God saves his people. 13:17-14:31

The deliverance at the "Reed Sea" is a defining moment for the people of Israel. They "saw the great power of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant", 14:31.

The passage

13:17-22. Instead of travelling by way of the land of the Philistines, the Lord leads the people into the wilderness toward the Reed Sea. They set out from Succoth, encamping at Etham on the edge of the desert. The Lord went with them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. As prophesied by Joseph, the Lord is with his people.

14:1-4. As part of the Lord's plan, Moses is to instruct the people of a change in direction. The purpose is to give Pharaoh enough rope to hang himself.

v5-9. The writer now gives us Pharaoh's perspective. Pharaoh regrets letting his "servants" go and gathers the choicest of his army to round them up. He overtakes the Israelites encamped at Pi-hahiroth by the Reed Sea. Pharaoh's plan is about to clash with the Lord's plan

v10-14. The writer now turns back to the perspective of the Israelites. Israel is again faced with their old enemy, and in fear they cry out to the Lord. First, the people address Moses. They can see only Pharaoh's plan and respond by attacking their leader. Yet, neither Israel nor Egypt has counted on the Lord's plan. Moses replies by challenging Israel to respond in faith to God's plan. Israel need only stand and watch, for the battle is the Lord's.

v15-18. We again return to the Lord's instructions to Moses. He is to lead the people to the sea, lift his staff and split the sea to provide a way of escape for the people. The Lord's plan is disclosed. He will harden Pharaoh's heart and so Pharaoh will pursue Israel, but the Lord will gain the victory.

v19-20. The Lord now "goes forward" to stand between the advancing Egyptians and Israel.

v21-22. Moses stretches out his arm over the sea and the Lord dries up the sea with a fierce East wind. Shallow waters, low tide and a heavy wind, exposes the sea bed and allows the people of Israel to cross.

v23-25. The writer now records the fear of the Egyptians as the fetes conspire to oppose Pharaoh's plan - a fiery pillar, wind and waves, chariots getting bogged and men "shaken" from their seats. Even the Egyptians realize that "Yahweh", the God of the Israelites, is fighting against them. They are filled with fear.

v26-28. The Lord tells Moses to stretch out his hand again, and at that moment the tidal surge moves back.

v29-31. Recapping the story, our writer reminds us that Israel crossed on dry land, in the midst of the sea, between walls of water. It was a miraculous delivery.

Resting on freedom

With a mighty and outstretched arm the Lord brought liberty to his people. They were miraculously led from bondage into the wilderness to meet with the Lord; they were set free to journey to the promised land.

In later years, as the people of Israel witnessed the collapse of kingship in both Israel and Judah, the prophets spoke of a new and eternal kingdom, ushered in by a new exodus. Both Ezekiel and Isaiah speak of this coming redemption, cf. Isa.59:8, 60:1......

When we get to the New Testament, we discover the fulfillment of the Exodus story. In a fascinating twist we see Jesus, the messiah, functioning as representative Israel. He fulfills Hosea 11:1, "Out of Egypt have I called my son", Matt.2:15. His baptism is portrayed in the eschatological language of the prophets, and his temptation uses the images of the wilderness wanderings. Along with the inauguration of his mission, we are told that his redemptive work on the cross is similarly an "exodus", Lk.9:31. Paul the apostle picks up on these Exodus images to describe the liberation/freedom won by Christ. Only in Christ is there "freedom from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses", Acts 13. When writing to the Corinthians Paul reminds his readers that God's free salvation can be lost, as it was lost by "our fathers who were all under the cloud, and who all passed through the sea." "With most of them God was not pleased." God's grace must be grasped. The writer to the Hebrews similarly notes the inadequacy of the first exodus, pointing to something better in Christ, Heb.8. cf. Jer.31:31ff. Finally, the Revelation of John has believers singing the song of Moses, praising God for his just judgments, Rev.15:3.

Although natural forces were at work on the Reed Sea the day Israel fled from Pharaoh, the event is nothing less than a miraculous redemptive act by a sovereign God. God's grace extended to Israel, even though they were without faith. Now set free, all they could do was "break forth into singing", cf. Ex.15. The sad truth is that "they did not keep in mind His power or the day when he redeemed them from the foe." We have witnessed a similar sign of God's grace in Christ, and like Israel long ago, we wonder somewhere between the Reed Sea and Jordan. "Therefore let no one think that he stands lest he falls, but God is faithful and will also provide for us the way of escape", 1Cor.10:13.


What is the way of escape provided by our Lord?