And Moses said to the people, Fear you not, stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will show to you to day…
I. NOTE THE WAY IN WHICH MOSES MEETS THE COMPLAINTS OF THE ISRAELITES. They had addressed to him sarcastic, flippant, and in every way unworthy speeches. They were not so filled with fear, not so occupied with the troubles of their own hearts, but that they could find a malignant delight in striving to make him ridiculous. This mingling of feelings on their part, fear mingled with hate, makes the single-heartedness of his reply all the more manifest and beautiful. The time is not one for him to stand on his own dignity, or bandy sharp language with mean men, even were his character such as to incline him that way. There is but a step from the sublime to the ridiculous; in one sense he makes that step, and by his noble, impressive exhortation, he at once sweeps the ridiculous out of the path of the sublime. The subject of the grave surely is never a seemly one for jesting; and the jesting was unseemliest of all at this present hour. One almost sees these little, pert jokers retreating into the background before the great believer. They would not trouble him again for a while. It was not Israel that had come out of Egypt seeking for graves, but Pharaoh and his host. These murmurers did indeed find graves in the wilderness by and by; but it was for a subsequent transgression. It is part of the peculiar pathos of human life that no one can tell where he must die and be buried. So much then with respect to the meek and comely attitude - true attitude of a prophet of God - which Moses here assumed. He rises clear above the little men of the crowd, for God has taken him out, in particular, with a high hand, and now what shall the matter of his answer be? He does not turn towards God doubtfully. (Contrast his conduct here with his conduct in Exodus 5:22-23.) The peril is to the natural eye overwhelming, but it is not peril to him, for God has filled him with the spirit of faith. He himself, unfearing, can tell the people not to fear. He himself, calmly expectant that some great deliverance is on the way, can recommend, his face not belying his tongue, the same calm expectancy to the people. Let them stand still and wait, instead of rushing hither and thither, weakening themselves still more by their disorder. Moses, exactly comprehending that the position is one in which man can do nothing, and God must do everything, presses this view on his brethren. What is his personal dignity, his amour-propre, compared with the glorious view to be opened out to them? Here is a lesson then, when people speak to us out of little envies and personal grudges. Reply by directing them to great soul-filling truths. Lead, if you can, mean, grovelling souls to the mountain top. Give them the chance of seeing the wide inheritance of the saints; and if they cannot take it in, then the loss, and the responsibility of the loss, is theirs.
II. NOTE THE INSTRUCTIONS WHICH GOD GIVES TO MOSES, vers. 15-18. These instructions, astounding as they must have seemed at the time, were, nevertheless, eminently practical. Those who bear the name of practical among men are those who keep well within what is reckoned possible by the ordinary judgment. Men of the Columbus type, such as great discoverers and great inventors, have to bear for long enough the name of being mere visionaries, day-dreamers, wasters of life. But God's practicality is to set his servants at once to things reckoned impossible. His directions are very simple: "Go forward." He waits till the people are indeed shut up on every hand, and then he says, "Go forward." They were to continue in the same direction, and that led onward to the sea. This was the appointed path to the mountain where they were to serve God. Yes; and if the path had been through the rocky steeps which enclosed them, God could have dissolved those steeps away. Or if it had been through Pharaoh's host, he could have smitten that host utterly, as he afterwards did Sennacherib's. Notice that in this command there is another proving of faith. First, with regard to Moses. For it will be observed that there is nothing to show that Moses knew anything of what would happen in the Red Sea, until God now made it known. Probably during the whole course of the plagues, the precise nature of each plague was revealed to Moses only just as it was approaching. And so here, in this new imprisonment, he was quietly waiting for light to come from God, well knowing that sufficient would be done to deliver Israel - that God had led his people into this entanglement, not without a perfectly definite purpose, and that the end of all would be the destruction of the Egyptians. But he knew not any more than the least child in Israel, until just beforehand, how all this was to be brought about. There was also a great proving of the faith of the people. God has a command for them, and it is one requiring great faith. Notice how appropriately it comes on, as the climax of past treatment. We have seen the Israelites sharing at first in the suffering of the Egyptian plagues. After a while, the district in which they reside is exempted from the plagues. Then when the first-born are smitten, the Israelites, by their obedience to Jehovah's instructions, escape the blow. And now at last their escape is to be completed by again obeying Jehovah's instructions, and equally in the obedience of a pure faith. But mark the most important advance and development of faith, which is here illustrated. Two quite different states of mind are brought out by slaying the passover lamb in faith, and by going towards and through the Red Sea in faith. To slay the passover lamb is to do a thing for which no reason is given but the command of God. But it is a thing which plainly can be done. It involves no peril; there is no appearance of impossibility about it; the only temptation is to think it useless, a superfluous reasonless form. On the other hand, it is perfectly plain that passage through the Red Sea will provide escape. The question is, can such a passage be gained, and therein the temptation lies - In slaying the passover lamb, the Israelites had to humble their intellects before Divine wisdom; in advancing to the Red Sea, they had to show the utmost confidence in Divine power. We must steadily believe that all God commands is useful and necessary; we must also steadily believe that all which is fit for him to do, he most assuredly can do. It is a matter deserving consideration that Jehovah should have given such a command, seeing the state of unbelief and carnality in which the Israelites evidently were. They had not spoken like men ready for such an awful miracle. But we can see certain things which made obedience easier. For one thing, God had shut them up to it. If they had been taken down to the Red Sea, with no Pharaoh behind, with no enclosing mountains on either hand, they might have rebelled. But circumstances lent a strong compulsive aid. We know not what we can do, what triumphs of faith we can achieve till God shuts us up to them. Then there was something also in the sight of the rod. God commanded Moses to exhibit something which had already been associated with wonderful deeds. Thus we see God making plain to Israel the way out of their peril, and so far all is definite. But this being told, the definite immediately shades away into the indefinite. The indefinite mark, but not therefore the uncertain. All is manifest and straightforward with regard to the Israelites; they are to be safe. But what about Pharaoh and his army? We remember Peter's question to Jesus concerning John (John 21:21). "Lord, what shall this man do?" So Moses might have questioned Jehovah - "Lord, what is to happen to Pharaoh?' Something on this matter Jehovah does say, just enough to preserve confidence, attention and expectation; but for the details Moses and Israel must wait a little longer. Meanwhile an inspiring hint is given of great judgment, great humiliation, and for Jehovah himself, great glory. Here the information stops; and here we again notice the eminent practicality of God's instructions. For the day's need and for our own need God gives us the amplest guidance; but what is to happen to our enemies, and exactly how they are to be removed he keeps within his own knowledge, as within his own power. The proper answer to all impious and curious pryings on our part is that which Jesus gave to Peter - "What is that to thee? follow thou me."
III. NOTE THE CONSEQUENT DEALINGS OF JEHOVAH IN DELIVERING ISRAEL AND DESTROYING THE EGYPTIANS.
1. The altered position of the cloudy pillar. The angel of God removed and went behind. By the angel of God is possibly meant the pillar itself. Just as the burning bush is described as a messenger of God (Exodus 3:2), so here there seems an indicating of the cloudy pillar as another messenger. Just at this moment it was not wanted for purposes of guidance. Indeed it would not have proved sufficient for these purposes. Jehovah had found it needful himself to intervene and signify by unmistakable words, the way in which he would have the people go. The cloudy pillar was enough for guidance only as long as the Israelites were in open and ordinary paths. But where it could not be used for guidance, it could be used for defence. God's messengers can easily change their use. The cloud, by changing its place, hindered Egypt, and thereby helped Israel. Nor did it help Israel in this way alone; the boon was a positive as much as a negative one. Surely this was a marvellous cloud, for it had in it darkness as well as light. Thus it served a double purpose. Hiding Israel from the Egyptian eyes, it proved the best of fortifications. But at the same time it shone upon the Israelites and gave them the benefits of day with the immunities of night. They could put everything in perfect order for the march, so as to take it the moment the way through the sea was ready. Imagine that miraculous light shining down on that miraculous path, even from end to end; just like a light shining down a street; and as it were pointing Israel onward, even though it stood behind them. Thus we are made to think of all the double aspect of the work of Jesus, how at the same time he confounds his enemies and guides and cheers his friends. Consider this especially in connection with his resurrection. On the one hand he abolished death; on the other he brought life and immortality to light.
2. The obedience of Moses and the Israelites to the Divine command. As we have noticed, all this had been well prepared for beforehand. Moses had been led up to it, and so had Israel; and therefore when the moment came, there was no hesitation. After what has been already said there is no need to dwell on this actual obedience. It is enough to note in passing, that God having duly arranged all conspiring causes, the effect followed as a matter of course. But now we come to the point of main interest in the closing section of this chapter, namely,
3. The conduct, treatment, and ultimate fate of the Egyptians. There is first, their infatuated advance. They go down in the path which Jehovah had made for Israel as if it was to remain a path for them. The Egyptians were too full of their purpose, too full of the spirit of vengeance and greed to notice their danger, even though it was a danger of the most obvious kind. They might have gone into certain positions where a miracle would have been required to put them in danger; but here the miracle is already wrought, and these enemies of Jehovah and Jehovah's people advance, as if the piled-up waters were thus to remain, their shape settled for ages to come, just like the shape of the solid hills around. The only thing to explain their conduct is the momentum that had been produced in their own breasts. It was with them just as it is with the runner when he has gained a certain speed. Suppose in his headlong career he comes to a chasm, stop he cannot. Either he must clear the chasm or fall into it. The next point to be noticed is God's treatment of them in their advance. The whole progress of affairs is exactly arranged so as to produce the deliverance of Israel and the destruction of Pharaoh. The very nearness of Pharaoh and his army to the Israelites, instead of proving ruin to them, only more effectually proves ruin to him. Some of the more timid among the Israelites might be tempted to say, "Oh! that the waters would return, immediately the last Israelite is ashore; let the great barrier be set between us and Pharaoh as soon as possible." But such a course would only have secured a present safety at the expense of a future one. Jehovah has a far better way of working than any which human panic can suggest. He lets the Egyptians go on until the whole army is in the midst of the sea, and then he who has truly proved himself a man of war opens the last decisive battle by making the chariots useless. Nay, not only were they useless; they seem to have become a hindrance and a terror. Jehovah neither hastens nor lingers; he smites at the right time, and therefore he smites effectually; and now we are called to listen to a resolution made too late. "Let us flee from the face of Israel." If only they had been wise in time, they would not have had to flee at all. What were they doing in the midst of the Red Sea? Nay more, what were they doing out of their own country? They had trifled and trifled with danger after danger, and now they had trifled beyond escape. It is no time to talk of flight when the door of the trap has fallen. The waters are on the point of returning; the ordinary course of nature is about to assert itself. Why should that course be interrupted one moment longer, simply to preserve a host of proud and dangerous men. The great lesson from Pharaoh's fall is to be wise in time. Flee from the wrath to come ] there is a possibility of that; but when the wrath has come, who then shall flee? (Revelation 6:16-17).
IV. NOTE THE IMPRESSION SAID TO HAVE BEEN PRODUCED ON THE MINDS OF THE ISRAELITES. Ver. 31. More desirable words surely could not be spoken of any people than that they fear Jehovah and believe in him and his servants. The fear and the faith, however, must be of the right sort, arising out of a right state of the heart, and cleaving to God through all the vicissitudes of circumstance. Such unfortunately was not the fear and faith of these Israelites. We must have heart knowledge of God's character, and come to understand how necessary it is to pass through a shaking of the things that can be shaken in order that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. Then we shall fear as we ought to fear, and believe as we ought to believe. Y.
Parallel VersesKJV: And Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will shew to you to day: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever.
WEB: Moses said to the people, "Don't be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of Yahweh, which he will work for you today: for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you shall never see them again.