If you said the number 3 to a modern Christian who has studied the New Testament at almost any length, they would quickly respond with the Trinity. The Trinity being the idea of our one God present in 3 persons. It’s a deep and wondrous mystery but it is well known for those who have been baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and of the Holy Spirit. This was and is not the case for Jews. The number 3 would likely get you an answer like Jonah, or Noah’s sons, or something like that. But if you said the number 4, they would all key in just like we do with 3. The reason is because when God spoke to Moses during the Exodus story, He gave 4 distinct promises to Moses concerning the Israelites.
“Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and (#1) I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and (#2) I will deliver you from slavery to them, and (#3) I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. (#4) 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.” Exodus 6:6-7 ESV
Let’s look at these promises in depth. The first one is God clearly saying he will get the Israelites out of the land of Egypt and out from under that heavy thumb of Pharoah. This is literally God saying He is intending to take them out of their circumstances and place them in another land where they will be free. There isn’t too much to say about this one except to point out that the Israelites would either need to overthrow the Pharoah and his mighty army in order to gain their freedom or God would have to bind up, control or otherwise inhibit Pharoah and his army in order that the Israelites could leave. We know from the text that God handles the dirty work, and in fact tells the Israelites to pillage and plunder the treasure of Egypt on their way out…only way this could happen was if God was holding the strength of the Egyptians at bay while the Israelites did this and left.
After being under the yoke of slavery for for over 200 years, about half the time of their sojourn in Egypt since Joseph with his coat of many colors rose to power. Effectively, though, at the time of the Exodus, the Israelites had known nothing else besides slavery. To put it another way, think of an alcoholic today who has been through rehabilitation and wants to move on with his life but struggles with going back to the bottle as it’s all he has known for years. While the Israelites were enslaved indeed, they were also given provisions and were protected from outside warring invaders. There is a phrase that comes to mind… “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t”. But in this second promise God declares that he will completely remove the enslaved mindset from them and allow them to return to a normal human being. If you’ve never experienced an addiction or seen its grip on someone’s life, you won’t fully grasp promise #2, but just know it’s huge.
Next God promises to redeem the Israelites. Redeem is similar to getting back the guitar you left at the pawn shop, because you brought the covering fee to make the account in good standing. Redeem means to gain or regain possession of (something) in exchange for payment. But in some cases, the word redeem means even more. It means to win back (something) as in war. To return something that was lost or stolen back to its rightful place. This is what God was promising here. He had told Abraham that he would make the nation of Israel a grand example of his love and grace for all the world. And that they were to be a royal priesthood in which the world would see God through them. That’s hard to do when your whole nation is slaves. However, with this promise God was claiming victory over their previous enslavers as well as pointing to a time when he would establish them in their rightful place as God’s chosen people.
The final promise of the Exodus is in some respects the most familiar to Christians. You’ll see why shortly. The terminology used in the original language for “I will take you to be my people” is the same language for “I will take you to be my bride”. This is exactly what it sounds like. God was setting up Israel, and therefore Christians by adoption through Jesus, as his bride. He was promising to protect, to honor, to love, to be there for his bride. In fact, when the Israelites arrived on Mount Sinai, God hovered on the mountain in a cloud of smoke and fire and lightning and trumpet sounds were echoing. While this is a scary scene, it also points to a Jewish wedding, but in very extreme way. The couple getting married would do so under a tent, a reminder that God was always over them, just like God was on the mountain. They would know that it was a lifelong covenant, and that is where God gave Moses his covenant with the Israelites…the 10 commandments.
When the time came for God to bind the metaphorical arms of the Egyptians and set them free, he told them to select a ram of about 1 year of age. He told them to sacrifice it, and then paint the blood on their door frames, vertically and horizontally. They made unleavened bread, dipped it into oil which was sprinkled with bitter herbs. This was to remind the Israelites of the bitternesss of enslavement. And as the angel of death arrived and killed the firstborn son of each household which was not covered by the blood of the lamb (ram) God had bound the power of the Egyptians and opened the door for the Israelites to leave.
Later on we will see how God commanded the Israelites to celebrate different seasons and historical moments with festivals. These would become hallmarks of the Jewish calendar. And we will discuss the new covenant given through Jesus and how it correlates with these festivals.