September 17, 2023
Scripture Reading Exodus 14:1-15
The whole clan of Jacob was in such dire straits in Egypt as slaves, that their cries reached heaven and God was so moved that God finally persuaded Moses to lead them out. It was no simple chore. Pharaoh was obstinate, to say the least. In fact, it took 10 plagues of increasing intensity to change his mind.
The plagues progressed from turning river waters to blood, to frogs by the millions, to gnats, flies, to disease of animals, to boils, hail, locusts, darkness and finally to the death of children. Finally, when Moses and his brother Aaron said “Let my people go!” Pharaoh had had enough and he said: “Get out of here, take everything you have including your herds and on your way out, give me a blessing!”
So, the great day comes and there’s a rousing “YES” from everyone: from Pharaoh, Moses, and all the children of Israel! And then – they hardly get out of town when EVERYONE BUT MOSES AND GOD gets cold feet! Pharaoh wants his free labor back and sends 600 chariots and his whole army to force them to return – and all of the Israelites are terrified by the sound of the chariots and the prospect of no place to run because of the Red Sea in front of them!
So who do they blame? MOSES, of course, who didn’t want to be their leader in the first place, and GOD, who had been the only one listening when they wept and cried over their hard labor! So they came to Moses what seems to me to be a mean-spirited attitude and said: “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? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone so that we
can serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.”
NOW HERE IS A MESS THAT NOBODY COULD HAVE PREDICTED BUT MAYBE GOD. Even though every word and promise of God had proven true, it wasn’t enough for them! The crow seemed to feel like God and Moses had hung them out to dry! Why? What is this about? Why the sudden rebellion and complaint?
I’ll tell you what I think it was about! There was no question that the Israelites had gotten into a place where they needed help. It is not a fun thing to feel helpless. Almost all of the help that this world offers us is tangible: physical, bricks, mortar, steel, concrete, money, or the power to force our will on another. Pharaoh had tangible weapons and the Red Sea looming ahead was also so tangible. Pharaoh had all of that in spades. Israel had almost none of it especially after they had left Egypt and those God-produced plagues. All Israel had was promise.
They became anxious – actually terrified with nothing in their hands with which to fight off the Egyptians. You get that, don’t you? There are times in our lives when we feel like we have nothing in our hands with which to face the challenges ahead. And that fear can make us crazy.
It’s almost hard to believe that they would accuse Moses of disregard for their very lives when it was their lives he was called by God to save! How soon they forgot the misery of slavery and its effect on the lives of themselves and their families! How should Moses respond to their bitterness and hostility? What does Moses have to give them to face these terrors and fears? More promises! “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. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”
You can almost hear them saying: “All that is well and good, but where are our weapons? Where are the ships to get across the Red Sea? Moses are you blind? This is serious here! Our lives and our children’s lives are at stake here! We trusted you and all you give us is words?” But listen again to the words – the promise: “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”
You know the end of this chapter in the Bible. You probably saw the movie! But even deliverances like that don’t fully convince us, do they? We still can’t trust the promise. We still believe only what we see and touch and measure.
But the journey on which we all have embarked is called the FAITH journey – not the battle of swords or the man/woman with the biggest toys wins! FAITH journey!
You can live for such a long time without giving the first thought as to where you are placing your trust or faith. And the culture, which lives by trusting its stuff, reinforces your lifestyle by constantly telling you that this item or that purchase will be the very thing that gives you security and freedom. Just one more purchase, one more step up the corporate ladder, one more deposit into your bank account will do it. And you say to yourself: “maybe I don’t have enough stuff!”
And then one day you hit the wall – or your version of the Egyptian Army – or the Red Sea and all the stuff feels like so much powder in your hands. When will we get it? The stuff, the accumulation of things, the hunger for more will never be enough! When it comes to the most important moments in life, the stuff is worthless. In moments like that, I hope you are able to hear the promise again: “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. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”
In those moments ALL WE HAVE is promise. But in God’s economy, PROMISE IS EVERYTHING. In those moments, we are called upon to walk by faith and trust.