St Michael & St Barnabas, July 19th 2015
Readings – Exodus 13:17 – 14:18; Mark 16:1-8
This morning we’re continuing with the story of Exodus … looking today at the crossing of the Red Sea … it would take too long to have the whole story as our reading, so we’ve heard only a short section. You might want to make sure you can see a bible as we read on together. But first, let’s pray …
What is trust?
Did any of you, before you sat down today, test to see if the chair would take your weight? You trusted the chair. Is there anyone here who doesn’t have a bank account? You trust the bank with your money. Does anyone have a spare key to your house for holidays or emergencies? You trust your friends and neighbours.
Do you trust God? You see, there are three possible reactions to hearing God’s word … you can ignore it, you can obey it, or you can trust it. As we look at the story of the Exodus this morning, can you see how everyone has one of these three reactions to hearing God’s word?
When Moses and Aaron first went to the Hebrew elders to tell them that the Lord, the God of their fathers, had sent Moses to lead his people out of Egypt, the elders were only persuaded by the wonders Moses performed … the staff turning into a snake, Moses’ hand first leprous then clean, and water turned into blood.
When Moses and Aaron first asked Pharaoh to let the Israelites go, Pharaoh was angry and made the burden on the people all the harder … hardly surprising since he wasn’t likely to release his work force of slaves on the word of a renegade. But the Israelites were furious with Moses and refused to listen to him again (6:9) … yet Moses continued, however falteringly, to obey the Lord. He went back to Pharaoh, made the same request and received the same answer. He went again and again, and each time Pharaoh refused, God sent a plague as judgement on Pharaoh. There were nine requests and nine plagues before God’s final word, the death of the first born.
This time however, the Hebrews were finally ready to believe that the Lord would release them from their captivity. Though the plagues were acts of judgement on the Egyptians, they also reassured the Israelites. They had seen God acting on their behalf, and had Moses’ word that the Lord was going to free them. So when Moses instructed them to kill a lamb, paint their door posts with it’s blood, to roast the meat and eat it, and to be ready to leave in a hurry, they were willing, and did as they were told.
It was only after the plague on the first born that Pharaoh finally agreed to let God’s people go … Exodus 13:17 …
When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of Egypt armed for battle. (13:17-18)
God was in control … when the Israelites left Egypt, the Lord went in front of them as their guide. But God knew that their faith was less than secure … it wouldn’t take much to make them change their minds. So instead of taking a direct route to the land of Canaan, which he intended for them to occupy, God lead them south, away from the land of the Philistines who would have given battle to prevent the Israelites passing through their land. The Israelites may have left Egypt armed for battle, but the Lord knew that they would soon lose heart.
Moses however, showed great faith by taking with him the bones of Joseph (13:19). Joseph’s request had been handed down from generation to generation for 400 years … perhaps it had become something of a tradition that the people never really expected to be fulfilled? But Moses was confident in the Lord and knew that now was the time.
God was in control … he lead the people as a pillar of cloud and fire, 13:21 …
By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people. (13:21-22)
We don’t know how long this first stage of their journey took … but they travelled day and night before the Lord instructed Moses to make camp. No-one now is certain of the location of any of the places named … but God’s intent was to persuade the Egyptians that the Israelites were lost and vulnerable. In all probability that is how they felt.
All along, the Lord had told Moses that Pharaoh would change his mind, that he would not let the Israelites go without a fight. Right back to Moses’ first encounter with God at the burning bush, the Lord had told him that Pharaoh would not relent … Pharaoh considered himself to have supreme power over Egypt and would not willingly submit to anyone, including God himself. Let me remind you of something Tim said last week …
… what was the price that Pharaoh would pay for such pride and obstinacy? Very simply this, that the Lord would harden his heart, that he would be unable to hear the call to repent and let God’s people go … the greatest tragedy throughout the story of the Exodus is this man who will not and ultimately cannot respond to the words of the Lord. Truly, there is no worse judgement that God inflicts on anyone than to make them immune to His voice when He speaks to them. (Tim 12/7/15)
God is in control, even as the Egyptian chariots are bearing down on the bewildered Israelites. 14:7 …
So Pharaoh had his chariot made ready and took his army with him. He took six hundred of the best chariots, along with all the other chariots of Egypt, with officers over all of them. (14:7)
When the people see the army approaching – presumably at some speed! – they cried out to the Lord – but blamed Moses … 14:11
They said to Moses, “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?” (14:11)
It’s hard to believe they would choose slavery over warfare, but at least in Egypt they knew their place.
After Moses’ first disastrous encounter with Pharaoh, Moses had turned to the Lord in despair … 5:22 – 6:1, 6-7 … p62 church bibles …
Moses returned to the LORD and said, “O Lord, why have you brought trouble upon this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble upon this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.”
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh: Because of my mighty hand he will let them go; because of my mighty hand he will drive them out of his country.”
“Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgement. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God …”
This time, Moses knew better … he had seen the plagues, knew God’s power, knew how God had protected his people … this time, Moses didn’t despair … 14:13-14,
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. The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.”
God is in control … the pillar of cloud moves from in front of the people, to behind them, between them and the pursuing army, keeping them apart, keeping the Egyptians in the dark while giving light to the Israelites as they traversed the river bed.
The Lord tells Moses to raise his staff and part the waters … and the wind blew … now, lest anyone think that God was simply making use of natural phenomenon … as he may have done to raise the plague of locusts or frogs etc back in Egypt … the prevailing wind in the region is from the north off the Mediterranean, with occasional seasonal winds from the south and west, v21,
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.
Do you ever walk along the beach barefoot? I grew up near a sandy beach … smooth, glistening sand for miles, not even a shell to make the ground feel rough … if you timed it right, the tide was just going out and the tourists (we called them Grockles) had gone home for tea, and you would have the place to yourself, pristine sand, washed clean by the tide, a line of footprints stretching out behind you …
Now, I have no idea what the bed of the Red Sea might be like … but for the people of Israel all that mattered was that it was … dry! I suspect it must have been quite smooth for the people to walk safely through, and for the Egyptians to even consider taking the chariots across, 14:24,
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.” (14:24-25)
The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still (v14) … God is still in control … 14:26,
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.” (14:26)
… Not one of them survived. (14:28)
All through this story, people have heard the word of God … Egyptians and Israelites alike. And perhaps some of their reactions might surprise you … for example, when the Israelites left Egypt, they didn’t travel alone, 12:37,
There were about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children. Many other people went up with them, as well as large droves of livestock … (12:37-38)
Many other people … you see, although God had chosen the Israelites to be his special people, everyone had the opportunity to hear God’s word … look back at 9:18 … the plague of hail … Moses is proclaiming the word of the Lord,
‘… at this time tomorrow I will send the worst hailstorm that has ever fallen on Egypt … give an order now to bring your livestock and everything you have in the field to a place of shelter, because the hail will fall on every man and animal that has not been brought in and is still out in the field, and they will die.’ Those officials of Pharaoh who feared the word of the LORD hurried to bring their slaves and their livestock inside. But those who ignored the word of the LORD left their slaves and livestock in the field.
This is the only plague in which God gave Pharaoh and his officials the opportunity to avoid his judgement – other than letting the Israelites go – and some of the officials feared God’s word and took took that opportunity.
Many other people … perhaps some of Pharaoh’s officials who feared the word of the Lord joined them. Perhaps, as the Israelites were preparing for the exodus, killing the lambs and goats, and painting their blood on the doorpost, their neighbours asked what they were doing, and did the same? Perhaps others lost their first-born overnight, and decided they had nothing left to lose and now was the time to leave?
God gave everyone the opportunity to hear his word.
Pharaoh heard God’s word and ignored it.
Many heard God’s word and obeyed it.
Moses heard God’s word and trusted it.
What is the difference between trust and obedience? The Israelites needed evidence of God’s power before they obeyed him … and even then, the slightest setback set them grumbling and complaining … next week we’ll continue with the story as the Israelites wander in the desert without food or water … listen to them complain then … time and time again, miracle after miracle, still complaining.
Those who trust God’s word obey it even when it seems that everything is going wrong … because they know that God has every detail planned, every need anticipated, every fear covered, because those who trust God know that God is always in control.
So I ask again, do you trust God?
images (c) Friends and Heroes