We People of the Promise. And when the promise comes to pass—when God delivers God’s people—that is a moment you do not soon forget.
Hence our reading for this week: the story of God’s deliverance of Israel at the Red Sea.
Exodus 14:1-14, 19-29, 31
Then the Lord said to Moses: 2‘Tell the Israelites to turn back and camp in front of Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, in front of Baal-zephon; you shall camp opposite it, by the sea. 3Pharaoh will say of the Israelites, “They are wandering aimlessly in the land; the wilderness has closed in on them.” 4I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, so that I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army; and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.’ And they did so.
5 When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, the minds of Pharaoh and his officials were changed towards the people, and they said, ‘What have we done, letting Israel leave our service?’ 6So he had his chariot made ready, and took his army with him; 7he took six hundred picked chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them. 8The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt and he pursued the Israelites, who were going out boldly. 9The Egyptians pursued them, all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, his chariot drivers and his army; they overtook them camped by the sea, by Pi-hahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon.
10 As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. 11They said to Moses, ‘Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? 12Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, “Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians”? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.’ 13But Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. 14The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.’
19 The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. 20It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night.
21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. 22The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. 23The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. 24At the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. 25He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, ‘Let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.’
26 Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers.’ 27So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the Lord tossed the Egyptians into the sea. 28The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. 29But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. 31Israel saw the great work that the Lord did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the Lord and believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.
This is a powerful piece of Scripture –a decisive moment disclosing who God is and who God’s people are.
But first let’s set the stage.
Last week we read a snippet of the story of Joseph -sold into slavery by his jealous brothers and, by the end of that passage, imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. But Joseph’s fortunes took a turn. From his prison cell, he ascended to 2nd in command of Egypt. Then, from his position of privilege and power, he delivered his family from a famine and resettled them in the land of Egypt. That brings the Book of Genesis to a close.
Exodus, the second book in our Bible, opens with ominous words: Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And what had been Israel’s deliverance from famine becomes a bitter oppression, as the Hebrew people are enslaved. The opening chapters of Exodus recount some of the best-known material in the Bible: the birth of Moses, his miraculous deliverance from genocide, his childhood in the palace of the Pharaoh, his exile, his call, and of course the Ten Plagues and the great contest with Pharaoh.
Finally Pharaoh lets the people go. But as we pick up the story this week, Pharaoh has had a change of heart. He leads his army out to check the flight of the Israelites and drag them back into slavery. The people have a moment of doubt but God delivers them in the best-known miracle of the Bible: the parting of the Red Sea waters. Israel saw the great work that the Lord did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the Lord and believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.
This story can serve as a great example of why we read any of these stories. It is a story that tells us who God is and who we are.
Who is God? This story may offer THE biblical answer to this question. In the first volume of his Systematic Theology, the late Robert Jenson put it this way: God is whoever raised Jesus from the dead, having before raised Israel from Egypt. This is to say: we do not worship “any old God”; we worship a very particular God, whose character is rendered by a specific story. Much of the Bible is concerned with getting clarity about the identity of our God and distinguishing our God from all of the false gods clamoring for our allegiance.
So: who, exactly, is God? Drawing just on this story, we could answer that question in a number of ways: God is the deliverer. God is savior. God is the one who takes the side of the oppressed against their oppressors. God can be trusted.
And who are we? The same stories that tell us who God is disclose our identity as well. In this story we are delivered. We are saved and set free. We are afraid and at times unable to trust in God’s deliverance. But at the end of the story we are the ones who trust and believe in God.
Who is God? Who are we? It takes a lifetime to truly answer these questions. But we don’t have to do it alone.
See you in church!