It’s possible to win the battle and yet lose the victory; this can happen to us just as it did to the Israelites, fresh out of the “Walls of Water” experience. They left the Sea and began to march toward Mount Sinai. When have you left a momentous experience and begun to march toward your next destination and been overcome with questions and fear? Fear can still your praise and steal your spiritual victories. Moving from bitter to better requires faith in Yahweh. “A dauntless faith, in God, brushes fear aside, like the cobwebs in a giant’s path.” (Charles Spurgeon)
The praise songs of the Israelites rose from the far side of the Sea. They sang, “The Lord is my strength and defense…” (Exodus 15:2) Their voices rang out, “The Lord is a warrior, the Lord is his name.” (Exodus 15:3) “Who among the gods is like you, Lord? Who is like you-majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” (Exodus 15:11) As you read these words of praise, how do they resonate with you? What would your worship song say?
The Israelites celebrated God and then went right back to their lives of fear and discontent. The Israelites forgetting muscle was much bigger than their remembering muscle. They forgot that life is a pilgrimage, during which we much learn new lessons and fight new battles. Which muscle in your life is flabby? Is it the forgetting muscle or the remembering muscle? Muscles gain strength and definition when they are used.
The notes of the Israelites praise song still hung in the air as the Israelite contingent began to cross the desert of Shur. Their tongues began to dry, their children began to cry, and the thirsty bawling of the livestock began to drown out their notes of joy. Fear of “not enough” began to consume their minds. The Israelites began to lift the weights of forgetfulness and exercise that muscle fueled by fear. Uppermost on the minds of the Israelites was not how to please God, but “…What are we to drink?” (Exodus 15:24) When has fear stilled your praise and stolen your spiritual victories?
The thirst of the Israelites could not be slaked in the bitter waters of Marah. Our thirst for a relationship with the Creator God cannot be slaked in the distractions of today and the bitter taste of life’s disappointments. I have stood on the banks of bitterness, anger, disappointment, and eagerness to pin the blame for “not enough” on someone. I have asked God to fix the “bitter” never realizing that God had something better. God was testing his people “…There the Lord issued a ruling and instruction for them and put them to the test.” (Exodus 15:25) He tested them, not because He didn't know their hearts, but because they didn’t know their own hearts. “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) Despite the Israelites fickle hearts, God cleared the bitter waters and then still brought them to sweet rest in Elim. The attitude that we take toward our difficulties determines which direction life will go, bitter or better. How will you exercise your “remembering muscle of who God is” to move you back to your heart of praise? Trust God and obey Him, knowing that “the will of God will never lead us where the grace of God cannot sustain us. “ (Billy Graham)
The Israelites had escaped Egypt en masse with thousands of people, a lot of animals, and the parting gifts that their neighbors had given them. It wasn’t long before they faced a dilemma with frightening prospects. Ahead was the Red Sea whose crossing posed a host of problems. Behind was the onrushing horde of the Egyptian army with innumerable chariots and troops.
Can you imagine their fear at this double whammy?
There likely were many among the refugees who feared the massive wall of water before them, as I would. I don't know about you, but I think the worst way to die would be drowning. Oceans frighten me. The Great Lakes are too big. Winona Lake is as big a body of water as I want to swim in—or even be on in a boat. I can see across the lake, and that's a comfort. But could the Israelites see the other side?
The Red Sea where God was to rescue his people is just below Lake Tanis so, wherever the crossing is to take place, there is a huge amount of water above that site. The wall of water that was piled up to make the roadway across the sea would have been extremely high, no doubt. Even at the narrowest finger between Egypt and the land on the other side, crossing was the most fearful venture imaginable.
As if that weren’t enough, the Israelites also feared the rapidly approaching army. The Scriptures tell us they acted like we probably would have, had we been there.
As Pharaoh approached, the people of Israel looked up and panicked when they saw the Egyptians overtaking them. They cried out to the Lord, and they said to Moses, “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!’” (14:10-12)
How would you - or have you - responded when God asked you to do something way beyond your comfort zone? When the going got tough, did you think, "It's better to go back where I know what to expect, rather than stay here in a great unknown?”
In the midst of a struggle without an easy answer, most of us don’t understand God’s purpose, and we may fret and lose hope like the Israelites. We know that God’s plan was to move his chosen people to the “Promised Land.” Why, then, this impossible hurdle? The purpose was repeated several times during the plagues and is made very clear in today’s text.
I have planned this in order to display my glory … After this, the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord! … My great glory will be displayed through Pharaoh and his troops, his chariots, and his charioteers. When my glory is displayed through them, all Egypt will see my glory and know that I am the Lord! (vv. 5, 18)
How has knowing “the rest of the story” sustained you in difficult times?
It’s good to know God’s long-range plan, but that doesn’t necessarily solve my immediate problem. How can I get through today’s pain, loneliness, or grief? It might be helpful to remember what Joni Erickson Tada wrote, “God will permit some things that He hates, but He’ll allow those things so that something He loves can be accomplished.”
The direction for us today is exactly the same as what Moses told the people at the Red Sea, “Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today” (v. 13). Or to put it another way, “Stand still and let God work his plan.” He would say to you, “I’ve got this!”
jbd & gmd
“Commemorate this day, the day you came out of Egypt,
out of the land of slavery,
because the Lord brought you out of it with a mighty hand.” (Ex 13:3)
It’s common to commemorate key people and events in history; in Washington, DC:
the Washington Monument the Thomas Jefferson Memorial
the Lincoln Memorial the Frederick Douglass Memorial
the Civil War Unknowns Memorial the Titanic Memorial
the World War II Memorial the Vietnam War Memorial
the Martin Luther King Memorial the Space Shuttle Challenger Memorial
in NYC, the 9/11 Memorial and the list goes on . . .
More importantly, God instituted commemorations:
a rainbow, promising never again a global flood (Gen 9:8-17)
two quarts of manna for future generations (Ex 16:33-34)
lamps burning for generations to come (Ex 27:21)
the stone tablets with the 10 commandments placed in the ark (Deut 10:5)
twelve large stones from the Jordan River erected on shore (Josh 4:1-9)
the Passover Celebration (Ex 12:1-28; 13:3-16)
the Lord’s Supper (Matt 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:17-20)
Architects, composers, artists, sculptors continue to recreate biblical themes:
Painted ceilings, stained glass windows, sculptures, portraits, music
Michelangelo’s “Moses” statue, Rio de Janeiro’s “Christ the Redeemer”
Martin Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” Handel’s “Messiah”
“This observance will be for you like a sign on your hand
and a reminder on your forehead
that this law of the Lord is to be on your lips.
For the Lord brought you out of Egypt with his mighty hand.”
Life Application Questions
Four prohibitions identify unacceptable individuals. They are to receive no invitation. If they show up, well, it will be embarrassing for they are unwelcome guests. At the specific direction of the LORD, you are to adhere to these dis-invitations to The Dinner. (Exodus 12:43-50).
Additional nonnegotiable instructions involve The Dinner’s preparation. Remember to also pay attention to all provisions for consuming it. These regulations are not for your family alone but for the entire community—no exceptions. The LORD’s directions are precise.
For our insight as well (all disciples of Jesus), the regulations arrived as heavenly edicts, a historically blazing light shaping Passover’s first night. The LORD did not qualify everyone to attend Passover.
We, the disciples of Jesus typically emphasize, “Open doors! Whosoever will come.” We love the thought and proclamation of open access to God’s grace, Christ’s redemption, and the Spirit’s filling (Revelation 22:17b).
Moreover, we treasure the image of a repentant Prodigal-child. He wasted the family’s wealth, awakening in the waste of snoring pigs. The odor was atrocious yet it matched his behavior toward the family and God.
We celebrate the Prodigal coming to his senses, returning to family and Father. Even as he is sighted on the pathway home, a celebration takes place. It is a reunion unrivaled in family history. The lost comes home (Luke 15:11-32).
Disciples of Jesus celebrate such stories. We emphasize Scripture’s welcoming, grace-laden announcements, and parables. We mistakenly deceive ourselves in thinking a few selective and individualized stories are the sum total of God’s resolution for always and universally welcoming everyone.
There is a problem with our ignorance for it marks a greater problem. Reading Scripture selectively, ignoring and excluding passages like Exodus 12:43-50, is to miss spiritual truth in action.
Truthfully and accurately Scripture reports that in the days of Moses some individuals were excluded from The Dinner-relationship with God. Kept away from Passover, their lack of access brought tragic consequences. The Passover event, with all its life-saving and deadly outcomes, happened one night in the long ago.
In what ways does the account of the first Passover’s regulations shape your spiritual awareness?
Are there parallels between Passover’s meal to The Dinner described in Revelation 16:9?
Have you been called away on an unexpected trip with little time to prepare? What do you find yourself doing (apart from wishing you’d printed that generic packing list)? You rush from closet to suitcase to dresser to bathroom and back to your suitcase to make sure you have all the essentials. What’s the weather like at your destination? Are there enough clothes for the time you’ll be gone? Did you remember your toothbrush? Did you forget anything?
Imagine the Israelites, who have had more than 400 years toiling in slavery when it seemed God was far away. All of a sudden, the word comes: “We’re leaving!” It certainly was a surprise!
Their “hosts” for the previous 400 plus years, the Egyptians, were just as anxious to have their “guests” gone as the “guests” were to leave. In fact, the Egyptians willingly shared with the Israelites their silver and gold jewelry and clothing, a fulfillment of God’s promise from many years earlier (Gen. 15:14). (It would be like your big sister voluntarily allowing you to take her favorite sweater on your trip without any expectation that it would be returned. You take other items from her wardrobe, too!)
Envision the hubbub as more than 2 million men, women, and children (estimated by most commentators) scurried to leave. There wasn’t even time for their bread to rise, so they wrapped the dough and their bowls in their clothes and carried them on their shoulders. Were they excited or scared? Did they anticipate their arrival in the Promised Land with enthusiasm or did they consider what they had left behind?
The Israelites might have been surprised by the announcement of their travel plans for the promised land, but God was not. He had prepared Pharaoh’s heart, promised that they would come out of slavery with great possessions, and provided them with one of the greatest leaders in history, Moses. As they traveled, a cloud (or pillar of fire) guided them, and each morning they woke to find manna to nourish their bodies.
God is not surprised by our individual journeys either. “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalms 139:16 NIV).
Where he gave the Israelites a cloud or a pillar of fire to guide them, He has given us His Word.
Where he gave them a leader in the person of Moses, he has provided His Holy Spirit, who often speaks in a still, small voice to help us navigate life.
Have you ever been caught off guard about an upcoming trip?
How has God specifically guided your life journey?
Is there a verse or a promise that has helped guide your journey?