The Book of Exodus

by B. Davie Napier

B. Davie Napier, at the time of this writing was Holmes Professor of Old Testament Criticism and Intepretation at Yale Divinity School. He later became President of Pacific School of Religion. He is a minister of the United Church of Christ and an author of several books on the Old Testament.

This book was published in 1963 by John Knox Press. Used by permission of the author. It was prepared for Religion Online by Harry W. and Grace C. Adams.


(ENTIRE BOOK) A scholarly but non-technical analysis of the Book of Exodus, offering an appreciation of the beginnings of Judaism as well as some commonalities shared by Judaism and Christianity.


  • Introduction

    Exodus, like Genesis, is a book of origins that tells how the people of Israel became a people so that events in the present time are given sense and meaning by being viewed against the formative Exodus events. The author clarifies the use of the three source hypothesis – J, E and P, and stresses the connection of the Exodus and the torah in the development of Israel, and the deep relationship between the Exodus story and Christianity.

  • Preface

    The editors and publishers of the Layman’s Bible Commentary series offer a rationale for the series as designed to be a concise non-technical guide for the layman offering helpful explanations of fundamental matters in simple, up-to-date terms that will move its readers to take up the Bible for themselves.

  • Chapter 1: The Act of Redemption (Exodus 1:1-18:27)

    Their conglomerate tribal origins as slaves under persecution by Pharaoh Rameses II is the setting for the emergence of the Hebrews as a people under the leadership of Moses. The Lord’s astounding victory over Pharaoh is the dominant theme of Exodus, and brings together the exiled Moses with the suffering slaves, from which Moses emerges as a kind of God-like man. His leadership is traced through the dealings with Pharaoh, the nine plagues, the escape by sea with its supernatural overtones, and the wilderness wanderings.

  • Chapter 2: The Making and Meaning of Covenant (Exodus 19:1-24:18)

    The appearance of the Lord at Mt. Horeb in Sinai to contract a Covenant with the Israelites was an auditory rather than a visual appearance. As the senior party of the Covenant, the Lord offers to redeem Israel from its multi-form, perennial Egypts and bring it into the freedom of his service, provided Israel accepts this offer and commits itself to the Covenant as God has made it known in the Ten Commandments. This chapters examines each commandment.

  • Chapter 3: The Plans of Institution (Exodus 25:1-31:18)

    These priestly directions for instituting the Covenant are presented as coming from Moses and Sinai, and detail the building of the Temple as modeled on the Tabernacle, with descriptions of the Ark, table, lampstand, altar, court, nightlamp, priestly apparel and other more minor items, and culminating in a priestly emphasis on the Sabbath law as absolute.

  • Chapter 4: The Denial and Renewal of Covenant (Exodus 32:1-34:35)

    These chapters are dominated by the figure and role of Moses who, when the incident of the Golden Calf shattered the Covenant, was able to use the uniqueness of his relationship with the Lord to appease the divine anger through intercession and argument with the Lord, and to gain for Israel full divine forgiveness. There also emerges in this passage the appearance of an alternative Ten Commandments known as the “Ritual Decalogue.”

  • Chapter 5: The Act of Institution (Exodus 35:1-40:38)

    There is little in this extended section which has not appeared earlier in Exodus, chapters 25-31. In the earlier section these elaborate instructions on the physical means, forms, nature, dimensions, and personnel of the institutional structure are recorded as plans, while here they are repeated as a record of actual construction.