Exodus 13(17)–14(31)

Summary

In fulfilment of God’s promise in the book of Genesis to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to make the number of their descendants like the stars in the sky and like the sand on the seashore, too many to count, the Israelites have become a great nation. They were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous so that the land of Egypt was filled with them. However, the Pharaoh was worried about them and about how numerous they had become. So, in an effort to prevent them from becoming too numerous, he oppressed them with hard labour; and then he gave the order that all their male children should be thrown into the Nile and drowned. That was chapter 1.

In chapter 2, we read of the birth of Moses and how his mother hid him in a basket to prevent him from being drowned with the rest of the male children. By chance, the Pharaoh’s daughter discovered him; and she felt sorry for him and adopted him as her own son. So, he grew up in the palace, surrounded by luxury. But, whenever the Pharaoh discovered how Moses had killed an Egyptian who had been beating an Israelite, Moses had to flee from Egypt to Midian where he met and married Zipporah. Meanwhile, the people of Israel groaned in their slavery and cried out. And their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. And the Lord remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Because, you see, not only did God promise Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that their descendants would be like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore, too many to count, but he also promised to give them the land of Canaan. He not only promised them a people; he also promised them a place of their own. And so, in order to keep his promise, he had to rescue them from their slavery in Egypt and he had to bring them to the Promised Land. That was chapter 2.

In chapter 3, Moses was minding his father-in-law’s flock near Mount Horeb, or Mount Sinai as it was also known. And the Lord appeared to him in the burning bush. And the Lord announced to Moses that he had seen the misery of his people and he had now come down to rescue them. And he was going to rescue them by sending Moses to the Pharaoh in order to bring his people out of their captivity. That was chapter 3.

In chapter 4, God gave Moses signs which he could use to convince the Israelites that God had really sent him. But Moses hesitated. He didn’t think he was the right person for the task. Send someone else! And although the Lord’s anger burned against him, the Lord agreed that Aaron, Moses’s brother, could accompany him and help him. And so, the two brothers met and they returned to Egypt; they explained to the Israelites what the Lord had said; they performed the miraculous signs; and the people believed and bowed down and worshipped the Lord. That was chapter 4.

In chapter 5, Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said to him:

This is what the Lord, the God of Israel says: ‘Let my people go’.

But Pharaoh was unimpressed and he would not let them go. Instead he made their life even more miserable than it was before by increasing the burden of their work. That was chapter 5.

And in the beginning of chapter 6 the Lord re-assured Moses that he — the Lord — would indeed do everything necessary to free his people from their slavery and bring them to the Promised Land. He would do everything necessary, because he had made a promise to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob to give to them and to their descendants the land of Canaan. But when Moses reported all of this to the Israelites, they would not listen; they would not listen because of their disappointment and their cruel bondage. Once they had been hopeful that Moses would save them; but now they did not believe.

However, they shouldn’t have doubted the Lord, because in chapters 7 and 8 and 9 and 10 and 11 and 12 the Lord sent one plague after another on the Egyptians, to break their hold on the Israelites. And the plagues culminated in the Plague on the Firstborn Male, when every firstborn male among the Egyptians died in the night. And so, that same night, the Pharaoh summoned Moses and commanded the Israelites to leave Egypt at once.

Of course, the firstborn males among the Israelites were kept safe that night. And they were kept safe because the Lord had commanded his people to put the blood of a slaughtered lamb on the doorposts of their homes; and wherever the Lord saw the blood on a doorpost, he passed over that home and spared the firstborn male inside. And we’ve seen how the Lord was revealing the good news of the gospel through this event, because the blood the Israelites put on the doorposts points forward to the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, who died in our place, so that all who trust in him are kept safe from God’s wrath for ever. Instead of perishing because of our sins, which is what we deserve, we’re saved from God’s wrath; and one day, one day, we’ll join all of God’s people in the place he has promised for us, which is the new heavens and the new earth; and there, we’ll enjoy the presence of the Lord for ever.

The text

That’s where we got to before the summer. Today’s passage can be divided into several scenes. First of all, from verse 17 of chapter 13 to verse 4 of chapter 14, we see the Israelites leaving Egypt. Now, we’re told in verses 17 and 18 that the Lord deliberately led them in a way which avoided Philistine territory, because the Philistines were liable to attack them; and the Israelites weren’t ready for that yet. And so, the Lord took them on a road which led to the Red Sea. We read in verse 19 that they took with them the remains of Joseph. You might recall that — at the end of the book of Genesis — Joseph foretold how the Lord would eventually bring the Israelites out of Egypt and lead them back to the Promised Land of Canaan. And before he died, Joseph made his brothers promise that they would carry his bones out of Egypt when that time came. And so, here we read how the descendants of Joseph’s brothers are doing what Joseph asked. Presumably his body had been embalmed in some way after his death in order to preserve his bones. And so, they were able to take his remains with them. And, if you look up Joshua 24, you’ll see that in due course his bones were buried at Shechem in the land of Canaan.

In verses 20 to 22 we read how the Lord went with his people in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. By means of the cloud and the fire, the Lord was able to guide them on their way; and he was able to give them the light they needed at night; and, of course, whenever they looked at the cloud and fire, they would have been re-assured and comforted to know that the Lord their God was with them. And then in verses 1 to 4, the Lord revealed to Moses that he was going to do something to the Egyptians which would bring glory to his name.

The scene changes back to Egypt and to the Pharaoh’s palace. And so, in verse 5 we read that the Pharaoh and his officials changed their mind. They said:

What have we done? We’ve let them go and we’ve lost their services.

You know: They’ve let all their slaves go. Who is going to do all the work the Israelites used to do? So, Pharaoh took his army and his officers and all his horses and chariots and headed after them. And in verse 9 we read how they caught up with them.

And then the focus shifts back to the Israelites, who have seen the Egyptians coming after them, with all their soldiers and horses and chariots. Quick, they need to escape. But they can’t, because the Red Sea is in their way. What are they going to do? And so, we read in verse 10 that they were terrified. They were terrified; and they called out to the Lord. But they also turned on Moses. Do you see that in verse 11? They said:

Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?

Do you hear the bitter sarcasm in what they said? They said:

What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?

Do you see how they’re blaming Moses for their predicament? They said:

Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’?

They’re saying:

We told you! We told you this was a bad idea!

And then they said:

It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!

They’d clearly forgotten how miserable their lives had been in Egypt. But now their hearts had melted with fear and they were terrified of the Egyptians who were pounding down the road on their horses and chariots and there seemed to be no way of escape, because the Red Sea was in their way. But Moses appealed to the people:

Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid. Stand firm and you’ll see the deliverance of the Lord. He will save you. And these Egyptians you see today, well, you’ll never see them again. Just wait and see!

Then the scene changes again, because now the Lord is instructing Moses on what to do:

Raise your staff and stretch out your hand and the water will be divided and you’ll be able to walk across, on dry land. And don’t worry about the Egyptians, because I’ll deal with them in such I way that my name will be glorified.

And then we’re told that the angel of the Lord — and you’ll remember that the angel of the Lord is really the Lord himself — the angel of the Lord who was in the pillar of cloud moved behind the Israelites to form a barrier which separated the Israelites on one side of the pillar from the Egyptians on the other side of the pillar. Think of the way a parent might step in front of a child to shield the child from danger. That’s what the Lord was doing for his people. And while the pillar of fire provided light for the Israelites, the Egyptians were shrouded in darkness. And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, as the Lord commanded him, and the Lord drove back the sea by a strong east wind and made a passageway through the sea so that his people could cross over on dry land.

Then the scene changes to focus on the Egyptians who pursued the Israelites along the same passageway. But the Lord looked down on them and threw them into confusion: the wheels of their chariots got stuck and came off. And despite all their confusion, it dawned on them that the Lord was fighting for the Israelites.

And then we’re back to Moses and the Lord. And the Lord told Moses to stretch out his hand once more over the sea. And this time, the waters flowed back and covered the Egyptians so that every single one of them drowned. Not one of them survived.

And in the final scene, we see the Israelites, looking at the dead bodies of the Egyptians. And we’re told that they feared the Lord and they put their trust in him and in Moses his servant. —

Significance

As we turn now to think about the significance of this event for us, I think we should resist the urge to say that this passage shows us how the Lord will remove problems and obstacles out of our way. You know, just as the Lord opened a way through the Red Sea for the Israelites, so he will open a way through whatever problems and obstacles we might face. Now, that’s true; but we should resist the urge to interpret this event in that way, because we need to remember that the Lord has given us his word to reveal that he is the Redeemer who has done great things to deliver us from our sin and misery by his Son and to give us everlasting life in his presence. The Bible is all about our redemption from sin. And by delivering his people from their bondage in Egypt, the Lord was revealing how he delivers all his people in every age from our bondage to sin and Satan and death so that we might have eternal life.

Christ’s Exodus

To help us to understand the significance of the Exodus for us, let’s turn to the New Testament. And first, I want us to think about Jesus Christ’s Exodus. In Luke 9 we have the story of the Lord’s Transfiguration. You might be familiar with the story and don’t need to look it up. The Lord took Peter and James and John — three of his disciples — and went up onto a mountain to pray. While he was praying, his appearance changed and became brilliantly white, as bright as a flash of lightening, Luke says. And two men — Moses and Elijah — appeared and talked to him. And Luke tells us that they spoke to the Lord Jesus about his departure which he was about to bring to fulfilment in Jerusalem. Now the word which the NIV translates as departure can also be translated as exodus. So, here we have Moses and Elijah, talking to the Lord Jesus about his exodus which he was about to fulfil in Jerusalem.

They were referring to his death and resurrection. That’s what happened to him in Jerusalem. But why should Luke refer to it as his exodus? In what sense was his death and resurrection an exodus? Well, it’s surely this: Just as the Lord God came down to earth in the days of Moses to deliver his people from their enemies, so the Son of God, Jesus Christ, came down to earth to deliver us from sin and death, our two great enemies.

He died on the cross to pay for our sins and to free us from the condemnation we deserve because of them. And all who now trust in him receive from him the assurance of sins forgiven and peace with God for ever. By his death he has delivered us from the condemnation we deserve for our sins.

And by being raised from the dead, he has freed us from the fear of death, because all who now trust in him will live, even though we die. Even though it seems that death still wins, even though it seems that death always beats us — because every day death claims more and more victims — nevertheless we know that death has been conquered, because the Lord Jesus Christ triumphed over it in Jerusalem.

So, Moses and Elijah spoke to the Lord Jesus about his exodus, because in Jerusalem, he died and he was raised in order to deliver us from sin and death. And, of course, after his resurrection from the grave, he departed from this world and ascended to heaven. And we know — dont we? — that all who trust in him will one day join him in the Promised Land of Eternal Life.

And so, when we think about the significance of the Exodus for us, the first thing we should think of is the Lord’s exodus in Jerusalem, when he died and was raised. And we should give thanks to our Heavenly Father because the Lord Jesus died and was raised in order to free us from the condemnation we deserve for our sins and to give us everlasting life in his presence.

Baptised into Moses

But there’s a second New Testament passage for us to consider. Turn with me now to 1 Corinthians 10, where Paul refers to the Exodus in the days of Moses. Listen to what he wrote in verses 1 to 4:

For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptised into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.

Paul says their forefathers were under the cloud; he’s clearly referring to the pillar of cloud and fire which accompanied them and which was a visible reminder that the Lord was with them. And Paul says they all passed through the sea; he’s referring to their passage through the Red Sea. And then he adds:

They were all baptised into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.

What’s he saying? He’s saying that the Exodus — when they came under the protection of the pillar of cloud, and when they passed through the Red Sea — was a kind of baptism. And since Moses was their leader at that time, he refers to it as a baptism into Moses.

When Paul refers to the Exodus in the days of Moses as a baptism, he’s saying that there was something about the Exodus which illustrates and points forward to the significance of baptism for us. So think again about what happened at the time of the Exodus. What was going on? Well, by means of the Exodus, the Israelites left behind their old life in Egypt in order to begin a new life. On one side of the Red Sea was their old life, a life of slavery and bondage to Pharaoh. And it was a life of misery; and it was a life of hardship; and it was a life of hopelessness.

But the Lord led them through the Red Sea, away from that life of slavery and bondage and misery and hardship and hopelessness, to begin a new life. And this was to be a life of faith, because they were to trust in the Lord for all they needed. It was to be a life of obedience, because at Mt Sinai he gave them his commandments to keep. And it was to be a life characterised by hope, because the Lord was going to lead them through the wilderness and into the Promised Land of Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey where they would have all they needed.

So, they passed through the waters of the Red Sea, leaving behind their old life in Egypt, ready to begin a new life. And that illustrates and points forward to the significance of baptism for us, because among other things — and baptism signifies several things for us including God’s willingness to wash away our sins — but among other things, baptism is a sign for adult converts that they have left behind their old life and have begun a new life. They’ve left behind their old life of unbelief and sin and hopelessness; and they’ve begun a new life of faith and obedience and of hope.

So, someone has lived for years and years as an unbeliever without ever believing in God; and they lived to please themselves and they’ve never once thought about pleasing the Lord or doing his will. And, as far as this person was concerned, when you die, your body is buried and that’s it; there’s nothing beyond this life and this world. But then they heard the gospel, and they were convinced and converted to faith in Christ. And they asked the minister if they could be baptised. And the minister is happy to baptise them, because baptism signifies that instead of living a life of unbelief and sin and hopelessness, they’re going to live a life of faith, trusting in God for all things; and they’re going to live a life of obedience, seeking to do God’s will here on earth; and they’re going to live a life of hope, because they’re looking forward to the day when Christ our Saviour will come again and bring us at last into the new heavens and the new earth where we’ll enjoy perfect peace and rest in the presence of God. Baptism signifies to the adult convert that just as the Israelites were leaving their old life in Egypt to begin a new life, so they’ve left behind that old life of unbelief and sin and hopelessness in order to begin a new life with Christ.

Here’s how the Apostle Paul put it in Romans 6. In Romans 6, Paul wrote:

[D]on’t you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

Paul was saying to the believers in Rome: When you first believed in Christ and were baptised, you died with Christ to your old life of sin; nd when you first believed in Christ and were baptised, you were raised with Christ to live a new life of obedience. And that’s the significance of the story of the Exodus: it speaks to us of how God delivers us from that old life of unbelief and sin and hopelessness to live a new life of faith and obedience and hope.

I’ve been talking about the significance of baptism for adult converts. What about the significance of baptism for the infants of believers? Well, in a sense, it signifies the same thing, because the children of believers are also being set apart, by their baptism, from an unbelieving and disobedient world to be brought up among God people in the church.

Conclusion

When we read this story of the Exodus, and how the Lord led his people through the waters of the Red Sea, we ought to give thanks to God, because he has led us out of that old life of unbelief and sin and hopelessness into a new life of faith and obedience and hope. We ought to give thanks to him for his kindness to us.

And when we read this story of the Exodus, we ought to resolve to live the life which the Lord has called us to, so that we trust in him everyday and seek to obey him everyday while we wait for the day when he will come again and bring us at last into the new heavens and the new earth. You’ll perhaps know that, when things got hard, the Israelites often look back to Egypt with longing, because they sometimes thought they were better off in Egypt and they wanted to return to it. But they had forgotten that life in Egypt was slavery; life in Egypt was miserable. And, if ever we’re tempted to turn back from following Christ, we need to remind ourselves that life outside of Christ is slavery to sin and to the fear of death and it only ends in condemnation. And so, instead of turning back, we’re to look forwards and upwards to heaven, and to Jesus Christ our Saviour who is able to help us, and we ought to press on and keep on walking in the ways of the Lord, because he will lead us all the way to heaven.