You will find an introduction and outline for Exodus, here.
From the Book of Common Worship, a prayer to use before reading the scripture.
Gracious God, we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from your mouth. Make us hungry for this heavenly food, that it may nourish us today in the ways of eternal life; through Jesus Christ, the bread of heaven. 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
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: In this section, a new community is created. This community is not one, at first, of language, territory, or ancestry but a community that exists because of Yahweh and lives in obedience to Yahweh. This section, as with previous sections comes from several sources.
A. 19:1-25 At Sinai:To encounter God entails some risk and must be carefully prepared for. In the Bible, mountains are places where God is encountered. Verse 4 God reminds Moses (and Israel) what God has done for them. Then there is the “if”. God rescue from Egypt was unconditional, but the future- a continuing relationship with God hinges on the “if”. What do verses 4-6 say about God and Israel and the rest of the world? Consider the importance of Israel’s “yes” in verse 8. A new thing has begun here. And then God comes to God’s people in the following verses.Meeting God is a serious and dangerous business for Israel. Do we modern Christians not take our encounters with God seriously enough? Or is our relationship substantially different? What do you think?
B. 20:1-17 the Ten Commandments: The first four have to do with Israel’s relationship with God, the next six have to do with the people’s relationships with each other. They are presented as the words of God and begin with God’s self disclosure. Sometimes we separate the commandments and think about them individually but as you read them today, consider the relationships between the commandments. What do they tell us about God and about how we ought to live? Notice the first commandment assumes the presence of other Gods. It does not assume monotheism but does require Israel’s loyalty. An alternate translation of “jealous” in verse 5 is “impassioned”.
Plaut writes about the Ten Commandments, “…for Israel they represent, so to speak, the constitutional preamble to its code of laws which will follow in subsequent chapters. It is important to stress this function of the Decalogue, because it was never meant to stand alone as a complete repository of rules for life. It is a basic summation and must not be considered a substitute for detailed laws and ordinances.” (Plaut, 536).
Consider how sabbath affected Jewish life in the ancient world. Sabbath observance was a disengagement from the cultural and societal expectations of the people around them.
C. 20:18-24:18 Covenant and Ceremony
20:18-21 Moses as mediator:The way the story is arranged, the Ten Commandments are given directly to the people but after that Moses acts as mediator.
20:22-23:19 The Covenant Code: This section may be the oldest legal material in the Old Testament. Scholars think two bodies of law were combined in this section, the Book of Ordinances and the Altar Law and Rules of Conduct. The Book of Ordinances was civil or case law. The Altar Law and Rules of Conduct are concerned with giving instructions for cult and social behavior.
20:22-26 The Altar Law: Scholars think that early on, there may have been altars in many places before worship became centralized and more carefully administered.
21:1-22:17 The Book of Ordinances: In other Ancient Near East cultures, these sorts of case laws were common. They were not statements of practiced laws but were royal proclamations which expressed the king’s responsibility for his people and his land. It is interesting that this section begins with laws concerning slaves, since Israel has just been freed from slavery. Scholars think many of these laws served to make justice more equitable by limiting penalties and protecting the rights of vulnerable persons. Verse 23-25, the lex talionis, or law of retaliation was to place limits on vengeance.
22:18-23:19 Rules of Conduct: Scholars think this section is the conclusion of 20:22-26. There does not seem to be much obvious structure or order to this section.
As you read through these laws, what strikes you? What surprises you?
As we read these ancient laws, we do need to consider what their value is for us today. These laws were originally given to a relatively simple agrarian community. What ought a complex technological society “do” with these laws? Do they simply not apply to us? Do certain “moral” laws still matter while cultic practices do not? Are they still in some way normative for us?
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.