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Exodus 14:2. Pi-hahiroth.] Probably a Coptic word, meaning “the place of sedges”—Gesenius, Fürst, Davies, Kalisch. We can scarcely expect to determine the precise route taken by the Israelites in their march out of Egypt, or the exact spot at which they crossed the Red Sea. “Positive identifications,” says Kalisch, “of ancient localities are the more precarious in this region, as it is certain that the northern part of the Gulf of Suez has formed itself, in the course of centuries, into firm land, a fact which, besides other reasons, is indisputably established by the circumstance that towns, as Muzza, which are mentioned by the ancients as sea-places and harbours, are now situated in the interior of the land.” Two or three points alone, bearing on the Israelite’s line of march, seem to be of any real importance; viz.,
(1) that the passage through the sea must have been at a spot where the bed of the sea was narrow enough to be crossed by the Hebrew host in one night;
(2) that the breadth of the waters must yet have been great enough to make the passage on “dry land” the evident result of Divine interposition;
(3) that, relatively to the ancient extension northward of the Gulf, the line of the Israelites’ approach to it must have been observably and notoriously too far to the south, to consist with the most southerly caravan route around the northern point of the Gulf;
(4) that the route actually taken was a deflection from that on which the Hebrews started, so as to disappoint natural anticipation, and give the Egyptians the impression that their late slaves were entangled in the (Egyptian) desert, and had lost their way; and
(5) that all this took place under express Divine guidance (ch. Exodus 13:17-18; Exodus 13:21-22), indeed there can be little if any doubt that Jehovah Himself, by His angel, in the “cloudy pillar,” assumed the Leadership of the departing host at least as far back as where the short north road to the land of the Philistines was left. To attribute the ordering of the whole line of march to the Red Sea to the sagacity of Moses, as Kalisch does, is as little complimentary to him, who by this hypothesis missed his way, as it is reverential to the sacred narrative, which it thus hopelessly contradicts.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Exodus 14:1-4
THE GOOD IN THE TRYING SITUATIONS OF LIFE
The children of Israel had now arrived near the head of the Red Sea, and at the limit of the three days’ journey into the wilderness, for which they had appealed to Pharaoh. It was a critical time with them. Will they return to Egypt? Will they go forward on their march of freedom? At the command of God, as made known to Moses, they continue their journey, and soon find themselves in very perilous circumstances. We cannot advance far into life without meeting with things to perplex us. The Israelites are commanded to change the direction of their march; now they go south to a place called Pi-hahiroth. They could not have been in a more trying position, and yet here they are Divinely lead.
I. That the good are often brought, by the providence of God, into the most trying situations in life (Exodus 14:1). The children of Israel were commanded by God to encamp before Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, over against Baal zephon (Exodus 14:1). Here they are led south, in an opposite direction to the Land of Promise. How often are the good conducted along paths which are apparently contrary to their high destiny. This is a trial of their faith. If, at such times, they obey the Divine word, they go right, even though they may seem to be going wrong. No situation could have been, to all appearance, more adverse to the Israelites than that into which they are now Divinely led. The white crest of the great billows was before them. The huge mountains, which they could not climb, were on either side of them Pharaoh and his enraged hosts were behind them. It was indeed a trying situation for them. They could not help themselves. Their best prowess was vain, they could not defeat their enemy. Their best ingenuity was futile, they could not level the mountains. Here they are brought by God; this is to the carnal mind a mystery. Thus, we have a type of the trying circumstances into which the good are sometimes conducted by the wondrous providence of God. They are in search of moral freedom. They are led by Heaven, and yet are brought into great peril. Had they been led by their own judgment, they would have avoided the southward route, and have escaped the sorrow in which they now find themselves. But the sequel of this history proves that God’s way is the wisest, even though it be the roughest, for if between Migdol and the sea we realise our greatest peril, we also realise His richest mercy and His most glorious help. It is in the trying situations of life that we get the best revelations of the love and power of God. When men feel that they cannot help themselves, then God helps them. Thus they are humbled. They are brought to despair of creature aids. Then the promises become precious. The circumstances of life are all divinely ordered with immediate reference to the moral culture of the good; the Israelites were taught a great lesson before Pi-hahiroth. When God fixes our position, it is sure to be a salutary one, even though it be perplexing.
II. That the trying circumstances into which the good are providentially brought are vigilantly observed by the wicked. “For Pharaoh will say of the children of Israel, they are entangled in the land; the wilderness hath shut them in” (Exodus 14:3). It is probable that Pharaoh had employed spies to report to him the movements of the Israelites; at all events, he would be kept well informed in reference thereto. Thus we see how soon the wicked repent of any good action they may have done: they give up their sins, but soon go after them again. The besetting sin of the King was only subdued for a time by judgment,—affliction is not necessarily regenerative. It would seem as though the Spirit of God had now ceased to strive with Pharaoh, and that he is given up to pride and malice. With the keen eye of a warrior he sees the position of Israel in the wilderness.
1. The wicked are vigilant observers of the life and circumstances of the good. Pharaoh watched with the utmost vigilance the flight and circumstances of the Israelites, and all connected with their march was eagerly reported to him. Satan sets the wicked to watch the good, with malicious intent, that they may observe the most favourable opportunity of doing them moral injury. He is politic in his effort to ruin the soul,—he not merely leads a host against it, but seeks to render circumstances helpful to its overthrow. Hence, when the good are in difficulty, they are generally pursued by the devil.
2. The wicked are malicious observers of the life and circumstances of the good. Why did Pharaoh follow the Israelites in this great haste? Did he wish to render them assistance in their perplexity, and to aid them in their march of liberty? No! he came to render their circumstances more trying, and, if possible, to complete their defeat. But malice is not always right in its calculations; it cannot always achieve its unholy purpose, especially when seeking the ruin of the good. It cannot pierce the shield which Heaven throws round about the life committed to its care.
3. The wicked are politic observers of the life and circumstances of the good. Pharaoh watched the march of the Israelites, and when he saw them surrounded by the mountains and the waters, he sought by his army to put the final obstacle in the way of their escape. And so Satan watches the best opportunity of frustrating the march of the soul into freedom. But, the wicked often misinterpret the providence of God in reference to the good, and hence pursue their plans to their own ruin.
III. That the trying situations into which the good are brought are designed ultimately to enhance the glory of God, and the retribution of wicked men “I will be honoured upon Pharaoh,” “That the Egyptians may know that I am the Lord.” God could have conducted the Israelites through the Red Sea before Pharaoh came to their encampment, but that would not have so fully glorified His name,—it would not have shown the terrible retribution of sin. The Divine Being so works the deliverance of the good as to destroy their enemies, and to teach a lesson of trust for the future. Men learn much about God when they are shut in by the land, and when earthly succour is denied them; they learn their own weakness and the all-sufficiency of Jehovah. God is honoured in the overthrow of the sinful. He teaches nations by terrible judgments. Thus all the trying circumstances in which the good are placed will work the glory of God. LESSONS:—
1. Rest patiently in the circumstances in which God has placed you.
2. God is greater than all the hindrances to your true freedom.
3. Follow God, even though it be through the great waters.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Exodus 14:1-4. God alone orders the Church in all its varied movements.
God’s orders to the Church are generally made known through His ministers.
Ministers must speak, and Israel must hear the mind of God in reference to them.
God’s charge sometimes draws the Church back again when they are forward in redemption.
In the way of redemption, God brings His people into straits overwhelming to sense.
God is pleased to give a sufficient account of the perplexity of His people beforehand.
The plans of wicked persecutors are foreknown to God.
Upon such wicked prospects of persecutors, God gives them up to heart-hardening.
God provides for His own glory in the ruin of such persecutors.
Upon the discovery of God’s will, the Church may submit calmly to sit down in straits.
REV. WM. ADAMSON
Exodus—Route! Exodus 14:2. It is supposed that Moses started from Rameses with the main body—that other divisions took their route from different points in the land of Goshen. If so, all would meet at Succoth—the place of booths. Thence, they proceeded to Etham (Pithorn) on the edge of the wilderness, about three or four miles west of the head of the Gulf of Suez. Thence their natural route would be round its head into the Sinaitic peninsula. But God ordered them to turn and encamp before Pi-hahiroth. There were two ways by which Israel could reach Canaan: the near through Philistia—the far by the wilderness. The near or direct route to Palestine and to Sinai itself lay between Lake Timsah and the Bitter Lakes. These lakes at that time formed part of the Gulf of Suez, and near them stood the frontier city of Etham. They are now distinct from the gulf, but communicate with it by means of the Suez Canal—that wonderful structure which runs across the straight course of Israel to Palestine and to Sinai. These lakes were a kind of salt water marsh—the higher grounds being dotted on the eastern side with tamarisk shrubs, and strewn with shells, presenting almost the appearance of a sea-beach. Through this region Israel wished to pass as the nearest, and, therefore, the most natural route to Syria and Sinai; but God selected for them the far path.
1. Israel was incapable of contending with the warlike hosts of the Philistines.
2. Israel must acquire vigour and experience through the moral discipline of the wilderness.
3. Israel must receive instruction in the great principles of Divine morality and truth at the foot of Sinai. Therefore, at Etham, the way was suddenly changed; and Israel was directed to march towards Pi-hahiroth, i.e., the place where sedge grows—or, the bed of reeds. Clearly this was a more or less marshy locality, and would prove a terrible barrier to any beleaguered host. Behind it stood the frontier watch-tower of Migdol, and on the other hand was Baalzephon, another watch-tower towards the sea. Thus surrounded and entangled, they would seem an easy prey for the vengeful and pursuing foe, who, with twin-horsed chariots, drove madly over meads and sands in fierce array. Like the prophet’s servant, Israel saw but the human foe; while Moses, like the prophet himself, descried the Divine Friend. The eye of faith saw
“The distant hills with flaming chariots gleam,
The wild waste valleys with God’s legions teem.”
First Steps! Exodus 14:2. An emigrant’s first night at sea, or in the remote backwoods, how dreary the scene! How lonely his heart! How weary the frame! How full of home-longings the heart! Often during the silent night-watches, he hears the fitful meaning of the wind and wave at sea, or the screech and howl of the beasts of prey on land, he wishes himself back in the old country—wishes that he had never left the familiar haunt, even though but the land of brown heath and shaggy wood. The emigrant host of Israel were thus circumstanced. The first joy of setting out had subsided; the terrors of the desert, the mounts, and the sea—the weariness, the hunger, and thirst of their long march over yielding sand and amid soaking marsh, now made them long for Egypt. The green pastures of Goshen—the waving palms—the blooming gardens—the shining water-courses of their forsaken homes rise up before them. They become heartsick. So the Christian pilgrim—as he plunges into the Slough of Despond, falls heavily on the jagged rock, and cuts himself cruelly, or is pursued by armed robbers—wishes himself back in the city, with its palaces of marble and gold—its halls of beauty and light—its homes of gaiety and merriment. It is the first backwater of temptation—the early subsidence of the flood of spiritual enthusiasm!
“When the sky is black and lowering, when the path in life is drear,
Upward lift thy steadfast glances; ’mid the maze of sorrow here.”
Entangled! Exodus 14:3. History tells too vividly the story of Flodden field. The strongly embattled host of Scotland, with its Royal leader—the well-nigh impregnable position, which made Surrey’s heart sink as he led his English ranks within sight of it—the inexplicable folly of the brave monarch in forsaking the place of safety, and placing his army in such a position as to make defeat certain, are all too familiar to the schoolboy. The Scottish soldiers wondered, yet obeyed. Israel wondered at the course their leader took, but they followed. They do not know where they are going, or why they are being led into an inextricable network of difficulties. Well might Pharaoh, trained in all the art of military tactics, feel confident that the vast host were at the mercy of his panoplied warriors. It is said that when the gallant six hundred were bidden ride into the jaws of death at Balaclava, they looked at each other significantly and obeyed. Each read his fellow-soldier’s glance to mean: “A mad act, ending in our death; but English soldiers always obey.” The Russian chronicler has left on record that the Muscovite generals and staff were confident of the total hemming in of the English armies upon the Crimean sea-shore. Pharaoh had a similar conviction that an easy triumph, ending in the complete extirpation of his hated serfs, was before him. He was soon to learn that
“Morning is ever the daughter of night;
All that is black will be all that is bright.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Exodus 14:5-14
THE GOOD PURSUED BY OLD ENEMIES
I. That the good, in seeking to come out of the bondage of sin, are frequently pursued by old enemies. Thus was it with the children of Israel. They had not gone far on their march of freedom before Pharaoh made ready his chariot and pursued them. He pursued them with great hatred. He reproached himself for letting them go free. And thus is it with those who have just entered upon the freedom of the soul, and who are setting out for the Land of Promise. They are pursued by old enemies before they have passed three or four days’ march.
1. The good are pursued by Satan. As Pharaoh pursued the Israelites with his best armaments, so Satan gathers his chosen chariots and Captains and follows the young Christian with all the energy and skill he can command. At first Satan appears defeated, like Pharaoh; but he does not like to lose his profitable servants, he will not without a desperate struggle. He will employ the flower of his army. He will try error. He will try despair. He will tempt to sin. He is powerful. He has great resources. He is gifted with cunning genius. He will arouse indwelling corruption. To sense all seems dark. To faith all is bright. We cannot get to the Promised Land without much resistance from the devil.
2. The good are pursued by wicked habits. When the good enter upon the march of the new life, they soon see the old sinful habits coming after them. In the first joy of freedom, the young Christian imagines that all his sinful past is overcome, and that he will be troubled no more by the depraved habit of the soul, but a march of three days in the wilderness will convince him of his error. Habit pursues men with great pertinacity, even to the end of life. The habits of youth are not easily conquered, hence they should be carefully formed, or they may impair the Christian career of the future.
3. The good are pursued by wicked companions. When the good are first freed from the companionship of Egypt, they may imagine that they leave them behind for ever, and perhaps will be a little surprised to find them shortly afterwards in hot pursuit. The friendships of a wicked life are not easily got rid of,—they follow with taunts and slanders even to the banks of the Red Sea. These are a terror to many a godly soul. Thus we see that Satan pursues the good with a great army, with many allies, in splendid array, and often strikes fear into their hearts.
II. That sometimes the circumstances of life appear to favour the pursuit of the old enemies of the soul. “And overtook them encamping by the sea,” &c., (Exodus 14:9). Thus Pharaoh and his hosts overtook the Israelites when they were entangled in the land, and when they had not the opportunity of equal conflict. The host of Pharaoh was well armed. The Israelites were without arms or drill, they were a disorderly crowd. Hell always pursues the soul when it is least prepared for the attack, in the hour of unusual difficulty, and when all its resources are weak. When it is entangled by temptation, by the deceitful allurements of the world, or by the providential circumstances of life—then Satan comes to work ruin. How often do circumstances favour the pursuit of our old enemies when they would awaken passion, pride, or selfishness within us. The world in which we live is a Pi-hahiroth, and the devil knows it; but the God who has brought us from Egypt can bring us from before Pi-hahiroth, if we trust in Him,—He is greater than the pursuing enemies.
III. That the pursuit of the old enemies of the soul often awakens the sorrowful apprehension of the good. “And when Pharaoh drew near, the children of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold the Egyptians marched after them, and they were sore afraid” (Exodus 14:10). Thus, when the Israelites saw the Egyptians pursuing them, they gave way to fear and panic, they thought only of the advancing foe and their own certain destruction. They did not remember the mercy and power which had redeemed them from the tyranny of Egypt, they did not call to mind the promise which had been given them of Canaan, they did not even look to the pillar of cloud above them. And thus, how often does it happen that when the good are followed by their old enemies, they forget the mercies of the past, the power of God, and look only to the on-coming foe. They think they will have to yield to the prowess of Satan, and go back to the old bondage of the soul. But we see in this narrative, the folly of allowing the advance of old enemies to awaken terror in the heart of the good, for they are only advancing that the power of God may be seen in their defeat. Good people of melancholy temperament sometimes think that they made a mistake in coming out of Egypt, and that they will never reach Canaan. Such fears are dishonouring to the grace of God.
IV. That the pursuit of the old enemies of the soul must be met under the guidance of Heaven. “Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord which He will show you to-day.” Thus the Israelites were to leave all to God. They could not defeat their enemies, they were not required to do so. They could not dry up the sea. It was just the moment for Heaven to interfere, and to win a glorious victory; and so with the good who are pursued by sin and Satan. They must not look so much at the mountains by which they are encompassed—at their inward corruption, as at the salvation of God; they must be content to let God work for and in them to the destruction of Satan’s devices. The human soul is restless and likes to be doing something to escape its enemies; God only can give the needed aid. The penitent sinner cannot deliver himself from the enemies which pursue; the believer cannot deliver himself from the corruption of the evil heart of unbelief; God must work in both cases. Hence in thinking of victory over our spiritual enemies, we have not to contemplate our own ability to repulse them, but the Divine. It is a blessed fact that God adapts the method of His redemption to the weak condition of His people.
1. The enemies of the soul are overcome by God. He alone can give salvation from the enmity of Satan, from the weakness of self, and from the perilous circumstances of the wilderness life.
2. The soul must wait patiently the outcome of this aid. Neither Moses nor the Israelites knew in what way the Lord would deliver them from their advancing enemy; they had to wait in order to see the salvation of God. The good know not by what method of discipline the Lord will deliver them from their old habits of evil. We see here the advantage of having God as our Helper, in that He can make a way for our feet through the sea. LESSONS:—
1. That the good, being pursued by the enemies of their old life, are in constant need of Divine grace.
2. That progress in the freedom of the soul is in spite of the enmity of Satan.
3. That all moral progress is the outcome of the help of God to the soul.
THE FOOLISH WAY IN WHICH MANY PEOPLE ANTICIPATE DIFFICULTIES.—Exodus 14:10-14
I. That many people meet anticipated difficulties in a spirit of great fear. “And when Pharaoh drew near, the children of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians marched after them, and they were sore afraid.” Thus, when the Israelites saw the Egyptians advancing towards them in battle array, they gave way to fear. They imagined immediate destruction. They saw only the warlike host. And in this way men anticipate sorrow now. They see all the circumstances which conspire against them; and at once imagine that the worst will befall them. They look to self; they look not to God. They are filled with gloom. Religion ought to make men brave and trustful in the face of advancing perplexities; God is more than all that can oppose.
II. That many people meet anticipated difficulty in a spirit of complaint against those who have generously aided them in their enterprise. “And they said unto Moses, Because there were no graves in Egypt hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness? Wherefore hast thou dealt thus with us, to carry us forth out of Egypt.” Thus, when the Israelites saw the Egyptians coming after them, they began to complain against Moses. How ungenerous! He had led them out of bondage. He was their best friend, yet they blame him for a peril he could not help. And this is often the way of men, when all goes well in the enterprise they have undertaken little of praise is spoken, but when difficulties are seen coming much of blame is given. The best friend is derided in the hour of danger. The Israelites not merely murmured against Moses, but against God. And any man who murmurs at approaching difficulty is not merely in conflict with secondary agencies, but with what may turn out to be a sublime providence of heaven. Unbelief sees graves where there are none. Men over-estimate sorrow in meeting it before it comes upon them. It is base to turn upon men who have spent their best energy and wisdom in our service, when trouble seems to threaten. But this is the way of the world, a momentary cloud will eclipse a lifetime of heroic work.
III. That many people meet anticipated difficulties in a spirit which degrades previous events of a glorious character. The Israelites now reproach Moses for bringing them out of Egyptian bondage,—they intimate that death would have been as well in the land they had left as in the wilderness. They had no public spirit. They had been slaves almost too long to learn that death in freedom is preferable to life in slavery. And thus men who meet the approaching difficulties of life in a spirit of fear and unbelief, are very likely to bring contempt upon the most glorious events of their past history, they will even darken the glad memoir of national freedom. All the events of life tend to a unity, and it is impossible to murmur at the present without maligning the past. Sometimes weak people will, in the hour of anticipated trial, refer to their past advice as the wisest that could have been followed, and which if taken would have averted the threatening danger; thus they unknowingly make their folly their glory.
IV. That anticipated difficulties should be met in a spirit of confidence in God. As the difficulties advance we must wait and see the salvation of God. We must not allow anticipated trial to shut out the vision of God from the soul. View the Divine purpose in the sorrows of life, that they are a discipline for our good; contemplate the promises of God to the perplexed; and in all probability the enemies, fears, and circumstances which harass you shall be drowned in the sea in a vain pursuit. LESSONS:—
1. That when trials threaten we should trust in God.
2. That fear weakens men in the hour of trial.
3. That it is ungenerous to murmur against those who earnestly seek our good.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Exodus 14:5. Under providence, tidings of the difficulties and fears of the Church may come to the enemy to move them.
Wicked tyrants take occasion from tidings of the straits of the Church to plan against it.
The hearts of the wicked are soon turned from forced favours to hate God’s Israel.
The wicked do not like to see the freedom of the good.
Exodus 14:6-7. Hardened persons against God not only consult but are the first to lead in persecuting the Church.… Horses and chariots are the best strength of earthly powers.
Wicked men want no auxiliaries for their work of injurying the Church.
An attack on the Church:
1. Well calculated.
2. Grand in array.
3. Terrible in defeat.
Exodus 14:8. Ten times hardening in sin calls for ten times hardening in judgment.
Such tenfold hardening drives men to tenfold more wickedness in persecution.
The high hand of God in favouring His Church will not persuade hardened sinners from persecution.
When pride of enemies sets them against the Church, God’s hand will be above them.
THE INFATUATION OF SIN
“And he pursued after the children of Israel.”
I. The infatuation of sin is seen in that favourable circumstances often awaken in men their old desires to do evil. The King of Egypt had allowed the Israelites to go out on their march of freedom, but when he saw them entangled in the wilderness, his old passion came back, and he immediately sent his army to regain possession of them. This appeared a favourable opportunity for the accomplishment of his evil purpose. And there are many men who yield to the better impulses of their nature, but they commence a life of sin again upon the first temptation. The heart must be renewed, or the old sins will come forth again at the first opportunity.
II. The infatuation of sin is seen in that it takes no thought of God, or of consequences. We read that Pharaoh took his chariots and captains on the errand on which he was bent. He did not think of that God with whom he was in conflict, and whose anger he was provoking. He thought not of what might be the disastrous consequences to himself and nation. He little imagined that not one of his splendid army would ever return from the conflict, and that he was making all the preparation for destruction. And so those who despise the good impulses of their nature, and who pursue a course of sin, think not of God, or of the probable consequences of their conduct.
III. The infatuation of sin is unmindful of the past painful discipline it has experienced. Had not Pharaoh endured enough punishment in the plagues which had been sent upon him in the past? Had they not destroyed the wealth and hope of the nation, and yet they do not deter him from setting out again on his old sinful course. Some men will not learn wisdom by past experience, and thus they pursue their sins to eternal destruction. Sin is a terrible infatuation.
Exodus 14:9-12. Providence may allow terrible enemies to pursue and overtake the pilgrim Church.
God’s mighty hand may order enemies to see His Church in their camp, but not hurt them.
God may open the eyes of the redeemed to see approaching dangers.
Such discoveries of danger may affect unbelieving souls with amazing fear.
Unbelief in danger:—
1. It cries out for fear of death.
2. It unjustly charges the ministers of God.
3. It gives men longings after bondage.
4. It seeks to be reckoned a prophet.
5. It forecasts danger which never will happen.
DIRECTION IN DILEMMA
Exodus 14:13. God’s great design in all His works is the manifestation of His own glory. Any aim less than this would be unworthy of Himself. It is His will to manifest His glory to man. But how? Vanity covers the eye of man, and puts a high estimate on self. Self must stand out of the way that God may be seen; and this is why God brings His people into straits that, seeing its weakness, it may behold the majesty of God. A smooth life will see but little of the glory of God. Among the huge Atlantic waves of bereavement and reproach we learn the power of Jehovah. Trouble gives a wealth of knowledge to be obtained no other way. Our text exhibits the posture in which men should be found in trouble.
I. A picture of the believer when he is reduced to great straits. “Stand still,” &c. Here are two things conspicuous:—
1. What is to be done? The man is in difficulty. He cannot retreat. What to do? Despair says, “Die.” Not so, saith the God of our salvation; He loves us too well to bid us yield to despondency. Cowardice says, “Retreat.” Better to go back to Egypt. Relinquish the ways of God. The sun turns not back when the clouds veil its splendour. Precipitancy cries, “Do something, there is no time to be lost.” Presumption says, “Neck or nothing.” March into the sea. Expect a miracle. But we are to stand still,—we are to wait in prayer.
2. What is to be seen? I cannot deliver myself. I cannot see how God can deliver me. Soon you shall see all nature and all providence subservient to God’s love. You shall be a wonder to yourself. You shall see your enemies utterly destroyed.
II. I take the text in reference to the sinner brought into the same condition in a moral sense. You are being brought out of the Egypt of your sins, and to feel the Divine awakenings. You have as yet found no peace. Your sins are around you? What are you to do? Stand still! The sinner cannot keep the law. See the salvation of God—ordained of old—wrought by a mediator. Then look—trust—now.—C. H. Spurgeon.
The ministers of God must reason quietly with a froward people in the time of trial.
God seeks by His ministers to remove the unbelief of His people.
The salvation of God is worth looking unto by His poor creatures in faith.
Causes of fear which hinder faith God removes at His pleasure.
“For the Egyptians whom ye have seen to-day, ye shall see them again no more for ever.”
I. Then wicked men shall perish in the very hour of their splendour and pride. “The Egyptians whom ye have seen to-day.” Now Pharaoh and his army are advancing in all their strength and splendour, perhaps on no previous occasion had they been seen in such array. But the hour of their strength was to be the hour of their weakness,—the hour of their pride was to be the hour of their downfall. When sin has collected all its forces, and when it is apparently in best array, then will the providence of God cause it to be seen no more. There will come a time when sin will be buried in the waters into which it has pursued the good. The collapse of sin is always sudden and unexpected. What a joy when the sin we see to-day shall be seen no more for ever. All the providences of God are working to this end. The wicked perish in the very act of sin.
II. Then wicked men are often powerless to inflict the injury they desire upon the good. Pharaoh and his army were stern foes of Israel, and they were viewed with great terror. The enemies of the good are powerless to injure whom God protects. Their pursuit is vain. The Church is often pursued, but the injury is often upon those who give it chase. If we will but trust in God, the enemies we see to-day,—the scorn of the world, the pain of life, the inward corruption of the soul, and our doubts and fears,—shall be seen no more for ever: they shall be overwhelmed in the atoning sacrifice of the cross, as were the Egyptians in the Red Sea. If we are injured by these enemies of the soul, it is because of our unbelief.
III. Then the wicked and the good will be eternally separated in the life to come. As the freed Israelites were to see Pharaoh and his army no more, so the good in heaven, after the final deliverance of life, shall see the wicked no more for ever. In heaven this separation will be complete and eternal. Now, the wheat and tares grow together; not so then. There are separations going on in this life based on moral character, in society, in commerce, and in the State. This is a prophecy of the future. An awful thing to be for ever in the company of the lost. A sublime privilege to be for ever in the company of the pure. Nothing that can defile shall enter heaven.
REV. WM. ADAMSON
Christian Life! Exodus 14:5. Israel probably thought that, once freed from bondage, all persecution from Egypt was over. When they were deceived they expected nothing but death. A party sailing down the Amazon bivouacked on an open glade near the bank. Whilst resting here, they were suddenly aware of an approaching foe in the shape of a group of shaggy, naked savages, armed with bows and spears and blow pipes. They rushed at once to the canoe, and pushed out from the shore, only in time to escape a flight of poisoned arrows. Once more on the river they thought themselves safe from all pursuit. Quietly they paddled down the stream attracted by the lavish tropical vegetation, and the brilliantly-plumaged birds. Night came on, and as they were preparing for slumber, they were alarmed to find three large war-canoes in hot pursuit. They had reckoned themselves entirely free from their pursuers. So with the young Pilgrim! When he left the City of Destruction, he looked to have no more persecution; but he soon discovered his mistake. Israel is pursued! But the discipline is good: for are not the winds and tempests the school of the sailor-boy? Sharpe remarks that it is not every calamity that is a curse, and early adversity is often a blessing. It was so with youthful Israel; and it is so with the young Christian.
“Many a foe is a friend in disguise,
Many a trouble a blessing most true,
Helping the heart to be happy and wise,
With love ever precious, and joys ever new.”
Misgivings! Exodus 14:10.
1. Who does not admire and appreciate “Swiss Family Robinson”? It is perused and reperused with avidity and ever fresh interest by the young; and yet, too often its beauties are lost sight of. One of the most touching scenes in the book is where the father, exhausted by toil, distracted by anxiety, gives way to despair, and ventures to question whether he had at all acted rightly and wisely in leaving his native Switzerland. It was a time of great dread and danger.
2. The emigrant finds himself in the Brazilian forest. He has been struggling to hew down the giant trees, twisted and fastened together with the tortuous and tough lianas, in order to make a clearing for corn or maize. He finds himself unequal to the task, surrounded by difficulties, and succumbing to the enervating effects of extreme exertions in a tropical climate. Withal, he hears that the native Indians are in an unsettled condition, and likely at any moment to attack his humble wooden home. He wishes himself safe back in Old England!
3. It is said of Luther that there were moments when he half-regretted having launched on the Reformation path. Firm as the Eddystone Lighthouse while the waves toss, and roar, and leap against its base and sides, the solitary monk stood at the Imperial Diet of Worms, unawed by the presence, unterrified by the power on emperor, princes, and cardinals. But when alone, how he was ready to sink—to wish himself back in the quiet cloistered seclusion on his monastery. All Christians have this strain: especially
“When truth is overborne, and error reigns,
When clamour lords it over patient love.”
Red Sea fears! Exodus 14:11. As the Passover showed how guilt might be expiated and judgment escaped, so this passage shows how those whose guilt is removed shall be redeemed from all evil. “And if God spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not much more with Him freely give us all things?” But Israel had not yet learned this great truth. They were ignorant, credulous, and impulsive, as bond-serfs always are—whether as the Helots of ancient Sparta or the Negroes of modern America. They had never been accustomed to habits of order, reflection, or self-command. The bondage-life had shut them up in religious ignorance, if not absolute indifference. They could not, therefore, rest, as Moses did, upon “the Great Redeemer.” Already, they felt themselves back among the brick-kilns and slime-pits of Egypt, with the cruel lash now become a scourge of scorpions. Had Pharaoh’s host rushed forward, what a confusion would have ensued. When the great theatre of Santiago in Chili took fire on the Papal Feast day, the vast throngs trampled each other to death in the effort to escape. Had the chariots and chivalry of Egypt rushed upon the undisciplined host, how they would have trodden upon one another in desperate struggle of flight! But Pharaoh, confident of his prey, is willing to wait till the morrow’s dawn. The sun has already set. The moon, which was full on the night of the departure out of Egypt, will not rise for three or four hours. Egypt’s host encamps for the night. Egypt’s monarch bids sentinels to be posted to watch the fugitive camp, and summons his nobles and officers to a council to decide whether the Israelites shall be driven, at dawn, into the depths of the sea, or back again to their former bondage. And of Israel it might be said—
“Yet with despairing face
Their way they would retrace;
Or on this desert place
Sink down and die.”
Sure provision! Exodus 14:13. Isaac was young in the Divine life, and perplexed himself sadly about the sacrificial lamb; but Abraham, who had more than once experienced the Divine faithfulness, was content to “wait on the providence of God.” The Israelites were comparatively inexperienced in the ways of God; whereas Moses, who had learned their mysteries often during the Midianite exile, could exhort his trembling host to stand still and see the salvation of God. He knew that God had become their salvation in the wonderful works and feast in Egypt; therefore, he was confident that He would not forsake them now. A carrier hastening homewards through the drifting snow came upon a human form. I was that of a mother frozen to death in seeking to save her infant’s life. Tenderly he born the babe home, adopted it as his own child and brought it up in comfort and kindness. As the child grew up, he felt that the one who had rescued and saved him would never fail to keep him in time of need. So with Moses, he was sure that God, who had delivered and adopted Israel as “His firstborn,” would not suffer His chosen child to be without sufficient succour.
“Then rouse thee from desponding sleep,
Nor by the wayside lingering weep;
Nor fear to seek Him farther in the wild.”
Pharaoh’s army! Exodus 14:7. Dr. Kitto comments that to the student of Egyptian antiquities, there is something of much interest in these allusions to the forces of Egypt. They were composed solely of chariots; and this is entirely in accordance with the existing testimony of the monuments, which exhibit no kind of military force but war-chariots and infantry. In a hot pursuit like this, the infantry could, from the nature of the case, take no part; and there being no mounted cavalry, the matter was left entirely to the chariot-warriors. On the other hand, Millington assumes that there were horsemen as well as charioteers, since Moses and Miriam speak of cavalry in their hymn in Exodus 15:21. Satan knows well the forces wherewith to hunt the fugitive slave. He will not willingly suffer one poor slave to escape. Even when we have turned from our sin-serfdom to follow the guidance of God’s Word, he pursues with manifold temptations—not feeble ones, from whose pursuit we can escape, but charioteers which come thundering down upon us. Even as the eagle swoops upon the newly fledged dove, for the first time pluming its pinions in the sunny air—even as the tawny lion or spotted panther springs upon the slender, untried, sylphlike fawn; so Satan’s legions rush down upon the believer’s soul, confident of an easy triumph. But the Christian must not despond.
“Oh! bear me up, when this weak flesh despairs,
And the one arm which faith can lean on is the Lord’s.”
Divine paths! Exodus 14:9-12 Krummacher relates how a wanderer had to go a long and dangerous journey over a rugged and rocky mountain. The road was pointed out to him by a guide clearly and distinctly, together with all the bye-ways and precipices of which he must beware. He gave him also a leaf of paper describing the way exactly. The wanderer observed all this attentively; but as he journeyed the rocks grew steeper—the path seemed to lose itself in lonely dreary ravines. Discouraged, he meditated a return by the way he came, when he heard a voice exclaiming, “Take courage, and follow me.” He looked round and beheld the guide. They walked on between the ravines, and precipices, and rushing mountain torrents, until they reached a lovely valley, where blossomed myrtle and pomegranate trees. Thus was Israel led. There they were, a sea before them far wider than their familiar Nile, and with the wild tumult of its waters very terrible: a sea before them, and on their rear, with his jingling chargers and sounding chariots, an angry and ruthless despot. Unarmed and unused to conflict, to face round and fight was for a flock of sheep to charge a pack of wolves or lions, and across that gulf they had neither wings to fly nor boats to ferry. In their moment of despair came their Deliverer. The man of God
“O’er the wide waters lifts his mighty rod,
And onward treads,—the circling waves retreat.”
Providence! Exodus 14:13. A small boat on the wide sea! A crew of three shipwrecked mariners in the Eastern seas! In the distance, a Malay prow heading straight for the boat with long sweeps. The boat sees the foe, and struggles desperately by hard rowing to escape; but the pursuer gains fast. The effort is useless:—the oars are unshipped, and soon the pirates have seized the boat, fastened it to the clumsy stern of their war-prow, and dragged the sailors on board. Hardly is this done, and the head of the native vessel once more headed East, than a fearful hurricane comes on. Those who have never been in the seas of the East Indian Archipelago can form little idea of the appalling fury of these tornadoes. They last only for a short period, but the wildness of the tempest passes expression. The natives struggled with the winds and waves,—every moment expecting to be hurled beneath the vast mountain-masses of water. Again and again, had they given up all hope, when mast, and sail, and bulwarks were wrenched away, and, borne on by the breeze, fell at some distance into the foaming deep. But the storm lulled as quickly as it arose: the vessel was borne towards the shore of an island, and all landed. As soon as the Malays had restored their vessel, they set sail, leaving the mariners behind. They had been saved their cruel fate in having fallen into the hands of the pirate crew, but they now realised that this very capture was a great blessing. Their own frail shell of a boat was shattered to pieces at the first onset of the blast, so that had they been in her, they must have inevitably perished. The Christian often finds himself pursued by foes, or surrounded by dangers; but let him hold fast to the conviction that all things work together for good, and he will soon find, like Israel, that the very things which seem to bar his progress and mar his prospects, become the means of safety and deliverance.
“His love can turn earth’s worst and least
Into a conqueror’s royal feast.”
Sin’s End! Exodus 14:13. There is a marvellous tenacity of life in sin, which has therefore secured for it the simile of the fabled Hydra destroyed by Hercules. The sea-anemone is not unlike sin:
1. In its beauty;
2. in its voracity; and
3. in its tenacity of life. It would be difficult to find anything more beautiful than the sea-anemones, emulating the daisies of the field when they expand their lustrous discs. Yet this wonderful daisy of the waters—this flower-like creature which charms the dullest eye, is a very shark for voracity. Crustaceans larger than itself are gulped into its miser-stomach, and woe to the nimble cyclops and annelide which comes within its reach. But its voracity of appetite seems almost surpassed by its uncommon tenacity of life. Dip it into water warm enough to raise blisters on the skin—expose it to the frost of winter—place it under the exhausted bell of an air-pump, its powerful vital principle will triumph over all these ordeals. Cut off the tentacles, and new ones sprout forth; nay, divide the animal in two, and like the Lernean hydra, it will produce a reduplication of itself. Possessing such wonderful powers of reproduction, there is, however, one means of destruction; for these apparently indestructible creatures die when plunged into fresh water. And such is sin—oftentimes graceful and bewitching in beauty; always voracious, devouring all good that comes in its way; yet susceptible only to destruction when plunged in the pure river of the water of life—when placed under the mortifying influences of the Holy Spirit.
“Let the water and the blood,
From Thy riven side which flow’d,
Be of sin the double cure,
Cleanse me from its guilt and power.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Exodus 14:15-18
PROGRESS UNDER DIFFICULTY
The children of Israel are now commanded, in their perplexing circumstances, to move forward into the waters of the Red Sea. A soul anxious to go forward will find paths where least expected and in the most unlikely places.
I. That in the perplexing circumstances of life, progress is often the highest wisdom, and gives the best solution of difficulty. “Speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward.” When men have learnt to “stand still,” then they are prepared to “go forward.” Men must be patient before they can be truly active and energetic. God expects men to co-operate with His plan and purpose in reference to their deliverance from enemies; He will open a path in the waters, but they must walk in it. To move forward under difficulty is generally to find it vanish at every step. To stand still looking at the mountains is not the way to get beyond them. But progress at such a time must be guided by the providence of God, and not by the reason or inclination. Men must stand still till God tells them to go forward, then they will be defended by His power and led by His wisdom. God always gives men clear indications when they are to go forward; the cloud moves and must be followed through the great waters.
II. That in progress under difficulty there are times when action is more needful than prayer. “And the Lord said unto Moses, Wherefore criest thou unto me? Speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward.” Thus it is evident that Moses had been praying unto the Lord, not in public but in the secret place of the heart. The good man can pray without removing; from the busy crowd. The prayer is not recorded—hence was, no doubt, offered silently. Certainly, it seemed an appropriate time for prayer on the part of the great Leader, as his position in reference to Israel became more critical every moment. It is sometimes difficult to know when to pray and when to act; certain it is that there are times in life when the former must be merged in the latter. Men require to go forward at the right time as well as pray at the right time; and success in any enterprise will depend upon the right combination of the two duties. It is folly to stand praying when surrounded by mountains, armies, and seas, without seeking to overcome our difficulties. Prayer without action will not remove physical disease, will not improve social position, will not give mental culture, and will not strengthen moral character. Men must go forward as well as pray. The energetic character will be more likely to neglect the latter, the meditative character will be more likely to neglect the former;—combine both. Progress under difficulty needs strenuous effort. At such times effort must be brave—must go into the waters; obedient—according to the word of God; constant—must not halt in the midst of the sea.
III. That in progress under difficulty there are times when the most trivial instrumentalities are useful, and are apparently associated with great results. “But lift thou up thy rod, and stretch out thine hand over the sea, and divide it; and the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea.” Thus the rod of Moses was, in the providence of God, used as an instrument for the dividing of the Red Sea. We know right well that the rod did not in reality produce the result here recorded; that was done by the omnipotent arm of God, of which the lifting up of the little rod was but the symbol. It would be evident to all that a miracle was wrought. And so, in the progress of men, under difficult circumstances, God often makes use of little instrumentalities, to enhance their welfare, that the power of heaven may be visible in the events of earth,—that there may be an appeal to sense, and that the result may appear more sublime in contrast with the petty means with which it has been associated. Thus providence links small agencies with important issues. God can employ our smallest possessions for our welfare. Thus He dignifies them.
IV. That in progress under difficulty there are times when the wicked are obliged to recognise the supremacy of God. “And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gotten me honour upon Pharaoh, upon his chariots, and upon his horsemen.” Thus the progress which the good make under difficult circumstances bears a relation to the wicked who are pursuing them. The progress of the good is the destruction of the wicked, the providence which secures the one also secures the other. In these issues men cannot but recognise the supremacy of God, they show that God can bring to naught the enmity of the wicked, that He can subdue the proud, and that He can make the weak to confound the mighty. God reveals Himself in the judgments as in the mercies of life. LESSONS:—
1. That difficulties are not to prevent progress.
2. That Heaven can enable men to overcome the greatest hindrances to progress.
3. That the progress of some may be the destruction of others.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Exodus 14:15. Soul-Progress.
I. The soul should go forward because enemies are in pursuit. Pharaoh pursued the Israelites. The souls of the good are eagerly pursued by moral evil, and hence are under the necessity of ever keeping in advance of it. The good must never allow sin to overtake them in the journey of life. Progress is needful to moral safety.
II. The soul should go forward because glad experiences await it. The experiences of the soul increase in joy as progress is made in all that is good and pure. The good must go forward if they would sing the hymn of triumph on the other side of the river, when their enemies are destroyed. Onward there are grander visions of God to be obtained, there are richer fields of truth to be explored, and there are nobler things of character to be obtained. Then onward to Canaan.
III. The soul should go forward because God gives abundant grace to help it. God has made the soul capable of infinite moral progress; it cannot be satisfied with the present He gives grace to enable progress, food to sustain progress, hope to inspire progress, and Himself as the destiny of progress. Nothing in the universe stands still. Shall the soul of man be an exception?
Exodus 14:16-18. It is God’s pleasure sometimes that His ministers should use signals for working miracles.
The sea shall be dry ground to the Church when God doth promise it.
Promises to the Church become threatenings to the wicked.
God is glorified in the destruction of persecuting enemies after their heart-hardening
REV. WM. ADAMSON
Forward! Exodus 14:15. “To stand still when the voice of God’s Providence cries: ‘Go Forward,’ quenches the light of hope in the heart, and opens every avenue of the soul for the incoming of the powers of darkness.” Sometimes it does a man good to be brought into such a strait that he must choose one of two courses immediately and for ever. In the days of persecution, the threat of instant martyrdom has induced some to stand up for Jesus, when they might have lived and died without making the choice, had they supposed they could have a long and peaceful lifetime to choose in. Viewed from the under and imperfect human side, Israel’s crisis was a pitiable position, but from its Godward side none could have been more profitable. It was the making of Israel’s after life for God. Even so with young Christians; a great crucial trial is often their lifelong salvation. Old Humphrey has a good paper against wandering from the path of duty, suggested by a notice at the entrance of a park: “Take notice! In walking through these grounds, you are requested to keep the footpath.” Bower says that Bunyan has supplied the same theme for solemn warning, in the pilgrim’s straying into Bypath-meadow.
“Keep your right-hand path with care,
Though crags obstruct, and brambles tear;
You just discern a narrow track—
Enter there, and turn not back.”
Red Sea Obedience! Exodus 14:15. Quaint but truthful was the sentiment of a negro preacher, whilst discoursing on the duty of implicit obedience: “If the Lord tells me in His Book that I am to jump through a stone wall, I will do it; for jumping at it belongs to me—going through it belongs to God.” Moses receives a command to cross the Rea Sea: his duty was obedience—God’s promise was deliverance. So felt the noble Swiss champion Zwingle. To go forward appeared terrible, but God required obedience. He stood on the edge of the Red Sea—the very point to which the guiding-pillar of Providence brought him; and, like the pursuing Egyptians, the Romish myrmidons closed upon him, ramping and ravening for his death. But just as they were about to clutch their prey the sea sundered, the host was troubled, and as the waters stood up on either side, the fervent, high-souled Switzer passed through into Gospel Freedom.
“Let not my peace be broken when the wrong
Conquers the right; but let me still wait on;
The day of right is coming, late, but long.”
Confidence! Exodus 14:15. Mariners speak of a “frigate bird”—to be seen in all climes, yet never to be observed near the earth. This bird of heaven floats grandly on; so that while men in the far north see him at midnight floating amid the northern coruscations, men in the tropics observe him at hottest noon, sheening his plumage all a glow, with the out-flashing sunbeams, while they shelter from the burning heat beneath the cool verandah-shade. Such should be the Christian’s hope—no diversity of atmosphere should affect its life and vigour. Far above storms and tempests, whether ice or heat prevail, it should soar serenely on, until God swallows it up in Love. As Samuel Rutherfurd puts it: “Faint not, for the miles to heaven are but few and short.”
“Thou must not stop—thou must not stay—
God speed thee, pilgrim, on thy way.”
Go Forward! Exodus 14:15. This is the watchword of progress for the world. Obedience to it is the salvation of the soul. It makes all the difference between success and failure—life and death—redemption and perdition. It is the vigorous pilgrim that climbs the dangerous steep—that bridges the mighty stream—that opens fountains in the desert—that makes the wilderness blossom as the rose. Obedience discovers and tames the most terrible forces in nature; and puts them into iron-harness to work for man. Obedience is the might hand that lifts the cloud of ignorance from the human mind—the majestic presence that scares away the horrid spectres of fear and superstition—the mysterious power that stretches the iron nerve for the electric thrill of thought to pass with lightning speed over the mountains and seas. Go Forward—
“To see avenging wrath in heaven above—
A gathering tempest—clouds of blighting woe—
Teeming destruction on the vanquish’d foe.”
Rescue! Exodus 14:16-18. A boy found himself in a field, pursued by an infuriate bull. Conscious that his only chance of escape was to hasten to the gate, he turned and fled. Nearer the animal came, until he fancied that he could feel its hot breath. In a moment he realised that there would be no chance to open the gate in time to escape the angry animal’s rage. On the point of yielding himself up as lost, he was surprised to see the gate suddenly open. Gathering fresh energy, he sprang forward, and sped through the open way. Quickly the gate closed, and just as the strong bar fell in its place, the mad beast’s head crashed against the wood-work. What an escape! A friend had seen his danger—had hurried along the road—and had reached the gate just in time to open it, and save the youth. God’s Great Hand (see Exodus 14:31) divided the mighty waters—opened the gateway for Israel’s fugitive legions, who passed along as through towering walls of crystal. The waters saw Thee, O God, the waters saw Thee; they were afraid; the depths also were troubled. They moved aside to Israel’s host, who trusted in God to deliver them.
“And such the trust that still were mine,
Though stormy winds swept o’er the brine,
And though the tempest’s fiery breath
Roused me from sleep to wreck and death.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Exodus 14:19-22
THE DIVINE PRESENCE IN ITS RELATION TO THE LIFE OF THE GOOD
The angel of God went before the camp of Israel. Who was this angel? It was no created messenger. It was none other than the Son of God (Exodus 14:24). The same appeared to Moses in the burning bush. The same wrestled with Jacob. All who set themselves against the good are in reality in conflict with the Son of God. They are engaged in a hopeless task, as we shall presently see.
I. That the Divine presence is not always straight before the inner eye of the Christian, and its apparent absence may occasion a momentary perplexity. “And the angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them.” So far on the journey the pillar of cloud had remained in front of the Israelites, so that all could easily see and derive comfort from it. And so the presence of God is generally before the eye of the pure soul, that it can be closely followed; and if it remove from this position anxiety is awakened. When life is an uneventful march in the desert, the Divine presence is ahead; but when the march becomes eventful, then the movements of God are adapted thereto. Christ adapts the manifestation of Himself to the circumstances of the Christian life. He is interested in the welfare of the people He guides. Why is He absent from the eye of the soul? has sorrow come between? has sin grieved Him? or has He only removed for our good? He is lovingly near, even though we see Him not.
II. That though the Divine presence be removed from before the eye of the Christian, yet it is somewhere near him, exercising a beneficent ministry toward his life. “And stood behind them.” Thus, though the Divine presence had removed from before the eye of the Israelites, it had not forsaken them. Christ never leaves His people while they are in the wilderness: He knows that they cannot do without Him. Sorrow may come. All may be dark. Christ may be unseen. We may be sure He is somewhere near us. If we look in the rear we shall find Him. He does not always sustain the same position to our life. He thus educates His people to seek for Him. All His movements are for the good of the life He leads. He goes to the rear to hide our enemies from view.
III. That loving adaptations of the Divine presence to the need of the Christian life is the comfort, protection, and illumination of all pilgrim souls. “But it gave light by night to these: so that the one came not near the other all the night.” Thus the movements of the Divine presence are adapted to the need of the Christian life. The Egyptians were following Israel. God came between His people and their foes. So He does now. He comes between us and our sins and difficulties, or they would overtake and ruin us. See His mercy. See His power. We know not what blessings we receive through the movement of the Divine presence to the rear of us. We get light in the night of sorrow. We get comfort in the hour of trial. We get protection in the time of danger. The presence of Christ is always found where His people most need it. Few earthly friends come between us and our troubles; Christ our best friend.
IV. That the Divine presence presents a different aspect to the good from what it does to the ungodly multitude. “It was a cloud and darkness to them.” Thus, to the good, the Divine presence is always as a beauteous, refreshing, and guiding light; but to the unholy crowd it is ever as gloomy and mysterious as a dark cloud. We cannot wonder that the men of the world call religion a thing of sadness: they do not get a right vision of God. Religion is a joy. It lights up the darkest night of the soul. We see God from the standpoint of our own character. To the sinful He is as a cloud; to the pure He is as a light. Truth has a dual aspect. The cross has a dual aspect,—to some foolishness, to others wisdom. The Gospel is to some the savour of life, to others the savour of death. All the great objects of the moral universe are seen as lights or clouds. Our state of heart will determine the vision. Only a pure heart can see God. LESSONS:—
1. That the Divine presence is near to each one of us.
2. That the Divine presence is especially the comfort of the good.
3. That the Divine presence is adapted to the need of the soul.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Exodus 14:19-20. The movements of Christ:—
1. Adapted to the need of the Church.
2. Discomforting to enemies.
3. A signal for victory.
The interposition of God keeps the wicked world from destroying the Church.
The same means God makes to darken His enemies which lighten His people.
Exodus 14:21-22 God’s instruments must be obedient to doing signs for working salvation when God commands.
Jehovah assists the signal obedience of His servants to give them salvation.
All miracles of raising winds and cleaving seas must be attributed to Jehovah.
The drowning waters are made walls to God’s people at His word; so all afflictions are good by promise.
Waters may be made walls; dangers may be made by the grace of God into safeguards.
REV. WM. ADAMSON
Divine Interposition! Exodus 14:20. The pillar symbolised the Bible. As the pillar interposed divinely between Israel and their foes, so the Bible steps in, and protects God’s people. At the battle of Frederichsburg, a soldier carried a Bible in his pocket. During the engagement a ball pierced the book through the whole of the Old Testament, and stopped at the Gospel of St. Matthew. His life was thus spared; as but for the interposition of the Bible, the bullet would have penetrated his heart. The presence of Christ in the Word, makes it to the righteous a light to their feet and a lamp to their path. How dark to the unbelieving Pharaoh and his host of mail-clad charioteers! On what a scene that night did the light from the fire-pillar shine—did the darkness from the cloud-pillar shadow! Safely the little feet of Hebrew children trod the coral-strewn depths, where never before a living foot had left its impress. Not so Pharaoh’s host in the gloom, deep and intense, that brooded over them. Ignorant of God—enveloped in darkness, they did not know that the waters had been riven, and that the ground over which their chariots were rapidly rolling was the bottom of the Red Sea covered with large trees or plants of white coral. How often the Word of God is dark to unbelievers! They cannot see the miraculous workings of God’s Great Hand. Blindly they grope on in their relentless persecution of God’s people, until the dawnlight of eternity flashes on them; and too late they discover their perilous position, as the Waves of Judgment roll in and over.
“How sinks his soul!
What black despair—what horror fills his heart!”—Thomson.
Refuge! Exodus 14:21. Many figures are employed to convey the shelter which sinners have from the fires of wrath—as well as which saints enjoy when waves of temptation sweep over a nation or community. Others have also been hailed to enforce the hairsbreadth escape of which the apostle speaks as being saved yet so as by fire; or as our English proverb of homely phrase says, “by the skin of his teeth.” All these might be illustrated of the incident of a prairie-fire. Schomburgh describes such a scene. We had not penetrated far into the plain, when we saw to the south-east high columns of smoke ascending to the skies—the sure signs of a savannah conflagration. As the burning torrent would most likely roll in our direction, we were full alive to the extreme peril of our situation, for in whatever direction we gazed, we nowhere saw a darker patch in the grass plain announcing the refuge of a water-pool. We could already distinguish the flames of the advancing column—already hear the bursting and crackling of the reeds, when fortunately the sharp eye of the Indians discovered a small eminence in front of us only sparingly covered with vegetation, and to this we now careered as if death were pursuing us. Half a minute later we could not have been alive to relate this hairsbreadth escape from a fiery fate. As the smoke and flames overtook us, we reached our vantage ground, to await the dreadful decision. We were in the midst of the blaze. Two arms of fire encircled the base on the little hillock on which we stood, and united before us in a waving mass, which—rolling onwards—receded farther and farther from our gaze. We were saved—the fire having found nothing at the base or on the slopes of the eminence upon which to feed. When the sinner’s eyes first descry the advancing flames of wrath, he looks around for water in which to plunge, but all in vain. There is no salvation in man, and he is ready to despair. His attention is called to the rock, whereon is no guile or defilement of sin upon which the fires of hell can lay hold. To this he hastens: when my heart is overwhelmed, I will look to the Rock that is higher than I. Here standing, all is well; the flames and fumes of judgment roll on their way; and while whole swarms of voracious vultures, which have followed in circling flight the fiery column, pounce upon the half-calcined buffaloes, antelopes, and agotis, the sheltered sinner, saved through grace, retraces his steps—striking towards the city of the living Go. What a picture also of the Last Judgment, when all who are not found in Christ, become the prey of evil angels; and while the redeemed know no alarms—
“Though heaven’s wide concave glow with lightnings dire,
All ether flaming, and all earth on fire.”
Exodus 14:25. Took off their chariot wheels.] “And made glide out their chariot wheels”—Kalisch. “And turneth aside the wheels of their chariots”—Young. The original word means to “make depart,” “turn away,” “put aside,” “remove,” &c. Hence, and from the incongruity of supposing any further progress made in wheelless chariots, it may well be doubted whether the rendering of the English version conveys the true meaning of the narrative. More in keeping with the context would be the more general notion of removing the wheels from their track, causing them to slip away so as to make progress extremely difficult. Only, this effect should clearly be connected with the Divine troubling of the Egyptian host. Precisely how the cause produced this effect we are not told: it is a matter of little or no Importance.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Exodus 14:23-29
THE DIVINE TROUBLING OF THE WICKED
I. That the Divine troubling of the wicked takes place in the midst of their presumption and sin. “And the Egyptians pursued, and went in after them to the midst of the sea. “Thus we see that the Egyptians were at this time in full pursuit of the Israelites, and were presumptuously following them into the miraculously divided waters. Hence they were in direct opposition to the command of God,—they were seeking the bondage and ruin of a vast people. They were animated by their besetting sin,—an intense spirit of selfish despotism Sin has immense power of will. It is careless of the greatest peril, it will pursue its design into the waters of the Red Sea, and will venture on paths which are only safe for the people of God, and in which it can easily be destroyed. It does not always act with sufficient calculation and caution; it rushes blindly to its awful destiny. It was when the Egyptians were in the midst of the waters that they were troubled by God. It is easy for God to trouble the sinner in the midst of his sin. When the sinner is hottest in pursuit and surest of success in his unholy aim, then the Divine Being can trouble him through the cloud. Belshazzar was thus troubled in the hour of his impious feast (Daniel 5:9). Thus the wicked are troubled when they are engaged in their most desperate attempts at evil; when they are least expecting disaster, they are troubled by the smitings of an alarmed conscience,—they are troubled by the hand of God. The Divine eye looks through the cloud upon the exploits of the wicked.
II. That the Divine troubling of the wicked causes the mad schemes in which they are engaged to drag heavily. “And took off their chariot wheels, that they drave them heavily.” The Egyptians had got their best armaments with them,—their strongest chariots, their finest horses, their most skilful men, and all was in splendid battle array. And yet their chariots drave heavily! Why? Were they not well made? Were they not well managed? Yes; but they were troubled by God. Thus God can bring to naught the best preparations of the sinner for his cruel designs; He can render useless the finest chariots. The sinner finds it hard work to drive his car. The Divine troubling is an impediment to the enterprise of the evil-doer; in this way the success of evil to an alarming extent is prevented, and the safety of the Church is attained. Sin cannot prosper, because it is against God. It is a mercy that the chariots of sin drag heavily, or men would ride to hell more quickly than they do.
III. That the Divine troubling of the wicked sometimes causes them to wish to retreat from their evil designs when it is too late. “So that the Egyptians said, Let us flee from the face of Israel, for the Lord fighteth for them against the Egyptians.” Why did the Egyptians wish to flee? Were they not well armed? Was not their King with them? Were they not brave? Were they not near to the slaves they wished to recapture? There are times when sinners are obliged to see that their wicked enterprises are vain, and that they cannot succeed. They are obliged to acknowledge the failure of their best energies. They soon know when they are troubled by the Lord. Then they wish to make the best escape they can, but it is too late. Let us beware of the folly and danger of pursuing a life of sin so long that there can be no escape therefrom. It is dangerous to delay conversion. Some men will never retreat from sin till they are troubled by God, and then perhaps they cannot.
IV. That the Divine troubling of the wicked will in all probability culminate in their utter ruin and destruction. “And the Lord said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand over the sea, that the waters may come again upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen.… There remained not so much as one of them.” Here, then, we have a picture of what will be the end of those who sin against God, and who provoke His troubling ministries. God can employ many agencies to work their ruin. The waters will obey His behest. There are many rods by which they may be smitten. Then the display of sin, the best strength of sin, and all the allies of sin will yield to the retributive hand of God. The end of sin is to be buried in the great waters. The sinner is walking to an awful destiny. LESSONS:—
1. That the wicked are sure to be Divinely troubled.
2. That it is vain to seek to bring the Church into bondage.
3. That the end of sin is death.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Exodus 14:22-23. The Church is pursued:—
1. By cruel tyrants.
2. By combined enemies.
3. Into hazardous places.
4. By intense hatred.
The folly of sin:—
1. It will rush into dangerous places.
2. It will risk all its best agencies.
3. It will go beyond the possibility of retreat.
The enterprise of the wicked:—
1. Divinely observed.
2. Easily troubled.
3. Terribly defeated.
Sinners are troubled:—
1. By the voice of conscience.
2. By the painful discipline of life.
3. By the failure of their best concerted schemes.
Exodus 14:25-28. Morning and evening may not be the same to the wicked for their hopes.
God will stop the movements of persecuting powers in His due and proper time.
Persecutors always find that Jehovah fights for His Church.
REV. WM. ADAMSON
Convictions! Exodus 14:23-29. Away on the Pampa dell Sacramento roam wild tribes of Indians. Of all, the Cashiboos are the most savage and warlike. Equally cunning as fierce, when they see the traveller they do not attack him at once in the broad day. They watch and track him to his sleeping-place, and when he is locked in slumber deep, they spring upon him for the cannibal feast. Sometimes the sleeper is aroused in time to defend himself. When these wild, subtle savages find that they have no chance of success, they retire. But it is only to watch and wait, until some other night arrives when they may renew the attack with more success. Pharaoh’s lusts sought his destruction. Again and again, did they spring upon him in his sleep of self-indulgence; but he awoke to timely—though alas! transient—repentance. With cruel craft and confidence did they persist, until at last they accomplished their remorseless purpose—
“Until, at last, the crushing torrent fell,
And swept from earth the pampered child of hell.”
Wheels Dragging! Exodus 14:25. It is sometimes of God’s mercy, remarks Beecher, that men in the eager pursuit of worldly aggrandisement are baffled. They are like a train going down an inclined plane—putting on the break is not pleasant, but it keeps the car on the track. A man was driving furiously down a hill in the direction of the seaport, where he was to embark for California. The carriage wheel struck against a stone, and was shattered to pieces. Bruised and angry, he curse his adverse fate, which forced him to trudge for miles along the road, only to find on arrival that the vessel had sailed. But this “drag upon the wheel” proved a mercy in disguise; for the same night, the stormy wind arose, and swept the departed ship beneath its mountain waves. How often, God makes a man’s chariot wheels drag heavily in mercy to his soul, when he will not see it. Persisting in his course, he finds himself at last sinking beneath the Waves of Woe, like Pharaoh—
“Whose heart of adamant,
Had led him to assay the ocean depths,
And satisfy his lust on Israel there.”
Death! Exodus 14:28-30. Pharaoh and his charioteer had the same watery grave. What a pill for pride! Napoleon the Great must die as well as the meanest of his camp-followers. When Xerxes wept over his three million warriors as the sure prey of relentless death, he probably forgot for the moment that his own ambitious heart would be pierced by the same sharp dart. The waters of death lie before us all—whether proud or poor, prince or pauper. Monarch and slave alike are swallowed up there, as the waves of the Red Sea make no distinction between mighty Pharaoh and the meanest of his host. What then will be the gain!
“Can storied urn, or monumental bust,
Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath?
Can glory’s voice awake the silent dust?
Or flattery soothe the dull cold ear of death?
Contrast! Exodus 14:23. In some respects Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar resembled each other. Both held the Israelites in captivity—both were of mighty and lofty spirit—and both oppressed the children of the captives—both were warned by a holy prophet—and on both dread judgments descended. But here the resemblance stops. In Pharaoh, we behold a man whom no chastisement could reclaim—whom no grief could effectually humble. He had trembled at the awful thunder from heaven—and started as the fierce fire ran along the ground. He had seen the clouds of locusts darken in the sky—had beheld the river running blood—and had swelled the wail of a nation when his first-born was smitten with death. Yet Pharaoh never truly repented. His heart, like the hardened rock, returned sparks of fire for the blows that struck it. He died, as he had lived, in open rebellion against God.
“Meroy’s boon refused
Shall fall in judgment on the soul perverse
That slights the gift.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Exodus 14:29-31
THE SALVATION OF THE GOOD
I. That the good are saved while in the very midst of agencies which might be hostile to them. “But the children of Israel walked upon dry land in the midst of the sea.” Thus the Israelites were saved while they were surrounded by the waters of the Red Sea. Their situation was perilous, yet it was sate. The waters were made into a wall of protection. And so the good are saved in this world, even while they are surrounded by sinful men, by influences and maxims which are naturally prejudicial to their moral safety. They are saved in the waters. God makes safe paths in this wicked world for the good to walk in; He makes even the adverse influences of life to minister to the defence of His people. The Israelites were not drowned even though they were surrounded by the waters; the good need not be lost because they are encompassed by sin. Religion enables a man to walk circumspectly in the midst of moral perils, and to go where duty leads. The salvation of God does not take men out of the difficult circumstances of life, but guides through them.
II. That the good are saved notwithstanding all the hindrances and enemies which may pursue them. “Thus the Lord saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the seashore.” The Israelites had many enemies to their deliverance; they had by Divine aid to overcome many obstacles. And every man has many impediments to his salvation by the grace of God,—he has a carnal mind, a corrupt heart, a wicked companionship, and even the temporal circumstances of life may conspire against him, yet all these shall be overcome by the help of God, as were the Egyptians. The salvation of God is co-extensive with all hindrances and with all enemies,—it gives a man to see all his past sins dead upon the seashore of a new life.
III. That the good are inspired by their salvation with trustful and reverent feelings toward God. “And Israel saw that great work which the Lord did upon the Egyptians: and the people feared the Lord, and believed the Lord, and His servant Moses.” Thus salvation of the soul is a great work, because sin is great, because mercy is great, and because the enemies overcome are great. God is its Author; He only can destroy the Egyptian of sin. Salvation inspires reverence. It awakens trust. It animates with a respect for the ministers of God; the people believed Moses. This is the end of God’s dealings with men, to increase all good duties within them to Himself. Let us never distrust God, or wrong His ministers. Thus we see that the Red Sea which threatened destruction to the Israelites proved the greatest benefit to them. And the pain of correction of sin ends in the joy of salvation. LESSONS:—
1. That the way of salvation is opened up by Christ as was the path to the Red Sea.
2. That men may be saved from all their moral enemies.
3. That the salvation of God should beget reverence and trust within the soul.
4. Are you saved?
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Exodus 14:29-31. The divided sea is a type of baptism, and, consequently, of all that which is requisite to purify the soul from sin. The Red Sea of the Redeemer’s blood is the abyss into which the sins of believers are so deeply plunged that, if sought for, they can never be found; the sea which swallows up and overwhelms Satan with all his host, and the old man, and quickens in us a new man, who after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. This precious blood of Christ, who offered Himself to God by the Holy Spirit, is that which alone perfectly cleanses our consciences from dead works to serve the living God. Not, indeed, as indispensably necessary as this blood, and the vivifying Spirit inseparably united with it, yet serviceable for the purification from sin, and the mortification of corrupt nature, are the various trials which are not wanting to the true Christian. (Krummacher.)
REV. WM. ADAMSON
Pharaoh’s body! Exodus 14:30. At dawn, the surf-beaten shore was strewn with the carcases of Egypt’s chivalry. Among them lay the corpse of the proud and stubborn monarch—a prey to the hosts of vultures that darkened the air, and to the motley groups of wild beasts that lined the shores. The Egyptians considered this as the greatest of all misfortunes; and it was supposed that the soul could find no rest until the body was interred. The ancient poets frequently represented these souls as visiting their friends on earth to announce where their bodies were to be searched for that they might be buried. In Egypt these burials were associated with remarkable ceremonies; but were such for Pharaoh? Apparently, the Israelites took the golden ornaments and jewellery, as well as the richly wrought weapons of the dead; so that Pharaoh’s body would share the fate of the others. The jackals of the desert and the vultures of the air—symbolised by the jackal and vulture-headed colossal stone gods of Thebes—would soon devour them. Near Thebes, the Lybian hills for nearly five miles have been converted into a labyrinth of sepulchres, where all the kings lie in glory—every one in his own house. Among them is the tomb of Pharaoh, the wide extent of whose dominion, at the time of his destruction in the Red Sea, is indicated by five lines of tribute bearers—offering gifts of ivory, apes, leopards, skins, gold, and other valuables. On it are sculptured pictures of masons at work upon monstrous sphinxes—no doubt captive workmen, perhaps Israelite slaves—masses of masonry
“Which now are turned to dust,
And overgrown with black oblivious rust.”
Deliverance! Exodus 14:31. Mr. Bower says that temptations resemble the rocks which rest their jagged sides above the waves when it is low water. No vessel dares come near them. But after a while the tide comes sweeping into the bay, and buries the rocks under a flood of water, so that the largest ships may ride in safety above their teeth of death—as well as the lightest skiff. No doubt Israel thought their difficulties of deliverance very great—incapable on being surmounted; but when the sea of God’s Providence swept in upon the land of Egypt, they were borne high above the jagged rocks towards the haven where He would have them be. Therefore—
“Man’s wisdom is to seek
His strength in God alone;
For e’en an angel would be weak
Who trusted in his own.”
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Exodus 14". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany