The Great Divorce

[Reposted from April 2012, with minor edits]

picture of a divorce decree


Pharaoh cut a covenant with Joseph in a ceremony described in Genesis 41:39-45.

All subjects of a kingdom are in blood covenant with the king, but the ceremony described and the resulting relationship between Joseph and Pharaoh clearly go far beyond that of a normal subject of the crown, to a blood covenant in which Joseph was treated as an equal to Pharaoh.

What a celebration of a God-ordained event!

Joseph was given a new name, new clothes, a gold necklace, new authority, and Pharaoh’s own signet ring!

The new clothes and new name carry significant meaning in a blood covenant ceremony, and the signet ring, in particular, gave Joseph full authority to speak on behalf of Pharaoh. A command issued by Joseph, under the seal of Pharaoh’s signet ring, carried the full authority of Pharaoh’s own signature. Pharaoh said that Joseph was now ruler over all the land of Egypt and equal to Pharaoh in everything except the throne.

Though the word covenant is not explicitly used in this passage, it is clear both by reference to covenant rites and by transfer of trust and authority that Joseph was now in blood covenant with Pharaoh, King of Egypt.

Later, Joseph’s father, brothers, and family moved to Egypt, in order to escape starvation during the seven years of famine. By accepting Pharaoh’s provision, they accepted the protection of Pharaoh’s covenant with Joseph, placing themselves under obligation to that covenant.

Moreover, since covenant is an inheritance passed down from father to son, all of Israel’s descendants and all of Pharaoh’s descendants were in blood covenant with each other. They were family, blood-brothers.

But something went wrong…

“Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” (Exodus 1:8)

The Hebrew word translated here as know (yada`) is used almost exclusively to denote either the intimate personal empathetic understanding of a covenant partner or special God-given perceptive understanding of a specific topic. This is the same word used, for example, in Genesis 4:1 (NKJV), “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain…” In this case, it is clearly a covenant reference, indicating that the new Pharaoh was not empathetically disposed toward the family of his covenant partner, Joseph.

The new Pharaoh chose not to honor the covenant with Joseph (did not know Joseph). Rather than acting on behalf of his covenant partners, as was his obligation by sacred oath, he chose rather to enslave them. Because of the change of attitude on the part of the new Pharaoh, Israel was now in a covenant that had become bondage. They were in need of redemption, and they had no means of redeeming themselves.

God told Moses, “Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments’” (Exodus 6:6).

Note that God listed deliver and redeem as two separate actions He would perform on behalf of His people, Israel. To this day, Jewish Passover traditions, designed by God to commemorate this historic event, include four cups of wine to be drunk at specific intervals in the meal, with the cup of redemption and the cup of deliverance recognized as two separate acts to be celebrated. Nor is this unique to the Exodus story. The words deliver and redeem are often paired in scripture as two separate but closely related events (Job 6:23, Jeremiah 15:21).

Deliverance speaks of God’s protection as Israel was brought out of Egypt and journeyed to the promised land. Redemption speaks of Israel being justly released from their covenant obligations to Pharaoh.

God’s plan, as revealed to Moses, was to redeem Israel from their blood covenant with Pharaoh. When Israel left Egypt, they were to leave with no covenant ties, no covenant obligations, no debts or allegiance owed to Pharaoh.

But what was the redemption payment? At what price was the covenant obligation fulfilled? How can a price even be set for a blood covenant? Did God pay Pharaoh some ransom price for the freedom of Israel?

God said He would redeem Israel, “with an outstretched arm and with great judgments.”

In reading the Exodus story, three truths stand out clearly:

  1. God was in complete control from start to finish. Even when Pharaoh appeared to be in the position of authority, God was working out His plan through Pharaoh’s choices.
  2. Israel was not leaving Egypt without Pharaoh’s permission, not even for a few days. Over and over, God sent Moses back to Pharaoh asking permission for Israel to leave Egypt for just a few days.
  3. Israel was not leaving Egypt with Pharaoh’s blessing. Each time, God caused Pharaoh’s heart to be hardened, so that Pharaoh refused to let Israel go even as plague after plague continued to roll over the land of Egypt.

God could have delivered Israel without Pharaoh’s permission. So, why was Pharaoh’s permission required? And why, if Pharaoh’s permission was required, did God cause Pharaoh’s heart to be hardened, so that he consistently refused to let Israel go, until after the plague of the death of the first-born?

The answers are found in Exodus 6:1, “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for under compulsion he will let them go, and under compulsion he will drive them out of his land.’”

When Pharaoh chose to “drive them out of his land” Israel was released from their covenant obligation. At that moment, Israel was divorced from Egypt. The covenant was dissolved, and Israel was free to proceed to the Promised Land with no obligation of allegiance to Egypt.

In fact, the Hebrew words translated here as the phrases let them go (shalach) and drive them out (garash) are both translated elsewhere as divorce (Malachi 2:16, Leviticus 21:14).

By the manner in which God redeemed Israel from Egypt, He gave new meaning to the word redemption. No ransom price was paid, yet the covenant of bondage was dissolved in a manner that was just. As their redeemer, God justly caused Israel’s blood covenant with Egypt to be dissolved, so that Israel was no longer in a covenant of bondage to Egypt.

God brought about the divorce of Israel from Egypt, and God called it redemption.

Thank God, He is still in the business of redeeming His children from covenants of bondage!

From what circumstances has God redeemed and/or delivered you?


[Note: This post is comprised largely of excerpts from my book, So You are a Believer…Who has been through Divorce… To read more, click here.]


[Linked to Messy Marriage, Graceful, Wellspring ]


12 thoughts on “The Great Divorce

  1. I’ve been delivered from many bad places, but now it’s starting to feel a bit like my own private Little Big Horn. I’m almost out of rounds.

    It’s been suggested that God has allowed this, in order to allow me to let go, and die.I have to be honest, it’s a repellent thought, and if true it shakes me to the core.
    I don’t mind going down fighting. But if it’s me against all Creation – and the Creator…wow.

    The thought that was suggested was inspired by the Amy Grant song, “Better Than A Halleluyah”, and the line about the “…dying man giving up the fight…” being better than a Halleluyah to God.

    Well, maybe. But all it really does is make me feel like I’m alone in this, and that the only thing to do is go down fighting harder than ever, and leave so much wreckage in my wake that no one, neither God nor man, will be left in any doubt that there are some buttons you just don’t push.

    • Andrew – I know you’re going thru some extremely difficult situations and I won’t pretend to understand what you’re experiencing. Although I have experienced pain, I have not experienced your pain. For what it’s worth, you have both my respect and my prayers.

      The Exodus story is one I return to often. It is such an epic story of God’s provision for His people.

      We tend to focus on the portion I’ve described in the above post, of God redeeming and delivering Israel from bondage to Egypt.

      But the story starts earlier, back in Genesis, with Israel entering Egypt for protection and provision during famine. It starts with one young man being sold into slavery by his brothers and prospering to the point of being elevated to a status equal to Pharaoh…which put him in a position to provide for his family during the famine…the same family that had sold him into slavery so many years before.

      Then there’s the period between the last chapter of Genesis and the first chapter of Exodus…the 400 years of slavery to Egyptian task-masters. And we must wonder why did God wait 400 years? Why didn’t He return His people to Canaan right after the seven years of famine was over…or right after Joseph died? Why leave them in slavery for 400 years?

      But then we look farther back to Genesis 15:13 where God told Abraham in advance that his descendants would be enslaved and oppressed 400 years. And in that same passage, God made a covenant with Abraham and promised to bless and multiply his descendants. God also explained that Abraham’s descendants would not return to Canaan until the time of the Amorite was completed.

      And we begin to see that it was all a part of God’s plan, from the very beginning. We catch a glimpse of how God works out His perfect plan and His perfect timing thru imperfect people living in a fallen world filled with darkness and evil. We see that God’s plan considers not only Abraham but each of Abraham’s descendants, as well as the Egyptians and the Amorites. We see that God used even slavery to allow Israel to grow into a mighty nation without dispersing amongst the nations and without being lost among the population of Egypt.

      And we see how, through His promises to Abraham, God also protected the bloodline and the covenant inheritance of the promised Messiah who would redeem and deliver Adam’s race from the kingdom of darkness, much as Israel was redeemed and delivered from Egypt.

      And I come away filled with awe at God’s plans, His attention to detail, and His concern for each individual. And I realize how much higher and greater His plans are above my understanding. And I realize how much deeper His love is than my understanding.

      And my only response is to trust…to trust His love…to trust His plans…to trust His promises.

      To trust that He loves me deeply…that He knows me better than I know myself…that He loves me more than I love myself…that He has a plan for my life and that He will complete that plan…and that His plan includes my spending eternity in relationship with Him.

      Thank you for the honest and thought-provoking comment. Blessings to you, Andrew! You are deeply loved and God is even now working out His plan in your life.

  2. The idea of being “redeemed” out of divorce so goes against our culture, our church. For a long time I was just trying to breath, and then trying to survive. But to experience redemption is truly something only God can do. Thank you JP for your words and your encouragement.

    • “The idea of being ‘redeemed’ out of divorce so goes against our culture, our church.”

      Yes, the concept does run contrary to popular church culture…which is very strange, really.

      Our church culture talks a lot about ‘redemption’ yet largely lacks understanding of the biblical use of this term.

      I sometimes think we have so bought into the ‘divorce mythology,’ and so idolized marriage, that we have blinded ourselves to some of the most fundamental biblical concepts of redemption and deliverance.

      Thank YOU, David!

  3. I still almost come to tears (well, okay, there are tears now), when I hear you tell of redemption because it’s such a huge act of grace on the part of our God for all of us broken people, divorced and otherwise. I’m so thankful that he redeemed the pain of my divorce and brought a different God-filled man into my life.
    This is what I always need to remember: “God was in complete control from start to finish.” Amen. Thanks, Joe.

    • Lisa, your comments seem to always touch my heart.

      I love to write of redemption for the same reasons you’ve given. God’s grace truly overwhelms me…His planning and provision to bring us out of bondage and into liberty in Him…truly amazing!

      Thank you, so much, my friend!

  4. I have never thought of the story of Joseph and Moses quite in this light, Joe. It really makes sense and you tell it so beautifully. Our God is a God of redemption, yes. And he will use all of our experiences for his purposes. Fascinating.

  5. Wow! I’ve studied biblical covenants before but never considered that there was a “covenant” struck between Joseph and the Pharoah! This was so eye-opening and interesting, Joe, with tons of implications for sure! Thank you for your careful and continued efforts to teach us and reveal the truths hidden in scripture, my friend!

    • Yes, eye-opening for me, as well!

      Learning to watch for covenant terms in Bible reading has made a big difference in my understanding of scripture. A few years ago when I was first digging into this study, I was like a kid in a candy store, “Oh, wow! Look at this!”

      Thank you, Beth!

  6. Joe, your posts never fail to impress me with your perspectives. You inspire me to discover things in the Bible I’ve not considered before.
    Redemption is God’s specialty, and you’ve captured it here once again.

    • Yes, Redemption is, indeed, God’s specialty!

      This fundamental truth of God’s nature is waiting to be rediscovered over and over throughout the biblical record.

      Thank you, Denise!

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