I) GOD GUIDES ISRAEL OUT OF EGYPT
A) Not The Normal Way Home
Exodus 13:17 And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt:
Exodus 13:18 But God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red sea: and the children of Israel went up harnessed [in formation] out of the land of Egypt.
The shortest route to the Promised Land would have had the Israelites there in two weeks time at the most. But this was not God’s route for them. Instead of going up a northeastern route to Canaan, God led them southeast into what we call the Sinai Peninsula.
Specifically, he took them “through the way of the wilderness of the Red sea.” The actual route is debated among scholars, what’s important for us to know is that it was in the opposite direction.
Why? The direct route known as, “the way of the land of the Philistines,” led to, as you might guess, the Philistines. The Philistines were a military power at the time (see Joshua 13:1-5) and the Lord was concerned that the people would “repent” (or change their minds) when they saw war.
The Lord knew that they would need time to acclimate to being their own independent nation before they entered into war. So God needed to find a quiet place to put Israel so that he could give the law to Moses. In short, Israel needed time to get used to being a free nation on their own.
B) Taking Joseph With Them
Exodus 13:19 And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him: for he had straitly sworn the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you; and ye shall carry up my bones away hence with you.
Joseph had died some four hundred years before, predicting on his deathbed that Israel would leave Egypt one day and commanding that his body be removed:
24 And Joseph said unto his brethren, I die: and God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land unto the land which he sware to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. 25 And Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence. (Genesis 50:24–25)
Israel was, like most cultures, concerned about the care of the bones of the deceased (Joseph was, in fact, embalmed—Genesis 50:26, but the word here is “bones,” not mummy).
C) God’s Positioning System
Exodus 13:20 And they took their journey from Succoth, and encamped in Etham, in the edge of the wilderness.
There is no consensus on the location of “Succoth” or “Etham,” except that the latter was on “the edge of the wilderness.” In the next chapter, they seem to change direction and move in a northerly direction. Notice how it looked confusing to those watching their movements:
Exodus 14:1 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
Exodus 14:2 Speak unto the children of Israel, that they turn and encamp before Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, over against Baal-zephon: before it shall ye encamp by the sea.
Exodus 14:3 For Pharaoh will say of the children of Israel, They are entangled in the land, the wilderness hath shut them in.
Although it may have looked confusing to Pharaoh, we see that it isn’t the Israelites deciding where to go:
Exodus 13:21 And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night:
Exodus 13:22 He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people.
This would have been exciting to see—a massive column of smoke by day and fire at night. What a GPS! Is that a “God Positioning System”? Sometimes we yearn for such clear guidance in our lives, but keep in mind that it didn’t turn the Israelites into an obedient people.
God was guiding the Israelites here, but the course was erratic. Why? Because he wasn’t done dealing with Pharaoh. He wanted Pharaoh to say, “They are entangled in the land, the wilderness hath shut them in.” That would get Pharaoh back on the warpath:
II) PHARAOH CHANGES HIS MIND
A) God Directs, Man Devises
Exodus 14:4 And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, that he shall follow after them; and I will be honoured upon Pharaoh, and upon all his host; that the Egyptians may know that I am the LORD. And they did so.
The Lord wanted to do more than prove that he could get his people out of Egypt—he wanted to defeat Pharaoh completely.
There’s also an interesting mingling of God’s sovereignty and human will here. God says that he “will harden Pharaoh’s heart,” but what is it that convinces Pharaoh to pursue the Israelites?
Exodus 14:5 And it was told the king of Egypt that the people fled: and the heart of Pharaoh and of his servants was turned against the people, and they said, Why have we done this, that we have let Israel go from serving us?
We could suppose that, after a few days, the labor loss of the Israelites was beginning to be felt. You could imagine the complaints coming in from foremen all over Egypt—“How am I supposed to this done without workers?”
To the Egyptians, God’s sovereignty in their lives was that they reasoned that to allow the Israelites to go was too great of a loss. They reasoned; God directed.
9 A man’s heart deviseth his way: But the LORD directeth his steps. (Proverbs 16:9)
B) The Chariots Of War
Exodus 14:6 And he made ready his chariot, and took his people with him:
Exodus 14:7 And he took six hundred chosen chariots, and all the chariots of Egypt, and captains over every one of them.
Exodus 14:8 And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued after the children of Israel: and the children of Israel went out with an high hand [with boldness].
Exodus 14:9 But the Egyptians pursued after them, all the horses and chariots of Pharaoh, and his horsemen, and his army, and overtook them encamping by the sea, beside Pi-hahiroth, before Baal-zephon.
The chariot was the tank of ancient times. It was basically a platform with two wheels, pulled by a team of horses. They were made to be light, with only the necessary parts made of metal. The rest was wood or leather.
The crew of a chariot consisted of two to four men—the Egyptians usually had a driver and a warrior with a bow. The Hittites and Assyrians had a third man to carry a shield. A chariot was most useful in flat areas and could be easily bogged down in mud. (see Silva, Moisés, and Merrill Chapin Tenney. The Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible, A-C. Grand Rapids, MI: The Zondervan Corporation, 2009)
A chariot had a number of advantages against foot soldiers. Speed, of course, and one tactic they used was to wear down the soldiers on foot. “Disciplined companies of chariots used shoot-and-scoot tactics to wear down enemy forces, pulling into range, stopping to shoot a volley or three, then wheeling away before the enemy could retaliate.”
They enjoyed some level of protection, but mostly their protection came from speed. Another tactic they would have used would be charging the enemy infantry, using short range weapons like spears and axes. (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chariot_tactics)
We are told that Pharaoh brought “six hundred chosen chariots,” but also that he brought “all the chariots of Egypt.” This means that we don’t know precisely how many chariots he had…it was his special forces plus his regular army of chariots and “his horsemen, and his army…” Pharaoh’s army could have been thousands of chariots, horsemen, and soldiers.
Would that be enough against two million Israelites? Well, you’d have to consider that the Israelites were mostly unarmed, with a large portion being women and children. Also, there would be no way for all two million Israelites to come to bare at once on the Egyptians.
The Egyptians would use the chariot “shoot and scoot” tactics to race in, pick off a group of Israelites, and race back out. Given the fragile condition of the Israelite’s faith, it wouldn’t be long before they all surrendered and went back to Egypt. And that is precisely what was about to happen…
III) FRIGHTENED ISRAEL, STAND STILL!
A) Israel Stand Still
In verse 8, we saw that the Israelites were marching “out with an high hand [with boldness].” That’s easy to do when there is no one in hot pursuit.
Exodus 14:10 And when Pharaoh drew nigh, the children of Israel lifted up their eyes, and, behold, the Egyptians marched after them; and they were sore afraid: and the children of Israel cried out unto the LORD.
Exodus 14:11 And they said unto Moses, Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness? wherefore hast thou dealt thus with us, to carry us forth out of Egypt?
Exodus 14:12 Is not this the word that we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians? For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness.
Get used to this whining, because they’ll do this a lot. Remember though, their faith right at this moment is being tested and stretched more than most American Christians get their faith tested and stretched in a life time.
The people of Israel were leaving everything that they had ever known, and that which a dozen generations of Israelites had ever known—so really, what would you have done at this point?
Nevertheless, the Israelites are having a faith problem here. It’s also a little of hindsight being 20/20, or so we think. Maybe it wasn’t so bad being a slave—at least the Egyptians wouldn’t kill us out here in the desert.
Actually, they were wrong about that—did the Egyptians want to kill them (see verse 5)? No, they wanted to return them to Egypt. In fact, if the Israelites had all held up their hands at this point, both the Egyptians and the Israelites would have had what they wanted—slavery and safety in Egypt. Moses, for his part, had brave words that he passed on to them:
Exodus 14:13 And Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will shew to you to day: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever.
Exodus 14:14 The LORD shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace.
Now, in an ordinary military situation, this would have been suicidal. But remember, Israel was already no match for the well-trained and armed Egyptian army. Humanly speaking, surrender was the only sane option.
But Israel wasn’t going to fight, instead they had a divine warrior who would fight for them. “The Lord,” as David would later sing, “strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle.” Israel just had to have the faith that the Lord would fight for them. All they had to do was to stand still.
B) Believer, Stand Still
This is what faith must learn to do in order to be faith—rest in the Lord. It’s interesting that the words here are “stand still.” That is definitely what many believers have trouble doing—standing still and letting God handle matters.
Salvation requires us to stand still in Christ, not our good works. Jesus is the warrior that has accomplished everything for our salvation. There is nothing we need to add.
Once saved, we fight against Satan in the same way. It’s what is told us in Ephesians:
13 Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. (Ephesians 6:13)
Spurgeon, in a sermon titled, “Direction in Dilemma,” suggests that Christians often try one of three things in bad situations.
First, they can be cowards and retreat and go back to the ways of sin that they knew before.
Second, they might be tempted to “do something,” which leads them, as Spurgeon puts it, “to premature and unwise action.”
A third wrong move is presumption, which is to “march in and expect a miracle.” He says that it is easy for us to mistake presumption for faith.
But how do we stand still then?
Among other things, Spurgeon says, is that standing still means waiting awhile. He says, “Time is precious, but there are occasions when the best use we can make of it, is to let it run on. If time flies, that is no reason why I am always to fly.” Often bad things happen as a result of rushing in without prayer and consideration. (Spurgeon, C. H. The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons. Vol. 9. London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1863)
I have come to see in my Christian walk, that the waiting required can be months or years, not simply a few hours or days. God wants us to be on his timetable, not ours…look at how long he made people like Abraham and Moses and Israel wait for him to finally act.
So Christian, stand still, and let the Lord fight for you. This does not mean commit the error of “let go and let God” in our Christian living—the Bible says to “flee temptation.” But in matters where you know not how God wants you to act—stand still.