The Start of Something Special (Exodus 14).
Extraordinary events have a way of changing things. When you’ve seen something awesome, it’s hard to be unaffected or go away unchanged. And when I say awesome, I mean in the truest sense of the word, a thing so amazing that it leaves you in awe, not just something quite cool. Let me give you an example. A sequence of events where you’ve seen a whole sea divided in half, the most feared military force in the world annihilated, a pillar of cloud bestriding the would-be battlefield and The Angel of the Lord at work. That kind of awesome.
What would your reaction be?
Stunned? Gobsmacked? Afraid? Relieved? In shock? Unable to take it all in? Probably a mixture of them all, plus a few more that I can’t think of right now. I think the Israelites were feeling a mixture of these things when the waters settled over what had once been the army pursuing them. It would have taken a while for pounding hearts to slow down, but long after the pulses slowed down and the waters resumed their normal motion, the impact of this event would live on in a life-changing, history-altering way.
This was the start of something special. This was the first time the Israelites had really seen God at work. There had been hints in the Ten Plagues, of course, but that was a bit more remote, affecting other people and not them. This was different. Here they were front-row spectators of direct and breath-taking intervention by God.
“When the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in Him and in Moses His servant.” (Exodus 14:31)
That verse is the last one in chapter 14, the closing curtain on this most dramatic of chapters. It’s something of a watershed, closing off one phase of God’s relationship with His people and marking the start of another. It tells us that these events made a deep impression on the Israelites. It radically altered their thinking, dispelled their doubts and sealed their allegiance. Now they feared the Lord in a way they hadn’t before. Wouldn’t you? If I’d just seen God break all the laws of physics and drown hundreds of men, I’d be more than a little scared too. It’s only natural – God’s sheer power is very scary. As we saw during the Plague on the Firstborn, God is not a safe God. But, thankfully for us, God’s power is tempered by His love, meaning we don’t have to cower and cringe, or live constantly on the edge of sudden calamity. Not that kind of fear. No this is a fear that fully respects God’s power and acknowledges His role and authority. It is a mixture of reverence, humility and respect.
Did the Israelites fear God before? Possibly, but the implication here is that if they did it was a limited and intermittent fear. Most likely they feared the Egyptians so much that they didn’t have much fear left to spare on God. Before the plagues none of them had seen God at work and so couldn’t understand enough to fear. You don’t fear something until you’ve experienced it, or at least become aware of it. But once you do, it’s something you can’t forget.
Not just fear either. No, the other response was trust. Trust and fear don’t usually go together unless it’s a special kind of fear. You don’t trust that volcano smouldering over your village, do you? You don’t trust the swollen rivers about to burst their banks near your house. You don’t trust the terrorists who keep striking your cities. But the Israelites trusted God as well as fearing Him because, like I said, their fear was based on a proper recognition of who He was. They saw that they could trust Him to look after them, to defeat their enemies, to overcome any obstacles, to rescue them out of seemingly impossible situations. In short, they saw now that they could trust God to do what He said He would. And by extension of trusting God they also trusted His emissary and spokesman, Moses. When you respect authority, you tend also to respect the person it is bequeathed to. You trust the church leader because you trust the God who appointed him/her (generally speaking).
Before I expect the Israelites were a little sceptical. Those plagues could have been explained away as highly unlikely but still plausibly natural phenomena. Moses could be ignored as a runaway with no real authority. I mean, think about it, since Joseph died no member of this people had had direct personal experience of God in the way that the Genesis patriarchs used to. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all trusted God because they’d met Him and seen Him at work. Not so their descendants living in Egypt, who lived in a centuries-long lull in the story. They couldn’t trust what they hadn’t seen or heard. For them God was probably just a rumour and a loose set of folk-stories passed down from their parents.
But the crossing of the Red Sea changed things. Now they trusted and feared God. They had set out, leaving their old life behind them and confronting the raw reality of a new one before them. They were starting a relationship with God like nothing any other people had known or could hope for. This was unique, this was special, and from it would flow countless blessings for all humanity.
What if Israel had not trusted God here? What if they had refused the call to leave, or turned back part-way? Would there have been a law-code that formed the basis for most modern legislation? Would there have been a nation and bloodline from which could come the Saviour of the world? The rest of the Bible might have been very different if trust had not been established here.
And they would need to trust God, because ahead of them lay a desert and countless enemies. Later events in Exodus would further establish this new relationship, especially the giving of the Covenant and the Law at Mt. Sinai, but if that was the marriage ceremony, this was the betrothal and pledge of loyalty.
What amazing events have radically changed your perspective? What do you put your trust in? If you’re not sure what or who to trust, what do you think it would take to change things for you? Like the Israelites stepping into the wilderness, each of our lives has a great deal of uncertainty up ahead. The only certain thing we can put our trust in is God. And like the Israelites, our trust and our obedience won’t be perfect. We’ll lapse and stray and often doubt more than we trust. But that’s ok, because God can make up for our imperfections with His perfection. That’s what grace means. And finally, like the Israelites, when we come into a relationship with God, it’s the start of something special.
To take away:
Where do you place your trust? Are you confident it’s in the right place?