Over our recent wintry weather, a lot of things got stuck. Windshield wipers stuck in their resting position. Car doors stayed stuck shut. Entire cards were stuck in their apartment parking lots.
Did you get stuck? Did you get stuck at work because the roads were to slippery drive home? Did you get stuck at home because your driveway was way too icy? Did you get stuck with the kids because nobody was having any school? Hopefully you didn’t get your tongue stuck to a lamppost.
We are in the middle of a sermon series about Old Testament Faith Tests. In today’s lesson from Exodus 14, the Israelite find themselves stuck between two very scary options. Scary enough that you wouldn’t just called it stuck, but trapped! Pay attention to the account and try to put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel? What would you do? Would you trust? And when similar --- and much less scary ---situations happen to you, how well do you trust God when you’re trapped?
I. The Trap
At the start of Chapter 14, the Israelites are on the run. This is literally the Exodus in progress. They have been freed from slavery in Egypt and are travelling through the desert to get back to the country their forefathers grew up in.
Only travelling isn’t as good of a word as wandering.
Their route was curious. It was similar to getting directions from your GPS that avoid that main route and instead direct your car on back roads and through private communities. Instead of taking a direct route toward the promised land of Canaan, they had travelled south in order to avoid the country of the Philistines. These people were an vengeful country that wouldn’t have taken kindly to the Israelites cutting through their private property. The Israelites went around them to avoid the trouble.
Now they found themselves trapped by some Impassable Geography.
Using this as a guideline, we learn that the Red Sea wasn’t just on the Eastern side of their camp. They had bunkered into a little inlet. The Red Sea was surrounding them on the North as well.
And if they went south, they would need to have their mountain climbers packed. The south quickly became mountainous in the region which was not too far away. Could all the kids, animals, and supplies make it through the mountain? Remember this is long before the area of Cabella’s and lightweight, special fibered, thermal enhanced sleeping bags. This wasn't feasible either.
The only topographical option that didn’t present a problem was to the west and that option was quickly disappearing.
Approaching from the west was a Vicious Enemy. The Egyptian army, their former captors, had given chase.
Hundreds of chariots and thousands of soldiers were sprinting in their direction. Angry and embarrassed by the departure of the Israelites, they had been ordered by Pharaoh to bring the Israelite back by any means necessary.
They were no slouches in battle either. Verse 6 says, “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 Egypt, with officers all over them.”
Chariots were the tanks of the ancient world. They were fast. They were armored. They allowed attacking while being well defended.
How could the Israelites – slaves who left with nothing more than clothing, camels, and kids fight them off?
They couldn’t. That’s where the test came in.
If you were an Israelites camping at night in the desert, there was something very interesting that you couldn’t help but notice. On the outskirts of the camp burned a very large fire. It was large enough to be called a pillar--something that would hold up a coliseum like building.
Were the Israelites pyros? Not so much.
In fact, if you approached the fire you’ find that there wasn’t so much as a few pieces of papyrus paper on fire. There weren’t any sticks. There weren’t any logs. The fire was fuel-less, yet it burned endlessly.
In the day time? The fire went away. But the miracle did not. In the same spot and the same formation as the fire had been moments earlier, there was now a pillar of cloud. Constantly visible against the bright blue sky.
Exodus 13:21 explains what was going on. “By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and in a pillar of fire to give them light, so they could travel by day or night.”
These pillars were pillars of promise. They were pillars of presence. They were reminders to the Israelites that they were not alone. Every time they looked at these miraculous structures, they would be reminded that they had a powerful God on their side. A God who had worked miracle after miracle to get them out of Egypt. A God who turned water into blood, covered the land in frogs, flies, gnats, and locusts. A God who plagued all the Egyptian cows while keeping their cattle safe. A God who crushed all the Egyptian crops with hail, who turned the daytime into darkness, who covered the bodies of Egyptians with painful boils. A God who sent the angel of death to kill the firstborn child of every rebellious, stubborn Egyptian heart.
They didn’t have any reason to worry.
II. The Israelite Response
But they did.
As Pharaoh’s army approached the Israelites didn’t look on with anticipation to see what the Lord would do this time to save them. Instead, they looked on with worry. Verse 11 reports their response, “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?”
I’d like to take a look at that paragraph again and paraphrase their three main complaints --
1) We’re Gonna die! Notice that there is zero confidence in God with this statement. They only see the approaching army and reason that they didn’t stand a chance at defeating them. Never mind the pillar of fire and its destructiveness. Never mind the pillar of cloud and its etherealism. They saw the vicious enemies on one side and a vast sea on the other and came to the conclusion that they were as good as dead.
2) This is God’s fault! To be fair, they are speaking to Moses in verse 11. But Moses had always spoken for God. Moses had done what God told him to do. It wasn’t Moses who did all those miracles. It wasn’t Moses who changed Pharaoh’s mind and released them. It wasn’t Moses who was keeping the pillars of fire and cloud going.
It was God. They were blaming God for putting them in this situation.
3) We Should Never have Followed you! Do you hear that in the last statement? They start to long for the time when they were slaves. They missed the backbreaking, sun blistering, impossible, bloody work of making bricks in the hot sun with a whip to their back. Really? They were so frightened by the prospect of death that they were now longing to return to the former easier life of a desert slave.
What do you think? How did the Israelites do with this Faith test? A+? B-? Do they even pass?
I’d say they all fail. Miserably.
Poor Moses. He tried to get them to trust. Listen to what he tells them in verse 13, “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.”
What do you think? If you were trapped between a impassable geography and a vicious enemy army, would you be more like Moses or the Israelites?
III. The Deliverance
Then God speaks. The Israelites haven’t trusted in Him, but that isn’t going to stop Him from doing something amazing. Check out his directive to Moses in verse 16:
"16 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.” So… “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.”
Notice how they get across. It wasn’t that the water was real shallow. It wasn’t that there was a thin collection of rocks for them to walk across. They didn’t discover a rickety old bridge down the way.
Scripture is specific. It was God. A special wind sent from God. A miracle from God. Where there hadn’t been a way before, God had created it. Now they had a quiet aquarium like walkway to leisurely cross through to safety.
But that’s not all God did.
Check out verse 26, God said “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen.” 27 Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. …The LORD swept the Egyptians into the sea... Not one of them survived.”
Suddenly the threat was gone. The vicious, unbelieving, unrepentant army was judged by the LORD. The Israelites were left with nothing but a peaceful waterfront scene to their back.
Yet here’s where it gets really amazing. This wasn’t just a reactionary move by God in which he pulled out all the stops to try and save his people against an impressive and violent foe. Check this out from earlier in the chapter.
Verses 1-4 “The LORD said to Moses. “Tell the Israelites to turn back and encamp near Pi Hahiroth between Migdol and the sea…Pharaoh will think, ‘The Israelites are wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed in by the desert.’ And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them…
…But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and his army and the Egyptian will know that I am the LORD.”
Do you see it? IT was God’s plan the whole time. The impassable Geography? God led them there. The vicious angry army? God sent them there. The miraculous saving? That was what God had been planning to do the whole time.
It’s not fair to say that God trapped the Israelites. The opposite. God trapped the Egyptians.
Understand this: The Israelites never had any reason to doubt. They needed to simply do what Moses suggested to them, “Don’t be afraid. Stand Firm. Watch. Watch…God.”
IV. What Does This Mean for You?
Maybe you’ve never been cornered by angry charioteers and a vast sea. Seagulls, maybe? But not a vicious army.
But have you ever felt trapped?
“I started following you God. I became a Christian….and my family of a different religion disowned me.”
“I handed out a few Easter invitations at work…and my coworkers complained to my boss.’
“I told my girlfriend that I wanted to wait for marriage to sleep together…and she is threatening to break up with me!”
“I have been faithfully gifting the church with my time and money and now I’m barely able to pay the rent.”
“I quit alcohol…and now the pain and suffering that I drank to avoid has come back. It’s overwhelming.”
I’m trapped!!! God there’s no way out. There’s no way I can follow you and have anything good come from it. If only I could go back to my sinful way of life, things would be so much easier! If only you had just left me alone God. If only I hadn’t followed you.
If you’ve ever felt like this/when you feel like this, remember Moses’ directive;
1) Don’t Be Afraid.
The exact same God who was with the Israelites is with you. Now, granted, the Israelites had a pillar of fire and a pillar of cloud as constant reminders of what God had done for them in the past.
You don’t. You have something better.
Look at the cross. Understand what God did when he went to the cross. He made a way when there was none. You needed to be perfect. You weren’t. You needed to be at peace with God. You weren’t. You needed to be holy. You weren’t.
But where there wasn’t a way, God made one. In fact, he was one.
Jesus said, “I am the Way.” (Jn. 14:6) He lived perfectly when you couldn’t. He died innocently when you deserved to. He rose triumphantly to prove that you are at peace with God.
Whatever comes your way in life from following God, do not be afraid! Look at what God has already done for you. Look how he provided a way when there wasn’t one.
2) Stand Firm.
Keep following God. It can be tempting to go back, to addiction, to loose sexuality, to unbelief, to pride, to greed…to a way of life apart from God.
But don’t. Stand firm. Those things don’t provide miracles. God does. Those things don’t save you. God Does. Those things don’t care about you. God does.
Keep following Him in every aspect of your life. And then…this is the fun part…
Can you imagine what it would have been like to see that Red Sea split in half? Amazing.
How about when it came crashing down on those vicious soldiers? Amazing again.
Will it really happen that way in your life?
Once I was talking to someone who was feeling trapped. They had just started understanding the truth of what Jesus did for them a few months ago. Through tears and smiles and more study, they had been growing in faith. They were more positive. They were more confident. A job opened up. Things were going well.
Then, they lost that job. A relationship went sour. They felt alone. They felt trapped.
What had God done to them? They said, “What was the point of all this? I’m forever going to be trapped. God didn’t help.”
I smiled. Because they didn’t see what I saw. In the past, this person would have ran to drugs, now she ran to a pastor. In the past, this person might have sought solace in alcohol, now they were looking to find comfort in God’s Word. In the past, this person just felt like giving up. Now…Now they simply wanted to be reminded of why they didn’t need to give up.
It was amazing. God had been doing amazing things. They only needed to open their eyes and look.
Do the same. Keep your eyes open this week and look for how God is working in your life. Don’t fear. Don’t stop following. And Watch. Watch and Trust God…Even when you’re trapped. Amen.