Through the Waters Today we come to the key event of the Hebrew

Through the Waters
Today we come to the key event of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament, the exodus. The exodus is the
defining event for Israel, for in it God delivers his people from slavery in Egypt through the waters of the
Red Sea, or as it is more properly to be translated, the Sea of Reeds (Hebrew, Yam Suph). It is there that
the Israelites, who have escaped Egypt and are now hemmed in by approaching armies and a raging sea,
seem to be without hope; it is there that God fights for them to deliver them through the waters.
The idea of people being hemmed in by approaching enemies who then escape by water is a fairly
common one in the movies. One thinks of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, who jump off a cliff into
a raging river below to escape capture, or Harrison Ford who as Dr. Richard Kimble in “The Fugitive”
jumps off a dam into the waters far below to escape capture when the prison bus he’s riding in is hit and
overturns, setting him free. As unlikely as those occurrences would be, the exodus is far different, for in
the exodus the people do not jump anywhere. They walk through the waters as on dry ground while the
waters then swallow up the pursuing Egyptian armies and destroy them. In the exodus, God fights for
his people and distinguishes them by miraculously bringing them through the waters.
By the way, speaking of movies, a new movie about Moses and the exodus will be in theaters December
12 entitled “Exodus: Gods and Kings”. My wife and I saw trailers for the movie when at the theater
recently for another movie and, while I cannot say how biblically faithful the movie will be based on
these brief trailers, it looks to be, quite literally, “epic”! Polls indicate that more Americans and more
Christians are likely to see the film if it is thought to be biblically accurate. I hope for all concerned it is.
While it is encouraging to see Hollywood taking up more biblical themes, one always wonders how the
biblical message will be presented. It may provide a good basis for talking with people about your faith.
Last week we looked at the Passover, when the Israelites were commanded by God to sacrifice an
unblemished male lamb and eat it in a certain fashion with their families, taking some of the blood of
the lamb and putting it on the doorposts and lintels of their homes, so that when the Lord passed
through Egypt in the final plague, killing all of the firstborn of Egypt, he would “pass over” the Israelites
and not judge them. This was a foreshadowing of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, whose sacrifice for us is
recalled each time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. With that last plague God brought his people out of
Egypt (Exod. 12:51) and continued to go before them in the wilderness: “the Lord went in front of them
in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light,
so they might travel by day and by night” (Exod. 13:21). God led the people by way of the Red Sea to
avoid the Philistines, though that way was nearer, because God knew the people might wish to return to
Egypt if they had to face war (Exod. 13:17). So, instead, “God led the people by a roundabout way of the
wilderness toward the Red Sea” (13:18), though, as Pharaoh drew near and the Israelites feared, they
cried out to the Lord and then 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?”
(14:10-11). God has just miraculously delivered this band of slaves from the greatest empire of the day,
after having scourged Egypt with ten plagues of overwhelming ferocity, and now where is their faith?
They cry to the Lord, but their cry is probably similar to their fickle taunt of Moses, God’s spokesperson,
asking why he did this to them! It reminds me of the woman who is dealing with birth pangs and
screams at her husband, “you did this to me”! What he had done was love her and together God
created new life within her that she must now bring forth “in pain,” just as God had said in Gen. 3:16.
All Moses had done was act as God’s messenger and now and throughout their time in the wilderness
this people will complain against him and want to return to Egypt. God had shown love for his people
Israel in delivering her and now she was complaining as this new nation is birthed out of Egypt. God can
do amazing things in and through us, but sometimes it will challenge us and even discomfort us.
“But 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. The Lord
will fight for you, and you have only to keep still” (14:13-14). That was a very magnanimous response,
given how the people were chiding Moses. It is also very forbearing of God. God puts up with an awful
lot from each of us, doesn’t he? It seems to me, then, that we ought to be willing to put up with each
other a bit more than we do sometimes. We are to bear with one another in love (Eph. 4:2), not
demand our rights, but try to be patient with one another and seek what is best for all concerned. That
is the basis for the unity God wants us to seek as his people. Seeking our own interests is divisive.
God has promised to fight for his people here: “you have only to keep still.” That’s a nice way of putting
what might colloquially be put, as The Message has it, “GOD will fight the battle for you. And you? You
keep your mouths shut!” Stop yapping and move forward. Or, as the New Living Translation puts it,
“The LORD himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.” As the Brits like to say, “keep calm and carry on.”
Why do I make so much of this? Because we are so good at talking things to death sometimes and not
so good at doing much about it. God has said he’ll fight for us, but we still need to move into position.
Standing around talking while the commander is leading the charge is tantamount to rebellion.
Presbyterians, in particular, are good at “studying” things that Scripture is quite clear about and some,
I’m convinced, just like to hear themselves talk at presbytery meetings, but if what they say is contrary
to the plain and systematic teaching of Scripture, they are fighting against God. Just as there were
Israelites in Egypt, so, my friends, there are also Egyptians in Israel. They are not all Israel who are of
Israel, the apostle Paul says in Romans. He is a Jew who is one inwardly and circumcision is of the heart
by the Spirit (Rom. 2:28-29). He is speaking of new birth, of applying the blood of the lamb of God to
our lives and being delivered from the plagues of judgment God would bring on the disobedient.
When Moses then lifts up his staff and stretches it over the sea to divide it, we recall Charlton Heston, as
Moses in Cecil B. de Mille’s The Ten Commandments right? In a 2011 Christianity Today remembrance,
Heston’s son Fraser (baby Moses in the movie), said his dad “believed in all the fundamental Christian
values, and he just loved the stories from the Bible. As he said, they were the greatest stories ever told.”
Amen to that! You know what happens next. The pillar of cloud, representing the angel of God, moves
from in front of the “Israelite army” (14:19) to a place behind them, coming “between the army of Egypt
and the army of Israel”; note, we’re all in one or the other. I hope we’re all in the Lord’s army, but that
means fighting with him, for him, not against him. God by the pillar of cloud and fire distinguishes
between the world of human empires and the kingdom of his own people. Then Moses stretched out
his hand over the sea and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, turning the sea
into dry land for the people of God to cross. “The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters
forming a wall for them on their right and on their left” (14:22). They are delivered through the waters
in a picture the apostle Paul uses to speak of baptism: “All passed through the sea, and all were
baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Cor. 10:1-2). “Nevertheless,” Paul continues, “God
was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness” (10:5). He tells us
these things happened to them as examples, “so that we might not desire evil as they did” in becoming
idolaters and sexually immoral (10:6-8). Yes, God destroyed the Egyptian army that came next, clogging
their wheels and drowning them all in the sea, so “not one of them remained” (Exod. 14:28). We don’t
know where this event occurred exactly; there are indications of both four and six spoke chariot wheels,
as were used in Egypt around this time, at the bottom of the Sea of Aqaba, between the Sinai Peninsula
and what is now Saudi Arabia. The exodus really did happen, and the pursuing Egyptians were all killed.
They never mention any of this in their records, of course—why would they?! How humiliating for the
greatest empire of the day to be defeated by a motley band of slaves! It’s not the numbers of people,
but the power of God, that makes the difference. But what of the Israelites who made it through the
waters, only to be killed in the wilderness for their disobedience? The Egyptians in Israel, those who are
disobedient in the church today, should beware. Water points to judgment as well as to deliverance.
Follow the Lord all the way through the waters and through the wilderness of life to the Promised Land.