Open Exodus 14:1-9.
Freedom! The Israelites are no longer Pharaoh’s slaves. They’re marching out of Egypt with a new identity: the people of YHWH! Their king is present in cloud and fire. He leads them south towards the Sinai Peninsula. There they will discover his character, and covenant with him to be his people.
But … there’s a problem. See that dust rising into the northern sky? It’s gaining on them. At chariot speed. The Middle East’s most powerful army is coming to take them captive again.
Ten times, Pharaoh has been conclusively shown to be just a man. He publicly admitted he had no claim over Jacob’s descendants (9:27). He decreed they were free to go (12:31). But Pharaoh can’t let them go! He gathers his instruments of death (his army) to force the Hebrews back under his power.
They’re trapped. Caught between the mountains, the sea, and Pharaoh’s army, it’s a dead end.
Pharaoh’s treachery isn’t unique. He’s driven, himself a slave to evil. It’s been like this since the beginning when the rebellion began. When people grasp power to be like gods, we become demons. That’s what drives all the violence.
Lust for power drives the rebellion against God. That’s what enslaves humanity.
This is the Bible’s core story. Israel’s special calling was to be the unique nation under God’s reign, the representative kingdom of God, a light revealing to the nations how things were meant to be on earth. But the rebellion won’t let them be. If the rebellion against God’s reign wasn’t embodied in Pharaoh, it was Philistia, Syria, Assyria, Babylon, Rome — whoever held power.
The Jews were still in servitude to Rome when Jesus was born. Even as a baby, God’s anointed king was viewed as a threat to “King” Herod. In the end, the rulers of this world declared him to be a threat that must be eliminated: “King of the Jews,” crucified by rebels, in order to keep their power.
Bible scholars sometimes talk about Jesus “recapitulating” Israel’s story, as if these were merely parallel events or discourse patterns. It’s far more than that. It’s the same core problem recurring throughout history. Sin is rebellion against God’s kingship. That’s the reason Pharaoh held the Hebrews as slaves. That’s why Pharaoh couldn’t let go: he’s a slave to the lust for power. And the basis for the power of sin is the power of death. That’s why Pharaoh brought his army to force them back into slavery.
The kingdom of God is here, but the treacherous who resist his reign are still in rebellion. Addicted to power, they cannot let go. Like slaves of powers they don’t understand, the modern Pharaohs are still fighting against earth’s true king and those who give him their allegiance.
The temptation is to grasp the levers of power and fight back against the abuse of power. Our king forbids it. He calls us to march into the sea, and trust him to make a way through. He calls us to take up our crosses and march on into what looks like our death, trusting that this is the way the kingdom of God is established.
When you were baptized, you recognized the world could only be rescued from evil by divine intervention. You marched into the sea, identifying with Jesus in his death. You emerged as a follower of the one who went into death as the path to restore God’s reign. Now as you find yourself in this wilderness, don’t allow fear or the idolatry of this world’s rulers turn your hope away from our true sovereign. God provides “a way of escape” — through the sea, through participation in the death and resurrection life of our king (1 Corinthians 10:1-13).
At the Red Sea, the Hebrews found themselves in transition between earthly rule and heavenly rule. In many ways, the church of Jesus Christ is still in this phase: already under God, yet threatened by the powers that rely on death. The Exodus story encourages us to look forward to the final release. The resurrection of Jesus guarantees it: he has already overcome the powers of evil and death.
Taking up your cross instead of fighting back may seem like a dead end, but it will work. Step into the sea. Trust him to make a way through. The reign of evil will fail. Our sovereign will bring humanity back under his governance.
Trust him. Even when it feels like we’re marching into the sea.