Sunday, May 24, 2020

The Exodus. Day 56, In The Wilderness Of Sin, Part Two---The Lord Will Send Food From Heaven

In yesterday's passage the people said to Moses and Aaron, "You have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death." In grumbling against these two men the people are grumbling against the Lord. In today's study the Lord makes clear His intentions to provide for the Israelites in the desert.

"Then the Lord said to Moses, 'I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow My instructions. On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.'" (Exodus 16:4-5) I'm going to say something here that I've said many times before and will probably say many times again: the test is for the student, not the teacher. Tests are intended for the benefit of the student to demonstrate how much or how little progress the student is making. If a student fails a pop quiz then he knows he hasn't been paying much attention in class lately. If he passes but only by the skin of his teeth then he knows he needs to work at least a little harder. If he passes with flying colors then he knows he's devoting the proper amount of time to his coursework. Whether or not the Israelites are able to follow the Lord's instructions regarding the gathering of the bread is intended to show them where they currently stand in their faith. If they have enough faith in the Lord to believe He'll continue to supply food each day, they will only gather as much as they need for each day except on the day before the Sabbath when they'll need to gather enough for two days. If they don't yet trust Him to provide what they need each day, they'll take more than they need.

To use a very recent example of taking more than a person needs, the overgathering and hoarding of things from the grocery store during the Covid-19 pandemic displays a lack of faith in the Lord. On the surface this hoarding may appear to be only a lack of faith in one's fellow man or a lack of confidence in the food supply chain, but at heart it's saying, "God might let me run out of food." I just want to tell you that if God could rain down bread from heaven for the Israelites in the desert then He can certainly supply us with food from our modern and efficient food chain. As far as that goes, God can still rain down bread from heaven if that's what it takes to keep us fed!

Moses and Aaron call the people together. "So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, 'In the evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, and in the morning you will see the glory of the Lord, because He has heard your grumbling against Him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us?'" (Exodus 16:6-7) These two men say, "The Lord is going to supply food for you both morning and evening. If there are any doubts in your minds that it was Almighty God who delivered you from Egypt---the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob---then surely what He's about to do will be all the proof you need to place your trust in Him. Who else but the Lord could do such things as you have already seen? No one; there is no other God! And this God has heard you grumbling against Him and accusing Him of bringing you into the desert to die. Yes, Aaron and I know your complaints were spoken toward us but the one you were really complaining against was God, for who are Aaron and I? Were we the ones who rescued you from Egypt and who parted the Red Sea for you? Of course not; we are mere men! It was God who brought you this far and it was God against whom you grumbled. Prepare yourselves to behold the glorious things He is about to do!"

"Moses also said, 'You will know that it was the Lord when He gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because He has heard your grumbling against Him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us but against the Lord.'" (Exodus 16:8) The people's problem isn't with Moses and Aaron, not really. Naturally the people know Moses and Aaron aren't capable of obtaining enough food to feed possibly as many as 2,000,000 in the wilderness. But these two men are the visible human spokespersons for the Lord, and since the people can't see God face to face they take out their fears and frustrations on Moses and Aaron.

"Then Moses told Aaron, 'Say to the entire Israelite community, 'Come before the Lord, for He has heard your grumbling.' While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud." (Exodus 16:9-10) Aaron will later become the first high priest of Israel and he is already taking on the role of chief spiritual adviser. This is why Moses turns the meeting over to him in verses 9 and 10. We don't know what Aaron says to the assembly but I like to think he preaches a sermon on faith. While he's still speaking, the glory of the Lord appears in the pillar of cloud that is always visible to the people during the daytime. (You'll recall that the constant presence of the Lord with the people was manifested in a pillar of cloud in the daytime and a pillar of fire in the nighttime.) The Lord is doing everything possible to help the people's faith in Him grow and flourish, and in this moment while Aaron preaches a sermon the Lord provides them with an extra and very visible proof of His presence.

If we want to look at it this way, the Lord is adding His "amen" to Aaron's message. If Aaron is saying, "The Lord is with us and will faithfully provide everything we need," the appearance of the glory of the Lord in the cloud is Him saying, "Yes, amen! I am with you and will help you." The Lord does a similar thing in our own day when we are sitting in church and the pastor is preaching from the Bible and suddenly our spirits are overwhelmed by the presence of the Holy Spirit who is saying to our hearts, "Yes, amen! This is the truth! You can believe what the Holy Bible is saying and what the pastor is saying about the Lord. I am testifying to the truth of what is being said and that is why you feel My presence so strongly in this moment."

In tomorrow's passage the Lord is going to do exactly what He's said He's going to do. Many of the people will follow His instructions regarding the gathering of the food. Some will not. This test will show each person where he stands in regard to the strength of his faith at this time.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

The Exodus. Day 55, In The Wilderness Of Sin, Part One---What Will They Eat?

On month after making their escape from Egypt, the people enter an area the Bible usually calls "The Desert Of Sin" or "The Wilderness Of Sin". It's believed by many linguists and scholars that the original name of the area was "The Wilderness Of Zin" but that the alternate use of the word "Sin" represents a variation in pronunciation of the name and also a metaphorical use of the name. This area of wilderness is where the Israelites will complain and murmur hotly against Moses and Aaron (and against the Lord, since Moses and Aaron are acting as His spokesmen) due to no longer having the various foods of Egypt at their disposal. In that sense this region of wilderness is rightly referred to as a place where "sin" occurs, for they will accuse the Lord of intending to starve them to death in the desert.

"The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt." (Exodus 16:1) Moses means the second month of the calendar year, not that the Israelites have been free of Egypt for two months. They left Egypt on the fifteenth day of what has now become the first month of their calendar year, for the Lord said that the month in which Passover occurs will now be considered the first month of the year for the Israelites. This means that they have been free of Egypt for thirty days because they left Egypt on the fifteenth day of the first month and arrive at the Desert of Sin on the fifteenth day of the second month.

Elim is the oasis where they camped for an unspecified period of time at the end of Chapter 15. It was a beautiful area with twelve springs of good drinking water and seventy palm trees for shade. This is the place the Lord led them after He turned the bitter waters of Marah to drinkable water after they complained that He intended to let them die of thirst. So we see that He turned bitter waters to sweet, satisfied their need, then mercifully took them to a place where they could recover their strength in an oasis where there was no fear of running short of water. So now they are rested, watered, and ready to serve the Lord in fullness of faith, right? Wrong. Because the next problem that crops up throws them into another crisis of faith, but I will not judge them for it because this is how the carnal side of human nature works. The Lord has solved more problems for me and brought me through more crises than I can count, yet when a new problem or crisis crops up I start to worry and sometimes I even fall into a full-blown panic. I can't point my finger at the Israelites for their complaints and doubts without being a hypocrite. I'm not saying their doubts and complaints don't constitute sin, since the Bible says "everything that does not come from faith is sin" (Romans 14:23b), but I'm saying I too have complained against the Lord and I too have doubted whether He was going to come through for me.

The problem of the water shortage has been solved but now the people wonder what they're going to eat in the desert. They accuse Moses and Aaron (and the Lord, since Moses and Aaron are acting on behalf of the Lord) of dragging them out into the desert to kill them with hunger. "In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, 'If only we had died by the Lord's hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.'" (Exodus 16:2-4)

What was in those pots? Whatever the Egyptians served them while the people labored as slaves, and there is no doubt that the meats cooked in those pots included things that the Lord did not consider "clean". All the way back in early Genesis when Noah took animals onto the ark, the Lord was referring to some animals as "clean" and to others as "unclean", so we know that for thousands of years the people have had a clear understanding of which meats the Lord considers acceptable for human consumption. But the Egyptians had no such dietary rules and would have fed the Israelites anything they themselves would have eaten, including animals the Lord considers unfit for consumption and including the parts of clean animals that the Lord considers unfit for consumption. In our day we might refer to those parts as "by-products". I don't believe the Egyptians supplied the Israelites with the choicest of meats, and certainly they didn't supply them with the type of diets that Pharaoh's household or the top officials or the wealthy citizens would have eaten, so the items in the cooking pots likely consisted of scraps, organs, fats and who knows what---"hooves and lips and everything in between" as the saying goes. Did the contents of these pots fill their bellies and keep them alive? Yes. Did the contents provide a source of protein? Yes, but this foot was not an optimal source of nutrition and was not the best for their health and was not considered "clean" in the Lord's eyes.

It's understandable that they'd think longingly of those full cooking pots now that their bellies are growling with hunger, but there's more going on here than that. Looking back and desiring what was in those cooking pots is being used as a metaphor for looking back and desiring sin that's been left behind. The contents of those cooking pots wasn't best for them. Being slaves in Egypt wasn't what was best for them. God wants something better for them and He has taken them away from a land of uncleanness and slavery and is leading them to a land of plenty where they can live and worship freely. But leaving sin and the past behind and moving forward into the unknown with God can be quite difficult for our human nature and there can be a tendency to look back longingly to what was familiar to us, even if it wasn't what was best for us. Change is hard. Learning to trust God and stepping forward into the unknown with Him can be scary. It may appear much easier to drift back into sin where at least we know what to expect. But God wants so much more for us than that! He never said the journey forward would be easy but He said He'd be with us all the way. He's not asking us to do the impossible; His strength makes up for what we lack. He will do any work that is impossible for us. He will provide our needs in the wildernesses of this world, He will make a way through the deep waters, and He will move any mountains in our path.

Join us tomorrow when the Lord miraculously rains down bread from heaven for the people in the wilderness.

Friday, May 22, 2020

The Exodus. Day 54, Bitter Waters And Sweet

Moses leads the people on from the Red Sea and they have some difficulty finding fresh, drinkable water.

"Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the desert of Shur." (Exodus 15:22a) Shur's precise location is debated by scholars and archaeologists but it has been mentioned three times previously in the Bible. When Hagar ran away from Sarah she was resting by the roadway to Shur when the angel of the Lord came and spoke with her. (Genesis 16:7) Abraham lived between Kadesh and Shur at one time. (Genesis 20:1) Ishmael's descendants settled in an area stretching from Havilah to Shur. (Genesis 25:18) In Genesis 16 we are told that there was a spring near the road to Shur and we do not know whether the Israelites drank or collected any water from that spring but we know that for three days after going into the desert called Shur they found no water. "For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water." (Exodus 15:22b)

I tend to think they didn't go thirsty for three days but that for three days they found no water with which to replenish their supply. They would have had to ration the water they had with them and would have been very concerned as the supply kept dwindling with no water source in sight. They were in danger of running out but I don't think the people and animals were waterless for three days. It only takes three to four days for a person or animal to perish without water under normal conditions. In hot desert conditions a person's or animal's situation would become dire much sooner. But whatever the case, after three days the people spotted an oasis but their relief quickly turned to fear and anger. "When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah.) So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, 'What are we to drink?'" (Exodus 15:23-24)

Generally speaking, most commentaries regarding this passage of the Bible tend to be quite critical of the Israelites. That's because in the same chapter the Israelites go from singing the Lord's praises to believing He's going to allow them to perish of thirst in the wilderness. They fall from a spiritual high to a spiritual low. But this is actually quite "normal" for people living in a fallen world. We are never more in danger of hitting a spiritual low than right after something spiritually momentous has happened. That's when the devil is most likely to mount an attack against us. He does this because he has a better chance of catching us off guard while we're still basking in the glow of a spiritual breakthrough or while we're breathing happy sighs of relief over having a huge prayer answered. While we're relishing victory we may not stay "prayed up" and that's when that old serpent slithers in and whispers doubts to our minds or places temptations in our path.

For an example of this, let's consider the Apostle Peter on the night before the crucifixion. He had just experienced a very holy and moving Passover meal in which Jesus (the Messiah, the King of kings, the Lord of lords) humbly washed the disciples' feet. The Creator performed for the disciples a service only the lowest of household servants performed. We can imagine how honored Peter felt. What a spiritual high he must have been on during and after a meal in which his Maker communed so closely with him. But right after the meal the Lord Jesus warned Peter and the other disciples, "Watch and pray so that you will not enter into temptation." (Matthew 26:41, Mark 14:38) Jesus issued this warning because He knew Satan would show up looking for an opportunity to lure the men into doubt and fear. He also knew how the human body works; He not only created the human body but He lived in a human body Himself. He was very aware that spiritual highs burn energy. (I've actually felt breathless and exhausted during or after certain church services in which I felt the Spirit of the Lord so strongly that I thought my heart would burst with joy. Often right after a time of communing with the Lord I feel completely wrung out.) Jesus knew Peter and the others would feel tired when their emotions settled down a bit, so He warned them to stay alert and pray. But they fell asleep while He prayed in the garden alone and as a result Peter denied three times that night that he even knew Jesus.

Here in Exodus 15 the Israelites have come down from the spiritual high they experienced when the Lord rescued them from the Egyptians at the Red Sea. These people witnessed an awesome miracle, but since then they've traveled a long and dusty road for several days. They're hot and tired. If they don't find water soon they are going to be in crisis. Satan slithers onto the scene and whispers doubts to them. He uses their physical exhaustion and physical discomfort against them. They turn on Moses (and by extension, on God) and ask, "What are we supposed to do now? What good is it to be rescued from Egypt and to be brought through the Red Sea if we are only going to die of thirst in this hot land?"

Moses doesn't know what they are going to do, but his trust isn't in human ability to come up with an answer. He turns to the Lord for help. "Then Moses cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became fit to drink." (Exodus 15:25a) Some scholars believe the type of wood Moses threw into the water was capable of drawing bitter minerals into itself, thus making the water source drinkable. Others believe the wood may have symbolized the cross of Christ and that it was used not as a practical, scientific solution but was a miraculous curing of the water. I think the answer could be either or both.

Medically speaking, I found some online sources that suggest something about the water at Marah, or something about the wood, or something about the combination of the two may have purged the Israelites' systems of impurities from the diet they consumed in Egypt. You've heard of people doing "juice cleanses" and it's possible that something about the drinking of this water cleansed the people's bodies of things that would have done them harm during their long trek through the desert. The following verse seems to suggest a connection to physical health. "There the Lord issued a ruling and instruction for them and put them to the test. He said, 'If you listen carefully to the Lord your God and do what is right in His eyes, if you pay attention to His commands and keep all His decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you.'" (Exodus 15:25b-26)

Part of the reason the Egyptians had physical maladies was due to their diet. Very little was considered unclean to them. The Lord is going to give the Israelites quite a few laws dealing with what they can and cannot eat. Another reason the Egyptians were afflicted in body and in mind was because of their idolatry. They served false gods who didn't require holy living. The Egyptians practiced a variety of sexual sins and fertility rites that led to becoming afflicted with venereal diseases. On top of all that, high-ranking Egyptians and the royal family typically intermarried with very close relatives, committing incest, and this led to all manner of birth defects and genetic illnesses. A great deal of evidence has been found both historically and medically to back this theory up. Quite a few pharaohs married half sisters, according to the historical records. And the medical study of preserved mummies has shown that a number of them were born with ailments that tend to be the result of inbreeding. The Lord is going to put laws in place that specifically spell out how close is too close of a relation for marriage and He is not going to condone any type of sexual relations except those which occur between a man and woman who are married to each other. If the people follow His laws regarding diet and regarding marriage and sexual relations, they will naturally be spared from a lot of the ailments that befell the ancient Egyptians.

The people drink the water that has been made sweet and agree with the Lord that they will do whatever He commands. He leads them on to a place that is like a resort area in the desert. "Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there near the water." (Exodus 15:27) How refreshing and restful this must have been! The Lord knows exactly what they need exactly when they need it. He's teaching them by their trials to learn to trust Him (such as letting them find bitter water in order to show them He can turn bitter water to sweet) but He also refreshes their weary bodies and spirits when they need it. They are learning that He comes through when their circumstances are troubling and that He is capable of providing times of peace and tranquility.

Thanks be to God that He hasn't made every day of our lives a day of toiling in the desert. He provides us with refreshing oases where our strength is restored.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

The Exodus. Day 53, The People Sing Praise To The Lord

The Israelites crossed the Red Sea safely on dry ground but the Lord caused the waters to rush in upon Pharaoh's army. The Lord's people sing a thankful song of praise to Him.

"Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord: 'I will sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted. Both horse and driver He has hurled into the sea.'" (Exodus 15:1) They thank the Lord for triumphing over their enemy.

"The Lord is my strength and my defense; He has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise Him; my Father's God, and I will exalt Him." (Exodus 15:2) They say, "The God of our fathers is our God too. We will serve Him just as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did. He has proven Himself faithful and worthy or worship."

"The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is His name. Pharaoh's chariots and his army He has hurled into the sea. The best of Pharaoh's officers are drowned in the Red Sea. The deep waters have covered them; they sank to the depths like a stone. Your right hand, Lord, was majestic in power. Your right hand, Lord, shattered the enemy." (Exodus 15:3-6) The Lord is a great army general, mighty in battle, winning the victory all by Himself. Israel could not have fought against her enemy and won; she was vastly outnumbered by an army that was highly skilled in warfare. But the Lord did for Israel what she could not do for herself.

"In the greatness of Your majesty You overthrew those who opposed You." (Exodus 15:7a) Egypt's treatment of the Israelites was a personal affront to the Lord. These are His covenant people. These are the people who were calling upon His name in a land filled with false idols. Anyone who opposed Israel was opposing Almighty God, for the Bible tells us that whoever touches (harms) Israel touches the apple (pokes the pupil) of the Lord's eye. (Zechariah 2:8) Can anyone ignore a poke in the eye? No, and neither can the Lord. He will not ignore any form of persecution perpetrated upon His people Israel. He will preserve that nation just as a man covers and preserves his eye from harm.

The people continue extolling the Lord's battle skills. "You unleashed Your burning anger; it consumed them like stubble. By the blast of Your nostrils the waters piled up. The surging waters stood up like a wall; the deep waters congealed in the heart of the sea. The enemy boasted, 'I will pursue, I will overtake them. I will divide the spoils; I will gorge myself on them. I will draw my sword and my hand will destroy them.' But You blew with Your breath, and the sea covered them. They sank like lead in the mighty waters." (Exodus 15:7-10) Pharaoh and his army marched out confidently, expecting to easily overwhelm the Israelites. Egypt was the mightiest nation on earth at that time and the king and his soldiers expected victory over the Israelites just as surely as they expected the sun to come up each morning. In their minds it was a foregone conclusion---a done deal. But it was the other way around; God's victory was a foregone conclusion.

Not only did the Lord triumph over the powerful army of Egypt, but He triumphed over all the gods of Egypt. He showed them up for what they were: false idols incapable of speaking even a word. The only deity doing any great works in Egypt---or anywhere else in the world---was Almighty God. "Who among the gods is like You, Lord? Who is like You---majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders? You stretch out Your right hand, and the earth swallows Your enemies." (Exodus 15:11-12)

The people have praised the Lord for His battle skills and power. Now they thank Him for His love. "In Your unfailing love You will lead the people You have redeemed. In Your strength You will guide them to Your holy dwelling." (Exodus 15:13) The Lord didn't guide them across the Red Sea and then say, "Okay, guys, you're on your own now. I got you through the worst of it, now go on into Canaan and drive the pagan tribes out of the promised land and claim it for your own. I promised your father Abraham that I'd give the land to you; go get it." No, the Lord is going to be with them every step of the way. Their deliverance from Egypt is just the beginning of their relationship with the Lord. We can relate verse 13 to ourselves as well, for after we accept Christ as our Savior we become the children of God and He will never forsake us. He doesn't say, "Okay, the eternal destination of your soul is settled and secure now that you've given your hearts to Christ. I'll see you when you get to heaven someday but until then you're on your own." No, the Lord is going to walk with us every day that we live in this world. Accepting Christ as our Savior is just the beginning of our relationship with the Lord.

Because the Lord has been so mighty on behalf of Israel, everyone who hears about Israel will experience a dreadful and reverent fear of Israel's God. "The nations will hear and tremble; anguish will grip the people of Philistia. The chiefs of Edom will be terrified, the leaders of Moab will be seized with trembling, the people of Canaan will melt away; terror and dread will fall on them. By the power of Your arm they will be as still as a stone---until Your people pass by, Lord, until the people You bought pass by. You will bring them in and plant them on the mountain of Your inheritance---the place, Lord, You made for Your dwelling, the sanctuary, Lord, Your hands established. The Lord reigns forever and ever." (Exodus 15:14-18) The Israelites are already looking forward to the day when a temple to the Lord will stand in the promised land. They are looking forward to the day when they will worship Him there, in the land He promised their fathers.

Moses' and Aaron's sister Miriam led the women of the group in a song to the Lord when the people saw that the Lord drowned the Egyptian army in the sea. Moses tells us, "When Pharaoh's horses, chariots and horsemen went into the sea, the Lord brought the waters of the sea back over them, but the Israelites walked through the sea on dry ground. Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron's sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing. Miriam sang to them: 'Sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted. Both horse and driver He has hurled into the sea.'" (Exodus 15:21) These ladies form their own choir and their singing is accompanied by music and dancing.

The Bible instructs us to make a joyful noise to the Lord, to be loud with our praise, and to rejoice in gratitude for what the Lord has done. (Psalm 98:4, Psalm 100:1) I believe the people's shouts of joy rang off the hills and filled the Red Sea valley with the sound of their voices and their instruments. I bet their praise could be heard for miles around.

Taking our example from the Israelites, what can we praise the Lord for today? Let's not overlook thanking Him for all the things He's already brought us through, for everything He's provided us with today, and for the glorious future He has prepared for us.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

The Exodus. Day 52, The Red Sea Crossing, Part Four

When we closed yesterday the angel of the Lord was standing in between the Israelites and the Egyptians so that neither could approach the other all night long. This is what was happening while the Lord held Israel's enemies back: "Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land." (Exodus 14:21a)

Though the process of making a way through the sea appears to have taken several hours, the water isn't merely blown back out of their way but supernaturally stands as a wall on each side of the Israelites as they make their crossing. "The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left." (Exodus 14:21b-22) This is a scene that the movie "The Ten Commandments" got right, in my opinion. I'm including an image here from the movie so you can see what I mean.

Just before dawn the Egyptians see the Israelites crossing the Red Sea and they take off after them in hot pursuit. "The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh's horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea. During the last watch of the night the Lord looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion. He jammed the wheels of their chariots so that they had difficulty driving. And the Egyptians said, 'Let's get away from the Israelites! The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.'" (Exodus 14:23-25) At least some of these Egyptian soldiers possess enough spiritual discernment (or superstitious fear, anyway) to realize that the jamming of their chariot wheels is intended to slow down their pursuit. The Lord is buying time for the Israelites to make it far enough through the Red Sea so that there's enough room behind them to release the waters back over the Egyptian army.

Pharaoh doesn't heed the cries of his soldiers who want to turn back instead of fighting against God. We know the king doesn't allow the army to turn back for we find them still in the Red Sea when the Lord allows the waters to rush in upon them. "Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen.' Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back into its place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward it, and the Lord swept them into the sea. The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen---the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived." (Exodus 14:26-28)

Did Pharaoh himself die in the Red Sea? Many scholars think not since Exodus 14 only mentions Pharaoh's army drowning in the waters. In Exodus 15 we find Moses and the Israelites singing a song of praise to the Lord in which they say, "Pharaoh's chariots and his army He has hurled into the sea. The best of Pharaoh's officers are drowned in the Red Sea." (Exodus 15:4) In this song no mention is made of the death of Pharaoh and such an omission seems strange if he did indeed die, considering what grievous sins he perpetrated upon the Israelites. It was typical in those days for a king to ride in front of his troops to lead them into battle, but perhaps in this case Pharaoh remained on the seashore due to a kernel of fear in his heart. Perhaps he thought, "Suppose my men are right? Suppose the Lord is fighting for Israel? The last plague He brought upon Egypt took the life of my firstborn son. If I pursue these people into the sea, what if the Lord takes my life? To be on the safe side, I'd better move to the rear of my army and urge them on into the sea ahead of me and see what happens to them. If it looks like they're going to be successful I'll follow after them."

An argument can be made for believing Pharaoh perished in the Red Sea if we take a look at what David said in Psalm 136. David speaks of the miraculous parting of the Red Sea which allowed the Israelites to make it safely through but which "swept Pharaoh and his army into the Red Sea". (Psalm 136:15a) Whether David literally means the king of Egypt died in the waters or whether he is referring to the army by Pharaoh's name is not certain. An example of this in more modern times is the way we tend to identify the army of Nazi Germany by the name of Hitler. In saying we defeated Nazi Germany and her allies we might refer to it as "defeating Hitler". We did not actually engage in hand-to-hand combat with Hitler; we defeated his forces. We and our allies didn't kill Hitler. He perished by his own hand. But still we might say of the Allied victory in World War II: "We destroyed Hitler." Scholars who believe Pharaoh did not die in the Red Sea interpret Psalm 136:15a to mean that the Lord defeated Pharaoh's army at the Red Sea, not that the Lord drowned Pharaoh in the sea.

It's difficult to come to any certain conclusion regarding the fate of Pharaoh since no Egyptian records have been found regarding this incident, which is typical of any defeat any pharaoh ever faced. It was not at all common for an Egyptian king to describe anything but victories in his written records or to have murals painted depicting anything but his successes. Even in those days, world leaders didn't want any bad press! The Bible never identifies the pharaoh of the exodus by name and we are therefore unable to say whether this particular king disappeared suddenly from Egypt's scene or not.

"But the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in Him and in Moses His servant." (Exodus 14:29-31) The Lord used the rushing waters of the Red Sea to cast the dead bodies of the Egyptian soldiers onto the shore where the Israelites could see them. If He had not, maybe they'd have doubted He defeated their enemy. The Lord mercifully takes human weakness into account and provides the Israelites with visible proof of what He's done for them. They need not fear the Egyptians will continue to pursue them on into the desert. While I doubt every soldier of Egypt was at the Red Sea (since this would have left the nation defenseless against invaders) we'll see in Exodus 15 that Pharaoh's best army officers perished. We've already been told that Pharaoh assembled all the best chariots of Egypt to make the pursuit, so we can safely assume that for the foreseeable future the king will be busy replacing his army chariots and training new men to be generals. He's going to have to spend the majority of his time and money on rebuilding and equipping his army, not going after the Israelites.

As they should, the people stop to give thanks to the Lord for their miraculous rescue, and in tomorrow's study we'll take a look at the song they sing to Him. They set an example for us to follow in taking time to thank the Lord before moving on ahead into the next phase of their lives. When the Lord answers our prayers we should thank Him right then and there, not just move on ahead without acknowledging His help.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

The Exodus. Day 51, The Red Sea Crossing, Part Three

In yesterday's study Moses told the people to be strong and behold what the Lord is going to do. They won't have to fight the Egyptians for their freedom. The Lord is going to make a way for them to escape.

Now the Lord tells Moses to get on the move. "Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Why are you crying out to Me? Tell the Israelites to move on.'" (Exodus 14:15) The Lord isn't saying there's anything wrong with crying out to Him for help. I think Moses probably began praying fervently the minute he saw the Egyptians coming over the hill. But it's time for action now. It's time to step ahead in faith. If Moses stands there praying on and on without performing an act of faith, the Egyptians will overtake the people.

"Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground." (Exodus 14:16) How did miraculous things get done while Moses was still in Egypt? Wasn't it by using his shepherd's staff? Whenever the Lord was about to bring a new plague upon Egypt, He instructed Moses to raise the staff. The Lord didn't need the shepherd's staff in order to do His work; the staff was an object used to get people's attention---to let them know something big was coming. Human beings can't see God face to face and we often need something tangible upon which to fix our eyes; Moses' staff was that object. Now the time for prayer is past. The time for action has come and the Lord tells Moses to raise his staff again. Something big is about to happen.

The Egyptians are obsessed with seizing the Israelites, so much so that they won't be thinking clearly when they reach the Red Sea. They're going to charge right in after them in a fit of wounded pride and anger. The Lord is going to do nothing to quell their rage. He's going to allow this scene to play out because the Egyptians are playing right into His hands. "I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and through his horsemen. The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen." (Exodus 14:17-18)

Something awesome happens next. The Lord---in the person of the pre-incarnate Christ---stands between Israel and her enemies. "Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel's army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel." (Exodus 14:19-20a) How do we know this is the Lord Jesus Christ? Because in the Old Testament, whenever we encounter a being called "the angel of the Lord", this is assumed to be an appearance of Christ before He was born into the world as a man. This is how the Lord interacted in a physical presence with Old Testament believers. No human being has ever seen God the Father. (John 1:18) In fact, the Bible tells us that if we met Him face to face in our human weakness, the glory of His holiness would consume us. We find this reference when later in Exodus Moses begs to see the face of the Lord, and the Lord informs him why this is not possible: "No one may see Me and live." (Exodus 33:20) The only way man can behold the face of God by looking upon the One who is "the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of His being". (Hebrews 1:3) For further proof that Christ is the One who stands between the Israelites and the Egyptians at the Red Sea, the Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:1-4 that Christ was present with the Israelites on their journey from Egypt to the promised land. He states that Christ, the Solid Rock, was with them every step of the way.

Christ has been marching in front of Israel as she makes her trek from Egypt to the Red Sea. In those days the king of a nation was also the general of the army who would ride out in front of his troops. Nothing helped the morale of the troops more than to see their supreme leader at the head of the army, going forward fearlessly in front of them. I don't think Israel has ever been referred to in the Bible as an army until in our passage today, but they are rightfully referred to as such, for they are the Lord's army even if He doesn't intend them to fight this particular battle. Until now He's been in front of them as their King and General, but now the Israelites need a rear guard while the Red Sea is being parted for them, so Christ moves in between them and Egypt's army. The cloud obscures them from Pharaoh's sight until the next morning so that he is rendered unable to make a move against them until the sea is ready for their crossing. "Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long." (Exodus 14:20b)

The Egyptians are stuck sitting right where they are. They are encompassed in a darkness that is both literal and symbolic---symbolic of the deep spiritual darkness of their wicked, hate-filled, idolatrous hearts. At the same time we find the Israelites enjoying a light that is both literal and symbolic. They don't have to sit in darkness while they wait for dawn. Their hearts aren't dark either, for they are placing all their hope and trust in the Lord. No one who places their trust in the Lord is sitting in darkness, spiritually speaking.

I feel grateful this morning thinking about all the times the Lord has stood between me and danger. Just as He moved to stand in between Israel and Egypt in today's passage, many times He has moved to stand in between me and an enemy, whether that enemy was the one we all have (Satan) or whether the enemy was a fellow human being who intended evil toward me. Many times the Lord has stood between me and an oncoming disaster to avert it. We are not even aware of all the times He has saved our lives, but I think when we get to heaven we're going to find out just how many times Satan desired to kill us through an accident or by disease or by the hand of a human being. We'll find out how many times Christ stepped in between us and danger, standing as an immovable and impenetrable force through which nothing could pass. Until the day comes when we behold Him face to face and bow at His feet in thankfulness for His protection, let's go ahead and start thanking Him now that He's preserved and protected us thus far. As the old hymn "Amazing Grace" says, "Through many dangers, toils, and snares I have already come." Amen! Thank You, Lord Jesus!

Monday, May 18, 2020

The Exodus. Day 50, The Red Sea Crossing, Part Two

When the Israelites looked up and saw the Egyptians approaching in yesterday's study they cried out in fear. As it is often human nature to do, they next look for someone to blame, and that someone is the man who convinced them God was going to rescue them from Egypt and take them into the promised land.

"They said to Moses, 'Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us out into the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn't we say to you in Egypt, 'Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians'? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!'" (Exodus 14:10-12) They say, "If you wanted us dead you could have gone ahead and gotten us killed while we were still in Egypt. Why carry your charade of deliverance this far, by bringing us all out into a desert place where we're trapped? Why fill our minds with hopes of freedom only to allow us to be slaughtered? When you first came to Egypt and spoke to Pharaoh on our behalf, he made our work harder than ever. We told you to go away and leave us alone. But you persisted. You kept speaking to the king. You started calling on the Lord and Aaron started raising your staff over the land and plagues began falling upon Egypt. We started to believe you and trust you. Now here we are with everyone and everything that belongs to us, thinking we were on our way to the promised land and that we'd be free of Egypt forever, but Pharaoh and his army are about to grind us under their feet. We would rather have remained slaves forever than to die like this!"

I can relate to what they're saying because sometimes the Lord's deliverance doesn't look the way we expect it to look. There have been times when I've wanted and needed things changed in my life and the Lord went about changing them by methods I didn't expect---by methods I didn't welcome. I was pushed far out of my comfort zone by the methods the Lord chose to use. On top of that, Satan never wants anyone to be set free from bondage and he'll try coming after anyone who is escaping just like the Egyptians came after the Israelites. This means that, while the Lord is accomplishing our deliverance, it sometimes appears as if our circumstances become worse before they become better. I've said to the Lord, metaphorically speaking, "Leave me alone; let me serve the Egyptians." I've said, "This is too hard. I don't even think it can be done. Just leave me where I am. Better for me to struggle with this thing for the rest of my life than endure the strain and fear of trying to leave it behind. The stress of trying to break free is going to do me in."

But the Lord doesn't want those who belong to Him to live in bondage to anything. He wants to rescue us, and sometimes deliverance doesn't look the way we expect it to look and we question His methods. Breaking free of shackles and chains is almost certainly not going to be easy and in our human weakness we'll be tempted to say, "Leave us alone. Let us serve this thing. We've accepted Christ as Savior and the eternal destiny of our souls is settled. Isn't that what matters most? While we live in the flesh in a fallen world filled with temptation can we really be blamed for repeating the same sordid sin over and over, or for not being able to let go of a particular fear or obsession, or for struggling with an addiction we can't ever seem to lay down and walk away from? Getting free from these things is too hard! It's painful. It's frightening. We don't know what life is going to look like if we are set free. What will we do with our lives without this thing (this illicit relationship, this addiction, this fear that defines our every waking moment, and so on and so on)? Just leave this one thing alone. We still love you and still believe in Christ as our Savior. What's a little bondage to sin, really, in comparison to that?"

Oh, but a life where we're weighted down by shackles and where we're dragging chains behind us isn't good enough for God's children! He wants to give us an abundant life. (John 10:10) He tells us to lay aside the things that hold us back so we can run the race of life successfully and without being burdened and made weary by shackles of sin. (Hebrews 12:1-3) Does a marathon runner put on a weighted vest and ankle weights and wrist weights before he runs the race? No, that wouldn't be very sensible. He couldn't run the race with much endurance and he certainly couldn't win it. It's doubtful he'd make it to the finish line at all because he'd be sidelined by the strain of running while so heavily weighted down. God wants us to be winners! He wants us to run the race with stamina; He doesn't want us clutching our chests and gasping for breath. He doesn't want us falling behind and falling out. The process of breaking our shackles and chains loose isn't always pleasant, but it's necessary if we are to be strong and fit runners in the race of life.

Moses reassures the people. He doesn't waste time trying to convince them he hasn't deceived them. In fact, he takes their focus off himself entirely and puts their focus where it should be: on the Lord. The Lord is the one who is going to deliver them, not Moses. The Lord who performed such great wonders and signs in Egypt is the one who is going to deliver them from bondage in Egypt forever. "Moses answered the people, 'Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.'" (Exodus 14:13-14)

As I said a day or two ago in our study, sometimes the Lord does all our fighting for us. He tells us to stand back and watch what He's going to do. Other times He allows us to go on into the thick of the fight while He labors in the heat of battle right alongside us. He chooses whichever method best suits whatever He's currently accomplishing in our lives, but either way He is the one who brings the victory. With their backs against the Red Sea and with the Egyptian army hemming them in, He's going to choose the method of doing all the work for the Israelites. He doesn't tell them to charge at the Egyptians with whatever weapons are at their disposal. Even if the Israelites have weapons, which is doubtful since I doubt the Egyptians allowed them to possess any while in Egypt, they are not skilled in using them in battle. They are no match, militarily speaking, for these trained soldiers. They are helpless. They cannot successfully defend themselves. And God doesn't ask or expect them to. In tomorrow's study we find Him standing between His people and their enemies. We find Him going on the offensive. This battle is the Lord's and He is going to win it.