It seems these days there's no end of things to fear.
There's global warming for a start. Or more technically climate change. The fact that we're constantly being hit, apparently, with record after record; whether it's June rainfall that's never been recorded before; 47 degrees in Thargominda in February; whether you're persuaded by the evidence or not, people are frightened. That we've broken the climate. And who knows the consequences.
There's politics as well. a sense of instability; with institutions that used to be trusted. Now discredited. Leading to instability. And a sense of distrust. And maybe fear of what's going to unfold. There's China building bases in the South China Sea; Korea testing nukes. There's Turkey moving towards totalitarianism; there's Donald Trump who's going to fix it. Because it's all simple.
And people are frightened.
There's social change. At a rate like never before. Questions being asked about the kind of fundamentals most of us never would have imagined. Same sex Marriage. The whole logic of marriage we've taken for granted for generations. Overturned. Rainbow politics changing every aspect of life. Company policies that you can't even work there if you don't support marriage equality. And it's scary.
PAINTED INTO A CORNER
People like us, maybe, if you're what they call a conservative Christian, are frightened. Feel like we're being painted into a corner. Where there's no escape.
This morning we're picking up the story of Israel in the exodus, at a point where they're afraid. Because they've been painted into a corner as well. In fact in the words of verse 10, they're terrified.
They've made their escape from Egypt where they've been slaves for generations, they've fronted up to Pharaoh with their demand for freedom; Pharaoh's grown bolder and bolder and more and more proud in the ten round face off with the plagues sent by God.
And now they're finally free. Following Moses. Who's led them down a dead end street. Painted them into a corner. Pharaoh and his chariots are right behind them. And they're terrified.
Hemmed in by the Red Sea on one side. And a sea of Egyptian soldiers on the other. After just a day or two of tasting freedom, their hopes are dashed.
We're in Exodus 14. Pick up mid way through verse 10 and you'll get the vibe.
They're terrified and they cry out to the Lord. 11 T hey said to Moses, "Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? 12 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 than to die in the desert!"
Because, Moses has got them camping near Pi Hahiroth between Migdol and the sea by Baal Zephon Mountain. Hemmed in. With nowhere to run.
Although behind the scenes, there's a bit more going on than they think.
They're camped there, in their painted-in corner of no escape; because God's told Moses to stop there. They're camped there because God's told them to turn back. And wait a while.
Which when you're on the run hardly seems smart.
The reality is, they're camped there. Like the cheese in a mousetrap. Like the bait on a fish-hook. To bring the power of Egypt undone once and for all.
Now it's at this point we have to do our quick spot of Hebrew revision, because a couple of weeks back you might remember we met the interesting Hebrew word kabod which in English translates as glory but has exactly the same meaning as weight. Or heaviness.
And you might remember we saw in the opening rounds back in Exodus chapter 7 that Pharaoh keeps adding weight to his own heart. Keeps on puffing up his own glory. As a direct competitor with YAHWEH the God of Israel. Which God then locks in to Pharaoh's heart by hardening it; making it inflexible. And making him stubborn.
Which is about to bring Pharaoh undone once and for all.
Pharaoh is finally going to feel the weight. To encounter the glory of God in full force.
Step back to verse 4. Because here's the plan. Israel's camp is the bait in the trap. Pharaoh's going to think they're wandering round in confusion and lost in the wilderness. But take a look. Verse 4. God says,
4 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, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.
The first half of the book of Exodus is playing out a heavyweight slugfest; between Pharaoh King of Egypt and his national Gods; and YAHWEH. The one true God. God of Israel.
And Pharaoh's been glorifying himself and puffing up his heart over and over again. Here he is, surrounding the camp of the Israelites with his six hundred best chariots to crush their resistance and take them back home.
And the Israelites are terrified. And they cry out to the Lord and they say to Moses what have you done. Didn't we tell you just to leave us alone. Serving the Egyptians in peace?
And Moses answers them fully confident in verse 13. In one of those verses that you see on motivational posters with calligraphy and a beautiful mountain scene. You might even have it up in your kitchen. He says to them,
Do not be afraid . Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. 14 the lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.
Beautiful words for a wall poster; the Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.
Be calm. Be tranquil. Relax. Be still... Except that in the original be still isn't about the art of Zen relaxation. It's more literally "You need only to shut up." Trust God to fight for you, and stop your complaining. Which as we'll see in the next week or two is something they just can't and won't do.
Complaining is their middle name.
I had to have some stern words with one of my little grandsons the other day. It was well past sleep time and he wouldn't stay on his bed. I said to him, you need to stay on your bed, you need to close your eyes, and you need to go to sleep.
And he said to me, "No, Pa, I always get off my bed. It's just what I do."
For Israel, it's fearing. And complaining. It's just what they do.
But Moses says zip it. And watch. Our God; isn't a God who's just going to save you from slavery and then dump you.
Our God doesn't need you to step up and save yourself.
Our God is a delivering God.
He doesn't need you to do the fighting.
The Lord will fight for you.
So stand firm.
And don't be afraid.
And watch. As he turns an impossible situation into an impossible victory.
The Egyptians you see today you'll never see again.
And God says to Moses, verse 15; tell the Israelites to move on.
Which doesn't make sense. Move on to where? They're trapped between the mountains and the Egyptians and the sea.
Raise your staff, verse 16, and stretch out your hand over the sea... to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground.
And then he says again in verse 17 what he said before in verse 4.
I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen.
And once again for good measure in verse 18.
The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen.
Here's the thing. God is a glory gaining God. The God of creation, who in the same words back in Genesis chapter 1 divided the waters to separate land and sea. Is going to divide the waters again; to save his people. So as to become weighty in the eyes of egypt. So as not to be taken lightly by the nations. Nor by Israel. Nor by anyone else.
Not to be taken lightly by the Egyptians who think they can over rule him and over run his people.
Not to be taken lightly by Israel. Who are so desperately afraid at every sign of a setback. Because that's taking God lightly too.
What he's about to do, he's about to do to reverse that. What he's about to do is gain glory; increase their sense of heaviness. Maybe what we call awe. By taking on the best of Egypt's fire power.
With a breath. More literally if you're practically minded and you want the physics of it, if you want the days weather report, by a strong east wind.
Verse 19. There's a glowing pillar of cloud between the Egyptians and Israel. Holding them back.
And then Moses; as God's told him to; stretches out his hand over the sea. Verse 21.
And all that night, the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided. Those words from Genesis 1 again. And verse 22, the Israelites march through on dry ground, with walls of water on either side. Look left there's a wall of water, look right there's a wall of water. And through they go.
Now we're still in the process of setting the mousetrap here; and Pharaoh takes the bait.
The Egyptians pursue them, verse 23; horses, chariots, horsemen. Without a second thought. Follow them. Into the sea.
Which isn't smart. Because not only does God throw them into confusion; their wheels jam in the mud. They're bogged up to the axles. And all the military horsepower in the world ... is useless.
The Egyptians; at last they get it.
Let's get away from the Israelites, verse 25. the Lord, YAHWEH, is fighting for them. Against Egypt.
Remember the words of Moses before? Verse 14. the Lord will fight for you. You need only be still?
Here it comes.
With a word from the Lord in verse 26 Moses stretches out his hand a second time. And at daybreak, verse 27, the sea went back to its place. Walls of water, crashing down. And in a bizarre detail, the confused Egyptians are fleeing towards it; and the whole army of Pharaoh that's followed the Israelites into the sea are swallowed up. Not one of them survives. Warhorses. Chariots. Tanks. Missiles. Everything. Gone.
And Israel's passed through on dry land to the other side. And they stand there. Watching the bodies of Egyptian soldiers washing up on the shore. Dead.
These are the Israelites who took their God so lightly that they were terrified of the Egyptian army. Remember verse 10. The Hebrew word yare. They see the Egyptian army and they're terrified.
Same word now at the end of the chapter. Verse 31.
31 And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the lord (yare again) and put their trust in him, and in Moses his servant.
FEAR AND TRUST
Can I make the passing observation to you that those words make strange partners to our ears don't they?
Fear and trust? Not words that you'd commonly find together.
And yet capturing in a way exactly how it's meant to work when we catch hold of this idea of God's glory.
That with the flick of a finger, with a wave of his hand; with a word to Moses; literally anything can happen. Literally. Anything.
THE SONG BY THE SEA
Chapter 15, Moses sings about it. And then his sister Miriam joins in.
How God is highly exalted because he's thrown the Egyptian army into the sea; exactly the way the Egyptians threw Israel's baby boys into the Nile back in chapter 1.
And he sings in verse 6,
Your right hand, Lord, was majestic in power.
Your right hand, Lord, shattered the enemy.
So powerful. He can do it one handed.
By the blast of your nostrils
the waters piled up.
The surging waters stood up like a wall;
the deep waters congealed in the heart of the sea.
Sure it was a strong east wind. Sure there's a natural mechanism. But God's intention... is shaping everything. From Pharaoh's stubborn heart; to the opening of the waters.
This is an awesome God. This is a God who should make you tremble.
Chapter 15 verse 10,
But you blew with your breath,
and the sea covered them.
And then verse 11.
Who among the gods is like you, Lord?
Who is like you-
majestic in holiness,
awesome in glory,
Did you get that? Awesome in weightiness.
Pharaoh in all his self added glory. a nobody.
All the gods of Egypt. Nothing.
There is nobody. Like the true God.
Majestic in holiness.
In kabod. In weightiness. In glory. Not to be taken lightly. Which means his people have got nothing to fear.
Because his love for them is unfailing.
While the nations around them. From verse 14 in chapter 15. Need to quiver. And be terrified. And tremble. And melt away.
Because God's going to take his people by. And lead them to their promised land. Exactly like he said he would.
That's the point of the song that Moses and the Israelites sing by the side of Red Sea.
When you understand God's glory. If you're not on his side; tremble with fear.
If you are on his side. Tremble with fear as well. Feel his weight.
But know you can trust him completely to do what he says he'll do. And take his people home.
And there's one more thing. Did you notice back at the end of chapter 14. That key verse. The Israelites didn't just put their trust in the Lord from that point.
They put their trust in Moses his servant as well.
Moses their God appointed leader.
Moses their mediator.
They hadn't been so confident at the start of the chapter. Why did we listen to you?
Now. Having seen it all play out. They're putting their faith both in the lord and his appointed man as well.
OUR FEARS AND FAITH
Now it's interesting when you move forward through the bible story line; when you move beyond the story of Israel and into the story of us; the New Testament spells out a number of times that there's a better mediator... than Moses.
Who is of course the Lord Jesus.
It's an idea that's unpacked in the New Testament book of Hebrews. That says in our heavenly calling; on the road to our promised land... we need to lock in a fix our eyes on and trust not Moses but a better Moses...
Fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest.
Because Moses was good. But Jesus is better. Worthy of greater honour.
Moses was like a servant in God's house. But Jesus is faithful as the son in God's house.
In a different league.
And we're all part of that household. If we hold firm to our confidence. Hold firm to our hope. And keep looking forward.
Instead of falling in a heap in fear.
Jesus is the one. Who looked death in the eye and defeated it.
Jesus is the one who doesn't just lead his people through a sea on dry land. He can lead us through the valley of the shadow of death.
And look, he's demonstrated that in his own resurrection.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, we're not in the promised land yet. But the big battle has been fought and won. Not by us. But for us.
Famous words. He says,
"Where O death is your victory,
Where O death is your sting?"
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God! he gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
And he has done that. And he will do that. The same way he gave victory to the Israelites. They just had to stand there are watch. And stop complaining.
And if we don't have to fear death... why do we fear anything else?
You know, apart from climate change and social collapse and radical Islam; even apart from those issues, we're caught up in an anxiety epidemic.
Look up and down the row where you're sitting. Because one in 6 Australians is suffering from an anxiety disorder at any given time.
There's one in your row. There's one in your family.
18 percent of women. 11 percent of men.
And if you're one of them, you'll know it feels like it's kind of beyond your control.
But here's something interesting. Here's a working definition of anxiety from a psychologist.
It's the worry that's experienced due to fear... of failure.
Fear of not meeting up to expectations.
Fear of not doing a good enough job.
Fear of letting people down.
Fear of not making it to the top.
Or however else you want to define failure in your own mind.
FEEL THE WEIGHT
Maybe for those of us who know that gnawing fear in our hearts, maybe... it's worth thinking deeper on the heaviness of God. His glory. And know that if we don't need to even fear death any more, why fear failure? Why measure ourselves that way?
What if we could fear him more. Hold him in more awe. So we fear other stuff less.
Because ultimately, when you've understood you can both fear and trust God; and when you come to the Lord Jesus with that same trust; you've got to realise you're not going to be marked pass or fail on the basis of our own efforts. But on his. It's not up to you to make the grade. He's done it all for you. That's the essence of what we call the Christian gospel. The good news.
Same rules apply. Exodus 14 verse 13 and 14.don't be afraid. stand firm. The Lord will fight for you. You need only to be still.
Whether he's saving his people from the Egyptians through Moses. Or from a much bigger enemy. Through a much better Moses, the Lord Jesus.
Feel the weight. Be in awe of him. And trust him as well. It might just help get those other fears in the right perspective.