Rescue at the Sea
Exodus 14:5-7, 10-14, 21-29
(watch here: https://youtu.be/2wgLxHj9wW4)
5When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, the minds of Pharaoh and his officials were changed towards the people, and they said, ‘What have we done, letting Israel leave our service?’ 6So he had his chariot made ready, and took his army with him; 7he took six hundred picked chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them.
10As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. 11They said to Moses, ‘Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? 12Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, “Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians”? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.’ 13But Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. 14The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.’
21Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. 22The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. 23The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. 24At the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. 25He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, ‘Let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.’
26Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers.’ 27So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the Lord tossed the Egyptians into the sea. 28The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. 29But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.
This week’s reading reminds me of the funny one about a newly converted Christian who was sitting on a bench one day waiting on a bus and reading his Bible while he was waiting. Every now and then he would exclaim, “Alleluia! Praise the Lord!” A skeptic over heard his comments and came over to ask him what he was reading. He answered, “I’m reading how God parted the Red Sea and led the Israelites through. What a miracle!” The skeptic explained, “Don’t believe everything the Bible tells you, son, for example that sea is only 6 inches deep, so it really wasn’t a miracle.” The convert nodded his head in disappointment and kept on reading as the skeptic walked away feeling kind of proud of himself for setting the convert straight. All of a sudden the skeptic heard the convert let out a huge “ALLELUIA! PRAISE THE LORD!” At this the skeptic walked back to the convert and asked him, “What is it this time?” The convert said excitedly in one breath, “This time it IS a miracle! God just drowned the entire Egyptian Army in 6 inches of water!”
The convert has a great point though. If we can explain the logistics of parting a sea, then how can we explain the sea killing so many Egyptians? There are multiple parts to the miracle. We might understand one part but can be completely baffled by another part. Truth be told, it’s hard not to be skeptical of this miraculous event in scripture. By all historical or mythical or folkloric accounts, God has never parted any large bodies of water before or since this event. We can’t compare it to other similar events so our understanding of it is minimal at best. We simply don’t know how God was able to separate the waters and bring them back together with fatal consequences for the Egyptians. It’s simply an amazing account of God’s mighty power.
And perhaps that is its purpose. Whether we believe this event could actually happen as portrayed in scripture is beside the point. God’s mighty act of redemption and wrath reveals a God whose power is unrivaled. Our God is a mighty God and woe to those who try to ignore him or dismiss his Word! Our God will not be ignored or dismissed! Pharaoh and his fellow leaders were fools to believe they could exert their will against God’s will. It was God’s will that his people were to be set free. Not Moses’ will, not Aaron’s will, not anyone else who tried to convince Pharaoh to set the Israelites free. And Pharaoh refused to believe it. Or maybe he couldn’t accept or envision an Egypt without its slaves. What would Egypt be without its slaves? How could all of Pharaoh’s self-glorifying projects get completed if not from the backs of Egypt’s slaves? No, Pharaoh couldn’t or wouldn’t accept such a future. So he foolishly sent his chariots to their deaths in a vain attempt to exert his power over God.
Above all, the event is yet another witness to God’s sure and steadfast glory. These last few weeks our readings have had us dwell in God’s glory. We first witnessed it in God’s promise to Noah to never again send a cataclysmic flood to destroy his creation. Then we saw it in God’s promise of many descendants and a great name to Abraham. God remained with Joseph through all his unjust treatment, transforming wickedness into opportunities for God’s glory to be revealed. This week we see God using Moses as an instrument for saving his beloved people and condemning the hard-hearted. As promised to Abraham before them, God promised Moses and the Israelites a great land freed from slavery. And as we’ve seen with Noah and Abraham, God is faithful in keeping his promises. God is faithful in keeping his promise to Moses. Recall how Moses met with God on Mt. Sinai long before the great exodus out of Egypt. There was just a frightened Moses standing before the Burning Bush. Earlier in Exodus 3, God said, “I have seen how cruelly my people are being treated in Egypt; I have heard them cry out to be rescued from their slave drivers. I know all about their sufferings, and so I have come down to rescue them from the Egyptians and to bring them out of Egypt to a spacious land, one which is rich and fertile and in which the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites now live.” But Moses was unsure of his role in helping God in this plan. Moses said to God, “I am nobody. How can I go to the king and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” God goes on to respond, “I will be with you, and when you bring the people out of Egypt, you will worship me on this mountain. That will be the proof that I have sent you.” God made two promises with Moses, one to set his oppressed people free and one to be with Moses through the grand exodus. At the Red Sea, God definitively kept those promises. He definitively set the Israelites free, once and for all, and He did so through Moses. Just as He was with Joseph in his trials, so, too, was God with Moses in his trials. God was hard at work making the impossible possible, turning a hopeless situation into a hopeful one. Yet again, God remained faithful to his Word and kept his promises.
We remember these early stories from the Bible because they reveal the character and faithfulness of God. I’ve been trying to highlight God’s faithfulness through these stories. Yes, the faiths of Noah, Abraham, Joseph, and Moses were impressive but ultimately pale in comparison to the faithfulness of our God. Moses sang of God’s faithfulness in Deuteronomy when he wrote, “Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who maintains covenant loyalty with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations.” (7:9) Moses knew of God’s faithfulness firsthand. And David similarly sang in Psalm 119, “your faithfulness endures to all generations; you have established the earth, and it stands fast.” (vs. 90) The world around Moses and the fleeing Israelites may have been upturned but God’s love and protection held fast. So, too, does it hold fast for you and me! God promises to walk with us through all the joys and sorrows of life in this world. Our worlds may, at times, be upended but God’s love is steadfast and true. Numbers 23:19 reads,
“God is not a human being, that he should lie, or a mortal, that he should change his mind. Has he promised, and will he not do it? Has he spoken, and will he not fulfil it?”
I love stories like this one because they reveal not only great, faithful men and women from the past but also the degree of God’s faithfulness to us. Over and over again, God does some pretty amazing things for those He loves. I mean, God parted a sea and killed hundreds of oppressors for those He loved! Don’t think that God won’t go to such miraculous lengths for you and me! He already has…by sending his Son to the cross on our behalf! Our God is an awesome God! Our God is a faithful God! 1 Kings 8:56 reads, “Blessed be the Lord, who has given rest to his people Israel according to all that he promised; not one word has failed of all his good promise, which he spoke through his servant Moses.” Let us rejoice in our God who is mighty in faith and generous in love. He is the greatest miracle of all! Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.