salvation and deliverance: Lessons from Exodus 14
For example, Exodus 14 narrates the deliverance of the Israelites at the Red Sea and the destruction of Pharaoh and the Egyptian army. Three lessons in this chapter teach about dependence on God’s leading, salvation, judgment, justification, and sanctification.
At the beginning of the chapter, God led the children of Israel southward (Exod. 14:2, 9).1 From a human perspective, this route could appear irrational, since it meant that Israel was walking in a desert and away from the Promised Land (v. 3). However, God asked Israel to do what seemed unreasonable so that He could do the impossible. God would be glorified for the significant miracle performed. God told Moses of the coming events. Why? So that when the events came to pass, the Israelites might believe God.
As we know, Pharaoh and his army pursued with chariots and horsemen until they caught up to Israel. Now Israel was afraid and cried to the Lord (v. 10). The following verses reveal our human nature when facing a desperate situation that is out of our control. The people complained to Moses: “ ‘Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness?’ ” (v. 11, NKJV).
In verses 15 through 18, God told Moses what to do, yet these actions were not carried out until verse 21. Verses 19 and 20 serve as an interlude in this passage. But even more than an interlude, these two verses are the center point of this passage, revealing God’s presence among humanity. This is illustrated by the chiastic structure of Exodus 14:
A. vv. 1–4 God will gain honor over Pharaoh so the Egyptians will know that He is the Lord.
B. vv. 5–9 Chariots, captains, horsemen, and Pharaoh’s army get ready, and the Egyptians pursue Israel and overtake them by the sea beside Pi Hahiroth.
C. vv. 10–14 Israel is troubled, but the Lord will fight for them.
D. vv. 15–18 God tells Moses to lift his rod and stretch out his hand over the sea.
E. vv. 19–20 The Angel of God, as the cloud and Pillar of fire, comes between the Egyptians and Israel.
D’. vv. 21–23 Moses stretches out his hand over the sea.
C’. vv. 24–25 The Egyptians are troubled, and the Lord fights them.
B’. vv. 26–29 Waters overtake the Egyptians by the sea (Red Sea), and the chariots, horsemen, and all the army of Pharaoh are destroyed.
A’. vv. 30–31 The Lord saves Israel, and Israel believes the Lord.
God is the Leader and Protector of His people; He is present with His people in difficulties. Three related points emerge from verses 19 and 20, the center of the chiasm:
1. To walk in the light, we need to follow the Light. The narrator gives us important details: the Angel of God and the Pillar were the same thing (Exod. 13:21, 22). This was the same God who appeared to Moses in Exodus 3:2. This Angel traveled in front of the Israelites. Therefore, we need to follow the Light, this Pillar.
2. God’s leading may not always appear to us as a light. In Exodus 13:21, 22, we are told that the Angel of God had a special task. As the Pillar of cloud, His main function was to lead the people. This Pillar of cloud was also the Pillar of light. God may not always appear to us to be a light; He can also reveal Himself as a cloud (cf. Exod. 19:9; 20:18–21). However, whether God leads us in a pillar of light or cloud, we can trust and not be afraid.2
We need also to be humble when we follow the Light. God is the Leader; we are not capable of successfully leading our own lives. We need to be willing to be led; this is the reason He is in front of us.
3. Sometimes God asks us to move ahead in faith, even though we cannot see Him in front of us. Sometimes we do not recognize God’s working in our lives because we expect Him to be only in one form, light. Both the Pillar of cloud and the Pillar of light reveal the presence of God.3
God not only leads us, He protects us. As the Israelites advanced toward the Red Sea, the Pillar moved from in front of Israel and relocated behind them. This cloud came between the Israelites and the Egyptians as the Protector of Israel.
These verses (19, 20) reveal a powerful work already demonstrated in the previous chapters of Exodus, where darkness and light should have strengthened the Israelites’ faith. The ninth plague revealed the darkness that was upon Egypt as a sign to Pharaoh and his people, while Israel enjoyed light. Then, in the tenth and final plague, God revealed Himself one more time in power in how He was delivering His people Israel. The Lord that night came to Egypt, and the Egyptians’ firstborn were killed (Exod. 12:23–25, 27, 28).
And at the banks of the sea, the cloud moved between the Egyptians and the Israelites, and darkness rested on the Egyptians while light illuminated Israel throughout the night. At daybreak this time, not at midnight (Exod. 14:27), the Egyptians were killed.4
Just as Moses said, God is the Warrior for His people, but we need to follow Him. As we follow Him in faith, He will protect us from our enemies as He leads us toward the amazing plans He has for us (cf. Jer. 29:11).
Exodus 14:26–29, the B’ portion of the chiastic structure, reveals the amazing way God delivered Israel from the hands of Pharaoh and the Egyptian army. In verse 26, the outstretched hand of Moses parallels “the great work which the LoRD had done in Egypt” (v. 31, NKJV); in Hebrew, this literally reads: “the great hand which the LORD had done over the Egyptians.” Furthermore, both the “great hand” of the Lord and the “outstretched hand” of Moses are in opposition to the “hand of the Egyptians” (v. 30), which intended to kill the Israelites. The hand of God is a salvific hand, capable of saving God’s people from any enemies. God is the subject of the verb “saved,” yošă‘ (v. 30), suggesting that while Moses’ hand was used to open and close the Red Sea, the saving did not come from Moses but from God, who performed the action of opening and closing the Red Sea.
God’s saving of Israel in verses 21–29 alludes to Genesis 6–8, where a global flood destroyed humanity because of its wickedness (Gen. 6:13). In Exodus 14:21–29, the Egyptians were destroyed, not by a global flood or by rain but by water from the sea. Therefore, this destruction could be seen as a type of local flood destroying a nation who had enslaved Israel. Its relationship to Genesis 6–8 is strengthened by the fact that in Genesis, God closed the door of the ark (Gen. 7:16) and caused rain to pour out from heaven. In Exodus, the Lord also caused the water to divide; then the waters came back on the Egyptians (Exod. 14:26), and “the LORD overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea” (v. 27, NKJV).
A second allusion between these two stories is the “wind,” rûah, that divided the sea so the Israelites could walk through (v. 21). A “wind” was also used in Genesis 8:1 to dry the earth after the Flood. Furthermore, after the “wind” had gone over the earth to dry the world after the Genesis flood, in “the six hundred and first year, in the first month, . . . Noah removed the covering of the ark and looked, and indeed the surface of the ground was dry” hdrab (Gen. 8:13, NKJV; emphasis added). This same noun “dry up,” hdrdbâ, where the wind “dried up” the ground, is found in Exodus 14:21. When Israel crossed the Red Sea, we are told that they walked on “dry ground” yabbdšâ (Exod. 14:29, NIV; emphasis added); “Israel went into the midst of the sea on the dry ground” yabbdšâ (v. 22, NKJV). Again, the verb “dry up,” ydbaš, is also found in Genesis 8:14. Finally, a third allusion, using the word “cleave, divide, split” in reference to the water, correlates between Exodus 14:16, 21 and Genesis 7:11.5
These allusions reveal how God used a similar approach in delivering people. In both accounts, God is portrayed as the Author of judgment and salvation.6
Justification is revealed in several ways in Exodus 14, both in how the Israelites responded to God and how God worked for their deliverance. Israel’s first response, when they saw the Egyptians drawing near to them, was to become afraid (Exod. 14:10) and then to complain to Moses—in reality the complaints were directed to God Himself. “ ‘Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you so dealt with us, to bring us up out of Egypt? Is this not the word that we told you in Egypt, saying, “Let us alone that we may serve the Egyptians?” For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness’ ” (vv. 11, 12, NKJV).
For God to be glorified, He has to bring us to the realization of greater needs than what seems to us to be our obvious need during a time of crisis; these greater needs are the need for God and the need for self to die. What God was about to do with Israel in having them cross the Red Sea was a type of cutting off the old way of living—that is, leaving Egypt behind—and moving on to a new life. This is a picture of justification.
And Moses’ answer to the people reveals the foundational principle of justification: “ ‘Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the LoRD, which He will accomplish for you today. . . . The LoRD will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace’ ” (vv. 13, 14, NKJV). Moses was asking Israel to trust God. Trusting God is the foundation of justification, letting God have control over our plans, ideas, dreams, and goals.
Justification is what God does on behalf of His people. God stands beside those with whom He has made a covenant. God does not let His promise fall short of reality. He promised Abraham that He would make his name great and seed numerous (Gen. 12:1–3), and Israel came out of Egypt as a partial fulfillment of that promise (see Exod. 2:24; 4:22, 23; 6:5).
This justification was sealed by Israel’s faith. Israel walked through the sea on dry ground; by doing so, they had to believe that God was going to bring salvation. In turn, this symbolism of walking through the divided sea pointed to New Testament baptism (cf. Rom. 6:1–10; 1 Cor. 10:1, 2). In a sense, Israel was baptized by water. Thus, justification is God’s work that divides the sea and brings deliverance. Baptism is also God’s working in the lives of people.
Sanctification is also part of this story. God does not bring people to the water and then leave them there; He also changes lives from the old to the new (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17; Rom. 6:1–10; 12:1, 2). After Israel crossed the sea, the Egyptians pursued them. Again God worked for Israel’s sanctification. The Egyptians’ chariot wheels came off (Exod. 14:25, ESV), and the waters returned and covered the Egyptians (v. 26). Earlier, Moses told the people, “ ‘For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever’ ” (v. 13, NKJV). These verses reveal a new beginning for Israel, who was to leave behind the gods of Egypt and walk with the God of their salvation. For this reason, “the people feared the LoRD, and believed the LoRD and His servant Moses” (v. 31, NKJV). God does not leave people where they are, He changes them by removing the old “Egyptian” views and influences.
Exodus 14 contains many lessons for us today about how God works in difficult circumstances to bring out the best in His people. First, this chapter reveals, at its center, that God is the Leader and Protector of His people; He is present with His people in difficulties. Second, Exodus 14 alludes to the ninth and tenth plagues as well as to the Flood in Genesis 6–8 and Creation in Genesis 1, revealing the salvation and judgment process in Exodus 14 as being a vital part of the overall biblical great controversy theme. Finally, Exodus 14 teaches us about justification and sanctification, in both of which God is involved, not leaving His people in the place where He finds them but leading them to a new understanding of trust, belief, and faith.
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1 The exact locations of Pi Hahiroth, Migdol, and Baal Zephon are unknown.
2 See John 1:10, 11.
3 See Isaiah 8.
4 See Peter Enns, Exodus The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 275.
5 See Victor P. Hamilton, Exodus: An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2011), 217, 218.
6 One more brief observation: Exodus 14 is not only related to Genesis 6–8, similar words are also found in Genesis 1. For example, the word “wind, spirit” (Gen. 1:2) is in both Genesis 8:1 and Exodus 14:21. “Dry ground” also appears in Genesis 1:9, 10 as well as in Genesis 7:22; 8:7, 13, 14; and Exodus 14:21, 22. The linkage of these stories taught Israel in Exodus 14 that God is the Creator, and no other gods—certainly not the gods of the Egyptians—could do what the Lord did. He is in control of what He created, and the creation obeys His commands.