Exodus is the second book of the Old Testament. Understanding the story told in Exodus is important in understanding the faith of Israel and the faith of Jesus and the early Christians.* The Exodus and the Covenant are key events in the history and faith of Israel. The stories in the book of Exodus are an important way ancient Israel defines and understands itself.
The word “exodus” is Greek and means “the way/road out”. In the Hebrew Bible it is known as Sh’mot, “Names” from the first verse, “These are the names…”
The text of Exodus comes from several sources which can, for our purposes, can be described as narrative from several sources and a non-narrative or priestly source. The book itself can be roughly divided into three sections, of three events in three locations; the deliverance from Egypt, the travel in the wilderness and the covenant at Sinai.
Scholars believe the events described in Exodus are based on actual historical events which were originally preserved in oral tradition. However, these events were interpreted and finally written down much later. The events recounted in Exodus probably took place in about 1350-1200 B.C.E. during the 19th Dynasty in Egypt.Scholars believe that the book of Exodus, as we have it today, received its final form around the time of the Babylonian exile, either during or just after the Exile (c. 6th century B.C.E.). The devastating events of the fall of Jerusalem, the destruction of the Temple and the Exile to Babylon shook Israel’s understanding of who they were and who the God of Israel was. The events described in Exodus are understood and interpreted- pastorally, theologically, liturgically – in the new, post-exilic world.
Exodus is the story of the birth of Israel, both physically and spiritually. People sometimes wonder if everything in Exodus happened exactly as it is written. W. Gunther Plaut writes,
Whether or not the events happened exactly as described is in the final instance less important than the way in which they were experienced and comprehended. Whether or not God “objectively” rescued Israel from Egypt is a question to which not historian can provide an answer. But Exodus, the repository of Israel’s experience, says that He did, and on this basis history and faith together have shaped the minds and hearts of Israel. (Plaut, 364)
Brueggemann identifies four major theological themes. Liberation, Law, Covenant and Presence (of God with Israel).
These four themes converge to make the poignant claim that Israel is a profound novum in human history. It is a community like none that has yet been- the recipient of God’s liberating power, practitioner of God’s sovereign Law, partner in God’s ongoing covenant, and host of God’s awesome presence. This astonishingly odd community is, of course, made possible only by this incomparable God who dares to impinge upon the human process in extravagant and unprecedented ways. (Brueggemann, 680)
* For example, see Acts 7:17-44, Stephen’s sermon as he retells the story of Moses. Also see 1 Cor 11:25, 2 Cor 3:6 for examples of Christian thinking about covenant and the New Covenant. As you read Exodus and the New Testament, you will discover more examples.
Outline of Exodus
I. Exodus 1:1-15:21 Narrative of Liberation
A. 1:1-7:7 Israel in Egypt
B. 7:8-15:21 The Plagues, Passover and Crossing the Red Sea
II. Exodus 15:22-18:27 The Journey to Sinai
A. 15:22-17:7 Marah, Manna, and Water from a Rock
B. 17:8-16 The Battle with the Amalekites
C. 18:1-27 Jethro Visits and gives advice
III. Exodus 19:1- 24:11 Covenant at Sinai
A. 19:1-25 At Sinai
B. 20:1-17 the Ten Commandments,
C. 20:18-24:18 Covenant and Ceremony
IV. Exodus 25:1-31:18 Tabernacle and Worship
A. 25:1-27:21 Instructions for the Tabernacle
B. 28:1-29:46 Instructions for Priests, vestments and consecration
C. 30:1-31:18 Further Instructions and the Sabbath
V. Exodus 32:1-34:35 Breaking and Renewal of the Covenant
A. 32:1-35 The Incident of the Golden Calf
B. 33:1-23 God’s presence among the people
C. 34:1-35 Renewal of the Covenant
VI. Exodus 35:1-40:38 Israel’s Obedient Work
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.