Exodus 14:10-20

As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, “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 and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.”

But Moses said to the people, “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.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. But you lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the Israelites may go into the sea on dry ground. Then I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them; and so I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army, his chariots, and his chariot drivers. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gained glory for myself over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his chariot drivers.”

The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night. Exodus 14:10-20

You all know this story. Or, like me, you know the broad outlines of this story. It has been a long time since you actually read it. And the last time you read it, (when?, like me, you can’t really remember), you never paid all that much attention to the details. Well, welcome back.

The first time that the Lord rescued the Israelites (from famine) was when he sent them to Egypt, under the care of the brother they had sold into slavery. Joseph, who would be their earthly rescuer, was the first of the Israelis to become a slave. He had a nice position, he had a lot of power, he had pharaoh’s ear, but he was still a slave. He was just doing pharaoh’s bidding rather than Potiphar’s. A slave to the very rich is still a slave, even if he dresses better.

Then things changed. They always do. Pharaohs come and pharaohs go. Policies change like underwear. Israel looked up and their status had changed from honored and privileged guests to slave laborers. Thus they remained for many many years. (Click here if you want to hear the argument that their slavery in Egypt lasted about 215 years rather than the 400 years that Hollywood taught you.)

God raised up Moses, (precursor to Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas and every other slave who has sought the release of their fellow slaves,) and brought him to Pharaoh The Latest, with the demand that he let the Israelites go. The demand, not the polite request. The demand, backed up with plague upon plague. But pharaoh was stubborn. Slaves are handy. Pharaoh, no surprise here, went back on his word time and time again. Until the night that they drove old Dixie down, the Passover, the deaths of the first born, and Pharaoh the Latest had enough. He opened a window and the slaves ran through.

And then they stopped. Which brings us now to the text for today. Notice the exchange between God and Moses. Moses tells the people, “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.” Then God immediately replies, “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. But you lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the Israelites may go into the sea on dry ground.” Moses says “just stand there” and God says “do something!”

Presidents, like pharaohs, come and go. Policies change. Realities shift. Promises are made and broken. Today, many people in the United States taste a freedom their forebears only dreamed of. Others look forward to a new freedom just around the corner, the ability to come out of the shadows and live in peace. The freedom to be is a precious thing. Once won it is hard to give back. Once glimpsed it is hard to close your eyes again.

The Exodus has many lessons to teach us. Among them, our eagerness to trade the slavery of the known for the arduous trek into the freedom that God is preparing for us. Our willingness to keep still, even to go back, rather than stand up, move forward, and trust God on the way. Moses lifted his staff and the people took one more step toward glory.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, in slavery our lives are defined by our captors. Our lives are controlled by our captors. In slavery we suffer. In freedom we are defined by you. In freedom we assume our responsibilities. In freedom we suffer too, but our suffering is growing pains rather than the ties that bind us down. Give us the courage to walk into freedom, trusting you all the way. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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2 Responses to “Exodus 14:10-20”

  1. Art Funkhouser Says:

    If I remember correctly, “Moses” means “son of”. “Ramses” meant “son of Ra (the sun)”. Moses was found and the Egyptians didn’t know who his father was so he was just named “Moses”.

  2. Rita Wade Says:

    In these uncertain times — a national leader we either worship or at best approach with extreme skepticism, I thank you for applying your talents to (paper) keyboard. Thank you for bringing lessons we have either forgotten or never understood to our attention and then drawing a nice wide line for us to follow – lessons to life. Thanks for doing this daily.

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