This last weekend, I graduated seminary. It has often occurred to me that theology has a way of attracting people who like formulaic outcomes. If you do x, then y will happen. As a younger man, I was one of the folks who more or less subscribed to that idea. Anything worthwhile could be distilled into multi-page outlines. But I’m an older graduate. I’ve logged enough years to have seen various forms of theological “math” break down and severely frustrate followers.
At such times of disappointment, the Bible never sugar coats the truth. The reality often is “The people of Israel lifted up their eyes and the Egyptians were marching after them” (Ex. 14:10). You can see catastrophe coming.
Fear becomes palpable. It sprouts toadstools—desperate, frantic ideas that God has “taken us away to die in the wilderness” (v. 11).
The people had been following God for all of fifteen minutes and already regretted it. What good was salvation anyway? “It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness” (v. 12).
What do you say to people who lament God’s work in their lives, who come to the conclusion that life without God would have been better for them?
I’m no stranger to this kind of resentment. Where did prayer get me? Is this the reward for faithfulness? When all seems lost, it’s easy to go there.
That’s when Moses stepped in, saying “Fear not.” It’s unlikely he meant for the people to go numb inside and make themselves feel nothing. Fear is after all, an automatic and spontaneous registration. More likely Moses wanted them to get a handle on their unchecked despair—the wretched fear that was causing them to wallow in hopelessness and wildly express it to one another.
On a follow-up note, Moses added, “Stand firm.” It was a charge intended to halt their emotional egress from God. Their panicked departure meant they were moving. But sparked by dark animal fear, it wasn’t toward the good land. Or God. With hearts in reverse, they were filled with thoughts of surrender to the mastery of Egypt.
Then Moses said, “See the salvation of the Lord.” It was evident the only thing they had been seeing was the Egyptian army. Chariots eclipsed everything else. And yet Moses added, “the Lord will fight for you,” (v.14), an intimation of the grace we would one day meet in full at the cross of Jesus, where the crucified Savior would assure us, “I will fight for you.”
Perhaps most impressive of all, Moses said, “You have only to be silent.” No need for weeping, begging, and praying for salvation. In fact, God says, “Why all the crying?” “Go forward” (v.15).
But how? There’s a sea in front of us and an army behind us.
So God told Moses to stretch out his hand over the sea and divide it so the people could go through. Glory would then break out. But glory doesn’t start to emerge until we move. It manifests in the midst of trial and great fear.
So they moved.
On cue, glory began. The angel of the Lord went around behind the people to separate them from the Egyptians (14:19-20).
The sea parted and the people went through.
The glory of deliverance.
Afterward, Moses turned and stretched out his hand over the water, closing it over the Egyptian army.
The glory of judgment.
It was all a picture of salvation—“the Lord saved Israel” (v. 30)—and an especially fitting picture of baptism. The people had experienced the redemptive part of their salvation by the blood of the lamb and now the deliverance aspect through water.
Nothing was more proof-positive of its effectiveness than when “they saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore.”
The sum total of the encounter was the glory of God, where “The people feared the Lord and they believed in the Lord” (v. 31). Real glory doesn’t eliminate fear, it transfers it. Fear is not the problem; it’s what you fear that creates the trouble. As the old adage states, “You can either fear God or everything else.”
That’s what glory did here—directed the people’s belief away from the problem and onto God. It taught them to be in awe of Him, not some temporal difficulty.
I’ve had plenty of encounters walking with people through crisis. They would pray, seek counsel from everyone, and read pertinent verses in the Bible. Then the crisis passed with an ending that was agreeable to them. Just that fast, their seeking was over. Why not? They got what they wanted. Yet no fear, no faith remained.
I knew a guy who tackled his buddy for fun—got a running start and then hit him with a full body shot. It ruptured his buddy’s spleen. Apparently the internal bleeding was so severe they didn’t know whether he would live.
Meanwhile, the repentant rough-housing friend prayed more than he ever had in his life. He started hanging out with Christians he used to make fun of, asking for nuggets of wisdom, even from newly converted pip-squeaks like me. Those days were dark and dire, with an uncertain outcome.
Eventually, the injured fellow recovered good as new. His scared buddy also returned to being “normal.”
His prayer stopped. His Bible went back into a desk drawer under a pile of magazines and newspapers. He had seen no glory. Neither fear of the Lord nor belief in God filled his heart. Not even a momentary praise passed his lips, like in Exodus 15, where the rescued people took some time to thank and praise God. There was just a sigh of relief and a casual return to a life of sin. Suffering had only been something to escape.
As Christians, we don’t want to live a life always trying to get out of something, but missing the reason it was all allowed to begin with.
So here’s three ways to keep from missing God’s glory—adapted from Moses’ words in Exodus chapter 14.
“See the salvation of the Lord” – Set your focus on salvation. Bible reading is important here. Feed your mind with the glory and greatness of God, right in the middle of the situation. Don’t only look for “answer verses.”
Plunge into the whole counsel of God. What you look at is paramount. Consider your experience while driving a car. Even a momentary look here or there can cause you to subconsciously turn the steering wheel in that direction (good if you were looking at an ice-cream stand; bad if you were looking at a telephone pole).
“Be silent” – Don’t let negative speech pour out of your mouth. Unbelief loves to talk. The words come out, only to travel back into your own ears and end up in your heart, where they reinforce your unbelief and fear. It’s an anti-gospel.
If you have any doubts as to the benefits of restraining your mouth, try to go for 48 hours without any type of negative talk, and then take stock of your spiritual state. It will be noticeably improved, to say the least!
Finally, “Go forward.” – You can’t fix or help a lot of things. God doesn’t expect us to, anyway. Here’s what you can reasonably do: take responsibility for your own Christian progress. Read your Bible. Pray. Attend Christian meetings. Confess your sins.
Don’t tell yourself “First, I must wait for this to pass.” Resist that kind of paralysis. There are certain things you can do, even if you don’t feel like it. Remember, glory breaks out while you move forward, and it will be far more impressive than any encountered during “peacetime.”
Get the most out of your crisis.