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Staying a Move Ahead

Both in my preparation for starting the book of Joshua and in my daily Bible reading, I have spent a good bit of time looking at the life of Moses and the Exodus. This is one of the central stories in Redemptive History. And this particular story reaches a climax in Exodus 14 with the crossing of the Red Sea. When we look at God’s unfolding story of redemption, this event looms large. It is foreshadowed in Moses’ birth narrative, where life is brought through the waters. It is foreshadowed in Noah, where death comes to all those at enmity with God, but through the water, there is redemption. The Red Sea itself foreshadows God’s redeeming grace in Christ, where those who repent and believe in him are brought through the waters of baptism into new life. Those who are at enmity with God, those who reject him as Lord, are cut off from the living. This is a thread that is woven into the story of God’s redemption for his people. I love this story.

The deliverance at the Red Sea shows how God is sovereignly ordaining all things that come to pass. God is the grand master chess player. One summer we led a group of college students to do evangelism in Russia. We hosted an English Camp in a remote area with Russian college students. One of the Russian students was studying to be a Grand Master in chess. I thought I’d challenge him to a match. This is like telling a professional boxer, “Hey, how hard can you hit me?”

The student was kind but devastatingly good. Every time I attempted to move my chess piece, he would nod disapprovingly. I would then change my mind and start to move another piece. He would shake his head no. This went on until I eventually found the right piece. Then I would move. Then he moved. And we repeated this until he captured my king. Essentially, he was playing himself through me. There was one time that I made a move and he said, “Oh, I did not see that move. That was very good. Now I will take your bishop.” He was always several moves ahead of me.

In Exodus 14, the Lord tells Moses to leave Egypt via a circuitous route. The reason? Pharaoh will see where you are going and think you’re lost and wandering in the wilderness. Then the Lord says he will harden Pharaoh’s heart and set a trap for him. The Israelites obeyed God’s instruction. And Pharaoh saw them wandering. His heart was hardened. And Pharaoh changed his mind. He would not let the people go. Pharaoh launches the full force of his military (probably the greatest military power on the planet at that time) against the Israelites. The trap was set.

But the Israelites saw Pharaoh coming and panicked. They didn’t trust God. Perhaps they had forgotten all the plagues the Lord had unleashed on Egypt. Perhaps they had forgotten how the Lord provided for them when they plundered Egypt. Perhaps they had forgotten all the things Moses had told them. They obviously had problems with their memory, because what they did remember was not the truth. “They said to Moses, ‘Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians?’” (Exod. 14:11, 12). Their failure of memory would be laughable if it were not so sad. Think about it, what is Egypt most known for? The pyramids. What are the pyramids? They are big elaborate tombs. Who built those tombs? The Israelites. I think Moses is well aware of the tombs in Egypt. And the people did not say, “let us serve the Egyptians.” In fact, “the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God” (Exod. 2:23). The people panicked because they didn’t believe God was a move ahead of them.

Their fear is misplaced because God is maneuvering the pieces of the chess board according to his plan. They panic because they “lift up their eyes” and only see the Egyptians. Moses reminds them that God is sovereignly ordaining all these events. “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” (Exod. 14:13, 14). God then split the waters of the Red Sea. The people of God passed through on dry ground. The Egyptians followed but were bogged down in the mud. The waters fell in upon them and covered the Egyptians. And what is the next thing that the Israelites saw? “Israel saw the great power that the LORD used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD” (Exod. 14:31).

We often do not see that God is working several moves ahead of us. We don’t see the plan he is orchestrating and ordaining in our lives. Sadly, we often only see the enemies of God advancing against us. And in our fear, we “remember” things that simply are not true. We doubt God’s goodness. We doubt his grace. We doubt his sovereignty. We doubt his love for us. We need to see that the LORD is fighting for us. We need to see the redemption won for us in Christ. We need to see that the LORD is playing out his perfect plan with precision before us. We need to see the great power of the LORD.

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