September 13th 2020
Pastor Galen Zook
Too Good to Be True?
Do you remember the feeling that you had when your boss said you could leave work early, but you’d still get paid for the full day?
Or in school, when you were given a special task to do which required you to leave the classroom? Perhaps your teacher asked you to take a letter to the principal’s office and you were given that rare golden opportunity to skip out on some class time?
Do you remember that strange mixture of feelings that you had? Joy and excitement, but with a slight twinge of nervousness. It feels too good to be true. What if your boss changes her mind? What if another teacher catches you in the hallway and doesn’t believe your story and you get in trouble for not having a hall pass?
That’s just a small taste of what it probably felt like for the Israelites when they left Egypt. After 400 years of being in slavery, they could hardly believe what was happening. Did Pharaoh really say that they could leave and not come back? This had to be too good to be true.
I imagine the Israelites sort of speedwalking out of the land of Goshen. Past pharaoh’s palace. Past the ancient statues of kings and queens, through the city gates, past the pyramids that their ancestors had helped build. Off in the distance they could see the famous statue of the Sphinx.
Finally they were out in the wilderness, far away from the city, with the Nile now several miles behind them.
And yet they didn’t feel that they could quite breath easily. All the time they kept looking back over their shoulders, expecting that at any moment Pharaoh and his army might come chasing after them, or that perhaps they might wake up and realize that this was all the dream.
Some of the younger ones started singing and dancing, caught up in the excitement of the moment, but they were quickly hushed. Don’t make too much noise! We’re not safe yet.
But how would they ever know if they were safe? How could they ever stop looking over their shoulders? How could they ever live completely free from fear, when Pharaoh and his army were still out there?
The Red Sea
And then, just when they were starting to feel that they might be able to savor the sweet taste of freedom after all, there it was in front of them. The Red Sea. Their hearts sank. It might as well have been an ocean. How would they ever get across? They had no boats, most of them didn’t even know how to swim. And plus they had all of their possessions with them.
They didn’t know the geography, but some thought that perhaps they could just go around. Others felt that it was an unconquerable obstacle, and they might as well turn around and go back to Egypt now. Finally, word spread through the crowd that they were going to set up camp for the night.
That’s when they saw it. The small cloud of dust, behind them on the horizon. Was that just me, or was that a tremor underneath our feet? The Israelites watched in horror as the cloud of dust grew closer and larger. And then, emerging from the cloud of dust, they could make out the shadowy figures of enemy chariots riding towards them. The ground shook beneath their feet as the chariots approached.
Shrieks of fear turned into shouts of anger, as the crowd became enraged at the one who had led them out of Egypt. “Moses, why did you bring us out into this wilderness just to be killed by Pharaoh and his army? Why couldn’t you just let us remain slaves in Egypt?”
The cloud that had been in front of them up until this point, leading and guiding their way, drifted behind them, blocking pharaoh’s army from view, and protecting the Israelites for the time being. But the Israelites knew they were still there, just behind the cloud, and it was only a matter of time before Pharaoh’s army would catch up to them.
As night fell, they knew that there was nothing they could do. Reluctantly they lay down for the night, tossing and turning all night, as they tried to catch a few hours of fitful sleep.
Surely they would be captured in the morning. The only question was, would Pharaoh slaughter them there, or would they be taken, disgraced and humiliated, in chains back to Egypt?
For the Israelites, there was nothing they could do, nowhere they could go. The Red Sea in front of them, Pharaoh’s army behind them, it seemed that all hope was lost.
An Impossible Situation
The Israelites were in a seemingly impossible situation. But as it has often been said, our God is the God of the impossible. And God can make a way where there is no way. Though the Israelites had lost all hope, God still had a purpose for them, and God still had a plan.
You see, while it seemed that the Red Sea was an impenetrable barrier and perhaps even the means of their downfall, it was in actuality the means by which God had orchestrated their escape.
It was in fact God who had led them to the Red Sea. God could have sent them a different way. But earlier in chapter 14, we see that God specifically told Moses to have the people turn back.
“God said to Moses, ‘Tell the Israelites to turn back and camp in front of Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, in front of Baal-zephon; you shall camp opposite it, by the sea’” (Ex. 14:2).
Why did God tell the people to turn back rather than to keep going? It was so that Pharaoh would say of the Israelites, “‘They are wandering aimlessly in the land; the wilderness has closed in on them’” (Ex. 14:3). God told Moses, “‘I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them’” (Ex. 14:2-4a).
God wanted Pharaoh to pursue the Israelites! God wanted Pharaoh to think that the Israelites were wandering around aimlessly in the desert, that they would be easy prey. God wanted Pharaoh to change his mind, and to come chasing after the Israelites!
Why in the world would God put the Israelites through this, when they had already been through so much?
I believe that God knew that the Israelites would always live their lives in fear of Pharaoh’s retaliation, that they would never be fully able to trust God, they would always be looking back over their shoulders, unless they knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Pharaoh and his army were no longer a threat to them.
It wasn’t enough for the Israelites to be physically free. God wanted them to be emotionally and psychologically and spiritually free as well. Free from worry and fear and anxiety, freed to truly live and breathe and to experience and enjoy the land that God had promised to them.
And so God orchestrated events so that Pharaoh and his army were destroyed right before their eyes, so that the Israelites would know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they did not need to live in fear.
During the night, while the Isrealites lay awake in their beds trembling with fear, God was already at work, causing a strong wind to drive the waters of the sea back, and turning the sea into dry ground. The Israelites crossed safely to the other side, but when the Egyptian army tried to chase after them, “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” (Ex. 14:28, 30). And the Bible says, “Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great work that the Lord did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the Lord and believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses” (Ex. 14:31).
The Isrealites saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. They saw the great work that the Lord did. And they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses. Even though the situation they were in felt impossible, God took that seemingly impossible situation and turned it around for their good. Now they were truly free.
What’s Your Red Sea?
Friends, I don’t know what “Red Sea” you might be facing today — what seemingly impossible situation might be confronting you. Perhaps it’s a medical diagnosis. Perhaps you’re in a financial bind, and you don’t see a way out. Perhaps you’re facing increasing responsibilities, difficult coworkers, challenging or unstable living or working situations.
Whatever it is that you might be facing this morning that seems impossible, know that our God is the God of the impossible. If God can turn a barrier like the Red Sea and turn it into a means of escape, then surely God can make a way in your situation as well.
Earlier in chapter 14, Moses told the Israelites, “‘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’” (Ex. 14:13-14).
Do not be afraid. Stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today. The Lord will fight for you. You have only to keep still. What an amazing God we serve! What an awesome, and mighty, and powerful God God is.
The Way of the Cross
Ultimately, through Jesus, God made a way for us, where there seemed to be no way. Eph. chapter 2 verse 1 says that we were dead in our “trespasses and sins ” and Rom. 5:10 says “we were God’s enemies.” The sin and rebellion of humanity pitted us against the very God who created us and loves us. The situation that we were in seemed impossible. It seemed that all hope was lost. There was no way we could lift ourselves up, no way we could save ourselves, no way we could achieve our own freedom from slavery to sin.
But. Rom. 5:8 says, “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” Jesus, hanging there on the cross, dying in our place, loved us, and forgave us, and achieved for us the salvation that we could never have achieved for ourselves.
God is the God of the impossible. The God who died for the ungodly, the God who loves even the unlovely.
How do we live in response to a God who loves us with this kind of love? We recognize that our lives are in God’s hands. We look to Jesus for our salvation and our strength. We place our trust in God and live into the freedom that God offers. Freedom from worry and fear. Freedom from the need to impress others or to prove our own self-worth. Free to take God at God’s word, free to rest in God’s promises, knowing that the Lord will fight our battles for us. We need only to stand still.