August 12 & 13, 2017 Pentecost 10 (Moses Series #7)
Exodus 14: 5-31
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
After having ignored his family for the past two years due to his busy work schedule, his wife was leaving him, and his children didn’t even seem to like him. Even with all of his promotions at work, he was miserable. So there he stood on the edge of the roof of the office building contemplating one final jump to finish it all. As his eyes gazed downward, he couldn’t but help wonder to himself, “How could things have gone so wrong so fast?”
It didn’t take long for the Israelites to find themselves in a similar situation. The Egyptians—all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, horsemen and troops all pursued the Israelites and overtook them as they camped by the sea near Pi Hahiroth, opposite Baal Zephon. (Ex 14:9) In several days at most, they went from being ecstatic about leaving Egypt, rejoicing in their freedom, to being surrounded by water, hills, and the Egyptian army. They were on the brink of disaster. Today God puts the Israelites’ shoes on our feet, leads us to the edge, and says, “Have a look!” He shows us what life is like Standing on the Edge of Disaster.
Following the Passover plague, with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, the LORD was leading the Israelites back and forth through far eastern Egypt, only to have them end up trapped by the Egyptian army. So how did the Israelites respond? “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” (Ex 14:11-12) When the Israelites were led to the edge of disaster, they started complaining big time, wishing they had never followed Moses in the first place.
The Israelites didn’t realize what God says about life. Psalm 23 says that life with God isn’t all green pastures. He also leads us through the valley of the shadow of death. And the real temptation comes after we do go down that valley and end up suffering for it. The Israelites wondered, “Why in the world did we follow this cloud? We’re just going to get slaughtered for it. We should have stayed in Egypt.” This is where the real temptation hits us. Remember when Potiphar’s wife made advances at Joseph. He resisted. But where did it get him? A couple years in prison. Do you think that Joseph ever said to himself, “What good did that do me?” That’s where the even greater temptation is. Instead of being happy about having resisted the temptation we become angry because of the results of it. When following God doesn’t seem to pay off, we feel like we’ve been cheated. Teens become angry with God when they lose boyfriends or popularity due to refusing to have sex. Adults become angry because the system they live under rewards cheats instead of hard working people. We get upset and are tempted to leave the narrow path because there doesn’t seem to be any rewards. We forget that God doesn’t promise all green pastures in this life. He talks about the crosses we have to bear.
How did God respond to the Israelites? Moses said to them, “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. The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” (Ex 14:13-14) Be still. It sounds so easy. Don’t worry. Don’t complain. As a matter of fact, don’t do anything. The Israelites must have thought, “We have to do something. We have got to hide.” God said, “No, do nothing. Be still.”
When it comes to being saved, this is the principle that God lives by. You must do nothing, God must do everything. Why? Because we don’t have the power to save ourselves. We’re born dead in sin. God doesn’t just say to be good, but to “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) God’s Word says that he hates all who do wrong. This paints us into a corner and makes us say, “Then God must hate me.” So this drives us to the edge of disaster, surrounded by God’s law and God’s wrath, because we realize we can’t be perfect. Then, God says that “the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 3:23) This final blow comes at us like the Egyptian army and leads us to the edge of despair. We are surely headed to hell. And what can we do? God says that we can do nothing but “be still.” It doesn’t seem to make sense. We got ourselves in this mess, but we can’t do anything to get out of it? Can’t we at least run? Fight? Something? No, God says, “Be still. You must do nothing.”
The Israelites sat still, and Moses prayed. How did God answer? Then the LORD said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. (Ex 14:15-16) It would have seemed crazy to any rational human being. What good is this staff going to do? If I hit the water, it’s not going to do much of anything. You would think God would give him a magical scoop shovel, but a staff?
God continues to use seemingly foolish things to save us from pending disaster. If you want to win souls he says, “Pour some water on a child and say, ‘I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,’ and that will save him from an eternity in hell.” He says, “Open up the Bible and talk about a Jesus who lived and died over 2,000 years ago, and those words will change a person forever.” Any logical person would say, “What kind of power is in that old book? What kind of life do you find in that old water? It doesn’t make sense. This Christianity tells people they are all sinners on the way to hell, but then it offers these goofy ways to be saved, through water and the Word, through a guy who lived and died thousands of years ago? What kind of a religion is this?”
Against all logic, Moses raised God’s staff over the water. With nowhere else to go, the people sat still. And God did miraculous things. The story continues on: Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long. Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the LORD drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. (Ex 14:19-22)
Jesus Christ was the angel who was in that cloud. He provided darkness to the Egyptians and light to the Israelites, guiding them across the Red Sea on dry ground. With Jesus Christ behind them and a powerful wind in front of them, God split the Red Sea in two. That whole evening over two million people walked across on dry ground. And then what happened? The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea. During the last watch of the night the LORD looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion. He made the wheels of their chariots come off so that they had difficulty driving. And the Egyptians said, “Let’s get away from the Israelites! The LORD is fighting for them against Egypt.” Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen.” Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward it, and the LORD swept them into the sea. The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen—the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived. (Ex 14:23-28)
It’s kind of interesting that earlier in this story, God didn’t have them go straight up to the Philistines because he said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” (Ex 13:17) He knew they were too weak in faith to be able to handle something like that. So instead, he led them to the edge of the Red Sea, had them trapped by the Egyptians, and then miraculously delivered them. Why did he do this? He said, “I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD.” (Ex 14:4) This awesome act of destruction would glorify God to the Egyptians and leave no doubt in their minds who the LORD really was. How did the Israelites respond? When the Israelites saw the great power the LORD displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant. (Ex 14:31) When the Israelites were standing on the edge of disaster and God delivered them, they feared the LORD and Moses.
Just as Jesus separated the Egyptians from the Israelites and protected them, so Jesus protects us from God’s law, his wrath and his hatred for our sins. Just when we’re ready to be sent to hell, sure that we are heading there, God’s grace takes us from our descent by crying out, “The Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53) When Paul says, “The wages of sin is death,” we start falling into the abyss. But just before we hit it, he continues, “But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) Just as God’s law sends us over the edge, the grace of God through the blood of Christ takes hold of our shirt collar and pulls us back to safety. God assures us, “Jesus died for the world. That includes you. Your sins have been paid for by Jesus. They are gone. I love you dearly.”
What an awesome thing this does for us. They say that one of the things that bonds someone together the most is going through a disaster together. It isn’t until you’ve been on the edge of disaster that you will truly fear your Lord and trust in him. Until you’ve been led to hell, you won’t get to heaven. But if you can sing with Paul, “Chief of sinners though I be, Jesus shed his blood for me”, then you know what it’s like to be on the edge and to be rescued from the edge. Then, to you, Jesus is not just a great prophet, but he truly is the light of salvation. Your Savior.
God had just driven the Israelites to the edge of disaster. God’s Word says that this experience produced a fear of the LORD. How long would that last? We’ll find out in the weeks ahead. Standing on the edge of disaster is a scary place to be. God may lead you there several times a year, a month, or even a day. As scary as it is, it’s necessary because it makes you thankful for life. Because of God’s deliverance, as he has promised to work all for your good, you realize what a wonderful LORD you have, one who is worthy of your fear, love and trust. It’s a vision of God you can only have when you’ve been standing on the edge of disaster. Amen.