three why's of Exodus

Written by Paul J. Bucknell on September, 02, 2020

Three ‘Whys’ in Exodus: A study of Exodus 6:14-27, 18:13-27, and 32-34

Three key difficulties in the Book of Exodus intrigue me. These issues are not with the reliability or historicity of the text, but on the placing and inclusion of three topics within the Book of Exodus.

1. Why is there a genealogy in Exodus 6:14-27?

Why does the Exodus genealogy in chapter 6 leave out so much and comprehensively focus on Levi’s genealogy?

Genealogies are not rare in the scriptures, but the placement of this one in Exodus 6 and its content makes us wonder if there is a special significance to these verses. Typically, as in this case, the scriptures do not explain why this is put in the scriptures. God wants us to meditate on it.

This genealogy distinguishes itself by connecting the chronology of Genesis with the new one starting in Exodus (Exodus 12:1-2). Up to this point, God used the genealogies to help us form a chronology. We knew, for example, how old Noah’s father was when Noah was born.

“Lamech lived one hundred and eighty-two years, and became the father of a son” (Genesis 5:28).

“Noah was five hundred years old, and Noah became the father of Shem, Ham, and Japheth” (Gen 5:32).

But when it comes to the sons of Jacob, this all changed. That information was no longer included. We have information on their descendant’s names, but other key information was absent. This is true except for one son of Israel, that is Levi. Exodus 6:14-27 gives us that information on Levi’s descendants for two reasons that establish God’s faithfulness.

(1) Identifies the lineage of Moses and Aaron

These verses teach us that this Aaron and Moses were the same people to whom the LORD said, “Bring out the sons of Israel from the land of Egypt according to their hosts” (Exodus 6:26). They connect the one story with another, that is, Jacob (Israel), Levi, and Moses.

(2) Provides insight into the prophecy of Genesis 15

This genealogy confirms how God fulfilled His promises to Jacob and his sons.

“And God said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. “But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve; and afterward they will come out with many possessions. “And as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. “Then in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete” (Genesis 15:13-16).

God’s promise to Abraham significantly noted three key aspects, all of which the Lord amazingly fulfilled, which also provide the answer to why Levi’s genealogy was given in Exodus 6.

(1) The Lord predicted the captivity of Abram’s descendants. This promise happened when Abram still had no children (Genesis 15:2)!

(2) Abram’s descendants would be oppressed for four hundred years (started before they descended into Egypt). They came out 430 years to the day!

(3) Israel came out in the fourth generation (i.e., Moses). These four generations are seen in the following Levitical genealogical chart.

The Israelites came out in the fourth generation (i.e., Moses). These four generations are seen in the following Levitical genealogical chart, connecting Moses and Aaron to Levi.

2. Why is Jethro mentioned in Exodus 18:13-27?

Why does Moses follow the advice of a Gentile (non-Jew)?

Exodus 18 wonderfully models how God wants to work through His truth in the lives of qualified leaders. Once His truths shape a person, then those people, in turn, help others (notice the qualifications 18:21,25). This incident also gives us an accurate picture of delegated authority—those that are qualified can judge. This is a simple implementation of what the Lord started through Adam himself. Adam and his descendants were to rule over the earth and so carry out God’s will.

In the New Testament, we find Jesus distributing God’s Word through His disciples. The truth was entrusted to those disciples, and they in turn, passed it on to others (2 Timothy 2:2). We have only one high priest and prophet, but the fact is that the Word of God has come nigh and transformed our lives. We all need to grow through God’s Word and then minister to others in our God-given positions (Titus 2:1-7).

Two Interpretations of Exodus 18

There are two interpretations of this Exodus 18 passage.

(1) Jethro’s advice is wrong. Moses made a mistake by appointing judges. He did not allow God to direct him and, as a result, would face a number of problems with insubordinate leaders in the future (which did happen). The Lord is perceives Moses’ need for assistance, as Numbers 11 proves, but Moses did not ask God for help.

(2) Moses greatly valued Jethro’s advice. Moses was humble and wise enough to learn from others. For a man in authority to take advice from others is quite significant. This incident also shows us how he honored his father-in-law (18:24). As a result, more people learned God’s ways, and many people were helped by God’s judgments.


Although we might have different conclusions on whether Moses acted independently from God, the Lord highlights the profitability and necessity of training, distributed power, and justice. Let’s get beyond the different opinions to appreciate how God used this as a type for His people sharing the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. On a larger scale, we find God as an authority was willing to delegate and share authority.

Questions for Leaders

• Do you like to keep all your authority to yourself? Why? What are some problems with doing this?
• What are the conditions in which one might delegate his authority? Consider the qualifications and requirements for those assisting Moses.

  • How did Jesus distribute His authority to His disciples? Did it work? What problems occurred?
  • What are the advantages of carefully delegated authority?
  • How do spiritual gifts and their distribution consistent or inconsistent with this passage?
  • Did what Moses do here at all relate to what happened in Numbers 11:23-30? If so, how?

An outline of Exodus depicting the narrative (Ex 32-34) between the design (Ex 25-31) and the building of the tabernacle (Ex 35-40).

3. Why is the description of the tabernacle broken by Exodus 32-34?

For this answer, we must first look at the broader context (Exodus 19-40) and then specifically explain these three ‘interruptive’ chapters (Exodus 32-34).
Our focus is on the second large division of Exodus, 19-40. The first 18 chapters are mainly chronological, but this later division, consisting of four sections, has a large portion that is ‘out of place.’

The Book of Exodus Exodus (1-40)

A) Delivered (1-18) B) Sanctified (19-40)

(1) Chapters 19-24 consists of the actual meeting when God told them to meet with Him on Mount Sinai. The laws given set the standards that they were to live by to be in communion with God.

(2) Chapter 25-31 contains the tabernacle description and instructions given to Moses, a special subset of laws and directives with a focus on the building of the tabernacle. The Lord described what Moses needed to do to ready the tabernacle, its furniture, offerings, high priest’s garments, equipment, priests’ garments, and the consecration of them.

(4) Starting with the offering in chapter 35, the Lord describes the erection of the tabernacle.

But what are the three chapters in between Exodus 25-31 and 35-40?

Chapters 32-34 speaks about a topic different from the building of the tabernacle. Instead, it reveals much about the character and patience of the Designer of this Tabernacle and the obstinate character of God’s people. While Moses was on the mountain with God, the people committed revelry and idolatry. Although this passage seems misplaced, we get to see how Moses increasingly takes up that valuable role of intercessor. Moses was not the Christ, but certainly, he is a type of the One who would come. Moses both pled on behalf of the people and gained success with God despite their sin.

Moses truly is a picture of Christ and the way He interceded for God’s people. From these chapters, we can learn several valuable lessons for our lives, especially for leaders.

Questions for Leaders

• Can you see the sin of the people to whom you minister?

• How do you respond to sin? Do you minimize, avoid, or plead God’s mercy?

• Do you lose hope in ministry rather easily? Why didn’t Moses lose hope? What did he do instead?

• How did the people respond when they heard that the Lord would not go with them into the land (ch. 33)? How did Moses react to it (33:12-23)?

• From chapter 34 what attitude does God have toward Moses and His people?


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