Sermon from September 14th, 2014. The text for the sermon was Exodus 14:10-31.
Dry Land Will Come
Our Old Testament Passage for this week holds the dramatic climax of the Exodus narrative. After the tenth and final plague, Pharaoh relents and allows Moses to lead the Hebrew people out of Egypt. They were sent out from Egypt so quickly that all they have time to prepare is unleavened bread. Man, woman, and child, the whole of the Hebrew people started walking out from the land of Egypt. It wasn’t long before the Egyptians realized what they had done. I imagine Egyptian nobles waking up in the morning and having no one to draw them a hot bath, or Egyptian foremen going to work and discovering that there were no longer slaves to make bricks for them, they were going to have to do it themselves.
All of a sudden they were horrified. They said we’ve got to go and bring them back. Egypt was a dominant power in the world because of their great war chariots. They could move faster and maneuver better than other armies at the time who were stuck on foot, like the Hebrews. And Pharaoh called for his chariot and his armies of chariots, with his 600 elite shock chariots and their officers, and he prepared to chase them down. Make no mistake: when it comes to the dominators, the oppressors of this world, and the status quo changes to not be so tilted in their favor, they will unleash hell on earth to change it back. And that’s what Pharaoh did.
In the meantime, the Hebrew forces were made up of whole families dragging all of their possessions at their backs; the Egyptians chariots had no trouble overtaking them. They caught up to them camped out by the Sea of Reeds. The Hebrews were now trapped between a rock and a hard place. One one side they have angry Egyptians, ready to take them back into slavery. And on the other hand they have the Reed Sea, a marshy body of water difficult to navigate or cross.
And so there they are. Stuck. The way forward seems impossible. The way backward is overrun, and would certainly lead to slavery or death. The people complain to Moses. “Weren’t there any graves in Egypt? Did you bring us out here in the desert to die? … Didn’t we tell you this was going to happen? ….It would be better to be slaves than to die here in the desert.”
There are old traditions passed down by the rabbis known as midrash, stories to comment on the stories in the Torah. And one of these misrashim talks about what that conversation was like between Moses and the people as they see the Egyptian chariots closing in. As the story goes, there were four different factions among the people. The first group said the Egyptians will surely crush us; we should just throw ourselves into the sea and get it over with. The second group said, “Let us go back to Egypt, it would be better to be slaves to the Egyptians than to be dead.” The third group said, “Let us take up arms right here and fight.” And the fourth group said, “Let us raise up a shout to confuse them.” Trapped between the army and the sea, each group had a different idea about what they should do in the face of certain destruction.
Everyone responds differently with his or her back against the wall. Some will say, “Well, it’s fight or flight, man, and I’m no chicken. I don’t care if I’m sure to lose, I’ll go down swinging.” Others say, “There’s no hope. We should just give up now.” Others would surrender, like those who wanted to go back to serving the Egyptians. “It doesn’t matter that we’re choosing to lose, at least this choice is better than the others,” they argue. Better a dismal existence than certain failure. And others would say “We don’t know what to do, but we have to do something,” and so choose the first thing that comes to mind, without regard for its effectiveness. Thus the hope that shouting might confuse Pharaoh’s battle-hardened charioteers.
Whether it’s wasting our energy in vain efforts or making no effort at all, there are a lot of different ways to give up. We can give up by running away from something. We can give up by just going through the motions instead of putting our hearts into our efforts. We can give up by getting reckless, or we can give up by refusing to take risks when we need to.
And each of these ways of giving up are easier than what God asks us to do in situations like this. What God asks us to do is trust. In the story the rabbis tell, the people think they’re between a rock and a hard place. They want to give up because they don’t have hope. They don’t trust that they are in the hands of God.
But Moses tells them, “Don’t be afraid. Stand your ground. Hang on and you will see what the Lord will do to save you today.” And he’s half-right. He’s right to tell the people to put their faith in God to save them. He’s wrong to tell them to stand still.
Because in the very next verse, God says, “Why are you crying out for help? tell the people to move forward!” Can you imagine hearing this order passed down from Moses? You’re being hounded by some of the best troops the world has ever seen and Moses tells you to start walking in the water. But they go. They go in up to their ankles. They get in up to their knees. The water rises up to their waists, they pick up their children to keep them out of the water and they keep walking. The water keeps getting higher but the Lord is with them. The pillar of cloud moved behind them to hide them from the Egyptians. And a great wind blows across the waters, and just as God did at the beginning of Creation, God calls up dry land out from the waters. And they started walking more confidently along the land. They thought they were trapped, but God delivered them and soon they would be home free.
When the people seem trapped in a no-win situation, God tells them to continue in hope. Not to wait around, but to keep moving forward, in sure and certain hope of God’s salvation. It was terrifying for those people walking into the Reed Sea. And it is terrifying for us, when we find ourselves in similar situations.
But it is in the nature of God to save. That’s the point of this story, the Exodus story, and that’s the point of the whole Bible. Our God is a powerful God but not a distant God. God cares about us, and God will deliver us from the trials and troubles of our lives and our world. We might not be able to see it coming, surely those standing on the edge of the Reed Sea didn’t expect dry land to be brought up from the waters. But nevertheless God’s redemption and salvation are real.
There are a lot of things that are uncertain in this world. We wonder about our future. The future of our families, the future of our careers, the future of our health. We worry about the future of our church, the future of our community, the future of our nation. All too often we face situations like this. Sometimes the best that we can do is to keep moving forward. Wade in the water. God’s going to trouble the waters. Walk into the murky waters of the Reed Sea and trust that dry land will come.