Bible Studies in Israel’s Wilderness Wanderings
The Way of Escape
By Fraser Gordon
We finished our study on Elijah last year and I would like to continue in the Old Testament for it is packed full of instruction for us. Canaan speaks of the life of Christ in the Christian, but as we know we have times of victory and we have times of failure and ours is a journey. It is not always the Canaan life that is manifested in our lives but this is what we are pressing onto; that the life of Christ may be seen in us. However, just as the nation of Israel in the wilderness had failings and lots of moaning and groaning, God was faithful to them despite that. First of all I want to bring out what Paul spoke about in 1st Corinthians chapter 10:
1Co 10:1-13 For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. (2) They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. (3) They all ate the same spiritual food (4) and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. (5) Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert. (6) Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did... (10) And do not grumble, as some of them did--and were killed by the destroying angel. (11) These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. (12) So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall! (13) No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.
Paul is saying here in the New Testament that everything that happened to Israel is actually written for us. What happened to them is an example for us to learn from. It is written for us and for our admonition. Paul is saying that we should look at the failings and weaknesses that Israel had so that we can learn from them. They are there so that we can actually grow in our faith and understand the character and nature of God. The New Testament always explains the Old Testament so with that in view let us have a look at Exodus chapter 13. I was a little bit undecided as to where to begin. Should I start with Pharaoh in Egypt and all that happened there to Israel? But I thought no, I will begin when they are on their way out.
The grace of God in avoiding the early fight
Up to this point, God had judged the nation of Egypt and Israel had to apply the blood of a lamb over the doorpost so that when the angel of death came it would not touch them. The firstborn of the Egyptians and the firstborn of every living thing died, but because of the blood of the lamb that was upon the doorposts of the Israelites they were kept safe from this judgment. We see here a great picture of salvation which Christ purchased for us by His death on the cross. His blood has been sprinkled over our heart and over our life and now speaks of the new birth that has come into our hearts. We are protected by the Lambs Blood. So here you have a picture of a nation that has come into salvation and which is on their way to the Promised Land.
Exo 13:17-22 When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, "If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt." (18) So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of Egypt armed for battle. (19) Moses took the bones of Joseph with him because Joseph had made the sons of Israel swear an oath. He had said, "God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up with you from this place." (20) After leaving Succoth they camped at Etham on the edge of the desert. (21) 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, so that they could travel by day or night. (22) Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.
Now the direct route to Canaan was to go north, but that was the way of the Philistines who lived in that part of the country. At this point God said to them “look I am not going to lead you that way because you will get discouraged and will have to enter into war with the Philistines and that is not my plan for you.” So they were not ready for war at that time and it is like that with a new Christian. When someone has just been saved they are not ready to take up the sword and God knows that.
I remember that just after I first got saved, I was taking my dog for a walk and two car loads of Jehovah Witnesses came and pulled up on either side of me. I had probably only been a believer about a week and I had five of them to deal with. I was just sitting on the bonnet of my car while the dog ran around and they descended on me. You know how they are with the scriptures, they led me on a journey from the beginning of the bible to the end, and I knew that there was error in what they were saying but I had no way to combat it and they absolutely bamboozled me. So when I was reading this it occurred to me that had God led the nation straight into battle they wouldn’t have been ready for it either. They had just seen many miracles but they weren't ready to take up the sword and it was a little bit like that for me. I was just hammered. I had no answers to anything that they had said. I knew that something wasn't right in what they were saying but I had to go away and learn those things.
So Israel was led by God to the South. God had a completely different plan for the nation. Now we see in verses 21 and 22 that His presence was actually going before them in a cloud and behind them with fire. God was leading and guiding them the whole way. There was no map or guide book. In the wilderness journey there was only One who was going to lead them as a nation and that was God. Numbers chapter 9, 15-23 tells us that if the cloud remained over the tabernacle, then the children of Israel would not journey. They would not leave until it was taken up, then they would resume their journey. This was a continuous procedure throughout the time they spent in the wilderness. So you get this picture that they were not doing their own thing, they were completely dependent on God's presence to guide them and it is exactly the same for us as Christians. We need to be reliant on the Lord that He is before us, behind us and with us, but we need to continually look to Him to be the One who takes us on this journey. We don't know how long the journey is but He is our guide and He is our light, and for Israel that is the way that it was too.
So the direct route north was the quickest way to the Promised Land, but God had other plans. When we get to chapter 14, we find them in a seemingly dead end.
Did God lead them into a dead-end trap?
Exo 14:1-3 Then the LORD said to Moses, (2) Tell the Israelites to turn back and encamp near Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea. They are to encamp by the sea, directly opposite Baal Zephon. (3) Pharaoh will think, 'The Israelites are wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed in by the desert.'
Some Bibles will say they were “entrapped”. So instead of God taking them on a direct route out of Egypt towards Canaan, He actually turned them around backwards and they came down South into this situation. When you look at Pharaoh, he is someone who wants to enslave and entrap and pursue. He is a picture of Satan and his ways, and he will not let those people go who have come into a relationship with God. His whole purpose is to actually ensnare or bewilder God’s people. Egypt is also a picture of the world and its pull and its snare upon the nation of Israel. We will see more of this shortly.
So God led them to a place where they were trapped and you have got to ask the question “WHY?” Why would God lead the nation to a place where there are mountains on one side, the vengeful army of Egypt is coming after them, and the sea with its impassible barrier is in front of them. Where there is no way out! I don't know about you but has God ever led you into a place like that where there doesn't seem to be any escape. Quite often God does exactly this; He will lead us into those areas where we think that there seems to be no way we can go. Just like He did with the children of Israel who would have known when they got the instructions from Moses to turn south that they were going to be boxed in. They would have been questioning - WHY? So here you have a twofold trial going on; the first is that God is going to actually judge Pharaoh and the nation of Egypt. This trial is really coming Pharaoh's way even though he doesn't know it. It is a final judgment upon him as someone who continues to pursue and enslave the nation. You have also got a trial of faith for the nation of Israel. They have come out and into a relationship with God and this is the first time that they have to undergo such a trial.
Exo 14:4-10 And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and he will pursue them. But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD." So the Israelites did this. (5) When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds about them and said, "What have we done? We have let the Israelites go and have lost their services!" (6) So he had his chariot made ready and took his army with him. (7) He took six hundred of the best chariots, along with all the other chariots of Egypt, with officers over all of them. (8) The LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, so that he pursued the Israelites, who were marching out boldly. (9) The Egyptians--all Pharaoh's horses and chariots, horsemen and troops--pursued the Israelites and overtook them as they camped by the sea near Pi Hahiroth, opposite Baal Zephon. (10) As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the LORD.
Remember that they have come out of Egypt with truckloads of gifts, all of the riches of Egypt were heaped upon the nation, and everything would have been going dandy. Further on it says that “they came out with boldness” in verse 8. So you have a picture here of a nation that is “HIGH.” God has freed them, they have come out, but now they see that they are trapped. They look behind and see something lurking in the shadows, it is coming to get them, and it is the whole army of Egypt! Their first response is fear and they panic. You would have thought that after seeing ten judgments upon the nation of Egypt (especially that last one), that there would have been a sense of faith in God. That God knew what He was doing. But, you know, we are exactly the same. You can have the mercies of God fall on you one day, and the next minute you are afraid of a scenario; you are afraid of a situation.
God backed them into a corner and His whole purpose was that His glory and His character might be manifested. That Israel would see His greatness. He would show Himself to be powerful and the One who was in control of what was before them and behind them. His whole purpose for the nation of Israel was that they would learn to see that those things that had dominated them did not have to dominate them any longer. Fear did not have to rule. When we get to the end of the story, the nation of Israel sees all the Egyptians dead on the seashore, and that God was all powerful over their enemy; over the things that were trying to dominate them. I believe that God is always putting us into situations for that very purpose. He will bring about scenarios in our lives, and back us into corners so that His glory and greatness may be shown to us.
Psa 106:7-10 When our fathers were in Egypt, they gave no thought to your miracles; they did not remember your many kindnesses, and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea. (8) Yet he saved them for his name's sake, to make his mighty power known. (9) He rebuked the Red Sea, and it dried up; he led them through the depths as through a desert. (10) He saved them from the hand of the foe; from the hand of the enemy he redeemed them.
This psalm starts off with the writer giving a little insight into what was happening here and it says when they were in Egypt they didn't understand His wonders. They didn't understand the purpose behind them and what God was actually trying to do. They did not remember His mercies either, and it says that they rebelled. So God saw their act of fear actually as rebellion, because it was unbelief, it wasn't faith. They had come out, but they failed the first test of faith but nevertheless He saved them for His names’ sake from the one who hated them and pursued them. So the writer here gives us a little insight into what was going on in the nation.
The language of fear versus the language of faith
Exo 14:11-12 They said to Moses, "Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? (12) Didn't we say to you in Egypt, 'Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians'? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!"
They were speaking the language of fear and unbelief, and not faith. The first time something happened they blamed Moses and they said “Look we just don't need this trouble, we would have been better off back in Egypt, as hard as it was. Why did you bring us out here to die?”
Exo 14:13 Moses answered the people, "Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again.
Note Moses’ reply well... “Fear not and stand still.” What does it mean to stand still? There are some principles that God is trying to teach us about when we are hemmed in and entrapped, or backed into a corner. Moses’ directions here are what God wants us to learn when we are in such a situation. The first thing is to stand still. It means you don't panic, you don't flee, you don't run, you don't try and sort the situation out yourself, which is what we normally do. If there is anything we can do, we try to do it. But the nation of Israel was hemmed in here. There was not a lot they could actually do. But ‘standing still’ means to give the situation completely into the hands of God. It means don't try and work it out yourself, but expose the scenario to God. For God's glory to really be manifested self has to get out of the way; our attempts to fix any situation must be set aside before God can act. And that is one of the hardest parts to learn because if there is something we can do, we will do it. We have to learn to rest, to have faith in the One who can actually work on our behalf. This is what it means to stand still. A really good description of this in scripture is King Jehoshaphat in 2nd Chronicles chapter 20. A great multitude of nations were bearing down on him. The first thing he does is to go before God, and lay the matter before Him. He tells Him what the nations have threatened to do. How they had said “We are going to wipe you out.” Then the prophet came to him with Gods answer to the problem and said to him “you don't have to fight here, because the battle is not yours but the Lords”. God is going to work on your behalf, I want you to stand still l and watch the salvation of God.” I was interested in the last part of this verse, because all they had to do was ‘see the salvation of God’. That means you have to be looking for God to actually do something. It is one thing to stand still and take a place of rest in Him, but you have to be looking to God to see what He is going to do for you.
The way of escape is through the sea
Exo 14:14-15 The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still." (15) Then the LORD said to Moses, "Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.
When we are hemmed in the first thing we need to do is get out of the way, stand still, rest in God, expose the situation to Him and look expectantly to see what He will do. For us in the New Testament what does the Red Sea represent? It represents baptism. In the same way that Egypt was buried in the Red Sea, Romans 6, (one of the best chapters in the New Testament) also says that we have been buried with Christ in baptism. He took our fleshly nature so that the things that pursue us don’t have to dominate us. Our old nature has been buried and we have come out on the other side of the water. We are raised in Christ so that now we have a new life. Egypt, the old life, and its power over us has been buried in these waters of baptism. This is what the New Testament type of the Red Sea speaks to us.
By the way, if any of you have maps in your bibles, it is not certain as to where Moses actually crossed. Most of the maps in the Bible say that the crossing was somewhere in the Gulf of Suez, but some believe that they crossed at the Gulf of Aqaba. In this area of the Gulf of Aqaba, there is a beach where they could have encamped before Egypt caught up with them. It is big enough for two million people which are the number of Israelites reckoned to have come out of Egypt with Moses. Also at this beach a natural shelf across the Gulf has been found and the waters are about three thousand feet deep on either side of it. This is where God caused a wind to part the waters, which became a wall to them, on either side, and they went through on dry ground. In like manner, the traditional view thinks that Mount Sinai is in the peninsula which has been called after the supposed area of Mount Sinai. But the only verse in the New Testament that actually says where Sinai is, locates it in Arabia (Galatians 4:25.) We learn from history that the Roman Emperor Constantine, after he was reportedly converted to Christianity, sent his mother Queen Helena, to the Holy Land to look for likely places for biblical events. She found a mountain in what is now called the Sinai Peninsula and decided that could have been the right one. Up until recent times everyone seems to have believed what she said. Exodus 3:1 tells us that Moses, when he fled from Pharaoh, went to Midian in Arabia, and married the priest of Midians’ daughter. He worked for his father-in-law, and kept his sheep in the far side of the dessert by Horeb, the mountain of God. Now in the same chapter God tells him that when he had brought the children of Israel out of Egypt he would worship Him upon this same mountain. Mt Sinai is in the same vicinity, which we find out when Israel comes to worship God there.
When the enemies wheels fall off...!
Exo 14:23-25 The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh's horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea. (24) During the last watch of the night the LORD looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion. (25) He made the wheels of their chariots come off so that they had difficulty driving. And the Egyptians said, "Let's get away from the Israelites! The LORD is fighting for them against Egypt."
Now I don't know about you but if I had been in the Egyptian army, I don’t think I would have gone into the sea after Israel. I would have looked at the walls of water and said “I don't know about this one boys, this looks a bit dodgy.” All this happened at night because v24 tells us that in the morning watch (which is between two and six in the morning) God looked down on the Egyptians and troubled them. In the darkness He took off their chariot wheels so that they were unable to pursue Israel, and the Egyptians said “let us flee from the face of Israel for the Lord fights for them against the Egyptians.”
Victory and the enemy defeated
Exo 14:26-31 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen." (27) Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward it, and the LORD swept them into the sea. (28) The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen--the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived. (29) But the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. (30) That day the LORD saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. (31) And 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 in Moses his servant.
Then God tells Moses to stretch out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its normal strength, drowning the host of the Egyptians. So the judgment is complete; all the Egyptians were consumed by it! The glory of God was now made manifest. The Lord saved Israel from the hand of the Egyptians and they saw the enemy dead on the sea shore. Now the liberal says about this passage that the shelf was only about six inches high and that is how they could get across. If that is the case then how was it that the whole Egyptian army drowned? Did they all lie down and suck up the water so that all their lungs were full? They were not likely to do that, now were they! Remember that this was a twofold trial, one against Pharaoh and Egypt, but it was also a trial of faith for the Israelites. God would be seen to be the One who protects them, the One who leads them, the One who guides them and the One whose glory would be manifested. After all this the bible says in verse 31, that ‘the people believed God, and also Moses His servant.’ Finally! Though the tests and trials would stop here as we shall see in the coming studies.