Why Jesus was Raised on the Third Day | Part 2
The Third Day in Genesis
Genesis 22 recounts the sacrifice of Isaac. After God calls for Abraham to sacrifice his son they took a servant and wood and “On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar” (Gen 22:4). It was on that day that YHWH provided a substitute and delivered Isaac from a death decree.
In the Jacob narrative Laban put “three days’ journey between himself and Jacob” (Gen 30:36). This would prove to be deliverance. In Gen 31:22 it states that Laban was told “on the third day that Jacob had fled.” Wenham notes that רדף (persecute, pursue) “is used in other contexts of hostile pursuit.”
The theology of the third day arises in the rape of Dinah narrative. After Jacob’s sons require the circumcision of the Shechemites, “On the third day, when they were sore, two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and came against the city while it felt secure and killed all the males” (Gen 34:25). We find out at the end of the story that Dinah is held hostage during the whole narrative. There was a judgment both on Jacob’s house and the Shechemites and a redemption of Dinah from her captivity.
The Joseph narrative also reveals the theology of deliverance on the third day. When Joseph is in the prison with Pharaoh’s (ex)cupbearer and (ex)baker, they each have a dream that Joseph interprets. Joseph tells the cupbearer that “In three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office” (Gen 40:13). To the baker Joseph says that “In three days Pharaoh will lift up your head—from you!—and hang you on a tree. And the birds will eat the flesh from you” (Gen 40:19). One is delivered and the other is judged.
Later in the Joseph narrative his brothers are released from imprisonment “on the third day” (Gen 42:17). Simeon, by contrast, is imprisoned on the same time.
The Third Day in Exodus
In multiple texts, Moses pleads with Pharaoh to deliver Israel for their three day journey to worship God (Exod 5:3 and 8:27); a journey which they henceforth took. Exod 19:1 says that “On the third new moon after the people of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that day they came into the wilderness of Sinai.” Thus, the great redemption, the pinnacle of the deliverance of the people of God occurred on the third day. Not only was Israel delivered but Egypt was destroyed in the Red Sea. Thus, Israel was delivered and Egypt was judged.
But not only did Israel arrive on the third day, but on the third day from then the Lord would come down from His mountain. In Exod 19:11 Moses tells Israel to “be ready for the third day. For on the third day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.” The fourth time the phrase appears in that same pericope Moses commands Israel to “Be ready for the third day; do not go near a woman” (Exod 19:15). And when YHWH comes down the text notes that “On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled” (Exod 19:16). This event is the climactic re-creative, redemptive event. It recalls God coming in the garden היום לרוח. This theophanic text makes more sense when היום לרוח is translated as “wind of the storm” as Jeffrey Niehaus has argued. This is nothing less than the eschatological “Day of the Lord”.
In 10:22-23, Egypt is judged with darkness and Israel is redeemed in light for three days. Israel “went three days in the wilderness and found no water” (Exod 15:22). But on the third day God provided a tree to throw into the water and make it sweet. Israel was delivered from thirst on the third day.
The Third Day in Leviticus
There are four references to the third day in Leviticus. Interestingly, they are all about peace offerings. Lev. 19:5-8 states:
When you offer a sacrifice of peace offerings to the Lord, you shall offer it so that you may be accepted. It shall be eaten the same day you offer it or on the day after, and anything left over until the third day shall be burned up with fire. If it is eaten at all on the third day, it is tainted; it will not be accepted, and everyone who eats it shall bear his iniquity, because he has profaned what is holy to the Lord, and that person shall be cut off from his people.
On the third day, there is judgment for those who eat. Conversely, if they eat before then, they will be “accepted” on the third day. Moreover, the importance of this sacrifice is highlighted by the fact that whenever there are serial sacrifices offered, the “peace offering” is always last. It is the communion meal shared by YHWH and Israel.
The Third Day in Numbers
In Numbers 10, the glory cloud lifts and Israel leaves Sinai. 10:33 says that “they set out from the mount of the LORD three days’ journey. And the ark of the covenant of the LORD went before them three days’ journey, to seek out a resting place for them.” Just as it took three days to get to Sinai, so the journey out was three days. While the text does not say that the resting place was found on the third day, there is still a connection made between the ark going out three days and rest.
Numbers 33 retells the journeys of Israel from Egypt. 33:5-33 constitutes a pericope. This is indicated by the concentrated use of נסע (set out). Every verse from 5 to 33 begins with Israel setting out (ויסעו) and tells where they camped (ויחנו). Verse 8 is the only one in the series of twenty-nine that points out a length of journey. The text says “And they set out from before Hahiroth and passed through the midst of the sea into the wilderness, and they went a three days' journey in the wilderness of Etham and camped at Marah.” As we saw in our exegesis of Exodus, at Marah Israel was delivered on the third day. Moses thought it theologically significant enough to note the three days journey to Marah where a third day deliverance happens.
The Third Day in Joshua
At the opening of Joshua he announces to Israel that they must “Prepare your provisions, for within three days you are to pass over this Jordan to go in to take possession of the land that the LORD your God is giving you to possess” (1:11). In three days God was going to gift Israel with the land.
In the next chapter, two men were sent into the land to spy it out. They hid at Rahab’s house wherein she instructed them “Go into the hills, or the pursuers will encounter you, and hide there three days until the pursuers have returned. Then afterward you may go your way" (2:16). This was because the King of Jericho had called for the lives of the spies (2:2-3). The text then relates the deliverance of the spies: “They departed and went into the hills and remained there three days until the pursuers returned, and the pursuers searched all along the way and found nothing” (2:22).
In chapter 3, Israel draws up to the Jordan River about to enter the land. The text says that “At the end of three days the officers went through the camp and commanded the people, ‘As soon as you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God being carried by the Levitical priests, then you shall set out from your place and follow it’” (3:2). While Joshua says to Israel that “tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you” (3:5), the victory of Israel started on the third day. This is indicated by when “The LORD said to Joshua, "Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel” (3:7).
Finally, chapter 9 records the Gibeonite deception. After Israel has been deceived 9:16-17 says that “At the end of three days after they had made a covenant with them, they heard that they were their neighbors and that they lived among them. And the people of Israel set out and reached their cities on the third day.” On that same day Joshua discovers the deception and curses the Gibeonites: “Now therefore you are cursed, and some of you shall never be anything but servants, cutters of wood and drawers of water for the house of my God” (9:23). We see in the book of Joshua, Israel receiving victory on the third day and Israel’s enemies being cursed on the third day.
The Third Day in Judges
In Judges 20, Israel fights against Benjamin. Verse 30a states that “the people of Israel went up against the people of Benjamin on the third day.” That same day “The Lord defeated Benjamin before Israel” (20:35). Israel was given victory on the third day while Benjamin received judgment.
The Third Day in Ruth
Although neither of our key phrases appears in Ruth, deliverance does happen on the third day as the structure indicates. The text is explicit about marking days. Chapter 1 serves as the introduction to the book that sets up the problem. Ruth lost her husband and thus is left with no seed. The remaining three chapters comprise one narrative section. On the first day Ruth gleans in the field and meets Boaz. The first day is bracketed by two phrases: v. 7, הבקר (the morning) and v. 17, עד־הערב (until evening). This first encounter with Boaz is the first day. 2:23 says that Ruth gleaned “until the end of the barley and wheat harvests.” This does not mitigate the strength of the argument because the text of Ruth narrates three distinct days. That there are months in between the days are irrelevant to the narrator’s structuring of three narrative days.
The second day is indicated by הלילה (This night) in v. 2 and עד־הבקר (until morning) in v. 14. The second day is Ruth’s second encounter with Boaz on the threshing floor.
The third day is indicated at the end of chapter 3. 3:14 says that Ruth “lay at his feet until the morning, but arose before one could recognize another.” This new day is continued into the next chapter without any further chronological indication. It is on this third day that Boaz becomes Ruth’s גאל (kinsmen-redeemer) Ruth is redeemed, delivered on the third day.
The Third Day in Samuel
In 1 Sam 9 Saul has been sent out to retrieve his father’s donkeys. Saul then meets Samuel and Samuel says, “As for your donkeys that were lost three days ago, do not set your mind on them, for they have been found” (9:20). It is that same day that Saul is anointed King.
1 Sam 20 is in the middle of David and Saul’s contestation. David meets Jonathan and complains and wonders why his father seeks David’s life. David concocts a plan wherein he will not attend Saul’s feast and hide in a field “until the third day” (20:5). Depending on Saul’s positive or negative response, Jonathan will go to David and related to him Saul’s response. The third day meeting between David and Jonathan is recorded three times (20:5, 12, 19). There are also two markers that heighted the third day deliverance. 20:27 says “on the second day, they day after the new moon, David’s place was empty” and 20:34 says “And Jonathan rose from the table in fierce anger and ate no food the second day…” And it was on the third day that Jonathan comes to David, relates Saul’s anger, and David flees and is thus delivered from Saul’s wrath.
In 1 Sam 30, the Amalekites make a raid against Israel. 30:1 states that “Now when David and his men came to Ziklag on the third day, the Amalekites had made a raid against the Negeb and against Ziklag.” Given the third-day pattern that has already been established, this is a literary foreshadowing of the judgment of the Amalakites that will transpire later in the chapter and the redemption of Israel’s wives.
Also in 1 Sam 30, Israel encounters a hungry Egyptian whom David feeds. The text says that “when he had eaten, his spirit revived, for he had not eaten bread or drunk water for three days and three nights” (30:12).
In 2 Sam 1:2, “on the third day, behold, a man came from Saul’s camp, with his clothes torn and dirt on his head.” This man declares to David of the death of Saul. While David mourns, David and his men are delivered from the violence of Saul and his men. Furthermore, this third day constitutes judgment against the wickedness of Saul.
The Third Day in Kings
1 Kings 3 records Solomon’s judgment on the two prostitutes arguing over a child. The author says that “on the third day” the deceiving prostitute kills her child. Thus, this judgment falls upon her “on the third day.”
The second instance of “third day” theology in 1 Kings the narrative of Rehoboam and Jeroboam. Rehoboam goes to Shechem with the intent of becoming king. While there, Jeroboam and all the people of Israel implored Rehoboam, “Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke on us, and we will serve you” (12:4). Rehoboam replied, “Go away for three days, then come again to me” (12:5). In 12:12 the text twice reminds the reader of the “third day” imperative as a means of emphasis: “So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam the third day, as the king said, ‘Come to me again the third day.’” Rehoboam rendered his “third day” verdict: “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions’” (12:14). The writer then comments that this happened because “it was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that he might fulfill his word” (12:15).
Concerning the same narrative, the Chronicler adds that “Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day” (2 Chron 10:19). If we combine the two accounts, Israel is in rebellion and God planned punishment for them under Rehoboam. It is on the third day that Israel is judged.
The Third Day in Ezra-Nehemiah
After Darius decreed that the Jews rebuild the temple, the text says that the “house was finished on the third day” (6:15). The erection of the temple was a sign of the deliverance of Israel from exile.
When Ezra and the Levites returned from exile they “came to Jerusalem, and there we remained three days” (8:32). Nehemiah also recalls his residence in Jerusalem for “three days” (2:11). Once again, the “three days” are emblematic of the release of the Jews from exile.
In chapter 10, “a proclamation was made throughout Judah and Jerusalem to all the returned exiles that they should assemble at Jerusalem” (10:7). The consequence is enumerate in the next verse: “if anyone did not come within three days, by order of the officials and the elders all his property should be forfeited, and he himself banned from the congregation of the exiles” (10:8). Judgment is enacted after three days and ironically exiled from the congregation.
The Third Day in Esther
After Esther decides to petition the King for Jews, she sends a message to the people saying, “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day . . . . Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish” (4:16-17). It is after three days that Esther will have her life and death confrontation with the king. 5:1 begins the narrative of Esther before the king. The author reminds the reader when this meeting was taking place: “On the third day Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the king’s palace” (5:1). It is that day that Esther finds favor with the King. Esther is delivered on the third day. Also, this is the hinge point in Esther. This is the beginning of the deliverance of Jews.
The Third Day in Hosea
Hosea prophecies the restoration of Israel in chapter 6. In 6:2 it says that “After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.” The deliverance of Israel will be on the third day through their resurrection.
The Third Day in Jonah
Jonah rejected God’s call and fled in the opposite direction. God sent a big fish to swallow Jonah. In 1:17 it says that “Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” Jonah was delivered from the fish after three days.
After God changes Jonah’s mind, Jonah goes to Ninevah. The text indicates that it was a “three days’ journey in breadth” (3:3b). The deliverance after three days was poetically established in 1:17 as the time for deliverance. Thus, 3:3b emblematically foreshadows the deliverance of Ninevah.