Thursday, March 24, 2011

Exodus 14

1 Then the LORD gave these instructions to Moses: 2"Tell the people to march toward Pi-hahiroth between Migdol and the sea. Camp there along the shore, opposite Baal-zephon. 3Then Pharaoh will think, `Those Israelites are confused. They are trapped between the wilderness and the sea!' 4And once again I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and he will chase after you. I have planned this so I will receive great glory at the expense of Pharaoh and his armies. After this, the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD!" So the Israelites camped there as they were told.
 5When word reached the king of Egypt that the Israelites were not planning to return to Egypt after three days, Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds. "What have we done, letting all these slaves get away?" they asked. 6So Pharaoh called out his troops and led the chase in his chariot. 7He took with him six hundred of Egypt's best chariots, along with the rest of the chariots of Egypt, each with a commander. 8The LORD continued to strengthen Pharaoh's resolve, and he chased after the people of Israel who had escaped so defiantly. 9All the forces in Pharaoh's army--all his horses, chariots, and charioteers--were used in the chase. The Egyptians caught up with the people of Israel as they were camped beside the shore near Pi-hahiroth, across from Baal-zephon.
 10As Pharaoh and his army approached, the people of Israel could see them in the distance, marching toward them. The people began to panic, and they cried out to the LORD for help.
 11Then they turned against Moses and complained, "Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness? Weren't there enough graves for us in Egypt? Why did you make us leave? 12Didn't we tell you to leave us alone while we were still in Egypt? Our Egyptian slavery was far better than dying out here in the wilderness!"
 13But Moses told the people, "Don't be afraid. Just stand where you are and watch the LORD rescue you. The Egyptians that you see today will never be seen again. 14The LORD himself will fight for you. You won't have to lift a finger in your defense!"
 15Then the LORD said to Moses, "Why are you crying out to me? Tell the people to get moving! 16Use your shepherd's staff--hold it out over the water, and a path will open up before you through the sea. Then all the people of Israel will walk through on dry ground. 17Yet I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they will follow the Israelites into the sea. Then I will receive great glory at the expense of Pharaoh and his armies, chariots, and charioteers. 18When I am finished with Pharaoh and his army, all Egypt will know that I am the LORD!"
 19Then the angel of God, who had been leading the people of Israel, moved to a position behind them, and the pillar of cloud also moved around behind them. 20The cloud settled between the Israelite and Egyptian camps. As night came, the pillar of cloud turned into a pillar of fire, lighting the Israelite camp. But the cloud became darkness to the Egyptians, and they couldn't find the Israelites.
 21Then Moses raised his hand over the sea, and the LORD opened up a path through the water with a strong east wind. The wind blew all that night, turning the seabed into dry land. 22So the people of Israel walked through the sea on dry ground, with walls of water on each side! 23Then the Egyptians--all of Pharaoh's horses, chariots, and charioteers--followed them across the bottom of the sea. 24But early in the morning, the LORD looked down on the Egyptian army from the pillar of fire and cloud, and he threw them into confusion. 25Their chariot wheels began to come off, making their chariots impossible to drive. "Let's get out of here!" the Egyptians shouted. "The LORD is fighting for Israel against us!"
 26When all the Israelites were on the other side, the LORD said to Moses, "Raise your hand over the sea again. Then the waters will rush back over the Egyptian chariots and charioteers." 27So as the sun began to rise, Moses raised his hand over the sea. The water roared back into its usual place, and the LORD swept the terrified Egyptians into the surging currents. 28The waters covered all the chariots and charioteers--the entire army of Pharaoh. Of all the Egyptians who had chased the Israelites into the sea, not a single one survived.
 29The people of Israel had walked through the middle of the sea on dry land, as the water stood up like a wall on both sides. 30This was how the LORD rescued Israel from the Egyptians that day. And the Israelites could see the bodies of the Egyptians washed up on the shore. 31When the people of Israel saw the mighty power that the LORD had displayed against the Egyptians, they feared the LORD and put their faith in him and his servant Moses.

Points of Interest:
• “Then Pharaoh will think, `Those Israelites are confused’”—there is a highway that goes straight from Goshen toward Canaan, but God directs Moses to lead the people on a random, zigzag path that ends at a dead end on the seashore. It looks like they have walked right into a trap; actually they are the bait, and Pharaoh is the one walking into a trap.

• ‘the sea’—traditionally, this is known as the Red Sea; but it is almost certainly not what we call the Red Sea. It’s actually the Sea of Reeds, which was basically the string of lakes and marshes connecting the Mediterranean with the Gulf of Suez. These lakes and marshes were later formed into the Suez Canal. Obviously, the water is still deep enough to be an impediment to the Israelites’ passage and to drown the Egyptians when it rushes back in. The Israelites are thought to have been on the shore of one of the three larger lakes of the area: Timsah, Balal, or Bitter Lakes (Bible Background Commentary 87).

• ‘So Pharaoh called out his troops’—the Egyptian army was the best, most technologically advanced army in the world—or at the very least in that part of the world—at the time. Despite their large numbers, the Israelite rabble would have had every reason to fear these squadrons of chariots if it weren’t for God’s protection.

• ‘and he chased after the people of Israel’—This part of the hero’s journey is called ‘The Road Back.’ Now that the hero has succeeded in the big ordeal, he must return to the ordinary world. Interestingly, some of the most exciting chase scenes happen at this point in the story. The enemy hasn’t been as completely defeated as it seemed, and he chases the hero down, trying to regain what he has lost. There’s a final showdown, often with another near death experience and resurrection. That’s exactly what happens here. Pharaoh regains his composure and runs after Moses. He catches up, forcing a final confrontation. It looks like the people are doomed, but they escape death through the unexpected means of crossing the sea. What looked like death for the Israelites turns out to be death for the Egyptians, and Pharaoh is finally completed defeated.

• ‘Why did you make us leave?’—Moses has now called the Israelites to join him in the heroic journey. Just like Moses did, they are expressing hesitations and regrets at leaving their ordinary world for the special world of the hero’s journey. They hated their ordinary world when they were in it, but now that they’ve left it they find something appealing in its predictability and familiarity.

• “But Moses told the people, ‘Don't be afraid’”—Moses is leaving Egypt a significantly different person from who he was when he arrived. When Moses left the wilderness, he was a lot like these people. It took four miraculous signs from God to convince Moses to go on the journey—and even that wasn’t enough. Then, at the first sign of trouble he asked, like the Israelites do now, ‘Why did you even send me here?’ But now, Moses has utter conviction that God is with them and that he will rescue them. Pharaoh is still not completely convinced of God’s greatness. Even the Israelites aren’t. But Moses now is.

• ‘Just stand where you are and watch’—Moses may be convinced of God’s power, but he’s a little mistaken regarding God’s plan. When Moses tells the people to stand still and watch, God immediately responds, ‘Tell the people to get moving!’ There’s only one way to go for the Israelites. They can’t go back to Egypt, nor even stand still. They will be rescued by God when they move forward.

• ‘a path will open up before you’—the adventure for the Israelites is an adventure of faith. When they step out where there is no path, God will make a path.

• ‘the pillar of cloud’—caravans would often have a brazier carried in the vanguard (Bible Background Commentary 90). The rear of the caravan would be able to know where the caravan was heading because they could see the smoke during the day and the flame at night. Apparently, the Israelites have something similar, a massive, supernatural brazier—perhaps even an angelic being in the form of a pillar of cloud and fire, since the pillar is described as moving itself, rather than being moved. It’s possibly even the physical form taken on by God himself (the Lord looks down from the pillar in verse 24).

• ‘Then the angel of God, who had been leading the people of Israel, moved to a position behind them’—the phrase ‘the angel of God’ sometimes refers to an angelic lieutenant of God and sometimes to a manifestation of God himself. At the burning bush, it was probably the latter; here it is probably the former (later, God tells Moses that he will leave his angel with Moses, but that he himself was leaving—we’ll study this story in detail when we come to it). The angel and the pillar are sent to be a rearguard, giving the Israelites enough of a head start on the Egyptians that the Egyptians won’t catch up to them in the middle of the sea.

Taking it home:
For you: Moses is now firmly on the hero’s path. There’s no going back to the same, old ordinary world for him. In fact, he’s now called an entire nation to join him on the hero’s journey. If you’ve already stepped out on the hero’s journey yourself, consider who you want to take with you. What’s the call you have for them, and what do they need to know from you to take that step?
For your six: Often God’s plans don’t seem to make the most sense. In this passage, God instructs Moses to lead the people on a random, zigzag path through the desert. It doesn’t look like they’re headed in the right direction. In fact, it looks like they’re headed toward certain doom. In the end, though, God’s path turns out to be the right one. Pray for your six that they would have the boldness to follow a crazy plan from God, and ask God to amaze them with the results.
For our church: As we step out together on this hero’s journey, pray that God would be the guide in front of us and the protector behind us.