Israel is trapped between Pharaoh's army and the Red Sea. They are terrified. Had God brought them out here just to kill them? They think they are on the brink of death, but really they are on the brink of deliverance. This will prove Israel's most defining moment in history, so let's join Stephen in this message to witness it together.
“ON THE BANK OF THE DEEP RED SEA”
(Exodus 13 & 14)
I want to turn your attention, this morning, back to the book of Exodus. We are at chapter 13, as we continue to study the progression of the children of Israel as they exit out of Egypt. And this is the first episode that occurs, in their lives, since they have exited. There are times, in our lives, that, I think, we’ll see paralleled here. Times when we are with our backs against the wall. We have a number of different phrases we would use for that experience. We are “in a jam,” “in a pickle,” or whatever you want to call it. But we find those periods, in our lives, when there is nothing, seemingly, that we can do. It may be a situation resulting from an unwise decision; perhaps uncontrollable events. And we find ourselves boxed in, wondering what in the world we’re to do. I think we’ll find the solutions, in part, as we view the Israelites as they find themselves on the banks of the deep Red Sea.
Exodus, chapter 13. Let’s begin by reading at verse 17. “Now it came about when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God did not lead them by the way of the land of the Philistines, even though it was near; for God said, ‘Lest the people change their minds when they see war,’” - or that is, the elements of war - “‘and they return to Egypt.’ Hence God led the people around by the way of the wilderness to the Red Sea; and the sons of Israel went up in martial array from the land of Egypt. And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for he had made the sons of Israel solemnly swear, saying, ‘God shall surely take care of you; and you shall carry my bones from here with you.’ Then they set out from Succoth and camped in Etham on the edge of the wilderness. And the Lord was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people.”
Now let’s stop, for just a moment, and make a couple of comments, that are so easy to overlook as we read a passage of scripture. We believe there are so many profitable things in just about every verse. In fact, if our minds were enlightened, we would find something profitable in every verse. But there are a couple of things that we would easily overlook. And the first is, the reference to Joseph’s bones. You probably studied with us the life of Joseph. And you remember, on his deathbed, he asked the sons of Israel, or his brothers, for them to take his bones with them because he prophesied, according to the word of the Lord, that they would surely leave Egypt. “And when you leave Egypt, take my bones with you.” And I felt it possible to draw, from this, a couple of principles that are so true to the leading of God. And, if you have your notes, you’ll find just about the entire sentences written out. The first is this, when God is in charge or in control, speed does not degenerate into panic. I could imagine two-and-a-half million Israelites ready to go. They’re exiting Egypt. It has been four hundred plus years of servitude. And yet, according to God’s design, they weren’t panic stricken. Enough time was given for them to go by that mausoleum, or wherever that place was, and pick up the coffin with the four hundred plus year old bones of Joseph.
The second thing that, I think, we can draw from that is, when God is in control, every detail of His promises are significant. Every detail. If I had been an Israelite, I would have probably said, “Now wait, we’re getting out of Egypt. Four hundred and fifty year old bones, who cares? Let’s go!” But God, in effect, is saying, “Every detail of My counsel is significant. Every detail.” His promise is fulfilled down to the letter.
One other comment, in passing. You note that, in verse 18, it refers to the Red Sea. That’s interesting because the scoffers or the critics of scripture or the supernatural element of scripture would say that since the Hebrew’s “yam cuwph,” it could be translated “the sea of reeds,” so what this is really talking about is, perhaps, ankle or knee deep water, a marshy place. This could be translated, literally, “the sea of papyri,” papyri growing along the banks, as was normally done in Egypt. So there really wasn’t anything supernatural to the parting of the sea with His east wind, it kind of dried out a little spot there and they went across. Perhaps you’ve heard that. And you’ve probably heard the rebuttal to that, it’s, to me, kind of embarrassing to think that the Egyptian army would drown in knee deep water. You would think they would be better swimmers than that. But we really have a hard time pinpointing where this is. Perhaps this was the Gulf of Aqaba. Perhaps, as one thinks, maybe one of the Bitter Lakes. We know it was deep enough that the people of Israel, when they got to the bank, didn’t say, “Well, let’s just wade across.” They had their backs, in a sense, to that water. God would lead them to a very difficult place, that I will show you in just a moment. But this is an expanse of water, perhaps one of the Bitter Lakes, that will take a miracle to get across. And they didn’t know how God would do it.
Well, let’s take a look at the way the Lord leads them. Let’s look at verse 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?’” Remember, he has two million slaves. This is a financial deal that he has worked out. He doesn’t pay them but they build his buildings. And now, when they’ve left, they’ve taken most of the jewelry that belongs to the Egyptians. He’s facing financial ruin. Building has stopped. “So” - verse 6 - “he made his chariot ready and took his people with him; and he took six hundred select chariots, and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them.” The officer, according to that day, would have been the other individual riding in the chariot, perhaps the bow man. And the other man would be the driver or the rider. And there they go, six hundred of his select chariots, the elite core. They’re going after this ragtag band of liberated slaves to capture them and to bring them back. “And the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh,” - verse 8 - “king of Egypt, and he chased after the sons of Israel as the sons of Israel were going out boldly. 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.” It’s interesting to note, by the help of those who know geography, and I’m dependent upon their help, that God, in a sense, leads the Israelites to an interesting position. Note verse 2 of chapter 14, “Tell the sons of Israel” - note this, in fact, underline it - “to turn back” - turn back - “and camp before Pi-hahiroth” - which is the mountain of the caverns, translated from that Hebrew word - “between Migdol” - that’s a tower. That is, perhaps, one of the Egyptian fortresses, at that particular juncture, that would impose their might upon anybody who thought they would invade Egypt. There would be a select guard on that tower watching over that particular terrain. “Take them to the mountain of the caverns, there where the tower is.” And that’s not all. To the other side, opposite it, will be the Baal-zephon, that is, the lord of the north, that vast desert region. And so there they are, in a perfect dead end street. They are surrounded by a cavernous mountain, by the desert, and by the Red Sea. And coming toward them is the Egyptian army.
Now I wonder how we would respond, being one of the Israelites? Having heard Moses say, “Let’s stop right here and turn back and let’s get boxed into this corner here.” Well, note their response. We don’t have to imagine. Verse 10, “And as Pharaoh drew near,” - the first response is fear, in your notes -“the sons of Israel looked, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them”. Perhaps they couldn’t see the soldiers, but they could see the dust bowl, and they knew that Pharaoh was sending his elite core. Perhaps a look-out had run back to Moses and said, “The chariots are coming.” Somehow they knew, they sensed and they were petrified. “And they became” - according to the text - “very frightened; so the sons of Israel cried out to the Lord.” They were terrified. Boxed in. Nowhere to go.
The second would be typical because they were not trusting God. Look at verse 11, “Then they said to Moses,” - he’s about to get it right here - “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?” And, I can imagine, whenever Moses gave the order to stop and turn around, two million people said, “But wait, Canaan is THIS way, not this way. This is the wrong way.” And, in effect, they had literally reversed the direction that would have taken them a hundred and fifty miles to Canaan. There were probably thoughts that he didn’t know where he was. Maybe he was lost. I identify, a little bit, with Moses. Perhaps you’ve been in that predicament, especially the men. You’re with your wife, that’s a mistake right there, you’re driving along and you know you’re lost. And I always know it when I start muttering to myself, “Oh, let’s see, turn left there. I turned right here. Another right.” And, sooner or later, if your wife is like mine, in fact, this happened recently, my wife comes out with the classic statement, “We’re lost.” I don’t know if your wives jump to the conclusions that my wife does but, “We’re lost.” And I say, “Well, no, we’re not lost. I know exactly where I’m going. Just because we made a couple of U-turns back there, that’s insignificant. I’ve got this sense.” And then her next question is, “Where’s the map?” Who cares about a map? Maps are for wimps, right? You don’t need a map, you know where you’re going. And then the questions cease, you know, and she says, the instruction comes, she says, “You see that gas station over there, the one we’ve passed two times in the last fifteen minutes, you pull in there.” Ladies, if you don’t get anything else out of this sermon, get this. You’re asking your husband to pull into a gas station and admit, to a total stranger, that he’s not only lost but he doesn’t have the sense to bring a map along. I can’t imagine, at that juncture, I can’t imagine two million people, “Where are you leading us? We’re going the wrong way.” And Moses says, “God wants us here.” And then they hear the rumble of the chariots and they see the dust bowl kicked up from those steeds.
And then, their blame turns to despair, third. Verse 12, “Is this not the word that we spoke to you” - “I told you, Moses” - “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.’” Do you get that? They’ve got two options. They think this is it. “We’re either going to return to Egypt, as slaves, or we’re going to die.” They were looking all around. They didn’t think of looking up. And there was that cloudy pillar that had led them thus far. You know, whenever we doubt, whenever we lose sight of the fact that God is leading, it turns to blame. And He’s the first one who gets the blame. But the problem with that, ladies and gentlemen, if you are blaming God, ultimately it will lead to despair, where you will question the roots of your faith. You will question God. You may even come to the point where you say, “God, you must not love me. Maybe I don’t belong to you.” And, you see, the thing picks up and it snowballs and we end up right where they ended up, “Oh, just let me die out here.”
But, Moses comes back and he exhorts the people. This really won’t help but notice what he says, there is a four-fold exhortation. The first is, don’t be afraid. “Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear!’” What a great leader. You see the chariots coming, your knees are knocking, and Moses’ word from God is, “Don’t be afraid.” “Moses, wake up. Rub your eyes. Can you see?”
You know what I believe, ladies and gentlemen? I think it will take two things. Let me add these to your notes. For us to not be afraid when our backs are against the wall, let me add these to your notes. Number one, it takes an understanding that things do not happen by coincidence. I don’t believe it. I don’t believe in it. Things do not happen by coincidence. Romans, chapter 8, verse 28, has been abused and misused and thrown at people who are hurting, “Don’t forget,” - “all things . . . work together for good”. And we seem to, because of that, forget it’s in the Bible. It’s there! It’s great practical theology. All things DO work out for our spiritual good, to them who are loving God, who are being led by God. It’s there. And that gets rid of the coincidences of life. You’re designed.
The second thing, I think, it takes is an acknowledgment that God is powerful enough to handle any situation. Exodus, chapter 14, the last part of the chapter, verse 31, would you note that? “And when Israel saw the great power which the Lord had used against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord”. In other words, they had come to a point where they had forgotten, this is the AWESOME GOD. The God who took on the gods of Egypt and showed His power. You know, we forget and we question, “Lord, can you handle this one?” So Moses says, “Don’t be afraid.”
I like his next statement. This is the second exhortation. “Stand by”. You could translate that, “Stand still.” That’s the last thing you want to do. You want to run. “Let’s swim this Red Sea. Let’s expect a miracle and try to walk across. Let’s hide out in the caverns of this mountain. Let’s do anything but just stand here.” You know the old adage, “Don’t just stand there, do something.” Moses is telling two-and-a-half million people, “Don’t do anything. Just stand there. Just wait. Don’t run.”
But, along with that comes a perception solution, “Stand” - still - “and see” - watch, look, note - “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.” In other words, “Just stand there and let God have a chance to do what He can do.” It’s amazing what God can do without our assistance. It’s amazing what He can accomplish without our help. What God was doing was bringing the people of Israel to a point where they would recognize, at the beginning of their spiritual journey, as it were, that He could accomplish what He wanted to accomplish. You see, it is Passover that is the symbol of redemption. That is where they became that nation redeemed by the blood. Now these are the first few infant steps of their lives. And God does the same with us. We come to the cross. He shows His power in salvation, in redeeming us. But what does it take; another week, another two weeks and, all of the sudden, we recognize that that was the starting point, that was the beginning. And God wants to reveal to them that He has the power to lead them through their journey, just as He has power to lead us. So, don’t be afraid, just stand there, watch.
And the fourth one is very convicting. Verse 14, “The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent.” We talk too much. When we get into a difficult situation, the first thing that we do is, we tell everybody that we know and then we tack onto the end of it, “But God can handle it.” Now, I’m not suggesting that if you have a difficulty that you don’t tell anybody. In fact, sometimes I’m the last person to know some of the things that happen. If you go into the hospital and don’t let me know, that irritates me. I’ll let the air out of your tires so you can’t leave the hospital parking lot, do something. There are people to let know. But, the problem is, we are so busy talking, we don’t listen and we go to everybody but the right person. He says, “You just stand there and you watch. I’ll fight for you. And, while you’re watching, just zip it up.” Because when we talk, we tend to doubt. We verbalize our doubts and that deepens them in our hearts and we begin to believe what we say. And what we say is not true.
So, God will perform His miracle and His miraculous power is demonstrated by four things. Look at verse 15, “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Why are you crying out to Me? Tell the sons of Israel to go forward.’” - now - “And 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.” - this was an option we hadn’t considered - “‘And 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. Then the Egyptians will know that I am” - Yahweh, - “‘when I am honored through Pharaoh, through his chariots and his horsemen.’ And the angel of God, who had been going before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them;” - and here’s the first manifestation of His power - “and the pillar of cloud moved from before” - the Israelites - “and stood behind them.” That accomplished a couple of things. That cloudy pillar, that was leading the people, now stopped and shifted so it came behind the two-and-a-half million people, blocking their vision so they couldn’t see the Egyptians and be even more terrified. And it blocked the Egyptian’s vision so that they couldn’t see what was going on. Because while this pillar is here, God is opening the sea and they are walking through it. And God will dissipate that cloud and move it again in front, at the right time, so the Egyptians can notice, “Hey, they’re going through the sea! We’d better catch up and follow in.” So the first is, the cloudy pillar moves in-between the two camps.
The second is, an east wind arises. “Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord swept the sea back” - verse 21 - “by a strong east wind”. It’s interesting that this was the same east wind that brought the locusts into Egypt. This is the same east wind that brought the storm upon the ship that Jonah was fleeing from God in. God uses this east wind throughout the Old Testament. This came and it dried the land; that is, that riverbed. It dried it up so that they could take their wagons and their cattle and all of the people and go through. And then, of course, the Red Sea is divided. Somehow God used the wind, as well. This is an incredible miracle. “The waters were divided.” - verse 21. Verse 22, “And 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.” Now, let me stop, for just a moment, because you have a Sunday school picture in your mind of this event. You’ve got Moses, with that long beard and that long hair and looks like Charlton Heston, you know, and he’s got his staff and he’s walking through this dry river bed and a couple of people on this side and people behind him and this long funnel of people walking through the Red Sea. You can kind of reach out and say, “Oh, look at this fish there.” And you can say, “Oh, I can touch this side here.” Well, thanks to the expositors, who are something of mathematicians, they have figured out that, if you took two million plus people and you put them in a line ten abreast and, if that was as wide as that dry riverbed or that pathway was, that line of people would stretch a hundred and ninety miles. The first person through would have entered Canaan before the last person ever got into the riverbed. Here’s the point. We have a pathway that was perhaps a mile long. The text tells us, this was accomplished during the night watch. For two million people to move through, this path was a mile, perhaps even two miles wide. And I’ll throw in something else too, as currents flow, that one wall, perhaps, either God would stop the current from flowing or that particular wall, into the which the current flows, is getting bigger and bigger and bigger. A different picture. You have wagons, you have people going through that riverbed, perhaps, a couple of miles wide and it’s all being done in a split second. GOD’S miraculous power widens this thing, not ten feet but, perhaps, as wide as two miles. And they start going through the riverbed.
The fourth miracle, of course, occurs when they get through. Verse 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. And it came about at the morning watch, that 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. And He caused their chariot wheels to swerve, and He made them drive with difficulty; so the Egyptians said, ‘Let us flee from Israel,’” - note this - “for” - Yahweh - “is fighting for them against the Egyptians.” I cannot imagine the horror of judgment, ladies and gentlemen. I cannot imagine being an Egyptian soldier, driving my chariot, with all of the confidence in the world, after these ragtag slaves, and I get out in the middle of that thing and a chariot wheel falls off. And those with me begin to bog down, as that dry riverbed miraculously begins to turn to mush. And it licks and it grabs at the wheels. And, all of a sudden, I realize, as I’m surrounded by that huge wall of water a mile away, and this one, perhaps, a half a mile to a mile away, I realize, “Yahweh is doing this. Uh-oh.” And I can imagine the mad scramble, as these six hundred elite soldiers plus the commanders make a mad dash back to the bank, knowing what’s going to happen, and they feel and hear the rumble of water. This is a tidal wave as it comes together with crashing force. My friend, this is a tremendous picture that, “I want to be part of the people led by God. I want to be redeemed because GOD DOES JUDGE.” Those who refuse His name will face that judgment and it will be horrible. The Egyptian army is defeated. In fact, we know from historians, it took twenty-three years for an Egyptian to ever come near the Red Sea. They were terrified of it because that’s where God had manifested His power on behalf of the Israelites.
A familiar story but let me draw some applications to us today because you and I, at times, stand on the banks of our own Red Sea. Let me give you three thoughts. The first is this, predicaments are designed by God to develop trust. Verse 31 says, “And when Israel saw the great power which the Lord had used against the Egyptians, the people feared” - that is, they revered, they had a trusting awe of their God, they saw it. In fact, it says in the text, that they looked at the bodies of the Egyptians that had washed up on shore. They had an undeniable, irrefutable evidence of God’s power. What would that do to you, if you had been an Israelite? Where would the doubts be? Gone! (snap fingers) Vanished! Trust in the power of Yahweh. Did you underline that, in your text, verse 18 of chapter 13? I think it’s crucial to this point. Chapter 13, verse 18, the first phrase, “Hence God led the people”. Isn’t it interesting that God led them out of Egypt and He led them into difficulty? He led them into a corner. That isn’t what we hear today. “Hey, if you’re following God, you’ll be happy, wealthy, healthy, everything is taken care of.” But yet, God walks them right into a box. Why? As one of my professors used to say over and over again, “It is because God designs to make us holy, not happy.” Oh, there’s happiness in Jesus Christ, don’t get me wrong. I love to laugh. But He has designed the predicaments to develop depth and it takes a Red Sea to do that.
Secondly, those who are willing to trust, eventually see God’s power revealed. The problem is, men and women, we rarely give God the chance. We’ve got plan A and plan B and plan C and, maybe, when that fails, “Okay, Lord, what’s the option?” We’re busy running, talking, planning it out and we fail to go to Him and trust, because I know how hard it is for us to wait.
And yet, when God’s power, thirdly, is revealed, our ultimate response is praise. Chapter 15, verse 1, “Then Moses and the sons of Israel sang this song to the Lord”. Man, they’re ready to sing! They’re on the other side of the Red Sea! And they compose this beautiful hymn, “I will sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted; the horse and its rider He has hurled into the sea. The Lord is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise Him”. Isn’t it great because when you’re boxed in, what do you think? “Boy, my God, is He there? And, is He capable?” But when He pulls it through, when you’re on the other side, then you boast, “This is my God.” I love being in that position, in that place. “My father’s God, and I will extol Him.” - verse 3 - “The Lord is a warrior; The Lord is His name.” - or Yahweh is His name - “Pharaoh’s chariots and his army He has cast into the sea” - verse 6 - “Thy right hand, O Lord, is majestic in power, Thy right hand, O Lord, shatters the enemy.” - verse 11 - “Who is like Thee among the gods, O Lord? Who is like Thee, majestic in holiness, awesome in praises, working wonders? Thou didst stretch out Thy right hand, the earth swallowed them. In Thy loving kindness Thou hast led the people whom Thou hast redeemed” - look at verse 17 - “Thou wilt bring them and plant them in the mountain of Thine inheritance, the place, O lord, which Thou hast made for Thy dwelling, the sanctuary, O Lord, which Thy hands have established. The Lord shall reign forever and ever.” When we see God move, when we allow Him the opportunity to work, and He does, you know what our response is? It is praise to God for His majesty.
I don’t know where you are, my friend. Some of you are right on the bank of the Red Sea. Some of you may be facing great difficulty, decisions to be made, and all of the details, and the questions, and the wondering. God is our God and He is the same God as the God of the Israelite. And, if we will wait and watch and keep quiet, there is no telling what His alternative plan will be, what His option is. Let’s not get in His way. Would you stand with me and bow your heads and close your eyes? We’re going to pray.