Week of July 16, 2006


Bible Passages:  Exodus 13:17-18,20-22; 14:5-6,10,13-14,31-15:2,11-13.


Biblical Truth:  God guides and protects His people as they follow His leading.


God Takes Into Account Our Weaknesses: Exodus 13:17-18.


[17] Now when Pharaoh had let the people go, God did not lead them by the way of the land of the Philistines, even though it was near; for God said, "The people might change their minds when they see war, and return to Egypt." [18] Hence God led the people around by the way of the wilderness to the Red Sea; and the sons of Israel went up in martial array from the land of Egypt.  [NASU]


The fundamental point of this section [13:17-4:4] is that Yahweh guides Israel in exodus. His guidance is plain and continual. He sets a puzzling route no man would have thought of to confuse Pharaoh and to win further and final glory for Himself at Pharaoh’s expense. Once more, Pharaoh and his Egyptians are to become a medium for a theological message. Yahweh’s guidance must be seen not primarily as guidance from something, but instead as guidance toward something. In this section, it is guidance not towards Sinai or any other place but toward a final great moment of victory over Pharaoh, toward the greatest of all the self-proving mighty acts. In the sections following that great victory, it is guidance toward the place of Yahweh’s great giving of himself to all of Israel at Sinai. Yahweh’s first intention was to give the appearance that Israel, fearful of the main road, then fearful of the wilderness, was starting first one way and then another, not knowing where to turn and so a ready prey for recapture or destruction. Yahweh’s second intention was to lure the Egyptians into a trap, first by making Pharaoh’s mind obstinate once again, and then by defeating Pharaoh and his forces, who were certain to come down in vengeance upon an apparently helpless and muddled Israel. 


[17] The use of the verb let go (sending, driving) is an important connection with Exodus 3:20 where the same verb is used in Yahweh’s prediction to Moses of how Pharaoh would drive out the Israelites. As Yahweh has said, no human force could bend the proud king of the proudest kingdom. Under the power of Yahweh’s hand, however, Pharaoh has become an enthusiastic participant in the exodus, not only permitting but demanding, even forcing it.


[18] One key to understanding these verses is the assertion that God guided or led them. A deliberate contrast is made between the direct route east (way of the Philistines) and the route in the direction of the wilderness. The reason given for this longer route is that the more direct path would probably lead to conflict that could prove so discouraging to Israel that they might turn back to Egypt. The turn toward the wilderness by way of the Red Sea is a turn to a more southeasterly direction. The Israelites go forth therefore in fighting formation with the armed men leading the way.


God’s Gives His Constant Presence: Exodus 13:20-22.


[20] Then they set out from Succoth and camped in Etham on the edge of the wilderness. [21] The LORD was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. [22] He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people.  [NASU]

[20-22]  Not only does God know which way is best, but He also goes along to make sure His people get there. The cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night represented the very presence of God, who was in the cloud and fire to light the way. What Moses had experienced at the thornbush aflame but unconsumed Israel now experienced in exodus. The assertion that Yahweh did not remove these symbols of His guiding Presence is an indication of His continuing nearness to Israel from the time of the mighty acts to the rebellion of the golden calf. Israel cannot head into the dangerous expanse of the wilderness, as Yahweh is directing, without Yahweh’s guidance.


God Fights for His People: Exodus 14:5-6,10,13-14.


[5]  When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his servants had a change of heart toward the people, and they said, "What is this we have done, that we have let Israel go from serving us?" [6] So he made his chariot ready and took his people with him; [10] As Pharaoh drew near, the sons of Israel looked, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they became very frightened; so the sons of Israel cried out to the LORD. [13] But Moses said to the people, " Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the LORD which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever. [14] "The LORD will fight for you while you keep silent."  [NASU]


[5-6]  The God who brought Israel out of Egypt is a great God. He always knows which way is best. He is always faithful to help and guide His people. More than that, He is such a great God that He is able to work out everything for His own glory. When God delivered Israel from Egypt, He did it in a way that guaranteed that He would receive all the glory: I will be honored through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord [14:4]. From the standpoint of military strategy, the detour God told the Israelites to take was sheer lunacy. They were already well on their way to freedom when God ordered them to turn around, go back, and camp between the desert and the sea. The Israelites were completely vulnerable. They were out on Egypt’s frontier, surrounded by desert, with their backs to the sea. Why on earth would God put His people in this kind of position? Any military strategist would have recognized immediately that they were trapped, which is exactly what God wanted Pharaoh to think. The whole thing was a ruse. God was tricking the Egyptians into thinking that the Israelites had no idea what they were doing. This would entice them to press what seemed to be their strategic advantage. But once Pharaoh attacked, his army would be destroyed. Then it would be obvious to everyone that God had planned the whole thing. By putting His people between the desert and the sea, God would show both the Israelites and the Egyptians that He was Lord, and that the glory of the victory belonged to Him alone.


[10]  The Israelites were in a dangerous and desperate situation. But instead of looking to God in all His grace and glory, they looked at their enemies and were afraid. What makes this so disappointing is that they had just witnessed God’s wonders in the ten plagues. Not to mention the fact that they had escaped from Egypt only the night before. This is another place where Israel’s exodus is a picture of our own deliverance from captivity to sin. The Bible says that these things happened as examples for us [1 Corinthians 10:6]. This particular example shows what happens whenever God rescues His people from bondage: Satan tries to grab us before we can get away. No sooner do we make a commitment to follow Christ than we face doubt and discouragement. It is a spiritual battle, and Satan never surrenders without a fight. But once God has set us free, Satan has no right to take us back. So what should we do when he is chasing after us? Not what the Israelites did: they were terrified and cried out to the Lord. True, the Israelites did cry out to God. However, this was not a pure cry of faith but it was a fearful cry of desperation. The Israelites did not really believe that God would save them but fully expected to be destroyed. The proof is that rather than waiting for God’s answer, the Israelites immediately turned on His prophet. What was most alarming of all was their willingness to go right back into bondage. The whole point of the exodus was for them to serve God, but here they were, wanting to go right back and serve Pharaoh. This was more than a loss of nerve – it was a lack of faith. By pledging their allegiance to Pharaoh they were denying the power of God. The psalmist put it bluntly: Our fathers in Egypt did not understand Your wonders; they did not remember Your abundant kindnesses, but rebelled by the sea, at the Red Sea [Psalm 106:7].


[13-14]  Consider that the Israelites were never in any real danger. Even though Pharaoh was coming after them, they were right where God wanted them, and He would rescue them. What was at stake was not simply their lives but God’s glory, which He would protect at any cost. So what the Israelites should have done was to remember what kind of God they served – a God who always knows the best way, who is always faithful to help His people, and who always stays with them to guide them. More than that, they should have remembered His purpose – to work out everything according to His glorious plan. Moses did remember all this, and thus he knew exactly what to do when he was caught between the desert and the sea. He looked to God. And he gave the people three commands: do not fear, stand firm, keep silent and watch. The same principle holds true for our salvation from sin. Satan is pursuing us, but instead of running away, all we need to do is stand and see the salvation of our God. Christianity is not about something that we can do to become better people; it is about what Christ has done through the cross and the empty tomb. Jesus Christ has accomplished everything necessary for our salvation. Once we put our faith in Jesus, we need to stand our ground and keep our eyes of faith fixed on Christ alone. 


God Guides Believers with Strength: Exodus 14:31-15:2,11-13.


[31]  When Israel saw the great power which the LORD had used against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in His servant Moses. [1] Then Moses and the sons of Israel sang this song to the LORD, and said, "I will sing to the LORD, for He is highly exalted;

The horse and its rider He has hurled into the sea. [2] The LORD is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation; This is my God, and I will praise Him; My father's God, and I will extol Him.

[11] Who is like You among the gods, O LORD? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, Awesome in praises, working wonders? [12] You stretched out Your right hand, The earth swallowed them. [13] In Your lovingkindness You have led the people whom You have redeemed; In Your strength You have guided them to Your holy habitation.   [NASU]


The point of 14:21-31 is the glorification of Yahweh for His deliverance of Israel from the final and most serious threat posed by Pharaoh and his people. This glorification is prepared for as the narratives of guidance and pursuit, protection and a double entrapment follow one another with a rising intensity. The exhilaration of exodus is followed by the terrible disappointment of freedom lost between the pursuing Egyptians and the impassable sea. Then, from a chaos of accusations and the certainty of impending death, Yahweh snatches His people forth, turning the very means of their entrapment into the medium of the Egyptians’ entrapment and death. From the start of the exodus, it becomes clear that Yahweh has orchestrated the entire sequence. He leads the people to an erratic route in the wilderness [13:18] that delays their exit from Egypt and tempts the Egyptians into pursuing them. He hardens the heart of Pharaoh so that he will take his mighty army and pursue the Israelites [14:4, 8, 17]. All these things were done for the purpose of His glory and praise [14:18, 31; 15:1-18]. 


[31]  The entire narrative of Exodus 13:17-14:29 is thus summarized by the two final verses of Exodus 14: Yahweh rescued Israel that day from the power of the Egyptians. The manner of His doing it is incidental to the fact that Yahweh is the one who made the rescue. Not tides, not storms, not bad planning, not tactical error, not bad luck, or good luck, but Yahweh. The Israelites saw Yahweh’s great power performed against the Egyptian force. And the inevitable result of it all was reverential awe. We see in verse 31 the connection in the minds of the Israelites of faith in Yahweh and faith in Moses. We shall see in the murmurings in the wilderness and especially in the rebellion of the golden calf, Israel’s confidence in Moses dissipates along with their confidence in Yahweh. And whenever confidence in Moses increases, as here and at Sinai, it is because of an action of Yahweh.


[15:1-2] Moses and the people break out into a song of praise for Yahweh’s victory. Yahweh is both the subject and the object of this psalm; the hymn is about Him and to Him. The song of praise can be broken down into the following sections: confession of faith [2-3]; a narrative of the victory [4-8]; the enemy’s arrogant claim [9]; Yahweh’s incomparable deeds and person [10-12]; and Yahweh’s guidance of His people [13] through their enemies [14-16] to the place of their rest because of His rule [17-18]. The overall emphasis of the poem is theological: praise of the incomparable Yahweh whose saving Presence rescues, protects and establishes His people. The second verse serves as a memorable summary of faith and the reason for the song to follow. It sees Yahweh as the faithful covenant God [my father’s God] who has fulfilled His promise of saving His covenant people [this is my God]. Thus He alone is worthy of being lifted in praise and worship.


[11-13] Yahweh is thus extolled as incomparable. He is magnificent in the holiness that sets Him apart from all others. Following the rhetorical question, a series of three aspects of Yahweh’s incomparability is raised in a further rhetorical question: His magnificent holiness, His praiseworthy deeds, and His extraordinary accomplishments. This incomparability is summed up by a return to the event that inspired the poem, and in a line that rounds off the first part of the poem, the part dealing with Yahweh’s victory at the sea. Verse13 begins the second part of the poem. Its first couplet refers to the guidance through the wilderness of the people Yahweh has claimed as His own. Its second couplet refers to Yahweh’s leading that people to the place where His holiness dwells.


Questions for Discussion:

1.   How quickly we forget God’s work in our lives. The Israelites had just witnessed the mighty acts of God in Egypt which caused the Egyptians to drive them out and to shower them with gifts. Now, at the first sign of trouble, they cry out to God in fear and anger. But note the contrast with the response of Moses, who reacts in faith, knowing the power and faithfulness of Yahweh. What accounts for the change in Moses from 4:1-13? What things can we do so that we can react to times of difficulty like Moses and not like the Israelites?


2.   In these verses, look at the difference faith in God’s sovereignty makes in the way individuals react to difficulty. Reflect upon what God’s sovereignty means for the way you live your life.


3.   Read the Song of Moses in 15:1-18. Make a list of all of God’s attributes that Moses includes in his song.



Exodus, Alan Cole, Inter-Varsity Press.

Exodus, John Durham, Nelson Publishers.

Exodus, Philip Ryken, Crossway.