Tuesday 25th August 2020 Crossing the Sea
Then the Lord said to Moses: ‘Tell the Israelites to turn back and camp in front of Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, in front of Baal-zephon; you shall camp opposite it, by the sea. Pharaoh will say of the Israelites, ‘They are wandering aimlessly in the land; the wilderness has closed in on them.’ I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, so that I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army; and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord. And they did so.’
When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, the minds of Pharaoh and his officials were changed towards the people, and they said, ‘What have we done, letting Israel leave our service?’ 6 So he had his chariot made ready, and took his army with him; he took six hundred picked chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them. The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt and he pursued the Israelites, who were going out boldly. The Egyptians pursued them, all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, his chariot drivers and his army; they overtook them camped by the sea, by Pi-hahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon.
As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, ‘Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, “Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians”? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.’ But Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.’
Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. But you lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the Israelites may go into the sea on dry ground. Then I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them; and so I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army, his chariots, and his chariot drivers. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gained glory for myself over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his chariot drivers.’
The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night.
Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. At the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, ‘Let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.’
Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers.’ So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the Lord tossed the Egyptians into the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.
Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great work that the Lord did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the Lord and believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.
This is the point in the story where Israel discovers for the first time that they have a fighting God, who can be trusted both to stay with them and see the Exodus through, and to overcome the massive powers ranged against God’s good purposes for the world – and therefore against them.
The key is the exchange between Moses and the people (vv 10-14). The people see the pursuing Egyptian army and are thrown into panic: have they been liberated, only to be slaughtered in the desert? Moses’ response is crucial: “The Lord will fight for you; you have only to keep still!” (v14). The whole Exodus narrative concludes with Israel gazing at the pursuing soldiers, now lying dead on the seashore (v50).
The story is framed as Israel’s testimony of faith in their liberator/warrior God. God does everything – hardening Pharaoh’s heart, clogging the chariot wheels and drowning the soldiers. It’s a narrative device to emphasize God’s sovereignty and power, not to say that Pharaoh is a pawn, manipulated by God into the disastrous destruction of his army. Rather, the story emphasizes the massive and implacable powers of Empire ranged against God’s good purposes for the world (the Kingdom). They cannot be reasoned with, or brought into line for anything longer than a day or two (as in this story). Empire, with the social, political, theological and military powers at its disposal, cannot be defeated or reformed. It is only by destroying it that God can bring the Kingdom to birth.
Exodus happens because God is driven by the cries of the slaves, who are helpless victims of these powers. This is a compassionate, outraged, loving God who will fight against anything that threatens the future of the world – even if it costs the life of God’s Son.
Forgive the deafness of my ears that do not hear the cries of the neediest.
Forgive my apathy that is so slow to be stirred to anger and action.
Forgive the blindness of my eyes that refuses to see the deadliness of the way our world works.
Forgive the theological and practical reasons I find not to take up my cross and struggle for the Kingdom alongside you.
Call me to follow.
Call me to fight.
And give me your Spirit, that, by your grace,
I am able to answer your call.