“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.’ And Moses said to the people, ‘Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.’ Exodus 14:10-14
Israel has just seen God’s miraculous, saving work in their lives: after 430 (!) years of oppression at the hands of the Egyptians, God had used Moses to negotiate their release. For the first time in years, the people are walking in freedom, headed toward the land that God has promised them. Can you imagine their elation? Their sense of relief? The hope they must have felt?
But, oh, how quickly their emotions change as they see Pharaoh and his chariots approaching.
How was this even possible?! They had done everything God had asked them to, even camped where He told them to, and yet Pharaoh draws near. Panic comes quickly, crashing into their minds like waves. You can hear it in their cry, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away….?”
Let’s unpack Israel’s emotions and Moses’ instruction to them to better understand the role of silence in their next steps.
1. Panic. When you see the ruler of the country you just fled approaching with a myriad of chariots, it seems like an understandable reaction. But, there are some important things the Israelites have already forgotten in this moment:
God told them where to camp – He knew where they were. (Ex. 14:1-2)
God had promised them salvation from the very beginning of this story. (Ex. 3:16-17)
Don’t we often respond in the same way when circumstances change quickly or we see an intimidating foe headed our way? We too are forgetful, panicky people.
2. Doubt. Not only had the people forgotten God’s promises, they’re also doubting God. Jumping to completely illogical conclusions as they do. They assume the very worst about God and His character, questioning whether He just brought them to a more convenient place to die. He just delivered them from centuries-long oppression and they’re worried that it has only been a means to convenient destruction. It sounds crazy when you say it like that, doesn’t it? But again, aren’t we the same way? How often do we assume the worst about who God is and how He will care for us? We tend toward doubt, even though He’s made His sovereignty, love, and care for us clear.
3. Yearning for the familiar. Though it’s hard to believe, the people actually say, “it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” In their panic and doubt, they claim that oppression is better than freedom—pining for the familiar, even if the familiar was nearly unbearable. Longing for the very thing they could not wait to escape, they are willing to settle for far less than God intended. Again, I see myself in Israel’s story. When I long for the familiar, I am far too easily satisfied. Distracted, I will settle for far less than what God offers me.
1. Fear not. Right away Moses addresses their panic with an imperative to “Fear not.” Sometimes all you need is the reminder that you actually play a role. Pharaoh is coming, but Moses reminds the people that they have a choice in how they will respond.
2. Stand firm. As in, “Remember that we’re exactly where God told us to go!” Stand firm! God directed them and they obeyed, so they can stand firm in their circumstance. We have the same ability!
3. See the salvation of the Lord. Oh man, these are sweet words, aren’t they? Moses reminds Israel yet again that their redemption has already been secured. God has promised their salvation and He will do the work it requires.
4. Be silent. Isn’t this a glorious instruction? In the midst of panic, doubt, and fear, Moses tells them to just be quiet and reminds them that God is the one fighting for them. He has been all along and He will continue to do so. They had no idea what God was about to do—to part the waters of the Red Sea and let His chosen people cross to safety on dry ground. He had already planned His provision for their need and all they had to do was be silent and let Him fight.
Where are you today, friend? What part of Israel’s response to their circumstances do you most identify with in trial? Are you panicking? Doubting? Settling? And which piece of Moses’ instruction to Israel do you need to hear? Fear not? Stand firm? See His salvation? Just be quiet and let Him fight?
This silence is the type of silence I long for! No fear. No clamoring for approval or attention. No doubting help that has already been promised and secured by Christ. Instead, a silence that trusts God to be who He says He is when I need Him to be that the most. Praise God!