This is a true story (told with permission),
In the late 1990’s, Cindy took a youth group on a mission work trip to Alabama. It had been an uneventful trip so far and they were making good time. As they approached the Kentucky river, Cindy carefully studied her map for the fastest, most direct route. There were a few different bridges they could take but most took them far out of their way.
As they began a long descent to the river, there was a sign that read, “Road Ends”. According to the map, there was a bridge or certainly a ferry at the location they were headed, so they continued winding their way along. Then, there was another sign and another, but Cindy had faith that there would be a way across.
As they came to the river, the road dipped and disappeared right into the water. There was no dead-end sign or barrier. Fortunately, she stopped in time! Making the best of a bad situation, they stopped to eat their picnic lunch before backtracking to a highway that would take them to a real bridge.
It would have helped to have a GPS but of course, they were not available back then. Except for being embarrassing, the group only lost some road time. But it was a lesson Cindy would never forget, in part, because the youth group loved to remind her of what happened. The lesson is, that it is good to pay attention to the signs around us, they just might be right!
In some situations, getting off track and ending up at a dead-end can have awful consequences. That is very similar to what happened to the Israelites as they left Egypt. The only difference is that God placed them at the dead-end; where they were between a rock and a hard place. Or some might say, they were between the devil and the deep blue sea.
Last Sunday, we heard about the 10 plagues God brought upon Egypt because of the Pharaoh’s unwillingness to let God’s people go. After the death of the firstborn sons, all of people of Egypt and the Pharaoh were anxious to expel the Israelites from their land. It is often called ‘the night where no one slept’ because of the horrible wailing of the mothers and families.
Just after midnight, Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Hurry up! Leave my people and our land, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the Lord, as you have requested. Take your flocks and herds and go. But, before you do, bless me.” (Exodus 12:31-32)
After all of this, the Pharaoh has the gull to ask for a blessing. Can you believe that? I imagine Moses and Aaron did it, hoping it might make the transition out of Egypt easier. Meanwhile, the Egyptians were pressing the Israelites to leave as soon as possible. They feared everyone might die if the Lord of the Israelites was displeased any further.
Whenever Cindy and I go on a trip, lists are made in advance to make sure we don’t forget anything. And our departure time is usually delayed a little as we go over last-minute details. And of course, there is always one last bathroom visit.
The Israelites didn’t have that luxury. All the Egyptians wanted them gone first thing next morning.
There was no time to rest or finish last minute details. Even the bread they made, which was usually left to rise over night after adding yeast, had to be cut short. They packed up the unleavened bread and all their clothes, along with all the silver and gold they could carry.
As the sun rose, the Israelites gathered to walk out of Egypt. The Bible says that there were 6 hundred thousand men on foot, plus women and children. We also know some other slaves and foreigners went with them. Scholars suggest that there could easily have been 2 million people plus animals. (Exodus 12:37) Mind you, they are leaving a city to walk into the desert.
My guess is that some were overjoyed to finally be leaving Egypt. They remembered the hardship and loss. Others looked out at the desert and then looked back in concern. How could so many travel safely with so little food and water. This was a mixed blessing for them, at best.
The Israelites had lived in Egypt for 430 years. (Exodus 12:40) They did not know any other way
of life. The truth was; many had put their faith in Moses alone. He was the one talking to the Lord. During the next part of the journey, God was going to reveal himself to all the Israelites. They would see his power and glory on full display.
God had instructed Moses to head south and east, from Rameses to Succoth. (Exodus 12:37) It would have been shorter to travel through the Philistine countryside, but God knew the Israelites might return to Egypt rather than fight another army. (Exodus 13:17)
One interesting note: Moses first had to collect the bones of Joseph to take with them as they left. Joseph had instructed the Israelites to do this for him before he died, if they ever left Egypt. (Exodus 13:19) Finally they were ready, and they marched out of Egypt. Steadily they advanced, day and night until they came to Succoth and made camp.
From here, God lead them farther south to Etham, where they again camped. Scripture says,
“By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light. That way they could travel non-stop.” (Exodus 13:21)
Then the Lord did something strange, he instructed Moses and the Israelites to go back up north to camp near the sea. (Exodus 14:2) Imagine the conversations around this decision. They were very satisfied moving as far away from Egypt as possible. Why travel back up toward their enemy?
God explained to Moses, “Pharaoh will think the Israelites are wandering around the desert in confusion, lost and bewildered. So, when Pharaoh hears this, it will embolden him, and he will pursue them. But I will gain glory for myself by defeating Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know I am the Lord.” (Exodus 14:3-4)
I’m thinking, after 10 horrible plagues surely the Egyptians have not forgotten the power of the Lord. So, what is going on here? Verse 5 fills in the back story. After the Israelites left, Pharaoh’s officials began to grumble. ‘What were they going to do now with no slaves to build the city? Who would do all the manual labor?’
Pharaoh joined in, “What have we done? We have let the Israelites go and have lost our slaves!” Immediately he called upon his best soldiers. He called up 600 of his most elite chariot drivers along with many other soldiers in chariots and they set out in hot pursuit. (Exodus 14:5-7)
Meanwhile, the Israelites were making themselves comfortable camping near the sea. I imagine some of them were trying to comprehend God’s plan here. He had led them to a dead-end in the desert. Before them, to the east was the sea, to the north was a strong enemy fortress, to the south, an empty blazing desert and to the west was Egypt.
If the Egyptians came after them, they would be trapped with no possible escape. My guess is, that they figured God knew what he was doing, he had led them here. So, they thought they would be ok. But it must have felt like they were exceptionally vulnerable. Strategically it made no sense.
Yet this is exactly were God wanted them! His plan was, to bring Pharaoh’s army to complete ruin and really solidify his place with the Israelites. If there was any doubt in their minds that the Lord was fighting for them, it would be gone after his amazing rescue. They would soon witness His saving grace, by the very hand of God.
Chuck Swindoll writes, “All of the sudden the Israelites hear something in the distance. Thunder? A storm on the Horizon? As they looked back, they saw a cloud of dust rising, drawing nearer. That is when they realize what it was; it was an approaching army of horses and chariots. And it was a large army. Word traveled fast, “Pharaoh’s coming! It is going to be a massacre!”
Exodus 14:10b-12 reads, “They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. Then they said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves left in Egypt that you brought us out to the desert to die? What were you thinking? Didn’t we say to you back in Egypt, Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians? It would have been better for us to serve them there than to die in the desert!”
You see, there were only 2 options here; to die fighting or to be captured and returned to Egypt and placed in bondage again. And no one in their right minds would attempt to fight Pharaoh’s elite soldiers.
But we have got to give some credit to Moses. He doesn’t know what God’s plan is, but he knows enough not to question God. Moses answered, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and we will see how the Lord delivers us today. The Egyptians we see today, we will never see again. The Lord will fight for us; we only need to be still.” (Exodus 14:13-14)
Then Moses went to God privately in prayer and cried out for help. We know that by the words that follow. God said, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. Then I will embolden the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through the death of Pharaoh and all his army.” (Exodus 14:15-18)
Now, get this, God himself is going to provide cover for the Israelites. Scripture says, “Then the pillar that was leading them, moved behind them, separating them from Pharaoh’s army. Throughout the night, the cloud brought darkness to the Egyptians and light to the Israelites.” (Exodus 14:19-20)
“Then Moses stretched out his hand and staff over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. Since the waters were divided and there was no mud, it made it easy for the Israelites to pass through, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.” (Exodus 14:21-22)
Imagine walking through water, maybe 6 stories high on each side in the deepest part of the sea. Apparently, it took all day and much of the night for those 2 million people to cross over. Then at about 2 or 3 am, the pillar of dust disappeared, and the Egyptians pursued the Israelites through the waters.
That is when God began to whip-up the winds again and water leaked out turning the dry ground to mud. The wheels were wrenched off some of the chariots and the soldiers immediately knew they were in trouble. They said, “Let’s get out of here fast! The Lord is fighting for them against us.” (Exodus14:25)
But before they could leave, God told Moses to raise his hand with the staff in it over the water, so that the sea would flow back and cover the Egyptians, their chariots and horses. The Egyptians panicked but it was too late, they were swept away and lost. None survived in the sea. (Exodus 14:26-28)
Exodus Chapter 14:31 ends like this, “And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord
that defeated the Egyptians, and so the people feared God and put their trust in Him and in Moses His servant.”
After the shock of seeing all the Egyptian soldiers killed, some of the dead bodies washed up on the shore, the Israelites moved on. Eventually Moses and Miriam wrote a song of celebration for all the people to sing and to remember how God delivered them. And in the end, God received all the glory.
The story of the Exodus clearly shows us who is ultimately in control. And it is meant to give us hope during trials and tribulations. Where humankind sees a dead-end, God sees possibilities and potential. Even death, which seemed like the ultimate end, was defeated by Jesus. The angel Gabriel said it best to Mary the Mother of Jesus in Luke 1:37, “For nothing is impossible with God.”
That is because God is good, and he loves all he has created. Which leads me to wonder, how many of you feel like you are stuck at a dead-end with no hope? Dealing with an ongoing illness, a job that feels like it is draining the life off you, or a relationship that feels hopeless and meaningless? How many are feeling lost, trapped, and alone because of the pandemic?
Don’t give up! Pray for guidance and trust in the Lord. Maybe this seemingly barren, place where you feel trapped is just a short-term situation (in the scheme of things) that will lead others to see the glory of God. Our Lord can make the wilderness blossom, make dry ground burst into a spring, and turn sorrow to Joy.
Your assignment is…to reach out to another person this week who is feeling hopeless or alone. It isn’t hard to find someone who feels trapped or boxed in. And share with them Good News about a God who loves them and can create a way through anything that we would call impossible.
For there is nothing is impossible for our Savior!
“And all God’s people said, Amen”