How to Read Exodus

Part 1: Exodus 1–18


Planting a garden requires the right tools. And so does interpreting the Bible. But instead of shovels, rakes, and weeders, we use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application. 

The book of Exodus tells the rescue story of God's deliverance of Moses and the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. This video from The Bible Project provides an overview of the book. The goal of this post is not to replace your personal study of the Bible. Rather, it is to help you navigate the story of Exodus, discover what it teaches, dive into how it fits into the rest of the Bible, and look at how it applies to your life. Use the questions below as a guide as you watch this first video about Exodus 1–18. 




Observation asks the basic question: who, what, where, and when. It examines the book at a surface level—the characters, events, themes, culture, and genre. Observations may seem obvious at first, but they open the door to the meaning of any part of the Bible. Be careful to not jump ahead to interpreting the observations, or assigning them meaning. Just list them. 

Example: God provided food and water as He led the Israelites into the wilderness.


Observe: As you watched the video, what observations did you make about Exodus 1–18? (Consider the major characters, plot points, locations, cities, landmarks, time period, background information, cultural aspects, genre, themes, and actions of the characters.)
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Where an observation determines what the book says, interpretation takes the next step to find out what the book means. We’ve asked what the book says about God and humanity, and now we ask what that means. Look at the themes and ask what they mean as well.

Example: (Observation) God provided food and water as He led the Israelites into the wilderness. (Interpretation) As He leads, God provides for His people.


Interpret: What is significant about each of the observations you made above? What is the main message of Exodus 1–18? (Think about what this book teaches about God and humanity and what that teaching means, as well as the meaning of the themes.)
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Contextualization looks at how the book fits into the story of the Bible. It connects the themes that pop up throughout the story of Scripture and sees how the book fits into the biblical narrative. 

Example: The theme of God’s provision echoes throughout the Old Testament as the Israelites cry out for a king and eventually for deliverance from exile. We also see God’s ultimate provision through Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit. 


Contextualize: What themes does Exodus 1–18 seem to establish? What themes would you say have potential to carry forward into other books of the Bible? What themes connect back to Genesis?
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Application asks, “So what?” It considers how the meaning of this book applies to our day-to-day lives. The point of reading Scripture isn’t to become puffed up with knowledge, but to be transformed. Ask God to show you how you can specifically put the truths from this book into practice. Brainstorm ways you can live out what you learned throughout your day.

Example: Even in the darkest times, when God seems distant, I can trust that He will provide. Instead of buying into worry this week, I can put my trust in Him to meet my needs. When I cannot pay my bills or bring a meal to the table, I can pray to God, ask Him to provide, and trust that He will provide for me. 


Apply: How does the truth from this section of Exodus affect you and your relationship with God and others? What are some specific actions you could take to live out the truths found in chapters 1–18 this week?
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As you finish this first section on Exodus, thank God for how He’s speaking to you so far. Ask Him to continue to teach you as you dive into the next part of Exodus.


 
Part 2: Exodus 19–40


The previous section of this post focused on Exodus 1–18. This final session covers what happened at Mount Sinai in Exodus 19–40. As with the last section, the goal of this post is to help you navigate the story of Exodus, see what it teaches us and how it fits into the rest of the Bible, and, finally, to apply it to our lives. 




Now that you have an overview of  Exodus in mind, you can apply what you know to interpret specific passages in Exodus. Read the golden calf episode in Exodus 32:1–14. Utilize observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application to dissect the meaning of this passage. Use the ideas from the videos to inform your answers to the following questions about Exodus 32:1–14. 

Exodus 32:1-14 (ESV)

The Golden Calf

1When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”2So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.”3So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron.4 And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!”5When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.”6And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.

7And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves.8They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’”9And the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people.10Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.”

11But Moses implored the Lord his God and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people.13Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’”14And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



Remember that observation asks the basic who, what, where, and when questions. It examines the passage at a surface level—the characters, events, themes, culture, and genre. 

Observe: As you read the passage, what observations did you make about Exodus 32:1–14? (Consider the major characters, plot points, locations, cities, landmarks, time period, background information, cultural aspects, genre, themes, and actions of the characters. Also, take note of any information offered in the video.)
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We've asked what these verses say about God and humanity, and now we ask what that means. Look at the themes and ask what they mean as well.


Interpret: What is significant about each of the observations you made above? What do they mean? What is the main message of Exodus 32:1–14? How does it connect with the main message of Exodus? (Think about what this book teaches about God and humanity and what that teaching means, as well as the meaning of the themes. Consider insights from the video as well.)
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Contextualization looks at how the passage fits into the rest of the book and into the story of the Bible. It connects the themes that pop up throughout the story of Scripture and sees how the book fits into the biblical narrative. 


Contextualize: What themes does Exodus 32:1–14 seem to establish? How do those themes connect with the rest of the book of Exodus? What themes would you say have potential to carry forward into other books of the Bible?
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Application considers how the meaning of this passage applies to our day-to-day lives. Ask God to show you how you can specifically put the truths from this book into practice. Brainstorm ways you can live out what you learned throughout your day.


Apply: How does the truth from this passage affect you and your relationship with God and others? What are some practical ways you can live out the truths found in these verses this week?
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The last step in reading the Bible helps wrap everything up. We take the time to summarize the main message and implications of the book. As you summarize what you learned, it solidifies what God taught you through this video. 


Share: Now that you’ve spent time learning about Exodus, how would you explain the main points of this book to a friend? If you were going to explain what you learned to a friend, what would you say? What would you be sure to include? Why?
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Reading the Bible doesn’t have to be like weeding a garden. You can find great joy in learning about God through His Word. Read through Exodus this week. As you study, use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application as a guide. Take the next step and put what you learn into practice.



To learn more about The Bible Project, click here.