“Of all the Egyptians who had chased the Israelites into the sea, not a single one survived.” (Exodus 14:28)[i]
A few short hours before, the Israelites said:
“Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness? Weren’t there enough graves for us in Egypt? What have you done to us? Why did you make us leave Egypt? Didn’t we tell you this would happen while we were still in Egypt? We said, ‘Leave us alone! Let us be slaves to the Egyptians. It’s better to be a slave in Egypt than a corpse in the wilderness!’” (Exodus 14:11-12)
The Israelites were in a panic. God had led them into an impossible situation. In a minute, we will look more at the situation they were in.
We all face situations in life that cause us to panic. Have you ever had questions like the Israelites asked? Why did you lead me here? Have you deserted me? Why is this happening to me?
Why does God lead us through these situations?
First, we need to understand that we can never answer this question completely. Faith is required in our relationship with God. Hebrews 11:6 tells us:
And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.
We know that God loves us. He demonstrated His love toward us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. However, it is not given to us to know everything. Isaiah 55:9 explains:
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.
However, God does reveal to us what we need to know and teaches us as we walk with Him. In answer to the question, “Why did you bring us here,” we will see that one of God’s purposes is to strengthen, grow and encourage us.
This is a lesson taught throughout the Bible. James 1:2 even goes so far as to say, “When troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.”
Having laid this important groundwork, let’s now consider the events of that day in the wilderness at the side of the Red Sea, recorded for us in Exodus 13 and 14.
First, we see that God did not lead them along the most direct route. Exodus 13:17 says:
When Pharaoh finally let the people go, God did not lead them along the main road that runs through Philistine territory, even though that was the shortest route to the Promised Land. God said, “If the people are faced with a battle, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” (Exodus 13:17)
God was obviously leading. Exodus 13:21-22 says:
The LORD went ahead of them. He guided them during the day with a pillar of cloud, and he provided light at night with a pillar of fire. This allowed them to travel by day or by night. And the LORD did not remove the pillar of cloud or pillar of fire from its place in front of the people.
These people, following the Lord’s leading and knowing they were where he led them, now found themselves in an impossible situation.
How could Israel survive an attack by the world’s mightiest military? They were unarmed. The day before they had been slaves, trained in such skills as brick making, farming, ditch digging, cleaning and cooking. They could now see the mightiest military on earth coming after them. They were like sheep waiting to be slaughtered, defenseless. Therefore their question to Moses, “Weren’t there enough graves for us in Egypt?”
God had purposely led His people to this point. The Israelites were asking, “What have you done to us?” (Exodus 14:11)
But the Lord had said, “I have planned this in order to display my glory through Pharaoh and his whole army.” (Exodus 14:4)
This reminds me of a time when the disciples were in a boat with Jesus. Jesus was sleeping in the back of the boat and a storm came up and threatened to swamp the boat. The disciples cried out, “Teacher, don't you care that we're going to drown?” (Mark 4:38) Jesus rebuked them. He said, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:40)
The Psalmist teaches us, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4) The Psalmist had this confidence through experience. The Lord leads us through the valley of the shadow of death.
God led His people into an impossible situation in order to show His glory and so that the world would know that there is no other God. Through this process, their faith was strengthened.
In Deuteronomy 8:5 Moses is reviewing the Israelites’ 40 years in the wilderness and says, “Think about it: Just as a parent disciplines a child, the LORD your God disciplines you for your own good.”
This same concept is taught in the New Testament. Hebrews 12:6-8 says:
For the LORD disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.” As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father? If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at all.
If you love the Lord, this is very good news. How much confidence can we have in facing impossible situations? This is why James 1:2 says to consider it an opportunity for great joy. However, this was not good news for the Egyptians. They had set themselves in opposition to God.
Although everything looked like the Israelites were facing annihilation, it was the Egyptians who were running headlong into a truly impossible situation. Whenever anyone sets his or her self in opposition to God, that person is running headlong into an impossible situation. If you are fighting against God in your life, the impossible situation you are facing is an opportunity to repent. Call out to God for forgiveness before it is too late.
Exodus 14:9 says, “The Egyptians caught up with the people of Israel as they were camped beside the shore near Pi-hahiroth, across from Baal-zephon.” There was nowhere for the Israelites to go. They were pinched between the sea and Pharaoh’s army.
God set the whole thing up. He was in control. The Israelites could see their death in the glint of the armor and the roar of the chariot wheels. Just think how their faith was strengthened and their hearts encouraged at what happened next.
Exodus 14:19-20 says:
Then the angel of God, who had been leading the people of Israel, moved to the rear of the camp. The pillar of cloud also moved from the front and stood behind them. The cloud settled between the Egyptian and Israelite camps. As darkness fell, the cloud turned to fire, lighting up the night. But the Egyptians and Israelites did not approach each other all night.
The Egyptians were in darkness. They could not see to attack. At the same time, the Israelites had light. They could see to avoid the Egyptians. God used darkness to shield the Israelites from the Egyptian army, and light to give added safety and comfort.
While the Egyptians wandered in darkness, the Lord was making a way for the Israelites. Exodus 14:21-22 says:
Then Moses raised his hand over the sea, and the LORD opened up a path through the water with a strong east wind. The wind blew all that night, turning the seabed into dry land. So the people of Israel walked through the middle of the sea on dry ground, with walls of water on each side!
The Lord made a way where there was no way.
He does the same thing for us when we face impossible situations. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (ESV)[ii] Notice especially the words “he will also provide the way of escape.” He always makes a way
He did the same thing at the cross. There was no way to cover or pay for our sins. Humanity was lost without hope, and God made a way where there was no way. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.”
When God made a way for the Israelites, the Egyptians saw it and used it as well. They followed the Israelites into the heart of the sea. Exodus 14:23 says, “Then the Egyptians—all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and charioteers—chased them into the middle of the sea.”
The Israelites were not out of danger. The army with horses, chariots and trained fighting men could move much faster than the Israelites. However, the Israelites had God on their side. God fought for the Israelites. He made the wheels come off the chariots and threw the Egyptian army into confusion. By the time the Egyptians realized what was happening, it was too late.
Exodus 14:27-29 says:
The Egyptians tried to escape, but the LORD swept them into the sea. Then the waters returned and covered all the chariots and charioteers—the entire army of Pharaoh. Of all the Egyptians who had chased the Israelites into the sea, not a single one survived.
But the people of Israel had walked through the middle of the sea on dry ground, as the water stood up like a wall on both sides.
The very thing that proved to be a way for the Israelites was the destruction of the Egyptians.
At the cross, what the devil intended to be the defeat of Jesus, proved to be a great victory for Jesus. In our lives, it is the same. The things that our enemy intends for our destruction, God turns into our greatest victories.
Darkness appears to be winning the battle in the world around us. 2 Timothy 3:13 tells us, “evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” (ESV) We can have confidence that God will work and use these things to His glory and our victory through faith.
One reason God leads us through impossible situations is to teach us the truth of Romans 8:31, “If God is for us, who can ever be against us?”
[i] Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation. Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Steam, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
[ii] Scripture quotations marked ESV are from The ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version) copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.