Description / Transcription
This sermon originally delivered by Kevin DeYoung at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan
15 The Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward.16 Lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go through the sea on dry ground. 17 And I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they shall go in after them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, his chariots, and his horsemen. 18 And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.”
19 Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, 20 coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the cloud and the darkness. And it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night.
21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. 22 And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. 23 The Egyptians pursued and went in after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. 24 And in the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down on the Egyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic, 25 clogging their chariot wheels so that they drove heavily. And the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from before Israel, for the Lordfights for them against the Egyptians.”
26 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen.” 27 So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its normal course when the morning appeared. And as the Egyptians fled into it, the Lord threw the Egyptians into the midst of the sea. 28 The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained. 29 But the people of Israel walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.
30 Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31 Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses. (ESV)
?# A Flood of Fear of Faith
Exodus 14:15-31 / Kevin DeYoung / May 1, 2016
Hear the word of the Lord:
The LORD said to Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward. Lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go through the sea on dry ground. And I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they shall go in after them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, his chariots, and his horsemen. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.”
Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the cloud and the darkness. And it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night.
Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. The Egyptians pursued and went in after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. And in the morning watch the LORD in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down on the Egyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic, clogging their chariot wheels so that they drove heavily. And the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from before Israel, for the LORD fights for them against the Egyptians.”
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen.” So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its normal course when the morning appeared. And as the Egyptians fled into it, the LORD threw the Egyptians into the midst of the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained. But the people of Israel walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.
Thus the LORD saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great power that the LORD used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses. Exodus 14:15-31
The Civil War was fought in 10,000 places, from Valverde, New Mexico, and Tullahoma, Tennessee, to St. Albans, Vermont, and Fernandina on the Florida coast. More than 3 million Americans fought in it, and over 600,000 men—2 percent of the population—died in it.
American homes became headquarters, American churches and schoolhouses sheltered the dying, and huge foraging armies swept across American farms and burned American towns. Americans slaughtered one another wholesale, right here in America in their own cornfields and peach orchards, along familiar roads and by waters with old American names.
In two days at Shiloh, on the banks of the Tennessee River, more American men fell than in all the previous American wars combined. At Cold Harbor, some 7,000 Americans fell in 20 minutes. Men who had never strayed 20 miles from their own front doors now found themselves soldiers in great armies, fighting epic battles hundreds of miles from home. They knew they were making history, and it was the greatest adventure of their lives.
The war made some rich, ruined others, and changed forever the lives of all who lived through it. Ken Burns – “The Civil War: the Cause”
So begins Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary. If you’ve never seen it, go carve out 11.5 hours someday and do it. I didn’t read that nearly as well as David McCullough does, but it’s an absolutely brilliant piece of historical narrative and documentary. I try to watch it at least once a year, because your pastors are cool, and because you cannot understand American history—the glories, horrors, and contradictions of America itself—without knowing something about the war we fought against each other, North and South, from 1861 to 1865. As one historian put it, “What the Iliad was for the Greeks, the Civil War is for Americans.” No doubt it continues to shape, inspire, and haunt us in ways that we can scarcely even imagine. As long as there is an America to talk about, Americans will be talking about the Civil War.
As long as there is a Bible and people who follow the God of the Bible, (which is to say, forever), people will be talking about the crossing of the Red Sea. Poems will be written, sermons preached, and movies upon movies made. It was, perhaps, the most famous event in the history of Israel. For Israel, the crossing of the Red Sea was much like the Civil War is for America. You cannot understand their history apart from it. In fact, you cannot understand our Christian history apart from it, for the crossing of the Red Sea became the central act on that side of the cross of God’s redemptive history to save his people. It’s the event that the Israelites kept telling themselves of over and over again, and that God would remind his people of over and over again when they forgot his great power and care for them.
And consider today (since I am not speaking to your children who have not known or seen it), consider the discipline of the LORD your God, his greatness, his mighty hand and his outstretched arm, his signs and his deeds that he did in Egypt to Pharaoh the king of Egypt and to all his land, and what he did to the army of Egypt, to their horses and to their chariots, how he made the water of the Red Sea flow over them as they pursued after you… Deuteronomy 11:2b-4a
He divided the sea and let them pass through it, and made the waters stand like a heap. Psalm 78:13
Yet he saved them for his name’s sake, that he might make known his mighty power. He rebuked the Red Sea, and it became dry, and he led them through the deep as through a desert. So he saved them from the hand of the foe and redeemed them from the power of the enemy. And the waters covered their adversaries; not one of them was left. Psalm 106:8-11
…to him who divided the Red Sea in two, for his steadfast love endures forever; and made Israel pass through the midst of it, for his steadfast love endures forever; but overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea, for his steadfast love endures forever… Psalm 136:13-15
Is my hand shortened, that it cannot redeem? Or have I no power to deliver? Behold, by my rebuke I dry up the sea… Isaiah 50:2b
Was it not you who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep, who made the depths of the sea a way for the redeemed to pass over? Isaiah 51:10
…who caused his glorious arm to go at the right hand of Moses, who divided the waters before them to make for himself an everlasting name, who led them through the depths? Isaiah 63:12-13a
On and on, this was the story that they kept telling. They would have made even longer documentaries (if they had known how) of this act. When God wanted to steel their resolve toward obedience, he said, “Remember what I did for you at the Red Sea.” When they were wandering and needed the discipline of the Lord, he said, “Do not forget what I did for you at the Red Sea.” When they came to doubt the goodness and power of the Lord, he said, “Remember when I divided the waters of the Red Sea and swallowed up your enemies.” The crossing of the Red Sea was the pivotal point in their history and a turning point in the Exodus narrative. It did not last as long as one might hope, but it was a turning point nonetheless.
Look at Exodus 14:10, where the Egyptian army is chasing Israel as they leave:
When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly.Exodus 14:10a
All that they could see was their predicament. But then we come to verses 30 and 31.
Thus the LORD saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great power that the LORD used against the Egyptians… Exodus 14:30-31a
When we last left the Israelites, Moses was telling them to be silent. They were full of complaints, protestations, and fear. All they saw were Egyptians. Now, by the end of Exodus 14, all they see are still Egyptians—dead Egyptians. They have gone from having eyes for only their predicament to having eyes that can see God’s great power.
This pivotal moment changed everything. They went from only seeing their plight to seeing God’s great power, which would forever be remembered. The Lord says to Moses and to the people (verses 15-16): “Now is the time to go.” They had been complaining about the Lord while Moses was telling them to be confident in the Lord. Now he says to Moses: “Why do you cry to me?” It’s probably not meant so much as a rebuke to Moses, but to the people through Moses. “Why are you complaining? Why are you pleading and crying? Enough. Now is not the time for pleading, weeping, and wailing. Now is the time to get up and move.”
This is a good word for us. Some of us think that if we can keep pleading—if we keep praying and praying—if we keep complaining, weeping, and wailing, then God will be very pleased. Well, God is happy when we direct our fears toward him. At least the Israelites did that. They cried out to the Lord, so they were crying in the right direction. But there comes a time when the Lord says, “Okay, okay! I’ve heard. I’m listening. You’re crying. Now’s the time to get up, move, and act.”
I love what Spurgeon says about this passage:
Far be it from me to ever say a word in disparagement of the holy, happy, heavenly exercise of prayer. But, beloved, there are times when prayer is not enough—when prayer itself is out of season. […] When we have prayed over a matter to a certain degree, it then becomes sinful to tarry any longer; our plain duty is to carry our desires into action, and having asked God’s guidance, and having received divine power from on high, to go at once to our duty without any longer deliberation or delay. C.H. Spurgeon – “Forward! Forward! Forward!”
Sometimes, to sit and ponder a while longer is not a mark of great faith, but of unwarranted fear. They might have said, “Just give us another few days here. We need to get our wits about us. We are pleading to you. We are praying.” He says, “Okay, that’s good. Now it’s time to go. It’s time to act—to get up and move.”
Of course, they had no idea where they could possibly move to. They were trapped between a seemingly invincible army and an apparently unmovable sea. It was time for Israel to move, because it was time for God to act. I like how one commentary put it. “When did God act?” The answer: “At precisely the moment when all hope seemed lost.” That’s when God likes to act most.
Perhaps it was so that he might receive the glory. It would be abundantly, obviously clear to everyone that this was by God’s mighty hand. They could have no illusions of their own grandeur. “Maybe we were smart enough. We had a really good plan. Remember? We got out of Egypt really quickly. We did the whole thing with the unleavened bread. That was kinda nice. Then we got out. We took a really smart path and avoided the Philistines. Then we got there. Brilliant.” Nope. First, God says, “I want you to be trapped. I have a trap to set. You’re the cheese. I want you to be here. I’m going to put an army there, and a sea over there. You’re not going to know what to do!” That’s God’s way of saying, “This is going to be good.” This looks desperate and hopeless—but this is when God is at his best.
God’s Sovereign Sway over his Enemies’ Hearts
What do they see? They see several examples of his power. First, they see his sovereign sway over the hearts of his enemies. You see this in verses 17 and 18.
And I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they shall go in after them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, his chariots, and his horsemen. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.Exodus 14:17-18
The Egyptians pursued and went in after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. And in the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down on the Egyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic… Exodus 14:23-24
This was God’s doing. No sensible chariot commander would ever send his troops into the midst of some murky, muddy former sea, even if there were walls of water on both sides. Getting your expensive chariots bogged down in the mud was the last thing you would do! It makes no sense! After ten plagues, you’d think that someone on the Egyptian side would say, “Ahem…Pharaoh…I don’t know what’s going to happen, but it’s probably going to be really bad for us. Maybe we should just let them go.” “No! Go!” “Into the water right there?” “Yes, do it.” The Lord hardened their heart one more time.
This happens to people. Sin does not make sense. You can understand allure and temptation, but at the heart of it, sin is completely irrational. It’s insanity. Why would they do it if they were thinking clearly?
Of course, sin doesn’t help us think clearly. Maybe you’ve seen this in your life or in the lives of people you love. You think, “There is no reason why they’d do this.” You see the reports in Christian media, even over the past year, of pastors (some of whom are friends I know) who are no longer in the ministry because of sin and failings. When you think rationally, you wonder, “Why? Why would you throw everything away for twenty minutes of whatever? Why would you do that?” But sin doesn’t make us smart. Sin makes us insane.
Here, sin (hardened in their hearts) leads them to this great folly. “Let’s go pursue them into the midst of the Red Sea.” God has such sovereign sway over them that they do it. Then he clogs their wheels, he throws them into a panic, and then finally throws them into the sea. Such is his power and sovereign sway over the hearts of his enemies.
God’s Power Displayed in the Pillar of Fire
Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them… Exodus 14:19
Do you see what is going on here? The angel of God and the pillar are one and the same. It’s just two different ways of describing the same theophany—God’s visible presence among them. God could say to the Israelites, “I am literally going to move heaven and earth for you.” They, of all people, should not have doubted God’s presence. What has he given them? A cloud here, water there, fire to light up the night, an angel of the Lord to protect you as you can pass through the sea, and the Egyptian army held at bay. Such is his power in the pillar of fire and his sovereign sway over the hearts of his enemies.
God’s Distinction between Israel and Egypt
The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained. But the people of Israel walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.Exodus 14:28-29
Our God is a God who makes distinctions. It may be unpopular, but it is absolutely biblical. Not one Israelite is lost, but not an Egyptian is spared. I hope you understand, friends, that it will be so when Christ returns, as the creed says, “to judge the living and the dead”. Not one who belongs to Christ will be lost, but not one apart from Christ will be saved. The Egyptians are swallowed up in the sea. God makes a distinction between his people and his enemies in the Red Sea.
This is probably as good a spot as any to give you a five-minute parenthesis about the Red Sea. Some of you may have read this or heard debates about it. Where really did the Israelites cross the Red Sea (or the Sea of Reeds, as it’s sometimes called)? The traditional understanding has it that the Israelites crossed at the top of the Red Sea. Some of you may have a Bible with a map in the back. The Red Sea comes up there, and then there are two little fingers that come up. The one on the western side is sometimes called the Gulf of Suez. It’s part of the Red Sea. Traditionally, the very tip of that is thought to be where the Israelites crossed.
The Hebrew phrase given in your Bible given as “the Red Sea” is “Yam Suph”. ‘Suph’ can be the word for ‘reeds’, like a papyrus stalk or a reed in the ground. It’s the word used in Exodus 2:3 to describe the reeds along the Nile. Reeds grow in marshy, fresh water, so people have argued that Yam Suph should be translated as “The Sea of Reeds”—that, in fact, it wasn’t the Red Sea, but one of the bitter lakes that’s north of the Red Sea—Lake Tisma, it’s called. Or maybe the Red Sea extended farther north in the time of Moses, and included all the small inland lakes and man-made canals. Or maybe Yam Suph is a reference to some marshy, swampy area in the Nile Delta. The tide was low, the wind blew out, and they passed through water up to their knees. This view of the Sea of Reeds became very common among more liberal Bible scholars and even among a number of conservative ones.
There has been a movement in the last few decades, however, to return to the traditional view (which I think is the right one). There was a journal article in 1983 called “The Reed Sea: Rest in Peace”. That was to put the death this idea that it was the Sea of Reeds. Why does it say the Red Sea in our Bibles if it could be translated Sea of Reeds? Well, the Septuagint (the Greek Translation) translates it as the Red Sea. More importantly, no body of water in that northern region of the delta has ever been identified as Yam Suph. When Yam Suph is used, it always refers to the Red Sea. We see this in 1 Kings 9:26 and Jeremiah 49:21. There are references there to Yam Suph, and because of the cities that it references, it must mean the large body of water we know as the Red Sea.
Scholars also point out that Suph is related to the Hebrew word meaning ‘end,’ so that Yam Suph could just as well be translated the “Sea of the End”, which would mean the end of the Red Sea—where it has traditionally been understood that the Israelites crossed. The word ‘Yam’ (sea, lake) never refers to a marsh or a swamp. It always means a lake or a sea or some large body of water.
That reminds me of the story that I’ve heard in a number of different ways, which makes me think that it may not be true, but it’s one of those stories that, if it’s not true, it should be. The story goes that there was a young girl in her Sunday School class. They were going through the story of the Red Sea, and how God had led the Israelite people to cross through this sea with a miracle on dry ground. And the little girl said, “Praise the Lord! What an amazing God. He could send the Israelites through the Red Sea on dry ground.” And the teacher said, “Well, you don’t understand. It really wasn’t the Red Sea. It was just some other little body of water that had a low tide, and the wind blew through it, and the whole Israelite nation passed through in about six inches of water.” To which the little girl responded: “That’s amazing! Praise the Lord! He drowned the whole Egyptian army in six inches of water.” If it’s not true, it should be.
It will not do to somehow domesticate the miracle and say that it was just a little swampy area. No, it is the Red Sea. Here again in the Exodus story, we see the exclusive nature of God’s covenant. It is a covenant which foreigners and people can enter into, but it is also an exclusive covenant, without which you are lost. We see his power in the distinction that he makes. We see his power in the walls of water heaped up on the left and on the right.
If you have a good sense of your Bible, you may hear echoes of the creation story and the flood in Noah’s day. The Hebrew word ‘ruach’ can be translated ‘wind’, ‘spirit’, or ‘Holy Spirit’. Remember the ‘ruach’ (the ‘Spirit’) hovering over the waters of the deep in Genesis 1:2. Or in Genesis 8:1, in Noah’s day, God made a wind (a ‘ruach’) blow over the earth, and the waters subsided. Here we have again a divine ‘ruach’, an east wind, blow through the Red Sea. Then, just as at creation, dry ground appears out of this watery mess.
And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. Genesis 1:9
Or in Noah’s day, “…the waters were dried up […] and behold, the face of the ground was dry…” We have the same thing here in Exodus 14. We even have the dividing of the waters. In Genesis 1:6, God separated the waters from the waters. In Genesis 7:11, the fountains of the great deep were divided—that is, they were opened. Here we have the waters divided one side to the other.
Why is that significant? Because the Red Sea event is seen as yet another of God’s creative acts. He made the world, and separated the waters from the waters so that dry land would appear. Then, because of sin, he destroyed the world. Then, remaking the world (in a way) after Noah’s day, he sent another wind to separate the waters from the waters so that dry land would appear. Now, in the exodus, it’s as if God is creating once again a new people, nation, land, and day. When the divine wind blows, separating the waters from the waters, dry land appears. There is more than even the miracle of heaps of water standing on either side. It’s the creative power of God unleashed for his people.
God’s Power Displayed in the Walls of Water
Finally, we see his power as he swallows up Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen. This refrain is repeated again and again. Part of what we are meant to see is that God has a way of turning the strengths of his enemies against themselves. What did Egypt have that made them so unconquerable? They had chariots. These are the tanks, cruisers, destroyers, and stealth bombers. These are the elite military technology of the day. They have chariots and horsemen? They have an army which is unable to be defeated. What does God do? He turns their great strength against them. It’s their military might that does them in. The simple turning of a chariot wheel gets clogged in all the mud, muck, and mire. YHWH’s victory over Pharaoh, his people, his army, and his gods is finally complete.
Did you notice that his final destruction took place when the morning appeared. Remember their chief god—the sun god Amon Ra? They believed that every day (at sunset) Amon Ra died, and every day (at sunrise) he was born again. Here, at the dawning of the day, as their great sun god was ascending into the sky, at this moment which should have been their great victory, God decides, “That will work for me to swallow you up and get glory over Pharaoh, his army, his horsemen, his charioteers, and over all the false gods and goddesses of Egypt.”
They didn’t see all that the Lord could see. But now all they could see were dead Egyptians on the other side of the sea shore. Do you notice one other contrast between verses 10 and 31? When we saw them lifting up their eyes and seeing the great marauding hordes of Egyptians, the end of verse 10 says, “…and they feared…”.
Then we come to verse 31. Do you see what has changed? “Israel saw the great power that the LORD used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses.” Earlier, they feared the Egyptians and disbelieved Moses. Now, they fear the Lord and believe in Moses. That’s what the power of God is meant to do—not just to impress us, but to lead us to fear and faith.
Maybe you don’t fear and trust the Lord. Maybe you haven’t seen the great power of the Lord, or you have seen it and have forgotten it. You saw it in your day, but you forgot the stories. These Bible stories become old and familiar. The things that God did to answer your prayers become rote and commonplace. They fade with the years, and you forget the great power of the Lord that you’ve seen. You’ve seen his power in stories like this. Even now, you know his power. We will know it on the last day when he comes again.
What about now? That may be where some of you are. “What about now? That’s great for the Egyptians. I’d believe too if I saw a bunch of dead Egyptians on the sea shore. Wow, that’s a neat trick. What about power now?” There are many ways to answer that. Perhaps the best way is Romans 1:16:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. Romans 1:16
We are just like the Israelites: doubting his power. “O Lord, look at the world around us. Look what’s happening here. You think this gospel is going to save people? I think it’ll save nice people who basically have their life together. It’s not going to save really bad people.” Do you realize how dead in your sins and trespasses you were apart from Christ, no matter how good a family you had? We are born into this world absolutely dead. No one does good. No, not one. No one seeks after God. No one does what is righteous. The thoughts of our hearts were only evil all the time. The heart is desperately sick. Who can understand it?
We were bent against God, blind to him—and yet here we are, singing songs, praying prayers, and making promises. If you belong to Jesus Christ, you have experienced the miraculous power of God every bit as great as the parting of the Red Sea. He gave you a new heart. He forgave your sins. He opened blind eyes. He made you incline your heart to precious things instead of worthless things. God has done that by his great power. This is a God who can save you. If only we would see that we are trapped, with nowhere to run. Are you ready to leave Egypt? Are you ready for an exodus? Will you trust the Lord and walk through the water?
And behold, two men were talking with him [on the Mount of Transfiguration], Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure [literally, his ‘exodus’]… Luke 9:30-31a
Jesus was about to have his great deliverance: the cross, and then the empty tomb. Will you follow him?
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. John 5:24
Let’s pray. Father in Heaven, convict, convert, and change any here who are far from you, who do not know you, who prefer Egypt to freedom. Any of us who have been set free, but yet keep turning the shoulder to think of what we are missing back in Egypt, wondering whether we might be able to cross back over that Red Sea—O Lord, give us a steady and firm resolve, for once the waters swept back into place, there was no turning back. We are your people now. Give us eyes to see your great power, that we might fear and trust you. In Jesus’ name, amen.