Summary: how the Lord uses a near disaster to bring the Israelites to a stronger faith
August 3, 2003 Exodus 14
The wind whipped through his hair, piercing through the woolen fibers of his coat as if they didn’t even exist. It was an almost unbearably cold night, the kind that makes even the most burly of men shiver to the core. Alan was not a burly man. As a matter of fact, he didn’t feel like much of a man at all. After having ignored his family for the past two years due to his busy work schedule, his wife was leaving him, and his children didn’t even seem to like him. Even with all of his promotions at work, he was miserable. So there he stood, on a precipice of steel - looking over the edge - contemplating one final jump to finish it all. As his eyes gazed downward, he couldn’t but help reminisce his past year - wondering to himself, “how could things have gone so wrong so fast?”
It didn’t take long for the Israelites to find themselves in a similar situation. 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. (Ex 14:9) In several days at most, they went from being ecstatic about leaving Egypt, feeling footloose and fancy free, to being surrounded by water, hills, and the Egyptian army. They were on the brink of disaster. Today God puts the Israelites’ shoes on our feet, leads us to the edge, and says, “have a look see!” He shows us what life is like -
Standing on the Edge of Disaster
I. Led there by the Lord
I haven’t been that close to death very often in my life. From what I have, I can guarantee you that it’s not a fun place to be. One of the first things that runs through your mind - if you have time to think - is regret. When I was driving to school back in high school, I went barreling through a snow drift at 55 miles an hour, only to have my car turn sideways just as a semi was coming over the hill. It was at that point I said to myself, “I shouldn’t have been going that fast!” Regret is something that immediately enters our mind. “I wish I had . . .” More often than not - we have no one to blame but ourselves. We need to be honest about it. You don’t end up bankrupt because of just a run of bad luck. You don’t end up with sexual disease by staying faithful to your spouse. More often than not - we bring ourselves to the edge of disaster by our own sinful decisions.
But the Israelites hadn’t done that - at least in today’s text. With a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, the LORD was leading them back and forth through far eastern Egypt - only to have them end up be trapped by the Egyptian army. So how did they respond? “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? 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!” (Ex 14:11-12) When the Israelites were led to the edge of disaster, they started complaining big time - wishing they had never followed Moses in the first place.
The Israelites didn’t realize what God says about life. Psalm 23 says that life with God isn’t all green pastures. He also leads us down the valley of the shadow of death. Following God is actually called a “narrow path”, one filled with pain and trouble. God says to our students, “come follow me down the narrow path of respect, virtue and truth.” “But God,” we say, “none of my classmates are down that path. I’ll get ridiculed if I go down that path. I won’t get to drink and have sex if I go down that path. That would be reputational suicide!” God says, “yep, that’s right - come on down - follow me and get ready to die.” When we know the pathway that God wants us to go on will cause us a loss of a job or reputation, it’s amazing how we easily find reasons to say to God, “let’s stay in the green pastures! I don’t want to go into the valley of death!”
But the real temptation comes after we DO go down that valley - and end up suffering for it. The Israelites wondered, “what in the world did we follow this cloud here anyway? We’re just going to get slaughtered for it! We should have stayed in Egypt!” This is where the real temptation hits us. Remember when Potiphar’s wife made advances at Joseph. He resisted - held firm. But where did it get him? A couple years in prison! Do you think that Joseph ever said to himself, “what good did that do me?” That’s where the even greater temptation is - instead of being happy about having resisted the temptation - we become angry because of the results of it. When following God doesn’t seem to pay off, we feel like we’ve been cheated. Kids become angry with God when they lose boy friends or popularity due to morality. Adults become angry because the system they live under rewards cheats instead of hard working people. We panic and are tempted to leave the narrow path because there doesn’t seem to be any rewards. We forget that God doesn’t promise all green pastures in this life. He talks about enemies and death being all around this journey of life.