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Exodus 14:5-10 - Homilies By J. Orr

The pursuit

"It was told the King of Egypt that the people fled," etc. Consider:—

I. THE MOTIVES OF THE PURSUIT . The motives were various.

1 . Pharaoh had already repented of having let the people go ( Exodus 14:5 ). Their departure was a sore humiliation to him. Wounded pride was aggravated by the sense of material loss. "As serfs and bondagers, the Israelites were invaluable, and to let them go was to annihilate the half of Egypt's industry" (Hamilton). Pharaoh and his servants, accordingly, were ready to adopt any plan which promised them revenge.

2 . Pharaoh found an excuse for pursuit , in the allegation that the Israelites had " fled. " Fugitives, in the ordinary sense of the expression, the Israelites were not. Pharaoh having to the last refused to let them go to hold the required feast in the wilderness, God had taken the matter into his own hands, and had given them their freedom. The only sense in which they were "fleeing" was, that, fearing treachery, they were making all the haste they could to get beyond Pharaoh's reach. They had left Egypt, unfettered by any stipulation to return. Return, indeed, after what had happened, was out of the question. When Pharaoh and his people thrust the Hebrews out from their midst ( Exodus 11:8 ; Exodus 12:31-34 ), they neither desired nor expected to see their faces more. But now that the king had changed his mind, and wished them back again, it suited him to represent their withdrawal into the solitary regions by the Red Sea as a "flight"—a breach of good faith. God had forced him to relax his grasp, and while his hand was open, the nation had escaped, like a bird escaped from the snare of the fowler. As reasonably might the fowler complain that, the bird, thus escaped, does not voluntarily return to its old quarters.

3 . The determining , motive of the pursuit was the news that Israel was " entangled in the land. " This decided Pharaoh. Almost would it seem to him as if, by permitting the escaped people to make this huge blunder in their movements, their Deity designed to give them back to his hand, As Saul said of David—"God hath delivered him into mine hand, for he is shut up, by entering into a town that hath gates and bars" ( 1 Samuel 23:7 ).

II. ITS FORMIDABLE CHARACTER . Probably a pursuit of escaped slaves was never organised with greater chances of success.

1 . The expedition was popular. "The heart of Pharaoh and of his servants was turned against the people" ( Exodus 14:5 ). Court sentiment is not always a reliable index to the feelings of the commonalty; but it is probable that the movement to pursue Israel commanded a wide measure of popular support. The griefs and humiliations they had sustained would fill the Egyptians with hatred of the Israelitish name, and would make them willing co-partners in any scheme to inflict injury on the fugitives. They also, by this time, would be beginning to realise how great a loss, financially and industrially, they had sustained, by the withdrawal of so vast a body of labourers.

2 . The whole available military force of Egypt was called into requisition. "All the horses and chariots of Pharaoh, and his horsemen, and his army" ( Exodus 14:9 ). Pharaoh, at the head of this glorious cavalcade, amidst this sheen of weapons, must have felt himself a greater man, and would wonder anew how he could have been so befooled as to let his slaves depart. And little, truly, to all human appearance, would Israel, unpractised in the use of arms, be able to accomplish against this disciplined and splendidly-equipped host. Pharaoh doubtless thought he had the people this time securely in his grasp. It was no longer the unarmed Pharaoh of the palace that Moses had to deal with; but Pharaoh, at the head of the thousands of Egypt, with chariots, and horses, and men of war; and who was that God that would be able to deliver him out of his hand? Alas for Pharaoh, and his "pomp and circumstance of war!" It was soon to be seen what short work God can make on the earth of the proudest of his assailants, showing strength with his arm, and scattering the proud in the imagination of their hearts ( Luke 1:51 ; cf. Isaiah 31:3 ).

3 . The situation of the Israelites seemed to make them an easy prey. They were "entangled in the land" ( Exodus 14:3 ). This was the mainstay of Pharaoh's hopes. Israel could do nothing to resist him. Penned up like sheep for the slaughter, they could neither fight nor flee. Success was certain.

III. ITS SPIRITUAL LESSON . It will readily be felt that in this pursuit of Israel by Pharaoh, we have an image—from the typical character of the history, an intended image—of a not uncommon experience of the Christian life.

1 . We are liable to be pursued by the evil from which we thought we had escaped. Whoever thinks to find it otherwise will live to be disappointed. Conversion—even though one has been led into Christian liberty with "an high hand" ( Exodus 14:8 )—is not the end of spiritual conflicts. We do not escape from the power of evil without many an attempt being made on the part of the enemies of the soul to reassert their dominion ever us. We have a Pharaoh in the evil of our own hearts, who, after we have left his service, will not fail to pursue us. Another such Pharaoh we have in the world—old companions, etc. A third is the evil One himself, who lets no soul slip from his grasp, without many an attempt to recover it. This goes on to some extent throughout the whole life. Pharaoh's pursuit may be viewed as gathering up all these separate pursuits into a single picture.

2 . This experience is usually most acute and perilous shortly after conversion. Naturally, after the first breaking of the soul with sin, there comes, at a little distance, a time of recoil and reaction. Passions formerly indulged, surge back upon the heart with something of the old fury. We thought we had got rid of them; but they return, pursuing us with a vehemence which reminds us of Pharaoh's chariots and horses, and fills us with dismay. Old habits, we thought we had broken with them for ever; but they are back again, struggling for the mastery. The world tries all its arts to regain its former hold. Temptations come in floods. This is the time which tests the reality of conversion, and practically decides whether God is to have us, or Satan. It is the old experience of Israel, entangled in the land, and pursued by Pharaoh: if we gain the victory, we shall probably see our enemies no more, or only in greatly weakened, in semi-ghostlike forms.

3 . The destruction of Pharaoh ' s host is the pledge of similar victories to the Church and to the individual in like crises of their history. It involves the promise that what God did for Israel here, he will do for us also, if we rely upon his help, every time we are spiritually tempted. Beyond this, it pledges and foreshadows the ultimate and complete defeat of all the enemies of the Church, and of the individual soul—even to that "last enemy that shall be destroyed," which is death ( 1 Corinthians 15:26 ). The victory, like the pursuit, is gathered up typically into a single picture, though in actual spiritual history it is spread over lifetimes and ages. It must, however, be sorrowfully admitted that in individual cases, type and reality too often fall asunder. Who has not to mourn partial victories gained over him by the pursuing Pharaohs of the soul—victories ofttimes almost amounting to the dragging of us back to bondage? And what extensive victories have frequently been gained by evil over sections of the Church—victories which seem the very antithesis of this glorious Red Sea deliverance? These, however, are but ebbings in a tide, which on the whole is on the flow, and they do not touch the lesson of this incident. The pledge given in Pharaoh's destruction, God will not fail to fulfil to those who seek his aid; and as to the final victory, that is secure, beyond all power of man to prevent it.— J . O .

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