D-DAY HAD finally arrived.1
The Hebrews had languished for nearly five centuries under the heavy hands of their Egyptian oppressors (Exo. 12:40). Generations had known only cruelty, affliction and misery (1:11-14). In their calamity, they cried out to the LORD (2:23)—and He heard them (2:24-25; 4:31).
Now, in the fullness of His providence, the LORD was ready to bring His people out of bondage. He had previously sent nine miraculous acts of judgment upon the Egyptians, each one more severe than the previous (cf. chapters 7-10). Finally, in His most fearsome and awesome display of power, the LORD plagued the nation with the death of every first born (chapters 11-12). While He “passed over” the Hebrews (12:23-28), He passed through the Egyptians—and every home suffered loss, from the lowest member of society to the king himself (12:12, 29-30).
The Egyptians had had all they could stand and then drove the Hebrews from their domain (12:33-36). The NKJV says, “The Egyptians urged the people, that they might send them out of the land in haste. For they said, ‘We shall all be dead’” (12:33).
Oddly enough, as the Israelites existed Egypt, they took what appeared to be a very bizarre detour:
“From the standpoint of military strategy, the detour God told the Israelites to take was sheer lunacy. They were already well on their way to freedom when God ordered them to turn around, go back, and camp between the desert and the sea… Wherever they were, the Israelites were completely vulnerable. They were out on Egypt’s frontier, surrounded by desert, with their backs to the sea. Why on earth would God put His people in this kind of position? Any military strategist would have recognized immediately that they were trapped…”2
From Pharaoh’s perspective, the Hebrews had gotten turned around in the desert and inadvertently cornered themselves, so he decided this was an excellent opportunity to force them back into captivity (14:5ff). With their backs to the sea, the king decided it was time to exhibit his own prowess. Yahweh (i.e., Jehovah), the God of the Hebrews had great power, but so did he—Amenhotep II3—the living god of the Egyptians, and he’d display it with the full might of his own military forces including 600 choice chariots (14:7).
Now think about what was transpiring on this occasion in the minds of the Hebrews. Pharaoh’s indomitable army was in route. They would march down into the midst of the helpless Hebrews and crush them. Thousands would surely die horrible, agonizing deaths, while the rest would be dragged back into oppression. It was a nightmare unfolding before their very eyes.
I’ve often pondered this pivotal note in Old Testament history. It occurs to me that the children of Israel actually believed God was impotent—at least now. Despite His promises to the contrary (3:8, 17-22; 4:21-23), despite the fact that He has raised up a deliverer in the person of Moses (ch. 2-5), despite the fact that He had shown a vast array of incredible signs and wonders over the past several months and executed judgement against the gods of Egypt (ch. 7-12; 12:12), the Hebrews believed at this very moment that they were doomed. They were stuck between a rock and hard place, between the waters of the Red Sea and the violent aggression of Pharaoh’s soldiers. The inevitable conclusion to hundreds of years of subjugation was slaughter—then more subjugation. Jehovah could put on a series of exciting shows, but in the end He just couldn’t save. Watch:
And when Pharaoh drew near, the children of Israel lifted their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians marched after them. So they were very afraid, and the children of Israel cried out to the Lord. Then they said to Moses, “Because there were no graves in Egypt, have YOU taken us away to DIE in the wilderness? Why have YOU so dealt with us, to bring us up out of Egypt? Is this not the word that we told YOU in Egypt, saying, ‘Let us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should DIE in the wilderness” (14:10-14—emphasis mine, mb).
Moses took the immediate blame for their plight (notice how many times Israel said, “YOU”—mb), but ultimately the imminent death of the Hebrews was God’s fault. From their amnesic perspective, He wasn’t living up to His word and despite all of His miraculous bravado during the ten plagues, He apparently didn’t have sufficient power to stop the Egyptians now.
The truth of the matter was, every expression of providential care, every miraculous act of judgment against Egypt, and every distinction the Lord made between the Hebrews and the Egyptians should have been an occasion when Israel’s faith (as well as yours—1 Cor. 10:11; Rom. 15:4) was not only being built, but intensified! So that by Exodus 14, when Pharaoh’s mighty army showed up on the horizon, the Hebrews should have said, “Stand still and watch everybody—God’s gonna fight for us again!”
Brethren, even though this story is thousands of years old, it’s as fresh and current as this past hour’s Facebook post. Think about it. When you’re stuck—when you’re between a rock and a hard place and your back is up against the sea, it’s tempting to share Israel’s faithless and illogical view. “God, despite the countless times I’ve prayed to you, you’re obviously not going to deliver me. This detour is actually a dead-end…” (cf. Psm. 106:7-8).
In reality, it’s when your suffering is the most palpable, and your doubts have risen to the surface that they must give way to faith in God (cf. Mark 9:24). Pay close attention to what Moses told Israel at this juncture:
“Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever. The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace” (14:13-14).
Now re-read those phrases and commit them to memory:
- “The salvation of the LORD.”
- “HE will accomplish for you.”
- “The LORD will fight for you.”
Did ya’ll catch that…? Fighting was God’s job—faith was Israel’s job.
Dear reader, faith in God doesn’t mean we will never hurt, experience pain, or be free from troubles (Job 5:7; 14:1; Eccl. 2:23; John 16:33; Rom. 5:3-5; 12:12; Jas. 1:2-4; 2 Cor. 4:17). Faith in God doesn’t mean we’ll never know what it’s like to be stuck with our backs against the sea (Psm. 46:1; Nah. 1:7). Faith in God means looking at His deliverance in times past and trusting Him with the same in the future (Psm. 9:9-10; 59:9-10; 62:8; Prov. 11:8). It means remembering that He cannot lie, that He’s never been caught off guard, and that He’s never been impotent or less than all powerful (2 Sam. 22:33; 2 Chron. 20:6; Job 26:7-14; Psm. 71:18; 147:4-5; Jer. 10:12-13). It means accepting the fact that He’s always in control, He promises to never forsake you—and that ultimately even the grave will bow to His divine will (Deut. 31:6; Isa. 41:10; Psm. 94:14; Heb. 13:5-6; Rev. 1:18). In other words, it means letting God do the fighting—because He’s the only one qualified to do so.
Are you confused by a divine detour? Are you stuck between a rock and a hard place? LET GOD DO THE FIGHTING FOR YOU.
1 “Deliverance Day”; Philip Ryken, “Between the Desert and the Sea,” Exodus–Saved for God’s Glory, 383; 3 John J. Davis, “The Call of Moses,” Moses and the God’s of Egypt, 80