Our God is a Refuge

Chapter 17

Rather than leading the children of Israel directly toward the land of Canaan, the Lord led them south, in the direction of the Red Sea. Had they moved directly toward the Promised Land, their course would have led them through the land of the Philistines. This warlike people, regarding them as escaped slaves, would not have hesitated to obstruct their passage.

"And they took their journey from Succoth, and encamped in Etham, in the edge of the wilderness." Meanwhile, in Egypt the report rapidly spread that the children of Israel, instead of stopping to worship in the desert, were actually pressing on toward the Red Sea. The great men of the realm, having recovered from their fears, explained the plagues as the result of natural causes; and the people regretted their foolishness in crediting the death of the first­born to the power of God. "Why have we done this, that we have let Israel go from serving us?" was the bitter cry.

The Egyptians feared that their forced submission to the God of Israel should subject them to the contempt and derision of other nations. But, they reasoned, if they should now, by a great show of power, bring back the fugitive slaves, they could not only redeem their glory but recover the services of their bondsmen as well. Pharaoh collected his forces—horsemen, captains, and foot soldiers—and attended by the great men of his realm, headed the attacking army.

The Hebrews were encamped beside the sea, whose waters presented a seemingly impassable barrier to their advancement. Suddenly, their eyes caught the distant flashing of the sun on the armor and moving chariots of the advance guard of a great army. As the force drew nearer, the Egyptian army could be clearly seen advancing in full pursuit. Terror filled the hearts of Israel. Some cried unto the Lord, but by far the greater part of them hurried to Moses with their complaints: "Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness? wherefore hast thou dealt thus with us, to carry us forth out of Egypt? Is not this the word that we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians? For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness."

Moses' calm and assuring reply to the people was, "Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will show to you to day: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever."

Now, as the Egyptian army draws closer, expecting to make them an easy prey, the cloudy column that had attended Israel suddenly began to move. Slowly and majestically it rose into the heavens, passed over the Israelites, and came down between them and the advancing army. A wall of darkness interposed between the pursued and their pursuers, The Egyptians, no longer able to make out the camp of the Hebrews, were forced to stop. As the darkness of night deepened, the cloud that separated them like a wall became a great light to the Hebrews, flooding the entire encampment with the brightness of day.

Hope returned to the hearts of Israel. The Lord then spoke to Moses and said, "But lift thou up thy rod, and stretch out thine hand over the sea, and divide it: and the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea." As Moses lifted his rod, the waters parted, forming a pathway from shore to shore between two walls of water.

"And the Egyptians pursued, and went in after them to the midst of the sea, even all Pharaoh's horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. And it came to pass, that in the morning watch the Lord looked unto the host of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and of the cloud, and troubled the host of the Egyptians, and took off their chariot wheels, that they drave them heavily: so that the Egyptians said, Let us flee from the face of Israel; for the Lord fighteth for them against the Egyptians." Suddenly, the mysterious cloud changed to a pillar of fire before their astonished eyes. Thunder pealed and lightning flashed. In the angry elements, the Egyptians recognized the voice of an angry God. Now, thoroughly confused and alarmed, they attempted to flee. As they tried to retrace their steps to the shore they had left but a short time before, Moses stretched out his rod. The piled-up waters rushed together, swallowing the Egyptian army in their murky depths.

As the light of morning broke, it revealed to the multitudes of Israel all that remained of their mighty foes—the armor-clad bodies washed upon the shore. From the most terrible danger, one night had brought complete deliverance. That vast, helpless throng—slaves without training in warfare, women, and children, with the sea before them and the mighty armies of Egypt pressing behind—had seen their path opened through the waters and their enemies destroyed in the moment of expected triumph. God alone had brought them deliverance, and to Him their hearts now turned in gratitude and faith. Their feelings now found expression in a song of praise. Inspiration came upon Moses, and he led them in a song of thanksgiving.

The great lesson of Israel's experience is for God's people of all time. Often the Christian life appears to be threatened by dangers, and duty seems difficult to carry out. The imagination pictures approaching ruin ahead and enslavement or death behind. Yet the voice of God speaks clearly, urging us to advance. We should obey this command, even though our eyes cannot clearly see the pathway ahead. The problems that appear insurmountable will never be resolved by a faltering, questioning attitude. Those who wait to obey until every shadow of uncertainty is removed and there remains no risk of mishap or defeat will never obey at all. Unbelief whispers, "Wait until the obstructions are removed, and the way can be more clearly seen;" but faith courageously urges us to move forward.

The cloud that was a wall of darkness to the Egyptians was to the Hebrews a great flood of light, illuminating the whole camp and shedding brightness upon the path before them. So the dealings of Providence bring to the unbelieving, darkness and despair, while to the trusting soul they are full of light and peace. The path where God leads the way may lie through the desert or the sea, but it is a safe path.

The song and the great deliverance which it commemorated made a never-to-be-forgotten impression on the minds of the Hebrew people. From age to age its words were taken up and echoed by the prophets and singers of Israel, attesting to the fact that God is the strength and deliverance of those who trust in Him. This song does not belong to ancient Israel alone but to God's people of all time. It points forward to the final destruction of all the enemies of righteousness and the final victory of God's remnant church.

This chapter is based on Exodus 13–15