Exodus 5:22-6:8: Yahweh Names His Purpose
Our passage today is Exodus 5:22-6:8, with most of the focus being on 6:6-8. In 5:22-23 Moses is angry with God for not rescuing his people when Moses went before Pharaoh. When Moses said to Pharaoh, "Thus says Yahweh, 'Let my people go!'" Pharaoh did not let them go but instead increased their labor and oppression. The Hebrew leaders turned on Moses and now Moses has turned to Yahweh in anger and humiliation with the cutting question, "Is this why you sent me?" (on the use of the term "Hebrew," see Hebrews, Arameans, and Israelites).
Yahweh answers Moses in 6:1 with sight, "Now you will see what I am doing and will do to Pharaoh." Contrary to Moses' limited perspective Yahweh has been working. The stage has been set for a "strong arm to strong arm" battle and the prize will be Israel's labor/worship. Moses is about to see that Yahweh is the Stronger-Armed One who is bringing down Pharaoh's world.
In 6:2-8 Yahweh's answer is extended. Moses is permitted a further glimpse into the meaning of the Divine Name. Note Yahweh's first words in 6:2: "I am Yahweh." Notice in 6:6 the first thing Yahweh wants Moses to declare to the Israelites: "I am Yahweh." And notice the last words in 6:8 of this Yahweh speech: "I am Yahweh." Any ideas on what this passage might be about? Any suggestions on what might be the point of this three verse (6-8) Yahweh speech? You got it: Yahweh!
In this speech Yahweh reveals himself self and his purpose to Moses. You will recall that in chapter 3 when God first reveals himself as Yahweh to Moses the issue is power. God says, "My name is I am," the point being that God, not Pharaoh, is the one whose will determines reality. Yahweh is and Pharaoh is soon to be not. Now, in 6:6-8 Moses receives a second revelation of the significance of the Divine Name. Not only is he given the word that Yahweh is, he is permitted to see/hear the "is" that Yahweh is making. Moses is given insight into Yahweh's purpose, into the world that God seeks to make. The revelation has moved from the most powerful will to the will of the most powerful.
And what is the will/purpose inherent in Yahweh? According to 6:6-8, there are four aspects to it. First, Yahweh is committed to redeeming and liberating the Israelites from Pharaoh's bondage. Yahweh is determined to set the Israelites free. He will unleash his mighty power and strong arm to accomplish this. Yahweh is intent on releasing Israel from the yoke of Pharaoh. Yahweh will not allow Pharaoh's oppression of his people to continue.
Second, Yahweh asserts, "I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God." Yahweh is determined to set the Hebrews free so that they become Yahweh's people and Yahweh Israel's God. This is crucial. Yahweh does not liberate the Hebrews so that they can be liberated, that is, do whatever they want, be whoever they want. This is not about abstract and unrestrained freedom.
Yahweh liberates the Hebrews so that they can live under the "yoke of Yahweh" as opposed to the yoke of Pharaoh. The liberation is to serve as a foundation for covenant. "I will be your God and you will be my people." The liberation is so that the Hebrews can worship Yahweh rather than labor for Pharaoh (it is interesting that in Hebrew the word for “worship” is the same word as the word “serve”). It involves a change of ownership rather than becoming owner free. Yahweh saves in order to create a people for himself, not a people for themselves (note Paul in Romans 1:1, Eph 3:7, etc.).
And notice that Yahweh redeems in order to create a people rather than autonomous individuals. Yes, God is concerned about individuals or he would not be talking with one, namely Moses. But when it comes to Yahweh's purpose the goal is a people. What welds this people together, making them a people instead of a collection of individuals, is their shared experience of Yahweh's deliverance from Pharaoh.
The third aspect of Yahweh's purpose is that Israel would know Yahweh: "Then you will know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians" (6:7). The word "know" is the word that is used for experiential and interpersonal knowledge. It is the word used repeatedly for sexual intercourse, for example, Genesis 4:1: "And Adam knew his wife Eve. . .." Yahweh's desire is for his people to have authentic, experiential knowledge of Him. Yahweh wants a relationship with His people.
This is a closer definition of "I will be your God and you will be my people." That statement could be very impersonal and distant. We are all people of a country led by a President, or Prime Minister, or King. In one sense we are their people. Yet how many of us actually know that leader beyond newspaper or television headlines? All of our knowledge of him or her comes by mean of various media. We have no personal interaction.
That is not what Yahweh has in mind when it comes to these Hebrews. Yahweh wants all of them to “know” God, to have personal knowledge of Yahweh and His salvation. Yahweh wants his people, individually and corporately, to know/experience Him.
Fourth, Yahweh declares, "I will bring you to the land. . .." Land is a requirement for life. Through technology today we can grow some produce without “land” or soil. However, in the ancient world, land was needed for survival, to grow produce and sustain livestock. If you have no land, you are at the mercy of those who have it. The Hebrews were land-less and at Pharaoh's mercy.
God's purpose is to grace the sons of Israel with land, so that they might live a land-full life. Thus, rather than being oppressed, they might live released, enjoying and practicing the fruit of righteousness/justice. Later, we will see on the other side of the exodus that living as Yahweh's people in God-given land requires just living. There is a Yahweh way of life to be lived in the land. If they do not follow it, the land is polluted by sin and perverted from a blessing into a tool of oppression. If/when this happens, God’s anger will burn, even to the point of driving Israel from the land. But that is getting way ahead in the story. For now, the promise of land is the promise of life with the responsibility to practice justice rather than Egyptian oppression.
What is Yahweh about? That is Moses' question: "God, is this all you're up to, bringing me here to look like a fool and to make life more miserable for this people?" Yahweh grants Moses a fresh vision into His name and purpose. God is about liberation, creating a covenant people, about being known by His people, and about giving His people a land-full life.
Old Testament scholar Elmer Martyns has shown that this is what God is up to throughout the entire Bible. Indeed, this is what the gospel of Jesus Christ is all about: liberation from slavery and sin, becoming part of a new people (the church, the children of God), knowing Christ, and enjoying/living the land-full, Spirit-filled life now even while we await the fullness of the land (land in the New Testament = kingdom of God, eternal life, age to come, etc.).
If you are wrestling with what God is up to in your life, I suspect God is still up to much the same. Consider what God showed Moses and perhaps God will enable you too to see: Liberation. Covenant People. Personal Knowledge. Land-full Life, both Now and Yet To Come.