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Victory by a roundabout path: the Hebrews and the Red Sea

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0

I always look for the most direct route to where I want to go. I get to physical locations quickly and efficiently.  Reaching personal goals has been another matter. God, it appears, does not prefer the direct route. Instead, he brings victory by a roundabout path. Ultimately, he fulfills all of his plans, which may or may not coincide with human plans. The key to success is to follow where he leads, even when not understanding his direction. 

When  Pharaoh decided to let the Hebrews go, God did not lead them by the short, direct path, but along a desert road toward the Red Sea. Implicitly, that means that Moses heard from God where to go and obeyed. The Israelites who left Egypt to go to the Promised Land had never known freedom from oppression. Neither had the grandparents of the oldest among them. Slavery perversely protects people from making hard decisions. People who have never known freedom find it difficult to handle. Christians, like the Israelites, are fleeing from oppression to freedom. Satan has kept the whole human race slaves to sin. He will not willingly let anyone go. Anyone who tries will meet conflict and opposition. God will determine where the battle takes place.

Israel, armed for battle but untrained, would see war in any case, but God determined that they would meet and overcome an old enemy before ever meeting a new one. He also saw to it that when they met Pharaoh they would see themselves utterly powerless. The sudden turn in circumstances would terrify them so much that they would recognize that only God could bring victory. Only after we break free from old bondages can we prepare to face new challenges. Satan will always oppose us, and we are no match for him. We must follow God on the puzzling route he chooses. When we do, no matter how much the path seems roundabout and no matter how much fear the enemy inspires, we eventually gain the victory.


Pharaoh's Army Engulfed By The Red Sea / Frederick Arthur Bridgman

Pharaoh's Army Engulfed By The Red Sea / Frederick  Arthur Bridgman

God explained one reason for the route to Moses: he wanted to perform one more miracle at Pharaoh's expense. He led the people to a very vulnerable camp,  surrounded by sea and desert, where Pharaoh thought they would be easy to recapture. Where they camped was. He swept in for the kill and fell right into God's trap.

Humanly speaking, God may seem cruel to toy with him like that, but if we view Pharaoh as a type of Satan, it looks different. Satan will never do anything righteous. He vigorously opposes God and intends to do every kind of harm to God's plans. He actually thinks himself strong and crafty enough to succeed. Although he cannot thwart God's plans, he must be defeated before they can prevail. God puts both his people and himself in positions that look defenseless and easy to defeat, knowing that Satan will react in blind overconfidence (as he did in forcing the crucifixion of Jesus).

As Moses did, leaders may appear too hopelessly incompetent to withstand the enemy. Actually, from any viewpoint but God's, hopeless incompetence describes the human condition. Left to ourselves, we will eventually fall flat in everything from personal struggles to broad social and political issues.

The church has no pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. It has multiple leaders, not just Moses. Some have revelation knowledge of some part of God's plan, but no way to communicate it to the entire church. Moses didn't, either. Perhaps God wanted most of the people to remain clueless so they would feel and act as helpless as Pharaoh thought they looked.

We at least have Scripture, which generally sets out the plan for final victory, but no idea of our place in its final working. Maybe when all hell breaks loose and we don't know where we are or where we're going, we're just where God wants us. Maybe deliverance is just around the corner.

When Pharaoh sent his chariots, he took the Hebrews by surprise, but not God. He was testing them. Would they remember the miracles each of them had personally seen? Would they remember the experience of the Passover? They did not. Since they could neither flee nor fight, it would have been a good time to pray, but fear overruled faith. They started criticizing Moses instead.

The church is always in the same condition. Satan can rage, threaten, intimidate, or soothe and tempt to complacency in order to get his slaves back, but he can't win. God is ready to show himself strong when we're at our most helpless, but it's hard to keep that in mind. So too many people grumble against the human leadership, as if the leaders caused the trouble and the trouble were stronger than God. Fortunately, this story clearly demonstrates that God can and will rescue his people when their faith has vanished--so long as at least one person, like Moses, will speak from faith.

Perhaps Moses himself was less confident in God's revelation as he wanted to appear. After he boldly promised that God would fight while the people kept silent, God asked him, "Why are crying out to me" (Exodus 14:15) In modern English, that verse is ambiguous, but the King James says, "Wherefore criest thou unto me." That is, "thou" (singular) and not "ye" (plural). God did not question Moses about anyone's unbelief but his own. God told him to order the people forward before he could pray himself into a suffocating unbelief like theirs.  We must also be so sensitive enough to God's voice to let him interrupt our prayers. Prayer is a two-way conversation.

With Egyptians attacking from every direction by land, "forward" had to mean into the sea. Moses had no other responsibility than to listen to God and lead the people. God took full responsibility for managing the outcome. Moses stretched his rod out over the water. God parted the sea so the Israelites could walk across. The presence of God moved from the head of the line to the rear as a shield.

When the Egyptians stormed into the sea, land that had been dry enough for people to walk over could  not support horses and chariot wheels. Charging chariots must have collided with the bogged down, broken ones in front of them until they all tried to get back to land.

While it still looked like the Egyptians had time to make it safely to shore, God  ordered Moses to stretch his hand over the sea. When it flowed back to its rightful place, covering all the chariots, men, and horses, it was daybreak (Exodus 14:27). In Romans 13:12, Paul reminds Christians that the night is almost gone and the sun's about to rise; wake up, be alert, and put on the armor of light even while it is still dark.


Crossing of the Red Sea / Nicolas Poussin

Crossing of the Red Sea / Nicolas Poussin

Enemies attack late at night, just before daybreak. If God's people must remain alert to get out of danger. The devil, who loves darkness, will find that his prey that is stronger than he expected and  will become vulnerable to God. We have no human enemies. Pharaoh's army was not the enemy, just Satan's pawns. Satan wants people to obey him. He seems formidable only because he has bullied the weak for so long

Whether Satan chooses to woo with temptation or overpower with fear, God knows all about his tactics. God wants to reform a person's will, motivated by love. Satan can't understand the love of God, and so cannot predict what God will do.

Deliverance comes at daybreak, which in the broad sweep of world history has not happened yet. We need to put off the deeds of darkness (not only slumber, but sin) while it is still dark. The parting of the sea is a biblical milestone, but not a complete victory. Satan corrupted all but two of the adults Who experienced it; no one else lived to enter the Promised Land.

So here's our unending challenge: to be more alert than the Israelites were. They crossed the sea on dry land, looking over their shoulders in fear of Egyptian chariots. They had no faith. As they watched the sea go back to its place, they still had no faith. Only when they saw corpses on the shore did they to trust God and Moses, and their trust didn't last long.

When we see any kind of victory, we, too, ought to praise God with a spontaneous outpouring of joy and relief, but it's not enough. At such times, God has broken one of Satan's weapons, but not his whole arsenal. Until we see Jesus face to face, we must resist the temptation to sink into complacency at the time of victory. In the midst of celebration, we must remain on guard. We also need to remember to maintain an attitude of praise and trust when it is difficult--when we feel the full force of the enemy at our heels. We ought to be just as sure of victory then as when we can actually see some evidence.


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