They were trapped. On one side a massive Egyptian army coming after them, on the other side the Red Sea. Hundreds of thousands of people, young and old, had just left Egypt, but now it seemed their doom was sure.
“When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly…They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness”” (Exod. 14:10–12).
It’s not hard to relate to the Israelites here. As I write this, millions of people around the world are locked down in quarantine from the coronavirus. Many feel trapped: the threat of sickness, economic hardship, loneliness and uncertainty about tomorrow – it’s a recipe for fear. We all have Red Sea moments and would prefer to avoid them if we could. When we read through the account of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, the exit came with a dramatic display of 10 plagues: blood, frogs, flies, gnats, livestock die, and boils. Now God could’ve wiped out the Egyptians with one word. Why the plagues? What’s God up to? Before the seventh plague of hail, God instructs Moses to tell Pharaoh, “For this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth” (Exod. 9:16).
When Moses came to Pharaoh with the news it was time for him to let God’s people go, Egypt’s pompous ruler asked, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD” (Exod. 5:2). In his hubris, Pharaoh thought little of God, but the Exodus narrative shows how foolish he was to ignore the LORD. After Moses warned a seventh plague of hail was coming, he added a merciful warning to shelter man and beast lest they be killed. Their response? “Whoever feared the word of the LORD among the servants of Pharaoh hurried his slaves and his livestock into the houses” (Exod. 9:20). Those who feared God, obeyed what He commanded.
In Scripture, fear is more than feeling terrified. The fear of man certainly includes that, but it also means revering people, needing them, or valuing their opinion so much that our decisions end up being controlled by them. We obey what we fear. We fear failure, over commit, get defensive, avoid risks, compare, envy, or twist the truth often because of what others will think of us.
Pharaoh didn’t fear God, he feared people. Perhaps he thought, “The Israelites have been our servants for over 400 years; I’m not about to be the one responsible for losing them. The cost of losing slave labor would be disastrous to our economy! I’m not about to let this Israelite deity threaten me, I’m Pharaoh!” Desperate to have others see Him as important, powerful and in control, Pharaoh hardened his heart and paid the price.
The sad irony is that when the people of God were pinned up against the Red Sea, they had the same problem Pharaoh did: the fear of man. I’m not saying they weren’t in a tough spot – I’d probably be shaking in my boots given the situation – but remember what they’d witnessed! The showdown between God and Pharaoh, his magicians, and his gods was a joke! God isn’t threatened when the nations rage, He laughs (Ps 2:4). With a mighty hand (Exod. 3:19), God delivered His people from a powerful nation that had enslaved them. When they left, it was Egypt shaking in fear, not Israel! If they could’ve remembered who was on their side, they could’ve laughed at the enemy instead of panic.
The ten plagues in Exodus 7-12 show us the glory of God. When God passed through the land of Egypt during the last plague God said, “on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD” (Exod. 12:12). All the idols of this world are nothing (1 Cor 8:4): “They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them” (Ps. 115:5-8). God is different than man-made idols. He is the living God who sees our plight, hears our cries, moves mountains, and saves (Exod. 2:24-25).
Our problem, like the Israelites, is we tend to focus on that which worries us such that we lose sight of God, fall into fear, and let it control us, not God. Our Red Sea moments remind us the iron bars of fear exist because of a myopic view of God (see 2 Pet 1:9). I imagine if we could look back on today when Christ comes back on the final day, we’ll ask, “Why was I afraid?”
Pinned up against the Red Sea, all Israel had to do was remember God’s promise to get them to the land flowing with milk and honey (Exod. 3:8) and the greatness of God revealed in their Exodus. Because God doesn’t change, the God who parted the Red Sea, is our God. We may not have Pharaoh breathing down our neck, but our Red Sea moments aren’t reasons to fear, they’re opportunities to see what God can do. We may not know what or when He will act, but we need to hear what Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD” (Exod. 14:13a). The clearer we see God, the less we will fear man (Prov. 14:26).
Knowing how prone the people of God are to forget, God instituted the Passover meal as a means to remember and bolster faith (Exod. 12). When future generations would celebrate this feast and ask ‘What does this mean?’ They were to answer, “By a strong hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery” (Exod. 13:14).
In the same way, when we struggle with fear God has given us a meal to remember and bolster our faith (1 Cor 11:23-25). When we remember Christ, our Passover lamb (1 Cor. 5:7) we’re reminded of a second exodus. Through Christ’s death and resurrection, our mighty God delivered us from sin, Satan and death. With our King firmly fixed in our heart and mind, we’re able to say, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?” (Ps. 56:3–4)
Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared at the blog for Credo Magazine and is used with permission.