“Exodus is the true heart of the Old Testament” (p. 138). So says Duane Garrett in his recently published book A Commentary on Exodus (Kregel Exegetical Library). Garrett explains further at the beginning of the book:
Exodus it the true beginning of the story of Israel. Genesis is essential to the story, but it is a prologue, describing the lives of individual patriarchs rather than the history of a people. With Exodus we begin the story of the national entity called Israel….Exodus is the beginning of everything that is distinctively Israelite, and it is the fountainhead of most of the literature of the Old Testament that follows. (p. 15)
A Commentary on Exodus is part of the new exegetical commentary series, Kregel Exegetical Library, published by Kregel. This commentary series is mainly written for pastors to provide them with an exegetical foundation of the text along with theological guides. Each chapter is characterized by the following:
- Covers a literary unit -The chapters cover literary units regardless of size.
- Translation – The author provides an original and fresh translation with detailed footnotes explaining the basis of the translation along with other translation possibilities and textual variants.
- Structure – Following the translation the author outlines the structure of the passage.
- Commentary – Ample commentary is provided on the text along with footnotes where necessary.
- Theological Summary – Concluding each section are are list of theological points and summaries to take away from the text.
- Homoletical Helps – While most of the previous commentaries in this series had homoletical outlines at the end of each section Guarrett’s book does not.
Garrett spends the first 130 pages of the book with introductory material. From the start he lays to rest any use for the documentary hypothesis theory by saying it “is of doubtful value” and “the theory is not based in any ancient Neat Eastern analogies but is from start to finish an analysis based in extrinsic and peculiar criteria” (p. 17).
Since Exodus opens it setting in Egypt, and constantly looks back to Israel’s exodus from it, Garrett is insistent that an understanding of Egypt is essential to an understanding of the book. He spends twenty pages discussing things like the land near the Nile, its chronology and history, rulers, and language. The discussion of the Nile becomes key when he later discusses the ten plagues, or “twelve miracles”, as he calls it, particularly when interpreting how literal we are to understand the turning of the Nile into “blood” (p. 283-85).
As might be expected, discussion of the Exodus is given the most space in the introduction. Garrett covers four views on dating. In addition to the early and late date, which most people are familiar with, he discusses a “very early date” of 1550 B.C. and a “very late date” of 1150 B.C. (p. 93-96), but finds them to be highly problematic. Recognizing that respectable scholars champion both the early and late date position on the Exodus, Garret comes just short of siding with either. Garret is more concerned with the historicity of the Exodus itself, concluding that, “We have ample reason to believe that the biblical account is true, but we do no have sufficient information to specify the details of when it all happened and of what pharaohs were present” (p. 103).
The chapters divide the book into seven sections with an appendix on the songs of Moses. Regarding the two midwives mentioned in 1:15-19 Garrett sees them as the only two that helped the Hebrews with deliveries. He argues against a group of midwives citing that the mentioning of the two and the overall context indicate that they are the only ones. I am not convinced by this. I see Shiphrah and Puah as the overseers of the midwives (though the context does not say so), and though Garrett disagrees, I think vs. 19d (“before the midwife gets to them”) makes this clear.
One of my favorite sections of Exodus is the ten plagues. Garrett calls them the “twelve miracles” and includes the account of Moses’ snake eating Pharaoh’s magicians snakes and the crossing of the Red Sea and miracles before and after the “ten plagues” as most people understand them. While Garrett does not come out and state it clearly, he identifies the “twelve miracles” as such because they give credibility to what Moses tells Pharaoh.
The business that Moses and Aaron have with Pharaoh, that they are agents of God sent to demand that the Israelites be released to go out and worship YHWH, is already known (Exod. 5:1-4). What is yet to be established is Moses’s bona fides, that his claim to be God’s spokesman is valid. (p. 274)
While Garrett does not make the connection himself, I think this shows another way in which Moses is a type of Christ. Though Jesus did make claims to be God in ways that would make sense to the Jews at the time, He never said the words, “I am God come in the flesh.” No, what He did was work miracles that testified to who He said He was. Anyone could claim to be the Son of God, but no one but Christ could do the things He did in God’s name. This is what Moses is doing. He not only claims to be from God but God works miracles through him to show Pharaoh that he is from God.
Garrett gives a lot of fascinating info regarding the explanation for the plagues. Of particular interest to readers will be his explanation for the Nile turning to blood. In short, Garrett argues, in a well-reasoned and convincing manner (though I am still on the fence with it), that the Nile did not turn into ‘literal’ blood but water that was blood-like in appearance and still had deadly and devastating effects on the people and animals. He explains:
But had the whole river turned to literal blood, it would have been a catastrophe of unimaginable proportions. The Nile in Egypt is almost 600 miles long. If it had all become literal blood under the Egyptian sun, the whole river would have become a thick, decaying sludge of biological waste. No potable water would have been available for the entire population for months or even years…..It is more likely that the waters looked like blood and were a token of the death and judgment on Egypt that was to come. (p. 285)
Regarding the Ten Commandments, I think this is the weakest part of the book. Less than seventeen pages are given to explain what are the ten foundational commands for Israel’s life. Readers will have to look elsewhere for a more in-depth explanation for these.
Finally, Garrett’s discussion of the building of the tabernacle is very well done. His commentary is enlightening and his theological reflection is on point. Some readers will be surprised to read that, in God’s giving Moses the plans to the tabernacle, they are not complete. “Certain details are emphasized not because they are architecturally critical for the structure but because they are theologically important” (p. 547). “Many purely structural details are left out,” Garrett says, and “one may assume that many details are left out since the missing information could be filled in with common knowledge or common sense” (p. 547, 571).
Garrett’s commentary is a great addition to the available material on Exodus. His translation is well-reasoned, commentary is thorough, and theological reflections are solid. Garrett’s book will help readers of Exodus gain a better appreciation for this often ignored book. You will see why he calls it the “true heart of the Old Testament.”
About the author
Duane A. Garrett (PhD, Baylor University) is the John R. Sampey Professor of Old Testament Interpretation and Professor of Biblical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and has served as a pastor and missionary. He coauthored A Modern Grammar for Biblical Hebrew and coedited the NIV Archaeological Study Bible, as well as having written numerous Old Testament commentaries.
Craig Hurst received his BA in Church Ministries from Clearwater Christian College and his MA in theology at Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary in Lansdale, PA. He currently lives outside of Grand Rapids, MI and attends Grace Community Church, where he serves as a volunteer youth worker (along with his wife), and teaches some elective classes. He blogs at Theology for the Road.