Wednesday 19 January 2011

See the salvation of the LORD (Exodus 14)

And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today.”
Exodus 14:13

Moses is about to lead the Israelites across the Red Sea. Pharaoh and his army are in hot pursuit of this nation of slaves – and indeed, have overtaken them with the aid of advanced military weaponry – horses and chariots (14:9). Victory looks certain for the mighty Eqyptian forces. The Israelites appear to be lost in the wilderness (14:3) and now find themselves caught between Pharaoh’s army and the Red Sea.

Yet it is at this very moment of danger and despair that Moses says to the people, they will “see the salvation of the Lord”. What follows is the miraculous parting of the Red Sea. This is a major turning point in Exodus story. Indeed, it is a major turning point in the entire bible. For this is not simply another display of God’s power. Exodus Chapter 14 is a picture of what it means to be saved. The bible invites us to see in these verses, the salvation of the Lord.

The fear of death

Moses goes on to say:

For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.
Exodus 14:13b-14

What needs to be made clear is that Moses is actually rebuking the Israelites with these words. The Israelites were panicking about their dire circumstances. Pharaoh and his army would soon slaughter the entire nation. So his own people begin to accuse Moses of leading them to their death (14:12). They should have just stayed where they were – as slaves in Eqypt. Instead there dead bodies will soon lie in the wilderness.

The nation had forgotten that it was God, not Moses, who saved them from Pharaoh. It was God who heard their cries in slavery and God who sent Moses to deliver them. It was God who displayed his power in the ten plagues upon Pharaoh and all Egypt – the last plague being the death of all every firstborn in the land – while sparing the Israelites through the Passover meal just two chapters before.

So here, Moses reminds them. They will see God’s salvation. Because all Israel saw at that moment was their fear of death.

When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly. And the people of Israel cried out to the LORD.
Exodus 14:10

For the Israelites, their fear of Pharaoh blinded them to the salvation of God. It cast doubt on God’s ability to save them in the present by blinding them to God’s faithfulness in the past.

Or put it a different way: Fear of man leads to forgetfulness of God. We forget that God is able to save and faithful to his promises to save.

The power of death

All throughout the narrative, the military might of Pharaoh’s army is repeatedly emphasized – the six hundred chosen chariots (in addition to all the other chariots) and the officers, the horsemen, the army (verses 4, 6, 7, 9, 18, 23, 25 and 28). This military superpower in pursuit against a nation of slaves would be today like the United States of America, with their array of stealth bombers and nuclear missiles waging all out war on Milton Keynes. In short, they wouldn’t last very long.

Still, the whole purpose of these events leading up to the confrontation at the Red Sea was orchestrated and ordained by God to draw out the forces of Pharaoh. God wanted the Egyptians to come at him with everything they had.

“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 horsemen. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.”
Exodus 14:17-18

Yes, God’s glory is spoken of in the bible often in terms of the glory of creation. The heavens declare the glory of God – Psalm 19. Yet the bible also speaks clearly of God’s glory firmly established through the destruction of all opposition to his authority. “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? He who sits in heaven laughs; the LORD holds them in derision” (Psalm 2:1,4).

The New Testament believers saw the fulfillment of this confrontation, not in a physical war waged against the nation of Israel, nor a campaign launched against the city of Jerusalem – but in the murder of one innocent man. The early church understood that Psalm 2 was fulfilled through the cross of Jesus Christ.

Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’—

for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.
Acts 4:25-28

God had ordained the cross by sending Jesus, by promising the coming of the Messiah through his word – but also by allowing Jesus to suffer at the hands of men and murdered on a cross in fulfillment of this same word. In his wisdom, God would bring salvation to men, by using even the wickedness and sinfulness of man, to bring about his purposes for his glory.

The destruction of death

Still the question remains – what did the Israelites see? Moses promised that they would behold God’s salvation – but what did it look like? Was it the Red Sea? The pillar of cloud and fire that guided them through the night and protected them from the raiding forces of Pharaoh’s chariots? I think the answer is given us clearly in the closing words of the chapter.

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.
Exodus 14:30-31

What did they see? Dead bodies – that’s what they saw. Their pursuers with their armaments, the horses and chariots all lying on the seashore. Every single one of them (14:28) Do you remember what Moses said earlier in verse 13?

For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again.
Exodus 14:13b

It is a gruesome picture, yet a powerful image the bible uses to help us understand the magnitude of salvation.

Salvation is rescue from death. That morning you either stood alive, and free, an Israelite; or dead, an Egyptian soldier on the shores of the Red Sea.

But salvation is also rescue through death. The waters of the sea held back to give safe passage to Israel as they crossed on dry ground, were the same waters that drowned the Egyptian armies. The same event meant salvation for one and judgement for the other. In rescuing Israel from slavery, God had not merely removed them from the situation of harm; he put to death the forces of harm.

The ten plagues – the water turned to blood, the frogs, the gnats, the flies, the death of the livestock, the boils, the hail, the locusts, the darkness and finally the death of the firstborn. These were symbols of God’s anger over Egypt’s opposition, and God’s punishment for their oppression of Israel. Yet, these symbols of death of and destruction were the very means of the salvation of Israel.

In these events, God was showing the Israelites: the salvation of their lives was through the death of another. It was the death of their enemies. It was the death of their oppressors. But in God’s wisdom – all this would supremely come about through the death of his Son.

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he (Jesus) himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.
Hebrews 2:14-15

Here in Hebrews, the bible speaks of the defeat of the devil. It explains how God has destroyed the power of death. It even describes how Christians a delivered from our slavery to our fear of death. But the way God achieves all this in salvation, is through the death of Jesus Christ.

This is the power of God to save. Through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. At the cross we see the destruction of Satan and all his forces. At the cross, we see our sin laid on Jesus, taking our death upon himself. From the cross we receive forgiveness and new life. Through the cross we have access to God as our Heavenly Father.

When we see the cross of Jesus Christ we fear not, we stand firm, and we see the salvation of the Lord which he works in us today.

No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life's first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.

No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I'll stand.

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