God's commitment to free Israel grows out of the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Here again the text loops us back to Genesis to address the current situation of enslavement in Egypt. That enslavement stands as a challenge to the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The land of Canaan had been promised to the ancestors, but the Joseph story ended with only a promise of returning to that land. In the midst of enslavement, that promise seemed to have evaporated.
In this speech of God, the promise to the ancestors is taken to a new level. Now God is speaking not just to a family but to a people. God will no longer be known only as the one who was faithful to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God will be known as the one who "freed you from the burdens of the Egyptians" (6:7). The core pronouns of the covenant are employed: my people/your God. The new promise does not jettison the older promise. The land will still become their possession.
These verses have played a major role in the discussion of the history of the composition of the Pentateuch. The introduction of the name "the LORD" (Yahweh) in this chapter has been interpreted as a doublet. The name has already been introduced in chapter 3, and it has been frequently employed in the text of Genesis (note Genesis 4:26). Diverse divine names were understood to be signs of diverse prior compositions. Different literary styles and clusters of themes were correlated with different divine names. There is now less confidence in such reconstructions of the history of composition. But one can still note a subtheme from Genesis through Exodus 6 regarding divine names and associated covenants. The covenant with Noah, with the rainbow as a sign, employs the name Elohim. The covenant with Abraham, with circumcision as its sign, employs the name El Shaddai. Now in Exodus 6, there is an explicit shift from El Shaddai to Yahweh. In classic formulations of the Documentary Hypothesis, this schematic has been attributed to the Priestly source.
2 God also spoke to Moses and said to him: I am the Lord. 3I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as God Almighty,* but by my name The Lord* I did not make myself known to them. 4I also established my covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they resided as aliens. 5I have also heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are holding as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant. 6Say therefore to the Israelites, I am the Lord, and I will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians and deliver you from slavery to them. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgement. 7I will take you as my people, and I will be your God. You shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has freed you from the burdens of the Egyptians. 8I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; I will give it to you for a possession. I am the Lord.
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org
10 February 2011