Exodus, chapters 14-16; Acts, chapter 2
Exodus 14:1-14 (NLT):
Then the Lord gave these instructions to Moses: “Order the Israelites to turn back and camp by Pi-hahiroth between Migdol and the sea. Camp there along the shore, across from Baal-zephon. Then Pharaoh will think, ‘The Israelites are confused! They are trapped in the wilderness!’ And once again I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will chase after you. I have planned this in order to display my glory through Pharaoh and his whole army. After this the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord!” So the Israelites camped there as they were told.
Fists Raised in Defiance
When word reached the king of Egypt that the Israelites had fled, Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds. “What have we done, letting all those Israelite slaves get away?” they asked. So Pharaoh harnessed his chariot and called up his troops. He took with him 600 of Egypt’s best chariots, along with the rest of the chariots of Egypt, each with its commander. The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, so he chased after the people of Israel, who had left with fists raised in defiance. The Egyptians chased after them with all the forces in Pharaoh’s army – all his horses and chariots, his charioteers, and his troops. The Egyptians caught up with the people of Israel as they were camped beside the shore near Pi-hahiroth, across from Baal-zephon.
“Just Stand Still and Watch”
As Pharaoh approached, the people of Israel looked up and panicked when they saw the Egyptians overtaking them. They cried out to the Lord, and they said to Moses, “Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness? Weren’t there enough graves for us in Egypt? What have you done to us? Why did you make us leave Egypt? Didn’t we tell you this would happen while we were still in Egypt? We said, ‘Leave us alone! Let us be slaves to the Egyptians. It’s better to be a slave in Egypt than a corpse in the wilderness!’ But Moses told the people, “Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today. The Egyptians you see today will never be seen again. The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.”
“Fists raised in defiance”
Most of us are familiar with this story. Pharaoh changes his mind and chases after the Israelites. God opens the sea for the Israelites to pass through, and then wipes out Pharaoh and his army as they try to follow. But here’s what caught my attention as I read this passage today. First, verse 8 tells us that the people of Israel had left with fists raised in defiance. Presumably, that was in defiance of Pharaoh – but when Pharaoh showed up a short time later, that defiance was changed to panic. Why? Because their faith in God was not truly rooted in their hearts. That meant that every time something new happened, their faith was gone. That’s no way to live!
In contrast to that, consider Moses. First, at the beginning of the passage, God tells Moses: I have planned this in order to display my glory through Pharaoh and his whole army. But God doesn’t tell Moses what the whole plan is! He only tells Moses enough for Moses to do what comes next: Order the Israelites to turn back and camp…along the shore. No details about how God will display his glory, no information on how the Egyptians will be defeated. Just do what comes next – go camp along the shore.
“Just stand still and watch”
Next, notice that even when the Egyptians are approaching, and the people are panicking, Moses stays strong: Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you. Even though God has still not told Moses how He will deliver them, Moses trusts God’s plan. And that carries even one step further. God doesn’t simply part the sea; he tells Moses, Pick up your staff and raise your hand over the sea. Divide the water so the Israelites can walk through the middle of the sea on dry ground. God finally reveals the plan, but Moses has to have enough faith to raise his staff over the sea and trust that God is going to do the impossible.
Moses didn’t have any time to ask God about it; he didn’t have time to think it through. Pharaoh’s armies were in sight. The people were backed up against the sea. God said, Pick up your staff and raise your hand over the sea – and that’s exactly what Moses did. And God did what He had said: He displayed His glory through Pharaoh and his whole army.
We are so conditioned to want an explanation of everything that we sometimes limit what God can do. Sometimes, the opportunity that we face – whether it’s a battle or a blessing – requires an immediate faith response. If we have not trained ourselves to trust God that way, we will find it difficult to make that response. The Israelites raised their fists in defiance when they left Egypt, thinking they would never see Pharaoh again. When Pharaoh showed up, however, their faith evaporated.
Are we like Moses, or like the Israelites? Has our faith been strengthened so we can respond immediately when the need arises? Or do we shake our fists only when the trial is over – only to panic again the next time?
Father, thank you for reminding us that you always have a plan. That doesn’t mean that you always give us the details on that plan; you tell us exactly what we need to know for the next step. Train us to respond in faith today, and to trust that your plan is perfect. Guard us against the enemy’s attempts to throw us into panic when we can’t see the entire plan. And when the time comes for us to act big – to raise our staff over the sea – help us to trust that you will use our obedience for your glory. Amen.