Exodus 14: The LORD saves through the sea - 22nd June 2014 - John Cooper/Christine Denny

Bible Reading: Exodus 14

Click here to listen to Christine's sermon

Below is the text of John's sermon

Opening prayer based on Ps 95:6-8:

 

“Come let us bow down in worship

let us kneel before the Lord our Maker

for He is our God

and we are the people of His pasture’

the flock under His care.

Today, if [we] hear His voice [let us] not harden our hearts.”

 

There is one major theme running through the whole of the Bible. It is salvation – God saves His people. He starts with a small tribe of believers in one God and uses them to bring about the salvation of the whole world. But in the process He has to protect this tribe, the Jews, and punish them when they fail to trust Him. It was this event, the escape from Egypt combined with the crossing of the Red Sea, which was to forge them into a single nation, a political and religious entity.

But this is not a story of courage and heroism. It is the story of the enslavement of an entire people for a very long time, their continuing degradation and their subsequent Exodus and wandering for a long time in the desert, complaining and rebelling at every stage. They even worshipped the  golden calf as God was revealing His Divine will to Moses.

            The Israelites had become slaves in Egypt. If, like me, you are a compulsive viewer of history programmes on TV you will have heard that Ancient Egypt used its own people for building projects and then assumed the Israelites were never slaves. However the Egyptian people were used for building temples and tombs because Pharaoh considered this their act of worship! The foreign slaves were used for other building projects. The Israelites were put to work building new cities.

            But probably more important than their slavery was the fact that the Egyptians used a form of genocide against the Israelites. They were killing the male children. Something had to be done. God had to save His people!

            The Israelites were released. Pharaoh let them go because God turned the tables on the Egyptians by killing their first born sons.    The term ‘Red Sea’ is a mistranslation of the Hebrew ‘Reed Sea’ and on the overhead it is in the region of the ‘Bitter Lakes’. Unfortunately this whole area is now submerged under the Suez Canal and it is difficult for us to picture what it was like. But there is no need to assume the sea was not deep and it was not a miracle as the Biblical record reports. It is an old joke but says something important. Little Jimmy was in his Sunday School class as they were reading this very chapter. Suddenly he shouted out ‘Praise God!’ The teacher ran over to him and asked what was the matter. Jimmy said that the Israelites had crossed through the sea. The teacher said ‘You must understand Jimmy that it was the Reed Sea and might have only been 6 inches deep’. A few moments later she heard little Jimmy declaring the whole Egyptian army had drowned in 6 inches of water!

            The Israelites were camped alongside the ‘Red Sea’ which seems to me strange. If you look at verses 1 to 4 you will see that God had told them to stop there. It was an indefensible position and God was going to show His power to save. It says so in 7:5: “…the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it” (Ex.7:5)

            The Israelites were terrified when they saw the Egyptians approaching and they cried out to the Lord. Moses told them to be unafraid and watch for “the deliverance [ie the salvation] the Lord will bring them” (v13). The first thing that happened was the angel of God and the pillar of cloud moved between the Egyptians and the Israelites to protect them. God was close to His people.

            When Moses stretched out his hand over the sea it divided and the Israelites were able to cross over safely. God had saved His people! Another hurdled crossed towards the salvation of mankind. God underlines significant times in Biblical history with miracles and such is the crossing of the Red Sea.

 

            But alongside salvation comes its opposite: condemnation. Not everybody is to be saved. The crossing of the Red Sea was to be an object lesson for the Egyptians as well as the Israelites. God wanted the Egyptians to know that He is the Lord (v4,18). In chapter 5 verse 2 Pharaoh had said “Who is the Lord, that I should obey Him and let Israel go?” In Egyptian religion Pharaoh was a god and so was beyond the petty imaginings of a group of slaves. Rameses II was in all probability the Pharaoh of the Exodus.There are no vowels in the ancient Egyptian language. We have already heard that MSS (Moses) means ‘was drawn out’ refering to hs discovery in the Nile. Likewise ‘Ra-MSS’  means drawn out of the Ra, the Sun God. He was claiming divinity.This was a clash between God and non-god. So the true God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (v4). To us this seems shocking especially as the whole army perished when pursuing the Israelites: “Not one of them survived.” (v28). Throughout Christian history God is seen as either loving or wrathful. He is both and this can be supremely seen in this passage.

            So the Israelites are saved. They change from fear and unbelief (v10-2) to faith and trust (v31). As it says in v31 “…when the Israelites saw the great power the Lord displayed against the Egyptians the people feared the Lord and put their trust in Him and Moses His servant.” Unfortunately that fear and trust did not last. The rest of the journey is about grumbling against God and, in spite of this incredible miracle, their trust evaporated. So much so only two Israelites were allowed into the Promised Land. God saved the nation but it was through the next generation. Ultimately the current generation was condemned.

 

            Every so often I come across people who, like the those Egyptians,  have hardened their hearts towards God. No matter what you say to them they do not listen. They keep on coming up with the same points which time after time you have answered. Are they trying to provoke you? Why will they not just listen instead of thinking through their next argument? I know this type of person because I used to be like that! Ten times Moses spoke to Pharaoh but ultimately he did not listen and God gave up on him. You see we are responsible for our own salvation or damnation. It says in Paul’s Letter to the Romans “But because of your stubborness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when His righteous judgment will be revealed” (2:5). Ultimately the problem is that people will not listen to the message of their salvation. They often think they understand but they do not. I have often been astonished in the past that people can believe simultaneously ‘Jesus saves’ and ‘only good people get to heaven’ without connecting the two ideas. Who is Jesus saving? But nowadays few people would even think in those terms. Christianity is rejected before it is even considered. But truly it is impossible to sit on the fence: you are either saved or condemned.

God gives us all innumerable chances. The difficulty for us is we never know when is our last opportunity to turn our lives around. Death comes like a thief in the night and we need to be prepared.

            Salvation through Christ is Good News for the believer but it is incredibly bad news for the unbeliever.

There was a tendency, and for all I know, there is still is, to use the Bible as a source book of promises, much like the rather trite Patience Strong thoughts on dated birthday cards. There are different ways to read scripture and I think we must do them simultaneously. How do I need to change my life so it is more in keeping with what God is saying in the passage? What might it be saying about missionary work or Third World poverty? And what might it be saying about the non-believer? Is there any way I can use this material in evangelism? Supremely we must have a real concern for the unbeliever.

 

            In our reading (Heb.3:1-4:7), which I admit was quite complicated, the writer of the letter says that some who hear the Gospel message of salvation through Jesus will turn away from God (3:12).  The Egyptians hardened their hearts and died in the Red Sea. The Israelites hardened their hearts and died in the desert. So the message of this sermon is summed up in that quote from Psalm 95: “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts…” (v7).