"Out of Egypt: The Great Escape" by Rod Bayley, 20 June 2010, Exodus 13:17-14:31

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Danny

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Aug 3, 2010, 12:59:18 AM8/3/10
to Sermons from Wollongong Baptist Church
Have you ever followed someone’s instructions and found you were taken
the long way? In 2002 Christine and I were attending our graduation
from SMBC at the Salvation Army Congress Hall in the city. After the
event a lot of the students had decided to celebrate at ‘Pancakes on
the Rocks’, which was not far away. We were several blocks southeast
with a few one way streets in between, and we were giving three others
a lift over. Not knowing the best route to our destination, I was
reassured by my backseat driver Andrew, that he would get us there in
a jiffy - I could just follow his directions. Following his
instructions we crossed Pitt and George streets and headed down
towards Darling Harbour where we would apparently turn right and head
in a back-way to the Rocks to a good parking area. Well we turned
right and found ourselves on the fly-on to the harbour bridge with
only one exit to the left near the Aquarium, but I was reassured by my
mate that that wasn’t the exit we wanted, there was one more.
Unfortunately we only went about twenty metres further before we
realised that it definitely was the last exit as the express-way rose
up toward the bridge. The end result was that we went to the Rocks
via North Sydney and arrived a good twenty minutes or so after
everyone else. Pancakes and ice cream were half eaten by the time we
made our grand entrance. Nothing like being led the long way to your
destination.

Well in our passage today, the Israelites take the long route towards
Canaan, but it’s not because of bad driving or poor instructions. In
fact, God Himself directs them to take this desert excursion, and He
has some clear reasons why He leads them into the desert. Notice in
verse 17, that God does not take them on the short route northward, as
it goes through Philistine country - God says: “If they face war, they
might change their minds and return to Egypt.” Many of the people
were not trusting in God, despite all the miraculous plagues and
Pharaoh finally telling them to leave - we will see later in chapter
14 (v11-12) that many of the Israelites do express their desire to
return at the first sign of trouble while in the desert. It was not
God’s plan to lead them into battle against the Philistines, rather He
would yet deal a fatal blow to Egypt, and bring glory to Himself. In
verse 18 therefore, we see that God led them toward the Red Sea
through the desert. In verse 20 we are told of how they were moving
their camp towards the edge of the desert, which would have seemed
like an illogical thing to do - to head out into the wilderness where
their supplies would soon be used up. However, it was not that God
was allowing them to wander aimlessly - God’s constant presence with
them is noted in verses 21 and 22. Led by a pillar of cloud by day
and a pillar of fire by night, they were guided every step of the way
- God was always present with them.

In verses 1 to 4 of chapter four, there is a new development, which
involves an even stranger route of escape. Notice that the LORD says
to Moses in verses 2, “Tell the Israelites to turn back and encamp
near Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea. They are to encamp by
the sea, directly opposite Baal Zephon.” This would have seemed a
strange step - to head backwards towards Egypt, over ground they had
already covered, and camp near the Red Sea to effectively corner
themselves. The reasoning is again given in verses 3 and 4, whereby
God explains to Moses that, “3Pharaoh will think, ‘The Israelites are
wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed in by the desert.’
4And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them. But I
will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the
Egyptians will know that I am the LORD.” We see that God is setting a
trap for the Egyptians to bring Himself glory, by them acknowledging
His true Lordship and sovereignty - the meandering path the Israelites
have taken will lead to the Egyptians pursuing them.

We have a change of scene from verse 5, as the narrator now focuses on
Pharaoh and the Egyptian response to Israel’s escape, and the
resulting reaction of the Israelites to the events which now unfold.
In verses 5 to 9 we see that Pharaoh changes his mind about letting
Israel go, and pursues them with his army. On the one hand, Pharaoh
follows his desires, concluding that the Israelites are hemmed in by
sea and desert, and therefore easy prey (14:3). Moreover, Pharaoh and
his officials now regret they let the people go. Slavery was one of
the fundamental strengths of their economic system, certainly the most
important resource in their building programs. Perhaps they thought
the plagues were horrible flukes, nothing more. The Israelite slaves
must be returned. Realising they have lost their slave workforce,
Pharaoh and his officials pursue with their whole army in verse 9 - an
overwhelming force of strength - there are no half-hearted measures
here.

And the result in verses 10 to 12 is that the fleeing Israelites are
struck with fear when they see the Egyptians are coming and have
basically caught up with them. Despite the miraculous plagues in
Egypt there is no sense that God might deliver them - rather, they
assume they will die. Notice their words to Moses in verses 11 and
12, “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? 12Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve
the Egyptians?’ It would have been better for us to serve the
Egyptians than to die in the desert!” Their complaints and blaming of
Moses for their apparent predicament show that they think the
situation is hopeless - despite their freedom from slavery, they
appear to have no faith in God, or His servant Moses now, to complete
the exodus. It’s as if they are trusting in their own strength. It
is a doubting which can come upon all of us in a crisis, but we must
continue to place our faith in the sovereign God.

A man slipped and fell off a cliff while hiking on a mountain-top.
Luckily he was able to grab a branch on his way down. Holding on for
dear life, he looked down only to see a rock valley some five hundred
metres below. When he looked up it was 6 metres to the cliff when he
had fallen. Panicking, he yelled, “Help! Help! Is anybody there?
Help!” A booming voice spoke up. “I am here, and I will save you if
you believe in me.” “I believe! I believe!” yelled back the man. “If
you believe me, let go of the branch and then I will save you.” The
young man, hearing what the voice said, looked back up and shouted,
“Is there anybody else up there!” See, as long as we keep our trust
totally on God, we stand assured of God’s promise to rescue - it is
the response that God requires. But as soon as we doubt the
sovereignty and trustworthiness of God, His previously demonstrated
faithfulness to us, we will topple into fear and insecurity. This was
the situation Israel faced in the desert - the scenario was not how
they thought things would pan out, and they were ready to give up.

In verses 13 and 14 Moses reassures the Israelites, addressing their
fear and their lack of faith in God. “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. 14The LORD will
fight for you; you need only to be still.” Fear was to be replaced
with trust in God, who would deal with their enemy, and rescue them.
This is how they would “stand firm” as Moses instructs them, against
their physical enemy, the Egyptian army.

But what about us today? We are also called to “stand firm” in our
faith throughout the New Testament, but our enemy is not physical, but
spiritual, as we were reminded of two weeks ago. In Ephesians
6:10-12, Paul states, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his
mighty power. 11Put on the full armour of God so that you can take
your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12For our struggle is not
against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the
authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the
spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Paul goes on to
explain that our armour is spiritual, just as our enemy is - we need
to trust God by holding onto the gospel of truth which brings us
salvation, righteousness and peace, to read the bible and pray. It is
our faith in Jesus through the message of the gospel which will
protect us against the devil’s schemes. We need to realise that the
arrows of doubt will come - we will find ourselves in crises perhaps,
as the Israelites did facing the Egyptians in the desert, and for us
to repel the doubts and stand firm we need to keep trusting in our
faithful God. But God will sustain even our trust through the work of
His Spirit - if it depended on our effort we would fail like the
Israelites. In 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 Paul also writes: “Now it is God
who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, 22set
his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a
deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” This is our great advantage
this side of the Cross, and it should create a sense of comfort and
confidence, but not complacency in our lives.

In verses 15 to 20 with the Egyptians now upon them, God instructs
Moses to part the waters of the Red Sea, and He protects Israel
through the pillar of cloud and the angel of God moving between the
Egyptian army and Israel. God’s sovereignty is again displayed, and
again reference is made to the glory which God will gain through the
judgment on Pharaoh and his army. Moses had first been informed of
God’s plan to gain glory through the Egyptian pursuit in verse 4, and
now in verses 17 and 18 God spells out this plan further: “I will
harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after
them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through
his chariots and his horsemen. 18The Egyptians will know that I am
the LORD when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his
horsemen.” It is God who had brought about this incredible situation
- He had initiated all of these events - He is not acted upon -
rather, He is the LORD of history.

And in verses 21 and 22, the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea by
Israel takes place on dry ground. We are actually told how God the
Creator, uses the natural forces of His creation to part the sea - He
uses the night to drive back the waters with a “strong east wind.”
However, the means of this incredible event, such as the wind, used in
the parting of the Red Sea were secondary, because the event (like the
plagues) is clearly presented as miraculous - it’s not the normal
ordering of everything, but the intervention of God over against the
way He normally does things. This makes miracles unique and therefore
not susceptible to scientific analysis. For people to walk on dry
land between walls of water in verse 22 is something the sovereign God
of creation may arrange, but no-one else.

The Egyptians pursue the Israelites in verses 23 to 28, but their fate
is ensured by God’s sovereign judgment. Before they drown in the Red
Sea as the waters return, God acts to create confusion in the Egyptian
army as the wheels of their chariots come off as they are driving in
verse 25. At this point the Egyptians are already giving glory to God
as they acknowledge it is His actions: “Let’s get away from the
Israelites! The LORD is fighting for them against Egypt.” However,
their realisation is too late, and we read how they drowned, with the
stark summary in verse 28 that “not one of them survived.”

In verse 30 we read a summary of the LORD’s incredible rescue of the
fearful Israelites who had thought they faced certain death at the
hands of the Egyptian army. The sight of Egyptians lying dead on the
shore would have been imprinted indelibly on the memories of the
Israelites that day. The Israelite response to God’s amazing
salvation act, which would be recalled throughout the rest of the Old
Testament, is given in verse 31: “And when the Israelites saw the
great power the LORD displayed against the Egyptians, the people
feared the LORD and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.”
They had been fearing the wrong person - we saw in verse 10 that they
were “terrified” of Pharaoh and his army - but now they rightly grasp
that the one who is sovereign and holds life or death in His hands is
the LORD, and it is Him that they should fear. And notice that their
reverential fear, their awe, led to trust or faith in the LORD and
Moses. Appropriate fear issues in trust.

What is the application of these incredible events for us today? How
should we respond to God, who is just as powerful and sovereign
today? Well we should react as the Israelites did. Firstly, we
should fear God. When Christine and I were in Tasmania on our
honeymoon we visited Cataract Gorge at Launceston. If you’ve been
you’ll know that there is a lovely park surrounding a big swimming
basin where the water from the narrow gorge flows out into a small
lake. The lake is somewhat artificial with a weir at the bottom end
which only allows some of the water to pass on through as the river
continues below it. Now usually the basin is a calm mill-pond, but in
the week before we arrived there had been record rainfalls in the
upper catchment of the gorge, and water was tearing down the gorge
into the basin, and straight over the weir at the bottom end of the
basin, back into the river. Now the sheer power of the water was
fairly impressive when we walked up the gorge a little way and crossed
a suspension bridge, but it wasn’t until we caught the rickety old
chairlift across the lake that we could take in the sheer volume of
water that was surging across the basin. It was at this point that we
were wondering what we were doing on the chair lift, in total awe of
the power of nature. Hundreds of thousands of cubic metres of water
were ripping across the lake, which was a brown swirling mass. We
would have disappeared if we’d fell in.

This overwhelming sense of awe and fear of the power of nature is like
the fear of the LORD. Fear of God isn’t an unhealthy fear, but an
overwhelming sense of God himself. If we feel a kind of fear and awe
over a mere flood, how much more should we feel that way about the
Lord, the Creator who is more powerful, and more overwhelming and all-
engulfing. It is a fear of God that produces trust, that keeps sin at
bay in our lives, and gives us a foothold for wisdom. And when you
fear God, you have nothing else to fear.

Secondly we should respond as the Israelites did, in trust or faith.
So often people struggle today with the idea of faith, thinking it
means to blindly accept something that is illogical or simply untrue.
Our society speaks as if it is something foreign that we don’t have or
practice anymore even in daily life, but that is completely false.
Faith is central to all of life. For example, you get into your car
which has an engine with such electronics today that you’re hard
pressed to know how it works, let alone fix it. You turn on the
engine and drive off assuming that it will respond correctly, that the
service it had the other week was performed correctly. For example,
that the brakes that were fixed will work as you head down Bulli pass
or Mount Ousley. We’re usually oblivious to the fact that 400 people
die every year on NSW roads alone, and 25,000 people are injured.
That is, every day someone dies, and 68 people are injured. Yet, we
don’t think twice about driving, all in trusting, sincere faith when
we don’t know what will happen next. Everyone exercises faith every
day.

But what about faith in God? Is that different? Not really - we have
to exercise it by acting on given knowledge. Faith is the gift of
God. So is the air, but you have to breathe it. So is water, but you
have to drink it. So how do we accept this gift? Not by a feeling,
for “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom.
10:17). It is not for me to sit down and wait for faith to come upon
me with a strong feeling of some kind. Rather, faith comes when we
take God at his word. And His word to us is to trust in His son the
Lord Jesus Christ, who lived on planet earth some 2000 years ago, and
who died to pay the price for our rebellion against God. He died in
your place so that you might be forgiven and accepted by God, and He
rose on the third day to prove his death effectively dealt with our
sin - and so we have the sure hope of eternal life with Him in heaven,
IF we trust in His actions on our behalf. You don’t have to do
anything but repent and believe this good news.

The story has been told of a missionary who became a good friend of an
Indian pearl diver. The two had spent many hours together discussing
salvation, but the Indian could not understand anything so precious
being free. Instead, in making preparations for the life to come, the
diver was going to walk nine hundred miles to Delhi on his knees. He
thought this would buy entrance into heaven for him. The missionary
struggled to communicate to his friend that it is impossible to buy
entrance into heaven because the price would be too costly. Instead,
he said, Jesus had died to buy it for us. Before he left for his
pilgrimage, the Indian gave the missionary the largest and most
perfect pearl he had ever seen. The missionary offered to buy it, but
the diver became upset and said that the pearl was beyond price, as
his only son had lost his life in the attempt to get it. The pearl
was worth the life blood of his son. As he said this, suddenly the
diver understood that God was offering him salvation as a priceless
gift. It is so precious that no man could buy it. It had cost God
the life’s blood of his Son. The veil was lifted - he understood at
last. He just had to trust.
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