Book Reviews

Book Review: Exodus (SGBC), Christopher Wright

The Story of God Bible Commentary is a relatively new Bible Commentary series, somewhat akin to the NIV Application Commentary, albeit different. (This one is even based on the NIV text as well.) The New Testament doesn’t replace the Old Testament; it fulfills it. One of the goals of this series is to identify the trajectories (historical, typological, and theological) from the OT to Christ in the NT. It exposits the text in its original context and as close to what the commentator believes the original author meant for his audience. The text is then read in light of the death and resurrection of Christ.

Christopher Wright, who has written commentaries on Deuteronomy, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Ezra/Nehemiah, and numerous other books on the OT, has written the Exodus volume in this series.

There are three sections:

  1. Listen to the Story: the Bible text is provided along with background, a look at any earlier Scriptural passages, and any possible ANE literary connections.
  2. Explain the Story: Wright explains each passage in light of the Bible’s grand story, starting with the OT context. The emphasis is on providing an accessible explanation of the passage, which Wright truly excels at.
  3. Live the Story: the intent of this series is “to probe how this text might be lived out today as that story continues to march on in the life of the church” (xvii). As in Christ’s words in Luke 24, Wright suggests ways Exodus anticipates the gospel.



Exodus isn’t explicitly attributed to Moses, however since he is a central character, he would have been able to offer detailed insights into his intimate conversations with God, “his robust confrontations with pharaoh, and even his inner thoughts (e.g., 2:14)” (2). We can acknowledge content as coming from Moses without having to take the entire book as having been written by him. Whoever did do the final, canonical editing though, was inspired by God. Wright has full confidence in the Hebrew (MT) text as we have it. Throughout the book he refers to the “editors” of Exodus, siply because we don’t know how made the final edits.

Wright rejects the multiple-source/JEDP theory. According to Wright, the problem with the JEDP theories is that it didn’t mesh with the way ancient Near Eastern documents came into existence. As well, dissecting the biblical text into its various sources does us no help at all in discerning the final text’s meaning, intentions, and implications.


While Exodus has plenty of narrative in it, it includes other genres as well: genealogy, liturgical texts, poetry, law, and ritual.


Along with the outline in the above picture, according to Wright, Exodus has three “hinge” chapters:

  1. a narrative hinge (ch. 15),
  2. a theological (ch. 19),
  3. and a liturgical hinge (ch. 24).

In Chapter 15 (narrative hinge), Israel celebrates the defeat of the Egyptian army (their past), and has us looking toward what comes next (Mt. Sinai—the future).
Chapter 19 [theological hinge] functions as a hinge between the historic facts of redemption and the covenant relationship embodied in the law” (9). God’s grace and salvation came first. As a result of that comes obedience. Not the other way around.
Chapter 24 (liturgical hinge) is a hinge between the exodus out of Egypt, the giving of the law, and the making of the covenant over to the instructions of the tabernacle and the focus on God’s presence in the midst of the people. This occupies the final third of the the book of Exodus.

Texts and Interpretations

I always find Wright to be a very clear and accessible writer. However I don’t want this review to go too long, and it would be easy to place numerous examples of his interpretations. I will restrict myself to only a few.

Exodus 20:7—Wright agrees with Carmen Imes that the commandment about not misusing (or taking in vain) the Lord’s name has to do with representation. Israel represented Yahweh because they bore or carried his name. If they lived according to his standards, many in the world would come to praise Yahweh. If Israel sinned and smeared his reputation, many would revile him.

Exodus 21–23: Wright shares a list of laws from the Code of Hammurabi as comparison. We see both how similar Israel’s laws were to the lands around them (at least to one of them), as well as the subtle ways in which they differed rom those other lands. For example, Exodus 21:20 reads, “Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result.” Wright writes, “It is verse 20 that is astonishingly unique; there is no such law (punishment for killing your own slave) comparable to this in any other ancient Near Eastern collection. It is also frustratingly imprecise” (414). Wright’s view (along with others) is that the law is worded in such a way

“so as to make provision for the community to step in on behalf of a murdered slave and his or her family and see that avenging justice in God’s name was done to a person guilty of such cruel and lethal violence. If this were so, then the law is truly unique in the ancient world in balancing, on the one hand, the recognition of a slave’s property value and, on the other hand, the affirmation of the infinite value of a human life—even of a male or female slave.” (415–416).

22:1–4—Wright (foot)notes that this is another one of those laws which grates against modern ears: debt slavery. But as Wright so skillfully does, he shows how this fit into that culture. This is not the debt slavery of today that oppresses millions into poverty and inhumane working conditions or which “sells them across oceans as victims of trafficking.” Old Testament law did not prescribe mutilation (unlike the Code of Hammurabi) nor imprisonment for those unable to repay a debt incurred by theft. Instead, the debt-owing-thief would have to work to pay back the equivalent of what he had stolen. To be able to work with your family still around you is much better than merely sitting in a danky prison alone with complete strangers (who have probably done things worse than you have).

When it comes to Living the Story, Wright writes that these laws “embody a vision of the kind of society God wanted Israel to be in their own historical and cultural context” (425). In order to draw up any kind of principles and application for ourselves today, we need to be able to “discern the motivation, purpose, and values that drove” these guidelines (425). Wright lists questions we should ask about the laws (such as, What kind of people would have been restrained by this law?, or What kind of people would have either benefited from or been protected by this law?) and about our own context (“What kind of situations or people in our society could be regarded as comparable to those envisaged in these Old Testament laws?”—p. 426).


This is a commentary for laypeople, pastors, and teachers. Wright is both accessible and deep. He draws together literary patterns (such as the Flood and Exodus 32) and provides good, clear application. And, what is very important, he trusts the text. I haven’t read very much of Enns’ NIVAC volume. What I did read was insightful and helpful, but there are areas you can see where he doesn’t seem to trust the text. That isn’t the case here. Wright trusts the text, the God who saved Israel through the first exodus and who saves believers through the second exodus. The God of the Bible is the holy, redeeming, compassionate God of today.

Highly recommended.


    • Author: Christopher J. H. Wright
    • Paperback: 654 pages
    • Publisher: Zondervan Academic (March 2, 2021)

Buy it on Amazon or from Zondervan Academic

Disclosure: I received this book free from Zondervan 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


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