CROSSING THE RED SEA
(From Crisis to Triumph)
Exodus 13:17-14:31, Key Verse: 14:13
“Moses answered the people, ‘Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again.’”
Through Dr. Jason’s message last week, we eye-witnessed God’s great deliverance and the swift exodus of His people from Egypt. That would be the one-time event in human history where the Israelites’ long-time prayer was answered in the blink of an eye. After that, God instituted the lasting ordinance so that they and the generations after them would commemorate the Exodus. In doing so, the fathers would teach their children the meaning of the redemption of the firstborns so as to remember His amazing saving grace. Today, we see a very different story from last week but in a similar spirit. We see God’s people facing an impossible situation when they thought everything was over. It was impossibility at both ends and they felt trapped, terrified, not knowing what to do next. What is the meaning of the Red Sea and what does God want us all to learn from it? May God help us to have faith in His power and overcome fears to give glory to Him.
I. The Pillar of Cloud and the Pillar of Fire (13:17-22)
In verses 13:17-18a, we see God’s gentle post-exodus care on His people, like a nurse giving a post-surgery care to her patient or a husband giving some seaweed-soup to his postpartum wife. God was very gentle and considerate of His people who just went through one of the most hectic events. He was full of understanding for them, especially, regarding their lack of war experiences. Say they would meet the bully-like, most-fearsome, Philistines as their first opponent in a war. They might be overwhelmed, change their hearts and want to go back to Egypt. That type of thing actually happened in history when we see St. Mark, who, at the very first mission trip place, because of the first time experience of fighting the opponent, desert his journey team and go back to the home church. So, God directed the Israelites toward the Red Sea instead of using the Philistine short-cut. Note that the first reason God brought His people to the Red Sea was out of His gentle care and concern. In verse 18b, we see God still regards them as His mighty army ready for battle regardless of their not being ready.
In verse 19, we see a solemn ceremony of transporting of the bones of Joseph. It is like “the dignified transfer” of the fallen soldiers at Dover Air Force Base. At the end of Genesis, Joseph made the Israelites swear an oath to carry his bones up with them from Egypt. For 430 years, the descendants of Joseph wondered if his wish would be ever granted. Yet, God did not forget Joseph and faithfully granted his wish as Moses solemnly took his bones. In verse 20, we see the second stop Etham from the first stop, Sukkoth. Actually, there are about twenty stops and God would clearly mention each and every one to show that the Exodus and the ensuing events are historical facts.
In verses 21 and 22, we see God’s presence, provision and protection all at the same time in the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire (and so called 5-Ps). The pillar of cloud could serve as a road sign or an exit number in the unchartered and unmarked desert highways. It can also provide a necessary shade for those who need some gentle care. The pillar of fire could serve as bright streetlights to clearly show them their path in the night. It can also provide warmth like a blanket in the desert cold nights and become a repellant toward wild animals or harmful insects. Note the expression that neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people. We can be confident that God never leaves us but is with us, protects us and guides us. These verses also point out that sometimes God’s detours give us unexpected benefits such as a buffer for the harsher hardships and a meaningful time of developing personal relationship with God. Hence, we do not need to fret about being delayed or being slowed down in our spiritual detours. Instead, why not finding and enjoying cloud-like or fire-like people or environment to better experience God’s divine leading? May God strengthen us to regard this pandemic as God’s detour time.
II. Stand Firm and See the LORD’s Deliverance (14:1-31)
Look at verses 14:1-4a. Here, God reveals His detailed plan to Moses. To glorify His name most and for His people to experience His power best, God would position them at the idealist location. Where would that be? It would be “Pi Hahiroth,” whose name might mean, “mouth of the gorges,” or “mouth of the canal (in fact, it is near nowadays the Suez Canal).” The name was given possibly because it was the narrowest point in the Red Sea to cross from one side of the land to another. So God was considerate of His people again so that they might spend less time in crossing the Red Sea. Now for them to go to “Pi Hahiroth,” God asked them to turn back a little bit and encamp by the sea. Note in verse 4b that the Israelites obeyed God’s direction fully. Then, God would lure Pharaoh with a false belief that the Israelites got lost in the desert and became vulnerable to an attack. The stage was set and “Operation Red Sea” was about to begin.
In verse 5, we see a great reversal of heart in Pharaoh and his officials. They just lost their firstborns through the mighty arm of God. So they felt powerless and had to let go of the Israelites out of the fear of more death and damage. As the time passed by, however, they began to miss the labor force of the Israelites. Without the Israelites, they had to do all the things themselves such as cooking, dishwashing, and cleaning along with all the major construction projects being suspended. Suddenly, they had a nostalgia attack. Then they were told that the Israelites fled, not coming back from worshiping their God. They were furious regretting what they had done and forgetting God’s power.
So Pharaoh issued an order for the full preparation of war against the fugitive Israelites. His own chariot was made ready along with six hundreds of the best chariots, not to mention all the other types of chariots. The chariots in those days were like the tanks in modern days. So, compared to the best chariots, the Israelites looked like the Tiananmen Square ‘Tank Man.’ These Egyptians relentlessly pursued them and overtook them as they camped nearby “Pi Hahiroth.” Note in verse 8 the expression that God hardened the heart of Pharaoh. We can see that even this pursuit of the Israelites was under God’s sovereign control.
How did Israelites react to the onslaught of the Egyptians? They were terrified and cried out to the LORD. Look at the blaming and complaining words that the Israelites had toward Moses, which shows their bare minimum faith. There are about four different sentences in those words, two being regarding Moses and the other two relating to themselves. They are translated like, “You did this to me …,” “Why did you …?” “I told you …,” and “I can do better …” And there are three past tenses and one hypothetical but no present or future tenses. When we hear these words, we may chuckle at their childlike thinking and saying but sometimes if we are not careful, we may fall into this kind of thinking and attitude.
In the next few verses, we can see Moses’ matured wording regarding the immature Israelites. Look at our key verse, verse 13. “Moses answered the people, ‘Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again.’” Again, there are about four predicates in Moses’ words, two being the commands and the other two being the promises. They are like, “No fear,” “Stand firm,” “You will see,” and “You will see no more.” There are two present and two future tenses. And there is no blaming word. Hopefully, these are the words that we, as the matured people, can say all the time. In verse 14, we can see that Moses had a conviction that the LORD would fight for them.
In verses 15-18, God gave yet another direction for His people. They were to move on. They were to go through the sea on dry ground. It would be very hard for them to walk toward the sea. Perhaps, the Israelites never saw the Red Sea before. They were possibly overwhelmed by the sheer size of the sea. In addition, the Israelites never saw the full array of the Egyptian military force before. That was part of the reason why they were terrified and complained big time. Nevertheless, God had an additional plan for the Red Sea and the Egyptians. He would harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they would go in after the Israelites. And that would give more glory to Him and the Egyptians would know who the LORD is better than the previous time.
Look at verses 19-20. We see that the angel of God protecting the Israelites with the pillar of cloud being the buffer between the Egyptians and God’s people. It is wonderful to observe that the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side. If God is with our side, we are to prevail no matter what.
Look at verses 21-31. Here, the details of crossing the Red Sea is shown. When Moses stretched out his hand, God drove the sea back with a strong east wind so that the sea might be turned into dry ground. According to the map, it is assumed to be about a 10 mile-long stretch of dry ground. So it would take quite a time for more than 600,000 men, women and others to cross this area. And there would be a wall of water on their right and on their left, making them in awe of God’s mighty power and a little bit entertained as if they were in an aquarium like “Chicago Shedd Aquarium.” While all the Israelites passed through the Red Sea, the Egyptians were held back at the other side of the cloud. God even slowed them down further by jamming the wheels of their chariots. It would be like “Operation Desert Storm,” where all the tanks were destroyed ahead of the main assault. Some of the Egyptians realized that God was fighting against them and thus wanted to get away from the Israelites. Nevertheless, Pharaoh was too proud not to pursue the Israelites, thinking that if the Israelites, a second-tier people, could do that why not they.
Heb 11:29 succinctly summarizes what happened next in one sentence. “By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.” Verse 31 reads. “And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.” This was the exact result and point that God eagerly wanted them to have.
Surely in our life of faith, we encounter many events that make us feel like Israel, trapped between the Egyptians and the Red Sea. In our Friday meeting, Msn. Anastasia shared how God helped her to pass through the Red-Sea-like Atlantic Ocean. In 2009, she went to Ukraine across the Atlantic Ocean with her two young children just to renew her passport. However, somehow renewing a passport in Ukraine became very difficult and complicated. So she was very busy trying this and that. Meanwhile, suddenly, one of her children got gravely ill, requiring an immediate measure and decision. By the prayer support of Kiev and other UBF coworkers and with Dr. Jason’s joining there, everything was resolved and on her flight back to US, she admitted that it was by God’s power that she could pass through this Atlantic Ocean safe and sound.
Msn. Mary Kim also shared how God helped her to pass through the Red-Sea-like Red River to come down from Mississippi overnight pharmacy to her husband’s new PhD job in Louisiana. When she felt trapped in her extremely difficult 12-hour overnight shift in her pharmacy with her lingering health issue, God miraculously closed that overnight store and instead opened her husband’s seemingly impossible PhD so that she might come out of the pharmacy alive. She admitted that she could only survive by holding on to verse 14, which says, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”
In conclusion, we learned how gentile and considerate God is when He led His people to the detours with two pillars in the desert. We can experience God’s presence, provision and protection better in the desert detours. We also learned while the Israelites showed their bare minimum faith in facing the Red Sea and the Egyptians, Moses showed his matured faith by his encouraging words. May God help us to have faith that He will fight for us and that He will lead us to the victory even in this pandemic situation.