By Adam Brown –
29By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned (Hebrews 11:29).
The crossing of the Red Sea is a foundational moment in the formation of Israel’s identity as God’s chosen nation. Before this moment, they had been slaves. After this moment, they were free. We read about this miraculous historical moment in Exodus 14.
It is interesting to note that God instructed Moses to encamp the 2 million – or so – men, women, and children between Migdol and the sea (Exodus 14:1-2). This was a very vulnerable place to rest, since there was no escape route should the Egyptian army pursue them. This was precisely the point! God told Moses that He would harden Pharaoh’s heart and put it into his mind to advance against his former slaves (Exodus 14:3-9).
As the Egyptian army approached Israel, we initially do not see a great expression of faith:
When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly. And the people of Israel cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” (Exodus 14:10-12)
In light of this, it is curious that the writer of Hebrews recalls the faith of Israel in this moment. How can he conclude that Israel had faith? The answer comes in Exodus 14:19-22:
Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the cloud and the darkness. And it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night. Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. (Exodus 14:19-22)
Once God had made an exceptional display of His awesome power, Israel mustered enough courage by faith to walk on dry ground between the parted waters.
Notice how feeble this faith really was. Look how much God had to do before Israel showed any faith in their God. So often we are like Israel. We require a mighty act of God to prompt our faith. The good news is this, in His tender mercy, God delights to do such awesome wonders in order to instil greater faith in His children. We ought to take courage that, just as the father who came to Jesus and His apostles to exorcise the demon from his son, we can cry to God, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).
The mightiest act God ever did was raise Jesus from the dead. Having died for the sin of the world, Jesus conquered death by bodily resurrection. In this way, Israel’s passage through the Red Sea is a picture of death and resurrection. Israel “was baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Corinthians 10:2). Before they passed through the waters they were dead slaves. On the other side of the Red Sea they were alive and free. It was God who glorified Himself. All Israel needed to do was walk, one step at a time, by faith, from death to life and from slavery to freedom.