Opening Prayer: Almighty and everlasting God, you are the God of the exodus. You speak and worlds come into existence; you speak again and you reduce nations to nothing. You raise up kings and bring them down, and you always fight for your people. We have gathered now before you and ask that you would be merciful to us. Hear our pleas for mercy. Teach us, guard us, and defend us in your grace. Through Jesus, Amen!
The Exodus story forms the backbone of much of the Old Testament story and a significant aspect of who Israel is to be. This is also the revelation of Yahweh as the God who saves his people, and because Israel is his saved people they are called to live in that salvation. And in all of this it is important to remember that this is our story.
Remember how Israel is going up out of Egypt in military formation, as the armies of Yahweh (12:37, 41, 51, 13:18). This means that Pharaoh’s host is coming up against Yahweh’s host. It looks like Pharaoh’s armies are coming down on a defenseless refugee camp, but God thinks of it much differently: Israel is Yahweh’s victorious army (having just plundered the Egyptians), and now the defeated army of Pharaoh is coming back for one more futile attempt. It’s the Angel of God that is leading them; Yahweh is in the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night (13:21, 14:19). The cloud is shade in the hot, desert wilderness by day and warmth and protection by night. It’s worth noting how many times the words chariots and horsemen appear in this text (12 times in Ex. 14-15). Chariots were like the ancient world’s version of a tank. At the same time God’s glory cloud is associated with chariots as well in Scripture (Ez. 1, 10). Remember the horses and chariots that take Elijah up into heaven, the chariots that surround Elisha in the city when the Arameans attack. (2 Kgs. 13:14). The angels of God are his hosts, and God is training Israel to be his armies. Of course Isreal’s response is unbelief and fear (14:10-13). It would not be better to die in Egypt under Pharaoh than in the wilderness with Yahweh. It was the Angel of Yahweh who appeared to Moses in the burning bush, and it is the Angel of God who is associated elsewhere with the captain of Yahweh’s hosts (Josh. 5:13ff). Not only is Israel Yahweh’s army, not only are his angels his army, but Yahweh leads the armies in battle and fights for them (14:14, 14:25). Notice too that Yahweh chooses which battles to lead his people into (13:17, 14:3-4). God is setting an ambush for Pharaoh.
We’ve pointed out that the 10 plagues can be viewed as the de-creation of Egypt, and it is interesting that there are several hints that the Red Sea crossing is itself a re-creation of sorts. The parting of the Red Sea takes place at night (14:20). It’s in the morning that Yahweh looks down upon the Egyptians and troubles their armies (14:24). Genesis 1 is a week of separating and dividing which begins in darkness and ends in Sabbath. First the light and darkness are divided when Yahweh gives light to Israel and darkness to the Egyptian armies. Yahweh does this in the cloud which divides between Israel and Egypt. This creates a picture of the world where Israel is the heavenly host and Egypt is the earthly people. Notice also that it is the presence of the wind/spirit which does the work of dividing the waters (remember Gen. 1:2). Then it is on the dry ground between the separated waters that Israel passes through. Then Yahweh looks down and judges the old rulers of the old world, and he fills the sea with their bodies. Finally, Israel stands as Yahweh’s new humanity, Israel is God’s son reborn, and they rejoice and rest in this.
Fear and Belief
The response of the people is that they feared the Lord and believed the Lord and his servant Moses (14:31). It’s worth pointing out that at this point Israel has done nothing to contribute to this great deliverance. The salvation of God is completely unilateral; it is all of grace. The question is always, ‘now what will you do about it?’ Some people insist on remaining at the Red Sea, constantly reliving the Exodus. But God is determined to train up his people into a great host. We are called to learn to fight.
An easy moralistic application might be something like no matter how difficult things look God can still deliver you. This is true as far as it goes, but we need to remember that this is also the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham some four hundred years previously (Gen 15:13ff). The Exodus is proof that God keeps his promises. But this is also another display of how God keeps his promises. God delights to show his strength in weakness.
Lastly, we know from Psalm 77 that God caused his glory cloud to rain on the people as they crossed the sea on dry ground. And when God troubles the Egyptian army and in particular their chariot wheels, he is pouring down rain and creating mud. This helps us understand more clearly why Paul says that this Red Sea crossing is a baptism into Moses (1 Cor. 10:1-2). The same waters are salvation for God’s people who believe and judgment and death to the enemies of God. This is why Paul reminds the Corinthians that they must beware of temptations to idolatry and ingratitude (1 Cor. 10:6-11). It is not enough to pass through the sea, it is not enough merely to be baptized. You must pass through the sea, God does fight for you there, but then you must learn to take up arms. You are called into the wilderness to become God’s host, his war camp, his glory cloud. God has saved you in order that you might learn to fight.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Closing Prayer: Gracious God and Lord, you have saved us and purchased us and made us your own possession in the blood of Jesus. But so often we don’t know what that means, and we live like we’re still trying to get out of Egypt. We thank you for our baptism for how you defeated sin and death on the cross and how you have joined us to Christ and his resurrection. Some men trust in chariots and others trust in nuclear weapons, the Supreme Court, congress, and money, but we place our trust in you. For you train our hands for war and our fingers for battle.