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
B. 7:8-15:21 The Plagues, Passover and Crossing the Red Sea
11:1-13:16 The Final Plague:Notice the structure of this section. In it we can see how later reflection in the events shaped their telling. The final plague is announced and then there is an accounting of the celebration of the Passover. In the text the liturgical celebration precedes the event! Then the text tells us about the event itself. Why do you think the story is told this way?
11:1-10 Warning about the final plague: Notice the text does not say exactly what happens to the first born. We are told -I (God) will go out/ first born shall die.
12:1-28 Institution of the Passover: V 1-10 are a description of the festival. Some scholars think this may be an ancient rite that is reinterpreted by the events of the Plagues. V 11-13 help explain the event. Verse 12 mentions the Egyptian gods. This is the first time Egyptian gods have been mentioned. V 14-20 the festival of unleavened bread was originally a separate festival from the Passover. The Hebrew word for “Passover” is pesah and for “pass over” is a bar. Only in English are the words similar.
12:29-39 The Death of the Firstborn: The story from 11:8 resumes. Now Pharaoh concedes and also asks for a blessing. Pharaoh does not attempt to bargain as he did before. Everyone wants them to leave. Notice in verse 38 “a mixed crowd” leaves with the Israelites. Scholars think that the people who left Egypt were not a single tribe or group but rather a socio economic group- the poor and enslaved- who left. But notice the text tells us they are a large group who leave with riches and livestock, rather than poor slaves.
12:40-51 Directions for the Passover: who may and may not participate in the Passover.
13:1-16 Consecration of the Firstborn: The consecration of the firstborn may have been an ancient practice, but here it is linked to the Passover. Notice also how these verses anticipate the future “when the Lord brings you…”. Again the festival of the unleavened bread is linked to the Passover but also to the future. In times of plenty, Israel is not to forget her past.
The final plague, with the death of children, is a difficult thing for us to understand. Commentators suggest that Israel is God’s “firstborn”, God’s heir and God’s future in the world. Pharaoh threatens God’s own firstborn and God reacts passionately. Do you agree? What do you think the story has to say to us today?
13:17-22 The Journey begins: Remember Genesis ends with Joseph’s desire for his bones to be taken to the promised land. Verse 21-22 God leads Israel in an unmistakable way. But notice (v17) God might lead, but that doesn’t guarantee the people will follow.
14:1-31 Crossing the Sea: This account comes from at least two different sources. In verse 4 we learn that this last conflict between Pharaoh and God is not about Israel’s freedom as much as it is about the power struggle between God and Pharaoh. There is to be no doubt about who wins. The way the story is told, God has arranged everything. As Bruggemann writes, “This is an enormously heavy dose of sovereignty.” (Bruggemann, 793)But the story is about who is ultimately sovereign in the world, Pharaoh (empire) or God. Notice that when Israel sees the massive Egyptian presence, they cry out to God. But they also blame Moses. In verses 21-25 the dividing of the waters recalls the separation of the dry land from the waters in the creation story. The water of the sea often is also used as a metaphor for chaos and destruction. This is, in a sense, the creation of a new world for Israel. Notice also that the Egyptians acknowledge that God is on Israel’s side and they cannot prevail. God is glorified.
Modern readers may wonder what to make of this text. Bruggemann tells us,
The narrative invites silence before this stunning reversal of the processes of power. This outcome is not ordinary turn of affairs, to be explained by any human stratagem or by any natural phenomenon. Any attempt to have the story on such terms is a violation of what we are intended to hear in the narrative. In the purview of this narrative, there is only one possible explanation, and the name of that “explanation” is Yahweh, who brings both life and death.
Interpreting this passage, then, requires that we clear our minds (as much as possible) of any of the haunting misgivings of modernity. One cannot ask merely how this rescue could happen or whether it is possible. One cannot proceed by seeking to explain the miracle of the water, for any convincing explanation would only lead away for the intent of the text itself. This text is not argument, but witness and summons; it is a witness to the power of Yahweh and a consequent summons to faith. (Bruggemann, 795-796)
What do you think? Do you agree?
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.