6. When Following God Seems Like A Dead End (Ex. 13:17-14:31)Related Media
We come to the final episode in the escape of the Israelites from the stubborn clutches of Pharaoh and slavery in Egypt. In my last article in this series, we noticed the typical significance of the Passover both for the Israelites and for us Christians. Just to review the main five points of comparison:
1. The significance of the Passover for the Israelites:
a) It marked the beginning of a whole new life (12:1).
b) It distinguished them from the Egyptians (11:7; 12:13a).
c) It protected them from God’s judgement on Egypt (12:13b, 23).
d) It was to be a permanent memorial of their redemption from slavery in Egypt (12:14-20; 24-27).
e) It was to be imbibed into their innermost being by eating the sacrificial lamb (12:8-11, 14).
2. The Significance of the Passover for Christians:
a) Christ’s death is the beginning of a whole new life (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 2:20), the demarcation between the old life and the new (Eph. 4:24; Rom. 6:4).
b) Our identity with Christ separates and distinguishes us from the world (1 Pet. 2:9-10; Eph. 5:11; 2 Cor. 6:14).
c) Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is our protection from God’s judgement (Lev. 17:11; Heb. 9:22; 1 Jn. 1:7-9).
d) Our memorial feast is Lord’s table of remembrance (Lk. 22:19; 1 Cor. 11:24).
e) Christians are those who have spiritually imbibed Christ into their innermost being by eating his flesh and drinking his blood (Jn. 6:53-56).
With those comparisons and contrasts in mind, we turn to the study of the Red Sea crossing, which similarly has great typical significance both for the Israelites and Christians, as we shall see. The primary theological truth we discover in this episode is that with God, dead ends can turn into through streets. First notice that…
I. Following God May Lead To A Dead End (Ex. 13:17-14:10a)
1. God has special purposes in “dead ends” (13:17-20). God’s road map for our lives is not always what we would choose. God does not always take us on the shortest or easiest route. Why didn’t God take the Israelites directly to Canaan? We can find four answers to that question in the book of Exodus…
First, because the most direct route from Egypt to the Promised Land would have taken the Israelites along the Mediterranean coastline, which would have required them to pass through the land of their enemies, the Philistines. Knowing how fickle they were and prone to complaints and doubts, God, in his grace, spared them from facing the possibility of war, which might have discouraged them to the point of causing them to “change their minds and return to Egypt” (13:17). And so, God directed them southeast “toward the Red Sea along the road of the wilderness” (13:18), thus avoiding enemy territory.
Second, because crossing the Red Sea was the most direct route to Mount Horeb, “the mountain of God” (3:1). Mount Horeb (otherwise known as Mount Sinai in Arabia) was the place where Moses had first encountered God, the very place to which God had promised to bring him back: “This will be the sign to you that I have sent you: when you bring the people out of Egypt, you will all worship God at this mountain” (3:12). Now is the time when God’s promise to Moses would come true.
Third, though the text does not tell us this specifically, taking this route is evidence of God’s care and guidance in that it took them through territory with which Moses probably would have been familiar, having spent 40 years in the wilderness of Midian tending his father-in-law’s sheep.
Fourth, because God had one more miracle to perform for the Egyptians and the Israelites, a miracle that would stop the harassment of Pharaoh once and for all, a miracle that would show them that “I am the LORD” (14:4), which, by the way, is the constant refrain and focus of the book of Exodus.
In this we see that God’s hand is always displayed in the details. The precision and fulfillment of these little details is remarkable, isn’t it? Just like the next detail: “Moses took the bones of Joseph with him because Joseph had made the Israelites swear a solemn oath saying, ‘God will certainly come to your aid; then you must take my bones with you from this place’” (13:19). Undoubtedly, Joseph knew the covenant that God had made with Abraham, Isaac, and his father Jacob, that the land of Canaan would be their permanent homeland, and he fully believed that God would keep his promise even though it would not take place in his lifetime. Egypt was the place through which he and the Israelites were passing as pilgrims and strangers. The prospect of Israel’s permanent home in Canaan lay ahead and that’s where Joseph wanted to be buried (see Gen. 50:25 and Josh. 24:32), for their home was his home, their resting place was his resting place. And so in this verse (13:19) we see not only the faithfulness of Moses to keep the covenant Joseph had made with the sons of Israel (even though it was long after Joseph’s death), but also the faithfulness of God to keep his promise going all the way back to Abraham (Gen. 12:1-7), Isaac (Gen. 26:2-4), and Jacob (Gen. 28:15).
2. God has special means in the “dead ends” (13:21-14:10a). In this case, the means God used were the fire and a cloud. The Israelites were not left alone to wander aimlessly, trying to find their way out of Egypt. He did not deliver them from Egypt only to leave them to their own devices as to which way to go, how to get there, and to face all the obstacles and dangers on their own. No, God himself was present with them in their journey. In fact, “The LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to lead them on their way during the day and in a pillar of fire to give them light at night, so that they could travel day or night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night never left its place in front of the people” (13:21-22). The pillar of cloud led them during the day, guiding them and sheltering them from the burning heat, and the pillar of fire accompanied them at night, giving them light and warmth. Both the cloud and the fire were a constant reminder that God was with them to guide them and protect them throughout the entirety of their wilderness journey, which would turn out to be much longer than necessary because of their own sinfulness.
God and the pillars of cloud and fire are seen as one. The pillar was in fact a type of theophany – it was God’s presence in front of them and behind them. These were God’s means to lead them into the “dead end.” Wouldn’t it be nice to have God lead us in this way? How often do we long for such clarity. We pray for guidance and sometimes nothing seems to happen. That’s when we would like to look up and follow the cloud or a pillar of fire, leaving us with no judgement calls about what to do, no agonizing over what decision to make, no need for advice from others, no questions or doubts about God’s leading. No doubts? Well, maybe. Certainly we are going to find out that the Israelites still had massive doubts.
Here's the principle: God’s faithfulness to keep his word and safeguard his people is guaranteed. This principle is so important for us today. We so easily feel abandoned by God, left to our own resources to figure out solutions to problems and obstacles. But God never abandons us, just as he never abandoned the Israelites throughout their entire history. They were his chosen and beloved people. And so are we! The God of Moses who led them through the wilderness is our God. Let us never forget that. His power and care and provision for us have not changed. Oh, I know God does not manifest himself in quite the same ways that he did back then. We don’t see him visibly in a pillar of cloud or fire and he doesn’t speak to us audibly. But that doesn’t mean that he is less involved in our lives or less able to guide, protect, and provide for us. In fact, we have the indwelling Holy Spirit with us every moment of every day. And we are surrounded by his holy angels, those “ministering spirits sent out to serve those who are going to inherit salvation” (Heb. 1:14).
The problem, you see, is not with God. The problem is with us. So often, we do not live in a daily state of constant communion with him. We forget about him. We forget that he cares for us more than we could ever know (cf. Matt. 23:37-39; Isa. 41:10; 43:2; 49:15; Ps. 23:1-3; 1 Pet. 5:6-7; Heb. 13:5). We have God’s word and we can count on it. Just as “the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night never left its place in front of the people” (13:22), so we can count on his presence with us and his power and provision for us every moment of every day.
Indeed, now, as we continue this story, we see God’s hand in another detail of the Israelites’ journey. Knowing that Pharaoh’s heart was still hard and rebellious and that he would once again reverse his earlier decision to let the Israelites go by chasing after them, God instructed Moses to “tell the Israelites to turn back and camp in front of Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea; you must camp in front of Baal-zephon, facing it by the sea” (14:2).
The Egyptians must have been surprised when they saw the Israelites turn south to Pi-hahiroth. They must have thought that the Israelites didn’t know where they were going, such that “Pharaoh will say of the Israelites: They are wandering around in the land in confusion; the wilderness has boxed them in” (14:3).
In addition to the Egyptians’ surprise, the Israelites must have been confused about why they were taking this route, about where they were going, and about how this would all end because by changing direction they were trapped geographically and militarily – Pharoah’s troops were behind them, the waters of the Red Sea were in front of them, and mountainous and wilderness terrain was all around them. But exactly who was trapped? The Israelites or the Egyptians? And who has trapped whom? Have the Egyptians trapped the Israelites? Or, has God trapped the Egyptians, not the Israelites?
Remember, God is always in control. Despite all that had happened in Egypt with the ten plagues, Pharaoh still thought he was in control, that he could outsmart God. But we know from Scripture that God was in control of everything, including Pharaoh’s heart and actions: “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart so that he will pursue them. Then I will receive glory by means of Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord” (14:4). God’s ultimate purpose is to glorify himself and he does this by revealing himself so powerfully and evidently that all people will know and must acknowledge that He is the Lord (Hab. 2:14). No one will ever be able to claim that they didn’t know.
People with hard hearts continually act in defiance against God. And sure enough, Pharoah fell for the bait just as God had told Moses, “When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds about the people and said, ‘What have we done? We have released Israel from serving us’” (14:5). To Pharaoh, pursuing the Israelites into the dead end at the Red Sea seemed like shooting fish in a barrel – made them an easy target, totally exposed, vulnerable, and defenseless. The Israelites were sitting ducks. They couldn’t escape and, to any casual observer, they were unprepared, unarmed, untrained, overpowered and outmaneuvered by Pharoah’s troops. Even ten plagues did not cause Pharaoh to consider that maybe, just maybe, he was about to enter a trap. It’s hard to imagine how stubborn and stupid Pharoah was after the devastation that he had caused and experienced by not letting Israel go much earlier. But then, such is the blindness that power and money and unbelief have over the human heart.
Pharaoh’s primary concern was not knowing God, or much less submitting to God; rather, his concern was to keep the Israelites in slavery. Undoubtedly, releasing them would cause serious economic harm to Egypt. Who else would do for him what they had done for hundreds of years? “ 6 So he got his chariot ready and took his troops with him; 7 he took six hundred of the best chariots and all the rest of the chariots of Egypt, with officers in each one. 8 The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued the Israelites, who were going out defiantly. 9 The Egyptians—all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, his horsemen, and his army—chased after them and caught up with them as they camped by the sea beside Pi-hahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon” (14:6-9).
Well, know this - while following God may lead to a dead end…
II. Sometimes God Uses Dead Ends To Test Our Faith (Ex. 14:10b-14)
It appeared that the tenth plague was the final test that broke Pharaoh’s obstinate opposition to God and the Israelites, resulting in his permission to let them go. But no, there is still one more demonstration of the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart at the Red Sea. Not only has Pharaoh not learned the lesson that God is the LORD, but the Israelites also had not learned the lesson either for, when they saw Pharaoh and the Egyptians pursuing them, they panicked. Let me ask you, if you were trapped as the Israelites were, how would you react – with panic or with trust?
1. Panic is based on illogical emotion (14:10b-12). The Israelites panicked and in their panic, trust immediately changed to fear. “The Israelites were terrified” (14:10a). At first, they “cried out to the Lord for help” (14:10b) but they didn’t even wait for a reply. As reality set in, they were overcome by fear.
Fear is generally our response (1) to circumstances (whether real or imagined), and (2) to uncertainty about the future. At its root, fear is generated by lack of trust. That’s what we see here in the Israelites. So great is their fear, that their response to their situation is thoroughly irrational (based on their previous experience of God and Moses in Egypt) and thoroughly driven by their emotions and imaginations. How much better would it have been if they had said, “Moses, you have been thoroughly trustworthy throughout the plagues and our exodus, and God has shown himself all-powerful in our deliverance from slavery. We don’t know how we are going to get out of this dilemma, but we trust God and you now for this.”
In their panic, fear quickly evolved into blame. “They said to Moses, ‘Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?’” (14:11). Panic leads to wrong thinking and wrong attitudes. Wrong thinking changes trust to fear and wrong attitudes turn fear to blame. No sooner had they cried out to the Lord than they cried out against Moses. Why did they conjure up such wild imaginations about dying in the wilderness? This is a clear indication of the fickleness of the human heart, with its constant distrust and complaints. This behavior was expressed repeatedly throughout the wilderness journey, a constant fluctuation in attitude, mostly given to discontent, despair, ingratitude, mistrust, suspicion, false accusations, complaints, and disobedience.
Blame is an awfully powerful emotion that can lead to all kinds of aberrant behavior. It’s irrational, unsupportable, and cruel. When things don’t turn out as you expected, you want to blame someone for it. That’s human nature. That’s what happened when God confronted Adam and Eve with their sin - Eve blamed the serpent and Adam blamed Eve.
In their panic, blame erupted into animosity. “Isn’t this what we told you in Egypt: Leave us alone so that we may serve the Egyptians? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness” (14:12). This is what animosity can do – distort reality. Their complaint falls into two categories. First, they accused Moses of the ulterior motive of bringing them out into the desert, not to worship God as he had said, but so that they could die there, supposedly because there were insufficient grave sites in Egypt (14:11). Really? How do people come up with such fanciful accusations? Second, they claimed that they had told Moses before that they wanted to stay in Egypt as slaves, asserting now that serving the Egyptians would be much preferred to dying in the wilderness. This is an outright lie. They had not told Moses to leave them in Egypt to serve the Egyptians at all. In fact, they were only too glad to get out of there. How quickly they had forgotten the relief of their escape. And, anyway, who said they were going to die in the wilderness?
This is what happens when panic evolves from fear to blame, and when blame erupts into animosity. Animosity changes the way you think and distorts the truth. The Israelites here were suffering from selective memory – things back in Egypt suddenly looked really good in the face of danger. Evidently, even after repeated demonstrations of God’s power in the plagues, His people (the Israelites) still did not know God and now they distrusted God’s servant, Moses, as well.
Notice that the awful conditions in which they subsisted all those years in Egypt, all of a sudden, were much preferred by them than their present circumstances. And notice the deceit of this accusation and the irrational response to their current situation. It’s one thing to be terrified under the circumstances (we can understand that from a strictly human point of view), but it’s another thing (1) to mistrust God after all He had done in delivering them from slavery, and (2) to make these false accusations against Moses after all that he had already done for them as their mediator. After all, they were only too glad to follow Moses’ instructions to apply the blood of a Passover lamb to their doorposts and lintels for protection against the death of their firstborn. They were only too glad to follow Moses’ instructions to pack up and leave after the Passover night. And they were only too glad to take from the Egyptians silver and gold and anything else they asked for (12:32-36).
Now they responded by hankering for the familiar and the routine – the “good old days” - despite the burden that it had placed on them previously. To them, anything was better than this. So, what happened to them? Why the change? How had they forgotten so quickly the awesome power of God and their deliverance from their Egyptian slave masters? How could they ignore their history - 400 years of suffering under the egregious usurpation of power by the Egyptians?
But instead of condemning them, let us look at our own hearts which often reflect the same attitudes, despite the N. T. teaching that we should (1) be content with what we have, (2) rejoice in hope, (3) be thankful for God’s daily mercies and provision, (4) trust in the Lord at all times, (5) guard our tongues, and (6) be obedient. How would you have reacted to these circumstance? And how would you have reacted to these complaints and false accusations if you had been their leader?
So, panic is based on illogical emotion, but…
2. Trust is based on godly confidence (14:13-14). Graciously, Moses responded, “Don’t be afraid” (14:13a). Moses trusted God. What a contrast to the mass confusion of the Israelites. Here is godly, confident leadership on display. How much had Moses progressed since the burning bush, where he had no confidence and was full of excuses. Moses was so confident now that he responds to their anger with absolute grace. He shows no malice, no anger, no sarcasm, gives no lecture, no rebuke. Instead he gives them words of comfort and assurance.
“Don’t be afraid” has to be one of the most comforting expressions anyone could hear, especially in this situation. I mean, they were, naturally speaking, trapped – surrounded by desert, water (the Gulf of Suez to the west of them, the Gulf of Aqaba to the east of them), and the Egyptian army chasing them. They had no room to move in any direction, so they thought. No way to escape, so they thought. How could they not be afraid?
So, what would you do if you were facing a similar dilemma? – employment problems looming ahead of you, debts piling up behind you, personal relationships in turmoil, disobedient children around you, false accusations made against you? When we are surrounded by seemingly impossible circumstances, we might react the same way as the Israelites did by complaining, longing for the good old days, or accusing others.
It’s natural in dangerous situations to be afraid, isn’t it? Fear, after all, is a God-given emotion that protects us and energizes us with a “flight” or “fight” response to danger,. So, it goes against our nature to not be afraid when obvious danger is lurking.
Moses words of comfort are followed by words of assurance. “Stand firm and see the Lord’s salvation that he will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians you see today, you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you must just be quiet” (14:13b-14). They didn’t need to do anything. Indeed, they must not do anything. Instead, they must simply stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.
When confronted with danger, it’s hard to “stand firm.” When we are trapped at the end of a dead end street, we become confused, we question God’s character, and our trust changes to fear and blame and animosity. But that’s exactly when we need to watch God act. That’s when we see the character of God displayed. The Lord is our Comforter (“don’t be afraid”) and the Lord is our Savior (“salvation is of the Lord”). That is when we need to have absolute trust in God. As Moses said, “After today, you won’t see the Egyptians anymore. God will do what He said.”
This phrase “don’t be afraid” (14:13a) has to do with not fearing what lies ahead, confident that God will intervene on our behalf, for this is the very time when doubts arise. Doubts and fears often go together, don’t they? To “stand firm” also infers patience, waiting on God. If you are like me, patience is not your greatest virtue. For many of us, waiting just isn’t in our nature. We want to do something, fix the problem, overcome the obstacles, search for a solution on our own. Sometimes it’s virtually impossible for us to imagine that God alone (without our help) will resolve the conflict, overcome the dilemma, and vanquish everything and everybody who is against us. But those are the very times we need to trust God and relinquish control to him. It’s not just a matter of waiting, but, as our text says, of standing firm – not being moved in our faith in God. One of my favorite verses is 1 Cor. 15:58, “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” That’s what it is to “stand firm” – not be moved by circumstances, doubts, or fears, but to be immovable in faith.
If we depend on our own resources, then we have every reason to be afraid. But when we know that God is on our side and that he will wage the battle for us, then that changes everything. The Israelites’ comfort and assurance was that “The Lord will fight for you” (14:14). We sometimes find ourselves in situations that we know are beyond our capability to handle, don’t we? When that occurs, we often go to other people to seek counsel and help in such circumstances. And that’s right and proper, so long as we consult the right people. But how much better, to take it to the Lord and to receive his assurance that He will “fight” for us. He will defend us and deliver us from our enemies. He will show us the way out of those circumstances that we don’t know how to handle. “God is faithful; he will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:13).
So, first, following God may lead to a dead end. Second, sometimes God uses dead ends to test our faith. And third…
III. Dead Ends Can Lead To Divine Encounters (Ex. 14:15-31)
The Israelites thought they couldn’t go forward or backward, but they didn’t know that this was a divine encounter. What seemed impossible to them was possible for God. Remember our thesis for this study: With God, dead ends can turn into through streets. When all we can do is stand and watch, God begins to intervene on our behalf.
After Moses’ words of comfort, encouragement, and exhortation to the Israelites, God gives instructions to Moses (1) for the Israelites (14:15), (2) for Moses individually (14:16), and then (3) He declares what He alone is going to do (14:17).
1. There is a time to obey God courageously. As for the Israelites, it was time for them to go forward. “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to break camp’” (14:15). Despite the dangers behind them and obstacles in front of them, the Israelites, on God’s command, were to “break camp,” to move on.
Standing firm in our faith does not mean that we never move. There is a time to stand still, to wait on God, but there is also a time to move forward. Prayer and action always go together. In the case of the Israelites, on God’s command now was the time for them to “break camp,” to move ahead. If they had moved earlier, they would have undoubtedly gone in the wrong direction. And if they had delayed and moved later, they would have undoubtedly faced catastrophic consequences.
That was God’s instruction for the Israelites as a whole. This is followed by God’s instructions for Moses individually…
2. There is a time to act for God confidently. As for Moses himself, he was to use his trusty rod once more. “As for you, lift up your staff, stretch out your hand over the sea, and divide it so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground” (14:16). There was divine power in that rod. Moses had used it before when he had thrown it down before Pharaoh (7:10), when he had used it to turn water into blood (7:14-20), and when he had used it to produce a plague of frogs (8:1-15). Now, he would use it again to divide the waters of the Red Sea, allowing the Israelites to go through on dry ground. Wow! The rod that had worked miracles in Egypt now would work another miracle in deliverance of the people from their otherwise inescapable position.
I doubt that anyone in that company had thought that this would happen! Do you see how all our plans can be so quickly set aside by God when He acts on our behalf? Do you see how all our fears suddenly disappear when God acts? Solutions to our dilemmas that we never thought possible suddenly make all our fears and doubts subside.
God’s instructions for the Israelites as a whole are followed by God’s instructions to Moses individually, and then God declares what He alone is going to do…
3. There is a time to watch God work providentially. Notice four critical ways in which God worked providentially. First, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart for the last time. “As for me, I am going to harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them, and I will receive glory by means of Pharaoh, all his army, and his chariots and horsemen” (14:17). God would continue to do what he had done before – “harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them” (14:17). Do you see now, how God’s work of sometimes hardening people’s hearts works out for the blessing of his people and His ultimate glory? God still had not revealed to Moses and the people how he would be glorified in this situation, but we know from our vantage point that he would be glorified by Pharaoh and all his army, his chariots and his horsemen being drowned in the sea. This would be God’s ultimate act of victory, by which “the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD when I receive glory through Pharaoh, his chariots, and horsemen” (14:18).
Second, the angel of God guarded their backs. At this critical moment, when they were apparently trapped and about to be taken captive again by Pharaoh and his army, “The angel of God, who was going in front of the Israelite forces, moved behind them. The pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and stood behind them. It came between the Egyptian and Israelite forces. There was cloud and darkness, it lip up the night, and neither group came near the other all night long” (14:19-20). What had earlier been their guide going before them (13:21), now became their shield, coming behind them. Now, the pillar of cloud and fire was the separation between them and the Egyptians, such that “neither group came near the other all night long.” Once more, as on the Passover night, there was darkness all night for the Egyptians but light for Israel. So, the Egyptians could not see what or who was ahead of them - it actually made them oblivious to the danger ahead. And the Israelites could not see what or who was behind them, thus calming their fears.
Only God could do that! Could the Israelites ever doubt that this was God’s doing and marvelous in their eyes (Ps. 118:23)? Could they ever have doubted that the pillar of cloud and fire was God himself? Would this act alone not have dispelled all their earlier fears?
Third, God parted the Red Sea. Moses did what God had told him by extending his rod over the sea, and “the Lord drove the sea back with a powerful east wind all that night and turned the sea into dry land. So the waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with the waters like a wall to them on their right and their left” (14:21-22). The east wind not only parted the waters but also dried out the sea bed to make a dry road. The Israelites moved forward with the massive sea walls on either side and the Egyptians followed right behind them, marching right into the trap.
I think we become so familiar with this miracle, that we fail to understand the impact and extent of it. Can you imagine what it must have been like for perhaps 2 million Israelites to walk between such massive walls of water on either side? There is some convincing archeological evidence that the Israelites crossed the Gulf of Aqaba (a tributary of the Red Sea) at Nuweiba Beach, on the eastern part of the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ReTJUL2cGro&ab_channel=DoUPray2%3F). If this evidence is correct, then the Israelites crossed over at the very point where there is an underwater, flat, wide ridge (in the midst of otherwise very deep waters), which spans the full 16 km from the western side in Egypt to the eastern side in Saudi Arabia. In any event, whether that was the case or not, the vast multitude of Israelites (with all their possessions and animals) were able to enter and cross, apparently with relative ease and speed, before the Egyptians “went into the sea after them” (14:23). Doesn’t it amaze you how perfectly God attends to the most minute details? Nothing escapes his gaze or evades his plans.
Of course, we know the rest of the story. Naively, the Egyptians followed the Israelites into the gap between the walls of water (14:23). Did they not think (1) that a divided ocean was not normal? (2) That perhaps the massive sea walls on either side posed a bit of a threat? (3) That they had seen things like this before – like frogs all over the place, locusts that ate all their shrubbery, and water turned to blood?
But this is how powerful unbelief is. People can be so blinded to the truth of the gospel by the god of this world that they can’t see their spiritual hand in front of their unbelieving face. The Egyptians were so confident in themselves that all reason was thrown out of the window. But God had already told Moses that “the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD (14:4, 18), that there is none greater than He, that he is the sovereign Lord who will accomplish his purposes no matter what, and all the earth will know it. “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord’s glory, as the water covers the sea” (Hab. 2:14).
Fourth, God confused the Egyptians. “24 During the morning watch, the Lord looked down at the Egyptian forces from the pillar of fire and cloud, and threw the Egyptian forces into confusion. 25 He caused their chariot wheels to swerve and made them drive with difficulty. ‘Let’s get away from Israel, the Egyptians said, because the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt’” (14:24-25). Before they knew what was happening, God caused their chariot wheels to swerve or fall off, making it difficult for them to drive. At this point, the Egyptians said, “Let’s get away from Israel.” So, who is afraid of whom now? Who is panicking now? “The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt (14:25; cf. 14:14). What a confession! What a realization that they were actually fighting against Yahweh himself! Pharoah’s magicians had told Pharoah that before (8:19; 10:7), but he didn’t listen to them then and now it is too late. For “then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the water may come back on the Egyptians, on their chariots and horsemen’” (14:26). And that’s what happened.
As daylight dawned, all the panic of the previous day had cleared. “The Lord threw (the Egyptians) into the sea… not even one of them survived” (14:27-28) but not a drop of water touched the Israelites, who “walked through the sea on dry ground, with the waters like a wall to them on their right and their left” (14:29). Not one Egyptians soldier lived to tell the tale and not one Israelite died, despite their accusation that Moses had brought them out to die in the wilderness. Instead, they “saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore” (14:30).
What a day that was in Israelite history. There was no doubt about it – God had done it all! God fought for his people that day. Salvation truly is of the Lord. This was a divine encounter. No wonder the author concludes this episode with this marvelous statement: “When Israel saw the great power that the LORD used against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD and believed in him and in his servant Moses” (14:31). I guess so! This was the only appropriate response. What grace God displayed to the Israelites! After all their complaining against God and his servants, God still extended his grace to them. They were his chosen people and his covenantal love for them never failed.
Throughout this remarkable and significant event in the life of Moses and the Israelites, we notice the overriding principle that with God, dead ends can turn into through streets. In this study we have noticed some very significant applications and implications for our own lives…
1. God’s road map for our lives is not always what we would choose. God does not always direct our lives in the shortest or easiest route. He often takes us on journeys that seem, to us, longer and more difficult but which, sometimes without our perception, avoid other dangers and discouragement along the way.
2. God’s hand is always displayed in the details. Often we do not pay attention to the details – either we are unaware of them or we write them off as being coincidence or inconsequential. But when we look back on our lives, we can see that in those little details, God was at work, ordering all things for our good and blessing.
3. God’s faithfulness to keep his word and safeguard his people is guaranteed. What he has promised he delivers. What he says is true and trustworthy. God keeps his word, guaranteed.
4. People with hard hearts continually act in defiance against God. The human heart can be so hard toward God - even to the point of defying God after ten devastating, nation-wide plagues! Don’t we see that revealed still today? Nations suffer extraordinary hardship, and yet the leaders do not turn (or even urge the people to turn) to God in repentance. And this is not just true of nations; it’s true in our own personal lives. Is it not true, that God sometimes permits us to go through times of suffering and hardship, not necessarily for our own personal sins, but in order to draw us closer to him? What becomes clear in such circumstances is that the people of God do not know God and they distrust God’s servants. It’s sad, isn’t it, when the people of God claim to know God but in reality they do not know him – they have not bowed to his sovereignty nor do they trust his word. In addition, they do not trust his servants. We hear this all the time in churches, where the members complain against, and openly express distrust of, the pastor and elders. It’s shocking and needs to stop (unless, of course, there are justifiable, biblical reasons). Oh, I know that it’s hard to “stand firm” when confronted with danger. It’s hard under such circumstances to trust God and others to lead us safely through. But God does not change and when he sees our fear and distrust, he says, “Don’t be afraid.”
5. God delivers his people from danger and judges their enemies. Such deliverance may not be by miraculous means, like parting the Red Sea, but He nonetheless acts on our behalf, protecting and delivering us from danger and opposition. In those times we need to “stand firm.” But standing firm in our faith does not mean that we never move. There is a time to stand still, to wait on God, but there is also a time to move forward. And we can move forward with confidence because behind it all, God is still providentially at work. Remember, God always has the final say. On His word we can place our trust for eternity. He is in control of all circumstances, working out his purposes in our lives so that (1) unbelievers (e.g. the Egyptians) will know that “I am the LORD” (4:14) and that (2) believers will “fear the Lord and believe in him” (14:31). The ultimate deliverance of believers and final fulfillment of God’s word will not come, of course, until we are raptured and transformed into His perfect likeness.
So, let us live in the good of the apostle John’s assurance: “2 Dear friends, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that when he appears, we will be like him because we will see him as he is. 3 And everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself just as he is pure” (1 Jn. 3:2-3). May we be prepared and ready for that glorious moment, when the heavens will part and we shall see him as He is. “16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are still alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:16-18).
Related Topics: Christian Life