“CROSSING THE RED SEA”
(THE UGP CURRICULUM)
Sunday, November 17, 2019
- Lesson: Exodus 14:10-22;
- Time of Action: 1446 or 1445 B.C.;
- Place of Action: The Red Sea
Golden Text: “And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided” (Exodus 14:21).
I. INTRODUCTION. In this week’s lesson we find the Israelites between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Pharaoh’s mighty army was behind them, and the Red Sea was before them. It was there that they learned an important lesson; if God calls you, He will also protect you. As God moved in and out of their midst, the Israelites would witness several mighty miracles, all of which were designed to protect those whom God had called.
II. BACKGROUND FOR THE LESSON. The children of Israel had been freed from Egyptian slavery and made a stop in Succoth. Moses reminded the people of how long they had been in slavery, how God delivered them and that they were to remember the night it all happened whenever they celebrated the Passover that God instituted the same night they left Egypt (see Exodus 12:37-42). Then the Lord gave Moses further instructions concerning the Passover (see Exodus 12:43-51). In chapter 13, the Lord told Moses to tell the children of Israel that going forward, they were to set aside the firstborn of both man and animals unto Him (see Exodus 13:1-2). The Lord also instituted the Feast of Unleavened Bread and told the people how it was to be observed and remembered (see Exodus 13:3-16). When the Israelites continued their journey, instead of leading them the shortest way to Canaan through the land of the Philistines, God led them toward the wilderness of the Red Sea (see Exodus 13:17-18). The Lord did this for two reasons. First, if they went through the land of the Philistines, who were a war-like people, out of fear, the Israelites would want to return to Egypt. Second, God would perform a miracle at the Red Sea and then lead His people through the wilderness to test their faith. Chapter 13 ends with the comment that Moses took Joseph’s bones with them to honor the pledge made to Joseph by his family (see Genesis 50:22-26; Exodus 13:19-20), and the fact that God went continually before His people in a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (see Exodus 13:21-22). Chapter 14 opens with the Lord telling Moses to tell the Israelites to turn back and make camp between Migdol and the Red Sea so that this would make Pharaoh think that the Hebrews were lost in the desert. God would then harden Pharaoh’s heart causing him to pursue the Israelites with his army of chariots and overtake them where they were encamped by the sea (see Exodus 14:1-9). This is where our lesson begins.
III. FEAR AND COMPLAINING (Exodus 14:10-14)
A. Israel’s fear of Pharaoh’s approaching army (Exodus 14:10-12).
1. (vs. 10). Our first verse says “And when Pharaoh drew nigh, the children of Israel lifted up their eyes, and, behold, the Egyptians marched after them; and they were sore afraid: and the children of Israel cried out unto the Lord.” Under God’s directions, Israel was now encamped in front of Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, opposite from Baal-zephon (see Exodus 14:1-2). Pharaoh again changed his mind about releasing the Hebrews and gathered his army of chariots and pursued after the Israelites finding them between Baal-zephon and the Red Sea (see Exodus 14:3-9). At this point we are told that “when Pharaoh drew nigh, the children of Israel lifted up their eyes, and, behold, the Egyptians marched after them…” When “Pharaoh” and his army came “nigh” or near the Israelites’ camp, they looked up and lo and “behold” they saw the Egyptians coming after them. Having been set free by “Pharaoh,” the last thing they expected to see was the Egyptian king and his army pursuing them. Imagine the pandemonium that broke out among the ranks of God’s people. Although the Hebrews numbered 600,000 men (see Exodus 12:37), they were not an organized army; and they were no match for the chariots of Pharaoh’s army. As a result, the Israelites “were sore afraid.” It appears that the Israelites had quickly forgotten the great miracles that the Lord had done in Egypt that led to their release. Fear results when we walk by sight and not by faith (see II Corinthians 5:7). Of course, every severe trial appears to be desperate when we walk by sight (see II Kings 6:15-17). Note: The wise man wrote that “the fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe” (see Proverbs 29:25). Faith in the Lord is the only adequate solution to our problems of life. The truth is, in most cases we can’t do anything about them anyway. As we learn to depend on God and recognize His love, fear will be removed (see I John 4:16-19). The real cure for fear is to have our hearts and our eyes fixed on the Lord (see Psalms 112:6-8). To worry about our circumstances and surroundings is fatal to our peace. As a result of their fear, “the children of Israel cried out unto the Lord.” We might think that their cry was a prayer to God, but this can hardly be called a prayer of faith (see James 1:6-8), for the very next verse reveals the people’s lack of faith and trust.
2. (vs. 11). This verse says “And they said unto Moses, Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness? wherefore hast thou dealt thus with us, to carry us forth out of Egypt?” The cry from the Israelites in the previous verse was an angry cry of desperation and complaint. Despair and desperation often results in blaming others for our situations. The people knew that they were in a desperate situation for they blamed Moses, “And they said unto Moses, Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness? Of course Moses wasn’t the one taking them away from “Egypt” at all; God was. Despair, which comes from walking by sight (see II Corinthians 5:7) sees men only as human agents and not as God’s instruments. Despair can also cause us to fabricate or make up stuff. The people knew that they were just making stuff up when they said that Moses had brought them from “Egypt…to die in the wilderness” since none of them had died in “Egypt.” Come on! The reality is that there were probably more Hebrew “graves in Egypt” than Egyptian “graves.” The Israelites’ complaint continued with another question: “wherefore hast thou dealt thus with us, to carry us forth out of Egypt?” Again, Moses was not responsible for bringing them out of Egypt. God did it in response to their centuries of cries and pleas to Him (see Exodus 2:23-25). Note: The Israelites’ complaint arose because they looked at the Egyptian soldiers, but failed to look to God, their Deliverer. The fact that God had delivered them from Egyptian bondage by sending fearful plagues, especially by killing the firstborn of Egypt, should have encouraged the hearts of the Israelites, but it didn’t. When we fail to believe God’s promises, we lack stability and become like “a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed” (see James 1:6).
3. (vs. 12). This verse says “Is not this the word that we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians? For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness.” The people continued complaining against Moses saying “Is not this the word that we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians?” In essence, the people were saying “While we were in Egypt, didn’t we tell you to leave us alone so that we could serve the Egyptians as slaves?” If we are honest, we have to admit that this sounds just like some Christians. It’s really amazing how in one moment they cried out to the Lord, and the next moment they complained bitterly to the one the Lord had sent to be their leader. Lashing out at our spiritual leaders is a common tactic of people who are not right with the Lord. The people continued their bogus complaint to Moses saying “For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness.” I don’t know about anyone else, but the more I think about Israel’s reaction, the more ridiculous it sounds. They had to be really afraid of Pharaoh’s approaching army to even think that they would’ve been better off as slaves in Egypt than dying in the wilderness. Up to this point they didn’t know if they were going to “die in the wilderness;” but they did know what it was like to be a slave and “die” in Egypt. It appears that the motto of many Israelites may have been: “A living slave is better than a dead freeman.” They had cried for deliverance from slavery and God provided it; but when a trial arose, they assumed that God would abandon them. But if they had only looked up, they would’ve seen that God was with them by the presence of the cloud and pillar of fire (see Exodus 13:21-22). Note: Christians may find themselves in a similar situation. The life of sin, like the life of slavery in Egypt, may in some ways seem much easier (see Hebrews 11:24-25) than the life of faith. But when a person becomes a believer in Jesus Christ, he or she enters the arena of spiritual warfare (see Ephesians 6:11-12). Without the armor of God (see Ephesians 6:13-18), the believer is miserably helpless. The believer must learn to walk in obedience to God’s Spirit if he or she is to experience victory in this warfare (see Galatians 5:16-17; Ephesians 5:15-16).
B. Moses’ response to Israel’s fear (Exodus 14:13-14).
1. (vs. 13). This verse says “And Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will shew to you to day: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever.” Moses responded to the despair and anger of the people with a call to faith in God. First Moses “said unto the people, Fear ye not.” He could see that the people were in a state of panic as they watched “the Egyptians” approaching. Panic must be brought under control before we can cope satisfactorily with any crisis. I can imagine seeing the Israelites milling around in “fear” trying to decide on what to do. But Moses said “stand still” or “stand firm.” With this command, the people were stop wasting time trying to save themselves either by fighting or running. They were to wait for God’s orders, and obey them. Instead of contriving what course to take, they should follow their leader. Then Moses added “and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will shew to you to day.” The people were to wait on God’s deliverance and take notice of how foolish they were to distrust Him. They were to compose themselves with confidence in God expecting the great “salvation” or deliverance God was about to work for them. This was a time to remain calm and keep their wits about them. There was no need to even give a shout against the enemy as the people would do under Joshua’s directions (see Joshua 6:16). The Israelites were not to worry about the means of their “salvation” or deliverance; that was God’s business and He would show them that very “day.” God had commanded them to leave Egypt; now He would protect them. How often do we worry about things that we have no control over when we should be trusting God (see Psalms 46:1-2, 11; Isaiah 26:3; Philippians 4:6-7)? As a result of God’s intervention, Moses told the people that “the Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever.” Moses promised the Israelites that they would never see the Egyptian army again (see Hebrews 11:29). Note: On later occasions, God would direct His people to fight and rely on Him for help. But on this occasion, the people were told to simply behold the power of God. If God Himself brings His people into straits of adversity, He will Himself discover a way to bring us out again. In times of great difficulty and great expectation, we would be wise to keep our spirits calm, and quiet; for then we are in the best frame of mind to do as God commands: “stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord” (see II Chronicles 20:17; Job 37:14). In other words, watch Him work!
2. (vs. 14). This verse says “The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace.” Now Moses tells the people the reason why they were expected to “stand still.” It was because “The Lord shall fight for you.” Certainly they were not militarily comparable to the Egyptians which no doubt caused them to worry and be afraid. But Moses removed their fears and worries with the encouraging words “The Lord shall fight for you.” That would be God’s part in delivering His people. As for what the people were expected to do, Moses said “and ye shall hold your peace.” In other words, the people needed to stop being afraid, stop complaining and stop milling around aimlessly.
IV. THE LORD’S PLAN (Exodus 14:15-18)
A. What the Israelites are to do in God’s plan (Exodus 14:15). This verse says “And the Lord said unto Moses, Wherefore criest thou unto me? speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward…” After Moses finished encouraging the people, “the Lord said unto Moses, Wherefore criest thou unto me? In essence, the Lord asked Moses “why are you praying to me?” Then the Lord commanded Moses to “speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward.” Moses was to stop praying and get the people moving forward. This teaches us that there is a time to pray and a time to act. It’s wrong to act without prayer, and it is wrong to pray when we should act. God had revealed enough for the people to obey. It was time for them to act. How often do we seek to know every detail of God’s plan before we commit ourselves to obey Him? The Lord wants us to obey His directions. We don’t have to know all the specifics in order to obey. God’s direction to Israel was “go forward” and He would take care of the rest.
B. What Moses is to do in God’s plan (Exodus 14:16). This verse says “But lift thou up thy rod, and stretch out thine hand over the sea, and divide it: and the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea.” It was time for the Hebrews to obey, and details had to be given. Instead of Moses spending more time praying, God commanded him to “lift thou up thy rod, and stretch out thine hand over the sea, and divide it.” The power was not in the “rod” but in the Lord. When Moses obeyed, God promised that “the children of Israel,” possibly more than two million people including women and children (see Exodus 12:37) “shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea.” When Moses stretched his staff over “the sea,” the waters would be divided or parted allowing Israel to cross to the other side on “dry ground.” Dividing or parting the Red Sea was miraculous enough, but drying the seabed also was a dramatic demonstration of God’s power. When God commands us to do something, He removes difficulties that might hinder our obedience as well (see Proverbs 3:6). Imagine the trouble Israel would have had trying to cross a muddy seafloor if God had not dried it.
C. What God will do in His plan (Exodus 14:17-18).
1. (vs. 17). This verse says “And I, behold, I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they shall follow them: and I will get me honour upon Pharaoh, and upon all his host, upon his chariots, and upon his horsemen.” The Lord continued to say to Moses “And I, behold, I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they shall follow them.” Just as God had “hardened” Pharaoh’s heart when He brought the plagues in Egypt (see Exodus 4:21; 7:3: 9:12; 10:27), so now the entire Egyptian host would experience a similar hardening (see Romans 9:18). When the Lord said “I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians” it means that God confirmed the Egyptians’ intentions and forced them to do what was already in their “hearts” (see Proverbs 12:20; 23:7). As a result of God hardening the hearts of both “Pharaoh” and his entire “host” or army, the Lord said that they would “follow” the Israelites into the sea. Then God reminded Moses why He was doing all of this (see Exodus 9:13-16). He said “and I will get me honour upon Pharaoh, and upon all his host, upon his chariots, and upon his horsemen.” In other words, the ultimate purpose of the Egyptians’ demise was to bring glory to God (see Romans 9:15-17). Note: In both good events and bad events, we need to ask, “How is God glorified through these things?” Even in the final moments of their lives, the pursuing Egyptians would come to the realization that the God of Israel was the only true deity. Once word got back to Egypt concerning what had happened to their army, all of the Egyptians would reach the same conclusion. And get this, forty years later, the miracle at the Red Sea would still be remembered and cause a harlot named Rahab to join with Israel (see Joshua 2:1-13; 6:21-25).
2. (vs. 18). This verse says “And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gotten me honour upon Pharaoh, upon his chariots, and upon his horsemen.” After God would demonstrate His awesome power at the Red Sea, He continued to say to Moses “the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gotten me honour upon Pharaoh, upon his chariots, and upon his horsemen.” Here God repeats His purpose in destroying the Egyptians (see verse 17). He said it was to get “me honour.” After God had gained the victory over “Pharaoh” and the Egyptian army, God said that “the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.” The Egyptians would realize that Israel’s God is “the Lord” or Jehovah. This would not be saving knowledge or knowledge based on a relationship with God, but instead it would be knowledge of the fact of God’s identity—who He is.
V. THE LORD’S PROTECTION (Exodus 14:19-20)
A. The movement of the cloud (Exodus 14:19). This verse says “And the angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of the cloud went from before their face, and stood behind them…” Although the Egyptians were closing in on the Israelites fast, God was going to make sure that they wouldn’t catch up with the escaped slaves too soon. He would give Israel time to cross the Red Sea before the pursuing Egyptians could engage them in battle. Therefore, “the angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them.” Instead of leading or going before the Israelites as He had done up to this point, now “the angel of God…removed and went behind them.” The “angel of God” was now standing between the Hebrews and the Egyptians. We know that the Hebrews were led during the day by a “pillar of the cloud.” Now it is revealed that the “pillar of the cloud” is identified as the “angel of God.” We are told that “the angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel” and “the pillar of the cloud went from before their face.” In other words, since “the angel of God” and “the pillar of the cloud” are both said to have been in front of the Israelites, they are one and the same. But now to protect His people, “the angel of God” who was undoubtedly in “the pillar of the cloud” (see Exodus 3:1-4) stood behind them between the people and the Egyptians. Note: In Scripture, “the Angel of God” or the Angel of the Lord are the same person (see Exodus 3:2-4; 22:11-12), the preincarnate Jesus Christ. Since Paul identified Jesus Christ as the one who was with Israel in the wilderness (see I Corinthians 10:4), many believe, as I do, that this Angel was the preincarnate, or an earthly appearance of Jesus Christ before He became flesh.
B. The position of the cloud (Exodus 14:20). This verse says “And it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel; and it was a cloud and darkness to them, but it gave light by night to these: so that the one came not near the other all the night. Here, the position of the angel of God, who was in the pillar of the “cloud” is confirmed. The pillar of the “cloud” was positioned “between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel.” The Angel shifted from his position as guide to a position as guardian. The phrase “and it was a cloud and darkness to them” means that the pillar of the cloud brought darkness during the night to the Egyptians so that they could not advance further toward the Israelites. At the same time the “cloud” was causing darkness for the Egyptians, “it gave light by night to these.” The word “these” refers to the Israelites. This is further proof that the “pillar of a cloud” and the “pillar of fire” was the same “cloud.” There were not two different pillars one of a “cloud” and another of fire (see Exodus 13:21-22). The “cloud” appearing as both darkness and light was now between the Egyptians and the Israelites “so that the one came not near the other all the night.” In other words, the Egyptian army and the Israelites were separated throughout “the night” by the “cloud.”
VI. THE LORD’S POWER (Exodus 14:21-22)
A. Moses does his part in God’s plan (Exodus 14:21). This verse says “And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.” As God had commanded Moses to do, he obeyed and “stretched out his hand over the sea.” When he did this, “the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night.” As Moses obeyed God by pointing his rod out over the Red Sea, “the Lord” sent a “strong east wind all that night” to push the waters back making a pathway to the other side. This “strong east wind” turned the seabed into “dry land” while it also “divided the waters.” Note: As with the plagues that God brought upon Egypt, He used natural forces to perform His will. While strong winds can cause the waters of an ocean or a lake to churn, winds do not provide a pathway as depicted here. This was divine intervention, not merely Israel being at the right place at the right time.
B. The Israelites do their part in God’s plan (Exodus 14:22). Our final verse says “And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground: and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left.” With the Angel of God holding back the Egyptian army with darkness from the cloud, “the children of Israel” did their part in God’s plan, and they “went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground.” Since we cannot be certain of the place where the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, it is impossible to determine how deep the waters were where the people crossed. Suffice it to say, that wherever they crossed the Sea was deep enough that “the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left.” In other words, the waters became “a wall” on both sides of the escaping Hebrews. It was also deep enough that the pursuing Egyptians sank and were drowned when the waters returned (see Exodus 15:4-5). Note: The location where Israel crossed the Red Sea cannot be precisely determined by the details given in Exodus. Since the Hebrew for “Red Sea” is yam suph and can be translated “Sea of Reeds,” some have conjectured that the Israelites actually crossed one of the many shallow, marshy lakes that were in the region. But the fact that the Egyptians drowned pursuing Israel does not fit that scenario. In addition, the fact that yam suph is later translated as the Red Sea where Solomon’s ships docked, indicates a significantly deep body of water (see I Kings 9:26). Even if the Israelites crossed the Red Sea in a shallow spot as some believe, that does not mean that this incident never happened. I remember hearing the story of a Sunday school teacher who insisted that there was nothing miraculous about the Israelites crossing the Red Sea because the water was only six inches deep where they crossed. Then from the back of the room came a shout: “Praise God for the miracle!” The teacher asked the boy, “What miracle?” Then the boy said, “The Lord must have drowned the whole Egyptian army in six inches of water!” Although Isaiah had something else in mind, this reminds me of his words “…and a little child shall lead them” (see Isaiah 11:6). The truth is, whether in six inches or 60 feet of water, God could’ve done what He did that night. Trust me, it really was a miracle!
VII. Conclusion. After leaving Egypt, a huge crowd of Israelites, more than 600,000 men not counting women and children (see Exodus 12:37; 38:26) faced the Red Sea in front of them and Pharaoh’s army of chariots behind them. How much did any of them contribute to the solution to their problem? Absolutely nothing! God did it all. He wanted the Egyptians to know that the one true living God had absolute authority over the entire world (see Exodus 14:18). He wanted Israel to see His power so that their confidence would be centered in Him (see Exodus 14:13-14). He deserved all the praise. What did Israel contribute? About as much light as a candle adds to the midday sun.
***The Sunday School Lesson, Union Gospel Press Curriculum; The Bible Expositor and Illuminator***======================================================================