Ancient Israel’s Theocratic Vocation.

The Exodus drama is coordinated by an omniscient narrator whose anonymous voice is shared by the principal recensional editions. In this framework, theological interpretation of the events portrayed regularly takes the form of divine self-asseveration and oracular guidance. Yahweh’s credentials, intentions, and directives are disclosed in first-person speech to Moses and through him to other participants. Responses by Moses and others typically function as additional testimony, sometimes questioning divine resolve but, at critical moments, confirming that what happens is demonstrative of Yahweh’s mastery. Moreover, the verbal exchanges progressively underscore Israel’s need for Yahweh’s sustaining presence in its midst, not only during its transient existence in the wilderness but in view of the mandate to leave the refuge of Sinai/Horeb and continue its journey, eventually to take possession of the long-promised national homeland in Canaan.

Yahweh’s indomitable sovereignty (Exod 1:1—15:21).

The unifying theological theme of the initial segments of the Exodus drama is demonstration of Yahweh’s hegemony over both the Israelites and imperial Egypt. A prologue (1:1—4:26) sketches the crisis created by the paranoia and tyrannical acts of Pharaoh and introduces the focal triad of the oppressed Hebrew people, Moses, and their divine patron. Then, with Moses and Aaron representing Yahweh’s claim to Israel’s corporate life and loyalty, opposition to Pharaoh progresses through a prolonged series of encounters that culminate in Yahweh’s unconditional victory over Egyptian military forces at the sea (4:27—14:31). In climactic position is a triumphal hymn (15:1–21), celebrating Yahweh’s exaltation, continuing guidance, and eternal reign.

Prologue (Exod 1:1—4:26).

While divine awareness of the developing crisis may be presupposed throughout, the deity is the last of the major protagonists to be formally introduced in the prologue. The Priestly source does so first, in a striking instance of narrative omniscience, reporting that, having “heard” the outcry of the Israelites and having “remembered” promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, “God [ʾĕlōhîm] saw the Israelites and God knew” presumably what needed to be done to rescue them (2:23B–25). This succinct verbal sequence outlines a familiar cultic paradigm of divine vigilance and responsiveness to legitimate complaint (22:25-27 [MT 24–26]; cf., e.g., Pss 18; 34; 40). Here, the actions preview key motifs in the older account that follows (Exod 3:7–10) but with added emphasis on the promises to the ancestors as covenantal (2:24), an item that anticipates the disclosure of Yahweh’s name and deliberative agenda in 6:2–8 (also P).

A much fuller and provocatively intimate discourse on divine identity and purpose is developed in the dialogue that extends the initial encounter between Moses and Yahweh’s visual manifestation (the malak yhwh) in the “burning bush” scene, 3:1—4:17. (The discourse seems to be a D/Dtr revision of J and E versions of Moses’s experience of commissioning at Horeb, “the mountain of the deity [hāʾĕlōhîm],” 3:1.) Through consecutive exchanges in the complex dialogue, the revision constructs a broad theological equation, coordinating major denominations of Yahweh’s multifaceted Godhood.

First, in 3:6, the theophanic speaker is self-identified as Moses’s family numen, “the god of your father [ʾĕlōhê ʾābîkā]” (cf. 15:2; 18:4), who is linked in series with the divine patron or patrons of Israel’s principal ancestors, “the god of Abraham, the god of Isaac, and the god of Jacob” (cf., e.g., Gen 26:24; 31:5; 46:3; Exod 4:5). This initial synthesis thus also serves to reconnect Moses himself to the Israelites whom the speaker claims as “my people,” with announced intent to deliver them from Egypt and to bring them safely into another land (3:7–9). Moses is then charged with implementing the first of these two announced tasks, by confronting Pharaoh to gain Israel’s release (3:10). In response to Moses’s confession of inadequacy (3:11), assurance is given of the numen’s accompanying and facilitating presence: “I will be with you [ʾehyeh ʿimmāk]” (cf. Gen 26:3, 24; 28:15; 31:3; 46:2–4), a commitment that will be formally sealed when Moses returns with the Israelite people to participate together in worship of “the deity [hāʾĕlōhîm] at this mountain” (Exod 3:12).

The next portion of dialogue, in 3:13–22, begins with Moses’s judicious request to know how to identify this generic deity by name, when he is asked to do so by the Israelites still captive in Egypt (3:13). As the speaker discloses to Moses (3:15), the singular, composite ancestral deity is, of course, “Yahweh” (3:2, 4, 7). This name, which will become correlative with Israel’s redemption from Egyptian bondage and covenant making at Sinai/Horeb, is to remain the principal designation of the individuated divine persona for discrete use, especially in the cult (3:16–17; cf. 6:6–7; 20:2, 7).

The preceding, two-part response to Moses’s question in 3:14 is transitional and epexegetical. It features a threefold repetition of the verb form ʾehyeh (first-person singular qal imperfect of hwy/hyh, “to be”): “Then God [ʾĕlōhîm] said to Moses, ‘I-Will-Be Who I-Will-Be [ʾehyeh ʾăšer ʾehyeh]; and said (further), ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites: I-Will-Be [ʾehyeh] has sent me to you.’ ” The initial clause, with its redundant idem per idem syntax (cf. 4:13; 33:19; 1 Sam 23:13; 2 Sam 15:20; 2 Kgs 8:1), is less dismissive or merely evasive in this case than cautiously open-ended. God’s self-disclosure includes personal discretion as well as initiative. Divine right is reserved to “be” and become who or what, where, and for whom God so chooses in particular circumstances. In both clauses the first-person identification echoes the formulaic use of ʾehyeh in 3:12, announcing the deity’s promise to “be with” Moses. Now, in effect, God through Moses will make the same commitment to the Israelites—probably in specific view of the familiar covenant oath “I will be God for you [ʾehyeh lākem lēʾlōhîm]” (e.g., Jer 11:4; 30:22; Ezek 36:28; cf. Jer 24:7; Ezek 11:20; Zech 8:8; and, conversely, Hos 1:9). The parallel between the second clause of 3:14 and the initial clause of 3:15 shows that the first-person form, ʾehyeh, anticipates and enhances the aspectual sense and significance of the third-person cognate form, yhwh/yahweh (preferably read as hipʿil “He-Will-Cause-To-Be”). As disclosed in this semantic context, “Yahweh” is the deity who can and will produce results, who will “make (things) happen” for Israel (cf. Miles, 1995, p. 99). Therefore, by this specific praenomen Israel is to acknowledge in perpetuity the proactive, responsively consequential work of its divine creator, savior, and exclusive sovereign.

To be noted also are reverberations of the ʾehyeh form of the name in the dialogue between Moses and Yahweh that continues and even becomes heated in 4:1–17. The matter in immediate dispute is Moses’s credibility and competence. Above all, why and how should the Israelites trust any claim that Yahweh, now revealed as the newly reengaged denomination of their ancestral God, has commissioned him to secure their release from Egypt (3:18; 4:31)? What transpires in response is the special empowerment of Moses to demonstrate through act and word that he is indeed Yahweh’s personal agent (cf. Deut 34:10–12). In Israel’s case, authoritative words can speak louder than symbolic actions. Hence, Yahweh endows Moses with divine voice to articulate oracular guidance: “And I myself, I will be with your mouth [wĕʾānōkî ʾehyeh ʿim-pîkā] and instruct you [wĕhôrêtîkā] as to what you shall speak” (Exod 4:12; cf. 13:9; 18:20; 19:9; 24:12; Deut 5:23–31; Jer 1:6–10). Were this not enough, Aaron is so empowered, too, as prophetical spokesperson for a now godlike Moses (Exod 4:15–16; cf. 7:1). Prefigured here is cooperative divine presence for the tasks at hand but also for the long-term leadership of Israel.

If the Israelites will be too quickly persuaded by the initial presentation of Moses and Aaron (4:27–31), Pharaoh is another matter. It will take not only oracular words and impressive signs but deadly force to defeat him (4:21–23). And in the process, others may be similarly threatened and need protective measures to keep them alive (4:24–26; cf. 5:3; 12:12–13, 23–27).

Victory narrative (Exod 4:27—14:31).

Most of what happens in the episodes of conflict with Pharaoh has been previewed in the prologue (especially 3:19–22; 4:21–23). While the outcome is never in doubt, it is delayed as other factors seem to take precedence over Israel’s swift release from captivity. This is due in large part to the multiple strands of tradition and recensional layers that develop the still emerging portrait of who Yahweh really is or is becoming, at least in this dramatic context. The crux is the deadly side of the salutary event that Passover commemorates: Yahweh’s forceful reacquisition of Israel as “my people” succeeds at a horrifying cost, not only to the households of Pharaoh and his loyal officials, who have continued to resist Moses’s demands, but to all of the other Egyptian families and even to their livestock (11:4–8; 12:27, 29–30; 13:14–15). In describing the series of encounters before this harrowing episode, the principal recensions seem to struggle to find an acceptable theological rationale for a display of divine power and cruel vindictiveness that exceeds either what is necessary to overcome Pharaoh’s individual stubbornness or what talionic justice demands in judgment on Egypt’s longer-term mistreatment of Israelite aliens (cf. Gen 12:10–20; 18:16–33; Deut 23:7).

In the older recensional composite (of J and E), questions about divine identity, authority, and purpose come into critical focus when Moses and Aaron initially confront Pharaoh with Yahweh’s demand to allow Israel temporary respite from forced labor, which Pharaoh refuses to do (Exod 5:1–2). From this point on, through the “plague cycle” that follows, the principal issue is whether or not Pharaoh will acknowledge that Yahweh’s proprietary claim on the worship of the Israelites supersedes Egypt’s conscription of them for corvée duty (7:16–17; 8:1 [MT 7:26]; 8:20 [MT 16], 25-28 [MT 21–24]; 9:1, 13; 10:3, 7–11, 24–26). Accordingly, the plagues, culminating in the death of the Egyptian firstborn, demonstrate that Yahweh’s superior power can be used discriminately, within Pharaoh’s own legitimate realm, at least to distinguish Hebrew aliens who comprise “Israel” from Egyptians (8:22-23 [MT 18–19]; 9:4–7, 17–26; 11:1–7; 12:21–23, 29–30). And once the Israelites have been ushered out of Egypt proper into the wilderness (11:8; 12:31–34; 13:17–18), Yahweh’s protective presence insulates them from Pharaoh’s pursuit, which ends with Yahweh’s wholesale destruction of the Egyptian army in the sea (14:5–7, 11–14, 19–20, 21B, 24–25, 27B, 30). In this basic narrative, then, the disaster that befalls the rest of Egypt is collateral damage, deadly spillover resulting from Pharaoh’s arrogant refusal to recognize who Yahweh is as Israel’s discrete sovereign. Egypt’s firstborn are forfeit when Pharaoh fails to respect Yahweh’s own.

Amplification indicative of D/Dtr interests is evident in the victory narrative at a number of points. Characteristic of this recensional work is interpretation that focuses on the broader and longer-term theological significance of the events portrayed. Thus, in 13:3–16, Israel’s generations are urged in the hortatory voice of Moses to celebrate the spring festival of Maṣṣôt, in commemoration not only of the event of Yahweh’s militant deliverance itself but of the consequential commitment and testimony that “the Torah of Yahweh should be in your mouth” (13:9; cf. 4:12 and, e.g., Deut 4:5–8; 30:14). Earlier supplementary remarks insist that the plagues demonstrate divine restraint, not excess; they are prolonged primarily to provide Egyptians with opportunities to acknowledge Yahweh’s unique sovereignty and thereby to attest the preeminence of Yahweh’s power and name or renown “in all the earth” (Exod 8:10 [MT 6]; 9:14–16, 19–21, 29B–30; 10:1B–2.; also 8:10 [MT 6]; cf. Deut 4:32–39; 2 Sam 7:22; 1 Kgs 8:22; Isa 45:14, 21; Jer 10:6–7). Also resonant with D/Dtr is the narrator’s conclusion in Exodus 14:31 that Yahweh’s “great hand against the Egyptians” inspired Israel’s reverential “fear” but also “trust” in both Yahweh and Moses (cf. 19:9; Deut 5:28—6:2; 1 Sam 12:16–18).

The contributions of P to the victory narrative are more extensive and revisionist. Beginning with the oracles of reassurance and renewed commissioning in Exodus 6:2–8 and 7:1–5, they underscore that what is at stake in the conflict is acknowledgment by Israelites and Egyptians alike of the ineluctable authority and constancy of the singular divine persona who had formerly been revealed to Israel’s ancestors as “ ‘El Shaddai” (NRSV “God Almighty”; cf. Gen 17:1; 28:2; 35:11) and who now, in initiating action to fulfill covenantal promises, solemnly addresses them as “Yahweh.” There is no suggestion in P that Yahweh shows moderation in the use of force or demands that Pharaoh give the oppressed Israelites only temporary relief from their labors in order to worship their own ancestral deity. Rather, Yahweh is cosmic sovereign who “hardens Pharaoh’s heart”—“strengthens” his resolve or gives him the courage of his arrogant convictions—so that Yahweh can “multiply signs and wonders,” which Pharaoh will be unwilling to heed (Exod 7:3; cf. 11:9). And, “just as Yahweh had declared” through Moses (7:13, 22; 8:15 [11], 19 [15]; 9:12, 35), this happens over and over again, right through the final encounter at the sea, when Yahweh’s glorification over Pharaoh and the Egyptian army is completed (14:4, 8, 18). Then what is left of humbled Egypt can do no other than acknowledge Yahweh’s supremacy, even in its own land and over its own worthless gods (12:12; cf. Num 33:4; Ezek 20:5–9). Thus, the signature self-disclosure of divine identity in P, the repeated asseveration “I am Yahweh,” is at once a demand for recognition of superlative authority to govern and a declaration of unmitigated and unrivaled power in the exercise of legitimate sovereignty (see Zimmerli, 1982).

The song of Yahweh (Exod 15:1–21).

The triumphal hymn ascribed to “Moses and the Israelites” in 15:1–18, with an antiphonal response performed by “Miriam … and all the women” in 15:20–21 (which is often considered to be an older or variant version), celebrates the victory at the sea as an event of cosmogonic proportions (see Cross, 1973, pp. 112–144; Mann, 1977, pp. 30–58, 123–143; Smith, 1997, pp. 192–226). In this narrative context, the archaic anthem is both climactic and transitional in function. It proclaims Yahweh’s identity as incomparable divine “warrior,” whose elevation in power and majesty among and above national gods has been established by the defeat of Pharaoh’s forces (15:11; cf. 18:11; Ps 86:8–10). And it also previews principal acts of the drama that follow in Exodus and beyond: Yahweh’s providential guidance of and reign over the redeemed people, who will be safely led to and transplanted in Yahweh’s sanctified dominion. Of course, this realm will ultimately be centered not in the wilderness of Sinai/Horeb, although it is inaugurated there, but in Jerusalem, to which other nations will journey in order to share in its blessings (e.g., 2 Sam 7:10, 18–29; Isa 2:2–4; Zech 14:9–11; Pss 48; 78; 114).

Yahweh’s providential order and Israel’s vocation (Exod 15:22—24:18).

With the song of Yahweh’s exaltation as turning point, the drama’s focus becomes nation building—the refashioning of Israelite refugees from Egyptian oppression into a disciplined, obedient community, bound together for service of the deity who has rescued them. Such a political transformation has already been long in the making (cf. Gen 12:1–3; 46:2–7), and it will take generations to complete. Still, the basic constitution of the new Israel is unveiled and partially implemented during a post-deliverance sojourn in the vicinity of the “mountain of the deity,” where Moses was first commissioned and will be again in order to complete Yahweh’s proximate agenda (Exod 3:7–8).

The recensional work of P accounts for the larger structural design of Pentateuchal traditions, especially from Exodus 15:22 through the end of Numbers. While itinerary notices serve as important narrative signposts, the concentric arrangement of major episodes has liturgical significance (see Smith, 1997, pp. 285–308). Led by Moses and Aaron, Israel’s “hosts” depart from Egypt at Passover in the spring month of Abib (12:40–51). They reach Sinai/Horeb in early summer (19:1–2), to begin rites of covenant making at the time later prescribed for the pilgrimage festival of Šābuʿōt, “Weeks” (e.g., Num 28:26; Deut 16:9–12). Law-giving and institutional formation around the tabernacle complex continue through and beyond the season for the early fall festival of Sukkôt, “Booths” (especially Lev 23:33–43, with reference to commemoration of the wilderness sojourn; cf. Deut 31:10–13). When the tribal hosts have been reordered into a living, mobile communal sanctuary, they will begin their march from Sinai/Horeb to Canaan, departing a month after the next celebration of Pesaḥ-Maṣṣôt (Num 10:11–34; cf. Exod 40:1, 17). The liturgical year thus recapitulates the major acts of the Exodus drama that are foundational for commemoration and renewal of Israel’s identity as the people of Yahweh.

Passage to Sinai/Horeb (Exod 15:22—18:27).

One of the thematic issues left unresolved in P’s structuring of events is Israel’s fragile confidence in divine guidance as exercised through the leadership of Moses (5:22; 6:9; 14:10–14). In spite of some positive narrative reports and exuberant hymnal testimony in 14:30—15:21, Egypt’s spectacular defeat in the sea crossing has not clarified whether or how Yahweh’s providence will sustain Israel’s corporate life on a day-to-day basis. But indications of divine intent and related procedural rules begin to emerge even before the people reach their encampment at Sinai/Horeb.

When, only three days out into the wilderness, Israel complains because of the lack of potable water, Yahweh reveals a way to purify the bitter springs of Marah (15:22–25A). Then Yahweh adds through Moses (who speaks here with D/Dtr resonance, 15:25B–26) the statutory lesson that carefully listening for and heeding their deity’s commandments is the right way to experience the favor of the God who is now self-disclosed as “Yahweh your healer [yhwh rōpʾekā].” A second, more detailed and ominous lesson is learned when the refugees reach the wilderness of Sin and complain about the lack of food, especially of the kinds they had formerly enjoyed in Egypt (16:1–36; cf. Num 11:1–35). In response to their legitimate need and with the expectation that they should then acknowledge that “I, Yahweh, am your God” (16:12), they are provided with both quail meat and the bread-like manna, which they will continue to receive for sustenance throughout the wilderness period, on condition that they observe the sabbath stipulations introduced here.

Thirst is again the reason for complaint at Rephidim; it is renamed “Massah and Meribah” because the quarrelsome people dared to test providence, asking “Is Yahweh in our midst or not?” (17:1–7; cf. Num 20:2–13). A positive answer to this critical question, which is thematic for the rest of Exodus, is already suggested in the next episode, also set at Rephidim. When Israel is attacked by marauding Amalekites, Moses commissions Joshua to muster and lead a select militia that, under the power-laden aegis of Moses’s elevated hands, succeeds in driving off the attackers (Exod 17:8–16; cf. Deut 25:17–19). Finally, when the Israelites reach “the mountain of God” and meet there with Moses’s Midianite father-in-law, the priest Jethro, he leads them in praise and sacrificial worship of Yahweh; and later, he convinces the overburdened Moses of a better way than autocracy of governing, which is to share responsibility for judicial and military leadership with trustworthy, competent subordinates chosen from the people (Exod 18).

Food and water, physical healing and protection, and the inauguration of a tiered system of leadership: particularly as these features are linked together, they suggest how divine providence is supposed to shape and empower ordered Israelite society from within. In each episode, Yahweh is glimpsed meeting one of Israel’s most pressing needs—primarily through the competent human agency of Israelites who implement Moses’s instructions. Yet the model of Yahweh’s rule over Israel disclosed in the extended “Sinai pericope” that follows is considerably more explicit and comprehensive, outlining what Josephus, in the late first century C.E., identified as “theocracy, ascribing sovereignty and dominion to God” rather than empowering human monarchs or oligarchs to govern their communities as semiautonomous authorities, as do other nations (Ag. Ap. 2.165, 184–189).

Covenantal theocracy (Exod 19:1—24:18).

The theocratic program initially unfolds in the context of a four-part account of covenant making at Sinai/Horeb (comprised largely of E material with D/Dtr revisions). Reciprocal declarations and rites—through which the covenant is announced, elaborated, and enacted—define and formalize the sociopolitical bonds that are meant to unite the people in fidelity to one another and to the divine sovereign who has claimed them anew.

Overture (Exod 19:1–8).

While the narrative frame specifies Yahweh as the initiator of the covenant (19:3, 7–8), it is noteworthy that the divine first-person proposal to the Israelites, delivered to them through Moses, does not (19:4–6A). Instead, it discloses the speaker’s preeminent role, as suzerain of all the world’s dispersed populations (cf. Deut 10:14–18; 32:8–9; Ps 47:2 [MT 3]; 83:18) whose defeat of Egypt and swift retrieval of enslaved members of “Jacob’s household” have demonstrated the power and imperial prerogative to single them out for a “hallowed” nationhood, contingent upon their willing obedience. The people are “united” in their ready acceptance of these preliminary terms (Exod 19:8).

Statement of substance (Exod 19:9—20:21).

In the context of covenant making, the theophanous spectacle atop the mountain has a dual purpose: it underscores the gravity of the Decalogue as Yahweh’s personal declaration of the covenant’s basic, indefeasible principles and it establishes the trustworthiness of Moses as the surrogate voice of God, which the people are henceforth committed to obey as Yahweh’s own. The Decalogue consists of the covenant formulary proper in 20:2–6, which succinctly stipulates and sanctions Yahweh’s uncompromising demand for Israel’s exclusive and aniconic worship, followed by complementary declarations—“words [dĕbārîm]” (20:1; cf. Deut 4:13)—that safeguard this critical commitment and the moral integrity of Israelite society (see McBride, 2006).

Detailed stipulations (Exod 20:22—23:33).

Whether or not it had an earlier history as a discrete jurisprudential corpus, the so-called Book of the Covenant (especially the core provisions in 21:1—23:19) is integrated into the narrative of covenant making (see Wright, 2009, pp. 322–345). It thereby provides a fuller disclosure of the social inclusivity and theocratic justice that Israel, in imitation of Yahweh’s rule, is obligated by covenant to implement in its common life (e.g., 22:21-27 [MT 20–26]; 23:6–9; cf. Deut 10:12–20). As the framing segments stress, the aim of faithful observance is to not to earn Yahweh’s favor but to receive and respond gratefully to the providential guidance that alone can secure Israel’s corporate well-being as it travels toward and takes possession of a national homeland (Exod 20:22–26; 23:20–33; cf. Deut 6:24–25).

Rites of enactment (Exod 24:1–18).

With Moses officiating and both the whole people and its tribal leaders variously involved, several distinct acts signifying communal adoption and ceremonial ratification of the covenant are juxtaposed in this passage. The narrative’s awkwardness is due in part to its composite character but also to postponement of full ritual closure, to allow for incorporation of P’s sacral traditions into the Sinaitic covenantal revelation, before Moses’s receipt of the stone tablets that document the basic terms of the now operative covenant. The delay, which removes Moses from the people’s midst and even from its sight, also portends the crisis that compromises both the ideal and the practicability of the initial version of covenantal theocracy.

Yahweh’s compassionate presence in Israel’s midst (Exod 25–40).

Like the Pentateuch as a whole, the last 16 chapters of Exodus allow the distinctive theopolitical perspectives of P and D/Dtr to complement one another, without harmonizing them or diminishing either in favor of the other. What their respective cultic and covenantal emphases share in the closing sections of the book is focus on enabling divine immanence for Israel’s corporate sanctification and blessing to remain effective, when Israel under the renewed leadership of Moses journeys from Sinai to take up residence in Canaan (19:6; cf. Lev 19:2; Deut 26:18–19). The longer and conspicuously repetitious portions of P material in Exodus 25:1—31:18 and 35:1—40:38 bracket the Dtr reworking of earlier (largely E) accounts of the “golden calf” apostasy and the renewed covenant in 32:1—34:35.

Revelation of the tabernacle cultus (Exod 25:1—31:18).

The P version of theocracy, which continues to develop through Leviticus and Numbers 1–10, is less populist or socially egalitarian than the E and D covenantal model but still comprehensive in its concern for observance of a strict moral order as well as cultic orthopraxis. It idealizes Israel as a sacral corporation of clergy and laity, integrated as buffered zones of the holiness that emanates outward from the epicenter of the “tabernacle [miškān],” the transportable “sanctuary [miqdāš]” where Yahweh’s presence indwells (25:8). In this view, the extended ranks of tribal Israel become not simply a national possession that Yahweh rules but Yahweh’s hallowed human domicile (19:6; cf., e.g., Lev 19:2; Deut 26:18–19; Ezek 37:26–28; Ps 114:1–2).

The mandate for the Israelites to construct the inner complex of the sanctuary, together with a vision of its intricate “design [tabnît],” is disclosed to Moses in private audience, after he has ascended alone into the nimbus that shields Yahweh’s fiery “glory [kābôd]” at the top of Sinai (Exod 24:15–18; 25:1–9). The design’s principal features surveyed here incude both physical and human components: the “ark [ʾārōn],” made of gold-plated acacia wood, and the elaborate “tent of meeting [ʾōhel môʿēd],” the pavilion that encloses it; the bronzed altar for burnt sacrificial offerings and other physical furnishings; as well as the rites for consecration of the officiating Aaronid priesthood with its various accoutrements and designation of the artisans whose spiritually endowed skills will enable the work to actualize the divine plan.

Although this descriptive legislation for the tabernacle’s construction, like the prescriptive corpus of the Book of the Covenant, may well have originated independently, it has been accommodated to the larger narrative context. Thus, a stated purpose of the ark is to contain “the treaty-document [hāʿēdīt],” which is P’s designation for the Decalogue, or its initial formulary, as the covenant’s statement of substance (25:16, 21; cf. 20:1–17; 31:18; 40:20; Deut 10:1–5; 1 Kgs 8:9). Moreover, the ark’s gold-plated “cover [kappōret]” (which NRSV still interprets as “mercy seat”) supports Yahweh’s throne, flanked by cherubim, where Yahweh will continue to meet with Moses to issue commands through him to Israel (Exod 25:22; cf. 29:42–44; Lev 1:1). Similarly, as Yahweh discloses in Exodus 29:45–46, an indwelling presence in the midst of the Israelites has always been the intended outcome of the deliverance from Egypt and is meant henceforth to elicit their continuing recognition of Yahweh’s exclusive hegemony. Before the tabernacle program can be announced to and implemented by Israel, however, some of the people—aided and abetted by Aaron—make an unauthorized, preemptive attempt to ascertain and celebrate Yahweh’s cultic immanence in a fashion that is fatally flawed.

Crisis and restoration (Exod 32:1—34:35).

A succinct account of the “golden calf” episode is reckoned in the received form of the narrative as an apparently irreparable breach of the covenant’s principal demand for aniconic worship of Yahweh alone (32:1–6; cf. 20:2–6; Deut 9:8–21); and it introduces a series of brief scenes in which the triadic relationship between Yahweh, Israel, and Moses has to be renegotiated in order to secure a sustainable revision of covenantal theocracy. The narrative scenes feature segments of a poignantly transformational dialogue between Yahweh and Moses, which is reminiscent of the conversation in the Dtr recension of Moses’s original commission in Exodus 3:1—4:17. In the earlier situation, Israel’s existence was imperiled by Egyptian genocidal tyranny, and Moses was appointed as rescuer, acting for the ancestral deity self-disclosed as “Yahweh.” In the current crisis, Israel’s continued existence is just as severely endangered, this time by the righteous indignation and punitive zeal of the same deity, the incomparable divine warrior (15:3) who had slaughtered Egypt’s firstborn and then devastated Pharaoh’s army. Here, too, Israel’s immediate survival and its continuing vocational identity as Yahweh’s exceptional people depend on Moses, whose exemplary service, humility, and persistent intercessory efforts prove to be redemptive.

While the dialogue involves a number of intriguing issues and rhetorical maneuvers, the crux is both exegetical and pragmatic. It is concerned, especially in the Dtr revision, with how to interpret the strict demands and sanctions of the covenant formulary (20:2–6) so as to allow enough theological resilience that Yahweh’s personal, unmediated “presence [pānîm]” can accompany the fallible, “stiff-necked” Israelites without destroying them (cf. 32:9–14, 30–34; 33:1–3, 12–16). Accordingly, Moses invokes the “grace” or personal “favor [ḥēn]” that Yahweh has granted him to request a fuller disclosure of Yahweh’s sovereign agenda as it affects Israel’s continuing distinctiveness among the world’s nations (33:13–16). And, in a conspicuous act of grace, Yahweh accedes.

In the first of two parallel theophanic encounters, Yahweh allows Moses an unrivaled glimpse of the inner “goodness [ṭûb]” of the divine persona, doing so by proclaiming deeper nuances of identity that resonate with the first-person form of the name revealed in 3:14: “I-Will-Be [ʾehyeh]” now embraces “I act graciously with whomever I shall [choose to] act graciously [ḥannōtî ʾet־’ăšer ʾāḥōn]; and I act mercifully with whomever I shall [choose to] act mercifully [wĕriḥamtî ʾet־’ăšer ʾăraḥēm]” (33:19 [author's translation]; cf. 22:26 [27]). Yahweh’s initiative and discretion are still guarded in this verbal formulation. But in the second theophanic encounter (34:6–7), in which Yahweh’s luminous presence passes immediately across Moses’s “face,” the cognate qualities of generosity and compassion are asseverated as characteristic modes of proactive divine being: “Yahweh,” the preeminent deity who “makes (things) happen,” is now also to be known patently as “God merciful and gracious [ʾēl raḥûm wĕḥannûn].” These primary attributes, which are denominated first among others that articulate the fuller resonances of the third-person form of the name disclosed in 3:15, provide the interpretative space needed to introduce a complementary attribute—“who alleviates [the burdens of] iniquity, transgression, and sin but, of course, does not grant wholesale acquittal” (33:7 [author’s translation])—into the protocol of the covenant formulary (cf. McBride, 2002, pp. 20–23; Dozemann, 2009, pp. 732–739). The resulting reformulation of Yahweh’s sovereignty resounds throughout Jewish and Christian scriptures (most notably in Num 14:13–15; Deut 4:31; Neh 9:17, 31; Pss 103:6–14; 130:3–4; 145:8–9; Joel 2:12–14; Jon 4:2; Mic 7:18–20; cf. important reverberations in Rom 9:15–18; Heb 4:16; Jas 5:11; 1 Pet 2:10).

Moses is quick to recognize the significance of this revised declaration of Yahweh’s agenda and uses it to urge a renewal of the covenant that includes a readiness to temper divine judgment with at least the possibility of forgiveness (34:8–9). In response, Yahweh’s enactment renews basic terms of the former covenant but does so by also exalting Moses as Israel’s preeminent guardian (34:10, 11–28; cf. 23:20–22) or, effectively, its monarch. As superlative intercessor, Moses henceforth epitomizes in his own person the conjunction between immanent deity and subject people (cf. Deut 33:4–5; 2 Sam 14:17; Sir 44:23—45:5). When Moses descends from the mountain, his elevated status is displayed to Israel through his altered countenance, radiant from close proximity to Yahweh (Exod 34:5-6, 29–35; cf. 2 Cor 3–6).

Construction and inauguration of the tabernacle cultus (Exod 35:1—40:38).

In the final chapters of Exodus, Moses exercises his administrative authority by overseeing the tabernacle’s construction, issuing commands that “the whole congregation of Israelites” receives and dutifully implements as Yahweh’s own (e.g., 35:1, 4; 39:32, 43). When, in the first month of the second year after the departure from Egypt, the work of crafting and assembling the components is finished, the cultus is formally activated, which enables Yahweh’s glorious presence to descend upon and to fill the sacral enclosure with its splendor (40:1–34). At least in the inaugural instance, the immanence is so intense that even Moses, the deputized priest-king, is unable to enter the tabernacle’s inner sanctum (40:35; cf. 1 Kgs 8:4–11).

With the covenant renewed on a more secure basis and institutional provisions in place to accommodate Yahweh’s guiding and sustaining presence, preparations for departure are complete: Israel’s future among the world’s nations is ready to begin (Exod 40:36–38; Num 10:11–36). According to the extended testimony of Jewish scriptures and early interpretative traditions, this future included not only the wilderness and settlement generations and the communities whose worship was centered at the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem (Acts 7:44–47) but their heirs who continued to cultivate covenantal identity and divine indwelling through study and faithful observance of Torah in the life of the diasporic synagogue (e.g., Philo, Moses 2.216; Flaccus 45–46; Josephus, Ag. Ap. 2.175–178; Ant. 16.41–45; m. ʾAbot 3.2). And according to New Testament witnesses it also included the emergence of the church, called together through another renewal of covenant to a sacral vocation that envisioned a final consummation of the divine promise of indwelling presence with humankind (Heb 8–9; 1 Pet 2:4–10; Rev 21).




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S. Dean McBride Jr.