Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. (Exodus 14:13)
Have you ever felt like your back was against the wall? How about against the sea?
In such times of unescapable trouble, we can easily begin to question, Where is our God? It may not seem to make sense. Why would God leave us in difficult, sometimes horrible places?
In the story of the Exodus, God gives us one answer: to show us that he is our Defender.
God Will Get the Glory
Centuries had passed since God promised Abraham that he would make from him a great nation. For generations, they lived as slaves under Egyptian rule. Oppressed, they had no homeland, no freedom. They cried out to their God, and he heard them (Exodus 2:23–25). Through Moses, he delivered them with great signs and wonders. They even left with Egyptian treasures.
But then God put them in a tough place, intentionally. They were to encamp in front of the sea. Why did God lead this way?
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.(Exodus 14:3–4).
God dangled his people in front of Pharaoh that, once again, he would change his mind and go after Israel, and then God, yet again, would show Pharaoh that he alone is God. The stage was set for a final showdown.
Doubts and Complaints
But God’s people were plagued by a terrible memory. Israel forgot that they just witnessed such plagues as the Nile turned to blood, the sun went dark, the firstborn died, and so they feared greatly (Exodus 14:10).And their unbelief expressed itself in a sin that would become characteristic of the people in their wilderness: they grumbled. 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?” (Exodus 14:11).
Moses says what we often need to be reminded: “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 14:13–14). God’s people breathed foolishness and rebellion. They trembled in faithless fear. They were not prepared for this fight. Yet the Lord tells them to be silent — the battle is his.
God then interposed himself between his people and his enemy (Exodus 14:19–20). God, through Moses, parted the sea and sheltered his people safely through. He “looked down on the Egyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic, clogging their chariot wheels so that they drove heavily.” And the Egyptians, seeing who their battle was against, said, “Let us flee from before Israel, for the Lord fights for them against the Egyptians” (Exodus 14:24–25).
But this time God’s enemies would not escape. Moses stretched out his hand, and “the waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained”(Exodus 14:28). The Almighty went to fight their battle. None survived.
This scene in Israel’s history foreshadows the great deliverance to come. Without our permission, without our pleading, without our prior knowledge, our God went off to war in our stead. While we were yet ungodly, while we were drinking down iniquity like water, he marched outside the city to the place of the Skull to drown our sin and judgment. He rode out to face something far worse than Pharaoh: he faced the full deluge of divine judgment whose puddles sank Egypt’s army.
The tidal waves of God’s righteous fury fell upon his willing Son, and he drank the cup alone. We pass through eternity untouched because he went into the middle of the sea and allowed the waves to fall upon him. In death, he crushed death. In his condemnation, he freed us. He went forth and came back with the head of the serpent. All we did was remain silent and stand still.
How can we forget such a victory? How can we doubt our Defender or wander from his gospel fortress? How can we give into unbelief, as most of this generation did? After they went through the sea, this was written of them: “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness”(1 Corinthians 10:1–5). By faith they passed through the waters (Hebrews 11:29), but in unbelief they were buried in the wilderness. But we, by the Spirit, freshly resolve, unlike them, to continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel.