GOD WILL MAKE A WAY
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The story of Israel crossing the Red Sea is perhaps the grandest narrative we have in our Bible. At face value, it tells of a group of people who were enslaved for centuries until they were miraculously freed by their God. When we take a step back to look at the bigger picture, we see that the crossing of the Red Sea is a story about salvation; people in bondage being released from their chains and passing through the waters to receive what God has for them. We also see the destruction of evil, oppression, and defiance against God. It’s a story of good versus evil, the mighty versus the underdog, and a Father who doesn’t like it when people mess with his kids. The Crossing of the Red Sea is a pivotal moment in the history of Israel. They had already been through a lot at this point. They were enslaved for centuries, watched as Egypt was ravaged by plagues, finally allowed to leave Egypt after the angel of death killed the Egyptian firstborns and now they’re stuck in between the sea and an army. They are convinced that this is it for them. And then God parts the waters.
Water is necessary for life but it can also bring chaos. For the Israelites, water always seems to be causing them trouble. Over the last month, we’ve seen the destruction that comes with too much water. Hurricanes and flooding have left entire towns under water. People have lost their homes and their possessions and in the worst cases, their lives. During our trip to Bolivia, we saw the devastation that comes when there isn’t enough water. The ground becomes so dry that nothing can grow, crops die, animals die and people struggle to support their families. In both of these situations, people were completely helpless. When Hurricanes Harvey and Irma and Maria were on their way, all anyone could do was to get out of the way, let them do their damage and then return to salvage whatever remained. Similarly, with the drought in Bolivia, the people living there had that same sense of helplessness. This is what the Israelites were feeling as they camped against the sea and listened to the sound of Pharaoh’s army riding toward them. They were helpless. “Really Moses? Is this what you brought us out here for? Because we would have been just as happy to die in Egypt. We told you to leave us alone…”.
We have here a good picture of what fear does to us. We’re told that the Israelites see the Egyptians coming and have “great fear”. Fear makes them forget all the miracles God performed in Egypt. Fear makes them find fault with Moses. Fear makes them incapacitated. It makes them lose all resolve. Fear gets into their veins and it blinds them to what God is doing. Fear makes them want to go back to slavery. They believe that the choice they have is between slavery in Egypt and death in the wilderness when the real choice they have to make is between fear of evil or faith in God. We can understand though, why they are afraid; they don’t know how this story ends. All they know is that the sea is in front of them and Pharaoh’s army is behind them and they have nowhere to go. So their response is to complain to Moses.
How often are we in a situation like this one? When it seems there is no way out of whatever suffering we’re experiencing and we’re watching destruction approach. It’s that moment when we realize we are powerless – a feeling with which the Israelites were very familiar. They knew slavery. They knew back-breaking labour and impossible demands. They knew fear. So when they saw the entire army of Pharaoh in full military procession coming toward them, they were afraid. As we’re faced with trying circumstances our reflex is often to act quickly, to look for the nearest escape, or to think on what we should have done differently. The human response to fear is either fight or flight. But the Bible presents us with a third option – faith. Moses is asking the people to have faith and this faith is demonstrated by standing still.
Now it seems that Moses has grown up a bit since his argument with God back in Midian. His response is one of a man who has seen things. He’s seen a powerful ruler, one who was considered a god, brought to his knees before Yahweh, and he knows that the God who brought them out of Egypt is the God who will bring them through the Red Sea. Moses speaks the gospel to his people. “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish 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 still.” Be still.
Standing still for us might mean that we take a step back to look at things from a different perspective and ask “What has God done in my life? What has he brought me through in the past?” and “Is there any power that is greater than Him?”. The Lord will fight for you, you need only be still.
We know that this event is taking place at night. The pillar of cloud is between the Israelites and the Egyptians. Moses then stretches out his hand over the sea. God’s spirit hovers over the waters and makes dry ground appear. The language of the waters parting is echoing that of Creation in which, in the darkness, the Spirit of God hovers over the waters. At the edge of the Red Sea God is creating. He’s doing something new. He is making a way where there is no way. He is also creating something that the Israelites have not yet known – a life where they are free from bondage. He’s creating all this in the dark of the night. While we stand still by the water’s edge, waiting on God, he works in the darkness. When the sun comes up over the horizon the next morning, the Israelites see how the hand of God has been working.
The Israelites walk on dry ground as the sea forms a wall on either side of them. God, who brought them out of Egypt, has done the impossible and moved the sea so they can get to safety. He has made a way where there was no way.
The Israelites move forward on this path God has created for them. Pharaoh still hasn’t learned that he can’t win against God so he sends his army after them. God makes the wheels on their chariots clog so they have difficulty moving and that’s when the soldiers realize that they are fighting a battle they can’t win. It’s interesting that before the Israelites acknowledge God’s power, the Egyptians recognize exactly who God is. They are thrown into a panic, and as Moses stretches out his staff over the sea, the waters close in over the entire Egyptian army. Just like that, an entire military is wiped out. It is only at this point that Israel recognizes who God is.
This battle isn’t for Israel to fight. This battle belongs to the LORD. It’s the battle between good and evil. God’s victory is total. Not one of them remained. This story shows us that in the struggle between good and evil, victory is always with God. It also teaches us a universal truth – humans are in bondage, enslaved, under oppression and need deliverance.
The bondage we see around us is devastating. This story of the crossing of the Red Sea has spoken to people over the centuries who are seeking societal deliverance. A story has been told of a march one Sunday in 1964. A group of worshippers were on their way to visit Martin Luther King Jr. who was in a Savannah jail cell. Five thousand people gathered after church, dressed in their Sunday best, and set out to march to the city jail. They came to a sudden stop when they saw police with dogs and firemen with hoses standing in front of them and blocking their path. Two of the leaders, not wanting to end the march early, asked the people to get down on their knees and pray, which everyone did. For a while, all was still, as people offered up silent prayers to God. Suddenly, a pastor who was a leader in the movement jumped up and said “The Lord is with this movement! Off your knees! We’re going on!” The people marched on ahead and not one of the police, their dogs or the fireman made any attempt to stop them or even moved at all. One older woman who was marching, shouted as she passed through the barricades “Great God Almighty done parted the Red Sea one mo’ time!”. God delivered his people that day.
The Exodus story also speaks to our need for personal deliverance. If you listen to the news at all, you’ve probably been hearing about the opiod crisis that is happening in our country. It’s often teenagers that are overdosing or taking drugs laced with fentanyl and they’re dying at alarming rates. I was listening to the radio the other day and a man was being interviewed about his daughter’s drug use. He was saying that she’s had three friends that have died from overdoses and all of her friends had overdosed at least once. They do drugs together and watch each other OD and have their hearts restarted once the paramedics arrive and still they continue to use drugs. This is bondage. It’s bondage that is widespread and it’s killing people. The best solutions that experts can come up with is to deal with this crisis, is to make that bondage safer and more comfortable. We need deliverance.
It’s not just addictions that keep us in bondage. We all face it to some extent whether it’s looking at countries destroyed by war and corruption where people are living in actual physical bondage to others, or even in more affluent countries where people are in bondage to comfort, status, wealth. The only power that can bring you out of bondage is the power of God.
The remedy we need is the gospel. When the Israelites were facing death at the hand of their oppressors, Moses spoke the Word of God to them. This is our remedy because, as Exodus 14 shows us, we are in a cosmic battle. Things are not what they seem. The oppression we are experiencing today dates back to the beginning of time when sin entered the world and tainted God’s perfect creation. It also looks forward to the end of time when God’s victory is complete and evil is wiped away. But for now, you and I are and at the edge of the sea. We look out and see darkness closing in. We know God is calling us forward but there doesn’t seem to be a way forward. The sea is the place that is standing between our bondage and the life of freedom that God has for us. Remember, when the Israelites arrived at the Red Sea, they were free. But when they couldn’t see a way forward, they wanted to go back to bondage. There’s a song lyric that says it well: “It didn’t take me too long to find the chains you just had freed me from. I got so used to having them on, I didn’t know how to live in freedom.” We get accustomed to our bondage. We get comfortable in our chains. We go back to it because we don’t have eyes to see the life that God desires for us.
The only way for us to see that life of freedom is through the gospel. We need to hear it spoken and sung to us. This is why we come to church; to be reminded of who God is and of who we are – his children. We spend so much of our week doing but Sunday morning is a time for us to be still. We bring our problems, our worries, our fears and our chains to the cross and trust that God will fight for us. You have only to keep still.
Moses was a mediator between God and his people. He was there to speak the Word of God. As we stand here today between bondage and deliverance, we know that God himself is our mediator in Jesus Christ. Jesus spent a lot of time by the sea while he was on Earth. We know the story well of the time when Jesus is on shore and his disciples are in the boat and drifting away. Jesus doesn’t part the sea here; he walks on top of it, showing that everything, including the sea, is subject to his power. Jesus doesn’t part the waters because he doesn’t need to make a way; he IS the way. He is our salvation.
The Israelites experience salvation that day. After witnessing the power of God, they respond with praise.
“I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.
The Lord is my strength and my might,
and he has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise him,
my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is his name.”
Israel has met their God. Who brought you out of Egypt? Who brought you out of bondage? Who freed you from your chains? The LORD is his name. This is the same God who is delivering you. The same God who takes the bitter death of Christ and turns it into sweet salvation for you and me. He makes a way where there is none and he is calling us to move forward. May we all come to that place where we stand at the edge of the sea and yet praise God saying “The Lord is my strength and my might, and he has become my salvation; this is my God and I will praise him”.