Biblical Theology Book Reviews

Book Review: The God Who Makes Himself Known (NSBT), W. Ross Blackburn

If you’ve ever read Exodus, I’m sure you’ve quickly realized it’s a pretty boring book. Yes, thanks to the Prince of Egypt we can imagine the plagues with the song Deliver Us playing in the back of our minds. But besides the movie, we use our imaginations. The burning bush, the splitting and crashing down of the Red Sea onto the world’s greatest army, all of these are amazing feats. Yet read a few commentaries or OT surveys, and depending on the author’s perspective, you’ll read about the Documentary Hypothesis (DH) and the four sources for the Pentateuch (J, E, D, and P). As a result, the Pentateuch, and so Exodus, is almost impossible to read as a unit.

If you’ve read any portion of my blog enough, you might know that I don’t agree with this approach. I’m a fan of biblical theology, making me a fan of this series, New Studies in Biblical Theology (NSBT). The author, here W. Ross Blackburn, reads Exodus as a book that reveals God’s missionary heart, one that has a universal purpose. Yahweh has revealed himself to Israel so that they will reveal Yahweh to the rest of the world.

Summary Outline

Blackburn is concerned about missions. “Too often the concept of mission in the OT has either been generally denied, or the OT has been used as a short prologue to a discussion of biblical mission, which usually means mission according to the NT” (16). Blackburn is an evangelical Christian scholar who believes in the unity of Scripture. He says, “One of the problems of much critical interpretation is that it has increasingly assumed a lack of coherence, which has led some interpreters increasingly to explain difficulties in the text by resorting to different sources, traditions or editorial processes” (19). Critical scholars often argue that if one text doesn’t seem to ‘fit with’ another text, they must be from different sources (and from different periods of time). However, Blackburn suggests that “it may be that we simply have not yet discerned how they do indeed fit together“ (19). Throughout his book Blackburn argues that Exodus is governed by this theme of God’s commitment to make himself known.

Blackburn divides Exodus into 6 sections.

  1. The Name of the Redeemer (1.1-15.21). Blackburn starts off with the problem of Exod 6.3, that ‘by my name the Lord I did not make myself known to [Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob].” But God did reveal himself to the patriarchs, yet not as Redeemer. The supreme one of all creation “is willing and able to deliver his people” (28). God will make himself known to a world ignorant of his name. “The Lord is his name” (Exod 15.3), and all will know it.
  2. Training in the Wilderness (15.22-18.27). Here Blackburn argues that “God uses difficulty to make himself known” (63). This discipline is not punishment (despite the grumbling) nor a means to becoming sons (In Exod 4.23 God says Israel is his firstborn son). Discipline is a “means of training” that “serves God’s glory and the good of his people” (63-46), which in the end will make Israel like Yahweh, drawing all nations to him.
  3. The Law and the Mission of God (19-24). In Israel’s obedience to God’s good law, they will represent the good God to the world. Israel had a passive role in leaving Egypt, but now they would have an active role in portraying Yahweh to the world. The Lord, Israel’s source of hope, graciously saved them and then showed them how to live under him. The Law didn’t save Israel. Yahweh did (and does).
  4. The Tabernacle Instructions (25-31). The chapters on the tabernacle take up a third of the book of Exodus (13 chapters out of 40). Yet most commentators only give maybe a 1/10 of space to these 13 chapters. It’s hard sees for the forest for the trees, but God is holy. He is the King here as he was on Sinai, and his tabernacle (and temple) are a microcosm of the universe. For God to dwell among his people he had to be in the Tabernacle, and there had to be limits and restrictions, but they are also his kingdom of priests and they are to bring the world to him.
  5.  The Golden Calf (32-34). The Lord is a jealous God who ‘claims all honour for himself’ because he created all things. No other gods are worthy of worship. Yet once the Israelites think his presence is gone, they forsake Yahweh and worship another god. Yahweh both punishes and extends mercy to uphold his honor and to make his name known.
  6. The Tabernacle Construction (35-40). There aren’t many things worse to read in the Bible than the tabernacle instructions in Exodus. Well, not besides the equally pedantic construction of the tabernacle! Yet even here, we see that as Israel remembers that God dwells in her midst, they will be faithfully obedient. After giving gold for the making of the golden calf, they repent by giving freewill offerings for the construction of the temple. And everything is made according to the Lord’s command. Israel will have a proper fear of God, and His presence makes Israel distinct.

Any Spoiled Milk?

Blackburn gives a good bit of space to differing scholarly positions. Though it fits with his purpose and though I occasionally find it interesting, not everyone will enjoy the scholarly conversation throughout the book. When they come up you can easily skim through them or skip over them. I pretty much don’t care to read about arguments of critical scholars, and I’d imagine most readers (who aren’t academics) won’t care either. Yet what I did like about the discussions was that Blackburn doesn’t give an opposing argument and then trash the entire idea. He often finds something positive about it, and then launches his discussion from that. These points don’t fill the book, but they certainly are there.


The NSBT series will have 37 volumes by the beginning months of next year. With so many volumes to choose from, which one should you get? Well, don’t just get one. Once you start you can’t stop. But The God Who Makes Himself Known should be on that list. Any NSBT volume that takes a theological look at an entire book is a must-have (although the volume on Jonah [A Gracious and Compassionate God] was ‘okay’). Blackburn takes a large, difficult book and pieces it together for us so that we can see the entire picture. We can take this picture and give it to our congregations, our students, our families, and ourselves, and know the God who makes himself known, primarily, as Redeemer. So then we go out into the world and proclaim the Redeemer who makes himself known.


Buy it from Amazon!

Disclosure: I received this book free from IVP Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I receive a percentage of revenue if you buy from Amazon on my blog. 

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