Rescue at the Sea
- Main text: Exodus 14:5-7, 10-14, 21-29
- Accompanying text: Matthew 2:13-15
Exodus is a theme that appears again and again in the Bible. The exodus through the Red Sea is a type of the exodus that we have in Jesus Christ. Through Christ’s death and resurrection, humanity and the world has been freed from the slavery of sin and brought into a new relationship with the God who saves. Peter Enns comments on the exodus that “in one sense the Bible as a whole can be summarized as the story of God’s intervening to bring his chosen people out of a foreign, hostile place and back to the chosen land.” 
The rescue at the Sea is a pivotal point in the history of Israel, it is God’s mighty act that moves Israel from “slavery to freedom, from fragmentation to solidarity, from a people of promise (the Hebrews) to a nation of fulfilment (Israel)” . The founding of the nation of Israel begins here with God’s initiative of grace in rescuing the Hebrews from Egypt. Everything in the first 14 chapters of the book of Exodus (and even Genesis) has been building to this point and it becomes the theological foundation of how Israel understands God – Yahweh is the God who saves. The phrase “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery”, or a variant of it, appears more than 125 times in Scripture and helps Israel to understand God’s purpose and plan for her.
Our text begins with Pharaoh changing his mind about releasing the Israelites and assembling his army to re-capture the Israelites and bring them back into servitude. Pharaoh’s repentance following the tenth and final plague does not last and the Interpreter’s Bible comments aptly on the King of Egypt’s change of heart: “the repentance of a scared man is worth very little… the scared man has the feelings of a mouse towards a cat; the repentant, the feelings of a child toward its father.” 
The Israelites’ situation seems dire. Having finally obtained freedom they now see the Egyptian army chasing after them – the Egyptians would blame Israel for the plagues and resent their plundering as they left Egypt (Ex 12:35-36). They find themselves trapped in the wilderness, with women, children and cattle in their midst, and no clear way to escape or overcome the approaching Egyptian army. In their fear they cry out to God and complain to Moses that he has rescued them only to bring them to their death. Even after the recent experience of God’s grace (Passover), God’s presence seems so far away and the Egyptians so close.
The wording of the Israelites’ complaint in verse 10 is significant. What is at stake here is whether Israel will serve man (Pharaoh) or serve God. It is the question of what it means for Yahweh to be Israel’s God and for Israel to be God’s people.
Moses’ response is to instruct the Israelites to trust the God who saves. If God’s promises to Israel’s ancestors (Abraham, Jacob and Joseph) are to come true, it will be through God’s actions alone and his power to bring life from death. Hope from despair. As Christians, when we find similar moments of despair in our life, and struggle to see any way out, we need to remember Moses’s words here. Abraham Lincoln is recorded as saying, in a dark moment in his life, “whatever he designs, He will do for me yet. ‘Stand still and see the Salvation of the Lord’ is my text just now.”  The fulfilment of God’s promises and our salvation does not depend on us, but on the almighty God who is never powerless and whose will can never be thwarted (see 2 Cor 1:20).
To rescue Israel, God parts the sea. These verses are intentionally evocative of Gen 1:2, 6-7. God, in Israel’s (imminent) moment of death, creates new life. He brings order out of the chaos – light in Israel’s moment of darkness. The pillars of fire and of cloud, which had previously been leading them in the desert now stands between Israel and Egypt, holding back the death that the Egyptian army represents. Salvation here comes solely from God, yet God uses Moses and the forces of nature to bring about Salvation. We often want salvation on our terms, an undisputed miracle, and fail to see God’s hand when he saves us through a seeming third party.
J. Edgar Park comments: “Religion, like science, takes the forces in life that are running to waste and turns them into power. It turns worry into prayer, depression into humility, pride into thanksgiving; it turns the destructive smoldering fires and smoke into protective pillars or even… into guardian angels” 
In verse 26, God commands Moses to stretch his hand over the sea so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, bringing their destruction. The primary purpose of the parting of the sea is to save Israel, but it also represents the death of the Egyptian army. The act that saved one people destroyed another. When the Bible speaks of judgement, the purpose of judgement is always to save – to make right and restore what humanity has made wrong and evil. Yet the Bible also consistently tell us that God’s judgement also falls upon, and has consequences, for those who stubbornly refuse to acknowledge God and continue to oppose his sovereignty.
How does this text testify of Jesus Christ?
The crossing of the Red Sea and Israel’s exodus from Egypt helps us understand Jesus’ mission and purpose in his life, death, and resurrection (Matthew makes this connection in Matt 2:15). Just as Israel was called out of slavery to a new life as God’s people, in Christ we have been called out of the slavery of sin to new life as children of God. Just as in Israel’s moment of death, God parted the sea and led them to their new life, so in Christ, God has overcome death and made a crossing for us to follow him into his eternal life.
- Deuteronomy 7:7-8,
- 1 Corinthians 10:1-2,
- Luke 9:31*
- Hebrews 8:6-12, 11:26-29,
- Jude 1:5
*The name of the book of Exodus comes from the Septuagint. The greek word ‘exodus’ used in Luke 9:31 is normally translated in English as ‘departure’.
- Eugene H. Merrill, Kingdom of Priests, p73-74.
- Peter Enns, NIV Application Commentary Series: Exodus, digital edition.
- J. Edgar Park, The Interpreter’s Bible: Exodus
- Bryan Binns, Abraham Lincoln