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
II. Exodus 15:22-18:27 The Journey to Sinai
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
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.
chapter 23 :1-9 starts a series of laws in the forms of commands, You shall, you shall not. What are these laws concerned with? Do you find the concern for an “enemies” animal odd? Why might this be a concern?
23:10-19 what do verses 10-11 and 12 have in common? Are they related to the justice concerns of verses 1-9? In verses 14-19, three festivals are set out. Commentators believe these are very old festivals. What are these festivals celebrate? Verse 19b seems to refer to a Canaanite ritual. Because it is a devotional act to other gods, Israel must not do this.
23:20-33 conquest of Canaan promised: Notice, once again, how concerned with the material and physical God is. Very specific promises are given to Israel. There are also very specific concerns. God’s promise to “blot them out” is problematic for modern persons. Two notes: one, the text here doesn’t talk about killing as much as about displacement (v27 and 28). Bruggemann writes,
“This sort of text is problematic because it is so savagely hostile and intolerant of other peoples. We are rightly nervous about any such ideology/dream of displacement. Without denying the problem, the best I know to do is to offer a sociocritical comment that issues in a theological claim. The socio critical discernment of which I am persuaded (as offered by Norman Gottwald) is that Israel’s ideology is formed by a revolutionary cadre of Levites to support a peasant uprising against an exploitive city-state system of economics and politics. ..That is, the displacement proposed is not of one ethnic community by another but of a hated class of exploiters by those who are too long abused. This peasant community, so the argument runs, intends a “social experiment” to see whether public power can be organized in covenantal ways. The destruction to be wrought for the purpose of the revolution, then, is not to kill Canaanites at random but to destroy the “system”, its practices, its symbols, and inevitably its functionaries.”
The Israelite system of covenant is totally incompatible with Canaanite modes of exploitative power, and the rhetoric of the text serves the revolutionary cause by making the contrast unbridgeable. It is inevitable, then, that the program of Moses is not only uncompromising, but intolerant. Such a view of Israel’s faith may be unpalatable to us. It is, however, more likely to be unpalatable to affluent, established believers who themselves have compromised with dominant power. This is not to excuse the intolerance, but to suggest that our own social location matters enormously in our assessment of this tradition and its rhetoric.” (Bruggemann, 878)
Do you think Bruggemann makes sense, or do you think he is making excuses?
24:1-18 The Covenant Ceremony: Notice how chapter 19 and 24 bracket this section. Scholars think these verses contain material from two sources, one which tells about communion with God and the other tells about the covenant making. The movement up and down the mountain may signify relative power and influence- the people are at the bottom of the mountain, the priests and elders are partway up the mountain, and Moses is allowed to “come near”. Verses 3-8 are the covenant making ceremony. Israel is the nation it becomes, not from ethnic, language or territorial factors (all though over time those do develop), but Israel is Israel because it promises to be God’s people. Verses 9-11 (from a priestly source) tells of a meal between God and the priests and elders. These people see God, an experience that is not repeated in Israel’s history. An important moment. Verses 12-14 Joshua’s mention seems to serve no particular purpose, except perhaps anticipating when he is Moses successor. Moses goes alone into the presence (cloud) of God and stays for 40 days and nights.
IV. Exodus 25:1-31:18 Tabernacle and Worship: These chapters contain seven speeches by God to Moses and are instructions for building a suitable place for worship. Scholars believe these chapters an exilic or post exilic Priestly writing. Some also think this is not simply a description of furnishings and the building but are written as a “quite deliberate complement to the craton narrative of Gen 1:1-2:4a, both in terms of the rhetoric of ‘command and performance’ and with the affirmation of 39:32 and 40:33 that the work of the tabernacle is ‘finished” (cf. Gen 2:1)… [T]he completion of the tabernacle to house God’s glory is as momentous as the creation of the world.” (Bruggemann, 884).
As you read this section, consider what this says about God’s willingness to be in the world, and how God is present in the world.
A. 25:1-27:21 Instructions for the Tabernacle: Notice that people build the Tabernacle for God. God does not make it.
25:1-40 Furnishings: Can you imagine what these furnishings must have looked like? Think about the purpose of each piece. What is God telling Moses via these furnishings about what it means to be in God’s presence?
26:1-36: Tabernacle curtains and frame: There is much detail in these verses, to the point that it makes difficult reading for us. But what might this attention to detail mean? These is certainly a luxurious space. What does this say about how we approach God? Does this description seem like entering a royal presence? Might there be value in that idea for modern people? Or not? How does Israel ( and how do we) guard against self indulgence or excessive concern for the richness and extravagance? What is an appropriate balance between aesthetics and overindulgence and practicality?
Why such a space as this for displaced people in the wilderness?
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.