Faith is the Victory

29 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 show the Israelites the door.

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 literally paid them to do so, 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. The Israelites are free to go and have their pockets lined with the treasures of the former Egyptian overlords. But watch what God does next.

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). In other words, God sent them on the less direct route, and 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 headed right back to where they had started. At this point, the people must have begun to question Moses’ leadership skills or, at the least, his sense of direction. Their sudden about-face and march back toward Egypt would have made no sense. But God provided Moses with the method to His seeming madness.

“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 was not done with Pharaoh. This stubborn, egotistical, and self-proclaimed god had dared to do battle with Yahweh and despite all the plagues his people had suffered, his overblown sense of pride would not allow him to admit defeat. So, God had one last surprise for the recalcitrant Pharaoh. God knew that once Pharaoh heard that the Israelites were camped nearby, he would change his mind once again and go on the attack. What happened next was all part of God’s plan.

Pharaoh didn’t disappoint. As soon as news of the Israelites’ circuitous trek reached his ears, he assembled his army, complete with 600 chariots, and went in hot pursuit of his former slaves. Much to his surprise and delight, Pharaoh found the Israelites camped along the banks of the Red Sea. He had them trapped. They had nowhere to run and no way to resist the might of his army. And he wasn’t the only one to recognize the dire nature of the situation.

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

The newly freed Israelites were not happy. The arrival of Pharaoh’s army had them in a full-blown panic. And yet, the author of Hebrews states, “By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land.”

In the Exodus account, these people appear to be anything but faithful. In fact, they don’t seem to display any faith at all – either in God or Moses. They were scared, disillusioned, and confused. This was not what they had been expecting. Everything had looked so promising when they marched out of Egypt with their pockets filled with treasure. The future was bright and their hopes were high. But now they were facing potential annihilation by the Egyptian army.

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 entire scenario was all part of His divinely ordained and predetermined plan. What looked like the beginning of an unmitigated disaster was actually going to be a scene of divine deliverance.

Moses knew something the people didn’t know, so he calmly encouraged them to resist the urge to panic and run.

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)

His words must have sounded like the ravings of a madman. How was Yahweh going to eck out a victory from this lopsided showdown between unarmed former slaves and the chariots of Egypt?

But what they failed to realize was that they had front-row seats to what would be the greatest show on earth. Despite the circumstances surrounding them, they had nothing to fear because God was with them. So, Moses encouraged them to stand their ground. But look closely. He doesn’t give them the choice between fight or flight. Running away would prove pointless. But attempting to go toe-to-toe with the Egyptian army would not bode well either. No, Moses simply told them to fear not and stand firm. They had no other responsibility than to watch God work. And we know the rest of the story.

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 the people of Israel displayed no faith. The faith to which the author of Hebrews refers must have been that of Moses. After all, 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” (Exodus 14:22 ESV).

First of all, they had to heed Moses’ admonition to stop fearing, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord. The temptation to run would have been strong. Fear, doubt, and pessimism would have been natural and normal reactions to such a devastatingly difficult situation.

Yet, each and every one of them had to place their sandals on the 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. And it would have taken a long time for more than a million people to make that crossing. The ones in the back of the line must have been wondering if they would ever make it across before Pharaoh’s army caught up with them. And yet, “By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land.”

Their salvation 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 is not always easy and doesn’t always make sense. There will be days filled with 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’re 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 provided one. And they took it – in faith – weak and wavering as that faith may have been. And because they walked by faith, they arrived at the other side and were able to watch as God destroyed the enemy they had formerly feared. With their own eyes, they witnessed the salvation of the Lord.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Be Holy

19 “You shall not approach a woman to uncover her nakedness while she is in her menstrual uncleanness. 20 And you shall not lie sexually with your neighbor’s wife and so make yourself unclean with her. 21 You shall not give any of your children to offer them to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord. 22 You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. 23 And you shall not lie with any animal and so make yourself unclean with it, neither shall any woman give herself to an animal to lie with it: it is perversion.

24 “Do not make yourselves unclean by any of these things, for by all these the nations I am driving out before you have become unclean, 25 and the land became unclean, so that I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. 26 But you shall keep my statutes and my rules and do none of these abominations, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you 27 (for the people of the land, who were before you, did all of these abominations, so that the land became unclean), 28 lest the land vomit you out when you make it unclean, as it vomited out the nation that was before you. 29 For everyone who does any of these abominations, the persons who do them shall be cut off from among their people. 30 So keep my charge never to practice any of these abominable customs that were practiced before you, and never to make yourselves unclean by them: I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus 18:19-30 ESV

God not only commissioned Moses to lead the people of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt, but to take them all the way to Canaan, the land He had promised to give as an inheritance to the descendants of Abraham. As the Israelites stood at the base of Mount Sinai, they were roughly halfway to their final destination, but they were far from ready to conquer the land that God had destined to be their home. During their four-century-long absence from Canaan, the Israelites had taken on many of the moral and social customs of their Egyptian captors. They had adopted the Egyptian gods as their own. They also ended up lowering their moral standards by assimilating many of the depraved sexual vices of the Egyptians into their daily lives.

While they may have left Egypt behind them, they were still carrying a lot of these depraved and destructive practices with them as they journeyed to Canaan. And they would soon discover that the land God had given them as their inheritance was filled with sinful people who made the Egyptians look like rank amateurs. And how did these nations develop their disposition for sin? According to the apostle Paul, their sinful behavior was a direct result of their rejection of God. In his letter to the believers in Rome, Paul describes the downward moral spiral that took place after the fall.

But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness. They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.

Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles.

So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies. They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen. That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. And the men, instead of having normal sexual relations with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men, and as a result of this sin, they suffered within themselves the penalty they deserved. – Romans 1:18-27 ESV

Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul points out the moral decline of humanity after sin entered the world. At one point, all mankind had an awareness of God, as His divine attributes were evident all around them in the created world. But in time, these very same people began to worship the creation instead of the Creator. In an effort to make sense of their place and purpose in the world, human beings began to speculate and experiment with all kinds of things that might provide them with a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. But in their unwillingness to honor God, they ended up rejecting or replacing Him with gods of their own making. As Paul puts it, “they traded the truth about God for a lie,” and God allowed them to do so. He abandoned them to their shameful desires.

The book of Genesis reveals that the moral decline of humanity was quick and quite comprehensive. Mankind’s fall from the pinnacle of God’s creative order was dramatic and surprisingly sweeping in its impact. According to the book of Genesis, the sinful state of the world became so perverse and pervasive that God was forced to take action.

The LORD observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. – Genesis 6:5 NLT

And the LORD said, “I will wipe this human race I have created from the face of the earth. Yes, and I will destroy every living thing—all the people, the large animals, the small animals that scurry along the ground, and even the birds of the sky. I am sorry I ever made them.” – Genesis 6:7 NLT

This determination by God led to the worldwide flood that destroyed all humanity, except for Noah and his family. When the floodwaters subsided, God began again with Noah and his three sons: Ham, Shem, and Japheth. Along with their wives, these men were commissioned by God to repopulate the world, and they did as God told them to do. Genesis 10 reveals the nations that came from the three sons of Noah, and ends with the following statement: “These are the clans that descended from Noah’s sons, arranged by nation according to their lines of descent. All the nations of the earth descended from these clans after the great flood” (Genesis 10:32 NLT).

But despite God’s gracious gift of a second chance, mankind simply repeated the pattern all over again. They turned their backs on God, replacing Him with lifeless idols made by human hands, and making the pursuit of pleasure their highest priority. Paul describes such people in stark and degrading terms.

They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth. – Philippians 3:19 NLT

At one point, Paul warned his young protege, Timothy, about the sorry state of the world in “the last days.” He described the people of their day as “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:4 NLT). And this was not just his opinion regarding the unsaved and unchurched. Paul was warning Timothy that, as the end draws hear, even the people of God would be guilty of these things, “having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:5 NLT).

And Leviticus 18 reveals that God knew the Israelites would be just as susceptible to adopting and adapting the ways of the world. That is why He spends so much time warning them to avoid the sexual sins of their past and future neighbors.

These taboos were far from arbitrary or puritanical; they were purposeful and practical. God knew exactly what He was doing and why He was doing it. He had chosen the people of Israel to be His royal priesthood and a holy nation. These strict social and sexual standards were designed to illustrate what true human flourishing should look like. Sexuality had been God’s gift to mankind. It was through the union of one woman and one man that God had planned to fill the world with more of His image bearers. But with the entrance of sin into the world, humanity’s ability to mirror the image of God became distorted. Seeking to satisfy their own desires, human beings began to push the boundaries of God’s divine decrees and, in doing so, revealed their true intention to “be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5 ESV). In other words, they wanted to be the determiners of their own fates. They wanted to decide what was right and what was wrong. They wanted the freedom to determine what was true and what was false. And their relentless pursuit of autonomy had led to idolatry and every imaginable form of moral depravity. God’s moral order had been turned on its head, with men having sexual relations with men and women with women. Even the practice of bestiality had become commonplace and completely acceptable among the nations of Canaan.

But God had a different standard for His people. Their lives were to reflect their status as His chosen people. So, when they arrived at the land of Canaan, the Israelites were to avoid the mistakes of the land’s current occupants. The whole reason God was preparing to replace the Canaanites with the Israelites was that they had defiled the land. In the 400 years since Jacob had left Canaan, the various nations who remained behind had defiled themselves and the land.

Because the entire land has become defiled, I am punishing the people who live there. I will cause the land to vomit them out. – Leviticus 18:25 NLT

All these detestable activities are practiced by the people of the land where I am taking you, and this is how the land has become defiled. – Leviticus 18:27 NLT

Everything God declared to be off-limits to the Israelites was considered acceptable behavior to the Canaanites. What was considered common and kosher to the Canaanites was to be recognized as unholy and unacceptable to the people of God. The status quo was never to be the determiner of godly behavior. The ways of the world, no matter how prevalent and permissible, were never to dictate the behavior of God’s people. They were to be holy, just as He was holy. And while His ways may not always make sense or appeal to our fallen natures, they are always right and just. As God told the prophet, Isaiah:

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
    “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so my ways are higher than your ways
    and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:8-9 NLT

That’s why God told the Israelites, “So obey my instructions, and do not defile yourselves by committing any of these detestable practices that were committed by the people who lived in the land before you. I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:30 ESV). None of this was up for debate or discussion. God wasn’t asking for their opinion or permission. His ways were better. His methods were holy, just, and right. They were His chosen people, but to enjoy all that He had prepared for them, they would need to live in keeping with His perfect will.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Live Like It

1 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the Lord your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord. – Leviticus 18:1-5 ESV

God knew that His people would face the ongoing temptation to carry out His ceremonial law while, at the same time, living lives that contradicted the very intentions of those laws. In other words, they would run the risk of living hypocritical lives that reflected an outward appearance of obedience that covered up the true conditions of their hearts. It was the very same of which Jesus accused the Jewish religious leader of His day.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! – Matthew 23:25 NLT

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness. – Matthew 23:27-28 NLT

Jesus was exposing these men for what they truly were: blatant charlatans who were adept at displaying outward conformity to God’s will but whose actions were nothing more than a carefully-orchestrated performance designed to earn the praise and respect of the people. They were little more than play actors. In fact, the Greek word for hypocrite is ὑποκριτής (hypokritēs), a term used to describe those who performed in the Greek plays that were so popular throughout the Roman world of Jesus’ day. Jesus was comparing the law-abiding religious leaders of His day to actors who used elaborate costumes and masks to fool their audiences into believing they were someone else.

Jesus pulled back the curtain on their little drama and exposed their deceptive masquerade. They were not what they appeared to be. And in the same way, God was warning the people of Israel about the danger of going through the motions by feigning obedience to His law while, at the same time, living in silent disregard to His desire that they live truly holy lives.

Yahweh has spent a great deal of time outlining the exacting details of His ceremonial law. He has provided His chosen people with clear and compelling regulations for conducting their daily lives, covering everything from the food they could eat to the various skin diseases that could render them unholy and unworthy of entering His Tabernacle. The entire sacrificial system was designed to mitigate their failure to keep His law. When they sinned, they had a way of receiving atonement by offering the appropriate sacrifice in the acceptable manner God had prescribed.

But the Israelites had proven themselves to be a stubborn people who were prone to doing things their own way. Their 400-year-long stint in Egypt had made them accustomed to the pagan practices of their captors. Idolatry had become a normal and acceptable part of their lives. The sexual promiscuity of their Egyptian overlords had dulled the moral sensibilities of the Israelites, leaving them open to increasingly more decadent and defiling types of behavior. Sins like adultery had become commonplace, even among God’s people, and no longer carried any social stigma or sense of impropriety. So, God took the time to discuss the need for behavior that reflected their status as God’s chosen and set-apart people.

In a real sense, the Israelites were going from the firepan into the fire. Their divinely-orchestrated escape from captivity had allowed them to leave the decadence of Egypt behind, but a great challenge lie in the future. God knew something of which they were completely oblivious. The land of Canaan, their future home, was a place filled with immoral and idolatrous nations that were going to make the Egyptians look like amateurs. Compared to the more sophisticated Egyptians, the Canaanites would take immorality to a whole new and much lower level. And God knew that His people would be prone to adopt and adapt the pagan practices of their new neighbors. That’s why He commanded Moses to warn the sin-prone Israelites to refrain from mimicking the ways of the world.

“…do not act like the people in Egypt, where you used to live, or like the people of Canaan, where I am taking you. You must not imitate their way of life.” – Leviticus 18:3 NLT

God had chosen the people of Israel to be His “treasured possession among all peoples,” and as such, they were to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:5-6 ESV). Their lives were to stand out from the crowd. Their behavior was to be radically different, dictated by the conditions established by God Himself and articulated in the Mosaic Law. They were not free to live according to their own wills or in keeping with the rest of the world. Their behavioral standards were God-ordained and came with severe consequences if disobeyed. God made it perfectly clear that obedience was mandatory and non-optional.

You must obey all my regulations and be careful to obey my decrees, for I am the Lord your God. – Leviticus 18:4 NLT

These were laws; not suggestions, and they came from the very throne of God in heaven, not the minds of mortal men. Yet, God knew that the Israelites would struggle obeying His law and lean toward living like their pagan neighbors. The law would set them apart, but failure to allow the law to transform their daily behavior would render them ineffective in their assignment to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

Centuries later, the apostle Paul warned the Jewish Christians living in Rome of this very danger. He knew they were proud of their Jewish heritage and wore it like a badge of honor, but their outward actions did not reflect the kind of character God demanded.

You who call yourselves Jews are relying on God’s law, and you boast about your special relationship with him. You know what he wants; you know what is right because you have been taught his law. You are convinced that you are a guide for the blind and a light for people who are lost in darkness. You think you can instruct the ignorant and teach children the ways of God. For you are certain that God’s law gives you complete knowledge and truth.

Well then, if you teach others, why don’t you teach yourself? You tell others not to steal, but do you steal? You say it is wrong to commit adultery, but do you commit adultery? You condemn idolatry, but do you use items stolen from pagan temples? You are so proud of knowing the law, but you dishonor God by breaking it. No wonder the Scriptures say, “The Gentiles blaspheme the name of God because of you.” – Romans 2:17-24 NLT

And Paul would go on to downplay their inordinate pride in their Jewish heritage; instead calling them to live in a way that reflects the gospel’s power to transform the human heart and create true life change.

For you are not a true Jew just because you were born of Jewish parents or because you have gone through the ceremony of circumcision. No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by the Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people. – Romans 2:28-29 NLT

For the Jews of Moses’ day, obedience to God’s law came with striking benefits. It wasn’t merely about blind obedience and mindless adherence to a lengthy set of arbitrary rules and regulations. God’s law brought life.

“If you obey my decrees and my regulations, you will find life through them. I am the Lord.” – Leviticus 18:5 NLT

He wanted them to know that His laws were laws for living – bringing peace, joy, contentment, purpose, blessings, and the benefit of an ongoing relationship with Him. God was not a divine policeman enforcing arbitrary and needless rules designed to stifle human flourishing. He wasn’t some curmudgeonly old skinflint in the sky trying to rob mere mortals of all the joys of life. The Lord God was giving His chosen people a unique opportunity to live in perfect communion with Him, enjoying all the benefits of His divine goodness and glory as they lived in this fallen and sin-stained world. But those blessings would require obedience to His law. Rather than live like the Romans and Canaanites, the Israelites were to live like God’s chosen and set-apart people – for all the world to see.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The First Stanza in the Song of Victory

1 Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the Lord, saying,

“I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
    the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.
The Lord is my strength and my song,
    and he has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise him,
    my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
The Lord is a man of war;
    the Lord is his name.

“Pharaoh’s chariots and his host he cast into the sea,
    and his chosen officers were sunk in the Red Sea.
The floods covered them;
    they went down into the depths like a stone.
Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power,
    your right hand, O Lord, shatters the enemy.
In the greatness of your majesty you overthrow your adversaries;
    you send out your fury; it consumes them like stubble.
At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up;
    the floods stood up in a heap;
    the deeps congealed in the heart of the sea.
The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake,
    I will divide the spoil, my desire shall have its fill of them.
    I will draw my sword; my hand shall destroy them.’
10 You blew with your wind; the sea covered them;
    they sank like lead in the mighty waters.

11 “Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods?
    Who is like you, majestic in holiness,
    awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?
12 You stretched out your right hand;
    the earth swallowed them.

13 “You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed;
    you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode.
14 The peoples have heard; they tremble;
    pangs have seized the inhabitants of Philistia.
15 Now are the chiefs of Edom dismayed;
    trembling seizes the leaders of Moab;
    all the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away.
16 Terror and dread fall upon them;
    because of the greatness of your arm, they are still as a stone,
till your people, O Lord, pass by,
    till the people pass by whom you have purchased.
17 You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain,
    the place, O Lord, which you have made for your abode,
    the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established.
18 The Lord will reign forever and ever.”

19 For when the horses of Pharaoh with his chariots and his horsemen went into the sea, the Lord brought back the waters of the sea upon them, but the people of Israel walked on dry ground in the midst of the sea. 20 Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing. 21 And Miriam sang to them:

“Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.” – Exodus 15:1-21 ESV

Chapter 14 ends with the uplifting statement: “Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses” (Exodus 14:31 ESV).

God had kept His word. He had promised Abraham that Pharaoh”s 600 chariots would not be a problem. In fact, God had confidently asserted that His handling of Pharaoh’s army would end up bringing glory to His name.

“I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, his chariots, and his horsemen. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.” – Exodus 14:17-18 ESV

God’s lopsided victory over the Egyptian forces proved to be a wake-up call to Pharaoh and any of the troops that he had held in reserve. It seems unlikely that he committed all his chariots to the pursuit of the Israelites. The defenseless Israelites would have been no match for the faster and more mobile Egyptian chariots. Armed with swords, spears, bows, and arrows, a relatively small contingent of Egyptians could have made short order of the fleeing mass of Hebrew peasants as they made their way to the eastern shore of the Red Sea.

But as Pharaoh watched on in horror, he witnessed the complete annihilation of his crack troops. Weighted down by the chariots to which they were tethered, the horses drowned. In the days ahead, the lifeless bodies of the Egyptian soldiers would wash up on both shores, presenting a grisly scene of catastrophic loss. Pharaoh had been humiliated by the all-powerful God of Israel. And this glorious event caused Moses and the people to break out in a song of victory.

It seems likely that Moses was the one who penned the words to this celebratory song and taught it to the people of Israel. In it, he recounts the mighty acts of Yahweh that brought about the Egyptians’ defeat and the Israelites’ salvation.

“I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
    the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea. – Exodus 15:1 ESV

Moses appears to use terminology that echoes an earlier edict decreed by Pharaoh that had ordered the deaths of all male babies born among the Hebrews.

Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile…” – Exodus 1:22 ESV

God was giving Pharaoh a taste of his own medicine. He “cast” Pharaoh’s elite troops into the sea, where they drowned like helpless infants. Moses even repeated this refrain, emphasizing the overwhelming nature of God’s victory.

“Pharaoh’s chariots and his host he cast into the sea,
    and his chosen officers were sunk in the Red Sea.
The floods covered them;
    they went down into the depths like a stone.” – Exodus 15:5 ESV

Throughout this song, Moses stresses God’s glory, greatness, power, strength, and fury. But, at the same time, he celebrates God’s love.

“You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed;
    you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode. – Exodus 15:13 ESV

The Egyptians were the recipients of God’s righteous indignation, while the Israelites were the undeserving beneficiaries of His steadfast and unfailing love. That love was manifested through God’s decisive display of power over the Israelites’ enemy and His glorious demonstration of providential protection for His people. And Moses adds a line that reflects God’s ultimate promise to safely deliver them into the land of their inheritance.

“You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain,
    the place, O Lord, which you have made for your abode,
    the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established.” – Exodus 15:17 ESV

Moses knew that this victory was just the first of many the people of Israel would experience. The eastern shore of the Red Sea was not their final destination. And His defeat of the Egyptians would not be the last victory the Israelites celebrated. This led Moses to add several lines to the lyrics of his song that reflect the impact this event would have on their future enemies.

“The peoples have heard; they tremble;
    pangs have seized the inhabitants of Philistia.
Now are the chiefs of Edom dismayed;
    trembling seizes the leaders of Moab;
    all the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away.
Terror and dread fall upon them;
    because of the greatness of your arm, they are still as a stone,
till your people, O Lord, pass by,
    till the people pass by whom you have purchased…” – Exodus 15:14-16 ESV

Word was going to get out. The news of this miraculous victory over the Egyptians would quickly spread and even reach the nations that occupied the land of Canaan. Upon hearing of Yahweh’s devastating defeat of the Egyptian army, these future enemies of Israel would be terror-stricken. God’s reputation for greatness, glory, and power would be permanently associated with the people of Israel. This ragtag, but rather large and relatively unknown people group was protected by a formidable deity who had deftly handled one of the most powerful armies on earth. And this wandering horde of homeless Hebrews was headed their way.

Somehow, Moses knew that God was using the Red Sea victory to prepare the way for the Israelites’ arrival in the land of Canaan. With each passing day and each display of God’s providential care for His people, the rumors concerning Israel’s God would make their way to the nations occupying the land of Canaan. It became readily apparent that this great host of people, protected by a great and powerful God, were slowly crossing the wilderness and had their sights set on making Canaan their own.

This victory song, prophetically penned by Moses, is referred to in the book of Revelation. In one of his visions, the apostle John reported hearing a song emanating from the throne room of heaven. It was sung by “all the people who had been victorious over the beast and his statue and the number representing his name” (Revelation 15:2 NLT). Accompanied by harps, they were singing what John describes as “the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb” (Revelation 15:2-3 NLT). And while the lyrics they sang are different from those penned by Moses, they reflect a continuation of the same theme.

“Great and marvelous are your works,
    O Lord God, the Almighty.
Just and true are your ways,
    O King of the nations.
Who will not fear you, Lord,
    and glorify your name?
    For you alone are holy.
All nations will come and worship before you,
    for your righteous deeds have been revealed.” Revelation 15:3-4 NLT

God’s victory at the Red Sea was just a foreshadowing of a greater victory to come. He is not done rescuing His covenant people. While He would eventually deliver the people of Israel to the land of Canaan and assist them in conquering and capturing all the territory He had promised as their inheritance, their stay would be impermanent. Eventually, their own rebellion against God would result in their defeat at the hands of their enemies and their eviction from the land. But as John heard in his vision, another great deliverance is coming. God will one day glorify His name again by providing one final victory over His enemies and restoring His covenant people to their former status as His prized possession.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Against All Odds

15 The Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward. 16 Lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go through the sea on dry ground. 17 And I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they shall go in after them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, his chariots, and his horsemen. 18 And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.”

19 Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, 20 coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the cloud and the darkness. And it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night.

21 Then 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. 22 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. 23 The Egyptians pursued and went in after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. 24 And in the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down on the Egyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic, 25 clogging their chariot wheels so that they drove heavily. And the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from before Israel, for the Lord fights for them against the Egyptians.”

26 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen.” 27 So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its normal course when the morning appeared. And as the Egyptians fled into it, the Lord threw the Egyptians into the midst of the sea. 28 The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained. 29 But the people of Israel walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.

30 Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31 Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses. – Exodus 14:15-31 ESV

The victory parade that Moses led out of Egypt had quickly turned into a nasty mob scene when the Israelites realized that Pharaoh and his army were bearing down on them. All hope of leaving Egypt had faded as soon as they caught sight of 600 chariots headed their way. Now all they could think about was certain death at the hands of their former captors.

“…it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness. – Exodus 14:12 ESV

The people were in full-blown panic, and Moses put up an impressive show of confidence in the face of a very difficult situation. He encouraged the people to “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord” (Exodus 14:13 ESV). But he must have had reservations about exactly how God was going to get them out of this precarious situation. While the people screamed their questions at Moses, he must have issued a quick call for help to the Lord, because Yahweh responded to Moses with a question of His own.

“Why do you cry to me? – Exodus 14:15 ESV

This inquiry was directed at Moses and was accompanied by a set of instructions that the beleaguered spokesman was to carry out. Rather than stand around waiting for God to do something, Moses was to get busy and do his part in bringing about the very salvation he had assured the Israelites was coming.

Tell the people to get moving! Pick up your staff and raise your hand over the sea. Divide the water so the Israelites can walk through the middle of the sea on dry ground. – Exodus 14:15-16 ESV

These instructions must have hit Moses like a brick to the forehead. While he and Aaron had been a part of some spectacular signs in Egypt, this was taking things to another level. God was demanding that Moses use his staff to divide the Red Sea so that the people could pass through it on dry ground. And all the while, the people continued to voice their disapproval of his leadership.

But before Moses could play his part in God’s divine drama of deliverance, the Egyptians had to be stopped. So, God had His guiding angel move to the rear of the Israelite camp, closest to the Egyptian forces. Then the pillar of cloud, the symbol of God’s presence, repositioned itself between the Israelites and their enemy.

Then the angel of God, who had been leading the people of Israel, moved to the rear of the camp. The pillar of cloud also moved from the front and stood behind them. The cloud settled between the Egyptian and Israelite camps. As darkness fell, the cloud turned to fire, lighting up the night. But the Egyptians and Israelites did not approach each other all night.  Exodus 14:19-20 NLT

At the sight of this cosmic apparition, the Egyptians were stopped in their tracks. They could see the Israelite camp but were afraid to advance against them. Their most recent encounters with the power of the Israelites’ God had left them reluctant to take any chances. So, as dusk turned to dark, the pillar of cloud transformed into a pillar of fire that lit up the night sky.

And as God held off the Egyptians, Moses “raised his hand over the sea, and the Lord opened up a path through the water with a strong east wind” (Exodus 14:21 NLT). Yahweh, the God of creation, sent a powerful wind that caused the waters of the sea to stand up like transparent walls, exposing the sea bed underneath. And this wind blew throughout the night, simultaneously holding back the walls of water and drying out the sea bed so that it would provide firm footing for the Israelites. Then at just the right moment, God ordered Moses to lead the people across.

So the people of Israel walked through the middle of the sea on dry ground, with walls of water on each side! – Exodus 14:22 NLT

Stunned by what they witnessed, but motivated by a strong desire to distance themselves from the Egyptians, the Israelites formed into ranks and began their journey across the perfectly dry sea floor. And while they made their way through this divine detour, the angel of God and the pillar of fire kept the Egyptians at bay. Pharoah and his soldiers could only stand back and watch in stupefied wonder as the Israelites escaped across this massive causeway that had suddenly appeared in the middle of the sea.

But when the last Israelite’s sandal had cleared the path and was standing firm on the eastern bank of the sea, the barrier provided by the angel and the pillar of fire was removed. And within minutes, Pharaoh ordered his troops to pursue the fleeing Israelites. But God was not yet done.

…just before dawn the Lord looked down on the Egyptian army from the pillar of fire and cloud, and he threw their forces into total confusion. – Exodus 14:24 NLT

As Pharoah’s troops entered the pathway the Israelites had just vacated, the Lord of Hosts got in on the action. Somehow, these seasoned charioteers became confused and unable to make their way to the other shore. Perhaps their horses became frightened by the sound of the wind and the sight of the walls of water standing up on either side of them. It seems that the dry sea bed was suddenly transformed into a muddy morass in which the chariot wheels became stuck. Before long the entire Egyptian force found itself logjammed between the walls of water. Sensing the hand of Yahweh, they cried out, “Let us flee from before Israel, for the Lord fights for them against the Egyptians” (Exodus 14:25 ESV).

But they never made it out. As the sun began to rise in the eastern sky, “Moses raised his hand over the sea, and the water rushed back into its usual place” (Exodus 14:27 NLT). Within minutes, every single Egyptian who had entered the pathway had been drowned by the sudden deluge as the walls of water collapsed.

And the Israelites, standing high and dry on the eastern shore, watched the whole thing take place right before their eyes. Not a single chariot made it across and the only Egyptians the Israelites saw on the eastern shore were lifeless and powerless to do them any harm. And Moses chronicles the impact this spectacular event had on the people of God.

When the people of Israel saw the mighty power that the Lord had unleashed against the Egyptians, they were filled with awe before him. They put their faith in the Lord and in his servant Moses. – Exodus 14:31 NLT

When the odds were stacked against them and all seemed lost, the Israelites were delivered by their all-powerful, promise-keeping God. He had stepped into their reality and provided a one-of-a-kind miracle. And as the water of the Red Sea slowly settled back into its normal state, it was as if God had closed a door behind His people. There would be no turning back. That pathway was closed forever and the only way left for them to go was forward. With the enemy defeated, the angel of the Lord and the pillar of cloud took their places at the head of the column once again, and the people set out for their final destination: the land of promise.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Pride Goes Before the Fall

1 In the eleventh year, in the third month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, say to Pharaoh king of Egypt and to his multitude:

“Whom are you like in your greatness?
    Behold, Assyria was a cedar in Lebanon,
with beautiful branches and forest shade,
    and of towering height,
    its top among the clouds.
The waters nourished it;
    the deep made it grow tall,
making its rivers flow
    around the place of its planting,
sending forth its streams
    to all the trees of the field.
So it towered high
    above all the trees of the field;
its boughs grew large
    and its branches long
    from abundant water in its shoots.
All the birds of the heavens
    made their nests in its boughs;
under its branches all the beasts of the field
    gave birth to their young,
and under its shadow
    lived all great nations.
It was beautiful in its greatness,
    in the length of its branches;
for its roots went down
    to abundant waters.
The cedars in the garden of God could not rival it,
    nor the fir trees equal its boughs;
neither were the plane trees
    like its branches;
no tree in the garden of God
    was its equal in beauty.
I made it beautiful
    in the mass of its branches,
and all the trees of Eden envied it,
    that were in the garden of God.

10 “Therefore thus says the Lord God: Because it towered high and set its top among the clouds, and its heart was proud of its height, 11 I will give it into the hand of a mighty one of the nations. He shall surely deal with it as its wickedness deserves. I have cast it out. 12 Foreigners, the most ruthless of nations, have cut it down and left it. On the mountains and in all the valleys its branches have fallen, and its boughs have been broken in all the ravines of the land, and all the peoples of the earth have gone away from its shadow and left it. 13 On its fallen trunk dwell all the birds of the heavens, and on its branches are all the beasts of the field. 14 All this is in order that no trees by the waters may grow to towering height or set their tops among the clouds, and that no trees that drink water may reach up to them in height. For they are all given over to death, to the world below, among the children of man, with those who go down to the pit.

15 “Thus says the Lord God: On the day the cedar went down to Sheol I caused mourning; I closed the deep over it, and restrained its rivers, and many waters were stopped. I clothed Lebanon in gloom for it, and all the trees of the field fainted because of it. 16 I made the nations quake at the sound of its fall, when I cast it down to Sheol with those who go down to the pit. And all the trees of Eden, the choice and best of Lebanon, all that drink water, were comforted in the world below. 17 They also went down to Sheol with it, to those who are slain by the sword; yes, those who were its arm, who lived under its shadow among the nations.

18 “Whom are you thus like in glory and in greatness among the trees of Eden? You shall be brought down with the trees of Eden to the world below. You shall lie among the uncircumcised, with those who are slain by the sword.

“This is Pharaoh and all his multitude, declares the Lord God.” Ezekiel 31:1-18 ESV

The Egyptians had a pride problem. They had enjoyed a long tenure as a world superpower and had grown accustomed to throwing their weight around. But their days of glory were about to come to an ignominious end. While they still considered themselves to be a major player on the global stage, God held a different opinion. He invites them to consider the Assyrians, whom He compares to “a cedar in Lebanon,
with beautiful branches and forest shade, and of towering height” (Ezekiel 31:3 ESV). This well-watered “tree” thrived and grew to unimaginable heights, towering  “high above all the trees of the field” (Ezekiel 31:5 ESV).

This horticultural metaphor portrays the Assyrian empire as a towering tree that overshadows every other tree in the forest. The upstart Assyrians had asserted their influence in a major way, having expanded their domain throughout that region of the world. At one point, they had no rival and faced no threat to their hegemony. Like the Egyptians, they reveled in their military superiority and took pride in their seeming invincibility. And God took full credit for their meteoric rise to power and prominence.

“Because I made this tree so beautiful,
    and gave it such magnificent foliage,
it was the envy of all the other trees of Eden,
    the garden of God.” – Ezekiel 31:9 NLT

They could not claim responsibility for the dominating nature of their expansion. It had all been God’s doing. He had sovereignty ordained their global expansion, even ordering their invasion of Egypt and the destruction of Thebes 45 years earlier in 633 B.C. The prophet, Nahum, describes the fall of Thebes in graphic detail.

Are you any better than the city of Thebes,
    situated on the Nile River, surrounded by water?
She was protected by the river on all sides,
    walled in by water.
Ethiopia and the land of Egypt
    gave unlimited assistance.
The nations of Put and Libya
    were among her allies.
Yet Thebes fell,
    and her people were led away as captives.
Her babies were dashed to death
    against the stones of the streets.
Soldiers threw dice to get Egyptian officers as servants.
    All their leaders were bound in chains. – Nahum 3:8-10 NLT

What right did the Egyptians have to boast of their great power when they had fallen to the Assyrians? And what hope did the Egyptians have of escaping the Babylonians, the very nation that had destroyed and supplanted the Assyrians? Nebuchadnezzar’s forces had thoroughly trounced the mighty Assyrian army at Haran in 609 B.C., effectively bringing an end to the Assyrian empire.

God hates pride in all its forms. And His hatred of pride is expressed throughout the Scriptures.

Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall. – Proverbs 16:18 NLT

Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.  – Proverbs 11: 2 NLT

But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” – James 4:6 NIV

All throughout the Old Testament, God speaks of Israel’s arrogance and pride. He blasts them for their extreme self-importance and attitude of insufferable self-worth. God hates pride in His people, but He won’t tolerate it among the nations either. Pride is what caused Satan’s fall. Just before God cast him out of heaven, Satan’s attitude reflected his unparalleled pride and arrogance.

“For you said to yourself, ‘I will ascend to heaven and set my throne above God’s stars. I will preside on the mountain of the gods far away in the north. I will climb to the highest heavens and be like the Most High.'” – Isaiah 14:13-14 NLT

He wanted to be like God. It was the same temptation he used on Adam and Eve in the garden.

The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” – Genesis 3:4-5 NASB

Self-reliance and independence lay at the root of pride. We begin to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to. We begin to believe our own press and think that we are something special. Our seeming successes only act to feed our insatiable thirst for recognition, reward, and self-advancement. We even begin to take credit for what God has done and all those things He has made it possible for us to do. You see this reflected in the words of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, as he stood gazing over his royal capital from his palace balcony.

“Look at this great city of Babylon! By my own mighty power, I have built this beautiful city as my royal residence to display my majestic splendor.” – Daniel 4:30 NLT

At that very moment, God took away Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom as well as his sanity. And it wasn’t until he looked up and acknowledged the rule and reign of God, that his sanity returned.

In today’s reading, we see God’s anger expressed toward Egypt for her pride and arrogance. Even nations can exhibit an over-inflated sense of self-worth. And Egypt suffered from the same case of bloated ego as the Assyrians. Assyria had once been beautiful, strong, self-reliant, and the envy of the nations. But they had fallen. And so would Egypt. Both failed to recognize that their beauty and greatness were God’s doing, not their own. God had given them their lofty position, and He could remove them from it. God had already used the Babylonians to defeat the Assyrians, and now he would use the very same nation to knock the props out from under Egypt.

Humility is a rare commodity these days. Even among believers. We tend to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to. We take credit for things that are the result of God’s handiwork and not our own. We compare and contrast ourselves with others, looking for those with whom we stack up positively. We want to come out on the winning side, so we look for those with more flaws and weaknesses than we possess. We celebrate their failures and revel in our own successes. But Paul warns us, “Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us” (Romans 12:3 NLT).

Egypt’s pride was going to be its downfall. Its arrogance would bring about its demise. Because God hates pride. But He loves to extend His grace to the humble. When we refuse to lift up ourselves and, instead, give Him the credit, we receive His grace. He exalts us at the proper time and in the proper way. Peter put it this way:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. – 1 Peter 5:6 NIV

It is far better to humble ourselves than to be humbled by God. It is far healthier to let God exalt us when and how He sees fit than to attempt to preemptively promote ourselves. Because God hates pride.

And God makes sure to clarify for Ezekiel that Egypt’s fate will be just like that of Assyria. There was no reason for the Jews living in Judah or in exile in Babylon to place any hope in receiving salvation from the Egyptians because their days were numbered and their fate was sealed.

“O Egypt, to which of the trees of Eden will you compare your strength and glory? You, too, will be brought down to the depths with all these other nations. You will lie there among the outcasts who have died by the sword. This will be the fate of Pharaoh and all his hordes. I, the Sovereign Lord, have spoken!” – Ezekiel 31:18 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Beginning, Not the End

1 Then Joseph fell on his father’s face and wept over him and kissed him. And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father. So the physicians embalmed Israel. Forty days were required for it, for that is how many are required for embalming. And the Egyptians wept for him seventy days.

And when the days of weeping for him were past, Joseph spoke to the household of Pharaoh, saying, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, please speak in the ears of Pharaoh, saying, ‘My father made me swear, saying, “I am about to die: in my tomb that I hewed out for myself in the land of Canaan, there shall you bury me.” Now therefore, let me please go up and bury my father. Then I will return.’” And Pharaoh answered, “Go up, and bury your father, as he made you swear.” So Joseph went up to bury his father. With him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his household, and all the elders of the land of Egypt, as well as all the household of Joseph, his brothers, and his father’s household. Only their children, their flocks, and their herds were left in the land of Goshen. And there went up with him both chariots and horsemen. It was a very great company. 10 When they came to the threshing floor of Atad, which is beyond the Jordan, they lamented there with a very great and grievous lamentation, and he made a mourning for his father seven days. 11 When the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, saw the mourning on the threshing floor of Atad, they said, “This is a grievous mourning by the Egyptians.” Therefore the place was named Abel-mizraim; it is beyond the Jordan. 12 Thus his sons did for him as he had commanded them, 13 for his sons carried him to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave of the field at Machpelah, to the east of Mamre, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite to possess as a burying place. – Genesis 50:1-13 ESV

Jacob’s last dying wish was for his body to be taken back to Canaan and placed in the Cave of Machpelah near Hebron, the land purchased by Abraham as a burial plot for his wife, Sarah (Genesis23:10-20). That land had remained in the possession of Abraham’s descendants and became the official family burial plot, containing the bones of Sarah, Abraham, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, and his second wife, Leah. His first wife, Rachel, had been buried near Bethlehem, not long after Jacob’s return from Mesopotamia.

Now, it was time for Jacob’s bones to be placed alongside those of his deceased family members. So, Joseph sent news to Pharaoh, informing him of his father’s passing and requesting a  leave of absence from his official administrative duties so that he might return to Canaan and bury his father. Pharaoh graciously agreed to Joseph’s request, but nearly two-and-a-half months would pass before Joseph was ready to make the long journey home.

Joseph ordered his personal physicians to prepare his father’s body for burial, using the traditional Egyptian method of embalmment, which most likely included mummification. The elaborate and laborious process of embalmment took 40 days to complete but would have properly preserved the body of Jacob for its long journey back to Canaan. And Jacob’s return trip back to the land of promise would be radically different than the one he had made 17 years earlier. On that occasion, his small entourage had consisted of only 70 family members, and he had come in fear and trembling, an insignificant Hebrew in hopes of saving his family from famine.

But this trip was marked by pomp and circumstance. In death, Jacob was treated like a king and given a royal funeral procession fitting for a Pharaoh. In fact, the people of Egypt showed their deep respect for Jacob by mourning his death for 70 days, one day less than they would have mourned the death of a Pharaoh. And when the time came to make the journey back to Canaan, Joseph and his brothers were accompanied by a host of Egyptian officials and dignitaries.

So Joseph went up to bury his father. He was accompanied by all of Pharaoh’s officials, all the senior members of Pharaoh’s household, and all the senior officers of Egypt. Joseph also took his entire household and his brothers and their households. But they left their little children and flocks and herds in the land of Goshen. A great number of chariots and charioteers accompanied Joseph. – Genesis 50:7-9 NLT

This strange scene seems to foreshadow a number of significant events in Israel’s future, and the original readers of Moses’ book would have made at least one of the connections. The audience to whom Moses addressed his historical narrative were the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And, at the time they read this chronology of their own history, they were preparing to enter the land of Canaan, having been delivered by God from their 400-year captivity in Egypt. And they would have seen the similarities between their exodus from Egypt and that of Jacob’s elaborate funeral procession. In the book of Exodus, Moses recorded the day when the people of Israel walked out of Egypt as free men.

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. God said, “If the people are faced with a battle, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led them in a roundabout way through the wilderness toward the Red Sea. Thus the Israelites left Egypt like an army ready for battle.

Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for Joseph had made the sons of Israel swear to do this. He said, “God will certainly come to help you. When he does, you must take my bones with you from this place.” – Exodus 13:17-19 NLT

That too had been a funeral procession, but it had also been a celebratory occasion, as the people of Israel walked out a mighty army prepared for battle. Estimates are, that over the four centuries they had been in Egypt, they had multiplied greatly so that when they left, they were probably well over a million in number. Moses indicates that there were “six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children” (Exodus 12:13 ESV). And they didn’t go alone.

A rabble of non-Israelites went with them, along with great flocks and herds of livestock. – Exodus 12:38 NLT

Not only that, but the Israelites left Egypt loaded down with great wealth, provided to them by the Egyptians, but according to the sovereign will of God Almighty.

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 12:36 NLT

The funeral procession of Jacob foreshadowed the exodus of the people of Israel, an event that would take place more than four centuries later.

But there is a second event foreshadowed by Jacob’s funeral that Moses’ readers would not have recognized because it had not yet happened. And that will be the future exaltation and reverent treatment that an offspring of Jacob will one day receive. Jesus, as a descendant of Jacob, will also be shown great honor and respect. But it will not be because of His passing, but it will be due to His long-awaited second coming. According to the apostle Paul, even after Jesus ascended into heaven after His death and resurrection, He was afforded great honor and glory.

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:9-11 ESV

But the day is coming when Jesus will return and be afforded even greater honor as the King of kings and Lord of lords. Paul discussed this reality in his letter to the believers in Rome.

For the Scriptures say,

“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bend to me,
    and every tongue will declare allegiance to God.’” – Romans 14:11 NLT

Jacob was honored in death. But Jesus will be honored in life. As a descendant of Abraham, born through the tribe of Judah (one of the sons of Jacob), Jesus fulfilled God’s promise to produce a king from Jacob’s family tree.

“Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called his name Israel. And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. – Genesis 35:10-11 ESV

And that King will one day rule over the New Jerusalem, God’s eternal kingdom which will descend from heaven to earth, and all the nations of the earth will honor the one true King in his never-ending kingdom.

I saw no temple in the city, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light. The nations will walk in its light, and the kings of the world will enter the city in all their glory. Its gates will never be closed at the end of day because there is no night there. And all the nations will bring their glory and honor into the city. Nothing evil will be allowed to enter, nor anyone who practices shameful idolatry and dishonesty—but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. – Revelation 21:22-27 NLT

So, there is far more to Jacob’s death and funeral than meets the eye. Like the rest of the story of his life, it is a representation of God’s sovereign will and providential provision for His people. Jacob’s death was not the end, but only the beginning of great things yet to come.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

God’s Man With the Plan

37 This proposal pleased Pharaoh and all his servants. 38 And Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?” 39 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are. 40 You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command. Only as regards the throne will I be greater than you.” 41 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.” 42 Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand, and clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain about his neck. 43 And he made him ride in his second chariot. And they called out before him, “Bow the knee!” Thus he set him over all the land of Egypt. 44 Moreover, Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I am Pharaoh, and without your consent no one shall lift up hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.” 45 And Pharaoh called Joseph’s name Zaphenath-paneah. And he gave him in marriage Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On. So Joseph went out over the land of Egypt.

46 Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh and went through all the land of Egypt. 47 During the seven plentiful years the earth produced abundantly, 48 and he gathered up all the food of these seven years, which occurred in the land of Egypt, and put the food in the cities. He put in every city the food from the fields around it. 49 And Joseph stored up grain in great abundance, like the sand of the sea, until he ceased to measure it, for it could not be measured.

50 Before the year of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph. Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On, bore them to him. 51 Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh. “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.” 52 The name of the second he called Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.”

53 The seven years of plenty that occurred in the land of Egypt came to an end, 54 and the seven years of famine began to come, as Joseph had said. There was famine in all lands, but in all the land of Egypt there was bread. 55 When all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread. Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, “Go to Joseph. What he says to you, do.”

56 So when the famine had spread over all the land, Joseph opened all the storehouses and sold to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe in the land of Egypt. 57 Moreover, all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe over all the earth. – Genesis 41:37-57 ESV

With his successful interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams, Joseph’s fortunes were about to take a dramatic turn for the better. There would be no return to the prison or his former life of slavery. Instead, he would find himself appointed to the second-highest position in the land of Egypt. Pharaoh had been greatly impressed by Joseph’s wisdom and insight and seemed to believe that this young man had a divine anointing.

“Can we find anyone else like this man so obviously filled with the spirit of God?” – Genesis 41:38 NLT

This statement was not a confession of belief in Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is unlikely that Pharaoh knew anything about the God of the Israelites. He simply believed that Joseph had supernatural powers that were attributable to some divine source. It appears that Pharaoh believed Joseph to be possessed by and under the influence of some unknown deity. He acknowledged that Joseph’s superior intellect and wisdom had to be divinely inspired. There have been some scholars who suggest that Pharaoh believed Joseph was actually a diety in human form. They use the name given to Joseph by Pharaoh as possible evidence.

Pharaoh called Joseph’s name Zaphenath-paneah. And he gave him in marriage Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On. – Genesis 41:45 ESVR

The exact meaning of Joseph’s Egyptian name has been hotly debated and remains unconfirmed. But one intriguing suggestion has been “the god speaks and lives.” The very fact that Pharaoh elevated Joseph so quickly and bestowed on him such high honors would seem to indicate that he viewed this young Hebrew as much more than just another wise man. He had plenty of those in his royal court and they had proved to be useless in solving the riddle of his dreams.

Joseph’s meteoric rise to power and prominence must have shocked Joseph. In a matter of minutes, his entire life had been turned upside down. This former household slave and prisoner now had power and possessions beyond belief. Pharaoh rewarded him with expensive gifts and arranged a marriage between Joseph and the daughter of a high-ranking priest.  This “religious” marriage seems to further suggest that Pharaoh believed Joseph to be some kind of deity. His Egyptian wife’s name lends further evidence to this idea. One interpretation for its meaning is “she belongs to the goddess Neit.” It may be that Asenath was also viewed as a child of the gods and that Pharaoh was arranging a special marriage between what he believed to be two deified human beings.

But regardless of what Pharaoh’s beliefs and motives might have been, his intentions are perfectly clear. He was placing this young foreigner in a position of great power and influence. In a sense, Joseph was one step away from the throne of Egypt. And as a symbol of his limitless authority, Joseph was given a signet ring that bore the royal seal and carried with it the full backing of Pharoah.

“You will be in charge of my court, and all my people will take orders from you. Only I, sitting on my throne, will have a rank higher than yours.” – Genesis 41:40 NLT

Joseph was placed in a royal chariot and paraded around the streets of the royal capital, with Egyptian soldiers commanding all the onlookers to kneel down before him. This forced display of honor and obeisance was meant to let the people know that Joseph was due all the respect of Pharaoh, whom they believed to be a god. Joseph was to be treated with the same level of reverence and awe, and anything he said was to be taken as divinely inspired and worthy of obedience. And Pharaoh clearly articulated the unparalleled nature of Joseph’s authority when he said, “I am Pharaoh, but no one will lift a hand or foot in the entire land of Egypt without your approval” (Genesis 41:44 NLT).

Joseph was 30-years old when he assumed this new position as Pharaoh’s right-hand man, and he wasted no time in implementing the advice he had given when he had interpreted the dreams. Joseph began a tour of the land of Egypt, assessing the status of the royal agricultural and livestock capacities. Based on the divinely inspired meaning of the dreams, Joseph knew he had seven years to increase production in order to prepare for the seven years of famine that were to come. And, just as God has said would happen, the first seven years were marked by remarkable bounty and blessing.

As predicted, for seven years the land produced bumper crops. During those years, Joseph gathered all the crops grown in Egypt and stored the grain from the surrounding fields in the cities. He piled up huge amounts of grain like sand on the seashore. Finally, he stopped keeping records because there was too much to measure. – Genesis 41:47-49 NLT

God was faithfully fulfilling the words He had spoken through Joseph. And, not only that, God was blessing Jacob, rewarding him with two sons. In naming his boys, Joseph attempted to convey his gratitude to God for all that He had done. The name Manasseh means “he who brings about forgetfulness.” This young child was a loving reminder from God that Joseph’s difficult past was to be forgotten. There was a much brighter and far more important future out ahead. The name Ephraim means “to bear fruit,” and reflects Joseph’s belief that God had not only bestowed fruitfulness to the land but on his life as well. Despite his immense wealth and potentially pride-producing power, Joseph never lost sight of God’s authority over his life. He was fully aware that his promotion had been God’s doing and that he was enjoying the undeserved blessings of God’s divine favor.

But just as God had warned, the seven years of plenty were quickly followed by seven years of intense and widely dispersed famine. This divinely ordained disaster spread throughout the land of Egypt and beyond, and its impact was devastating. Without grain, the people were unable to eat or feed their livestock, and soon, they were forced to turn to the government for assistance. But because Joseph had done his work, the royal warehouses were filled and he had more than enough supply to meet the growing demand.

And, as has been so readily apparent throughout the story of Joseph’s life, the sovereign hand of God was at work behind the scenes, preparing for the next phase of His divine plan. This famine was not localized, but “was severe over all the earth” (Genesis 41:57 ESV). People all throughout the surrounding regions were suffering the same fate as the Egyptians, but they had not been warned or been able to prepare for this unforeseen disaster. They didn’t have the luxury of a godly leader like Joseph who could have helped them take advantage of the seven years of bounty. So, when the famine hit, they were left with empty grains bins and nothing to feed their starving herds and flocks. And, before long, they heard the rumors about food in Egypt and made the long and arduous journey to find help in their time of need. And there in the land of the Pharaohs, they discovered Joseph, who “opened up the storehouses and distributed grain” (Genesis 41:57 NLT).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

The Lord Made It Succeed

19 As soon as his master heard the words that his wife spoke to him, “This is the way your servant treated me,” his anger was kindled. 20 And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison. 21 But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. 22 And the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison. Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. 23 The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph’s charge, because the Lord was with him. And whatever he did, the Lord made it succeed. – Genesis 39:19-23 ESV

Angered by Joseph’s repeated refusals to accommodate her sexual advances, Potiphar’s humiliated wife falsely and maliciously accused him of attempted rape. And her husband, shocked but also angered by this news, was forced to confine Joseph to prison. Had the master truly believed in Joseph’s guilt, it is likely he would have ordered his execution. After all, for a common slave to attempt to violate his master’s wife would have been a crime worthy of death. Considered to be little more than personal property, a slave had no rights and his life was in the hand of his master. But rather than having Joseph executed for this egregious crime, Potiphar chose to spare his life by confining him to prison.

This echoes the treatment Joseph had received at the hands of his brothers. When he had shown up in Dothan, their first response had been to put him to death.

“Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.” – Genesis 37:19-20 ESV

But Reuben had intervened and spared Joseph’s life. Rather than committing murder, he suggested that they confine Joseph to an empty cistern, where he would be left to die of natural causes. Reuben had hoped to come back later and rescue Joseph. But before he could do so, Judah convinced his brothers to sell Joseph to Ishmaelite traders. And that sale had resulted in Joseph’s purchase by Potiphar, which eventually led to his imprisonment for a crime of which he was completely innocent. But, as before, Joseph was spared from death.

While preferable to capital punishment, Joseph’s imprisonment was still undeserved and would have been a far-from-pleasant experience. Yet, Moses points out that “the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison” (Genesis 39:21 ESV). This theme runs throughout the entire  narrative found in chapter 10. God had been the one to protect Joseph from the murderous intentions of his brothers. And God had been behind Joseph’s sale to the Ishmaelites and his eventual purchase by Potiphar. None of this was blind luck or a case of cosmic karma.

The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. His master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands. – Genesis 39:2-3 ESV

God had orchestrated every facet of this story, including Joseph’s imprisonment in the facility reserved solely for the king’s prisoners. This factor will become more important and pertinent as chapter 40 unfolds. But suffice it to say that each and every sequence of this story took place according to the sovereign plan of God.

Just as God had shown Joseph favor in the eyes of Potiphar, He also elevated Joseph in the eyes of the prison’s warden.

the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison. Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it – Genesis 39:22 ESV

This innocent young man displayed an uncanny knack for leadership that led the warden to place all the prisoners under Joseph’s supervision. And before long, Joseph found himself functioning more as a prison administrator than a prisoner. He wielded power, authority, and great influence. He had entered as a common criminal but, before he knew it, Joseph was functioning as the second most powerful man in the entire prison.

The warden had no more worries, because Joseph took care of everything. The Lord was with him and caused everything he did to succeed. – Genesis 39:23 NLT

Prison walls were an insufficient barrier against the sovereign hand of God. The vindictive plans of a bitter woman could not derail God’s plans for His child. God’s love for Joseph was far superior to anything Potiphar or his wife could try to do to him. As the psalmist wrote, “The LORD is for me, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?” (Psalm 118:6 NLT). They could falsely accuse Joseph. They could imprison him. They could even threaten to take his life. But as the apostle Paul so aptly put it:

“If God is for us, who can ever be against us?” – Genesis 8:31 NLT

And Paul would go on to remind his readers that God’s love for His children was inseparable and unwavering.

I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:38-39 NLT

God, out of His marvelous love and mercy, was making Joseph a success – even in prison. He was protecting Joseph’s life, expanding his influence, and preparing him for the next phase of his God-ordained journey. The prison would prove to be a doorway to freedom, a portal to salvation, and a divine pathway to Israel’s promised future. No one would have seen this coming, including Joseph. Potiphar and his wife will disappear into the pages of ancient history, never to be heard from again. Joseph’s brothers will go on with their lives, oblivious of Joseph’s fate and ignorant of their own pre-ordained destiny with drought and famine.

Little did Joseph know that his unexpected and undeserved imprisonment would foreshadow another captivity to come. This son of Abraham would become a symbol for the descendants of Abraham who would one day find themselves also living as captives in the land of Egypt. And they too would discover that, despite their unpleasant circumstances, God was with them. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would step into the darkness of their predicament and turn their seeming failure into success.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.