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Exodus 14:1-12 - Homilies By D. Young

Israel stricken with terror by reason of a deliverance not yet completed.

It is plain that the Israelites, going out of Egypt. in such circumstances as they did, must have gone out in a state of great exhilaration, almost beside themselves with joy at such a complete reversal of all their past experiences at the hands of Pharaoh. Moreover we are assured in Exodus 14:8 that they went out with a high hand. The power of God for the deliverance of Israel was manifested in great fulness. What he had done in the past, and especially in the recent past, if only well considered and kept in the mind, was sufficient to inspire trust, banish fear, and show the wisdom of most diligent obedience to every direction that he gave. Nevertheless in Exodus 14:10 we find this humiliating statement, "they were sore afraid"—sore afraid, so soon after deliverance, and such a deliverance! Whence could their danger have come, and what could have made them so quickly to forget their God? These are the matters we have now to consider.

I. CONSIDER WHAT THERE WAS TO EXPLAIN THE LOCAL POSITION WHICH PRODUCED THEIR FEAR . They were in an awkward and dangerous position from an ordinary point of view. That position cannot be more forciby indicated than in the words of Pharaoh himself. "They are entangled in the land, the wilderness hath shut them in." They were going into a cul-de-sac. Before them lay the sea; on either hand, as we imagine, rose high ground; it only needed that Pharaoh should come in at the rear and close them up altogether, then they would be compelled to surrender. How then had they come into this position? It was not through any ignorance or carelessness on the part of their leader. Any general leading an army into such a trap would have been deservedly put to death for gross incompetency. It was God who had brought them exactly here, and if the word "trap" is to be mentioned, it was a trap with regard to Pharaoh and not with regard to Israel. The God who had led the Israelites out with a high hand, led them on with the pillar of cloud, and led them into the very position which, if they themselves had been consulted, was the last they would have chosen. It was not the only way God could have taken them, but it was the way in which, most effectually , speedily , and impressively , he could deliver them from Pharaoh. For God, of course, well knew that the deliverance of his people was not accomplished, simply because they had got out of Egypt. The exodus had been a miracle in many ways, and not least in this, that it had. compelled Pharaoh and his servants to act in contradiction to all the most dominating elements of their character. Just as afterwards in dealing with the waters of the Red Sea, God made the force of the wind to overcome the force of gravity; so he had already by another east wind, in the shape of the death of the first-born, completely set aside for a night all the most settled habits of Egypt. These habits had stood up on the right hand and on the left, and made a broad and open way for Israel to go out of the land. But presently, immediately and according to the natural order, these habits resumed their former sway. What else was to be expected? It mattered not in what direction Israel took their flight. Pharaoh and his hosts, smarting with injured pride, panting for vengeance and recovery of lost treasure, would be after them. There was a void in Egypt because of the death of the first-born, but after all the mothers would feel that void the most. There was another void by reason of the loss of all these slaves, these useful labourers, these accumulators of Egyptian wealth, and this void, we may be sure, was more operative in the vexation it produced than the loss of the first-born. It is a humiliating truth, but men, as a rule, can more easily bear the loss of kindred, even one so dear as the first-born, than the loss of fortune. A failure in business is more discomposing and fretting than a dozen bereavements, considered simply as bereavements; and thus it is certain that Pharaoh and his generals were very speedily in council as to the best way of securing the fugitives. While so engaged, the news comes to them of the direction in which the Israelites had gone. This news was the very thing to decide Pharaoh and make his preparations large and overwhelming, especially when God came to harden his heart to a greater pitch of stubbornness than it yet had reached. Either recapture or destruction seemed now certain. Therefore, seeing Pharaoh was now bound by the very force of the passions raging in his heart and the hearts of his people to follow Israel, it was well as soon as possible, to remove all danger to Israel consequent on this line of action. No good purpose was to be served either towards Israel or towards Pharaoh himself, by allowing him for any length of time, to harass their rear. A catastrophe of the Red Sea magnitude had to come, and the sooner it now came, the better. Israel had dangers enough in front and within; from Amalekites, Amorites, Canaanites, and all the rest of their opponents; from their own character, their own depravity, blindness of heart, sensuality, and idolatrous disposition. God does not allow all possible dangers to come upon us at once. Do not let us be so occupied, with the dangers that are present and pressing as to forget those which he has utterly swept out of the way, overwhelmed in a Red Sea, whence they will emerge against us no more for ever.

II. CONSIDER WHAT THERE WAS TO EXCUSE AND EXPLAIN THE FEAR WHICH ISRAEL EXPRESSED . In itself this fear was indefensible. There was no ground for it in the nature of things. God had done nothing to produce fear; everything indeed, if only it could be rightly seen, to produce the contrary; everything to call forth the utmost reverence and obedience from every right-minded Israelite. He was now , even while the Israelites were entangled in the land, Jehovah as much as ever, the great I Am, leading Israel by a way which, though they knew it not, was the best way. But we must also look at things from Israel's point of view; we must really remember what God really remembers, that men are dust, and that even when they have the greatest reasons for confidence, those reasons get hidden up, or even presented in such forbidding aspects as to make them powerful in producing unbelief. Our great adversary, who can make evil appear good also makes good appear evil. Look then at what there was in the state of things, to excuse the Israelites in being sore afraid.

1 . The magnitude of Pharaoh ' s preparations. In spite of all the crippling effects of the plague, he was able to muster a great array. Doubtless he had a big standing army, for chariots are not got ready at a moment's notice. We may infer that he was a man who always had on hand some scheme of ambition and aggrandisement, and because the Israelites had long dwelt in his land, they knew all about the skill, valour and crushing force of the charioteers. Whatever strength there might be in the natural resources of Egypt they knew it well. When the unknown Caanan had to be faced, they gave Moses no rest, till spies were despatched to report on the land; but they needed no report of Egypt. The military strength of Pharaoh was only too deeply impressed on every mind.

2 . There was the exasperation of a great loss. The people not only knew the strength with which Pharaoh came, but the spirit in which he came. He had lost 600,000 men, with their flocks and herds, and all the choice spoils of Egypt, in the way of gold, silver and raiment. Then there was a further loss of population in the mixed multitude. There was everything to exasperate the despot, and not one thing to soothe his pride or lessen his calamities. If only he had failed in trying to get hold of a new possession, it would not have been so hard. But he had failed in keeping the old; he had gone through ten plagues, and yet lost his treasures after all. We may fear that only too many among the Israelites, had just that spirit of greed and grasping in their own hearts which would enable them to appreciate the spirit of Pharaoh's pursuit.

3 . There was the degrading effect of the long oppression in which the Israelites had been kept. The spirit of the slave comes out in the way they talk. These are not imaginary words put in their lips; the very "touch of nature" is in them. These are the language and conduct that reveal a real experience. The present generation, and one knows not how many generations before, had been born in servitude. They had not only been in servitude, but they had felt and acknowledged the bitter misery of it. And now the servitude was ended in due course. Freedom was a necessity, a blessing, and a glory to Israel; but they could not be made fit for it all at once. Jehovah could show signs and wonders in many ways; he could by one blow slay the first-born of Egypt and let the oppressed go free; but it required an altogether different power and method to infuse into the liberated the spirit and courage of freemen.— Y .

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