If you have your Bibles with you, turn with me please to Exodus 14. If you’re using one of our church Bibles you’ll find that on page 56; Exodus 14. We’re going to read from the fifteenth verse through the end of the chapter. Before we read it is our custom to pause and pray and ask for God to help us understand and believe and obey His Word. Let’s pray together.
Lord, to whom else can we go? You have the words of eternal life. So we come to You, asking Lord Jesus, that You would help us to hear Your voice as You speak in the Scriptures, and grant to each of us the work of Your Spirit by whom Your Word causes new life to spring up, who restores wandering sheep to the fold, who comforts the brokenhearted, and who lifts our gaze from ourselves to focus on the glory of God. Would You do that in our hearts please by Your holy Word now, as it is read and proclaimed, for Jesus’ sake? Amen.
Exodus 14 at verse 15. This is God’s Word:
“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward. Lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go through the sea on dry ground. And I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they shall go in after them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, his chariots, and his horseman. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.’
Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the cloud and the darkness. And it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night.
Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. The Egyptians pursued and went in after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh's horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. And in the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and of cloud 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 said, ‘Let us flee from before Israel, for the Lord fights for them against the Egyptians.’
Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen.’ So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its normal course when the morning appeared. And as the Egyptians fled into it, the Lord threw the Egyptians into the midst of the sea. 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. But the people of Israel walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.
Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.”
Amen, and thanks be to God for His holy Word.
Last Lord’s Day Morning I was using a WWII illustration to begin our sermon. I thought I’d continue in the same vein using another from WWII, this time from the European theatre. On the 27th of May, 1940, over 400,000 troops belonging to the British Expeditionary Force and the French Army were trapped with their backs to the English Channel, surrounded on three sides by German panzer divisions and ground troops. Churchill, speaking to the House of Commons, called the situation “a colossal military disaster,” saying the whole root and core and brain of the British Army had been stranded at Dunkirk. On the 26th of May, a national day of prayer was declared for the deliverance of the British and French troops throughout the United Kingdom. King George VI attended a special service at Westminster Abbey and churches across the UK called out to God on behalf of the trapped soldiers.
Then on the 27th of May, the next day, Churchill ordered “Operation Dynamo” into effect. Several warships made the crossing multiple times under enemy fire, delivering troops from Dunkirk Harbor to safety in England. Nevertheless, many thousands of troops were still stranded on the longest beach in Europe, on the beaches of Dunkirk, and they were unable to be reached by the deep-drafted warships, and so a search was made around the United Kingdom and 700 civilian vessels with shallow draft were enlisted – small fishing boats, lifeboats, river boats, pleasure boats, paddle steamers, private sailboats, yachts – 700 of them with civilian crews made the crossing back and forth under strafing fire from the Luftwaffe overhead. The “little ships of Dunkirk,” as they came to be called, helped to rescue in the end 331,226 Allied soldiers from the German advance. Churchill, speaking to Parliament on the last day of the evacuation, June 4, gave his now famous “We shall fight on the beaches” speech in the course of which he declared the operation, “a miracle of deliverance.” A miracle of deliverance.
Victory And Escape
And it’s to a situation not all that unlike this one that we turn our attention this morning as we continue our studies in the book of Exodus and return to the action in the second half of Exodus 14. The Israelites, too, were trapped with their backs to the sea, with the equivalent of panzer divisions – the elite chariot troops of Pharaoh bearing down upon them. From the vantage point of the fleeing Israelites, the whole situation must have seemed like a terrible tactical blunder on God’s part. It was God, chapter 14 and verse 1, who has told them to turn around, pull at U-turn, head back to camp between Migdol and the sea. It was God who put them in this situation, “a colossal military disaster,” to use Churchill’s phrase. But as God Himself made clear to Moses, however strange it may have seemed at the time, however terrifying to watch the Egyptians take up their positions before the terrified Israelites, even in this impossible situation God’s strategy was being worked out. This was God’s strategy. The deliverance at Dunkirk, you know, merely avoided the annihilation of the Allied armies trapped there on the beaches. In fact, Churchill had to remind the elated British people that this was not a victory but merely an escape, a deliverance.
But the plan of God for the Israelites at Migdol was for much, much more than that. God’s salvation, you see, is never simply a miracle of deliverance from disaster; it is also a miracle of victory. It is a victory. And so Exodus 14:15 to the end teaches us about the nature of God’s salvation; the way in which the Lord fights for His people, delivers and saves and rescues His people, and triumphs on their behalf. The exodus, as I’ve said before, becomes the archetype and the paradigm in the rest of Scripture for salvation, for God’s saving work, so that the supreme deliverance that God provides, the deliverance from our sin by the cross of His Son the Lord Jesus Christ, is itself literally called “Jesus’ exodus” – Luke 14 and verse 31. We’re not simply reading here a remarkable, historical account of escape from danger against all the odds much like the account of the deliverance at Dunkirk. No, we are being confronted in this passage with the wonders of the Gospel of God’s saving grace itself. Here is the good news that God loves to save His people.
I. The Glory God Pursues
So let’s take a look at it again please. And I want to highlight with you four things about God’s salvation from our passage, the first of them you will see in verses 15 through 18. Verses 15 to 18, notice the glory God pursues; the glory God pursues. Moses has been speaking to the terrified people on behalf of God. He’s told them the Lord was going to save them – verses 13 and 14, “The Lord will fight for you,” he’d said, “You have only to be silent.” But look at verse 15. Not only has Moses been speaking to the people on God’s behalf, it seems he’s also been crying to God on the people’s behalf, and that was his job. He was the mediator, the go-between; God’s appointed savior of His people. He intercedes on their behalf and gives expression to their terrified cries for deliverance. But apparently God has had enough of Moses’ prayers. You see that in verse 15? Isn’t that remarkable? Verse 15 – “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward! Enough already, Moses! Stop praying! I have given you My promises. What are you waiting for? Get moving!” Clearly God isn’t pleased with prayer when prayer becomes an excuse for inactivity. That’s what’s happening here, isn’t it? Moses had the promises, God had told them what to do; he delays, nevertheless, giving voice instead to the fearful cries of the people. How easy it is to let ourselves off the hook from following our duty as Christians so long as we tell ourselves we’re still praying about it. God is not pleased with prayers used as an excuse for inactivity and disobedience.
Obeying the Impossible Commands of God
Well on this occasion God won’t let Israel off the hook and He commands them to go into action. “Stop praying. Get moving!” That was the command. The problem is, there’s nowhere to go. The command requires them to do the impossible, which by the way is always the case with the commands of the Gospel. “Repent! Believe!” They are every bit as impossible as the commands given to Moses. Spoken to deaf ears, hearts of stone, those whom God calls to faith and repentance are dead in trespasses and sins. The command of God requires the very thing we have no power to perform. Now why would God do that? Why tell the Israelites to get moving when there is nowhere to go? Why call dead, lifeless sinners to turn from sin when it is sin that enslaves them in the first place? Why require faith when faith is unattainable? Look at the text. “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward. Lift up your staff, stretch out your hand over the sea, and divide it that the people of Israel may go through the sea on dry land. I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, his chariots and his horsemen. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD when I’ve gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.’” What is God’s agenda in calling Israel to impossible action? It is to get glory for Himself when He makes a way for them and triumphs over their enemies.
“God,” as Saint Augustine famously put it, “commands what He wills and gives what He commands.” He commands what He wills – it may be impossible to comply, but He gives grace. He gives what He commands – the Gospel requires what we cannot provide. It calls for faith and for repentance, but God gives what He requires, that all the glory for our salvation from first to last may rest on Him, may be to Him. And that is always God’s agenda, you know. He is always pursuing His glory. God saves Israel here for His own glory. He judges Egypt here for His own glory. He does everything He does for His own glory “for from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever, amen.” Everything God does, He does for His own glory.
The Good News of God-Centeredness
God, our text is reminding us, is radically God-centered. God is radically God-centered. And that is good news because the radical God-centeredness of God really is the only way for us to avoid the radical self-centeredness to which our hearts naturally incline. Let me say that again. I think it’s important to hear it clearly. The radical God-centeredness of God is good news because it’s the only way for us as Christians to avoid the radical self-centeredness to which our hearts naturally incline. Christianity will be all about me, all about my “best life now,” all about my comfort, my ease, my wholeness, my self-improvement. I will reduce the Christian Gospel to a tool in service of my own self-idolization. As I make much of me, unless the Christian God is not all about me, if God is not about my “best life now” but about His great glory forever, if He’s not devoted to my comfort here but His praise forever, if He’s not focused on making me better first but on displaying His beauty and majesty and excellence always, if God is God-centered and not man-centered then to know Him and live in the grip of His grace is to find freedom from self-obsession, to have our own hearts reoriented, to focus on another object than ourselves, something infinitely more glorious and worthy to be adored. God is devoted to the most glorious object there is – Himself. And because He is, so too much we be. God does all He does for His own glory and that breaks the endlessly repeating and frankly exhausting loop of self-serving narcissism to which so many of us are enslaved. God is radically God-centered and that is good news. The glory that God pursues. He saves you that you might make much of Him and so find everlasting, inexhaustible joy as you see the beauty and majesty of His person. The glory that God pursues.
II. The Division That God Creates
Floodlights in the Darkness
Then look at verses 19 to 20 – the division that God creates. The glory God pursues; the division God creates. The angel of the Lord, Yahweh Himself, appearing in the pillar of cloud and fire now moves from leading the way ahead of the people of Israel to take up positions behind them. He now comes, verse 20, between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. There was cloud and darkness and it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night. Complicated language. Here’s what I think it means. There is a division between the people of God and the Egyptians designed to preserve the Israelites from the predations of the enemy. The cloud of God’s presence keeps the Egyptians on one side in dreadful darkness while on the other side, the pillar of fire gives the Israelites the security of light, supernatural flood lights brightening the darkness.
The New Testament, you know, repeatedly uses that imagery of light and darkness perhaps even drawing from this moment in Israel’s history as a way to describe the implications of belonging to the people whom God saves. Those whom He saves He makes to dwell securely in the light of His presence. “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore, do not become partners with them, for at one time you were darkness but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of the light,” Ephesians 5:6-8. “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as he is in the light we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin,” 1 John 1:5-7.
To belong to the covenant community, the church, through faith in Jesus, the people whom God saves, means to leave in the light of the presence of God, in the protective presence of the light of God. There is no way to live in darkness and belong to the Israel of God. Either we’re Egyptians so to speak, still in darkness, ultimately facing His wrath and displeasure, or we are members of the community that God saves by grace and we live in the light. Walk as children of the light. Walk in the light as Christ is in the light. God makes a separation between the church and the world, between Egypt and Israel, between His people and those who reject His rule. You cannot live in both camps, Christian. You cannot belong to the people of God and live like an Egyptian. Whose are you? You cannot serve two masters. Whose are you? Do you walk in the light?
III. The Mediator God Honors
The glory God pursues, the division God creates, then thirdly notice the mediator God honors. Verses 21 through 29. Back in verse 16 God had told Moses to lift up his staff, stretch out his hand and divide the sea that Israel might escape. And now in verses 21 and following, Moses complies with that instruction. The sea piles up, notice, creating a wall of water on either side with a clear path through its middle in order for the Israelites to make their escape. And Pharaoh, of course, gives chase, his heart hardened, filled with malice, will not let the Israelites go. He gives chase just as morning breaks and it’s just then that the Lord throws them into confusion. The wheels of the chariots mire down in the mud and once more Moses is commanded to lift up his staff over the waters. Verse 27, “The Egyptians fled into it. The Lord threw the Egyptians into the midst of the sea; the waters returned and covered the chariots and horsemen. Of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained. But the people of Israel walked on dry ground through the sea. The waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.”
Moses’ Obedience and the Salvation of the People
Notice just as an aside that the destruction of Egypt takes place at dawn when Ra, the sun god of Egypt, returns to his power. And here is the Lord exposing Egypt’s gods for the empty idols they really are, destroying the armies of Egypt. But did you see how it was done? Not by Moses’ prayer; he’s not praying. God has told him to stop praying. It was done by his obedient actions. He lifts up the staff as God had commanded him to do; the staff that was almost an emblem of office, the staff that God had used again and again through the plagues to enact His will. A symbol of God’s promises and power attending Moses’ ministry. He lifts up that staff and God speaks to Moses telling him to do so and tells Moses to divide the sea as though it were Moses’ own power that accomplished the feat. It was the Lord’s doing. The Lord had attached and bound together the salvation He would effect in supernatural sovereign working to the obedience of His servant Moses so that as Moses obeyed the people were saved.
Christ, the Better Moses
It is extraordinary but it is of course a picture of how God delights to save sinners everywhere by means of the greater than Moses, His Son the Lord Jesus. Moses is often compared and contrasted in the Scriptures to Christ. Hebrews 3:3 – Christ is counted worthy of more glory than Moses. He is the mediator of a better covenant than Moses. Christ is the better, the greater than Moses whose salvation is perfect and complete, to whom Moses’ actions here point us. His obedience and blood, His faithful compliance with the commands of God secured deliverance from sin and death and hell for all whom He represented. Jesus didn’t lift up a staff, of course. He was Himself lifted up and nailed to a Roman tree there to win deliverance for us. There at the cross God’s victory over death and judgment was secure. There a people were ransomed for every tribe and language and nation. There God acted and we were saved. And so just as this passage focuses our eyes on the obedience of Moses, so now also the Gospel to which this passage points us directs our gaze to the obedience of Jesus Christ, the Mediator whom God honors. As He acts, we are saved.
IV. The Salvation God Provides
Mighty Deliverance Through Improbable Means
The glory God pursues, the division God creates, the mediator God honors, now finally the salvation God provides. The salvation God provides. Look at 30 to 31. “Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.” Two things stand out here. First, did you catch the emphasis on the divine initiative? “The Lord saved Israel that day.” The Lord saved Israel that day. The situation was impossible. Israel had no hope of securing for itself an escape from the assaults of the Egyptian army. Left to themselves, Israel was doomed yet God made a way and He saved them. It was unlikely, improbable, unlooked for even. Through the flood to safety. Isn’t that how we might describe the cross? Unlikely, improbable – that God would use a Roman torture machine and there impale His Son, utterly rejected by everyone. This wretched, broken, unknown, denied, hated, mocked figure – the Savior of the world. That He would use the wounds of Christ to be the deliverer of everyone who came to Him seeking mercy. It’s extraordinary. The divine initiative – using improbable means to accomplish mighty deliverance. God has made a way and He has made a way by the wounds of His Son.
The Response to God’s Salvation
And do notice, secondly, the response of the people. As Exodus 14 placards the Gospel, God’s commitment to His own glory, God’s commitment to separating out for Himself a people distinct from the world, God’s commitment to doing so by means of a mediator, notice how the people respond; notice how we ought to respond as the Gospel is placarded before our view. Verse 31 – “Israel saw the great power of the Lord. The people feared the Lord, they believed in the Lord, and in his servant, Moses.” Seeing the salvation of the Lord should provoke a response. You can’t be the same, surely, when you see the crucified Man of Calvary. How can you be unchanged? It calls for a response. And what should that response be? Fear the Lord. Believe in the Lord and in His Servant, the greater than Moses, the Lord Jesus Christ, the only One who can rescue you, the only One who can be your Deliverer. It is to tremble before Him, recognizing His majesty, His sovereignty, recognizing if He does not act to rescue you, you will not be rescued. It is to tremble in reverent awe and to cast yourself completely, all your hope, all your confidence, all your trust, all your faith on Jesus Christ.
The glory God pursues – God is radically God-centered and that can free us from the endlessly repeating loop of narcissism and self-obsession to which our hearts instinctively incline. The division God creates – to belong to the people of God is to live in the light, not to walk in the darkness. You cannot serve two masters. Walk in the light! The mediator God honors – He has appointed Jesus Christ, His own Son, by whose obedience and blood He has made a way, a safe path for your deliverance. And the salvation that God provides – it is His gift of sheer grace to you. Take it, won’t you, in holy fear and joyful faith. Shall we pray together?
Our Father, some of us are looking for a hundred things to do, some great act or some persistent pattern of obedience that will win Your favor. Some of us despair of ever finding acceptance before You and rule ourselves out. You respond to our misunderstanding by pointing us to the astonishing reality, the surprising work of Your grace in providing a cross to be Your means of deliverance offered as a gift for free to all who come seeking mercy. Help us, every one of us, as we bow before You now to run back to the cross and to accept in awe and fear and joyous trust the deliverance only Jesus can give. For we ask it in His name and for His glory, amen.
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