Text: Exodus 14:10-31
…lift up your rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it. And the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea. And I indeed will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they shall follow them. So I will gain honor over Pharaoh and over all his army, his chariots, and his horsemen. Then the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gained honor for Myself over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.
Every good horror movie has the “last gasp” ending, you know, where when you thought the bad guy was gone but he makes one last come back. It’s never effective, but it gives you a final scare. We see something like that with Egypt and the Red Sea. You’d think that after the Passover, Pharaoh would be totally defeated. And really, he was. But he decides to make one last try to get Israel. He chases after them to the Red Sea.
This morning we will look at Israel’s Exodus from Egypt. We will see that Red Sea moment, where Egypt makes their final move. And we will see the mighty judgment of God, how He preserves His people and judges their enemies—for good.
In this story, we see God’s power. We see how He finishes His work of salvation. And we see a picture of our salvation in Christ, a sight that should last in our memories. Let’s see what significance the Red Sea has for the gospel and for us.
Earlier in chapters 12 and 13, we are told about Israel’s leaving Egypt. It says they left in “orderly ranks. In Ex. 12:31-42, we are told just how many people there were in this event. And it’s pretty impressive if you’ve never thought about it before. The text says that there were 600,000 men plus women and children. That means that we could easily be talking about 2 million people in total. And they are all leaving Egypt together, as a group.
Notice also what we heard in chapter 13. They took Joseph’s bones with them. Isn’t that something? Why had they been saving his bones? If you go back to Gen. 50:24, you can read that Joseph asked his children to take his bones out of Egypt and to bury them in the promised land of Canaan. Joseph knew the promises made to Abraham. Egypt was not his home. You might say that he was “just a passin’ through.” He wanted his remains to be in Canaan, with his fathers and with his descendents.
But why does he care about his bones? After all, he’ll be dead. This shows us that Israel, even back in the Old Testament, believed in a doctrine of the resurrection. They believed that one day his bones would come back to life, raised, and reunited with a new body. And apparently, they thought it mattered where these bones were. They wanted them to be in the Promised Land.
Now, I’m going to go on a small rabbit trail here. I’m not going to put this on you as a law, but I want to give you something to think about. This is one of the reasons Christians have traditionally practiced burial and not cremation. There was a belief that—somehow, some way—it mattered. It mattered what happened to your body after death. And they wanted to show this in how they treated the body. It’s not necessarily a sin to cremate, but there is a reason that Christians have historically practiced burial instead. They want to testify to the truth of the resurrection of the body.
So Israel leaves Egypt, with all of these people, but they don’t go straight. We’re told that they could have gone straight, through the land of the Philistines, but that that would not have been a good idea. Israel wasn’t ready to fight, and so they would have ran away. Thus, God takes them another way.
There are two views right now as to which way they went. For many years, I only gave the traditional view much time, but lately I’ve been more open-minded to the second view. I’ll give you both.
The traditional view is that Israel left Egypt and crossed the Gulf of Suez, the body of water connected to the Red Sea which is more western, and adjacent to Egypt proper. Then Israel wanders around the Sinai Peninsula and eventually up into Canaan from the northeastern part of the Sinai Peninsula. That’s the traditional view, and there’s even a Mount Sinai in that area which claims to be the location of the giving of the 10 Commandments.
More recently, there has been a challenge to this view. This newer claim states that Israel went around the Gulf Suez, moving diagonally in a southeastern direction. Then they crossed the Gulf of Aqaba and moved into Saudi Arabia. Why say this? Well, for starters, this helps explain how Israel came into Canaan from the East. When you read about Joshua leading the people into Canaan, they are on the east side of the Jordan River, moving westward. They did get around there somehow. Also, in the book of Galatians, the Apostle Paul say that Mt. Sinai is in Arabia (Gal. 4:25). Depending on what he means and how geographical names have changed or kept their meaning, he might be claiming that Sinai is in the area we call Arabia.
Now, I still favor the traditional view. But I’m not rock solid on it. Not much hinges on this, but it’s interesting to think about which way they went. If it’s the first option, then the whole journey is rather quick, 1 or 2 days journey. If it’s the second one, then it’s more like a week’s journey. The text does sound like these things are happening quickly, but it’s also worth remembering that Egypt needs some time for their mourning ritual and that Israel will need some amount of time to move all those people along the way.
However we take it, the narrative is this: Israel leaves Egypt, they move into the wilderness but pause to change their route, and then camp at the Red Sea. While this is happening, Egypt decides to pursue them.
The Red Sea Event
In chapter 13, we are also told that God is leading the way for Israel. He is in the pillar—the pillar of cloud and fire. Look at Ex. 13:21, “The LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud and by night, a pillar of fire.” Notice that it says God is in it. In the next chapter, we are told that “the Angel of God went before the camp of Israel,” and then He moved and went behind them. Then the pillar followed. God is in the pillar. When the Angel moves, the cloud moves.
Also, there is only one pillar. During daytime, you only see the cloud. At night, the light shines out like fire. And this makes sense if God is in it, because God is light. There are a few more cool features too. This cloud, in Ex. 19:16, moves atop Mt. Sinai. So all those pictures of Mt. Sinai, with thunder and lightening, are really showing us the cloud on top of the mountain. Also, at the very end of Exodus, when we se the construction of the tabernacle, it says that the cloud moved into the tabernacle. It fills the tabernacle with smoke and fire (Ex. 13:21-22).
So the pillar is God with His people. God on earth. The text says that God fought for His people too. When Egypt chases Israel, coming in their chariots, the Lord stands in between Israel and Egypt. And it says that He fights against the Egyptians. The text says that He “troubled the army of the Egyptians and took off their chariot wheels” (Ex. 14:24-25). God makes it so that Egypt cannot be successful, that they will most certainly fail. He won’t even let them escape. And look at what they Egyptians say about this, “Let us flee from the face of Israel, for the LORD fights for them against the Egyptians.” Again, the pillar is God, locally and on earth. He goes between the enemies and His people, and He fights the enemies.
The Egyptians, for their part, have been given over. God hardens them, and they do not act rationally. Imagine this. The waters are standing up like a wall. Israel walks through on dry land. And Egypt, well they go in too. They don’t stop to consider whether it’s safe, whether the waters will stay put for them. No, they dive in headlong. God has hardened their hearts. He has thrown them into a frenzy so that they will not be reasonable and that they will run into their own judgment. As they get in, they cannot escape. Their wheels fall off, their horses are confused, and God commands Moses to put his hand back over the water to make the waters collapse.
All of the Egyptians are overwhelmed by the flood. Not a one of them survived. Pharaoh, all of the army, including the choicest captains, are gone. All destroyed in a single event—total devastation. The text says that “Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore” (Ex. 14:30). This is the Red Sea. It is a climactic judgment against Egypt. And it is a deliverance or salvation of God’s people.
The Christian Fulfillment
So what is the significance of the Red Sea?
Obviously it is the end of the Exodus, the destroying of Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Israel even writes a song about it, the Song of the Red Sea in Ex. 15, That song begins by saying, “I will sing to the LORD for He has triumphed gloriously” (Ex. 15:1). A few verses later it says, “Who is like You among the gods?” (Ex. 15:11). Now what kind of a question is that? Do we believe in other gods? Well, no, but sort of yes, depending on what you mean. How many gods did Egypt have? Hundreds. The sun was a god, the river was a god, the frogs were a god—they worshipped cats for crying out loud! So what that verse means is that every false god has been proven to be insufficient. Every false god has been defeated. None of their gods can do what Yahweh can do.
The Song of the Red Sea is a song about God’s power and glory. He has triumphed over all other gods. He alone has done great things. He alone has saved His people.
I want to show another point that you wouldn’t get unless you had the New Testament. This is from 1 Cor. 10, and I wonder if you would have thought this on your own. The Apostle Paul states:
Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. (1 Cor. 10:1-4)
Now, how about that? Paul says that the Red Sea crossing was a kind of baptism. That’s interesting? How many of you were taught that growing up? Israel was baptized in the Red Sea. That doesn’t immediately come to mind, but that’s what he says. What’s the food and drink? That’s the manna and the water from the rock. And Paul says that that food and drink was Christ. Did we think that growing up? Probably not, but that’s because we weren’t taught how to read the Old Testament. It was always about Jesus.
The Red Sea is about baptism and salvation in Christ. Israel was baptized, they were put into a covenant people, delivered from the forces of evil, and taught who God really was. When they go through the wilderness, they will be fed and sustained by Jesus Himself. That is a very important way to read the Old Testament. It’s not just a history about Jews all those years ago. It’s a picture of God’s people being saved, and God saved them the same way He saves us—through Jesus. It didn’t look like it yet. They had not reached the fullness of time. But nevertheless, it was salvation in Christ by grace.
This what the Exodus means for us today. Yes, we should read the surface level—Moses Pharaoh, Egypt, and Israel. We should know the facts. But we have to also read it in light of the gospel. The gospel teaches us the full meaning of the Exodus. God has come to judge His enemies and ours, and He does it through Christ.
He also does this through the baptism of Christ. What do I mean by this? Well baptism is a symbol of death. “All who have been baptized into Christ have been baptized into His death… buried with Him… and raised to newness of life” (Rom. 6:3-4). When you hear “baptism,” should think water and death. Another picture is used in 1 Peter 3, where baptism is compared to Noah’s ark and the flood. Again, water and death.
So baptism means that God judges and kills our enemies. Who are our enemies now? The chief enemy is Satan. But the next enemy is us—Adam, the old sinful nature. In baptism, that guy has to die. We must put to death the old man. In baptism, we are buried and dead. When we are baptized, two things happen. Yes, we are raised to new life. That’s the more positive part. But we are also killed. Our old man is dead and buried. He is drowned and washed ashore at the Red Sea. It doesn’t happen by magic. It isn’t by water. It must be as the Spirit applies Jesus to our lives, and it should last our whole lives. So we must put to death sin in our lives.
We can also add that we don’t do it, at least not by ourselves. Just like with Israel, God actually fights our battles for us. We don’t see the pillar, but we know that the Holy Spirit is there. When the Holy Spirit comes at the Day of Pentecost, what does He look like? He looks like fire. He makes the sound of a rushing wind, appears in fire, and then He enters God’s people. This is the new pillar, and just as then, the Spirit fights our battles for us. He leads us through the waters. He sees to it that we are victorious. This will indeed feel like us working very hard, but it is always by the grace of God, and it begins in faith. The Holy Spirit does the work in and through us, as we walk by faith.
The final point which is emphasized in the original story is God’s glory and honor. God says, “Then the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD when I have gained honor for Myself over Pharaoh” (Ex. 14:18). And at the very end of the story, it says, “Thus Israel saw the great work which the Lord had done in Egypt; so the people feared the LORD, and believed the LORD and His servant Moses” (Ex. 14:31). So the final point we have to take form this story is that God deserves nothing less than our worship. We give Him the honor due His name. We fear Him. And we believe.
Worshipping God must include all of these elements. We must honor, fear, and believe Him. We honor because He has done great things. He has triumphed gloriously. We fear because, let’s face it, it was scary. The New Testament isn’t any less scary. In it, Jesus carries a cross on His back, bloody, and He suffers and dies for us. That’s scary. We know that God is in control We believe that He is going to be successful. But He chooses a manner that is awesome. It shows His great power in that way. And then we believe. We trust, and we see His salvation. We take comfort that because He is great and terrible, He is capable and powerful. He can do what He has promised, to bring us to glory.
All of this is essential to our lives today. This is important to remember when our bad guy makes one last grasp at us in this life. He can give you a scare. But he won’t get you—he won’t win—because he cannot. He’s already been defeated.
Jesus Christ Himself is our Red Sea, and in His death and Resurrection we see God’s mighty saving arm. And so we give him honor and worship.
Let us pray.