The Reason for the Promised Land—Exodus 6:8

Without the promised land, deliverance from slavery would have been incomplete. Former slaves could not maintain their freedom in Egypt, and apart from direct divine sustenance could not survive in the wilderness. They needed a land of their own.

Thus, after announcing his people’s deliverance from slavery in Exodus 6:6-7, God announces a way for them to live independently, promising their own land (6:8). In contrast to their seminomadic, patriarchal ancestors, the Israelites were now too many to subsist on their own only as pastoralists grazing their flocks on the countryside. But whether pastoralists or farmers, they needed land; and for their agrarian society, land would be capital.

In my country, we saw the limitations of officially ending slavery without providing former slaves a means to work. Originally they were promised “forty acres and a mule,” but that promise was not kept. After the official end of U.S. slavery, many former slaves were kept in perpetual bondage as sharecroppers because ultimately they did not own their own land. In an agrarian economy, one must own land or depend on others for work. God was not just ending the Israelites’ official enslavement and then leaving them impoverished and subject to oppression, what many former slaves “freed” in the United States initially experienced.

From the start, then, God’s promise had envisioned the completion of their deliverance. What he began in their deliverance, he would complete. Today there is much debate about the Israelite conquest (more about Israel’s period of conquest than about conquests by ancient empires, because Israel’s is better known to us). (See limiting factors; switching sides; God’s ideal.) But the exodus without the conquest would have been what the Israelites themselves feared after the exodus: “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” (Exod 17:3). God planned a full deliverance for his people, although in the ways used among nations in that day, not in the ways to be used by Jesus’s followers today.

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