No Way Out

No Way Out

Exodus 14:5-7, 10-14, 21-29

The Israelites were afraid – a paralyzing fear, a fear so great that all they could do was cry out in terror to God. Do you know what that’s like? When things seem so dark and there’s no way out, nothing you can do? When the doctor tells you that there is a suspicious shadow on your x-ray. When the phone rings and you’re told that your daughter has been in a car accident. Or when you hear that a major restructuring is about to take place at work; you’re being down-sized and your department is being abolished. Fear that leads to panic - paralyzing fear.

"The Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians." Everything had been going so well. God had defeated the Egyptians, and here they were marching out boldly on their way to the promised land. But then they came to the Red Sea. Water in every direction. How would they get across? Had Moses made a mistake? And no sooner have they set up camp than they look up and there on the horizon is the dust storm kicked up by the Egyptian army. Here they are, caught between the Egyptian army on one side and the sea on the other, with no way out. No options.

Their immediate response is fear. "Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?" Egypt of course was the home of the great tombs, the pyramids. "What have you done by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ’Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians.’ It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians that to die in the desert." Not for the last time, fear causes them to distort the truth, to be ruled by doubt rather than faith.

I wonder, are we sometimes like that? Do we sometimes doubt God - are we afraid that he may not have our best interests at heart? Are we afraid perhaps that he hasn’t noticed our predicament – that he won’t look after us – that he has more important things to worry about than our situation? Do we, like the Israelites, sometimes regret having stepped out in faith when we see what’s involved?

In the face of this wave of panic Moses stands out like a rock. "Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today." Moses has learned a lot in a short time! And the most important lesson is this - that the Lord can be trusted - he is in control - it’s he who is delivering his people. Even when there seems to be no way out, Moses has confidence in God. Moses says to them: "The Lord will fight for you; you have only to keep still." This wouldn’t always be the case, of course. There would come times when they’d have to fight to win the battle, but not today. Today they need only to keep still. I think for me, that’s the hardest place to be. To find that I’m totally helpless. That my strength, my mind, my analytical skills, my theological training, are of no use in a particular situation. To be still and to rely entirely on God, to sit and wait patiently for God to act… this is difficult. We want to do something.

So, the Israelites wait. How do they last through the night? They’ve seen the Egyptians on the horizon - they can only be a few hours away. They could get here any minute. I imagine they wouldn’t have slept much that night. Do you know what that’s like -- to lie awake all night worrying about something, scenario upon scenario running through your mind? You go over and over what you said or might have said; all the things that might or might not happen. And the darkness deepens as the night goes on. Your fear only seems to grow as you dwell on your situation.

Moses says to the Israelites, take your eyes off the Egyptians. Stop concentrating on what you’re afraid of and look to the Lord, who hasn’t abandoned you, who still cares for you – and see the deliverance he’s about to accomplish for you. Israel needs to learn, just as we need to learn, that God is the God of presence, the God of guidance, the God of protection, who is always with us, caring for us and looking out for us.

And so, as the people of Israel lie in darkness and fear, the angel of the Lord moves from being in front of them to a position behind them, a position between them and the Egyptians; and the pillar of cloud brings darkness to the Egyptians so they’re held back. Moses stretches forth his staff over the sea and as they sleep, God sends a strong east wind which drives the sea back and turns it into dry land.

So, when morning comes, there before them is a way of escape. The insurmountable barrier has been removed. How often do we lie awake at night worrying about something, only to find that with morning comes a way out that we hadn’t imagined, or that in the light of day our worries aren’t quite as bad as they seemed? And so, the people of Israel pass through the sea on dry land.

When we find ourselves weighed down by fear we can take hope in the knowledge that God is still with us. God is still our strength and song. Through Jesus Christ, God has saved us from sin and death. And if he’s saved us from sin and death, what else is there that can harm us?
When our fears and anxieties overwhelm us, when we find ourselves helpless and vulnerable in the face of difficult decisions or challenging situations, we can absolutely rely on the faithfulness and guidance of God. We are not alone. God works through others, and God works through the created order. We may not be walking through a large body of water on dry ground anytime soon, but we will be walking through our troubles and our fears with God right beside us, a pillar of fire shining forth and lighting our way.

And like the Israelites, we too can respond to God’s salvation with praise and thanksgiving and with a renewed faith in his power. Having God at our side, and learning to be still and to trust in God’s leading, we can have assurance that we will be brought through any trials and tribulations that may come.

May God grant us grace to grow in our trust and faith in our saving Lord. And may our hearts be filled with gratitude to the One who has delivered us, filled to overflowing with love for our triune God, filled so full of love and gratitude that it simply must spill out into our every moment, pouring God’s love out into the world that God loves.

“No Way Out” was a sermon preached by Pastor Pam Schaefer Dawson in conjunction with our worship celebration on October 2, 2022.  The text upon which it is based is Exodus 14.  To access a copy of the weekly worship bulletin, click here: Worship Order 20221002