Sunday February 18th
You know it’s not that easy to do something really big if you haven’t had some time to practice first. That’s why Moses, before he parted the waters of the Red Sea, used to practice separating smaller things, like his laundry!
So now the plagues and the Passover have ended, the Exodus has started, and God is about to do one more fantastic miracle to insure the deliverance of His people:
Now the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Tell the sons of Israel to turn back and camp before Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea; you shall camp in front of Baal-zephon, opposite it, by the sea. 3 For Pharaoh will say of the sons of Israel, ‘They are wandering aimlessly in the land; the wilderness has shut them in.’ 4 Thus I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will chase after them; and I will be honored through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.” And they did so.
Keep in mind that the unfolding of the plagues and the continual hardening of Pharaoh’s heart were all part of a bigger picture, where God is proclaiming to Pharaoh and all of Egypt who the real sovereign power in the universe is. And this confrontation by the sea is another example.
5 When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his servants had a change of heart toward the people, and they said, “What is this we have done, that we have let Israel go from serving us?” 6 So he made his chariot ready and took his people with him; 7 and he took six hundred select chariots, and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them. 8 The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and he chased after the sons of Israel as the sons of Israel were going out boldly. 9 Then the Egyptians chased after them with all the horses and chariots of Pharaoh, his horsemen and his army, and they overtook them camping by the sea, beside Pi-hahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon.
In order to get the full effect of what is about to unfold, you have to recognize the fact that the Israelites we basically on foot, with no real army, and their group included women and children, along with herds of animals.
Pharaoh, on the other hand, had an army with over 600 chariots. This was an elite fighting force. Each Egyptian chariot carried three men, so there are at least 1800 highly trained soldiers coming after the fleeing Hebrews. This is like the original “David versus Goliath” battle! And the people of Israel quickly recognized how outmanned they were. And they were none too happy with Moses about this!
10 As Pharaoh drew near, the sons of Israel looked, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they became very frightened; so the sons of Israel cried out to the Lord. 11 Then they said to Moses, “Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you dealt with us in this way, bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Is this not the word that we spoke to you in Egypt, saying, ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.”
How’s that for gratitude? Thanks a lot for freeing us from slavery Moses! Now we get to die out here in the desert!
Of course this will become a constant pattern with them – grumbling and complaining against Moses and against God.
But Moses isn’t flustered by their accusations. By now, he has learned to fully trust in God, no matter what the circumstances look like:
13 But Moses said to the people, “Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the Lord which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever. 14 The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent.”
And God adds His “AMEN” to Moses’ exhortation:
15 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to Me? Tell the sons of Israel to go forward. 16 As for you, lift up your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, and the sons of Israel shall go through the midst of the sea on dry land. 17 As for Me, behold, I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them; and I will be honored through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. 18 Then the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord, when I am honored through Pharaoh, through his chariots and his horsemen.”
To paraphrase God – “Let’s DO this thing! Go big or go home!”
And in addition to His words, God gives them a visible sign:
19 The angel of God, who had been going before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them. 20 So it came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel; and there was the cloud along with the darkness, yet it gave light at night. Thus the one did not come near the other all night.
God provides a temporary buffer zone between the Hebrews and the Egyptians. The Angel of God is identified as the one who is going to be with them.
For Example, look at Exodus 23:20
“Behold, I am going to send an angel before you to guard you along the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared.”
So while the angel is providing cloud cover, Moses obeys God’s command by stretching out his hand, with his staff, towards the water. And of course God moves miraculously:
21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord swept the sea back by a strong east wind all night and turned the sea into dry land, so the waters were divided. 22 The sons of Israel went through the midst of the sea on the dry land, and the waters were like a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.
The fact that God uses the wind to accomplish His purpose doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a supernatural event. The wind had to hold the waters back while the people walked about ten miles through the Red Sea to safety. The path was reportedly about a half mile wide and is at an area where there is a slope down to the bottom of the Red Sea and then back up to the other side. On either side of this path are the depths of about 3000-5000 feet. Quite a bit of heavenly power was needed to hold those walls of water on both sides of the escape route.
Then God sent it back again with enough force to destroy Pharaoh’s army – which is what happens next:
23 Then the Egyptians took up the pursuit, and all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots and his horsemen went in after them into the midst of the sea. 24 At the morning watch, the Lord looked down on the army of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and cloud and brought the army of the Egyptians into confusion. 25 He caused their chariot wheels to swerve, and He made them drive with difficulty; so the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from Israel, for the Lord is fighting for them against the Egyptians.”
26 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may come back over the Egyptians, over their chariots and their horsemen.” 27 So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its normal state at daybreak, while the Egyptians were fleeing right into it; then the Lord overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea. 28 The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen, even Pharaoh’s entire army that had gone into the sea after them; not even one of them remained. 29 But the sons of Israel walked on dry land through the midst of the sea, and the waters were like a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.
We are told that by “the morning watch” all of the Israelites were safely across the dry sea and the Egyptians were in the middle of trying to catch them by crossing the safe dry ground. The morning watch was from 2:00 A. M. to 6:00 a.m. so it was likely still dark, plus the Lord threw the Egyptian army into confusion and made their chariots drive crooked and get stuck in the mud. Even the Egyptian soldiers recognized that God was fighting them!
And that was right before they all drowned!
And certainly the people of Israel realized that God’s miraculous power had just saved them again:
30 Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31 When Israel saw the great power which the Lord had used against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in His servant Moses.
So they feared God with a reverent fear and believed in Moses as their true leader and God’s servant. At least at this point in time, Israel as a nation is professing faith and trust in God and His appointed leaders.
Of course we know that later, in the wilderness, they will apostatize, grumble, complain, and make themselves a golden calf as an idol to worship!
But on that particular day, things were good between them and God. Why? Because He had just met their needs.
So what does this mean to us, the church? Well, for one thing, we are specifically told that we should avoid the example of the Israelites who praised God one day and then complained about Him the next day.
Check out what Paul said about them in 1 Corinthians 10:1:6. This is a section that in the NASB has a heading over it that says: Avoid Israel’s Mistakes“For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; 3 and all ate the same spiritual food; 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness.
6 Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved.”
And now look at Hebrews 3:5-17
Now Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later; 6 but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house—whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.
7 Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says,
“Today if you hear His voice,
8 Do not harden your hearts as when they provoked Me,
As in the day of trial in the wilderness,
9 Where your fathers tried Me by testing Me,
And saw My works for forty years.
10 “Therefore I was angry with this generation,
And said, ‘They always go astray in their heart,
And they did not know My ways’;
11 As I swore in My wrath,
‘They shall not enter My rest.’”
12 Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end, 15 while it is said,
“Today if you hear His voice,
Do not harden your hearts, as when they provoked Me.”
16 For who provoked Him when they had heard? Indeed, did not all those who came out of Egypt led by Moses? 17 And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness?
So we can clearly see how the Israelites blew it in the wilderness, and that we are told to NOT be like them.
But let’s give them a little bit of credit today for the things that they DID do right and how we CAN be like them in some positive ways.
First of all, they were facing a situation that can best be described by the phrase – “Between a rock and a hard place.”
On the one side they were pressed against the Red Sea, which at that moment was deep and unpassable. On the other side they had Pharaoh and the Egyptian army, led by 600 chariots, chasing them down with the intent of killing them, or at best, putting them back into slavery.
That’s a bit like how Paul describes the challenges of our Christian walk in 2 Corinthians 4:8“we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing”
Does that describe some of the things you’ve faced in your life? “Afflicted in every way”? “Perplexed”?
Do you think that the Israelites were perplexed about why God had led them to this place? Listen to this commentary:
Instead of sending Israel directly to the promise land, God sent them toward the Red Sea. To their left and right is nothing but desert sand and impassable rocks. At their front is the depth of the Red Sea. They are surrounded by problems with Pharaoh on their back and they have little time to think and find the solution for their escape.
Did you ever try to follow God with your whole heart but you end up somewhere that you hadn’t planned to go, wondering how you got there and why in the world would God have let this happen?
But notice that Paul says we are not crushed by our circumstances. We are not in despair even though we don’t see the way out yet!
The Christian walk isn’t a smooth path where we never find ourselves in difficult or confusing situations. Following Jesus simply means that when I find myself in those situations I truly trust and believe that He knows where I am and how to get me out of there. He has a plan and a purpose for my life – and sometimes His plan involves allowing me to face challenges. And He is going to bring something good out of each challenge, because He has promised to work ALL things together for my god!
Most of you have probably heard the famous hymn ‘Just As I Am’. That song was written by Charlotte Elliott, who at one time had been very bitter towards God about the circumstances in her life. Charlotte had been an invalid and she deeply resented the limits that her handicap placed on her activities. In a very emotional outburst on one occasion, she expressed her feelings of frustration to a minister who was visiting her. He listened and was touched by her distress, but he insisted that her problems should not keep her from turning her life over to God, to come to Him just as she was, even with all her bitterness and anger. She initially resented what seemed to be an almost uncaring attitude on his part, but God spoke to her through that man, and she decided to commit her life fully to the Lord, despite her doubts and frustrations. Then while she was alone one night, Charlotte wrote about her spiritual journey in that song. She poured out her feelings to God with words like - Just as I am, though tossed about––With many a conflict, many a doubt,––Fighting’s and fears within, without,––O Lamb of God, I come! I come!
Charlotte learned something crucial about her life - that circumstances and situations cannot be allowed to keep us from coming to Jesus. When we are confused, frightened, or in pain, we must not allow questions and doubts to keep us from the very one who has all of the answers.
Come to Jesus – Beautiful Jesus!