The writer to the Hebrews now presents Israel in its complete triumph over Pharaoh, his armies and all his horse-men. We hear the Song of Moses at the sea, “The LORD is a man of war: the LORD is his name. Pharaoh’s chariots and host hath he cast into the sea.” (Ex. 15:3, 4) And we take note of Miriam, Moses’ sister, who answered in glad refrain, “Sing ye to the LORD, for he hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.” (Ex. 16:21)
Surely here we see faith in operation as it passes from glory unto glory as by the Spirit of the LORD.
Israel passes through the Red Sea as upon dry ground. This was an act of faith in the promises of God, an act of faith that follows whithersoever the LORD did lead by His pillar of fire by night and by his cloud by day. It is really following the Lamb whithersoever He did lead. And this example, too, was written for us upon whom the end of the ages is come, that we might press these same foot-prints of Abraham’s children in faith.
The text in Hebrews is very brief and beautiful. It reads as follows in the KJV, “By faith they passed through the Red Sea as by dry land: which the Egyptians assaying to do were drowned.” (Heb. 11:29)
AN HISTORIC EVENT (Exodus 14)
Were it not that there are legions in our day who deny the historicity of the Old Testament Scriptures we would not need to reemphasize that what we read of in Exodus is a matter of history. It came to pass in world-history. That is the clear testimony of the book of Exodus and as such it is quoted in many passages of Scripture both in the Old and New Testaments. (Joshua 2:9-11; Joshua 4:23; Joshua 9:9 Jeremiah 50:21; Psalm 78:13, 14; Psalm 136:13, 15; Psalm 109:7; Isaiah 43:9, 10; Isaiah 51:9, 10) In all of these passages the Spirit of Christ is pointing out in the Word the great implication of the once-and-for-all deliverance of Israel out of Egypt by His mighty outstretched arm. It is the pattern of all the mighty doings of God with His people and of His triumph over all His and Israel’s foes. Surely this was an historical event! Only willful unbelief denies it!
However, what is more, it is also an historic event. This means that it was a determining point for Israel’s history, as a blood-sprinkled people. It is momentous and has far-reaching consequences. It is an historical type of baptism into Christ. It was what Paul calls a “baptism unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” (I Cor. 10:2) This means that they could be baptized because they were under the blood of the Passover Lamb. This seems to be suggested in the text here in Hebrews 11:29. The subject “they” refers to the former verse 28 where the “sprinkling of the blood” is mentioned to protect Israel against the “angel of death, the destroyer.” All the firstborn of Egypt were killed but none of Israel. Israel is God’s first born son. (Exodus 4:22) Hence the “they” are those who are under the blood; and now they have the sign of this protection of being delivered from the house of bondage to serve God, in this passage through the Red Sea as on dry ground. Truly, this was an historic event, great in the annals of the Sacred Scripture, as we have already pointed out.
Another element that points up Israel’s victory over Egypt as being an historic event is that it was the fulfillment of the predictive prophecy and promise of Jehovah. Israel does not simply walk out of Egypt straight for Canaan, the promised land. It was not self-liberation, a declaration of independence; nor was it a taking up of arms against Egypt. It was simply a demonstration that “I am the LORD.” Pharaoh and Egypt must know that Jehovah, Israel’s God, is God alone. Hence, Israel is enjoined to “be still” and “I will fight for you.” Some four hundred years earlier the LORD had spoken to Abraham that He would deliver Israel from Egypt in the words, “And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in the land that is not theirs and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; and also that nation, whom they shall serve will I judge; and afterwards they shall come out with great substance . . . but in the fourth generation they shall come hither again . . . ” (Gen. 15:13-16) Not one of these words can fall to the ground, even though heaven and earth pass away. The LORD was fulfilling these words to Israel by the hand of Moses. (Exodus 3:10)
And now the historic moment has come that God may show all His power in Pharaoh’s hardness and proud rebellion. Pharaoh will make his last bold and all-out attempt to destroy Israel here at the Red Sea. The LORD hardens, makes strong his heart. He pursues Israel at the Red Sea. The LORD did not cause Israel to go through the land of the Philistines, but at Etham He led them Southward toward Pihahiroth between Migdol and the Sea. God deliberately led Israel into a place and position where only a miraculous deliverance of God could be of any avail. He deceived Pharaoh into concluding that Israel was trapped in the wilderness and was an easy prey to slaughter with his horses and chariots. So he pursues after them with 600 chariots and horses and with all his army to slaughter the church of God, a congregation of men, women and children, old and young. His great moment has struck to deliver the fatal blow!! Truly, it was a very historic moment also for Egypt.
A MIRACULOUS ACT (Exodus 14, Hebrews 11:19)
The text says, “they passed through the Red Sea as upon dry ground.” Israel must “go forward.” That is the divine command to Moses. The people of God are indeed in dire need and in a terrifying position. Picture this in your mind’s eye: before Israel is the Sea, on either side are the mountains and behind them is coming at full speed the entire army of the Egyptians. Israel cries out to the LORD. (Exodus 14:10; Joshua 24:7; Neh. 9:9; Psalm 74:13) It was also a cry such as never had before been heard in Israel; it was the cry of faith and hope, although it was not perfect faith and all did not believe. Yet, Hebrews 11:29 says it was “by faith.” It was the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen! Without this faith Israel could not please God. They must believe in this moment of deepest trial that “God is, and that he is a rewarder of those who seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6)
No, it was not perfect faith. All seem to have also doubted the wisdom and the love of God in Moses’ delivering them out of Egypt. They recite their words once more to Moses which they spoke to Moses and Aaron when Pharaoh increased their tasks and burdens upon Moses coming to Egypt to deliver them. (Ex. 5:21; Ex. 6:9) They murmur and say, “Is not this the word that we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians? For it had been better for us to, serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness.” (Exodus 14:12) It was not perfect faith on the part of the true Israel of God; it was stark unbelief on the part of the reprobate element, who later will indeed die in the wilderness. They will die not because of the hand of the LORD being shortened, but rather “because of their unbelief.” (Hebrews 3:19) This unbelief is also recounted on the pages of the Old Testament Scriptures. (Psalm 106:6-12) That God saved Israel at the Red Sea was not because of any worthiness of Israel. The Holy Spirit gives us that answer Psalm 106:7, 8, “Our fathers understood not thy wonders in Egypt; they remembered not the multitude of thy mercies; but provoked him at the Red Sea.Nevertheless he saved them for his name’s sake, that he might make his mighty power to be known.” (italics added) The glory of God’s power both in grace and in judgment is at stake. His promises cannot fail. It is sovereign grace here; it is not of works but of redeeming mercy under the blood. And although faith is not perfect, God leads this faith to greater heights by his Spirit causing Israel to obey his word to “go forward.” And their faith was rewarded so that the following morning Israel sees the dead bodies of the Egyptians on the shore. The Psalmist tells us, “And the waters covered their enemies: there was not one of them left. Then believed they his words.” They were confirmed in their faith. They had passed over in faith; now their faith is strengthened.
That seems to be the correct interpretation of their passing over in faith!
It was faith in God’s miraculous work! It was faith before crossing, and all during the crossing, all the night; and faith in the morning when with Moses they sing the triumphant song. Had not God performed His wonder of grace in this night. Was His gracious presence not symbolized in the Pillar of Cloud which went before them to lead them on the way, and which was a pillar of fire by night. Was this not the glory of God which rested later on the mercy seat in the temple? It was the glory of the Shekinah of God. It represented the gracious indwelling of God with his people as the glory of grace. On the one hand this was a light and protection for Israel, and it was also Israel’s defense against the Egyptians all through the night. For in His glory cloud the Lord made a separation between Israel and the Egyptians all through the night, after He had made a wide path for Israel through the Red Sea, causing the waters to stand as a heap on both sides. And the cloud was a light and sun and shield to Israel, while it was a light which was hidden from the Egyptians so that the latter had to walk in the darkness of eternal night! They did not see the miraculous work of the LORD’S grace! Yet it was a miraculous work of grace indeed for Israel.
EGYPT HAS NO FAITH
Faith is the gift of God. This faith was withheld from the Egyptians as well as the promises. They were not told the LORD’S war strategy. Hence, they were taken in their own craftiness, as the wicked ever are. They had only worldly wisdom which is made foolishness by the Lord. The Lord fooled them into following into the dry river-bed of the Red Sea. However, they did not do so upon God’s command but were impelled by their lust to destroy Israel. And God caused the waters of the sea to return upon them, to swallow them up. It was a horrifying and terrifying experience. They knew it was no mere law of nature. The LORD looked through the cloud with a light more brilliant than the sun; they saw the face of the LORD against them in this cloud. Their chariots went hard, the wheels were removed, and the waters swallowed up Egypt. They could not please God; they walked not in the faith of Israel.
Let us as Israel by faith cross the Red Sea without murmuring at the ways of the Almighty!