Exodus is all about God’s glory, His glory in saving His people and defeating their enemies. He reveals His glory to His people and to their enemies. God wants His people to remember and trust this. God also wanted them to remember His deliverance. When God’s people forget and fail to remember who God is and what He has done, sin comes in and distorts their relationship with God. Exodus also gives us the framework to fully grasp the full extent of Christ’s completed work on the cross and shows us ourselves, our helplessness and how God acts.
(A) A God whose glory is achieved through His means and purposes, not ours
God instructed the Israelites to "turn back" and "encamp" shortly after setting off (Exo 14:1). The people had just left Egypt and left boldly and with high spirits. As we read last week, God led them down the longer path through the wilderness. But God told them to turn back and encamp by the sea. This wasn’t just a pond but really the sea. It has enough water to impede the Israelites’ progress and certainly enough to drown the enemies.
Why? Verse 4 tells us that this is so that God will “get glory over Pharaoh and all his host” (Exo 14:4). God leads them to a situation that requires them to trust in Him and that His name will be exalted. Sometimes God has to take us on an extended, counter-intuitive route so that in the process of doing so, we are stripped of all our pride, self-reliance and need to trust in Him completely. God uses difficulties and even raises them up so that He can have the glory of subduing them and overcoming them. How quick do we turn back to our idols and the easy promises they offer? God therefore has to keep refining and reminding us. He places us in circumstances beyond our comfort zone so that we can trust in Him and no one else. This is why He didn’t take them on the easy 2-week stroll to Canaan. This is why they had to go through the wilderness to learn to depend on God and trust in Him for their deliverance.
Exodus also teaches us that on our own we cannot defeat our cruel masters that kept us in slavery. Salvation belongs to the Lord and He wants His people to learn this. At the same time, let’s distinguish between God leading His people through trials from our tendency and propensity to sin. Jas 1 tells us that God will never lead us to sin. We have the promise that if we are repentant, His Spirit will work and strengthen us to overcome (c.f. 1 Cor 10).
As Matthew Henry puts it, “those whom God is not honored by, He will be honored upon”. We see this clearly in this entire story with the life of Pharaoh. (cf. Ex 9:15,
Job 2:9-10). Later on, God’s glory went ahead of his people and opened the metaphorical doors for His people in the promised land, in the life of Rahab.
(B) A God who goes ahead of us, stands between us and our enemies, and has our back
The angel of God in the form of the pillar of clod moved from before them and stood behind them "coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel" (Exo 14:19-20). God led His people by day and by night. Both the cloud and fire and manifestations of God’s power. It shows us that God puts His power between His people and enemies. His power separates light from darkness. This is something that recurs over and over again in Scripture. He allocates darkness to the Egyptians and light to the Israelites. This is an eternal distinctions that separates God’s people from their enemies. God also places Himself in our circumstances. Here, God has their back! He will protect His people.
Thus, Israel and Egypt entered the Red Sea under different circumstances (Exo 14:21-24). The Israelites went in with the pillar of fire lighting their way and the pillar of cloud guarding their back. The wall of waters was on their left and right. They were safe. But this was not so with Egypt. They went into the sea without the Lord. Israel had God as their vanguard and behind them but Egypt had none. This made all the difference.
(C) A God who fights for His people and accomplishes the victory
Egyptians might have thought that God is like their gods, that He is not omnipresent and won’t be with them the whole time. The pursuit carried on all night until the morning watch (about 3-6 am). But then, the Egyptians’ chariots started getting clogged. Now they realise who they were up against and that the LORD fights for the people of Israel (Exo 14:25). This realisation came too late, and now, the tide had turned (Exo 14:26-29). This is the outcome of those who pit themselves against God. We read of it also in Ps 7:11-16.
At the end of the chapter, we read of how Israel "saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore" and "saw the great power that the LORD used against the Egyptians" (Exo 14:30-31). As a result, they feared the Lord and believed in Him. Finally. God saves His people, but also exacts His righteous judgment. His victory was complete. The Israelites’ emergence on the other side was a testament to their new life. God had achieved the victory.
What does this mean for us? It is not difficult to see the parallels to the saving work of Jesus! Exo 14 is a precursor to Christ on the cross! We see a captor unwilling to let God’s people go and a people that needed to be delivered. God acted and delivered in both situations. Now His glory is fully manifested in Jesus Christ. He calls us to trust in Christ and also to a new life.
What are your attitudes like to the mighty works of Christ? Is it at the forefront or has it been an after thought? If you’re not a Christian, what is God saying to you? Like the Israelites, we’re so tempted to focus on our circumstances and we will be afraid. Instead, focus on God like Moses did and trust that God will make a way. After all, Christ has already accomplished the victory. “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.” (c.f. Ps 20:7) Who will you trust in today?