A sermon preached at Covenant Presbyterian Church of Fort Smith, Arkansas before the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper on May 6, 2018.
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Tell the people of Israel to turn back and encamp in front of Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, in front of Baal-zephon; you shall encamp facing it, by the sea. For Pharaoh will say of the people of Israel, ‘They are wandering in the land; the wilderness has shut them in.’ 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 the LORD.” And they did so. When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, the mind of Pharaoh and his servants was changed toward the people, and they said, “What is this we have done, that we have let Israel go from serving us?” So he made ready his chariot and took his army with him, and took six hundred chosen chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them. And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued the people of Israel while the people of Israel were going out defiantly. The Egyptians pursued them, all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and his horsemen and his army, and overtook them encamped at the sea, by Pi-hahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon. When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly. And the people of Israel cried out to the LORD. They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no 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.” And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work 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 be silent.” The LORD said to Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward. Lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go through the sea on dry ground. And I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they shall go in after them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, his chariots, and his horsemen. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.” Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the cloud and the darkness. And it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night. Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. The Egyptians pursued and went in after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. And in the morning watch the LORD in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down on the Egyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic, clogging their chariot wheels so that they drove heavily. And the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from before Israel, for the LORD fights for them against the Egyptians.” Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen.” So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its normal course when the morning appeared. And as the Egyptians fled into it, the LORD threw the Egyptians into the midst of the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained. But the people of Israel walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. Thus the LORD saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great power that the LORD used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses (Exodus 14).
Israel, the former slave labor of the Egyptian economy, migrated from Egypt to the edge of the wilderness. Following Israel’s exodus, Pharaoh and his servants sobered to the reality of their future without Israel. Amassing an elite battalion of soldiers, Pharaoh pursued Israel to capture and return them to Egypt. The topography of the region allowed Israel to see the Egyptian army from a distance. Unequipped, unprepared, unmotivated, and afraid, Israel cried out to the Lord and turned against Moses.
Israel asks several revealing questions: First, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? Their fear led them to focus on their current circumstances and to presume the worst. Second, “What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt?” Their fear led them to blame someone else. Third, “Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’?” Their fear led them to perceive their former slavery as superior to their freedom. Finally, their fear leads them to deduce, “For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” Presuming their defeat and destruction, they long for their former enslavement.
Fear is a powerful emotion. Once it takes root, it leads to loss of realistic perspective, unfounded presumption, false accusation, misplaced remembrance, and illogical conclusions, among other things. Was the threat of imminent danger real for Israel? Certainly! They could see the impending danger on the horizon. Who wouldn’t see the approaching army and fear the worst.
We can all relate to Israel’s emotion and response. We fear the unknown, presume the worst, blame others, consider our past as better than our fearful present, and lose the ability to think rationally. So, let us listen closely to Moses’ response to Israel’s fear: “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you will never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” Let’s examine this instruction more closely.
At first this sounds like over-simplified counsel. “You are fearful. Fear not. On to your next issue…” But, there is greater depth to this simple imperative. Consider what Israel had witnessed: Egypt went from rich and powerful to devastated as a result of ten plagues sovereignly-administered in judgment. Egypt was decimated and yet Israel flourished in Goshen. They were led out of Egypt by super natural guidance, a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. They had witnessed their redemption from slavery and their exodus from Egypt by the hand of almighty God. But, it is to their present and future that Moses directs their attention: “the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again.” The very thing that you fear today will not exist tomorrow.
And so it happened. The pillar of cloud became a cloudy barrier, shrouding Pharaoh and his army in darkness and shining light upon Israel. Moses lifted his staff, stretching out his hand over the red sea, and the waters parted. The moist, muddy bottom became a dry, firm sidewalk. The raging waters of the sea became a corridor to the other side. Held back like a racehorse in the gate, Pharaoh’s army was released in pursuit. They charged after Israel with ferocity, seeing Israel as the hope of their societal preservation. As Israel looked back on the impending Egyptian forces, they witnessed sovereignly-orchestrated chaos. Pharaoh’s armaments failed, and his army panicked. It was in that moment they too feared, appropriately feared, crying, “Let us flee from before Israel, for the LORD fights for them…” So He did. Israel, who moments before were captivated by fear, longing to return to their former slavery, now saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore.
Can you imagine how foolish their fear seemed as they witnessed the devastation of their enemy? “Fear not” is not over-simplified counsel when it is based on the past, present, and future salvation of the Lord. Based on this truth, stand firm.
Moses’ command to Israel first confronts their fear and then commands their action: Stand firm! This is not unfounded optimism. They were to exercise resolve, be steadfast, based on the Lord’s provision. Note carefully that Moses does not instruct them to prepare for battle. At the time they were a people of limited skills: making bricks, preferably with straw.
No, Moses says, “stand firm,” not based on your ability to defend yourself but based exclusively on God’s provision: “The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” Israel was full of talkers (mostly grumblers!) Shhh! Stand firm. Be silent. And, see salvation.
Moses directs Israel to watch God provide their rescue, conquer their enemy, and seal their salvation. Israel witnessed the parting of the Red Sea. They walked on firm ground. They were separated from their enemy. Israel witnessed the rushing power of the sea crush the life of their enemy. They witnessed the bodies on the seashore. Israel witnessed their salvation from Egypt. Pharaoh was dead. Pharaoh’s army was gone. They had witnessed their salvation with their very eyes.
“Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord.” In the good new of God’s victory over Israel’s enemy, Pharaoh and his army, so also is the good news, the gospel, of God’s victory over our enemy, sin and death. Just as God provided the rescue for Israel by parting the sea, so into time and space God sent His Son to redeem us. Just as God conquered Israel’s enemy, so “Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18), and our Savior Christ Jesus “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (2 Tim. 1:10).
Therefore, fear not. Look to the revelation of God’s Word and the testimony of your redemption in Christ. Fear is a testimony of our failure to trust in God’s provision. Fear not for this world, “for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Fear not in your walk, for “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” Fear not of death, for the “sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Fear not.
Therefore, stand firm. Stand firm not in your merit but in the finished work of Christ. Stand firm not in your ability but in the indwelling and sustaining Holy Spirit. Stand firm not in your wisdom or understanding but on God’s eternal Word. Stand firm, for the “LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”
Therefore, see salvation. As we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, the call to us is to witness the visible depiction of the Lord’s salvation. As Israel witnessed the Lord’s perfect provision, we look to the bread and wine and see the salvation of our Lord Jesus Christ. His law-keeping, perfectly-obeying, sinless body crucified for us. His sin-atoning, salvation-sealing, precious blood spilled for us.
Just as the Lord redeemed Israel from slavery and allowed them to witness the devastation of their enemy, so we have been redeemed in Christ from slavery to sin, and we witness the visible representation of our enemy of sin and death destroyed in the perfect life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are reminded that He fought the battle for us. We need only be silent.
“Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD.”