You will find an introduction and outline for Exodus, here.
A prayer from the Book of Common Worship to use before you read,
God of mercy, you promised never to break your covenant with us. Amid all the changing words of our generation, speak your eternal Word that does not change. Then may we respond to your gracious promises with faithful obedient lives; through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
I. Exodus 1:1-15:21 Narrative of Liberation:
A. 1:1-7:7 Israel in Egypt
1. 1:1-4:31 Preparation for Deliverance
1:1-22 A New King: The story begins by recalling who the Hebrews/Israelites are. The Exodus story is linked to the Genesis story. Verse 7 recalls God’s promises to Abraham and God’s will for creation- “fruitful” and “multiplied”. But this blessing is seen by the king as a threat. Notice that the King is not named and not even called “Pharaoh”. Notice how the statements of the king escalate and are irrational, first slavery and oppression, then the midwives are commanded to kill Hebrew boys then all Egyptians are commanded to kill Hebrew boys. Notice that the midwives names are given, Shiphrah and Puah but the king is never named. When confronted by Pharaoh, the midwives do not blame the Hebrew women but they claim the women have extraordinarily vigorous babies.
Recall in Matt 2:16-18 that another king fearful of oppressed Jews orders the slaughter of babies.
2:1-10 The Birth of Moses: The Nile, supposed to be the death of Hebrew babies is the water that saves Moses. We do not know if the mother planned for Pharaoh’s daughter to find the baby or not. Ironically (or perhaps not?) Pharaoh’s daughter rescues the baby and realizes he is a Hebrew boy, condemned to death by her father. Moses mother has the opportunity to raise him- for at least a while. In chapter 1 and 2 women, midwives, mothers, and princesses all cross class and ethnic boundaries, and disobey the king. These actions save the life of Moses and change the course of history.
The name Moses , Mosheh does not actually mean “draw out” but sounds like the word mashah which does mean “draw out”. Scholars think that the name Moses was probably an Egyptian name, actually a prefix, meaning “born of” ( as in Thutmosis – born of Thut). The rest of Moses Egyptian name may have been omitted by later tradition.
2:11-22 Moses Flees: The narrative skips Moses childhood. The theme of oppression and forced labor returns. Moses, raised in the Pharaoh’s palace, identifies with the oppressed Hebrews.The same word in Hebrew is used for “beating” (v 11) and “killed/ struck down” (v 12). While we might expect the Hebrews to be grateful for Moses actions, the Hebrews view of Moses is more complex ( v14). He asks Moses “Who made you a ruler and judge over us?” Of course we know the answer to that question is God. Rather than gratitude for Moses actions, there is suspicion. Now Moses must run for his life.
Moses rescues the seven daughters from the actions of shepherds at a well. Remember the other “well stories” from Genesis. Here too, at a well, Moses meets his future wife. Notice Moses propensity to side with the victim. Also notice the conflict that is part of society.
Midian is not Egypt, in Midian Moses finds hospitality and a home. Moses is identified as an Egyptian. We still do not know exactly who Moses is. In fact the name of his son, Gershom sounds like the Hebrew for “an alien there”. Who is Moses?
Moses’ father in law is called Reuel here, Jethro in chapter 4, and Hobab (a Kenite rather than a Midianite) in Judges. Scholars think this discrepancy in names reflects variations in sources.
2:23-25 God hears Israel’s groaning: What has preceded has set the stage for what will come. These verses set up the transition for the liberation to come. The death of kings often unstablizes social structures. We don’t know if the Israelites “groaned” before. We don’t know why now, at this time God hears them. We only know, God “heard”, “remembered”, “saw”, and “knew”.
3:1-4:31 Moses is sent to Pharaoh:
3:1-21 The Burning Bush: Now we return to the story of Moses. The angel who appears in the bush does not speak, usually angels have a message. Notice also, God calls Moses name and Moses responds with the expected response, “Here I Am”. God introduces God’s self, so to speak and again the Exodus narrative is connected to the Genesis story. Now Moses life has a theological component rather than just the political dimension we have known about before. This is in McCarter’s words, “the paradigmatic account” of a divine commission. (125)
God’s speech links back to Genesis and to 2:23-25. Notice the verbs, I have seen, I have heard, I have come down to rescue.
Notice that in verse 10, now it is Moses who is involved. God has seen, heard and come down but also Moses must go. Moses, not surprisingly, has some concerns.
Verse 13 there was a belief that one could only approach a God if one knew His name. Knowing the divine name provided access to the divine presence. Knowing the name of a person provided one knowledge about the “real” person, their essence. Verse 14 The name of God derives from a form of the verb “to be” but the tense is not clear. Ehyeh- Asher- Ehyeh. Ehyeh could mean “I am” or “I will be” or “I shall be”. The first and second use of Ehyeh could be in the same tense or in different tenses. Asher can mean “who” or “what”. So “I am who I am” or “I will be what I will be” or “I am what I am”. Jewish commentators also suggest “I will be what tomorrow demands.” or “I will be what I want to be.” (Plaut, 405) God reveals God’s self to Moses, but in a way that is elusive and mysterious. The Midrash explains it like this, while God is called by many names, He is what He is by virtue of His deeds. That is to say, you cannot really know Him until you experience Him in your own life. (Plaut, 406).
Verses 16-22 the narrative changes and a three step plan for leaving Egypt is revealed. Moses is to go to the people of Israel and the elders, retelling the promise of God. Then Moses and the elders will confront the king of Egypt. The three day journey into the desert could be a trick to escape or it could be an act of worship that confronts the religious claims of the Pharaoh. In either event, Pharaoh will not allow it. Then God will act, Pharaoh will relent and the Hebrews will leave and “plunder” the Egyptians .
Read More About It.
The following are several good general reference works to aid your reading of the Torah.
Anderson, Bernhard W. “Exodus” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books Metzger, Bruce M., Roland E. Murphy, eds.(New York: Oxford University Press) 1994.
Anderson, Bernhard W., Katheryn Pfister Darr, Understanding the Old Testament Abridged fourth Edition. (Upper Saddle River,New Jersey: Prentice Hall) 1998.
Brueggemann, Walter, “The Book of Exodus” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 1 Keck, Leander E., ed. (Nashville”Abingdon Press) 1994.
McCarter, P. Kyle, Jr. “Exodus” in HarperCollins Bible Commentary Mays, James L. ed.(San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco) 2000.
Plaut, W. Gunther, “Exodus” in The Torah: A Modern Commentary Plaut, W. Gunther, ed. (New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations) 1981.