Exodus 3:7-8 Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perrizites, the Hivites and the Jebusites.
The Exodus narrative picks up where Genesis leaves off. “Then a new king, who knew nothing about Joseph, began to rule in Egypt.” Then Joseph’s family that has multiplied into the Hebrew people became slaves, because Pharaoh was worried about them forming a rebellion. In the midst of this oppression YHWH, God, enters the scene in the form of a burning bush and calls Moses. God promises to free them from their oppression and bring them to “a good and broad land.”
My friend Carl, commented on the Joseph story that his policies led to a growing gap between the rich and poor as people were forced to sell their land in order to survive. So, the Hebrews are a landless people now. God’s promise to bring them out of the land is a promise to take them out of a situation where they are landless. Just like landless farmers today, this is a situation of perpetual servitude. For all practical purposes it is a form of slavery that continues today.
YHWH is going to bring them out of this situation into “a land flowing with milk and honey.” This has become such a cliche phrase that it hardly means anything anymore. However, a land flowing with milk would mean milk-producing animals that were flourishing… which in turn means a thriving ecosystem. Milk doesn’t just fall out of udders you know. So, this means a thriving agriculture as well.
This land will also be flowing with honey. While modern beekeeping produces most of the honey we consume, I’m guessing the honey here would have been wild. If this is true then the land would also be producing food in the wild that could be foraged to eat. This is the kind of free food nature provides all around us if we have eyes to see… even today… even in urban areas (fruit tress and such). So the land not only has a thriving agriculture, but produces an abundance of food in the wild that can be foraged.
This is a picture of abundance. Life in the Promised Land (Note: That’s not the name of the place. It’s like saying “That Place We’re Going.” It was actually called Canaan.) would be the exact opposite of the conditions they suffered in Egypt.
If we could be so bold as to draw a parallel here. Joseph tried to deal with the instability of food production through a granary system. The result was that while the people survived, the policy served to broaden the gap between rich and poor and take land from the people. God, however, promises that God will turn the results of our misguided policies into a picture of abundance and justice.
We should also remember that they would be displacing the people who lived in the land, named at the end of this passage. But more on that later…