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Shemot/Exodus 6:4 And also I established My covenant with them to give to them the Land of Canaan
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HaShem is here speaking to Moshe after Moshe and Aharon have been to Pharaoh to demand the release of the Israelites for the first time. Pharaoh has rebuffed their demand with significant repercussions on the people, which the Israelites do not appreciate and have blamed on Moshe. Moshe turns to HaShem and - in effect - asks Him what He thinks He is doing, since what Moshe thought was supposed to make things better for the people has actually made things worse. "Don't lose it before we've started," HaShem advises Moshe, "You shall soon see what I will do to Pharaoh: he shall let them go because of a greater might; indeed, because of a greater might he shall drive them from his land" (Shemot 6:1, NJPS). The Sforno sees this as the second of three reasons set out in verses 3-5 for HaShem's redemption of Israel: "firstly, to reveal His control of nature's forces and His concern for the destiny of His people; secondly, to fulfil the covenant made with the patriarchs; and, thirdly, to respond to the prayers and cries of the Children of Israel." Our text gives the second cause: "the covenant which I entered into with their fathers"; there is a covenant commitment on HaShem's behalf!
Avigdor Bonchek points out that the first word in the text - - usually connects two positive or negative statements, not one of each. He proposes that the phrase "also I established" here must therefore link with "and I appeared" at the beginning of the previous verse - "I appeared to Avraham, Yitz'khak and Ya'akov as El Shaddai, but I did not make Myself known to them by My name YHVH" (Shemot 6:3, NJPS) - and not to the immediately preceding phrase,"and by My name I was not known ..."1 So the texts for the Sforno's three reasons are: I appeared, I established and I heard.Rashi adds that when HaShem appeared to the patriarchs as El Shaddai, he instituted and established His covenant between Himself and them. Nahum Sarna suggests that is emphatic and "underscores the unalterability of the divine commitment."
Whilst the covenant made with Avraham had a number of components - being fertile, father of many nations, royal offspring, etc. - what part of the covenant is in view at this time? This is the second phrase in our text, "to give to them the Land of Canaan." Rashi gives the references: "To Avraham in the section of the Torah dealing with circumcision it is said, 'I assign the land you sojourn in to you and your offspring to come, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting holding' (B'resheet 17:8, NJPS); to Yitz'khak 'I will assign all these lands to you and to your heirs, fulfilling the oath that I swore to your father Avraham' (26:3, NJPS); to Ya'akov 'The land that I assigned to Avraham and Yitz'khak I assign to you; and to your offspring to come will I assign the land' (35:12, NJPS)." He than interprets HaShem as saying here, "I have sworn to them and I have not yet fulfilled My promise." Nahum Sarna points out that although "the patriarchs received ownership of the Land; their descendants would receive possession of it" andNechama Leibowitz confirms that saying, "The patriarchs found no permanent home. The time had now come to redeem the wonderful promises made to them. But the existence of the covenant gave assurances that its hour of realisation would surely come." Umberto Cassuto sums up: "The expression 'to establish a covenant' connotes the fulfilment of a covenant that has already been made. The covenant was a promise (that is, a unilateral promise) to give them - the patriarchs and their descendants - the land of Canaan." Cassuto also puts words in HaShem's mouth: "Even though the patriarchs were not granted to witness its realisation themselves, yet in My sight it was always existent."2
The writer to the Hebrews addresses this issue head on: "By faith Avraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Yitz'khak and Ya'akov, heirs with him of the same promise" (Hebrews 11:8-9, ESV). The patriarchs exercised faith, faith in G-d, faith that G-d would do what He had said He would do. Avraham arrived in the Land, but only possessed one tiny part of it, the field that had belonged to Efron the Hittite, which "was in Machpelah, which faced Mamre, the field and cave which was in it, and all the trees which were in the field, that were within all the confines of its border" (B'resheet 23:17, NASB), that he bought when Sarah died as a burial site. Yitz'khak didn't add to the family holdings, but Ya'akov - when he returned from Padan Aram - bought "the piece of land where he had pitched his tent from the hand of the sons of Hamor, Shechem's father, for one hundred pieces of money" (33:19, NASB). Perhaps a few hundred dunams put together; an insignificant proportion of the Land of Israel. So the Hebrews writer agrees with the commentators: "These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth" (Hebrews 11:13, ESV). The patriarchs - Avraham, Yitz'khak and Ya'akov - received technical ownership of the Land, because G-d had given it to them, but did not actually realise possession of the Land. They rejoiced in G-d's promises, recognising that possession would be undertaken by a later (and larger) generation. That was left to their descendants, those who entered the Land under Joshua and took possession of it as HaShem cleared the way and dispossessed the seven nations of Canaan.
But, as the Hebrews writer finally says, "people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland" (v. 14, ESV). By their faith, although they did not possess a homeland, the patriarchs made it clear that they were nevertheless seeking a homeland; they will still looking for G-d to make good on His promises. That is why Ya'akov made Yosef swear to bury him in the Machpelah cave and Yosef told his brothers, "G-d will surely take care of you, and bring you up from this land to the land which He promised on oath to Avraham, to Yitz'khak and to Ya'akov" (B'resheet 50:24, NASB) and he wasn't going to get left behind! Yosef was seeking a homeland; he knew that He didn't belong in Egypt. Although Moshe took Yosef's bones up from Egypt and Joshua buried them in the plot of land that Ya'akov had left for Yosef - so that there was a physical place where those promises met the earth - the thing we need to understand is that the actual answer to the patriarch's expectations was not a physical location, except inasmuch as there needed to be a physical instantiation of G-d's promises, that homeland was the place where G-d fulfills His promises. In the case of the patriarchs, that happened to be the Land of Israel; in the case of others, it is the place where G-d is, where G-d's presence is, where the manifestation of the kingdom is. It is the place of the promise.
An important question that we need to ask ourselves today, as the people of G-d - both Jew and Gentile - in this day, concerns our place. Where is our place? Are we to seek a place in the Land, based on G-d's covenant promises with the Jewish people into which Gentile believers have been grafted? Certainly many Yeshua-believers find great joy and revelation in visiting Israel, in seeing the places where Avraham, the prophets, Yeshua Himself and the Early Church walked, ate and slept. It is clear that G-d is very present in that place, that the Western Wall and many other sites throughout the Land of Israel have an almost tangible holiness or presence of the Spirit. There are many reports of astonishing responses to prayers written down and inserted between the stones of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. But is that the only place where G-d is to be found, or can He also be found outside the Land but among His people? Is the Western Wall Plaza in the Old City the only place where G-d hears and answers prayer?
Avraham's servant both prayed and received an answer to his prayer to be shown who should be the wife of his master's son at the well in Padan Aram, outside the future boundaries of the Land. At the dedication of the First Temple, King Solomon prayed, "When a foreigner, who is not of Your people Israel, comes from a far country for the sake of Your great name and Your mighty hand and Your outstretched arm, when he comes and prays toward this house, hear from heaven Your dwelling place and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to You, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know Your name and fear You" (2 Chronicles 6:32-33, ESV), which is why churches the world over face towards Jerusalem. Jonah heard the word of the L-rd clearly enough in the city of Nineveh. The book of Acts recounts many examples of prayers being made and answered, of miracles and visions being granted, across Greece, Asia Minor and in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. The greatest miracle of all, coming to faith in Yeshua as the Messiah, has happened for both Jews and Gentiles in just about every country around the world, fulfilling Yeshua's explicit commands to the disciples: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19, ESV) and "you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8, ESV).
Yeshua said, "where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them" (Matthew 18:20, ESV). Regarding prayer He also said, "If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it" (John 14:14, ESV), without mentioning any place. G-d may be - indeed, He is - the G-d of Israel, but He is also G-d of the whole world; He is not territorially limited or influenced. He may be experienced wherever we are in time or space, whenever we call upon Him or reach out for Him. When we seek a homeland - our real place, the place we belong - He is there for us, for our place is in Him. Now is the time to seek Him for the fulfillment and bringing to completion of all His glorious promises to and for us in Messiah!
1. - Avigdor Bonchek, What's Bothering Rashi Volume 2, Shemot, New York, Feldheim, 1999, pages 33-34.
2. - Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, Magnes Press, Jerusalem, 1983, 965-223-456-7
Further Study: Joshua 21:45; 2 Corinthians 1:20-22
Application: If you are concerned that you need to be somewhere in particular, or face a particular direction in order to pray and have those prayers answered, know today that G-d hears and answers prayers where you are because that is where He is too. Check it out right now: "Taste and see that the L-RD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!" (Psalm 34:8, ESV).
© Jonathan Allen, 2018
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