Exodus 14 - The Fighting God

May 11, 2014 Speaker: Series: Exodus

Topic: Sunday Worship Passage: Exodus 14:1–14:31

[Text: Exodus 14] “The Fighting God”

I’m pretty sure that when a convict escapes, they don’t hang around the prison. They don’t camp out in the field next to the guard-house. They put as much ground as possible between themselves and the prison. So, after gaining their freedom from slavery, why is Israel hanging around Egypt’s neighborhood? And how is it so much like the crises in our lives?

[Pray – Living God, help us so to hear your Holy Word that we may truly understand; that, understanding, we may believe, and, believing, we may follow in all faithfulness and obedience, seeking your honor and glory in all that we do; through Christ our Lord. Amen.]

[Read Exodus 14]

Israel is about two days into freedom. And they’re walking on the edge of the wilderness led by YHWH in a pillar of cloud and fire. Behind them, Egypt’s firstborn were likely being embalmed. But Israel’s sons walked in freedom – alive because the Passover lamb died in their place.

In 13:18, it says “God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea.” YHWH graciously, deliberately leads Israel away from the Philistine warriors in the north. In a pillar of cloud and fire he leads them southeast – into the wilderness, toward the Red Sea. Although they were armed for battle, it seems YHWH knew they weren’t ready for a fight. And in 14:1-3, YHWH purposefully tells Moses to keep moving them around in Egypt’s neighborhood.

Israel was doing what they were supposed to be doing. Follow Moses? Check. Go where YHWH led them? Check. Wander from place to place in a way that made them look lost? Umm – check? Make camp at the Red Sea uncomfortably close to their old master? Umm – check?

Israel was doing what they were supposed to be doing. They were staying where YHWH told them to be. What was God doing? Because he was supposed to be rescuing his people. But by following YHWH and his servant, Moses, Israel was thrown into crisis. Pharaoh saw them wandering near his door. And like a lion seeing prey outside his den, Pharaoh pounces. He’s looking to reclaim what he’d lost.

What is God doing? It’s the question beneath Israel’s questions in this passage. Israel was doing what they were supposed to be doing, but when they see dust rising on the horizon – when they see the most powerful fighting force in the world approaching – they begin to question Moses and their God.

In v.11, the people “cried out to YHWH.” And their cries are the cries of despair. They ask Moses, God’s appointed representative, “What have you done to us?” And they grill Moses with questions. But from the text we understand there was only one being responsible for their situation. They were where they were – standing in an impossible place between Pharaoh and the Red Sea – because of the God in the pillar of cloud and fire. Verse 4 says it and there’s no way around it. They were in crisis because God put them there.

A Christian can identify with that. In the Gospel we hear that through the blood of Jesus, our freedom has been won – freedom from the guilt and power of sin is ours because Jesus died in our place on the cross. The Scriptures say that when we repent and believe in him – receiving him and his finished work, resting in him – we have begun our exodus. Like Israel long ago, we are walking out of slavery to sin and into life with our God.

But he still leads us to the shore of the Red Sea. We still find ourselves in crises because God put us there. And doesn’t it raise questions in our hearts?

God, what are you doing? God, why did you rescue us only to lead us here? God, why did you send this person into my life? All they’ve brought with them is conflict and pain. God, why are you letting him do these things to me? Why do you let temptation come? You rescued me in Jesus, so why am I still struggling with sin? Why do you let the depression persist? Why did you let me get sick? Why do you let my kids keep running away from you? Why do you let your Church struggle? I hear you’re the Creator of all things. I hear you are powerful and good. So, what are you doing?

To be clear, those are fair questions. Asked from a place of trust in Christ, we are free to groan these heart-level questions. (After all, the Psalms are full of groaning, trusting questions to God.)

But I have to confess that these questions are not always asked from a place of trust. Look with me at Israel’s response to God’s leading them into crisis.

In vv.10-12, Israel looks up and sees the full military strength of Pharaoh bearing down on them. It was the one thing YHWH didn’t touch during the plagues. He’d left Egypt’s fighting force intact. Now, Pharaoh is missing his slaves. And with a God-hardened heart he’s coming to get them with his elite soldiers. No one could stand against the chariots and cavalry of Egypt - no one. That’s what history had proved and it’s what Israel believed. And fear filled their hearts.

What is filling your heart with fear right now? What is coming over the horizon for you? What close, unbeatable foe is causing a lump in your throat and raising your pulse?

Israel sees Pharaoh and cries out to YHWH (v.10). But it isn’t a cry for help coming from faith. It’s a cry of despair. Listen to what they say to God’s appointed representative. As they complain and accuse Moses, they’re actually complaining and accusing God himself – “Is it because there are not graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt, “Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.”

“…better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” We hear a couple of things here that we need to talk about.

First, we hear a forgetful-ness, a wrong remembrance of what life was like under their old master. Was it better to live as slaves or walk in freedom? Was it better to serve Pharaoh or YHWH? Which king had afflicted them with heavy burdens? Which king had made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick? Which king had ordered the midwives to kill the sons of Israel? Which king had ordered Israel to throw their sons into the Nile? Which king had them beaten when they didn’t make their quota? Which King had redeemed them? Which King made promises of life to them? Which King had made a grace-filled covenant with them to be their God?

Israel seems to have forgotten what life was like under their old master? Do we ever do the same?

Are we jealous of those still in rebellion against God? Do we ever desire our old ways of life? Are we forgetting that our old master only wanted us dead and separated from God? There is a call to repentance here; a call to return in faith to our Redeemer, who always restores us.

But what else do we hear when they say, “…better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” We also hear an assumption about what the outcome of all this will be. All they can see it death. They speak of graves and dying in the wilderness, believing that their old master can reclaim them – not believing YHWH is strong enough to protect them.

They can only see one outcome to their situation. What about us? Can we only see pain with nothing beyond it? Do we only expect sin and death to reclaim us? Having been forgiven and freed by faith in Christ, is death the only outcome we see? Can our old master conquer Christ and take us back?

Sometimes we believe the answer is yes. Sometimes the same unbelief fills us with fear.

But to his fearful people, YHWH speaks through Moses. He calls them as he calls us: back to faith, back to belief that YHWH finishes what he begins and never loses what those he claims.

I want us to hear the answer God gives in this story to the heart-level question, “God, what are you doing?” Because although he still leads us to the shores of our own Red Sea (time and time again), his answer can sustain us through each crisis, helping us to believe in him.

Because if we are asking, “God, what are you doing,” he answers us in this passage. He says, “I’m getting glory for myself.”

Three times in this passage, YHWH says the purpose of this crisis is his glory – his glory; a word that has to do with the weightiness, the significance of something. In v.4 – “And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am YHWH.” In v. 17-18 – “And I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they shall go in [to the Red Sea] after [Israel] and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his hosts…And the Egyptians shall know that I am YHWH, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.” (Emphasis mine.)

In this we hear the answer God always gives to the question, “What are you doing?” He always says, “I’m getting glory for myself.” He’s always leading our gaze away from ourselves – it’s such a natural response for us to focus on us in crisis. But he’s always leading our gaze away from ourselves and causing us to remember that he is the center of this Story of Redemption. Whatever he ordains to happen is ordered with his glory – his weightiness, his significance, his praise, his greatness, his fame – all things are ordered toward God getting glory.

So, Israel’s gaze is being lifted up beyond Pharaoh’s army on the horizon, beyond their circumstances. In the same way, God would lift our gaze beyond our circumstances. Not to ignore them or diminish them, but to see them as from him and for his glory. So that we can say in every situation, “God, whatever it is you’re doing, please glorify yourself in me. Do whatever you want, only show yourself to be the great and powerful and good God I believe you are.”

To be concerned with the glory of God is to stand on the shore of the Red Sea and trust that whether we live or die, he is good. It is to stand like three men before the king of Babylon, three men threatened with death if they do not worship his image but saying, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18)

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego trusted God on the shore of their Red Sea and gave him glory. Abraham and David and Gideon and Samuel trusted God on the shores of their Red Sea, giving glory to this trustworthy God. And so did Samson as he died. So did the prophets who were killed with the sword or sawn in two for proclaiming God’s glory.

So did Jesus, who prayed in the garden that the cup of suffering would pass him by, praying that the people of God could be rescued some other way. But he went forward to the cross saying, “Your will be done,” trusting God and counting the weight of the Father as greater than his own. He prayed believing because this God is always able to save. And if he doesn’t, he is still to be trusted. He is still to be glorified, still to be made much of.

Israel stood on the edge of the Red Sea so that God would get glory that day. You stand on the edge of crisis, so that God will get glory today.

But a question; if the glory of God is the purpose of this crisis, then how does he get glory for himself through it? Well, we have to say that he does it ways different than we expect or want. But in the end, his way is the more glorious. So, how does he get glory for himself when his people are in crisis?

Two things. First, listen to Moses. Second, look at YHWH.

First, listen to Moses. Concern for the glory of God filling his mind, he calls Israel to look away from themselves and look to the God who was saving them.

In vv. 13-14 Moses says, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of YHWH, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. YHWH will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”

“Fear not.” It’s like a refrain in the Scriptures because our hearts are so full of fear. That’s what sin gives us. It’s what our rebellion and slavery leave us with – fear. But when the Lord comes, he comes to take away fear.

“Fear not,” the angel said to shepherds when Christ was born. (Luke 2:10) “Fear not, little flock,” Jesus said, “for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32) God gets glory for himself as he removes our fear and gives us peace to settles hearts even on the edge of the Red Sea.

“Stand firm” Moses says. The word has to do with standing quietly and passively, standing still in one place. With two words Moses cuts to the heart our love of self-help. What human wants to stand still, doing nothing when crisis comes? One writer says, “[Our nature tells us we] must be doing something. It will rush [here and there]. It would [pretend to] have some hand in the matter.” But then he goes on, comparing our “doing” with tramping around in a dry field – full of sound and fury and accomplishing nothing – nothing except raising “a dust around us which prevents [us from] seeing God’s salvation.”[1]

No, Israel did not need to do something. Though armed, they weren’t supposed to fight. They were simply called to depend on their all-sufficient God, looking to him with faith-filled silence and watching for him to act.

Oh, and he was about to act. Moses said YHWH was about to fight for his people. And when he did, the Egyptians who filled them with fear would soon be floating in the breaking waves on the shore of the Red Sea.

But just before he acts, listen to YHWH’s instructions to Israel in v.15 – “Tell the people of Israel to go forward.”

“Go forward.” Before the waters open up, before the way becomes obvious, Israel was supposed to walk forward by faith. They were supposed to walk trusting YHWH to lead them and make a way where there was no way.

Christian in crisis, you are first called to walk by faith, not to “do.” I know you don’t always see the way, but you know the Way and the Truth and the Life. With the eyes of faith you see Jesus who died for you and rescued you from slavery to sin. You see him who lives for you and promises to take care of you. Go forward, trusting in him. Then seek to do the next faithful thing, no matter how small – even if it is just putting one foot in front of the other.

Israel was supposed to go forward in faith. And as soon as they do, YHWH acts. That’s the second thing I want you to see. Look at YHWH.

See how the angel of God moves behind them to protect them in v.19? The most disciplined and powerful fighting force in the world could not break through when YHWH stood between them and his people. All night he protected them. You, Christian, are never without his protection. Though he may lead you into crisis, he will not forsake you in it. As your suffering sister said (in the quote on the front of the bulletin), “The Lord put me here. He’ll be with me while I’m here.” The believer in Christ has the Holy Spirit and the promise of Christ that he will be with you always, even to the end of the age.

See how YHWH works through Moses, his servant? Moses stretches out his hand over the sea and it opens for the people of the God who made the sea. Moses stretched out his hand again and the waters crash down on the strength of Egypt. All that YHWH does he does through Moses. And you, Christian, have a better Moses in Jesus. What God does to rescue you from slavery and lead you through crisis is done through our Lord Jesus Christ. He will lead you through this crisis, because he has already led you through death into life.

See how YHWH frustrates the fighting forces of Egypt? He clogs their wheels, making them fall off in the middle of the Red Sea. They say, “Let us flee from before Israel, for YHWH fights for them….” (v.25) But when the walls of water come crashing down, not a single Israelite was lost and not a single Egyptian survived.

Do you think that God will abandon you to the enemy? If wind and waves and chariot wheels of this world are under the sovereign hand of God, then I believe what the Word says – nothing can separate a believer from the love of God in Christ (Romans 8:39). When judgment and salvation come again, when Christ returns, not a single one of his people will be lost. No one who trusts in him will be put to shame.

Israel’s hearts were asking, “God, what are you doing?” And like the disciples in the storm, we often ask in crisis, “…do you not care that we are perishing?” But to them and to us, this God still says, “Fear not, stand firm, see the salvation of the LORD.”

In Christ, we have already seen the salvation of the LORD. By faith in him, already we are redeemed, already we have walked out of slavery to the guilt and power of sin. And by faith in Christ, we have already been baptized into his death and resurrection – in him we have passed through the waters of death into life.

The call for us is the same as to Israel. And when they “saw the great power that the LORD used against the Egyptians,” the Scriptures say “the people feared the LORD and they believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses.” Then they sang.

We aren’t called to rescue ourselves in crises. We are called to believe in God and in our Savior, Jesus Christ. We are called to continue with our faith and hope in him, going forward putting one foot in front of another, with our eyes fixed on him.

So, if you stand on the edge of the Red Sea, and if your circumstances are driving you to dependence on your all-sufficient God – if your circumstances are causing you to look to Christ and rest in him alone – then you can know you are where God wants you to be, means you to be.

That might not change our circumstances. The pain may continue; the way forward might not yet be clear. And we may groan and ask, “God, what are you doing?” But what will be changed is us. Because Christ has come we can ask that question from a place of trust in a trustworthy God. Because Christ has come we can sing of salvation already accomplished. And because Christ is coming again, we can listen and watch for the God who says, “Fear not, stand firm, see the salvation of the LORD.”

[Pray – Father, we praise you as the God of all glory, who alone is worthy of our praise and thanksgiving. In your sovereign rule over us, you so often lead us into what we believe are impossible places. And for us, they are truly impossible. But not for you, O God who opens the deep to make a way for his people. In Christ, we have hope that you are always protecting, always saving your people. And though it feels like death to us, we know that in Christ death no longer has any power over us. And so, Father, we come to you, lifting up our voices like Israel on the far side of the Red Sea. We come to praise you for saving us through Jesus your Son. And we would go forward from here with our faith and hope in him, though we do not yet know the way. Lead us on, King of Glory. Lead us on, Christ our Lord. Lead us on, Holy Spirit. And help us to follow you. Amen.]


[Benediction – from Number 6]

The LORD bless you and keep you;

the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;

the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.



[1] Arthur Walkington Pink, Gleanings in Exodus (Chicago: Moody Press, 1962), 110.

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