Exodus 14:5-7, 10-14, 21-29
(sermon note: 10-02 sermon note)
When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, the minds of Pharaoh and his officials were changed towards the people, and they said, ‘What have we done, letting Israel leave our service?’ So he had his chariot made ready, and took his army with him; he took six hundred picked chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them.
As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, ‘Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, “Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians”? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.’ But Moses said to the 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 keep still.’
Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. At the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, ‘Let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.’
Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers.’ So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the Lord tossed the Egyptians into the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a ship that was sinking. The captain of the ship gathered all the passengers on deck and asked the crowd, “Does anyone here know how to say prayers?” A Lutheran pastor stepped forward. “I can,” he said with some pride in his voice. “Actually, I used to say the best prayers in the seminary, and they would be answered by God too,” he continued boastfully. “Great,” answered the captain. “We’re one life jacket short, so you wait here and say your prayers. The crew and I are gonna rescue the rest of the passengers with the life jackets.”
Short, sweet, to the point…change it up a bit. And though our reading doesn’t specifically say that Pharaoh was caught up in the floodwaters, I like to think he was the one left without a life jacket. Such arrogance to think he and his army could renege on his deal with Moses and chase him and the Israelites down in the desert to presumably enslave them again! Of course we know that was the kind of guy Pharaoh was, untrustworthy and consumed by his own power. Pharaoh was definitely no Joseph as we heard about last week. He undoubtedly would have given in to the temptation of Potiphar’s wife! Pharaoh looked out for one person and one person alone: himself. We heard this as he repeatedly denied Moses’ plea to set the Israelites free through ten terrifying plagues. Even when he finally did set them free after the tenth plague, he did so grudgingly and with great hesitation. Yes, Pharaoh was a poor leader who deserved to die in that Red Sea even if he actually didn’t die there.
Then again, we have to be careful to remember that Pharaoh was also the first Egyptian leader to encounter the awesome power of our mighty God. Slavery had existed in Egypt for generations and sanctioned by several leaders prior to this particular Pharaoh. He was just another leader at the end of a long line of leaders who relied on slavery to support their economy and lifestyles. Just keeping up the family tradition, so to speak. Why God chose this particular Pharaoh to withdraw the power to enslave the Israelites is a mystery. For whatever reason, God had had enough enslavement of his people and worked mightily to set them free. Did He get rid of enslavement all together? Of course not as we know from our own country’s history of relying on it for many years to support our economy. We know slavery still exists all over this world so we also that God didn’t intend to rid the world of slavery in setting the Israelites free. God simply wanted to set free a particular people in a particular time and place. Don’t ask me why God allows slavery to still exist in our world, I just don’t know. What I do know is that our God is a God of freedom, who values and treasures freedom for all. I suppose one can’t fully appreciate freedom without slavery, the elation of one dependent on the struggle of the other. But like in our discussion on suffering, we can’t use an “ends justify the means” argument when it comes to slavery. God doesn’t use suffering for us to appreciate our joys in life. Nor must slavery be used to appreciate freedom. Joy and freedom can be fully appreciated without the suffering and slavery, thank you very much! Slavery and suffering have purposes that only God knows of. Hopefully He’ll share those purposes one day…
But getting back to the mighty power of God. Pharaoh may have been selfish and consumed by power but he really stood no chance in fighting against God. Even if he wanted to have freed the Israelites (which he did a couple times!) God “hardened his heart” and made it impossible for him to answer such desires. Talk about an unfair fight! God told Pharaoh to free the Israelites, Pharaoh wanted to free them and actually did free them, and God forced him to change his mind! Almost seems like God forced Pharaoh to fight him, eh?! This isn’t consistent with the God I know and love and I wonder if the author(s) of Exodus took undue liberty in conveying God’s power here. That said, God is God and can do whatever He pleases. If He wants to harden people’s hearts to ensure a fight will go down, then so be it. Maybe God told Pharaoh to release the Israelites simply to stage an all-out fight in the desert between Pharaoh and his armies against God. Maybe Pharaoh’s heart was never really softened and the text was just reminding us how God had hardened his heart since his very first encounter with Moses. Nonetheless, the fight between Pharaoh and his armies against God went down and God was the decided victor.
Of course God was the victor! God is always the victor! The whole exodus narrative serves this purpose: to reveal God’s awesome and mighty power. To reveal that in a fight with God, God will always come out victorious. Pharaoh and all his armies couldn’t defeat him. God has powers that we can’t even begin to imagine. I mean God flooded the world and almost wiped out every living thing! God sent ten plagues that struck fear in the hearts of many! God parted the waters of the sea, walls of water on either side, to help the fleeing Israelites escape the pursuing Egyptians! What an awesome and mighty God! Poor Pharaoh and his hardened heart just couldn’t grasp the sheer power of our God. Our God is an awesome God! And rather than putting up resistance and fighting God, we ought to be asking God to fight alongside us. Not only is He a powerful God with unimaginable powers, He is a faithful and loyal God. No matter what battles we may face in life, He is always willing to fight alongside those who love him and trust him. Moses certainly learned this firsthand in his leading the Israelites to freedom. All those plagues, the parting of the sea, the deaths of so many Egyptians…clearly God was a force to be reckoned with! It’s no wonder he wrote in Deuteronomy, “For it is the Lord your God who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to give you victory.” (20:4) He not only encouraged the Israelites but also us as faithful followers of God ourselves. God always comes out victorious which means that those who fight alongside him will also always come out victorious. The prophet Isaiah says, “But those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” (40:31) Recall from our reading Moses saying, “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 keep still.” (14:13) Stand firm, be still…wait for the Lord and we “shall renew our strength” just as the Israelites had.
Our God is an awesome God who can do many awesome things. Moses and the exodus narrative reveal this clearly to us. Let us rejoice in knowing and being loved by such a God. David sang in his 34th psalm, “when the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears, and rescues them from all their troubles.” (vs. 17) Let us be righteous, faithfully trusting and obeying God’s word and command. No troubles are too big for him to overcome, not even an uncrossable sea. Our God is a good and gracious God! Thanks be to God.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.