As we begun last week with the introduction to the next section of Exodus as the people are leaving Egypt we noted God’s glorious goal, God’s past pledge and God’s immediate imminence as people of God leave Egypt. This section (Ch 13-18) focuses on the first two months of the Israelites freedom (Ex 19:1). In these two months we will see the people of God face many problems and conflicts from outsiders (Egyptians/Amalekites) but also internal conflicts from within the people. We noted last time that right at the very beginning God sent his people the long way around because of their disposition to return to Egypt. In today’s passage we see that disposition in full force as we look at the first half of the conflict the people of God have against the people of Egypt.
Turn Back (1-4)
Last week we saw that God instructed his people to head south east instead of heading directly (north east) to the promised land through the land of the Philistines (Ex 13:17). As the people last camped at Etham on the edge of the wilderness. When we read geographical places in the Bible it is hard for us to know where these places are so it often good to be able to look at a map. Now we don’t have a map, but we can understand what is happening. Between Egypt and the Promise land is a peninsula. The land of the Philistines runs across the top. What forms this V shaped Peninsula is the Red Sea, the Gulf of Suez on the left and the Gulf of Aqaba on the right. The Israelites were encamped on the top of the Gulf of Suez (on the left) they were heading into the void in the ‘V’ however at the beginning of chapter 14 they are told to turn back encamp at Pi-hahiroth. They are at the top of the V on the left wanting to go into the middle of the V and God tells them to go on the outside of the V, back towards Egypt. As we mentioned last week that God’s plan does not seem to make much sense to our human ears. Now in our lives we do not get to always find out God’s plan of Providence. Yet in the pages of Scripture we do get to see God’s providential plan in motion. IN this case, as he did with the signs and wonders, he told his people his plan from the beginning. The Lord tells Moses what he is doing and what is going to happen.
God tells Moses that Pharaoh will see that the people of God are trapped and because of their location it would be easy for the Egyptians to capture them again and defeat them. In military terms they are flanking them. They cannot go anywhere because of the sea that stands between them and the wilderness. God will harden Pharaoh’s heart once more so that he pursues the people of God. Now as we have mentioned throughout our study in Exodus God’s plan in mentioned but we also see the purpose of God’s plan is ultimately for God’s glory. We see that clearly in God’s words to his people in verse 4, “God will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host.” God has defeated Pharaoh but now Pharaoh will see to fight back. God has won, but he has not totally and finally won. God will finally and totally destroy Pharaoh as he opposes God. This is what Paul explains in Romans chapter nine, that God receives glory in destroying the wicked and showing mercy to his people.
We also see the that the Egyptians will know that God is the Lord. We will not belabor this point as we have seen it in the signs and wonders. God shows his power and punishment that he would receive glory but also that people would know who he is. Pharaoh knows who the Lord is now when he did not originally (Ex 5:2). The Egyptians will know the Lord. Now some Egyptians left with the Israelites (Ex 12:38, 43-50). God displays his power, and the response should be worship and thanksgiving. As the Psalmist writes in 9:6, “And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.” Knowing God is not merely an intellectual exercise, but a heart driven reality. God revealed himself to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that they might know him and worship him. We will see this throughout the rest of the story of Exodus. That even the people of God do not know who the Lord is. To connect this back to the instructions given to Moses about the people turning back. We might not have the detail given to us about God’s providential plan, however, as we see we might not know the reasons behind God’s providence, but we can know God who is sovereign. Martin Luther said, “I know not the way God leads me, but well do I know my Guide.” We cannot know everything, but we can know what God has taught us in his word. The people of God respond to God’s word by doing what Moses told them, they might not have known every detail or thought it through (Ex 14:10-12), yet they still did what was commanded to them.
Pharaoh’s Pursuit (5-9)
As we read the next passages, we are not surprised by what is recorded as we have been told already what weas going to happen. Pharaoh and the people changed their minds towards the people. They exclaimed, “what is this we have done, that we have let Israel go from serving us?” Here we see they are cognizant of their decision to let Israel go (Ex 12:33) but now they are filled with regret. They wish to take their action back. Pharaoh prepares the people for war, getting his chariot, his army, 600 chosen chariots and more ready for battle. The people of God are numerous but have never needed to fight any battles. They are equipped for battle (Ex 13:18). Some commentators believe the Israelites are marching in groups like an army. However, the people of God are not all ready to fight. There are men and women, adults and children, young and old. Carrying their possessions and looking after their flocks and herds. All against Pharaoh’s Army, including Pharoah’s 600 best chariots. Egypt was known for their horses and their chariots (cf Deut 17:16-17). Isaiah explains in chapter 31 that many people will go down to Egypt and put their trust in their chariots, horses and horsemen because they are very strong (Is 31:1). It is hard to find a modern-day equivalent, but quite possibly you could think of major companies such as Lockheed and Martin who manufacture world leading fighter jets such as the F-35 Lighting or F-22 Raptor. Pharaoh brings out the best of the best to fight God’s people. All they have going for them is that they are numerous.
Petrified People (10-12)
In all of this we see how the people of God react. Quiet simply they now see Pharoah and his army and his chariots all approaching them as sitting ducks. The Bible just says they feared greatly. Accurately summarizes the people. If this was a move the scene would be set as the people see a cloud of dust coming towards them, murmuring would begin at the back of the crowd until someone would scream that the Egyptians are coming. This fear would run deep in the people, parents concerned about their children’s lives and safety. They have nowhere to go danger is before them and death looks like the next chapter that will end their story. They cry out to the Lord as they did in the land of Egypt (Ex 2:23-25). But listen to the great fear in their questions, they see the next thing to happen to them is death and defeat.
“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 in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘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” (Ex 14:11–12).
They, understandably, wear their emotions on their selves. God had said they would want to turn back and go to Egypt at the sight of war and this is exactly what they say. This is no way exhaustive but here are three responses they have in this complaint; Firstly, The people blame Moses instead of trusting God. They say ‘you’ have taken us, and what have ‘you’ done. They think this is all of Moses’ doing, and it is all his fault. They have been told what is going to happen and instructions from God yet they seek to blame Moses instead of trusting in God’s word. Secondly, the people fear Pharaoh instead of fearing God. They see the army coming towards them and they are stuck with fear, understandably. As the cloud of dust comes closer to their camp they think only of the strength of Pharoah and not the power of God. They had witnessed all of the signs and wonders and thought Pharaoh was stronger than God. This will be their weakness and they will not enter the promised land because they fear man over having faith in God. Thirdly, the people seek comfort instead of finding contentment in God. They would rather be slaves in Egypt than free in the wilderness. Now granted at this point in their life it would be hard to think of this. However, they see only two options, serve Pharaoh or die in the wilderness. However, a part of their argument is that they said this when they were in Egypt. They wanted to be left alone to serve Pharoah. They would rather a life of comfort from conflict in Egypt than freedom in finding contentment in God. This will be one of the big pulls of their sins in their wilderness wanderings. They will always seek to return back to Egypt.
Be Silent (13-14)
Moses responds to the petrified people, and he tells them four things they need to do. You would think this is the time Moses starts talking like William Wallace, “one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take… OUR FREEDOM!” However, Moses turns and tells them, do not fear, stand firm, see and be silent.
The first is do not fear. A simple statement as the enormous powerful army is marching towards the people of God. Of course Moses let’s just stop being afraid. Now when we see a command like this we need to continue to read, it is not a command that makes us stop sinning or stop being anxious. When we see the command in the Bible such as “do not fear” there is always a second part to the command. Here the command, as with the others is that “do not fear… the Lord will fight for you.” The reason why they were not to fear is not because the enormous army is just a apart of their imagination, there is a real threat of death before them. The command is do not fear because your God is bigger and stronger than Pharaoh’s army. Do not fear because God is on your side. Do not fear because God will defeat your enemy. So to when we see these types of commands we need to see where we are to shift our gaze, from the army to the Lord. From the anxiety to the flowers which leads us to the Father in heaven.
The second is stand firm. Again, this is not merely a commandment to stand where you are, don’t move. To stand firm is always connected to an object, to stand on something. In the New Testament it is either your faith in Christ or Christ himself. We often read these as commandments in which we are required to be able to work it out of our own accord. Yet again we are to move to something outside of ourselves. In this case they are to stand firm because the Lord will fight for them. They stand firm trusting in God’s strength and might and not in their own ability. We can then begin to understand this principle when Paul instructs the church to stand firm and put on the whole armor of God (Eph 6:11 ff). It is not that that righteousness, salvation, faith, truth, the gospel of peace or the Spirit come from us we stand firm knowing these come from Christ and not us.
The third is see. I am sure when Moses said this people in the crowd turned around and said, “We are looking Moses. Do you not see the 600 chariots marching towards us.” Yet the command is specific, see the salvation, that the Lord will work for you today. What you see will vanish, and salvation will be yours. The Lord was going to perform another sign and wonder right before their eyes. Now, we must continue to think about this as we read through the rest of Exodus and Lord willing the wilderness wanderings. The people who do not make it into the promise land (most of them) saw the ten signs and wonders in Egypt, they will see the great salvation at the Red Sea (Ex 14:30). Yet they will have a hard time having faith in God. That seeing is not believing. Many people saw Christ in flesh and rejected him.
Finally, the people of God are commanded to be silent. Often this is not used in the Bible to speak of not speaking. But being absent, not doing anything. Often paired with cries to the Lord when believers feel they have prayed and do not see God respond. Now God tells the people that they can sit back. As the Lord will fight for them, they do not need to fight. They only need to watch as spectators. Salvation comes in the same way, as we watch God save us. As our membership vows clearly say, “Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the eternal Son of God, and only Saviour of sinners, and do you receive and rest upon Him alone for salvation as He is offered in the Gospel?” We receive and rest; in comparison to give and work. As we are silent, resting in God for our salvation.
Now this is a strange point to end our sermon. Tune in next week to see what happens. However, I think this is often important for us to consider that often we know the end of the story. We need to see the pinnacle of this part of the story. At this point all the people of God have is God’s word. They have been told and instructed at the beginning what is going to happen but that does not mean it is not difficult for them. God will fulfill his promise, that he will fight for them, they will see salvation but he has not told them how he will accomplish that. so to for us, we are called to have faith in God and what he has said in his word. God calls us to shift our gaze off what is before us and to put our faith in God or as the author of Hebrews puts it, “…Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:1–2).