Then the LORD said to Moses,
These verses introduce the narrative of what the Lord "did in the Red Sea" (Numbers 21:14
), when his people "passed through... as by dry land; which the Egyptians, assaying to do
, were drowned" (Hebrews 11:29
). This crossing of the Red Sea was no after-thought. God had it in view when he turned aside the path of the children of Israel from the direct route, and ordered them to encamp before Pi-hahiroth, near the northern end of the gulf. His design in this event was to give a new and signal display of his Jehovah attributes, in the destruction of Pharaoh's host (ver. 4), and in working a great salvation for his Church. By the events of the Red Sea, he would be shown to be at once a God of mercy and judgment (Isaiah 30:18
); Supreme Ruler in heaven and in earth (Psalm 135:6
); disposing events, great and small, according to his good pleasure, and for the glory of his name; making even the wrath of man instrumental to the accomplishment of his purposes (Psalm 76:10
). Consider -
I. THE MYSTERIOUS TURN IN THE ROUTE. The command was to turn to the south, and encamp between Migdol and the sea, over against Baal-Zephon (ver. 2). This route was -
1. Not necessarily an arbitrary one. We need not suppose that God brought the Israelites into this perplexity - shutting them up between the sea and the mountains, simply for the purpose of showing how easily he could again extricate them. The choice of routes was not great.
(1) The way of the Philistines was blocked (Exodus 13:17).
(2) The way by the north of the Red Sea - between it and the Bitter Lakes - probably did not then exist. The Red Sea seems at that time to have extended much further north than it does at present.
(3) To go round by the upper end of the Lakes would have been to take the host far out of its way, besides exposing it to the risk of collision with outlying tribes.
(4) The remaining alternative was to march southwards, and ford the Red Sea. The route was, nevertheless -
2. A mysterious and perplexing one. Pharaoh at once pronounced it a strategic blunder (ver. 3). Supposing the intention to be to cross the Red Sea, no one could hazard a conjecture as to how this was to be accomplished. Ordinary fords were out of the question for so vast a multitude. Hemmed in by the mountains, with an impassable stretch of water in front, and no way of escape from an enemy bearing down upon them from behind, the Egyptian king mighty, well judge their, situation to be a hopeless, one. Yet how strangely like the straits of life into which God's people are sometimes led by following faithfully the guiding pillar of their duty; or into which, irrespective of their choice, God's providence sometimes brings them! Observe, further,
3. No hint was given of how the difficulty was to be solved. This is God's way. Thus does he test his people's faith, and form them to habits of obedience. He does not show them everything at once. Light is given for present duty, but for nothing beyond. Fain would we know, when difficulties crowd upon us, how our path is to be opened; but this God does not reveal. He would have us leave the future to him, and think only of the duty of the moment. Time enough, when the first command has been obeyed, to say what is to be done next. "We walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7).
II. GOD'S ENDS IN LEADING THEM BY THIS ROUTE. God had ends. He was not guiding the children of Israel blindly. His knowledge, his purpose, no less than his presence, go before his saints, as guiding pillars, to prepare places for them. God had a definite purpose, not only in leading the people by this route, but in planting them down at this particular spot - between Migdol and the sea. His ends embraced -
1. The humiliation of Pharaoh. That unhappy monarch was still hard in heart. He was torn with vain regrets at having let the people go. He had a disposition to pursue them. God would permit him to gratify that disposition. He would so arrange his providence as even to seem to invite him to do it. He would lure him into the snare he had prepared for him, and so would complete the judgment which the iniquity of Pharaoh and of his servants had moved him to visit upon Egypt. This was God's hardening of Pharaoh's heart (ver. 4). Note
(1) If God is not honoured by men, he will be honoured upon them (Scott).
(2) Retributive providence frequently acts by snaring men through the evil of their own hearts. Situations are prepared for them in which they fall a prey to the evil principles or dispositions which, in spite of warnings and of their own better knowledge, they have persisted in cherishing. They wish for something, and the opportunity is presented to them of gratifying their wish. They harbour an evil disposition (say lust, or dishonesty), when suddenly they find themselves in a situation in which, like a wild beast leaping from its covert, their evil nature springs out upon them and devours them. It was in this way that God spread his net for Pharaoh, and brought upon him "swift destruction."
2. The education of Israel. The extremity of peril through which Israel was permitted to pass - coupled with the sudden and marvellous deliverance which so unexpectedly turned their "shadow of death into the morning" (Amos 5:8), filling their mouth with laughter and their tongue with singing (Psalm 126:1) - while their pursuers were overwhelmed in the Red Sea, was fitted to leave a profound and lasting impression on their minds. It taught them
(1) That all creatures and agencies are at God's disposal, and that his resources for the help of his Church, and for the discomfiture of his enemies, are absolutely unlimited. As said of Christ, "even the winds and the sea obey him" (Matthew 8:27).
(2) That the Lord knoweth, not only "how to deliver the godly out of temptations," but also how "to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished" (2 Peter 2:9). It was thus
(3) A rebuke to distrust, and a Powerful encouragement to faith.
3. The complete separation of Israel as a people to himself. Paul says - "all our fathers Were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and were baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea" (1 Corinthians 10:2). Connect this with the spiritual significance of baptism. Baptism, especially as administered by immersion, figures dying to sin, and rising again to righteousness (Romans 6:4). It is thus the analogue of the passage through the Red Sea, which was a symbolic death and resurrection of the hosts of Israel. By saving the people from the waves which engulfed their enemies, Jehovah had, as it were, purchased the nation a second time for himself, giving them "life from the, dead." The baptism of the sea was thus a sort of "outward and visible sign" of the final termination of the connection with Egypt. Its waters were thereafter "a silver streak" between the Israelites and the land of their former bondage, telling of a pursuer from whom their had been delivered, and of a new life on which they had entered. - J.O.
Encamp before Pi-hahiroth. I.
THAT THE GOOD ARE OFTEN BROUGHT, BY THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD, INTO THE MOST TRYING SITUATIONS IN LIFE (ver. 1). It is in the trying situations of life that we get the best revelations of the love and power of God. When men feel that they cannot help themselves, then God helps them. Thus they are humbled. They are brought to despair of creature aids. Then the promises become precious. The circumstances of life are all divinely ordered with immediate reference to the moral culture of the good; the Israelites were taught a great lesson before Pi-hahiroth. When God fixes our position, it is sure to be a salutary one, even though it be perplexing.
II. THAT THE TRYING CIRCUMSTANCES INTO WHICH THE GOOD ARE PROVIDENTIALLY BROUGHT ARE VIGILANTLY OBSERVED BY THE WICKED (ver. 3). Satan watches the best opportunity of frustrating the march of the soul into freedom. But the wicked often misinterpret the providence of God in reference to the good, and hence pursue their plans to their own ruin.
III. THAT THE TRYING SITUATIONS INTO WHICH THE GOOD ARE BROUGHT ARE DESIGNED ULTIMATELY TO ENHANCE THE GLORY OF GOD AND THE RETRIBUTION OF WICKED MEN. "I will be honoured upon Pharaoh," "That the Egyptians may know that I am the Lord." Lessons:
1. Rest patiently in the circumstances in which God has placed you.
2. God is greater than all the hindrances to your true freedom.
3. Follow God, even though it be through the great waters.
I was led to take this subject from seeing a sheet almanac upon which was painted a boy who had got his satchel full of apples, which, I presume, he had been stealing. He was hanging by the tips of his fingers from the top of a wall, and just above the wall on the other side was the owner, while at the bottom was a big bulldog, chained to a kennel — he could not go up for fear of the owner, he dare not drop down for fear of the dog; and it said at the bottom, "In a fix." It would be very well for us if that represented the only fix in which we had ever been. I might talk for a considerable time in a general way about men who have been in a fix, but now I want you to give me your attention while I try to point out to you a nation that was once in a fix, and, if I can, teach some lesson, s that may be of use to you and me. There they are — the river before them, rocks on either hand, and the Egyptians behind them. They could not make boats to cross the sea; they could not fly; and were unable to fight — they had not the skill, neither the weapons. The most remarkable thing is this, that God, who had sent Moses to deliver them, had brought them into this very position! Observe, they were in the path of duty — doing just as He had commanded them; suggesting to us the thought that if we would serve our God faithfully, sometimes we may find ourselves "in a fix." There will be times when dark clouds will gather, and we cannot see our way, and we shall feel inclined to give up in despair. But wait a bit. If God has brought them into this fix, He will bring them out of it. There they are; and, see! Pharaoh is following. He did not let the people go until he had been compelled; and, like a man shamed out of half-a-crown for some charitable purpose, he repented afterwards. He went after them designing their ruin, but God designed to ruin him. He designed to put the Lord's people into a fix, and the Lord — who always protects His own — designed to fix him. And then comes this thought: That what seems to tend to our ruin is often over-ruled to our good. A great many years ago there used to be the old stage coach, and in those days they were the chief means of travelling. I have heard some old men say what a terrible thing it was to take a long journey. One day the locomotive was invented; they were going to take goods and people in such quantities and at such a speed as the stage coach never could. The owners of the coaches might declare they were all to be ruined! What would become of them? The stage coach was ruined, but what of its owners? They shared the common advantages of the "puffing billy." This same principle will apply to things of the present day. Years ago, tailoring was said to be a good business. Their sewing was then done by hand. By and by the sewing-machine was invented; and when it was brought to something like perfection, clothing was sewn with it. The tailors were in such a state — it would destroy their prospects! it would ruin their trade! And the dressmakers were in the same excited condition. When were tailoring and dressmaking better than now? They are, I am told, more profitable than they ever were. I give you these illustrations to prove my statement — that very often that which seems to tend to our injury is over-ruled by a merciful Providence to our good. These Egyptians were following the Israelites, and were about to destroy them; they appeared now in the jaws of death, but it was over-ruled. "The wicked," says Solomon, "diggeth a pit, and falleth into it." "He layeth a snare, and his own feet are taken therein." Ah I there are many things you and I cannot understand now. Many a cloud sweeps over our path; many dark things we cannot quite see through. If we could rise above all these things, and see God's doings, perhaps we should rejoice that He sometimes puts us in a fix. We do not see through it all now; we shall by and by. "Sometimes God brings us into straits that He may bring us to our knees." You know that to be true. Often in your sorrow you have looked unto your Father for the help you could not get elsewhere. Observe, if they were in a fix, Moses was not. What did he do? He cried, "Fear not, God will fight for you"; though God has led you here, He will lead you elsewhere. He knew they could do nothing, so he commanded them to stand still. Man's extremity is God's opportunity. Have you never been in a fix like this? Your business has failed, your prospects blighted, your heart smarting through some bereavement. A darling child or wife has been snatched from you. In utter helplessness you have cried, "What can I do?" You can do nothing. You have been doing too long. God has brought all this to teach you to stand still, and let Him do. "Stand still." Oh! there is reason in that. If your God brings you to see your helplessness and poverty, and He reveals His true riches to you, it is worth your while to "stand still." Have salvation; you may. Get His love into your hearts; stand till He makes you free; and when once He does, then comes the cry as Moses gave it, "Forward!" and though there be before you a dark night and a troubled sea, you may go forward with safety. There is this further thought: that though sometimes God allows the enemies of His people to bring them into a fix, be assured the Lord will turn the scales, and bring the enemies into a fix. What He did for these Egyptians — the haters of the friends of God — He may do for you. Many a faithful man o! God has been annoyed, perhaps by you; but be assured, God will annoy you. See what He did for these Egyptians. There was, first, darkness. That which gave light to His people became dark to His enemies. It is dark where the enemies of God are — so dark! Secondly, God troubled them. The children of God crossed the sea, and you know how in following them the Egyptians all perished in the waters, through which the Israelites had passed in safety. One word more. If you are on the side of God and truth, He will be with you, and bring you out of every fix into which you may get whilst serving Him. On the other hand, if you refuse to acknowledge Him, you may get into a fix which you will never be able to get out of.
Every true and strong life has its sharp transitions, its critical choice, its decisive moment between Migdol and the sea. It is true enough, most of our time we move on in a path no way remarkable, or in a routine with nothing signal or memorable about it. Day takes after day, and the scene, the occupation, the company, helps and hindrances, are much the same from month to month. But look longer, and you find that, however the wheels of habit may run on in a kind of groove, with few startling outside changes, yet somewhere there was a spot where this regular drift got its start and its new direction. You stood alone somewhere, at a parting of two ways, and you chose; and then, as the consequence of that choice, your life went thenceforth in a particular channel, pure or filthy, straight or crooked, heavenward or hellward, long after. And there is nothing exceptional about this. The same law governs national concerns, processes in nature, and mechanics. War, for instance, is well-nigh the staple of history; and yet historians count but fifteen decisive battles of the world, all other vast movements of ages and empires winding like a whirlpool around these bloody centres. So in mechanics. Only now and then, on its turn-table, the engine is set in its new direction; but all it does, or draws, afterwards, proceeds from that momentary pivotal determination. The grain grows clay and night all summer till harvest; but there is a single time of planting. The patriarch lodged only one night at Bethel; but then, afterward, all his journeyings over the Eastern lands were at the bidding of his God. How did you come to be the man you are to-day? There was most likely some hour of choice. Two forms of apparent good lay before you. Two voices spoke. Among all the common questions that rise, this one question rose. It was the question of your soul's eternity. Very likely it had relation, too, to some other soul besides your own — your affection, your duty, to him or her. Per. haps it was in the line of your common doing, only an emergency of larger and uncommon concern. How did you act? Did you say Yes, or No? Did you go or stay? Did you accept the partnership, the companionship, the offer — or refuse? The question is not one of expediency, or taste, or convenience, or profit. It has to do with your soul's life, honour, uprightness, salvation. Such periods can be recalled in memory, I think, by most persons; but never recalled in fact. The rest of life depends on them, and on the way we meet them. We are between Migdol and the sea. Egypt and Pharaoh — an old, bad life, and its despotism of darkness — are behind; the other way the road runs where God will. With Israel it was well that it ran to the baptism in the cloud and in the sea. We have only to enlarge the reach of such a decision, carrying it through the roots and springs of character, to find in it that one all-including, all-controlling choice which turns a bad man into a good one, or creates a living Christian. Indeed, it is of that one radical renewing that the exodus of Israel has always been regarded as the type.
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