We’ve considered the principles of Bible study in great detail. Now it’s time to put them into practice through a series of sample Bible studies in the book of Exodus. We begin with a book oveview.
While you could find many of the following points by reading a decent commentary or study Bible, you’ll have more fun—and the key points will have greater staying power in your life—if you glean them by simply reading and re-reading the book many times. To prepare this overview, I’ve consulted a few helpful sources. But I’ve spent most of my time reading Exodus 8 times in the last 3 months. I hope to read it 12 more times before the end of the year. Perhaps the repetition will lead me to change my mind at a few points.
The New Testament regularly quotes or references the book of Exodus and attributes it to Moses (Mark 7:10, 12:26; Luke 20:37; John 6:32, 7:19; Rom 9:15; 2 Cor 3:13-15; Heb 7:14, 8:5, 9:19). We shall do the same.
After reading Exodus a few times, it becomes clear that the book focuses on the rescue and establishment of the people of Israel as a new nation before God. The book ends with the people at Mount Sinai, ready to move on to the land of promise. In addition, Exodus fits squarely within the flow of Exodus-through-Numbers. The book was clearly written to the Hebrews on their way to Canaan. It’s not clear, however, whether the book was “finished” for the first generation who came out of Egypt, or for the following generation. Numbers was clearly not finished until the second generation, since it reports the rebellion and death of the first generation. So Moses may have written Exodus a few decades earlier (possibly with Leviticus), for the first generation, or along with Numbers, for the second generation.
Either way, the book of Exodus serves as a charter for this new nation. What does it mean to be not only a new sovereign state but the specially chosen people of God? When God remembers his covenant promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, what will that mean for these frightened and fearful former slaves? And how do they know God won’t eventually abandon them?
Most of the book presents itself as historical narrative. The events that take place here will shape the nation for generations to come (such as, Ex 12:1-6). Yet this narrative has frequent sub-genres: speech, dialogue, miracle story, and law code.
About a third of the way through, we get a long poem (Ex 15:1-21). Perhaps this attention-grabbing shift signals a climax of some sort…?
Reading Exodus, you can’t miss the theme of rescue from slavery. The first part of the book (chapters 1-15) tells the story of the greatest rescue in Old Testament history. And that rescue casts a long shadow even on the laws that follow (for example, Ex 22:21).
And while we might think of Exodus as being primarily about the exodus from Egypt, that event covers less than half the book. We also see a significant chunk of laws (chapters 20-23) and tabernacle instructions/construction (chapters 25-31 and 35-40). So our summary of themes must do justice to all these major sections:
- rescue from slavery
- guidelines for living as God’s people
- patterns for constructing God’s dwelling place
Interestingly, each of these three themes goes nowhere without the intercession of a mediator. God delivers the people through the hand of Moses. God issues his laws through Moses’ representation. And God passes his building instructions through the same human lips. If you happen to miss this idea early, you can no longer ignore it when the tabernacle instructions are repeated twice, in their entirety: Once in dialogue to Moses, and again as Moses’ underlings carry those instructions out.
Another thing to look for in a book overview is explicit statements of purpose from the author. In Exodus, such purpose statements abound, often placed on the lips of God.
To the Hebrews: “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians” (Ex 6:7).
Concerning the Egyptians: “The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them” (Ex 7:5).
To Pharaoh: “But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth” (Ex 9:16).
From Jethro, priest of Midian: “Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods, because in this affair they dealt arrogantly with the people” (Ex 18:11).
Regarding the tabernacle: “I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the LORD their God” (Ex 29:45-46).
Beginning to end, Exodus portrays a God who wants all people and communities to know who he is and what he has done. This God wants an awareness that goes even beyond humans. He’s wants to take down rival deities as well. “For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD” (Ex 12:12).
The shifts in theme and genre are the literary clues we need to find the book’s structure.
- Narratives of deliverance – Ex 1-15
- Narratives of provision and preparation – Ex 16-18
- Legal instructions – Ex 19-24
- Construction instructions – Ex 25-40
Of course, that last section is shockingly interrupted with the Hebrew’s grievous sin with the golden calf (chapters 32-34). This incident suggests a larger shape for the second half of the book, as follows:
1. Covenant made – Ex 19-24
2. Tabernacle instructions – Ex 25-31
1′ Covenant broken and repaired – Ex 32-34
2′ Tabernacle constructed – Ex 35-40
Bringing these pieces together, we get the following big picture:
- Delivering from the house of slavery – Ex 1-15
- Preparing the house of Israel – Ex 16-18
- Constructing the house of God – Ex 19-40
Connecting all the threads of occasion, genre, themes, purpose statements, and structure, we can state the main point of the book of Exodus in a single question:
“Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice?” –Pharaoh, king of Egypt (Ex 5:2).
Exodus unequivocally answers Pharaoh’s question in three parts: Who is Yahweh [in English Bibles, “LORD” in all caps], and why should you obey? He is the God who 1) demolishes the house of slavery, 2) prepares to rebuild, and 3) builds his house in the midst of his people.
Now we’re ready to dive into the details. This main point will guide us as we work our way through the book.
Click here to see what I’m doing with this sample Bible study and why I’m doing it.