By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned. – Hebrews 11:29 ESV
After God had destroyed the firstborn of Egypt, including the son of Pharaoh, the Egyptians were ready to see the Hebrews leave. “All the Egyptians urged the people of Israel to get out of the land as quickly as possible, for they thought, ‘We will all die!’” (Exodus 12:33 NLT). Not only did they urge them to leave, they loaded them down with wealth just as God had said they would. “And the people of Israel did as Moses had instructed; they asked the Egyptians for clothing and articles of silver and gold. The Lord caused the Egyptians to look favorably on the Israelites, and they gave the Israelites whatever they asked for. So they stripped the Egyptians of their wealth!” (Exodus 12:25-26 NLT). And they marched out, more than a million strong, under the leadership of Moses and the direction of God.
This is where the story gets interesting. “When Pharaoh finally let the people go, God did not lead them along the main road that runs through Philistine territory, even though that was the shortest route to the Promised Land” (Exodus 13:17 NLT). Instead, “God led them in a roundabout way through the wilderness toward the Red Sea” (Exodus 13:18 NLT). God took them the long way. But not only that, He eventually had them do a U-turn. “Then the Lord gave these instructions to Moses: ‘Order the Israelites to turn back and camp by Pi-hahiroth between Migdol and the sea. Camp there along the shore, across from Baal-zephon’” (Exodus 14:1-2 NLT). They were going backwards. God had them head back toward Egypt and He told Moses why. “‘Pharaoh will think, “The Israelites are confused. They are trapped in the wilderness!” And once again I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will chase after you. I have planned this in order to display my glory through Pharaoh and his whole army. After this the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord!’ So the Israelites camped there as they were told” (Exodus 14:3-4 NLT). God had one last trick up His sleeve for Pharaoh. He knew that once Pharaoh heard that the Hebrews were camped nearby, he would change his mind and go on the attack. This whole encounter was part of God’s plan.
So Pharaoh didn’t disappoint. He showed up with a huge army complete with 600 chariots and he found the Israelites camped before the Red Sea. “As Pharaoh approached, the people of Israel looked up and panicked when they saw the Egyptians overtaking them. They cried out to the Lord, and they said to Moses, ‘Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness? Weren’t there enough graves for us in Egypt? What have you done to us? Why did you make us leave Egypt? Didn’t we tell you this would happen while we were still in Egypt? We said, “Leave us alone! Let us be slaves to the Egyptians. It’s better to be a slave in Egypt than a corpse in the wilderness!”’” (Exodus 14:10-12 NLT). They were not happy. They were in a full-blown panic. And yet, the author of Hebrews says, “By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land.” They don’t appear to be very faithful in the Exodus account. They don’t seem to have much faith in God. They were scared, disillusioned, and confused. This was not what they had been expecting. Everything had looked so promising and now there were facing the entire army of Pharaoh. They were in a bad spot. They were in a jam. Their circumstances could not have been any worse. But remember, God had led them there. This was all part of His plan. What looked like the beginnings of an unmitigated disaster was actually going to be a divine deliverance.
Even Moses told the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent” (Exodus 14:13-14 ESV). They had front row seats to what was going to be the greatest show on earth. They just didn’t realize it yet. You know the story. God miraculously parted the Red Sea. “Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left” (Exodus 14:21-22 ESV).
There are those who say that they people had no faith. They reason that the faith of which the author of Hebrews speaks is that of Moses. It was his faith that got them across the sea. But the Exodus passage makes it clear that “the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea.” Each and every one of them had to place his or her sandals on ground between those two walls of standing water. They had to take that initial step of faith and walk the path that God had provided. It would have been scary. It would have been intimidating. They would have had doubts along the way, wondering if the walls of water would suddenly crash down, drowning them all. It would have taken a while for more than a million people to make the crossing. The ones in the back of the line must have been wondering if they would ever make it across before Pharaoh’s army arrived. And yet, by faith, the people crossed – each and every one of them. Their salvation, the work of God, required that they step out in obedience. They had to walk if they wanted to live. They had to take the path God had provided, in spite of their fears, doubts and apprehensions.
As we walk on this earth as followers of Christ, we will find ourselves facing difficult and sometimes disillusioning circumstances. God’s path for us will not always be easy or make sense. We will have doubts and fears, second thoughts and last-minute temptations to stop in our tracks and refuse to walk the path God has placed before us. But in those moments, we must remember the words of Moses, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord” (Exodus 14:13 ESV). That doesn’t mean our fear is sin. It simply means that, at some point, we have to stop fearing and start trusting. We have to remember that God is in control and He has a plan for our lives. The path He lays out before us may seem illogical and even dangerous at times. His solution may appear worse than the problem we are facing. But we must learn to trust Him and step out in faith. The people of Israel doubted, but they walked. They feared, but they took the first step. When there had been no way of escape, God had provided one. And they took it – in faith – weak and wavering as it may have been. And they got to the other side.