T. D. Alexander, senior lecturer in Biblical Studies at Union Theological College in Belfast, Northern Ireland, has spent the better part (or all) of his career in the book of Exodus. Having written on the Pentateuch (From Paradise to the Promised Land) and biblical theology (From Eden to the New Jerusalem, New Dictionary of Biblical Theology), he has written two commentaries on Exodus: One in the Teach the Text series and this one in the Apollos OT Commentary series.
Alexander doesn’t spend much time (ca. 32 pages) in the introduction, but he does spend a few pages on the story of Exodus and how it leads to the rest of the OT and NT books. Who wrote the book of Exodus? Alexander doesn’t think it all had to be written by Moses, saying that even though Jesus himself refers to the “book of Moses” (Mk 12.26), that title may just refer to Moses’ influence as a central figure on the Pentateuch. Exodus has a few places where Moses is said to have recorded God’s words, but Moses is not mentioned as “the author.” One does not have to be dogmatic on the issue while still not agreeing with the Documentary Hypothesis (DH), a theory Alexander helpfully and graciously critiques all throughout his commentary.
With each section of the commentary Alexander provides his own translation of the Hebrew text, relevant notes on the text dealing with translational and linguistic matters, the form and structure of the unit, comments on the passage, and a final explanation which often brings together Exodus with the rest of the Bible and pairs it with our daily life and ministries.
I’ve summarized a few of Alexander’s points on debated matters below. I wish I could write more, but you’ll have to get the book for that (or just ask in the comments below!)
4.24-26: The blood of Gershom’s circumcision averts the death of Moses whom God was going to kill. How could Moses lead Israel to live under God’s covenant if Moses himself couldn’t follow his instructions? This scene anticipates the redemption of God’s firstborn, Israel, through the blood of another. Even Yahweh’s own messenger “cannot be presumptuous regarding the continuation of his own life. Those who pronounce God’s judgment on others should also be aware of being judged by God” (109).
6.3: The Patriarchs “knew the name ‘YHWH’ and associated it with the divine promise of land” (117). Alexander agrees that God’s words should be translated as “My name is YHWH. Did I not make myself known to them [the patriarchs]?” (125), and that the Patriarchs didn’t understand the significance of Yahweh’s name like the redeemed Israelites will.
Alexander is extremely insightful with keeping the context of Exodus and of the whole canon in view in his exegesis. God is not an angry deity. Rather, he wants his people to be holy, and he expects them to be loyal and to leave behind egregious sinful ways.
34.11-14: “YHWH involves Moses as mediator in the process by which God will both forgive and punish the Israelites (cf. 34:6-7)” (625). The golden bull of Exodus 32 “stands in sharp contrast” to God’s revelation in chapter 19 and the covenant ratification ceremony in chapter 24 (630). God’s anger and willingness to destroy Israel shows how horrid their sin was: adultery against their marriage partner, the God of the universe who would give them every blessing and to whom Israel said they would obey in every way.
The Spoiled Milks
Alexander provides a few scholars’ outlines as examples of how to structure Exodus and both agrees and critiques aspects of all of them, but he does not provide his own. If you want to know his “outline,” you would have to go through the entire book and write down every heading. He’s divided Exodus into 64 sections, and there are a few broad headings: 1.1-2.25; 7.8-11.10; 15.22-18.27; 19.1-40.38. As you can see, there is no heading for 3.1-7.7 or 12.1-15.21. How should the reader group these two sections?
Second, there are no footnotes. Though it is nice to see the main text fully cover every page, the main text also becomes very crowded and cramped. Those whom Alexander critiques are mentioned in the text, often in between his own thoughts on a passage. With footnotes, the flow of thought is easier to follow. Regardless, these points in no way outweigh the weight of Alexander’s own scholarship and work in this volume.
Alexander’s Exodus volume is a wealth of critical and conservative knowledge. Alexander’s years of research on the Pentateuch and biblical theology show forth in the wisdom of his writing. He is careful and thorough with each section before him, and he is aware both of the rest of Exodus and its canonical setting in the Bible. Alexander brings an understanding of God’s word to his readers as God’s word. Both of his volumes on Exodus (see his Teach the Text volume) ought to be picked up, and, if pastors can only afford (the time and money) to use one scholarly commentary, they should choose Alexander’s volume first above all the others to teach their congregations God’s whole word.
For preaching resources, along with the TTC volume, Motyer is good. I’ve not found Enns to be helpful the times I’ve used him, especially not now when compared to Alexander.
For example (and I’m not foolish enough to think Exodus is “easy” to interpret), on Exodus 21.20-21 Enns asks what the punishment is that the slaveowner would receive for beating his slave if it results in the slave’s death. If the punishment were the death penalty, why say that the master wouldn’t receive the death penalty when the slave doesn’t die? That should be obvious to the Israelites. However, Alexander says the punishment the master would receive if the slave dies (v. 21) is the death penalty, based on 21.12. However, if the slave doesn’t die, the master is still punished because he has lost time and money because his slave has been out of work. And, depending on how the master injured the slave, the slave could go free (vv. 26-27). Because of context, the details do not have to be so “frustratingly unclear” (Enns, Exodus, 446).
- Series: Apollos Old Testament Commentary (Book 2)
- Author: T. D. Alexander
- Hardcover: 708 pages
- Publisher: IVP Academic (July 4, 2017)
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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 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.