<< Exodus 14: The Passage of the Red Sea >>
And Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will show to you today: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen today, ye shall see them again no more for ever. The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace. Exodus xiv. 13, 14.
THE passage of the Red Sea was an event of incalculable importance both to Israel and to mankind. To Israel it was the passage from Africa to Asia, from the civilization of one great portion of the earth to that of another, an event always solemnizing to the thoughtful. It was the passage also from bondage to freedom, from terror to triumph, from fear to faith. That night the first national emancipation took place. For mankind this lesson was sanctified for ever. The deliverance of Israel was the sublime type of the redemption of the world from hell. Israels God was the Redeemer in both cases. Help was not in man. Deliverance was from the Lord alone. We are ever redeemed by the Eternal. Thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, the God of the whole earth. shall he be called.Isa. liv. 5. But when we are redeemed we must walk, using our powers by divine direction all the days of our life. This is ever true equally of individuals and of nations.
Another reflection presses itself upon us. This deliverance of Israel was not one act, but a series. For months fainting Israel was cheered, and Pharaoh was warned. By reiterated blows, the malignant power that held Israel in bondage was subdued.
We have seen Pharaoh and his people hardening themselves against renewed warnings, and determining to continue holding their victims if possible. Brought, through a succession of sinnings and of sorrows, to that point, at which they felt that there wits no possibility of keeping their dominion longer, they yielded at last. We considered in our last discourse, the preparations of the Israelites for quitting their condition of peril and of pain. The clutch of the tyrant was at length broken. The rescued slaves had commenced their march. Let us watch their progress further. The first day they proceeded to a spot called in the Egyptian language by a word that signifies the tents, about sixteen miles from the chief city from which they had started.
Is the Hebrew language it is called, as we are told in the chapter immediately going before, Succoth, a word expressive of the same meaningthe tents, and subsequently In the Greek language Scoene, which is also a translation of the same word. The second day they passed on, twenty-two miles, to Etham, on the edge of the Wilderness, and, after staying the night there, again commenced their march, arriving at the Red Sea, now called the Gulf of Suez, where they encamped again. Between a place called Migdol, or the tower (a sort of fortified spot, of which, it is believed, some remains exist at the present day), on the one side, with Baal-zephon, or the Sanctuary of Typhon near; and on the other side a place called Hahiroth, or Pi-hahiroth, that is, the pastures, they rested.
A valley in the neighborhood of this arm of the sea led to the coast, so that the people when they had descended this valley had reached the sea-side, having gone slightly towards the north, or towards the head of the gulf. They were then told that they must turn southwards, and go down away from the part where alone there could be a passage by land. Before them was the arm of the sea. They were not to go up, or north, because that would have taken them towards the land of the Philistines, really a part of the country of Canaan, and not more than 200 miles distant. But this would have brought them to a land possessed by an exceedingly warlike people. The Israelites just escaping from bondage, half armed, with an immense number of hangers on, and of women, and children, were in but poor condition for facing the ferocity of the warlike tribes of the Philistines; therefore, they were not to go that way, although it was near.
But they were to go down again towards the south. where there is a spacious plain between the hills and the sea, closed up however at last by the mountain Jebel Attaka, which adjoins the water, and bars the passage to an army. The sea here is seven miles across.
In the meantime the Egyptians had gathered courage. Pharaoh had again determined that these rescued captives should not get away. As we have said, their position was such, that only one valley led towards the spot where they were. They were not to go up to the north. High lands, difficult for so vast a multitude to traverse, lay between them and the country they had left, on the south. They had hardly settled after the days journey when they heard the sound of the Egyptian army, and saw over the ridges the well-known horses, and the dreaded chariots of war. The hearts of the people sank with terror as the sound of the pursuers drew near. There seemed no escape now.
Just one way out, and that possessed by the descending army of the Egyptians. One direction too difficult for them to traverse, and the other road forbidden. Here was just the crisis of their fate. As the sound of pursuit increases, women and children cringe together. At the cry, They come! they come I every heart pants with terror. There seemed to be no possible avenue of escape. The sea in front, the mountains: and the enemy behind. Then it was that the divine comfort came in the words of our text, Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.
This expression, stand still, is not exactly a full rendering of the original language. The meaning is, stand in order, and be still. It does not convey the idea of helplessness and utter rest as opposed to activity, but of orderly arrangement. One of the peculiar characteristics of the Jewish mind, was a tendency to organization. They never suffered themselves to be in a crowded, promiscuous condition. Each tribe was under its proper chiefs and leaders, and marched in its proper order, and rested in its proper order; so that this command was rather See that you are all in order, and then stand; be confident in the Lord; fear not. Stand in order and ye shall see the salvation of the Lord, which he will shew you today: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to-day, ye shall see them again no more for ever. The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace.
The sun went down, the eventful night set in. In the morning when the sun arose again, they were safe and grateful on the coast of Arabia, the Egyptians would trouble no one any more. There wets a strong east wind, we are told, which opened up a path in this shallow sea; so that the Israelites found that the waters were dispersed right and left, and their whole army marched across to the utter astonishment of their enemies, and yet by the aid of means that are not difficult to understand.
When exceedingly high winds prevail even at the present time portions of the sea which are of considerable depth are occasionally rendered comparatively shallow, and when the tendency of the wind is favorable, the tides that are low at one time, produce a sea of considerable depth. We have had an instance very recently indeed, of what is called a cyclone or exceedingly powerful whirlwind, occurring on the river Hoogly, and resulting, as we are informed in the papers, in the loss of 60,000 lives, through this powerful hurricane raising the waters above their usual level, and overwhelming the shallow lands of that river. When the Zuyder Zee was formed, high winds and high seas combined, and a portion of the Netherlands was attacked.
There was a sweeping of the waves over the land, overwhelming no fewer than 100,000 individuals. It is in this way that we may understand how the Divine Providence for the purposes of deliverance in that day, and to represent the grand history of the souls deliverance in all time, provided that there should be, first of all this opening for the Israelites to pass through safely, and that when their eager and tyrannical foes rushed forward again to seize and hold them as slaves for ever, they found the waters roll back over them, and as it is said in the latter part of this chapter, not one of them was left to tell the story. Such is the divine history that is involved in the words of our text.
Faith will find in it encouragement and hope. The winds and the waves are servants of the Most High. The Lord on high is mightier than the noise of many waters, yea, than the mighty waves of the sea.--Psalm xciii. 4.
The wondrous deliverance in the Red Sea left its impression on the Israelitish character and records through all their history. Though an inland people, you find in psalms and in prophecies through more than a thousand years, ever-recurring references to this wonderful display of divine power and mercy. Thou didst blow with thy wind, the sea covered them; they sank as lead in the mighty waters. Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?--Exodus xv. 10, 11. The waters saw thee, O God, the waters saw thee; they were afraid; the depths also were troubled. The clouds poured out water; the skies sent out a sound; thine arrows also went abroad. The voice of thy thunder was in the heaven; the lightnings lightened the world; the earth trembled and shook. Thy way is in the sea; and thy path in the great waters, and thy foot-steps are not known. Thou leddest thy people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Baron.--Psalm lxiii. 16-20.
Where is he that brought them up out of the sea with the shepherd of his flock? Where is he that put his Holy Spirit within him? That led them by the right hand of Moses with his glorious arm, dividing the water before them, to make himself an everlasting name?--Isaiah lxiii. 11, 12.
Among the Egyptian monuments there is no tomb of Pharaoh Thothmes IV., whom we have many reasons to conclude was the king who pursued Israel, while the kings preceding and following, have each their richly carved tombs covered with hieroglyphics. The Red Sea was his tomb. Amenophis the third, his successor, was not his first-born son.
On a, tomb of his time at Thebes, there is a pictorial representation of the Jews making bricks, with Egyptian taskmasters standing over them. Israel through all her history, and now Egypt in her restoration, have stood forth as witnesses to the Word of the living God.
Let me now invite your attention to the spiritual truth enfolded in the divine narrative, important in relation to the world, but important also in relation to the hopes and fears of all those who are struggling after the glorious liberty of the children of light. This history represents mans REGENERATION. And how contrary all its tenor is, in its spiritual lessons, to the fancy of those who imagine, that all which is needful, in order to prepare for heaven, is a sudden belief, an instantaneous faith, a sort of gasp after heaven accomplished by trust only, at a particular moment. We have already mentioned the proceedings in Egypt; then there is the further march of the Israelites and their being trained through so many years and along so many journeys, until they got to Canaan, and the conquest of Canaan itself; all teach the numerous and gradual changes of the soul.
The events in Egypt itself by which the deliverance of Israel was preceded were by no means of a sudden or simple character.
Again and again were there charges coming from the Lord to Pharaoh; again and again were there pains, and punishments, and sorrows experienced by Pharaoh and the Egyptians; again and again they struggled against the authority of the Most High; day after day, and night after night, were their contritions, sinnings, and repentings going on; all prefiguring the struggles of every soul when resolving really to begin to live for heaven. It is essential that this great truth should be constantly remembered, for many a person who has been told that he can by some simple effort of belief do all that is necessary for heaven has found by experience it is not so, and become bitterly perplexed. He has tried to come into a better mind. He has repented and trusted and made efforts, but he has fallen short or complete deliverance, and having been told, that, if he is saved at all, he must be saved at once by faith only, he has sunk into a sort of disobedient and lethargic condition. If he believes that it is by the mere simple effort that other people come into a state of salvation, he is ofttimes betrayed into giving up the desire to prepare for heaven, and to fancy that he shall never secure his end. He has tried and it is of no use. Oh! let him not think so; let him bear in mind that his states are precisely what must take place in every soul, which comes into true regeneration, and what were represented by Israels experience is Egypt.
Let him earnestly strive again, and again, and again and never give up. He may have prayed, and yearned, and matched, and wished, and found himself coming short. He may grow faint-hearted; but let him take courage and strive again. It is first the blade, and then the ear, and then the full corn in the ear. It will be to him as it was to Israel in Egypt; if he is only faithful to watch and work and wait, then however strong the fetters that bind him may be, they will be broken. The divine mercy will increase his power. The Lord will fight for him, and in good time deliverance will surely come. To all such we would say, Fear ye not; stand in order, and be still.
But there is a second circumstance to be brought vividly before our minds, if we would fully understand the spiritual meaning of this divine declaration, and one too, that lies immediately underneath the truth to which we have already referred. It seems to those who are not acquainted either with the condition of their own souls, or with the spiritual world with which we are all connected, that it is a strange thing we cannot walk up to the line that separates good and evil, and say we will step over that line, and get to the other side. Why cannot we make up our minds that we will be obedient to our Lord Jesus Christ, and there make an end of it? Sometimes we suppose we have accomplished this decision, and sometimes we find great fault with other people who are so slow to do as we tell them. Sometimes we neglect to render that help which we ought to render to every struggling soul, because we act upon the unreasonable assumption, that people have not the common sense to do at once as we tell them, and pursue what is manifestly their own best course.
But the human soul is wonderfully made. It is not that simple monad or breath, that formerly it was considered to be. The human soul is far more wonderfully organized than the body is. It is a world in miniature. It has ten thousand thousand passions, affections, thoughts, sentiments, and ideas. Whole armies of sensations pass through the mind like an innumerable multitude, equaling and surpassing, doubtless, the number of the Egyptians, and the Israelites too. All these are in the soul.
When we are in good states, whole armies of good and heavenly thoughts and feelings make themselves felt, and live within us. When we are in evil states, whole armies of evil sensations and ideas are active within us. These are heavenly principles in miniature, or infernal principles in miniature, and are innumerable. With these are, invisibly but really, associated, evil spirits and good spirits.
Every evil man is associated with evil beings, and they again with others, He is connected, as it were, with whole hosts of the evil, so that the powers and spheres of the kingdom of darkness are like an immense sea, and are here represented by the Red Sea, through which the Israelites had to pass.
When a person determines that he will quit the company of the evil, renounce his evil companions and associations, his old habits and his old friends, and live for heaven; he has to burst through the meshes of a vast net, to break open a, strong dungeon, to cross a threatening sea. Perhaps he accomplishes this, as far as his outside associations go. He changes his resorts, his friends, and his habits. To all appearance he has entered upon a new course, he has cut off the old ways, and the old life; but he will find that he has not altogether cut off the inner connection with his spiritual associates. He may have even driven them away. He may have broken asunder from the evil spirits that were closely connected with him in mind; but, although they have given way under the impulses of his new and saving determinations, he will find them like the Egyptians coming again and again. Old habits will be strong upon him, his old persuasions will come, and they will tempt him strongly to his old haunts, and his old practices; and mentally, if he is not exceedingly mindful, he will, literally, go back again into sin and captivity. Yet if he is truly earnest and sincere he will bemoan himself, he will feel as if he were a captive that had been rejoicing in his freedom, but had been pulled back again, and there he is with his old feelings and states and practices again. This will occur again and again; at length he will appear altogether to have accomplished his purpose, and have left his Egypt. And having sought the divine goodness and truth of his Savior, eaten the flesh, and sprinkled himself with the blood of the Paschal Lamb, and in mind, heart, and life commenced a new career, he has made a journey of three days, as the Israelites made their journey of three days. He will have rested first at Succoth, then at Etham, then at Migdol, over against Baal-zephon. He has cut himself off entirely, as he thinks, from his old states and habits and wishes, yet strangely, he will find the temptation come over him again. The old enemies, which he thought he had left far behind him, are approaching once more; he will hear the sound of their chariots and their horsemen coming after him again; and then it will seem to him just as if he had the Red Sea before him. The sea of worldly and evil thought will lie in his way, and he will be oppressed with the idea, that he cannot possibly get out of the element in which the world is immersed.
All the persuasions of evil urge, saying, It is no use your attempting to become good, it is no use your attempting to live a life of religion, it is no use your supposing that you can overcome fashion, prejudice, custom, and worldly allurement; society is against you, you will make no way, give up the effort, do as others do, and take your chance. All false principles will gather in his front, and if he could see through the veil that hides the inner world from our perceptions, he would see a whole mass, as if it were of horrid waters in front of him--spiritual waters--the waters of falsehood and evil,--obstructing his way, as they did the way of the Israelites. Could we behold the scene, we should see the tried soul with crowds of evil spirits, coming after him and saying, We will pursue, we will overtake, we will divide the spoil; our lust shall be satisfied upon them, we will draw our swords; our hands shall destroy them.--Ex. xv. 9. We should find the soul spiritually, and in miniature, in circumstances parallel to the literal ones here given. It is impossible for a man by his own unaided efforts to break asunder those meshes of hell which surround him. Just as easy would it be for a person to roll back the waves of the stormy ocean, as for him to beat back the enemies of the soul by his own unaided power.
But when he is brought to this crisis; when he is beset before and behind; when he comes to the sad conviction that there is no help for him--that he must die--that: he might as well have died before, for now it is clear he muse perish--if he is sincere and genuine, and humbles himself before the Lord, feeling there is no help in himself, there will come this whisper from heaven, Fear not, stand in order. Shun evil. Do right. Wait upon the Lord. Stand in order, and be still, and thou shalt see the salvation of the Lord, which he will show to you to-day. A divine power will descend into his soul, and scatter the clouds that hang over his path, open a way before him of real liberty, upon which he can commence the journey which will end in the Canaan of Heaven.
Remember that great deliverance, my brethren, for your own comfort, accompanied by this additional blessing, the Egyptians whom ye have seen today,--the evils which have harassed you so sorely, and are harassing you so grievously now,--ye shall see them again no more for ever.
Author: Jonathan Bayley --- From Egypt to Canaan (1869)