The Cup of Redemption

Parashat Va'era (Exodus 6:2-9:35)

When it was time for the LORD to deliver the Children of Israel from Egypt, God poured out His judgments on Egypt to demonstrate His power and allow time for the Egyptians to repent. But before any of this took place, the LORD made multiple promises to the Children of Israel for what He was about to do:

Say therefore to the people 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 slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.” (Exodus 6:6–7)

In this passage, Hashem reveals four specific things He will do for the Children of Israel:

• Release them from harsh labor (physical release)

• Free them from their enslavement (legal release)

• Take them out of Egypt (physical transfer)

• Make them His own people (legal transfer—by giving them His covenant at Sinai)

These promises to Israel were fulfilled when the LORD delivered His people from Egypt. They each have a unique aspect to them and eventually became part of the Passover seder tradition. They became what is known as the Four Expressions of Redemption with each promise corresponding to one of the four cups of wine that are consumed throughout the course of the seder.

A fifth expression, however, follows in the very next verse:

I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the LORD. (Exodus 6:8)

This final promise is both historic and prophetic. It is historic in that God brought the Children of Israel into the land He promised them through the leadership of Joshua; it is prophetic because they would eventually be driven from the land but would one day return to it. Although all of this happened thousands of years ago, another prophetic aspect of this is still yet to be fulfilled. Although the nation of Israel has been reborn in our day, the government is not under the rule of the Torah, and the majority of the Jewish people are still in exile. One day, the LORD will gather them back into the land He apportioned for them and establish His rule over His people once again.

This last promise is connected to the first four promises. Hashem ends the first series of promises the same as this last promise. He concludes with an emphatic statement of his identity: “I am the LORD.” Why does He conclude each of these promises with this reminder? Because He is reminding the Children of Israel that He is a covenant-keeping God. But the fifth promise is different from the other four. The first four have happened in their entirety. The fifth, however, has been experienced only intermittently. Historically, Israel has remained in exile. Because of the very real nature of the galut (the exile), our sages were unclear how this final promise could be equivalent to the first four. Therefore, this final promise is remembered in the Cup of Elijah that sits at our seder table. By drinking the four cups and setting out the Cup of Elijah on Pesach, we testify that four of these have already taken place and proclaim that one day the last promise will be fulfilled entirely.

Two thousand years ago, our Master Yeshua remembered these promises as he shared his cup of wine with his disciples at his final seder. Later on that night as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, he prayed about another cup he would have to drink. He said, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). He ended up drinking that final, bitter cup on our behalf.

At the seder, we drink four cups of wine to remember what Hashem did when He redeemed the Children of Israel from Egypt. But in each of these cups, we should also remember that Yeshua drank the cup of redemption on our behalf, and by doing so he turned judgment into forgiveness. For this, we should be grateful and spend our days remembering our moment of redemption and working toward the ultimate redemption in which the entire world will be transformed and Yeshua will reign as King. May it be soon and in our day.