Summary: When we question what way to go, God always commands "Forward".
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LOOK BACKWARD, BUT GO FORWARD
A recent San Diego Union story featured theoretical physicists debating the existence and meaning of reverse causation—a theory that speculates EFFECTS producing CAUSES instead of CAUSES producing EFFECTS. That would mean the watch made the watch maker. The theory involves the possibility that time can, with equal facility, move backwards or forward.
However possible theoretically the theory has ZERO practical use except for academic speculation. The earliest recorded Bible teaching says that God determined the forward flow of time in history by creating from DAY ONE to DAY SIX, with all their minutes and hours increasing from smaller to larger numbers. That first use of time determined all succeeding perception of time. Which relates to our passage.
Beginning with Exodus 12:37, God moved Israel from Rameses approximately 35 miles southeast to Succoth, then north towards Etham on the Egyptian frontier. They seemed poised to enter the Arabian peninsula when God directed them farther north towards Pi Hahiroth, where they staked tents between Migdol and the Sea of Reeds, with Baal Zephon on the eastern shore.
Egypt meanwhile faced social and economic chaos as work formally done by unwilling but skilled slaves fell to unwilling and incompetent Egyptians. The increasing awareness of his loss inspired Pharaoh to recapture his human property. Fortuitously, his C.I.A. located the two million miscreants, not 100-150 miles away, and fleeing hourly deeper into desert fastness, but encamped—what fools they were—not twenty miles east of the city on the shore of the impassable Sea of Reeds, apparently confused and obviously leaderless.
Recklessly courageous at the news, Pharaoh sent his warriors to avenge the death of loved ones and to corral and return like cattle to servitude Hebrews they considered less than cattle. In force they came, to regain by force what God by force had compelled them to surrender.
That morning, as anxious Hebrew lookouts scanned the horizon, terrified eyes flew to dust clouds out of which materialized columns of chariots leading, ranks of cavalry on their flanks and battalions of infantry in support…angry, armed, ready for war.
A spectacle that pulverized the hapless slaves. But when they wailed their despair to God, he coldly replied, Go Forward! Which made no sense at all. Forward?...into the Sea? Did God consider drowning an acceptable alternative to slavery? Had he added blundering to his apparent indecision, that first backtracked them from freedom into Harm’s Way, and now abandoned them between deep waters and thundering armies?
Consider two reasons God repositioned Israel from safety to danger.
First, Military Necessity.
God has used war for punitive and preventative purposes, sometimes in tandem. His battle with Babylonian soldiers outside Jerusalem was punitive II Kings 19:35-36. His wars against the Canaanites were both punitive and preventative. And his destruction of Pharaoh’s army was preventative. Without their destruction, armed Egyptian battalions would have systematically raided the nomads and tribe by tribe, driven them back to bondage.