“Exodus is about knowing the Lord”.
That is the central premise of W. Ross Blackburn’s book The God Who Makes Himself Known. Blackburn believes that, “the Lord’s commitment to be known as God throughout the earth is the motivation driving everything he does in Exodus”. (209) The implication of this belief, which also drives the content of the book, is that “If God’s people are to know him as he has made himself known, then the manner in which we approach the Scriptures is of great importance”. (209) Blackburn argues that we ought to consider Exodus within it’s canonical context.
The book is divided into six sections corresponding to the flow of the book of Exodus. The book begins with a focus on Exodus 6:3 and the name of the redeemer. Then the reader is taken through the Israelites wilderness experience as a preparation for receiving the law. In the fourth chapter the relationship between the law and the gospel is considered. The fifth chapter, which covers Exodus 25-31 looks that the detail of the tabernacle instructions and how they relate to the Lord’s passion to make himself known. Then the golden calf and the theological problem of Exodus 34:6-7 is looked at in detail. The book closes with the tabernacle construction and a brief conclusion.
First of all, I want to mention that I love the New Studies in Biblical Theology series. Eventually I would like to own the whole series. I’ve found that as I’ve read through the various books in this series that it is much like seminary. All of the professors are very knowledgeable of the material they are covering. Yet some are great teachers and communicators. Others have amazing material but are about as exciting as Jamie Lee Curtis selling diarrhea pills.
Blackburn’s book is really good as far as the content goes. And it is acceptable as far as presentation. Honestly it is difficult to nail down. When Blackburn is talking about the relationship of Exodus to mission it is exciting, helpful, and something that I could recommend to many people in our church. But then at times he seems to get lost in the scholarship of the whole thing.
His second major point—that we ought to do theology in accordance with its canonical context—is a fine point to be making but at times it seems almost forced upon the book. In those sections I feel that only book nerds like myself and maybe other pastor/theologians would be interested. That makes this book difficult to recommend to just anybody.
If you are a pastor/theologian and you like the NSBT series then you’ll want to add this to your collection. Blackburn makes tremendous points and brings out relationships in Exodus that will help in preaching, teaching, and personal study. And at the end of the day that is probably more the intended audience.
One of the arguments that he makes that I think is worth the price of the book concerns the relationship between the law and mission. As Blackburn notes:
The content of the law, therefore, would serve to make the Lord’s character known to all who encountered it, whether Israel who heard it from Moses, or the nations who were to see it manifest in the life of Israel. In other words, whether concerning idolatry or the fair treatment of slave girls, specific laws would make a public statement concerning the Lord’s character. (100)
There are laws that on occasion seem confusing. Why does the Lord make a law about X? Or why does he go into so much detail explaining Y? Blackburn would argue that every detail and every specific law tells us something about the God that is very passionate about making himself known.