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The Israelites

Updated: Oct 8, 2019

Hebrews 11:29, 30

Faith is believing that “God will make a way where there seems to be no way.”

“29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned” (Hebrews 11:29).

Don Moen wrote this well-known Gospel song:

God will make a way

Where there seems to be no way

He works in ways we cannot see

He will make a way for me

He will be my guide

Hold me closely to His side

With love and strength for each new day

He will make a way, He will make a way

By a roadway in the wilderness, He'll lead me

And rivers in the desert will I see

Heaven and Earth will fade but His word will still remain

And He will do something new today

Oh, God will make a way

Where there seems to be no way

He works in ways we cannot see

He will make a way for me

He will be my guide

Hold me closely to His side

With love and strength for each new day

He will make a way, He will make a way

For the Israelites, the Red Sea crossing (Exodus 13:17-14:31) was perhaps the greatest challenge to their faith that they had ever faced.

The Israelites could have taken a shorter route to Canaan. Instead God directed Moses to take them into the desert of Sinai.

The Lord had a plan for the destruction of the Egyptians for which the Red Sea was an essential element. The Lord also had something to teach His people which required them to face their enemy with their backs to the sea. They also needed to go to the Mountain of God—Sinai—to receive the guidelines for their nationhood and their personal lives. The news of what would happen at the Red Sea would also travel ahead of the Israelites and put the fear of God into the nations in their path.

Just prior to his death, Joseph had left instructions that his bones were to be carried into the Promised Land for burial when his descendants returned to Canaan. And as the Hebrews leave the land where they had been enslaved, they carry those bones with them in fulfillment of the act of faith taken by Joseph four decades earlier. Exodus 13:19 tells us: “Moses took the bones of Joseph with him because Joseph had made the Israelites swear and oath. He had said, ‘God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up with you from this place.’

And so they march out.

God had revealed Himself to Moses in a burning bush. The Hebrews had taken on faith Moses’ description of his encounter with God. They had seen His hand in the miracles that were performed through the plagues. Now the Israelites would have their own evidence of God’s constant presence in a visible form. Exodus 13:20-22 describes the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night that was meant to encourage them to understand that God was with them, that the One who had shown His power through the plagues in Egypt was the One who would show His power along the shores of the Red Sea and through the wilderness of Sinai.

After leaving Sukkoth they camped at Etham on the edge of the desert. By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar fire by night left its place in front of the people.

Egypt still had lessons to learn. The change in route was meant to prepare the way for the lessons they still had to learn. The coming events would, or should, cement in the minds and hearts of the Hebrews God’s commitment to them as well as His provision for them.

The LORD is God.

Notice this statement, “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Tell the Israelites to turn back and encamp near Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea. They are to encamp by the sea, directly opposite Baal Zephon” (14:1, 2). This instruction may have dumbfounded the Hebrews.

The precise location of the places mentioned in these verses is not a certainly. But the explicit instructions to the Israelites were to turn BACK, away from the route that would have seen them avoid having to cross the Red Sea or encounter the Egyptians.

Pharaoh will think, ‘The Israelites are wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed in by the desert.’ And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them. But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.’ So the Israelites did this.” (14:3, 4)

It has been suggested that when Pharaoh realized what direction the Israelites had gone (the idea being that they were confused) he took out after them thinking that they would be trapped between the hills and the sea with himself and his army in front of them.

The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary notes: “2. Speak unto the children of Israel, that they turn and encamp—The Israelites had now completed their three days’ journey, and at Etham the decisive step would have to be taken whether they would celebrate their intended feast and return, or march onwards by the head of the Red Sea into the desert, and a short march would have placed them beyond the reach of pursuit, as the chariots of Egypt could have made little progress over dry and yielding sand. But at Etham, instead of pursuing their journey eastward with the sea on their right, they were suddenly commanded to diverge to the south, keeping the gulf on their left; a route which not only detained them lingering on the confines of Egypt, but, in adopting it, they actually turned their backs in the land of which they had set out to obtain the possession. A movement so unexpected, and of which the ultimate design was carefully concealed, could not but excite the astonishment of all, even of Moses himself, although, from his implicit faith in the wisdom and power of his heavenly Guide, he obeyed. The object was to entice Pharaoh to pursue, in order that the moral effect, which the judgments on Egypt had produced in releasing God’s people from bondage, might be still further extended over the nations by the awful events transacted at the Red Sea.[1]

Exodus 12:31-36 tells us that when the Israelites left Egypt it was at the urging, and with the apparent “blessing,” of Pharaoh and his people. Exodus 14:8 tells us that the Israelites went out “marching boldly.” They were not expecting to ever see the Egyptians again. What a terrible sight it must have been for them (14:10-12) when they looked back to discover 600 chariots loaded with soldiers coming after them, with Pharaoh in the lead.

As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord.”

Faith fled in the face of fear.

Lloyd Ogilvie notes there are 366 ‘fear not’ verses in the Bible—one for every day of the year, including one for leap year!”[2]

The Hebrews now had the sea in front of them, Pharaoh behind them, and mountains on both sides, so this was an extremely scary situation. Moses’ response (14:13-14) must have caused them to wonder about his sanity—and theirs for having followed him.

Moses answered the people, ‘Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring to you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.’”

But his statement is one of the most powerful in Scripture.

A.W. Toser writes in The Pursuit of God that, “Religion has accepted the monstrous heresy that noise, size, activity and bluster make a man dear to God. But we may take heart. To a people caught in the tempest of the last great conflict God says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God’ (Psalm 46:10), and still he says it, as if He means to tell us that our strength and safety lie not in noise but in silence.”[3]

We are programmed to want to “do something” when faced with impossible situations. But there are times when we are not required to do anything but “stand still” and let God do what He wants to do.

His command in Exodus and the words of Psalm 46:7-10 encourage us when we listen to, or read about, the events taking place in the world.

The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Come and see what the Lord has done, the desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’

With the cloud between them and the Egyptians Moses is ordered to stretch the rod out over the Red Sea. The cloud created darkness of the Egyptians, forcing them to wait while the Hebrews, with light on their side of the cloud, crossed over the sea on the dry ground created as the Lord walled up the waters.

When “daylight” returned for the Egyptians they discovered the Israelites on the opposite side of the sea. But believing that the path through the water would remain open for them—who knows what thoughts might have gone through their minds wondering how it had happened and how long it would remain as it was—they began to cross. The results were disastrous for them as God released the waters and the sea returned to its natural place.

The Israelites were presented with an awe-inspiring lesson about the power of God.

And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.” (14:31)

After the exhibition of God’s power Moses composes the song we have in Exodus 15:1-21. This is a “mountaintop” experience for the Hebrews and this is the quintessential worship song.

Notice the declarations of “worth-ship.”

…he is highly exalted…The Lord is my strength and my defence; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him. The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is his name…Your right hand, Lord, was majestic in power. Your right hand, Lord, shattered the enemy…the greatness of your majesty…your burning anger…Who among the gods is like you, Lord? Who is like you—majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders…In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling…By the power of your arm they [God’s enemies] will be as still as a stone—until your people pass by, Lord, until the people you bought pass by. You will bring them in and plant them on the mountain of your inheritance—the place, Lord, you made for your dwelling, the sanctuary, Lord, your hands established. The Lord reigns forever and ever.

Worship always points to HIM. It exalts Him above even His gifts. The difference is often subtle. We often praise His hand in our lives rather than praising Him just for who He is, making us the center rather than God the center of our worship. The former is important, of course, but the latter is vital if we are to truly worship.


1. The Hebrews had seen God’s hand in so many ways, but faced with the Red Sea in front of them and the Egyptians behind them, faith fled despite the evidence of God’s faithfulness to them. Describe a time in your life when something similar happened. What did you learn from the experience?

2. Has God ever directed you to do something and then redirected you to do something that seemed the complete opposite of what He had originally told you? God’s change in direction for the Hebrews must have caused some conflicting emotions. What did you feel, think, when God was leading you one way and then led you another? How was your faith strengthen through the experience?

3. What is the most difficult part of being “still” for you? How do you handle that challenge? What have you learned from the experience?

4. Faith is tested when fear is fueled. What Scriptures has encouraged you and held you fan the flames of faith and douse your fears?

5. Worship. Tell Him how wonderful He is to you.

6. Report on how you are doing in strengthening your relationship with God as a vital part of your faith journey.


[2] (If You Want to Walk on the Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat, John Ortberg, Zondervan, Grand Rapids MI, p 118)

[3] The Pursuit of God, A. W. Toser, Wing Spread Publishers, Camp Hill Pennsylvania, p. 76

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