The Great(est) Escape

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Our God is mighty to save.

Exodus(35) (Part of the Rescued(34) series)
by Marc Webb(75) on May 12, 2024 (Sunday Morning(343))

All-Powerful (Omnipotent)(17), Mighty(1), Miracles(2), Salvation(84), Sovereignty(19)

THE GREAT(EST) ESCAPE

The Civil War was fought in 10,000 places, from Valverde, New Mexico, and Tullahoma, Tennessee, to St. Albans, Vermont, and Fernandina on the Florida coast. More than 3 million Americans fought in it, and over​​ 600,000 men—2 percent of the population—died in it. American homes became headquarters, American churches and schoolhouses sheltered the dying, and huge foraging armies swept across American farms and burned American towns. Americans slaughtered one another wholesale, right here in America in their own cornfields and peach orchards, along familiar roads and by waters with old American names. In two days at Shiloh, on the banks of the Tennessee River, more American men fell than in all the previous American​​ wars combined. At Cold Harbor, some 7,000 Americans fell in 20 minutes. Men who had never strayed 20 miles from their own front doors now found themselves soldiers in great armies, fighting epic battles hundreds of miles from home. They knew they were making history, and it was the greatest adventure of their lives. The war made some rich, ruined others, and changed forever the lives of all who lived through it.​​ Ken Burns – “The Civil War: the Cause”

We can’t begin to understand American history—the glories, horrors, and contradictions of America itself—without knowing something about the war we fought against each other, North and South, from 1861 to 1865. As one historian put it, “What the Iliad was for the Greeks, the Civil War is for Americans.” As long as there is an America to talk about, Americans will be talking about the Civil War. In the same way, as long as there is a Bible and people who follow the God of the Bible, people will be talking about the crossing of the Red Sea. Poems will be written, sermons preached, and movies upon movies made. It was, perhaps, the most famous event in the history of Israel. For Israel, the crossing of the Red Sea was much like the Civil War is for America. We cannot understand their history apart from it. It’s the event that the​​ Israelites kept telling themselves over and over again, and that God would remind his people over and over again when they forgot his great power and care for them. It was the greatest escape orchestrated by God for His chosen people in their history. In it he showed his almighty power and his power over creation. He showed his power over probably the greatest fighting force in the region at the time. And he displayed his power for all to see in order to save his people and gain glory for himself.

If we can’t understand Israel’s history apart from the crossing of the Red Sea, we surely can’t understand our Christian history apart from it, either. The crossing of the Red Sea became the central act on that side of the cross of God’s redemptive history to save his people. The crossing of the Red Sea was a great escape but some fifteen hundred years later, there would be the Greatest Escape of all time which would save God’s people. In it he would again show his power over creation. He would show his power over sin, death, the grave and Satan. He would display his power for all to see in order to save his people once and for all. And he would again gain glory for himself. That brings us to our big idea this morning that Moses wants us to understand which is “Our God is mighty to save.” He is all-powerful and he wielded that power to save the Israelites once and for all from Pharaoh and the Egyptians and he wielded that power to save us from our sin and from Satan once and for all. Our God is Mighty to Save!!!

“A Flood of Fear of Faith” Kevin DeYoung

Let’s pray: Dear Heavenly Father, you are mighty to save. You have displayed your power for all to see from the beginning of time. You displayed it in the creation of the universe. You displayed it in the plagues culminating with the killing of the firstborn of Egypt. And you continue to display your power throughout the world today. We are grateful for your power, especially your mighty power that saved us from eternal separation from You. Pour out your Holy Spirit on us this​​ morning so that we may see your power once again in your Word. I pray that we would never downplay the mighty miracles we see in the Bible or those we see in our lives. Give us eyes to see and ears to hear your power and might. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Our first point this morning is​​ “Frozen”​​ found in Exodus 14:15-20. Follow along as I read. This is what God’s Word says, “Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen.” Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long.

Right in the beginning of our scripture, we come across a puzzling statement from the Lord to Moses. Most commentators believe that God is talking to the Israelites through Moses because Moses was their spokesman between them and the Lord. The people may have been frozen with fear because the Red Sea was in front of them and they could not see any way to get past it. But it is also possible that Moses was frozen as well, just not with fear. Moses knew that the Lord would somehow gain glory through Pharaoh and his army and that the Egyptians would know that he is the Lord. He knew that the Lord was going to deliver them, but he may not have known exactly how that deliverance was going to happen. Last week, we saw that he told the Israelites to stand firm and be still and they would see the Lord’s​​ deliverance, that he would fight for them, and they would never see these Egyptians again. Moses may have been seeking God in prayer for what to do next and may have been frozen, so to speak, in that position.

And now the Lord says, “Enough. I have heard your crying out, and I have heard your prayers. Now is the time to get up and move. Now is the time to go forward.” This is good for us to think about today, as well. It is good and well to cry out to God about what we are going through. It is good to pray for his direction and guidance for what’s next but there comes a time when we must go forward. Sometimes crying out and even prayer can become a crutch that keeps us from completely surrendering our lives to the Lord or going out to the ends of the earth spreading the gospel. I like this quote from Spurgeon: “Far be it from me to ever say a word in disparagement of the holy, happy, heavenly exercise of prayer. But, beloved, there are times when prayer is not enough—when prayer itself is out of season. When we have prayed over a matter to a certain degree, it then becomes sinful to tarry any longer; our plain duty is to carry our desires into action, and having asked God’s guidance, and having received divine power from on high, to go at once to our duty without any longer deliberation or delay.​​ C.H. Spurgeon – “Forward! Forward! Forward!”

The Lord tells Moses to raise his staff and stretch his hand over the sea. We have seen God work through Moses before using his staff in bringing the plagues of blood, frogs, hail, locusts, and darkness. Moses’ staff or the “staff of God'' was the symbol of God’s power and presence and reminds us that it was not Moses performing the mighty acts but the Lord. It also showed that what was about to happen did not happen by chance. The raising of Moses’ staff will divide the water so the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. The Lord will harden the hearts of the Egyptian army so they will follow the Israelites into the sea. He will strengthen their hearts causing them to do what they already wanted to do which was to capture the Israelites and take them back to captivity.​​ The Lord again states that he will gain glory through Pharoah and his army, his chariots and his horsemen and they will know that he is the Lord. The Israelites may have also been frozen because they could see the Egyptian army close​​ behind them. So, the Lord now moves from guiding his people to protecting his people. The Angel of God, which is the pillar of cloud and fire that had been guiding the Israelites from in front, now moves and stands behind them, coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. We see the protection God gave his people as the cloud brought darkness to Pharaoh and his army but light to the Israelites. The darkness kept the Egyptians from attacking the Israelites all night long.

We may ask, “Why did God tell Moses to go forward and have the Angel of the Lord move behind them in protection only to wait out the night? I believe there are a couple of reasons. First, God’s timing is perfect. Two, maybe God was still pursuing Pharaoh and his people. I am reminded of 2 Peter 3:9 which says, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”​​ Think about this: What happened the last time that the Egyptians were plunged into darkness? The ninth plague of darkness was followed by the tenth plague of the killing of the firstborn of Egypt. Pharaoh was going to know that Yahweh was the Lord sooner or later but maybe it didn’t have to take more death for Pharaoh and the Egyptians to accept it. If they stopped long enough to think about what happened the last time darkness came upon them, they may have turned back and gone home. Three, and I think the​​ main reason for waiting through the night was so that what was going to happen would happen in the light of day. The Lord would gain glory by destroying the Egyptian army and saving his chosen people in daylight, in front of everyone to see.

That brings us to our second point this morning,​​ “Faith,”​​ found in Exodus 14:21-25. This is what God’s Word says, “Then Moses stretched​​ out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea. During the last watch of the night the Lord looked down​​ from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion. He jammed the wheels of their chariots so that they had difficulty driving. And the Egyptians said, “Let’s get away from the Israelites! The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.”

We see the faith of the Israelites and the misguided faith of the Egyptian army. First, we see the faith of the Israelites. Moses stretched out his hand (and staff) over the sea as God commanded him to do. This seems to have happened during the night while the Angel of the Lord was between the two armies. The Egyptians had no knowledge of what was happening to the Sea. We see the almighty power of God in a couple of ways here. One, the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind. We are reminded of Jesus calming the storm in Mark 4:39, 41, which says, “He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” Two, the bottom of the sea turned into dry land. The wind the Lord brought was so powerful that the ground wasn’t wet, or even damp but was dry. Three, we see the Lord’s power in that the waters were divided with a wall of water on the Israelites right and a wall of water on their left. Stuart says, “The term used for “wall” here, ḥōmāh, connotes a very large wall—not a small stone wall or retaining wall but always a massively large (usually a city) wall, towering above the Israelites, who marched on dry land with walls of water on either side of them.” Imagine the power that the Lord displayed in dividing the Red Sea with towering walls of water that were probably a mile or more wide. The Lord is all powerful and the Lord of all creation because​​ he is​​ the only one who can command the wind and the seas, and they obey.

There have been many theories put forth trying to debunk the miracle at the Red Sea. There are those who would say that the crossing happened in a shallow body of water, possibly the Reed Sea. “Yam Suph'' can be translated as “Sea of Reeds” which is swampy and marshy, but the Septuagint (the Greek Translation of the Bible) translates Yam Suph as the “Red Sea.” And when Yam Suph is used in the Bible, it always refers to the Red Sea. Because of the cities it references, in 1 Kings 9:26 and Jeremiah 49:21, it​​ must mean the large body of water we know as the Red Sea. Also, the word ‘Yam’ never refers to a marsh or a swamp but always a lake, sea or some large body of water. When we take all this evidence and then see towering city walls of water separated by a mile or more of dry ground, we can believe this was not an ordinary, natural phenomenon or a story that we can explain away. It was a miracle brought by the Lord through his almighty power. (Big Idea).

This brings me to a funny anecdote, from Ryken’s commentary: “No matter how one looks at it, crossing the Red Sea was a miracle. Donald Bridge tells the story of a liberal minister preaching in an old, Bible-believing, African-American church. At a certain point in his sermon the minister referred to the crossing of the Red Sea. “Praise the Lord,” someone shouted. “Takin’ all them children through the deep waters. What a mighty miracle!” However, the minister did not happen to believe in miracles. So he said, rather condescending, “It was not a miracle. They were in marshland, the tide was ebbing, and the children of Israel picked their way across in six inches of water.” “Praise the Lord!” the man shouted again. “Drownin’ all them Egyptians in six inches of water. What a mighty miracle!”

When we try to explain away the miracles in the Bible as ordinary or natural or didn’t really happen that way, we diminish God and his power. We put him in a box and think we can understand or fathom him which is so far from the truth. God is bigger and greater than all people​​ and all things and we must stand in awe of who he is and what he can do. He still does miracles today, but if we continue to diminish his power displayed in the Bible, we won’t have eyes to see the miracles he performs today. This brings us to our first next step which is to​​ Believe​​ in the miracles of the Bible and the​​ power​​ of God to make miracles​​ happen​​ today.​​ Because of the power of God, the Israelites were able to walk through the Red Sea on dry ground. This was a major step of faith for them. They could probably hear the strong wind and see the walls of water towering about them. They had no way of knowing how long the walls of water would stay up. Mackay says,​​ “It was an act of faith to walk through that watery valley and take advantage of the salvation the LORD had provided for them. Salvation is an act of faith on our part, we have to accept it to take advantage of the salvation the Lord wants to freely give us.” We are reminded of Hebrews 11:29 which says, “By faith they passed through the Red Sea as​​ by dry land.”

Next, we see the misguided faith of the Egyptian army in Pharaoh.​​ They all pursued the Israelites right into the sea, following orders from their king. They believed that he knew what the right thing to do was. We continue to see the power of the Lord as he looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud and threw the Egyptian army into confusion. Their confusion would have been heightened as the wheels of their state-of-the-art chariots started to come off. Their chariots literally became “heavy” and they had difficulty driving them. The Lord did this to bog them down until the Israelites could get across the sea. I believe God has a sense of humor so as I read this, I can see a three stooges’ scene being played out with the Egyptians driving around in circles confused with the wheels of their chariots coming off. Psalm 77:17-18, talking about this event, says, “The clouds poured down water, the heavens resounded with thunder; your arrows flashed back and forth. Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind, your lightning lit up the world; the earth trembled and quaked.” With all​​ this happening while they were in a confused state imagine the panic and dread they are feeling. At some​​ point, they finally get the idea that the Lord of the Israelites was fighting for his people, and they realized this was a fool’s errand. They tried to get away from the Israelites, but it was too late. They now knew that Yahweh was Lord and proclaimed it as so.

That brings us to our third point, “Fulfillment,” found in Exodus 14:26-31. This is what God’s Word says, “Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen.” 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. 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. But the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. 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.”

We see fulfillment in this section in two ways. First, we see the Lord’s judgment on the Egyptians. The Lord again commanded Moses to stretch out his hand over the sea and at daybreak the sea went back into its place and the waters flowed back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen and drowned them. The Egyptians were judged for their sins: keeping the Lord’s chosen people in the cruelest and harshest slavery and killing the Israelite babies. Moses again obeys the Lord’s command which brings us​​ to a great truth. God will often use human beings to do his miraculous works on the earth. He used Moses, ​​ the disciples, and he uses us today. It is possible that there are many miraculous works that do not happen today because the people of God aren’t willing to stretch out their hand. It was God who separated the waters and saved his people, but it was Moses who was willing to act on​​ his commands. I pray that we will be like Moses. That brings us to our second next step which is to​​ Be​​ willing​​ and​​ obedient​​ to allow God to use me as an​​ instrument​​ for his will in the world.

In their confusion, it seems the Egyptians on the shore kept running toward the sea even after it went back into its place and the Lord swept them into it. The Hebrew for “swept” means “shaken” which gives the picture of the Lord shaking out a dusty sheet or towel. I picture them going head over heels into the middle of the sea. The entire army of Pharaoh was killed. Not one survived!!!! We are not told explicitly in this scripture what happened to Pharaoh, but his destruction was inevitable because of the​​ Lord’s judgment on him. In Psalm 136:15, that Teresa read earlier, implies that both Pharoah and his army were swept into and drowned in the Red Sea. The gods of the Egyptians were also again judged by God here. I believe another reason God waited till daybreak to finish destroying the Egyptian was because that was when their sun god, Ra, was supposedly rising in the east. They found out that neither Ra nor Pharaoh could save them. Ryken says, “According to one ancient Egyptian inscription, “He whom the king has loved will be a revered one, but there is no tomb for a rebel against his majesty, and his corpse is cast into the water.” This inscription was a threat to drown Pharaoh’s enemies, but in the end the Egyptians were the ones who were lost at sea!”

Second, we see fulfillment in that the Lord saved his people by his power and might.​​ (Big Idea)​​ His people went​​ through on dry ground with the wall of water on their right and left. This repetition underscores how powerful the miracle was. On that day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians. The word “hand” is mentioned a number of times in this section, and it reminds us of what God said in Exodus 6:6, “Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm​​ and with​​ mighty acts of judgment.” This was the fulfillment of what God promised Moses. We notice that the Israelites “saw” a couple of things. They saw the dead bodies of the Egyptians on the shore. Not that long ago they saw the Egyptian army approaching and they were terrified, panicked and criticized Moses. Now they saw their dead bodies and knew they were free from their oppression once and for all. The Lord kept his covenant promises toward his people and demonstrated his faithfulness to them. The mention of Israel marks the beginning of the nation with Yahweh as its leader.

They also saw the great power of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians and this caused them to do two things: they feared the Lord and they trusted in Him and in his servant, Moses. This was the result God intended. Moses being described as a servant here is a result of his obedience to the Lord and he is elevated to a position of honor and authority. He is now vindicated by the people who had vilified him earlier in Exodus 14:11. From the beginning it is clear that Yahweh has orchestrated everything for​​ his glory and so that everyone would know that he is the Lord. ​​ 

(From Ryken’s Commentary) Notice the order: God did not wait for his people to trust in him before he saved them. Instead, God took the initiative. They didn’t earn it or deserve it; God did the work for his honor and his glory. First the people saw their salvation and then they feared and believed. First God delivered them from danger, saving them when they couldn’t save themselves. Then they responded in faith, trusting God and worshiping him. As Christians, Israel’s great escape is part of the history of​​ our own salvation. However, we have experienced an even greater escape—the greatest escape of all. We have been saved from our bondage to sin through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Here again we see the order of salvation, in which God took the initiative. It is while we were still sinners that Christ died for us. God’s saving work comes first, and then we are called to respond in faith.

Maybe you are here this morning and you have never responded to Christ’s call to be saved. Today, you can experience the greatest escape of all – the escape from the bondage of sin and from eternal separation from our Lord. If you have never accepted Jesus as your Savior, this next step is for you:​​ Accept​​ Jesus as my Savior and​​ experience​​ the greatest​​ escape​​ of all.​​ If you made that next step, please mark the back of your communication card so we can be in contact with you and help you move toward baptism and becoming more like Jesus.

What happened at the Red Sea ought to help us clarify our relationship to Christ. The only “Red Sea experience” that really matters is the one that Jesus had when he passed through the walls of death and came out victorious on the other side. This means that baptized Christians have already had their “Red Sea experience.” We had it at Calvary and in the garden tomb, because when Jesus died and rose again, he did it for us. Now that we are safe on the other side we must do what the Israelites did: fear the Lord and put our trust in Him.

As the ushers come to collect the tithes and offerings and as the praise team comes to lead us in a final song, let’s pray: Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for your power and might you displayed in saving your chosen people at the Red Sea. Thank you for your power and might displayed in the death and resurrection of your Son, Jesus. You are truly mighty to save and we honor you and give you all glory this morning. Give us eyes to see your miracles today. Move us to be willing and obedient to be used as your​​ instrument in the world and I pray that you will draw those who do not know you into salvation so they can experience the greatest escape of all. And we thank you for all mothers. In Jesus’ name, Amen.