5.1. “God remembered His covenant” (2:23 – 25)
(23) A long time after that, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites were groaning under the bondage and cried out; and their cry for help from the bondage rose up to God.
(24) God heard their moaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.
(25) God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them.
(23) The king of Egypt died. The Israelites were groaning under the bondage and cried out: At first the Jews held out hope that the oppression was the whim of just one particular Pharaoh. But as it turned out, nothing changed after the next Pharaoh assumed the throne.
The Israelites were groaning under the bondage and cried out; and their cry for help from the bondage rose up to God: They did not turn directly to God, for they no longer had any proper realization of the Almighty. All they could was to moan and cry out to no one in particular. But the Almighty took into account also this aspect of their condition.
(24) God heard their moaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob: “God remembered,” means that He freed the Jews from Egyptian bondage earlier than originally scheduled.
According to the covenant with Abraham, the enslavement of Jews in Egypt was to last four centuries (Gen. 15:13). But in the end, God heard their moaning (that is, He took note of their predicament), remembered His covenant, and redeemed the Jews ahead of time.
According to the Midrash, only 210 years had passed, but those two centuries were counted as 430 years (for more on this point, see below §12.4). Because the Jews in Egypt are no longer able to endure the oppression and are on the verge of annihilation, God revises His previous plan.
The implications of this “premature Exodus” will be discussed in detail below. Meanwhile, the Torah proceeds to tell of God’s decision to return Moses to Egypt, and to change Moses’ attitude about leading the Jewish people.
(25) God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them: “God took notice” is here expressed in the Hebrew as vayeda‘. The Hebrew verb Y-D-‘ means to know, to recognize, or to be intimately familiar with someone or something. The Midrash therefore translates this passage as “He turned His heart to the Israelites, and from then on would not take His eyes off them.” That is, the Almighty has now adopted a different system of relating to the Jewish people. Instead of simply “launching a program that would drive itself,” God now actively and directly decides the fate of the Jewish people, event by event.