Is there a message for us today in the story of the Israelites crossing the Red Sea as the Egyptian army pursued them?
10 As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. 11 They said to Moses, "Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Didn't we say to you in Egypt, 'Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians'? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!"
13 Moses answered the people, "Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still."
15Then the Lord said to Moses, "Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. 16 Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground." . . .
. . . 22 The Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.
23 The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh's horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea. 24 During the last watch of the night the Lord looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion. 25 He jammed the wheels of their chariots so that they had difficulty driving. And the Egyptians said, "Let's get away from the Israelites! The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt."
26 Then the Lord said to Moses, "Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen." 27 Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward it, and the Lord swept them into the sea. 28 The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen -- the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived.
29 But the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. 30 That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. 31 And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.
Commentary on Exodus 14
In the spring of 1966, I was in a team of 20 students and adult leaders from what is now Southern Nazarene University that spent Spring Break in Mexico constructing a church building [ mission trip story ]. It was my first cross-cultural experience.
During our 10-day stay across the border, we discovered what it means to be an "alien," to be a foreigner. Shut off from our environment by cultural and language barriers, we found we were being shadowed day and night by a gnawing uncertainty.
However, we did manage to cope with our culture shock long enough to participate on Easter Sunday morning with District Superintendent Roberto Moreno in the dedication service of the simple building we had built on the concrete foundations and floor they had poured before our arrival.
As we drove back across the Rio Grande River to Eagle Pass, Texas, that shadowy fearful uncertainty of being on foreign soil vanished. In two vehicles, crew members spontaneously began singing "God Bless America." We sang because we felt "free" again, free in a way we had not felt for the previous ten days. It was something akin to the sentiment expressed in the song "His eye is on the sparrow" by C.D. Martin and Charles Hutchison Gabriel. The lyrics of that song have the emphatic statement: "I sing because I'm happy. I sing because I'm free."
I look back now on that incident at the U.S./Mexico border and smile at how "provincial" we were and how intimidated we had been by language and cultural differences.
But that adventure gave me a tiny insight into some of the feelings and emotions the children of Israel must have experienced as they broke out into a song after their dramatic escape at the Red Sea.
While deliverance from Egyptian slavery had seemed to become increasingly impossible, the situation at the Red Sea appeared impossible from the start. So hopeless had the situation become that when they were set free, it was clear that the Lord Himself had delivered them. No other explanation was imaginable. God had led them out and shut the door in Pharaoh's face.
No wonder they broke out in a song of thanksgiving. And it's no wonder that redeemed sinners often sing about their miraculous redemption from slavery to sin.
It's no coincidence that the Church of the Nazarene -- which preaches a "know-so" salvation, a full deliverance from all sin -- has been known for its music. I know of one Nazarene church that used to have the phrase "The Singing Church" splashed in neon letters across the front of its building.
Of course, not everyone has been comfortable with the happy, exuberant kind of praise that characterizes Nazarene singing. For instance, after I had been in Florence, Italy, for a year, a young missionary working on the University of Florence campus quit attending our church to begin attending the services of another evangelical group across the city.
That was okay. She was not a Nazarene, nor did she embrace holiness theology. But I visited her to find out the reason for her change. She said one of the main reasons for her switch was that "they have less singing" at the other church she was attending.
I didn't offer to change our services just for her. But the fact that she wanted less singing made me wonder if her message was truly one of divine deliverance from sin, a deliverance that does make people break out into singing and joyous worship. It's a deliverance just as complete and miraculous as that wrought at the Red Sea.
As for me, I cannot help but sing because He has made me free!
-- Howard Culbertson.
I wrote this devotional article while Barbara and I were serving as missionaries in Italy. It originally appeared in Standard, a weekly Faith Connections take-home curriculum piece for adult Sunday school classes published by The Foundry.
|Rookie Notebook, a book on the first nine months of Howard and Barbara Culbertson's missionary careers|