The God who makes himself known: The missionary heart of the book of Exodus
W. Ross Blackburn, Intervarsity Press, 238 pages, $24.00
I enjoyed reading this book which I am calling a layman's commentary on the book of Exodus. Blackburn structures the book as follows: The name of the redeemer (Exod. 1:1 - 15:21), Training in the wilderness (Exod. 15:22 - 18:27), The law and the mission of God (Exod. 19 - 24), The tabernacle instructions (Exod. 25 - 31), The golden calf (Exod. 32 - 34), The tabernacle construction (Exod. 35 - 40).
In this book, Blackburn argues that the Lord's missionary commitment to make himself known to the nations is the central theological concern of Exodus (p.15). The concept of God `making himself known' relates to God's name.
But part of Exodus is often confusing to many readers. Exodus 6:3 states, `By my name the Lord I did not make myself known to [the patriarchs],' a statement that appears to contradict the frequent use of the name in Genesis (i.e. Gen 15:2, 7). Obviously it cannot be true that God was not known to Abraham by the name Yahweh [Exod. 6:3] and that He was known to him by that name [Gen. 15:2, 7] (p.26).
Blackburn notes, however, that the contrast implied in Exodus 6:3 had not to do with when the name was revealed, but rather what the name revealed. It was not the name per se that was new, but that a new and more complete understanding of the name was being revealed (p. 27).
Blackburn argues that the fulfilment of the patriarchal promises, while important, is not what ultimately distinguishes the significance of the name Yahweh from Genesis to Exodus, but rather that, in the light of the narrative context of 1:1 - 15:21, what is new in 6:3 is the revelation of the Lord as Redeemer, the God who, being supreme over all creation, is willing and able to deliver his people( p.28).
Also related to the meaning of God's name, Brueggemann (1997: 124) has gone so far as to suggest that `it is plausible that the entire Exodus narrative is an exposition of the name of Exod 3:14 (p.34).
God's intention of making his name known among the nation runs into opposition with the Pharaoh. God had promised to Abraham nationhood, and that worldwide blessing would come from that nation, and that all of this depended on Abraham's fruitfulness: `I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you' (Gen. 17:6; cf. 26:2-5, 24; 28:14). However, it is precisely Israel's multiplication that Pharaoh sought to restrain (p.30). Therefore, Pharaoh's opposition threatened God's purposes to be known throughout the world. So the battle between God and Pharaoh resulting in numerous miracles was all part of the process of God making his name known to the nations.
Pharoah's stubbornness actually helped the surrounding nations to understand God's name. For example, Pharaoh asks a question to which the rest of 5 - 15 will be the answer: `Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go' (Exod. 5:2). Unlike Moses' question of 3:13, however, Pharaoh's question is not one of enquiry, but of defiance (p.39). The resulting plague accounts are designed to reveal the Lord as supreme not only over Pharaoh but over all creation.
After the golden calf incident (Exod 32:8), Moses petitions God four times (Ex 32:11-13, Ex 32:31b-32, Ex 33:12-18, Ex 34:9). Moses was successful in moving the Lord from his stated intention of destroying Israel to forgiving Israel and reinstating his covenant. Blackburn notes that Moses was successful due to the manner in which he grounded his petitions in the Lord's own purpose to be known as God among the nations (p.179).
The average layperson will appreciate this book because it was not overly academic or technical. Although Blackburn states clearly that he writes from an evangelical perspective (p.20), he also comments on the liberal scholars who attack the veracity of the book of Exodus. I recommend this book to anyone with a desire to better understand the book of Exodus and especially the missionary theme of Exodus.
Bruggemann, W. 1997. Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, dispute, advocacy, Minneapolis: Fortress.