[This post is one of the sections from our recently published Bible study guide available for free download]
Pharaoh obstinately refuses to listen to Moses despite the miraculous signs sent by God. Only after ten supernatural plagues against the Egyptians does Pharaoh finally relent and allow the Israelites to depart. The final plague is the death of the firstborn sons. On this night of slaughter, however, God passes over the homes of the Israelites, sparing their firstborn sons. At this time God commands Moses to institute the feast of the Passover as a perpetual memorial to God’s mercy on his people. At the Passover the Israelites were to sacrifice a lamb and to put the lamb’s blood on the door posts and lintel of their houses as a sign that God would pass over their home.
“Then Moses called for all the elders of Israel, and said unto them, Draw out and take you a lamb according to your families, and kill the passover. And ye shall take a bunch of hyssop, and dip it in the blood that is in the bason, and strike the lintel and the two side posts with the blood that is in the bason; and none of you shall go out at the door of his house until the morning. For the LORD will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when he seeth the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side posts, the LORD will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come in unto your houses to smite you. And ye shall observe this thing for an ordinance to thee and to thy sons for ever. And it shall come to pass, when ye be come to the land which the LORD will give you, according as he hath promised, that ye shall keep this service. And it shall come to pass, when your children shall say unto you, What mean ye by this service? That ye shall say, It is the sacrifice of the LORD’S passover, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt, when he smote the Egyptians, and delivered our houses. And the people bowed the head and worshipped.” (Exodus 12:21-27)
Because the final plague finally breaks Pharaoh’s will and causes him to let the Israelites go, the Passover is a celebration of God’s deliverance of his people from bondage. The liberation of the Passover and the slain lamb both point towards Christ and his atonement on the Cross. Christ died for us and his blood averts God’s wrath. Moses leads the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt, while Christ leads his people, the spiritual Israel, out of the bondage of sin and death.
Although Pharaoh allows the Israelites to leave Egypt, God soon hardens his heart and causes the Egyptians to pursue the Israelites.
“And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, that he shall follow after them; and I will be honoured upon Pharaoh, and upon all his host; that the Egyptians may know that I am the LORD. And they did so.” (Exodus 14:4)
God gains honor and glory through the defeat of his enemies. The purpose of history is not to satisfy the desires of men or to bring about their self-fulfillment. The purpose of history is to glorify God and to manifest his power to all creatures.
Throughout the book of Exodus the Israelites display a shocking lack of faith in God. Despite the fact that they witness one miracle after another, they still grumble against the LORD and against his servant Moses, falsely thinking that God has let them down or will fail to fulfill his promise. This lack of faith often appears when the Israelites fear for their physical well-being. In these circumstances the faithless Israelites wish that they were back in Egypt, openly declaring that they preferred a comfortable
slavery to God’s deliverance.
“And when Pharaoh drew nigh, the children of Israel lifted up their eyes, and, behold, the Egyptians marched after them; and they were sore afraid: and the children of Israel cried out unto the LORD. And they said unto Moses, Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness? wherefore hast thou dealt thus with us, to carry us forth out of Egypt? 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. And Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will shew to you to day: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever. The LORD shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace.” (Exodus 14:10-14)
The Christian has been freed from the slavery of sin, but he is still often tempted to return to the sinful comforts of his past life. Although the Christian struggle can be difficult, God is faithful to fight for us and to bring us to a final and eternal victory.
“And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.” (1Thessolonians 5:23,24)
To save his people from Pharaoh, God brings them across the Red Sea and drowns the Egyptian army behind them:
“And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground: and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left. And the Egyptians pursued, and went in after them to the midst of the sea, even all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. And it came to pass, that in the morning watch the LORD looked unto the host of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and of the cloud, and troubled the host of the Egyptians, And took off their chariot wheels, that they drave them heavily: so that the Egyptians said, Let us flee from the face of Israel; for the LORD fighteth for them against the Egyptians. And the LORD said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand over the sea, that the waters may come again upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen. And Moses stretched forth his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to his strength when the morning appeared; and the Egyptians fled against it; and the LORD overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea. And the waters returned, and covered the chariots, and the horsemen, and all the host of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them; there remained not so much as one of them.” (Exodus 14:21-28)
This miraculous physical salvation of the Israelites points to the miraculous spiritual salvation of Christian believers. The apostle Paul compares the crossing of the Red Sea to baptism in the New Covenant:
“…I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” (1Corinthians 10:1-2)
Just as the waters of the Red Sea free the Israelites from their old lives in Egypt, so the waters of baptism save us from our old lives in the world (1 Peter 3:21). As we shall see, Paul gives spiritual significance to other miracles that God performs later on in the Exodus narrative as well.
After seeing the manifestation of God’s power in the destruction of the Egyptians, Moses and the children of Israel sing a song of praise to the LORD, celebrating him as a great warrior.
“The LORD is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation: he is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation; my father’s God, and I will exalt him. The LORD is a man of war: the LORD is his name. Pharaoh’s chariots and his host hath he cast into the sea: his chosen captains also are drowned in the Red sea. The depths have covered them: they sank into the bottom as a stone. Thy right hand, O LORD, is become glorious in power: thy right hand, O LORD, hath dashed in pieces the enemy.” (Exodus 15:2-6)
The entire Bible, both the Old and the New Testaments, is divine revelation from God. Only by studying the entire Bible can we gain an accurate idea of God’s nature. Many unorthodox Christian movements attempt to distort the full revelation of God by selectively quoting from Scripture and ignoring the passages that contradict their position. In modern times, left-wing pacifist types have come up with slogans like “Who would Jesus bomb?”, implying that any sort of military action would go against the Bible. These pacifists forget that Jesus is God, and that he has been present from the beginning of creation and throughout history. God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, and in Exodus he drowned the Egyptian army in the Red Sea in order to manifest his strength. As Moses sings, our God is a “man of war.”