Kevin DeYoung / Apr 24, 2016 / Exodus 13:17-14:14
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Sermon Summary / Transcript
17 When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, “Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.” 18 But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. And the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle. 19 Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for Joseph had made the sons of Israel solemnly swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones with you from here.” 20 And they moved on from Succoth and encamped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. 21 And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. 22 The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.
14:1 Then the Lord said to Moses, 2 “Tell the people of Israel to turn back and encamp in front of Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, in front of Baal-zephon; you shall encamp facing it, by the sea. 3 For Pharaoh will say of the people of Israel, ‘They are wandering in the land; the wilderness has shut them in.’ 4 And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.” And they did so.
5 When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, the mind of Pharaoh and his servants was changed toward the people, and they said, “What is this we have done, that we have let Israel go from serving us?” 6 So he made ready his chariot and took his army with him, 7 and took six hundred chosen chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them. 8 And the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued the people of Israel while the people of Israel were going out defiantly. 9 The Egyptians pursued them, all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and his horsemen and his army, and overtook them encamped at the sea, by Pi-hahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon.
10 When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly. And the people of Israel cried out to the Lord. 11 They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘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.” 13 And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” (ESV)
When God Sees More Than We See
Exodus 13:17-14:14 / Kevin DeYoung / April 24, 2016
Let’s pray. Our Father in Heaven, help us now to listen carefully as your word is read and preached. Help us to understand what is spoken. Help us to feel what we should feel and see what we should see. Help us to trust you as you guide us in the way we should go. Give us faith when we can’t see what you see. We pray all of this in Jesus’ name, amen.
When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, “Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.” But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. And the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle. Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for Joseph had made the sons of Israel solemnly swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones with you from here.” And they moved on from Succoth and encamped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Tell the people of Israel to turn back and encamp in front of Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, in front of Baal-zephon; you shall encamp facing it, by the sea. For Pharaoh will say of the people of Israel, ‘They are wandering in the land; the wilderness has shut them in.’ And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, 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 mind of Pharaoh and his servants was changed toward the people, and they said, “What is this we have done, that we have let Israel go from serving us?” So he made ready his chariot and took his army with him, and took six hundred chosen chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them. And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued the people of Israel while the people of Israel were going out defiantly. The Egyptians pursued them, all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and his horsemen and his army, and overtook them encamped at the sea, by Pi-hahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon.
When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly. And the people of Israel cried out to the LORD. They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘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.” And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work 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 be silent.” Exodus 13:17-14:14
When I was a kid, we would load up the minivan almost every summer and drive some distance to go on vacation. Some of you are probably making those plans already. I didn’t think much of it, because it was just what we did most summers, but now I look back and think of how much money, time, and energy that cost my parents, and how many complaining kids they had sitting behind them. I can’t believe all the places we went. We went to fabulous places like the Mystery Spot and Mackinaw. We went up the Keweenaw Peninsula, and all over the place in the Upper Peninsula. We went out to D.C. several times. We drove down to Disney World one summer vacation. We went out to Yellowstone and Colorado. One year, we went to South Dakota and visited the Corn Palace (there is such a thing) and Mount Rushmore. We went to Wall Drug with all the infinite number of billboards before you get there—if you’ve ever done it, then you know what I’m talking about. So we did these trips, and it just boggles my mind how long we drove.
Now we do the same thing. Most summers, we drive out to Colorado. Let me say something to the kids here. You know what we had when we had to ride on those trips? Nothing! We had our imagination. It snowed inside the car both ways, uphill. We had no iPhones, iPads, movies. We just talked to each other and made up alphabet games. You know what our parents said to us all the time? “Look out the window.” That’s what we got. That’s what we did. I just want to tell you that you can make it.
I confess that there were times on some of those trips when I thought, Do my parents know where they are going? or what they are doing?” Then we’d get to a hotel. There were six of us in our family, and we’d only have one room, so some of the kids were sleeping on the floor in sleeping bags. I’d overhear my parents discussing where they were going sometimes, when they didn’t quite know where we traveling to, or they had gotten lost on a detour. I remember thinking, “Are we ever going to get anywhere? Will I ever eat again? Do they know what they are doing?” Of course, thankfully, we got there in one piece.
It’s one of the great lessons of parenthood that you never learn as a child: your parents know things you don’t know, see things you don’t see, and have plans that you are not aware of. And all the parents said, “Amen!” As a parent, I wish that my kids could understand that “Mom and Dad actually know a few things I don’t know and see some things I don’t see.” Of course, as a child, you have no idea of that. You just think, “Why in the world would they have a curfew? Why would I have to do my homework now? Why would I have to go to bed? Why wouldn’t they let me eat that or watch that? Where in the world are we driving to?”
I wonder, Christian, if it’s possible that you do not know and see everything that God knows and sees? Surely our Heavenly Father can look down on us and think, “Why don’t you trust? Why don’t you believe?” If we, as earthly parents, generally have our kids’ best interests at heart, and generally have some clue about what we’re doing, how much more does our Heavenly Father—though we do not know what he knows and do not see what he sees, and though he has plans and purposes that we know nothing about?
You may be sitting here, thinking about health concerns. You’re waiting for a test result; or you wish that there was another test, but it seems that you’ve exhausted them all; or you have someone close to your heart who’s been diagnosed with some serious disease or incurable illness. And you think, “Okay, God. What is the purpose? What good could be happening here in this young life? What could you possibly be doing?”
Or there’s some conflict in your life. Maybe you just can’t go on anymore in your marriage, and you think, “Lord, why would you put me in this situation?” Or you’re single and don’t understand why: “Lord, what’s so bad about being married? I want something that’s good, right? I want to serve you in this. You’ve given me this desire, and it’s gone unfulfilled. Why?”
Or you have doors that keep shutting, and you think, “God, why wouldn’t you want me to have a job that would pay the bills and help me support my family? Why do I keep reaching these dead ends? Wouldn’t you want me to use my degree—what I’m actually good at? What are you thinking?”
Maybe you look more broadly at our world, and you think, “Doesn’t it seem like unrighteousness is winning? Christians and Christian virtues are being trampled in work, school, culture, and politics.” And you scratch your head and say, “How can it be that, when aging rock stars decide that they are not going to perform their services in a given state because of their views on gender and sexuality, that they’re hailed as heroes? But if you have a baker, florist, or photographer who decides they don’t want to perform their services because of their views on gender and sexuality, they can be fined, put out of business, or put in prison?” That doesn’t seem right, does it? When you look around at your life or the world around you, you feel as if God does not know what you’re going through, and you’re not sure he knows what he’s doing.
What the Israelites Could See
Friends, is it possible that, given everything you see, you still don’t see everything that God sees? Think about the Israelites, beginning the exodus from Egypt. They actually had quite a bit they could see as they started out on their journey. They had the bones of Joseph with them (verse 19). Surely, if they were paying attention, this would have been a great encouragement. Back in Genesis 50, we read:
And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.” Genesis 50:24-25
By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones. Hebrews 11:27
This is a remarkable evidence of faith—that Joseph, 400 years prior, said, “Though my family has come to Egypt now, there will be a time in the future when they will return to the Promised Land. When you do so, take my remains with you. I want to be buried with my fathers—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—in the Promised Land where we belong.” For 400 years, they kept the remains of Joseph in some bone box or ossuary—or perhaps mummified them. They knew how to get them. Now, as they are setting out on the exodus, they have the bones with them, as if to say, “God, even 400 years later, has kept the promise. We have fulfilled the vow that we made to our ancestor, Joseph.” Those bones should have been a powerful reminder of God’s never-failing fidelity to his never-forgotten covenant, even after 400 years. They could see it.
Of course, they could see the pillar—the cloud by day, the fire by night. It wasn’t two different clouds, one being whisked away and another blowing in at night, but one cloud that shone with fire at night.
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. Exodus 14:19-20
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 14:24
For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night… Exodus 40:38
So there is one cloud. By day, it shows in the sunlight as a pillar of cloud, and at night there is a fire that shines in it to lead them where they should go. This is not just the sign of YHWH’s presence. This is the manifestation of YHWH himself.
And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire… Exodus 13:21a
We see throughout the Old Testament what we call theophanies, which means “a God appearing”. God often appears in the Old Testament in cloud or in fire. Later, the glory cloud (or Shekinah) will rest upon the tabernacle as the weight and the presence of God there.
Or do you remember the strange scene in Genesis 15? Abraham is put into a deep sleep. He has a dream of animals torn in two, half a carcass here and half a carcass there. What passes through those strewn animals? A smoking, blazing fire pot. The smoke and fire are a manifestation in this dream of the presence of the Lord, just like they are here.
The saying “Cut a deal” probably comes from this ancient practice of cutting a covenant. In the ancient world, when you cut a covenant, you actually would cut an animal. You would put a carcass of an animal on either side, and line them up, and the party who was making the vow would pass through the animals, as if to say, “May I be torn piece from piece and strewn in two if I fail to keep my promise.” So, when Abraham sees that in Genesis 15, it is YHWH himself promising to his people, “May I be torn in two if I fail to deliver on my promise to you.” It was a theophany.
In much the same way, we have this cloud and fire, smoke and flame, as YHWH himself leads them. You might think, “That would be a good thing.” Wouldn’t you like a divine cloud to tell you where to go? It would be very good for business in Michigan, I think. Just follow the clouds. People would probably move here and settle down. You could look and say, “Well, who am I going to marry?” Just follow the cloud. “What job do I take?” Just follow the cloud. You don’t have to mess around with Google Maps or Siri. You just follow the cloud. We all have times when we think, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have God telling me what to do and where to go?”
What the Israelites Couldn’t See
But think about what they couldn’t see and probably came to dislike. As much as you and I it would be great if God led us like that, don’t you think that after two days—or maybe two hours—some of us would start saying, “Okay, enough is enough. Time to move. What is this cloud doing here?” Or, when it went in a direction that we didn’t think was wise, we would say, “God, are you sure? Do I have the right cloud?” Of course, though the cloud could tell them where to go, they did not know when they would move or what was coming next. They were still in the dark about those things. They could not see all that God was doing for them behind the scenes.
At the beginning of verse 17, you see that when Pharaoh let them go, God did not lead them by the way of the land of the Philistines. This is what Moses, the narrator, tells us, but we have no way of knowing that the Israelites were aware of this. There was a big highway called the Via Maris (“the way of the sea”). If you were going out of Egypt, you would take this and along the coast of Mediterranean Sea. You could walk from Egypt to Canaan (the Promised Land) in about two weeks. How long did it take them? 40 years. So the pillar of cloud took them on quite a circuitous path as they wandered in the wilderness.
But here it was God’s mercy. Though the most direct route was to take the Via Maris, God said that if they went that way, they would meet the coastal people, the Philistines. They weren’t ready for battle, and those people were. They would head back, scared, and find their way back into Egypt. It was the Lord’s mercy to take them on the longer path, though they may not have seen it.
Some of them may have thought, “Alright. We are leaving Egypt, going to Canaan. Why are we heading back south now? We’re up here in the delta. Now we’re heading down south to the Red Sea. Why don’t we just follow the Via Maris? We all know this!” If you’re going out west, you hop on 94, pick up 80, and head out this way. Why are we going up the bridge when we want to head out that way?
Of course, God (in his mercy and wisdom) knows exactly what he is doing. Do you realize all of the counterfactuals (“What ifs”) in life that never happened? What if I had been on that plane? What if I had gone to that school? I would have never met my husband or wife. We don’t think of the ten thousand things the Lord does to us in His mercy by never doing them to us. You think, “I could have been in that car, or I could have ridden on that road. Or what if God hadn’t ended things with that boyfriend? What a mess he saved me from.”
Do you think about all the divine nevers in your life that you may even be blissfully ignorant of? I thank God that I never had a dad who was hiding pornographic magazines somewhere in the house. I’ve known plenty of young men who say, “That’s when I first got hooked. I found them under my dad’s bed or on his computer.” I thank the Lord for that never. I thank the Lord that I didn’t have anybody offer me drugs. I thank the Lord for all sorts of nevers in my life.
Sometimes people who grow up in the church and have a Christian family feel like this is kind of boring. “I really ought to live it up once in a while so that I can have a testimony some day; so that I can say that God saved me from all of this stuff; and so that I can really understand God’s mercy, because those people really understand how good God is. Look at all the mess He saved them from!”
If that’s you—and that is a lot of you—we of all people ought to give thanks to God for all of the messes we never even knew—all of the things he never even put in our lives—all of the paths we never even knew were opened to us, simply because he gave us parents who brought us to church, he didn’t put bad friends in our way, and he made us unattractive to people of the opposite sex, or whatever it is. Think of all the things that never happened to you: if you never saw your parents yell at each other, hit each other, or a hundred thousand other things. Just like here: “You are not going to go up the way of the Philistines.” “But God! That’s the shortest way!” “I know, but I see some things that you don’t.”
When Sight doesn’t make Sense
What the Israelites did see did not make a whole lot of sense to them. The route that they were on must have seemed crazy. They went to Migdol, which means ‘tower’—probably a fortified Egyptian city. They went by the way of Pi-hahiroth, which means “an opening in the canal.” Maybe it was somewhere up in the Nile delta region. Then they went to Baal-zephon, which means, “Baal of the north”. The god Baal was of the northern part of Canaan, so somehow the religion had infiltrated all the way down south into Egypt.
Here they are, on their way out of Egypt, when God tells them “I want you to turn around and encamp between the desert and the sea.” You don’t have to be an expert in military strategy or ancient history to understand this looks like a terrible idea. You have a people who have oppressed you, and you’re fleeing from them. They’re the most powerful superpower on the earth at the time. They have a massive army. You don’t know how to fight, and they may change their mind and want to pursue you. The last place you go in fleeing that power is between the rock and the hard place. And God says, “That’s where I want you to go. You have the sea over there and the desert over here.” God was setting a trap for Pharaoh, and Israel did not like being the cheese. God had a plan: “I’m going to send you there. You’re going to look like easy pickings. Pharaoh’s going to hear of this and think, ‘They’re lost. They’re hemmed in by the wilderness and the sea. They don’t know where they are going. Now is our chance!’” They were just sitting there waiting for Pharaoh to overtake and overpower them.
Sure enough, Pharaoh changed his mind. We know from verse 4 and verse 8 that the Lord hardened his heart. The Lord was jealous for his own glory. We’ve seen, if nothing else in the book of Exodus, that YHWH is the God who makes himself known.
And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD.” And they did so. Exodus 14:4
He’s done ten plagues, but he still has one more trick up his sleeve. All the people still back in Egypt, and the army chasing them, even if it’s the last thing they know before the waters rush over their heads, will know that the Lord is God. You see, the common idea in the ancient world was that the hundreds of gods and goddesses were arbitrary and capricious. They could turn on those who worshiped them in an instant. It would make perfect sense that Pharaoh and the Egyptians were thinking, “Well, we’ve seen that this YHWH has power in Egypt, but now they’re in the wilderness. He probably has no power in the wilderness. Or maybe they did something to anger their God and now he is turning against them. In any respect, we’ve got them right where we want them.” So they send out the army. They send out the chariots. These are the tanks, stealth bombers, and destroyers of the day. There they are, looking out at this army from the superpower of the earth marching toward them, with their backs to the sea. There’s nowhere to go.
If you know the story, you know what’s coming next week with the Red Sea swallowing them up. You relish it. “Oh, this is good.” It looks really bad. It’s like when you’re watching one of the old Rocky movies, and he just keeps getting punched and punched, and you’re like, “Yeah, keep punching him! He’s going to get up, The Eye of the Tiger is going to play, and this is going to be really exciting.” “Go ahead, Pharaoh! We know how this story ends.” The Israelites didn’t know how it would end. They didn’t care for being in a situation with impossible odds and deadly circumstances. All they could see was the Red Sea over here, the Egyptian army over there, and the pillar not letting them move. How does that work?
So the Israelites did what the Israelites did best in stressful and scary situations. They complained, which is what many of us do best when we’re stressed or scared: “They said to Moses, ‘Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?” “Hey Moses! If we were going to die, we could have done that in our homes. What have you done to us? Isn’t this what we said to you? Didn’t we tell you to leave us alone and let us serve in Egypt? Didn’t we say that?”
It’s a very familiar pattern of complaint. We follow the same pattern. We start by reinterpreting the past: “You know what? That wasn’t so bad. Egypt wasn’t terrible. We had homes. We had families. We knew what each day was going to bring. We had work”, even though before they were crying out to be set free. Some of us are like that. “You know, maybe before it wasn’t so bad before I became a Christian—when I had those sins and felt so guilty, or had those addictions, or my life was spinning out of control. Maybe that wasn’t so bad.” We reinterpret the past, or we reinterpret the good things that God did: “You know, God never really cared for me, did he? These people don’t really love me. They’ve never done anything to help me.” We reinterpret the past and then restate our unbelief: “Hey, Moses! Didn’t we tell you this before? We told you so. This isn’t going to work.” Sounds like us—or like Jonah.
And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? Jonah 4:2a
“Didn’t I tell you this? Hey, God! Here I am. I told you this wasn’t going to work. I’m being obedient, loving people, forgiving, doing your commandments, and going to church.” It’s the same old story. We reinterpret the past, restate our unbelief, and then reject the ones who are trying to help us. “Moses, you don’t know what you’re doing.” See, Pharaoh misjudged Moses, and Israel misjudged Moses. It’s typical for any of us to blame those in authority. Ultimately the blame is not on Moses. It’s rebellion against God.
Our fathers, when they were in Egypt, did not consider your wondrous works; they did not remember the abundance of your steadfast love, but rebelled by the sea, at the Red Sea. Psalm 106:7
Maybe the Israelites thought, “We’ve seen YHWH. He has all this power in these plagues. He’s setting us free from Egypt. The life we’re now going to live will be free from hardship, suffering, toil, and trouble.” Sometimes, as new converts or even very old Christians, we think that. “If God is really with me, and I’m really walking in his will, then I’m not going to have any difficulty. Nothing’s going to be dangerous. I’m not going to have any troubles anymore.” At the first sign of trouble, these freed Israelites are ready to head back into slavery. Of course, God doesn’t tell us everything that we want to know, but just what we need to know. It’s not the last time we’re going to see God’s people complain and complain.
A friend of mine, sort of joking but sort of serious, said to me one time: “You know, Kevin, you’re compliant but complaining.” In other words, “You get along and do what you have to do, but you want everyone to know that you’re a bit miserable about it.” It’s surely one of our besetting sins as relatively prosperous people living in an amazingly prosperous country that we are complainers—reinterpreting the past, restating our unbelief, rebelling against the one who really means to help us, thinking that we know best, and forgetting what God has done.
Do you see God’s response? He says four things to them: “Fear not, stand firm, see, and be silent.” “Fear not,” Moses said to the people. This should have sounded familiar to them if they knew their history.
After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” Genesis 15:1
And the Lord appeared to him the same night and said, “I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham’s sake.” Genesis 26:24
Then he said, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. Genesis 46:3
They were in good company: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and now the whole nation of Israel.
Have you ever noticed that when we get the description of the armor of God in Ephesians 6, we are not going out and fighting hordes of demons? What’s the singular command in Ephesians 6? “Stand firm.” Extinguish the flaming arrows. Be able to withstand the darts and attacks. Stand firm. The victory has been won. God has accomplished it. Now stand.
That’s one of the hardest things that we do as Christians: to simply stand, be still, and wait. I am so impatient. I would much rather be moving in the wrong direction than standing still when leaving a parking lot after a sporting event or getting in a big traffic jam. Anyone who has ridden with me before can tell you that I have gone on some very, very long shortcuts. I’ll say, “I’m not standing still. I don’t care if I’m trying to head back from the airport in Detroit and I have to go down to Toledo to get around. I am not just sitting here!”
Spurgeon says it so well:
I dare say you will think it a very easy thing to stand still, but it is one of the postures which a Christian soldier learns not without years of teaching. I find that marching and quick marching are much easier to God’s warriors than standing still. It is, perhaps, the first thing we learn in the drill of human armies, but it is one of the most difficult to learn under the Captain of our salvation. The Apostle seems to hint at this difficulty when he says, “Stand fast and having done all, still stand.” To stand at ease in the midst of tribulation shows a veteran spirit, long experience, and much Divine Grace. C.H. Spurgeon
It is the novice soldier who, when the bullets are whirring about him, says to his commanding officer, “Sir, should we not retreat? Should we not attack? Should we not march or double march? Should we not fix bayonets?” It’s a veteran soldier who can stand his ground at ease, wait, fear not, stand firm, and see. They were afraid when they saw the Egyptians, but God says, “No, it’s a good thing that you see the Egyptians. It means that my trap has been sprung and my work is about to be accomplished.” You see them now, but the Lord promises you will not see those Egyptians again.
Finally, be silent. We know that this is not the command to us in every situation. We want to speak the words of Christ, and there are many times that God tells us to speak, but here their work was to stand still and say nothing. Later, in Exodus 17, he’ll tell them to fight as the Lord fights through them, but here is the Lord fighting for them. “Here’s what I want you to do, Israel. To demonstrate your complete reliance on me, I want you to do something very unnatural and difficult. I want you to do nothing!” I’m sure there are some of you feeling like, “God, what can I do? There’s got to be a test. Surely if I Google something, that’ll be very helpful for this issue—with this pain, this hurt, or this illness? Something?” Not always, but often, God says, “You know what I want you to do right now? Nothing. Don’t be afraid. I want you to stand your ground. I want you to see what I’ll do. Just be quiet.” It’s one of the hardest things we have to do as a Christian.
As a great theologian once said, “You say it best when you say nothing at all.” That’s true sometimes. Is it possible, with all that you see, that you still do not see what God sees? Looking back, we can see where God has led. We may be able to trace his hand. “Oh, that’s why you sent me to that school. Oh, that’s why that door shut—so I would get that job. Oh, Lord, that was in your mercy.” I can look back things that I wanted very much, that I thought for sure would be for my good, and then years later I go, “Oh, Lord. Thank you so much for not answering my prayers.” Looking back, we may be able to see it. Looking forward is much more difficult. They could see that they had Joseph’s bones. God was faithful in the past. They could see the fiery cloud. He’s providing in the present. But what they couldn’t see was what would happen in the future.
When God guides us, he means it to be a journey of faith, not of sight. Though we wish he would just give us the fork in the road and the writing in the sky and tell us exactly what is coming next, that’s not the way that he works. Looking back, we may trace his hand. Looking forward, Spurgeon says, “We trust his heart.” They didn’t know what sort of man Moses would be. They didn’t know what was happening when they had to make bricks without straw. They didn’t know what God was up to with the plagues. They surely didn’t understand why they were supposed to camp between the army and the sea and do nothing.
Keep your eyes fixed on what you can see. Have you ever noticed this connection?
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely and let us run with endurance the race that was set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith… Hebrews 12:1-2b
I think the author to Hebrews must have had echoes of this story in his mind. We don’t have a cloud to see any longer, but we fix our eyes on Jesus. They were glued to the cloud. We’re glued to the cross. Look at him. See him. Learn about him. Listen to him. Read about him. Know him. Fix your eyes on Jesus. That’s what you can see. You can’t see the future, or sometimes even what the next step is or what the next day will bring, but you can see Jesus.
It’s quite fitting that we would leave the Israelites here. I thought about going on to the rest of the story, to get the Red Sea, but we leave it here. This is where many of us live our lives: not knowing the great Red Sea victory that will come, but seeing the army in front of us to attack us and the sea behind us to trap us, and wondering, “God, what are you going to do now?” God had taken them this far, and he was not going to leave them. They were not on the shortest, most direct route. It was far from the most obvious way. But it was the best way, because it was God’s way.
So it is in God’s lives. Rarely does God take you on the path that you thought would be best. Rarely does he take you on the shortest route. Rarely does he set you on life’s journey and put you on the most obvious path. Rarely do you look back and say, “God, that’s exactly how I would have done it.” It’s not the shortest, most direct, or most obvious, but the best. God sees a lot of things that we don’t see.
Let’s pray. Father in Heaven, guide us and lead us. Help us to see what we can see. Fix our eyes on Jesus. Give us the eyes of faith for all times and years, for we cannot see what you see. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
All Scriptures are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
Transcription provided by 10:17 Transcription