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Sermon text: Exodus 14:13–14

[13] And Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever. [14] The LORD will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.”

Perhaps you have heard the old maxim that asserts, ‘God helps those who help themselves.’ While there may be some truth to this saying in the sphere of our earthly vocations (see Prov. 10:4), when it comes to salvation, it’s just plain wrong. God saves those who come to the utter end of themselves. If you believe that in salvation, God helps those who help themselves, you’ll end up like the apostate Israel of Paul’s day, who “being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, [had] not submitted to the righteousness of God” (Rom. 10:3). What I would like to do on this occasion is replace this maxim with the truth of God, because even if we don’t say it, we are all prone to think it at times. How easy it is to presume that God’s help depends upon our effort, our ability, our resources. Instead of predicating God’s help on human exertion, our text teaches us to ascribe salvation and deliverance to the wonderful working of God.

Our text is located within the history of Israel’s exodus from Egypt. The event of the exodus is a paradigm of salvation. To be sure, not every Israelite who was physically redeemed from Egypt and led through the Red Sea experienced eternal salvation (1 Cor. 10:5). Many of them did not believe and perished as a result (Heb. 4:2). We shouldn’t make the mistake of equating temporal salvation from the tyranny of Egypt with eternal salvation from the tyranny of sin and Satan. But though there is not exact equivalence, there certainly is correspondence.

This is owing to what we call biblical typology. What it means in this case is that the historical events surrounding the exodus story are divinely designed acts—they are purposefully ordained by God. They were orchestrated in such a way so as to prefigure, foreshadow, and illustrate beforehand the climactic realities of salvation that would be fulfilled by Christ. That is what typology does: it points to Jesus Christ, who is the sum and substance of all the Law and the Prophets (John 5:39). Everything that is written in the Old Testament was written by the inspiration of the Spirit of Christ with the intention of pointing us to Him (1 Pet. 1:10-11).

So, what we are reading here is not just an ancient book about an ancient people. It is a living book that speaks to us just as much (actually more!) than it did to that first generation of Israelites. First Corinthians 10:11 says, “Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” So these Old Testament texts deal not merely with their salvation but also and especially with our salvation. And what is the principle that it so clearly highlights? It teaches us that salvation is the distinctive and definitive work of God alone that he sovereignly accomplishes for the display of his own glory.

As we approach our exposition with this in mind, our outline will be as follows: (I) First of all, salvation is utterly impossible; (II) second, salvation is spectacularly divine; and (III) third, salvation is definitively final.

I. Utter Impossibility

The children of Israel were in an impossible predicament. I call it ‘impossible’ because, humanly speaking, there was no way they could escape the threat of imminent extermination. This is clear from the preceding context.

Look at what we are told in the beginning of the chapter in verses 1–3: “Now the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Speak to the children of Israel, that they turn and camp before Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, opposite Baal Zephon; you shall camp before it by the sea. For Pharaoh will say of the children of Israel, ‘They are bewildered by the land; the wilderness has closed them in.’” Israel is described as “entangled by the land” and “closed in” in the wilderness.

Scholars differ as to the precise location of this event, but it seems best to accept the traditional route of the exodus. In this case, they were at a dead end, hemmed in by what is known in modern times as Mt. Musa on one side, and the impassable body of water on the south and east. To go back westward would be to commit suicide, for it would mean to rush headlong into the sword of Pharoah. Whatever the precise location, the truth of the text is clear. As Israel travelled eastward toward Canaan, having been led out of Egypt, the Lord had them take a detour that resulted in becoming hemmed in by a geographical land trap.

They had nowhere to run, and nowhere to hide! The mightiest army in the world was approaching. Pharoah was enraged! Verses 6–7 say, “So he made ready his chariot and took his people with him. Also, he took six hundred choice chariots, and all the chariots of Egypt with captains over every one of them.” This was a large army, especially for the ancient world. A much smaller force could have easily annihilated a band of a couple million Hebrew slaves fleeing for their lives across the desert. Israel’s furious enemy was fast approaching, and the intention was to slaughter.

Israel, of course, panicked! Look at verse 10: “And when Pharaoh drew near, the children of Israel lifted their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians marched after them. So they were very afraid, and the children of Israel cried out to the LORD.” (Exod. 14:10). This was by no means an ordinary cry. This was no cool-minded petition that characterizes many a church’s comfortable prayer meeting. It was a cry of terror, a scream of desperation, an outburst of emotional exuberance! This was life or death! And the children of Israel despaired.

“Then they said to Moses, “Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you so dealt with us, to bring us up out of Egypt? Is this not the word that we told you in Egypt, saying, ‘Let us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness.” (Exod. 14:11–12). As far as they were concerned, they were as good as dead. There was simply no way to survive this.

This is a tremendous lesson for us. Just as Pharaoh was too mighty for Israel, our ancient adversary, the devil, is much too mighty for us. As Luther wrote in his famous hymn,

For still our ancient foe
doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and pow’r are great,
and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

And on earth was not Pharaoh’s equal either. But our problem is not only Satan, but also our sins! Our sins have provoked the sentence of death to be pronounced upon us (Rom. 6:23). They condemn us to the pit and enslave us to their power. And our temptations are insuperable as far as our own strength is concerned. If left to ourselves, our trials would soon swallow us up.

The Christian life is impossible apart from the supernatural power of Almighty God. A lost sinner can no more become a Christian by his inherent willpower and moral resolution than can Lazarus raise himself from the grave (see John 11). Israel’s vagabond band of slaves might as soon conquer Pharaoh’s mighty array of chariots and battle-hardened warriors. We must understand that it is not merely difficult to be saved, but it is, humanly speaking, impossible. And this impossibility applies to salvation in all its aspects—whether it be redemption, or obtaining peace with God, or overcoming sin’s cruel temptation. It applies both to becoming a Christian and also to living as a Christian. It is all much too lofty an attainment for us. We must depend wholly on the achievement of Another.

And thanks be to God that He has not left us in this place of despair. What is impossible for men is possible with God (Luke 18:27). His ordinary way of working is to make us aware of our utter inability so that his divine power and omnipotent grace may shine against the backdrop of our inability and hopelessness and despair. This leads to our second point:

II. Divine Spectacularity

Exodus 14:13: “And Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will accomplish for you today.” Israel is commanded to “stand still,” that is, to cease from panicking or fretting. They were to recognize that though they were helpless, they were not hopeless. They could be nothing but without strength, but God would show himself strong on their behalf. He would accomplish their salvation before their very eyes, and they would be bystanders to such a spectacle of divine display that they would be constrained to confess that it was all of God and none of themselves—and all to his glory.

Consider: it was not by mere coincidence that Israel found themselves in this predicament of a location. The Egyptians probably thought Israel was wandering around lost and confused. But it was the Lord who brought them to this point, for by the word of the Lord, Israel was instructed to encamp at “Pi Hahiroth between Migdol and the sea” (v. 2). Verse three tells us that Pharaoh thought the children of Israel had entrapped themselves. They seemed like sitting ducks. But really, it was Pharaoh and his armies that were led into the entrapment!

All this was a divine set-up, so to speak. Like wild game caught in a snare, the Egyptians were lured into this trap. And as they took the bait, God would snap their necks by crushing them with the waves of his fury. By the destruction of the powers of Egypt, Israel would get the victory and the nation would be delivered.

There is a very clear principle at work here. Think about it! Egypt sought to do a great evil, to unleash their worst to destroy God’s nation. But God himself would overturn their evil intentions and use them to accomplish his saving purpose. The Lord says in verse 4: “Then I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, so that he will pursue them; and I will gain honor over Pharaoh and over all his army, that the Egyptians may know that I am the LORD.” As an act of judgment, the Lord handed Pharaoh over to the hardness of his own heart (cf. Rom. 1:24, 26, 20, “God gave them up…”). He sovereignly orchestrated the whole scene. Pharaoh had evil intentions, but God ordained to bring about his judgment through these evil intentions in order to bring about the salvation of his people.

This isn’t the first time we see this in the Bible. Remember what Joseph said to his brothers after the death of Jacob? “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.” (Gen. 50:20). Joseph’s brothers had hated him; with murderous intentions they betrayed him, and sold him into Egypt. But this contrivance to undo him led to their not being undone. Their murderous intentions led to the deliverance of the ancient world from the death throes of severe famine, including the family of Israel as God’s elect nation. Without being the Author of sin (James 1:13), God sovereignly employed their destructive intentions in order to bring salvation from the destruction of the famine. God used intentions for death in order to undo death. God subjected human rebellion to his sovereign purpose to bring about redemption and save Israel. And the purpose was clear, for at the end of it all, no one could deny that it was all the hand of God.

In Exodus 14, it looked as if the Egyptians had won the day. Their victory was all but certain. It seemed that they had conquered. But the Lord turned it all on its head. The sovereign King of heaven and earth allowed sin to run its course so that sin and death, as typified in the evil Egyptian powers, would lead themselves into a mighty destruction wrought by the arm of the Lord. The sinful intentions of Pharaoh led to his own suicide, as it were.

God did this to display his glory, his wisdom, his power, and his absolute sovereignty. In verse 4 the Lord says he would do this, “that the Egyptians may know that I am the LORD [YHWH]”—in other words, to exhibit a spectacular display of his awesome wisdom and might, and his sovereign supremacy over the most powerful opposing forces of the world. This glory shines all the brighter because the children of Israel were helpless in the face of it. God’s might is gloriously displayed when all human resources are dismayed. In Israel’s darkest, bleakest hour, God accomplished a sovereign salvation and it became Israel’s brightest, happiest day. It’s no wonder that the exodus event as culminating in the crossing of the Red Sea and destruction of Pharaoh’s armies becomes a paradigm of salvation throughout the rest of the Bible.

This is analogous to what God has accomplished in our salvation as well. Romans 5:6 says, “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” Those words, “without strength” mean we were helpless to effectuate our own salvation or contribute anything to it. They do not denote relative weakness but absolute impotency. We had nothing else to do but to “stand still and see the salvation of the LORD.”

And just as God had allured Pharaoh, God allured the serpent into the scene of Calvary’s cross so that in striking the heal of the God-man the serpent’s head would be crushed. God sovereignly used the murderous intentions of wicked men to orchestrate the scene through which he would display His glory by bringing about a spectacular salvation (Acts 2:23). Through death, he judged and destroyed death. Hebrews 2:14-15 says, “Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” Satan was led to his own suicide when He killed the Son of God.

No more bondage now! The chains of slavery to sin and death and the devil have been snapped by the almighty arm of the Lord. The world’s darkest hour, when thick darkness covered the scene and the hour of the power of darkness had come, became the spectacle of God’s triumphant saving power. The cross of Calvary is God’s glory on display in orchestrating salvation through the judgment of evil powers. And God’s salvation is not weak, or haphazard, or partial…

III. Definitive Finality

Exodus 14:13b–14 says, “And Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever. The LORD will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.’” We all know the story: as God opened the waters and led Israel through on dry ground; the Egyptians pursued, and God caused the waters to crush and drown them in the depths. Those dastardly Egyptians would never be seen again. Israel would never be enslaved again to the corrupt powers of Egypt; they would sing the song of jubilee after 400 years of submitting their necks to the foreign yoke of the oppressor! What comfort, what consolation, what confirmation were communicated by those words, “you shall see again no more forever”!

This salvation is so definitively final because God had wrought it, and God would make sure that His saving purpose was accomplished such that it could not be thwarted or overturned or reversed. The text actually picks up on the motif of God as divine warrior when it says, “The LORD will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace” (cf. Exod. 15). It links the efficaciousness of the salvation to be accomplished with the ability of God to fight. And His ability wields all the might of His omnipotence.

And if God is fighting the battle, who can withstand him? Is Pharaoh mightier than God? Psalm 2 says that though all the nations gather together all their power to resist him, that He who sits in the heavens shall laugh. The mightiest forces on earth—indeed, all the nations combined—are but a drop in the bucket and dust on the scales (Isa. 40:15). This holds out a great hope of assurance to the people of God. “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? (Rom. 8:31).

Dear believer, what is it that disturbs the peace of your conscience? What trial is there that is too hard for the Lord to bring you through? What sin is too strong for the arm of the Lord? Do you feel weak and helpless before the onslaughts of your hellish enemies? Oh, stand still, I say, and see the salvation of the Lord! Look to Christ, cling to His precious cross, and trust in His blood. He will lead you safely through the turmoil of this world into the glory of your heavenly Canaan.

One may say, “But my conscience troubles me; my sins are ever before me; they would swallow me up.” Hear what the Lord said to Israel: “For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever.” Just as He drowned Egypt’s horse and rider into the depth of the sea, He has promised to all who cling to Christ that He has cast their sins into the depths of the sea (Mal. 7:19)! He has said in Hebrews 8:12, “their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.” In Isaiah he said, “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins.” (Isa. 43:25). And in the Psalms he promised, “As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Ps. 103:12). Doubt not the power and the effectiveness and the de facto finality of God’s salvation!

When we read these histories, it’s easy to condemn the ancient Israelites. Yet, I think we are oftentimes more like them than we’d like to admit. How often we are tempted to have more faith in the might of Pharaoh than in the power of God! This was often a temptation for Israel throughout her history (2 Kings 18:24; Ps. 20:7; Isa. 31:3; 36:9). And it was the temptation of those gathered on the edge of the Red Sea as they cried out in panic. Our true enemies—namely, sin, Satan, death, the fallen world system—they seem so real and so tangible to us. They are easy to ‘size up’ due to their palpable intersection with our daily experience; and we can easily see that their power and influence are much mightier than us. They are formidable foes indeed. How incessantly they tempt us to despair!

“How do we often despair?”—you may wonder. We despair when we have more faith in the power of sin’s guilt than we do in the power of God’s grace to cleanse us from it. And we despair whenever we view temptations as stronger than the power of the gospel’s promises to provide a way of escape from them (1 Cor. 10:13). We also despair when we perceive our trials as greater than our God’s good and compassionate purpose for us in them (Rom. 8:28).

Brethren, our God is the One who parted the waters of the Red Sea and made them stand up like a heap! Our God is the One who crushed the mightiest nation on earth like a flea! Our God is the One who laughs in the face of the impossible! Can He not, then, remit your guilt? Can He not empower you to trample the serpents and scorpions of your soul’s enemies? Can He not drown your sins by His grace in the sea of forgetfulness? Beware that you have not more faith in the power of sin, or the flesh, or the devil, or the world, than you have in the strength of the almighty God who has covenanted to save those who are so weak they are “without strength.”

God’s salvation is definitively final. If we are in Christ, then our Lord has promised us that we shall see our former bondage no more! It’s dead, gone, and buried.

Conclusion

Now of course, someone may say, “This all sounds good, but how do I appropriate it? How exactly do I apply this to my own life?” We appropriate the victory that God has accomplished by faith—simple, childlike faith. Hebrews 11 is a wonderful example of this. It says, “By faith…by faith…by faith”—over and over again in order to highlight just how essential it is to believe God. And in Hebrews 11:29, we read: “By faith they passed through the Red Sea as by dry land, whereas the Egyptians, attempting to do so, were drowned.” By faith they won the victory, for “this is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4). Particularly, if we are to hold our peace and stand still and see the salvation of God, we should have faith along the following three lines. Each of these three relates to the three points mentioned previously:

  1. We are to have faith in that our inability does not hinder the ability and grace of God. Many, unfortunately, downplay the human predicament in order to uphold the feasibility of salvation. What I mean is that in order to maintain the hope of salvation, many diminish the gravity of sin or its consequences. Salvation becomes more plausible because sin does not completely devastate the situation; there thus remains a ray of hope in that some inherent resource in man may be employed in service of our salvation. This is the case with semi-Pelagian theology and all works-based systems of salvation.

But this is the wrong way to approach the whole matter. Notice that Moses did not attempt to convince Israel that Pharaoh and his armies were not so big and bad. The Lord did not diminish the plight of their predicament. They were utterly helpless! But they were to trust him in the midst of their inability. Our sin is greater than we can fathom. And it is infinitely more grievous in the sight of God than our minds can even begin to comprehend. But this is no more an insurmountable obstacle to our salvation than was the Egyptian army to God’s purpose for Israel. The Scripture tells us, “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Rom. 5:20). Though you despair of your inability, let it drive you to have faith in God’s limitless ability!

  1. We are to have faith in the glorious display of God’s sovereign salvation. As the text exhorts the people, saying, “Stand still and see the salvation of God,” this is as much an exhortation for us as it was for them. A marvelous array of divine attributes was displayed before their very eyes in the parting of the waters and drowning of the Egyptians. The ordination and orchestration of the whole event marvelously exhibited the manifold wisdom of God. The judgment of the wicked showed forth the justice of God. Such easy manipulation and handling of the waters (which often represent indomitable chaos to the Hebrew people, cf. Gen. 1:2) evinced the lordship of God. The whole event as the fulfillment of the promise to the patriarchs manifested the faithfulness of God (Gen. 15:14). The bestowal of a salvation on the ungrateful and unworthy Israelites showed the grace of God. The mighty accomplishment of this salvation demonstrated the power of God. The whole event demonstrates his absolute sovereignty, that “salvation is of the Lord” (Jonah 2:9). We could go on and on. God’s glorious display of his attributes is a mighty disclosure of his glory, for to unveil himself is to expose his glory. And this display of glory was placed in the service of the people’s salvation.

And God has displayed His glory in an even fuller sense in the salvation accomplished in his Son. God himself, in the fullness of His glorious grace, has covenanted and committed to bring us to glory if we trust in Christ. And his wisdom cannot be confounded; his justice cannot be corrupted; his lordship cannot be subverted; his faithfulness cannot fail; his grace cannot be diluted; his power cannot be debilitated; his sovereignty cannot be thwarted. If you have taken refuge in Christ, all of these glorious attributes are immutably marshaled in service of your salvation, your eternal well-being, and your boundless eternal joy.

  1. We are to have faith in the definitive accomplishment of God the Son. As Israel was safely on the other side of the Red Sea, they could look back over the waters that had collapsed upon their former taskmasters. And they could now say, “It is done; it is all over.” The whole ordeal of the exodus had ended. Their slavery to Egypt was a thing of past. The exodus was accomplished. They could now rest assured and secure that their Egyptian enemies had been buried forever. Moses had told them, “You shall hold your peace” (v. 14) and now, as they stood on the shore of the other side, they could now utter their wholehearted ‘amen’ as they reflected back on what God had done. A solemn sense of awe must have weighed heavy on their minds, and the previous panic had given way to a profound peace.

This can all be applied to our case as well, dear friends. As the Son of God hung bleeding upon the cross, prior to breathing his last, He exclaimed, “It is finished” (John 19:30). The Lord Jesus Christ has ushered His people into a new, final, climactic exodus, for he is the One who parted the waters of death for us by His own death. We now look back over the sea that threatens destruction, that sea of death, and we see that the waters now rest calm for us. Buried in it are our sins, our woes, our eternal enemies. Cast all your sins there. Cast your regrets and all your remorse into that sea. He has given us eternal life, and grace, and promised glory. So let’s confide in the Crucified One and rest in His finished work. And as we march forward through the wilderness of this world, toward our heavenly Canaan, we can be sure that that the God who has been so faithful to redeem us, will most certainly bring us all the way home.