When I started university I lived in a flat of six, all of us had had a year out before uni. Now if you're thinking what could be more annoying than a house of six nineteen year olds who've 'found themselves' during their gap year and can't stop telling everyone then you're about there. Actually most of the time we deliberately avoided that stereotype apart from one housemate who seemed to begin every sentence with; 'that reminds me, when I was in Kuala Lumpar…' It all came to a head, during I think an episode of neighbours, when another flatmate caved exasperatedly exclaiming that perhaps not everything in the world related back to Kuala Lumpar. The language may have been slightly more colourful.
More seriously my flatmate's experiences whilst travelling had changed him. They became the lens through which he interpreted the world.
For the writers of the Bible it seems the Exodus and in particular the crossing of the Red Sea is their Kuala Lumpar. It's a constant theme throughout Scripture, earlier we read Paul's letter to the Corinthians which used the crossing of the Red Sea to explain conversion and Baptism. Throughout the Bible the Exodus becomes a way of speaking about, a paradigm for explaining salvation. So were going to look at the crossing of the Red Sea, 'The Great Escape' and ask what does it tell us about salvation and the God who saves.
1. God saves his people from their deepest slavery
2. God saves his people for his worship
3. God saves his people by dealing with the judgement they deserve
1. God saves his people from their deepest slavery
Israel have escaped Egypt physically but spiritually they are still slaves.
Back in Chapter 3.7,8 we're told that God had seen the misery of his people and would come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians. In the following ten chapters we've seen God making good on that promise; raising up Moses as Israel's leader, revealing himself to them by a new name then comprehensively and systematically pulling apart Egypt most devastatingly in the Passover. Egypt is defeated and the Israelites are free, they've even been given the Egyptians gold as recompense for those years of slavery, the Israelites are no longer slaves.
Or perhaps not, God at least knows them better, more intimately than that. Despite the ten plagues and the spectacular destruction of their masters; Egypt God we're told in 13.17 did not take them on the most direct route out of Egypt but rather the road through the Philistine country; 'For God said, "If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt."'
God treats Israel gently; they're not ready to fight for their lives yet. In fact God is more than generous he is compassionate giving the Israelites a spectacular, visible sign of his presence with them; the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night that v22 never; left its place in front of the people.
So not only does God rescue Israel from the Egyptians but takes them by the hand leading them out of Egypt carefully avoiding a potential conflict with the Philistines and reassuring them of his presence through the pillar of cloud/fire. Then God does something very strange in 14.2 God tells Israel to turn back and camp next to the sea, trapping themselves between it and the Egyptians who are about to come after their escaped slave labour.
Why does God do this? It was all going so well wasn't it? Israel was free, free from slavery, free to be God's people. Well not quite, Israel's deeper enslavement is revealed in v10-12;
10 As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the LORD. 11 They said to Moses, "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? 12 Didn'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!"
This is very sarcastic; Moses - were they short of graves in Egypt or something? Egyptian culture was obsessed with death, they eventually built the pyramids as tombs for the Pharaohs; they had enough graves. We're going to die, our old masters are not just going to enslave us again they're going to kill us. Didn't we say to you in Egypt, 'Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians'?
Er, well no actually you didn't. Israel saw the signs God gave to Moses and trusted in God. They saw ten devastating plagues almost wipe Egypt from the face of the earth. The Israelites are irrational and delusional. They might have cried out to Moses; 'send another plague' that would at least have been logical but they don't they deliberately mis-remember what it was like in Egypt. Later they will wistfully remember pots of meat which they 'ate' in Egypt but it's all an illusion. And so we see that out of Egypt the Israelites are not free. Though physically no longer enslaved to the Egyptians on a deeper level they are slaves; slaves to their current situation, slaves to fear, slaves to a delusional version of their past.
You'll remember that God's repeated charge to Pharaoh was; 'Let my people go' that's happened now but it hasn't brought Israel freedom that's because the second half of that charge; 'Let my people go so that they may serve me in the desert' hasn't happened yet. Modern people often think of freedom as the absence of boundaries or commitments, the space to do as we please. Well the Israelites have all the space they could ask for; the desert but they are not free. That's not what freedom means. Bob Dylan put it like this;
You may be an ambassador to England or France You may like to gamble, you might like to dance You may be the heavyweight champion of the world You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls
But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed You're gonna have to serve somebody Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord But you're gonna have to serve somebody
'You've gotta serve somebody' (Bob Dylan, Slow Train Coming, 1979)
That's consistent with what the Bible says freedom is – it isn't the absence of commitment – that is an illusion we always serve something, or somebody. True freedom is willingly committing to the God who saves us rather than the idols which would kill us. The Israelites are still slaves because although they have been let go they are not yet serving the living God. As a result they are slaves to fear, to circumstance.
The same is true for us, we are all mastered by something or someone and we won't be free until that someone is Jesus. Now it's easy for us to think of an example of someone being enslaved think of a heroin addict no-one would say that the chemical high they experience and desire so strongly means they are free. There's always literally a downer, it doesn't satisfy and what's more there's fallout in terms of relationships, the need for money etc etc. But what about you is there something or someone that if it were taken away, if it/they didn't match up to your expectations, it would devastate you?
What if you lost your job next month lost your status your standard of living, the sense of purpose your job provided. What if your children don't grow up into everything you want them to be? We're all slaves; the question is who or what to? So we need to admit that we are not free and instead ask ourselves who we are serving. God rescues slaves, to be slaves for him and that's the subject of our second point; 'God saves his people for his worship'.
2. God saves his people for his worship
God's glory is both the reason for our salvation and the very thing which makes it possible.
There's a repeated phrase throughout this passage, it's a good practise to notice those; they are usually significant. In 14.4 God says to Moses;
"… I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD."
And again in v17,18;
"… 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."
Here we have stated plainly the purpose of this great escape, not primarily to save the Israelites from the advancing Egyptians nor even to begin the process of freeing them from their deeper slavery but to gain glory for God. So what does that mean; for God to gain glory? The second half of v14 and verse 18 help us;
Verse 14b: "… and the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD."
Verse 18: "… The Egyptians will know that I am the LORD when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen."
For God to gain glory means for him to be recognised as God, his purpose is to be known and worshipped by everyone even his enemies. We learned that so powerful through the plagues. In general people have two reactions to this;
1. Outrage – This is exactly the egotistical, selfish God I worried Christians believed in I want nothing to do with him.
2. Apathy – Well I guess God is 'the boss', so he should probably get some credit, not sure why it's such a big deal though.
The answer to both is justice. God absolutely deserves to be glorified to be known, to have fame for acting as God. When we say ego we generally mean that as a negative thing and rightly so we are imperfect, the bible would say sinful, tainted people therefore we shouldn't have to high a view of ourselves or demand that others do. The Bible agrees saying in Romans 12; 'Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement…'
But God is not like us, he is holy without any fault, any blemish, any crookedness, he is pure. It is therefore impossible for us to think to highly of God than we ought. Not only is God all-powerful and therefore to be revered but he is good, so good infinitely loving, generous and yet just. He is deserving of glory because he matches up to every standard, he is never anything less than perfect, faithful, true, good. He is intrinsically glorious.
He has also made everything, including us his creatures. We're more familiar with this concept, we recognise that the artist who painted the picture, the engineer who built the bridge, the composer who wrote the song deserve the credit for what they have produced. When we combine these things; that not only has God made everything and could therefore by right expect credit for it but that he is inherently, all together majestic and wonderful we see that it is not just reasonable that God should be praised but that it is unthinkable that he wouldn't be – justice demands that he is given the glory.
More specifically this is why being a servant; literally a slave of God is able to bring real freedom. The problem with the things we and the Israelites are enslaved to is that they do not last and they are not able to satisfy us. Whether you're a hedonist relentlessly pursuing experience or a careerist chasing influence, money or recognition or whether you're just trying to build the perfect family home – you're lost because none of those things will last forever and none of them ultimately will satisfy you, will fill you up and give you lasting wholeness. God however, this God who is deserving of glory, of praise from everyone is lasting; we will be with him forever, he is satisfying in a way our souls never knew before we knew him, he brings fullness of life. This is why when we commit to him; we are free slaves, slaves who can say this yoke is easy and burden light.
We see an example of this type of faith back in 13.19 where we are told that Joseph had said "God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up with you from this place." Joseph was not a slave to fear, a slave to circumstance, he was truly free. Free in his lifetime to move from a brother despised and left for dead to prime-minister of Egypt and now after death his bones would be taken back out of Egypt to the Promised Land where he always knew God was leading his people.
What then should our response be? I quoted earlier from Romans 12 which said that we should not think of ourselves too highly but with sober judgement just a couple of verses before that Romans 12. 1 says;
'Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual [or reasonable] act of worship.'
The only reasonable response to this God who frees us from our deepest slavery, slavery that leads to death is to present our whole beings, every sphere of our lives before him. To die to ourselves, take up our cross and follow him with the whole of our hearts. That is the only response worth thinking about.
God saves his people from slavery, God save his people for his worship he says; 'Let my people go that they mat worship me'. How then will this happen? How can God rescue slaves who struggle to trust in him, who only days after the Passover re-write history in their hearts, crying out to God why did you bother saving us? The answer is that God acts decisively to deal with the judgement they deserve, that's our final point.
3. God saves his people by dealing with the judgement they deserve
We have been saved because the waters fell on Jesus not us.
How does God save his people in this passage? In one sense the answer is very obvious and very memorable; he parts the waters of the reed sea, enabling the Israelites to cross safely to the other side. However, as we've already seen there are some deeper themes running through the salvation of Israel here.
Firstly we noticed that though the Israelites had escaped Egypt they were not yet free, they were in a sense slaves to themselves. We saw very early on how gently God treated them, how he took the initiative, making his presence among them known, leading them through the desert by the fiery pillar. We saw too that God did this to win glory for himself and in fact it is God's deserving of this glory that makes possible Israel's salvation. There are things beneath the surface here and so to there is more going on in the physical crossing of the red sea than a change in geography God tells us something about how he will achieve salvation for all nations here in ancient Egypt.
Notice how God addresses the people's desperate and as we've seen faithless cry for help. Take a look at v15;
'15 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.'
This is slightly strange, the Israelites certainly are acting without faith, without reference to the plagues God has sent days earlier, the escape from Egypt he has engineered for them but Moses is faithful, he is leading according to God's instruction why then does God say to Moses; "Why are you crying out to me?" Moses is taking the rebuke Israel deserved; he is acting as intercessor for them in fact this is a role Moses will take up several times as leader of Israel. After the Israelites sin by worshipping the golden calf made with the very gold God has just given to them as they left Israel Moses says this to God in Exodus 32;
"… But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written."
Moses says place on me, the judgement they deserve. Moses though was not perfect, in fact he would never enter the Promised Land himself because of his sin, and therefore he could not atone for the people's sin. But Jesus could, Jesus who was never a slave but rather lived in perfect submission to and service of God the Father, he could say blot me out, place on me the punishment they deserve and on the cross God did just that, ripping apart not the waters of the Red Sea but the trinity itself, Father and Son so that we might have freedom, so that we may be saved. Saved from what? Saved from the furious, but measured and just anger of God against sin. The waters of the Red Sea paint a vivid picture for us v27;
27 Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward it, and the LORD swept them into the sea. 28 The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen—the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived.
I think when we read that, we read it with a sense of triumphalism. Finally the Egyptians those stubborn, genocidal murderers got their just deserts. But the real triumph is that on the cross Jesus took that wrath which we only get a taste of here, he has gone through those destructive waters for us. But he has risen, he has risen and so we know that it is complete, that it is finished. Our salvation is not a process it is an event, like the crossing of the red sea. If we've trusted in Jesus, if we've asked him for forgiveness and to be Lord then we have been saved, we can say that with full confidence because just as those Israelites could stand on the far side of the Red Sea, look back on those closing waters and say at last we are free, our enemy is defeated. So we can look back at the cross and say; at last it is finished my sin is dealt with I am a freed slave. Verse 30 and 31 say this;
'30 That day the LORD saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. 31 And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the LORD displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.'
Let's say this; this day the LORD has saved me from my sin, the slavery that would claim death over me. We have seen the mighty hand of the LORD displayed placing his wrath on our saviour. We will fear the LORD and put our trust, our hope in his servant, our saviour; Jesus. Amen.