The Israelites were on the move. After 430 years in Egypt God has brought His people out of slavery and they are headed to the promised land. As we read today, we see several things that we will read many times over the course of the Old Testament. God calls His people to remember. Sometimes their remembering comes with an observance of an event or occasion. Many times, they are to remember something God has done for them. They are to remember that God has brought them out of Egypt with His mighty hand. They remember so they can tell the next generation what God has done. In Exodus 13:9 God tells the Israelites the remembering will be like a sign on their foreheads or hands. God is speaking of what we call today Phylacteries. They are small cube shaped leather boxes that the Jews, both then and now wear tied to their foreheads or hands. The most orthodox wear them all the time. Others wear them during prayers. The purpose of wearing them is to remind them of their deliverance from slavery in Egypt, and of their duty to remain faithful to God's commands. They are mentioned in three Biblical passages, this one and Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11:13-21. These three scripture passages are written on parchment and placed in the Phylacteries. As I think about this practice, I wonder what three passages each of us would put in a Phylactery.
As God’s people left Egypt, we read that God did not choose to take the Israelites the short route. Because it would have led directly to the land of the Philistines who were big...think Goliath...and they were fierce warriors. God did not want His people changing their minds before they even arrived at the promised land. And there were Egyptian military posts along the shorter route. Those soldiers would have challenged the Israelites. The Israelites took Joseph's bones with them to bury him in the cave of Machpelah along with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And God went ahead of them. God appeared in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night so they could travel at any time. But he also went with them simply to be with them. The date of the Exodus is not recorded anywhere but by looking at scripture and later history many scholars put the Exodus in the year 1445 B.C. We read in 1 Kings 6:1 that construction began on the temple In Jerusalem in the fourth year of King Solomon’s reign, which was 965 B.C. That is specified as being 480 years after the Exodus. There are other theories, but this seems to be the most prevalent.
Israel’s Exodus from Egypt was not the end of their experiences with God, but the beginning. It wouldn't take long for the Israelites to see God's mighty power again. After the initial shock of the death of all Egypt's firstborn God once again hardened pharaoh's heart. He realized all of Egypt's slave labor had left. There was no one left to build or tend flocks and herds. Pharaoh marshaled his entire army...all Pharaoh's horses, chariots, horsemen and troops left to pursue the Israelites. This is the undoing of Egypt. Through the plagues we have seen locusts who have eaten all their crops and anything else green and growing. We have seen giant hail that has destroyed people and livestock. There was a disease in their livestock that also decimated the flocks and herds. Joseph had amassed huge quantities of money, animals, land, and slaves during the famine and Egypt became the most powerful nation in the world. Now not much is left. In His power and might we will see God act once more against Egypt. When the totality of Egypt's fighting forces come upon the Israelites God not only protects the Israelites but kills the entire Egyptian army. Not one person is left. Egypt will never be the same again. Never again will they have worldwide power and influence.
As we look at the Israelites, we see other Biblical folks...and we see ourselves. The Israelites followed the Lord in the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. And as long as they kept their focus on the Lord, they were fine. But when they took their focus off the Lord and looked back at the Egyptians coming towards them, they panicked. We see the same thing in Peter, walking on the water. As long as he kept his focus on Jesus, he was fine but when he looked at the waves he too panicked and began to flounder and sink. Today, when we keep our focus on the Lord we do well. But when we begin to look towards other things, we too panic. It is human nature to look, to take our eyes off the Lord. But it never ends well when we do.
What we see in the pillar of cloud and fire is referred to as the shekinah glory of God. This is the visible presence of the Lord, though no one ever sees the Lord, just His glory. He is enveloped in the cloud or fire. So, we see the glory of God hiding the Israelites from the pursuing Egyptians. For the Israelites the cloud provided light but to the Egyptians it was a cloud of darkness. Later this same cloud covered Mount Sinai when God spoke to Moses and later still it filled Solomon's temple. God gives light to His people but to those who refuse Him, they walk about in the darkness of the world.
This reading introduces us to a disappointing pattern of behavior on the part of the Israelites. As long as things went well, they usually obeyed the Lord and Moses was able to make progress. But if there were challenges or trials or discomfort, they began to complain immediately to Moses and often they believed they should go back to Egypt. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:7 that we are called to walk by faith and not by sight. It isn't just the Israelites who complain and cry out when life isn't what we have planned.
Moses was a man of great faith. He knew God would protect the Israelites. He told God's people to fear not. You ain't seen nothing yet. And in 14:31 we read that the Israelites saw how great God's power was and they feared the Lord and put their trust in both God and Moses. Moses reminded the people that they needed to be still, something we see in Psalm 46...be still and know that I AM God. Not only did God deliver the Israelites out of Egypt but He also delivered them in the wilderness from pharaoh for the last time
Just like the Israelites, we struggle. Life is full of challenges, trials, testing. We can choose to let God lead us on the path He has chosen for us, or we can shove Him out of the way and make our own path. The choice is ours.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W