DESPERATE SITUATIONS CALL FOR FAITH INSTEAD OF FEAR IN LIGHT OF GOD’S CONTROL AND HIS DESIRE TO GLORIFY HIS NAME
God is not bashful about leading His people into seemingly impossible situations. In this text we find the Israelites, no sooner than having boldly departed from Egypt, now pinned between the deep waters and the oncoming pursuit of Pharaoh’s mighty chariots. Not surprisingly they panic and start firing off sarcastic complaints against the leadership of Moses and the plan of God. Why has God abandoned them? Why has He put them in such jeopardy? They allow their present circumstances to erase all thoughts of the promises of God and His past demonstrations of faithfulness. They fail to trust in His sovereign control. Moses reminds them that they need to take courage; to stand firm; to have confidence in the Lord’s conquest of their enemies; and to look to the Lord for deliverance.
Bruce Hurt: Why did God lead Israel to this place which was militarily speaking a place of sure defeat? Because God knows that the place of desperation can become for us the place of dependence on Him! It is that place that we come to where we can see absolutely no way out, and then in utter desperation we have to cast ourselves completely, totally, upon Jehovah. In the place of desperation we come to understand the passage “Cast your burden upon the LORD and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.” (Ps 55:22+)
Mark Vroegop: The book of Exodus is not about Israel; it is not about Moses; and it is not about Egypt or Pharaoh. The story of Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt is meant to tell you something about God. While Israel’s suffering in slavery and their deliverance through the Ten Plagues is a significant part of the book of Exodus, the real storyline is the declaration that Yahweh (“I AM”) is the one true God. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is a covenant-keeping God, and the powerful nation on the earth will not stand in God’s way from drawing His people to Himself. God is going to glorify His name on the earth, and He will use Pharaoh and the Exodus in order to send a very clear message. . .
The consecration of the firstborn, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and especially the presence of God in the cloud and the pillar of fire are meant to demonstrate that Israel belongs to God. They are His precious possession. God did not deliver them in order to abandon them. He did not redeem them only to desert them. God is going to provide.
I. (:1-4) THE PURPOSES OF GOD BRING GLORY TO HIS NAME
(GOD IS IN CONTROL)
A. (:1-2) Israel = Sitting Ducks
“Now the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Tell the sons of Israel to turn back and camp before Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea; you shall camp in front of Baal-zephon, opposite it, by the sea.’”
John Davis: The journey of Israel up to this point was in a southeasterly direction. If they had continued on this course, it would have carried them beyond the eastern border of Egypt and perhaps into direct conflict with Egyptian border forces. Through Moses, God ordered a change of direction which to many Israelites must have seemed strange and indeed risky, for their course was to turn in a southwesterly direction which in a short time would place great bodies of water between themselves and the Sinai peninsula to the east.
Mark Vroegop: This location will become the nexus of Israel’s faith, Egypt’s defeat, and God’s glory. We can see the now when we look at the situation through the lens of biblical history, but at the time and in the moment the choice of this location must have seemed misguided or even a mistake.
Steven Cole: While we cannot know for certain where the exodus took place, we can trust the biblical account that reports the mighty miracle that God did to deliver Israel through a deep body of water that subsequently drowned the pursuing Egyptian army.
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David.: The Israelites had now completed their three days‘ journey, and at Etham the decisive step would have to be taken whether they would celebrate their intended feast and return, or march onwards by the head of the Red Sea into the desert, with a view to a final departure. They were already on the borders of the desert, and a short march would have placed them beyond the reach of pursuit, as the chariots of Egypt could have made little progress over dry and yielding sand. But at Etham, instead of pursuing their journey eastward with the sea on their right, they were suddenly commanded to diverge to the south, keeping the gulf on their left; a route which not only detained them lingering on the confines of Egypt, but, in adopting it, they actually turned their backs on the land of which they had set out to obtain the possession. A movement so unexpected, and of which the ultimate design was carefully concealed, could not but excite the astonishment of all, even of Moses himself, although, from his implicit faith in the wisdom and power of his heavenly Guide, he obeyed. The object was to entice Pharaoh to pursue, in order that the moral effect, which the judgments on Egypt had produced in releasing God‘s people from bondage, might be still further extended over the nations by the awful events transacted at the Red Sea.
B. (:3) Pharaoh = Licking His Chops
“For Pharaoh will say of the sons of Israel, ‘They are wandering aimlessly in the land; the wilderness has shut them in.’ “
Walter Kaiser Jr.: Pharaoh assumed that Israel’s divine help had run out and that they were hopelessly entangled on a dead-end trail since the desert, the sea, and marshes barred their way out of this trap.
Scott Grant: The Lord, after leading them away from the quickest way, now has the people wander in what seems like an aimless manner. He even has them turn back into Egyptian territory. Then he has them camp by the sea – a dead end. This was so that their wandering would appear aimless to Pharaoh. No doubt it also appears aimless to the Israelites.
For us, life may seem filled with aimless wandering and dead-end streets. We can’t seem to lay hold of any direction in life. What we want never comes to pass, if we can ever figure out what we want. What we try ends up failing. And we’re left to wonder, “Where is the Lord? Is he really leading my life?” Sometimes, the leading of the Lord seems aimless.
Douglas Stuart: But how could Pharaoh be expected to conclude that the Israelites were suddenly unable to leave Egypt after he had just been so severely taught the power of Israel’s God in the ten plagues? What would give him the sense that suddenly he could gain victory over the Israelites when their God had just shown total superiority to him and his gods? The answer requires appreciating Egyptian religion in its ancient Near Eastern context. To all the ancients (except those Israelites who were beginning to understand the only true God) the gods and goddesses that controlled the world were arbitrary and capricious, quick to change their actions and attitudes, constantly vying with one another for power, not omnipresent but manifesting themselves at given locations and then leaving those locations unpredictably. James could say of Satan, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (Jas 4:7) because Satan, who is finite and cannot be in all places at once, will soon lose interest in trying to tempt someone who resists him and will move on to someone else more likely to yield to temptation. Likewise, the Egyptians’ gods were considered beings who might not always be present among their people. Accordingly, Yahweh knew that it would be natural for Pharaoh to think that he, Yahweh, after having expended great effort to demonstrate his power to the Egyptians, might now no longer be directly involved in helping the Israelites so that he, Pharaoh, could once again assert his power over them unhindered. Indeed, the Israelites themselves were not above assuming at times pessimistically that they had been abandoned by Yahweh. Once again all of this was a plan of God announced in advance, so that Moses and the Israelites would not (if they could maintain their faith) be surprised and discomfited by the coming Egyptian pursuit. The purpose of the plan was to “gain glory over Pharaoh” as well as “all his army.” Previously the vaunted Egyptian army was not subject to the same sort of humiliation that Pharaoh, the Egyptians in general, their land, and their gods had endured. Now it was time in God’s plan to include the army in the scheme of humiliation. Because the Israelites were already organized as an army and needed to think of themselves in terms of their upcoming military role, it hardly should come as a surprise that God would want them to see his sovereignty in a military encounter as a means of encouraging them toward the military challenges that lay ahead for them. A military defeat of the Egyptians also would demonstrate final proof of God’s power to Egypt (“and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord”).
C. (:4) Lord = Springing the Trap
1. Hardening Pharaoh’s Heart so that He Chases After the Israelites
“Thus I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will chase after them;”
2. Honoring God’s Name through the Slaughter of Pharaoh and His Army
“and I will be honored through Pharaoh and all his army,”
Wiersbe: What seemed like an easy victory to Egypt would turn out to be an ignominious defeat, and the Lord would get all the glory.
3. Highlighting the Dominion of the Lord
“and the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD.”
D. (:4b) Israel = Carrying Out the Plan
“And they did so.”
II. (:5-9) THE PURSUER OF GOD’S PEOPLE SALIVATES AT OPPORTUNITIES TO EXERCISE DOMINION
(OUR CIRCUMSTANCES CAN LOOK DESPERATE)
A. (:5) Second Thoughts
“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?’”
Wiersbe: It dawned on Pharaoh and his officers that, by allowing their Jewish slaves to escape, they had threatened, if not destroyed, Egypt’s whole economy.
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David.: The heart of Pharaoh and of his servants was turned against the people, etc. — Alas, how soon the obduracy of this reprobate king reappears! He had been convinced, but not converted – overawed, but not sanctified by the appalling judgments of heaven. He bitterly repented of what he now thought a hasty concession. Pride and revenge, the honor of his kingdom, and the interests of his subjects, all prompted him to recall his permission to reclaim those runaway slaves and force them to their wonted labor. Strange that he should yet allow such considerations to obliterate or outweigh all his painful experience of the danger of oppressing that people. But those whom the Lord has doomed to destruction are first infatuated by sin.
B. (:6-9) Fierce Pursuit
1. (:6-7) Marshalling His Forces
“So 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.”
John Davis: The chariots were open at the rear and consisted of a semicircular standing-board made of wood. This was encircled by a rim that stood approximately two and one-half feet above the standing-board. The chariots had two wheels and were drawn by two small horses. . . they were usually manned by two men: a charioteer and a warrior.
2. (:8-9) Trapping the Israelites
a. (:8) The Chase Scene
“And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and he chased after the sons of Israel as the sons of Israel were going out boldly.”
Look how quickly boldness turned to fear and panic
David Guzik: The idea behind the Hebrew words with boldness (ruwn yad) includes the idea of rebellion against authority (1 Kings 11:26–27). The rebellious nature of Israel was good when it was against Pharaoh and all it stood for; it was bad when it was against the LORD, Moses, and all they stood for. The trouble with most rebels is that they rebel against the wrong things.
b. (:9) The Confrontation by the Sea
“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.”
III. (:10-14) THE PEOPLE OF GOD CAN SMELL CATASTROPHE
(FAITH NOT FEAR MUST BE OUR RESPONSE)
A. (:10-12) The Panic of Fear Cries Out in Complaints
1. (:10) Complaints to the Lord
“And as Pharaoh drew near, the sons of Israel looked, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they became very frightened; so the sons of Israel cried out to the LORD.”
Gispen: The narrative now becomes very vivid and gripping. As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites noticed the swirling clouds of dust and saw the Egyptians in the distance (cf. 13:20). To the east was the sea, to the south and west were the mountains, and the north was blocked by Pharaoh’s armies.
John Gill: had they prayed unto him in this their distress for help and assistance, protection and preservation, with an holy and humble confidence in him for it, they had acted a right and laudable part; but their crying out to him seems to be only an outcry of the troubles they were in, and rather the effect of despair than of faith and hope; and was by way of complaint and lamentation of their miserable condition and circumstances, as appears by what follows, which shows what temper of mind they were in.
Michael Barrett: And I say sometimes the providence of God will bring us into circumstances that make no sense to us when we examine them by sight. No matter what it is that we know to be true, when sight takes over, when we allow the circumstances to overwhelm us, to bear down upon us, no matter how well we believe and how true it is what we believe, that old sight, that old sight just begins to control us. And it brings us to despair. So there was Israel between the sea and the mountains and the chariots of Pharaoh. Barring a supernatural intervention they were doomed. No place to turn. No place to look except up. And that is what God was seeking to teach them, no place to look.
2. (:11-12) Complaints to Moses
a. (:11) Why Have You Led Us Into Peril?
“Then they said to Moses, ‘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?’”
Wiersbe: Unbelief has a way of erasing from our memory all the demonstrations we’ve seen of God’s great power and all the instances we know of God’s faithfulness to His Word.
Walter Kaiser Jr.: Moses was a much more immediate target than the Lord, so they complained to him (v. 11). Were there “no graves at all [double negative] in Egypt?” They mocked in the most satirical tone possible (since Egypt specialized in graves and had about three-fourths of its land area available for grave sites.) Then followed the crepe-hanging with its “I-told-you-so” pseudoprophets (v. 12). Suddenly the hardships of their Egyptian bondage were forgotten.
b. (:12) We Were Better Off Under Bondage in Egypt
“Is this not the word that we spoke to you in Egypt, 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.”
Wiersbe: These verses introduce the disappointing pattern of Israel’s behavior during their march from Egypt to Canaan. As long as everything was going well, they usually obeyed the Lord and Moses and made progress. But if there was any trial or discomfort in their circumstances, they immediately began to complain to Moses and to the Lord and asked to go back to Egypt.
B. (:13-14) The Antidote of Fear Requires Looking to the Lord for Victory
1. (:13a) Reject Fear – Embrace Courage
“But Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear!’”
John Hannah: Moses, recognizing that fear was distorting their memories and arousing their passions against him, sought to reassure them that the Lord would deliver them by fighting for them (cf. 15:3; Neh. 4:20; Ps. 35:1) as they remained firm in confidence. Surprisingly, as they came to their greatest moment of deliverance, the people of God were full of distrust and fear.
2. (:13b) Reject Reliance on Self – Embrace Faith in God’s Salvation
“Stand by and see the salvation of the LORD
which He will accomplish for you today;”
Spurgeon: These words contain God’s command to the believer when he is reduced to great straits and brought into extraordinary difficulties. He cannot retreat; he cannot go forward; he is shut up on the right hand and on the left; what is he now to do? The Master’s word to him is, “Stand still.” It will be well for him if at such times he listens only to his Master’s word, for other and evil advisers come with their suggestions. Despair whispers, “Lie down and die; give it all up.” But God would have us put on a cheerful courage, and even in our worst times, rejoice in his love and faithfulness. Cowardice says, “Retreat; go back to the worldling’s way of action; you cannot play the Christian’s part, it is too difficult. Relinquish your principles.” But, however much Satan may urge this course upon you, you cannot follow it if you are a child of God. His divine fiat has bid thee go from strength to strength, and so thou shalt, and neither death nor hell shall turn thee from thy course. What, if for a while thou art called to stand still, yet this is but to renew thy strength for some greater advance in due time. Precipitancy cries, “do something. Stir yourself; to stand still and wait, is sheer idleness.” We must be doing something at once—we must do it so we think—instead of looking to the Lord, who will not only do something but will do everything. Presumption boasts, “If the sea be before you, march into it and expect a miracle.” But Faith listens neither to Presumption, nor to Despair, nor to Cowardice, nor to Precipitancy, but it hears God say, “Stand still,” and immovable as a rock it stands. “Stand still;”—keep the posture of an upright man, ready for action, expecting further orders, cheerfully and patiently awaiting the directing voice; and it will not be long ere God shall say to you, as distinctly as Moses said it to the people of Israel, “Go forward.”
Douglas Stuart: From the point of view of God’s attributes, Moses’ speech alludes to five:
(1) God is a dispeller of fear, a comforter of those who are afraid.
(2) God is a deliverer from distress.
(3) God invites and expects his people to trust in him (“Stand firm … you need only to be still”).
(4) God removes danger.
(5) God is a warrior against the forces of evil.
The timing and application of these attributes are under God’s control, not man’s, but Moses could offer strong assurances to the Israelites in this instance because of what God had already said through him to them in regard to his plan to humiliate Egypt yet again, a last time.
3. (:13c) Reject Walking by Sight – Embrace Expecting Victory
“for the Egyptians whom you have seen today,
you will never see them again forever.”
4. (:14) Reject Fleshly Activity – Embrace Looking to the Lord for Victory
“The LORD will fight for you while you keep silent.”