"Deliverance in Action" Bible Study on Exodus 14:19-31
September 10, 2020, 12:00 PM

Dear Members & Friends:

I invite you to read the following passage from Exodus 14:19-31 (New Revised Standard Version).

19 The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. 20 It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night.

21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. 22 The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. 23 The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. 24 At the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. 25 He clogged[a] their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, “Let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.”

26 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers.” 27 So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the Lord tossed the Egyptians into the sea. 28 The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. 29 But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.

30 Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31 Israel saw the great work that the Lord did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the Lord and believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.

The Exodus was an event that dramatically changed the Hebrew people forever just as 9/11 and COViD-19 have changed the U.S. and the world forever.

The drama of the Exodus reaches a grand crescendo as the Israelites, once slaves, now escape from Egypt and cross the Red Sea.  What drama!  Close readers note that there are at least three narratives of deliverance from Egypt.  There is a story of the crossing of the sea that is in poetic form in Exodus 15:1-18, known as the Song of Moses, where God is said to have assaulted the Egyptians like a warrior leading to praise in Exodus 15:8: "The Lord will reign forever and ever."  God is the ruler over all who has particular concern for the poor and victimized.

Then Exodus 14:21-23, 26. 28-29), we have an account perhaps by the so-called priestly writer that is what most of us think about when we think of the Exodus crossing -- the water divided left and right, and the Israelites stride through the sea to dry land.  Followed by the Egyptians, when Moses raises his hand over the sea, the sea flows in and demolishes the Egyptian army.  Although for those of us who see a natural miracle, we might look at the text a bit closer and note, "The LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night" (Exodus 14:21b).  Nonetheless, the Hebrews interpreted this as God's breath drying the sea before them.

And then supposedly there's actually a third version of the story that comes from the so-called Yahwist writer of the Pentateuch (Exodus 14:19b-20, 24, 25b, 27a, 30-31).  As a great pillar of cloud and fire descends and separates the Israelites and the Egyptians, Yahweh then makes the Egyptians panic, and they plunge into the sea and perish.

I think it's more important to focus on the theme of God as a Deliverer in action than to look at the composite artistry of the canonical narrative form as do the documentarians.  Because God saves (Exodus 14:30), Israel feared (that is, reverenced God with deep trust and love) Yahweh and followed God's designated leader, Moses.  Therefore, this Sunday's Reading is a conclusion to the saga that we have been following for the last two Sundays that begin with Exodus 3.

And yet, we are also justified in focusing upon the last verse of the story and raising questions of doubt and faith.  When we look at everything going on in the world around us, is it any wonder that many people cry out in aguish, "Is there a God, and is God good as we say each Sunday before we pray?  Is God's goodness experienced in action?  Why doesn't God show up and make things all better?  Why does God seem absent in our time of need?  Is God there for me?"

When spoken to by the burning bush, Moses begged out of the call, coming up with various reasons why he was unqualified to lead and speak for God.  Moses questioned God.  In Exodus 4:1, Moses says, "What if they don't believe me or pay attention to me?  They might say to me, 'The LORD didn't appear to you!"

In support of Moses' leadership, Yahweh gives Moses three validating wonders: a staff that becomes a snake and turns back into a staff; a hand that turns leprous and then is miraculously restored; and water from the Nile that will turn into blood when poured out.  When the people see these wonders, they believe in the divine authorization of Moses and Aaron (Exodus 4:31).  Then, once they are delivered from the hand of Pharaoh at the miracle of the sea, they are devoted to Yahweh (Exodus 14:31).  Nothing like the dramatic display of signs and wonders to win the adulation of the masses!

It's enough to make one ask, "On what basis do we believe in God the Deliverer?  Do we require the tricks that Moses perfomred before the doubters?  Or do we, like the Israelites, learn from our experience of God's graciousness that God is gracious and to be trusted?"  The Hebrew slaves found that God had heard their groaning, had remembered the covenant made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and now was determined to deliver the slaves (Exodus 2:24-25).  God heard, God felt, and then God responded.

Moses figured that the Israelites would disbelieve both him and God.  Moses was wrong.  We must not, in our honest admission of the possibility of disbelief, give too much credence to their disbelief.  Can we boldly proclaim a God who not only cares but actively cares, who is not only on the side of the oppressed but who actively intervenes on behalf of those in need?

Who is God?  And what might God be up to in our world?  God is whoever dramatically delivered the Hebrew slaves from bondage in Egypt.  What are the implications of that affirmation of faith for us today?

James Newsome draws our attention to another lesson within our text, about the ways of God, at work on behalf of the people, and about our own role in freeing the captives of the world: "Yahweh does not work in splendid isolation or . . . from afar.  Yahweh works through the special agent who has been designated to act on Yahweh's behalf" (Texts for Preaching Year A).

In this case, Moses, but in every age, God calls leaders and agents to act on behalf of those who are held prisoners.

May our mission be that of Jesus, who declared in his mission statement (read Luke 4) that he had come to "bring liberty to the captives."

May the truth set us free!


Pastor Greg Rupright


09-11-2020 at 10:38 AM
Pat May
Will miss you on Sunday but will be praying all goes well.
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