Keep on Moving
Then the Lord said to Moses, "Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. (Exodus 14:15)
Sermon #2, January 14, 2018
Medical science encourages us to keep moving. Our family doctors want to know if we are moving and not spending a lot of time on the couch! They often talk about the benefits of staying active. The benefits are enormous: Weight loss, less depression, improved physical fitness, and many others. Whether people move around a lot or not, they tend to agree with them.
In today's Scripture, God tells his people to move on. God had led them out of Egypt and was leading them to the promised land. He commands them to move on not for physical benefits or general health improvement. Rather he commands them to move on despite approaching danger. Pharaoh was chasing God's people in the wilderness with the intent to return them to bondage, God knew what Pharaoh was doing and still tells them to move on. Clearly, God's response was incredible and awesome.
The Israelites were terrified. When they looked up and saw Pharaoh's great army chasing them, they expressed their terror to Moses:
"They said to Moses, "Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Didn't we say to you in Egypt, 'Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians'? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!" (Exodus 14:11-12)
Why is it that people in general seem to value going back to old places, times and things, when trouble arises in their lives? It always seems like they are saying, "You know, things use to be better for us in the past." This seems to be a very common response of people whether they are Christians or not in the time of trouble. The Israelites are clear in their response to the approaching Egyptians, and the danger they associated with them catching up to them there in the desert. They are clear in their response to Moses. In their minds, they should have stayed in Egypt.
What's hard to understand about their response in the time of trouble is that they seem to completely forget what life was really like when they were slaves in Egypt. They seem to forget their own spoken words:
"The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out" (Exodus 2:23)
"15 Then the Israelite overseers went and appealed to Pharaoh: "Why have you treated your servants this way? 16 Your servants are given no straw, yet we are told, 'Make bricks!' Your servants are being beaten, but the fault is with your own people." (Exodus 5:15-16).
Now, that trouble is all around them here in the desert, they don't seem to think their past lives were that bad. Not only that but they seem to have forgot all the plagues God had visited upon the Egyptians to free them from Pharaoh. They seem to have forgotten the Passover and that God delivered them out of bondage. What is it that we seem to value about going backwards in the time of trouble?
Moses knew better. He apparently saw zero value in going back to Egypt. In fact, his response to the complaining people was one of great trust in God despite the approaching Egyptians:
13 Moses answered the people, "Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still." (Exodus 14:13-14)
Though Moses spoke with great faith in God despite trouble on the horizon from the approaching Egyptians, he cried out to God just as his people did. God's response to him was:
"Tell the Israelites to move on." (Exodus 14:15b)
With those few words God set in motion the people's path through the sea. Their path through the sea is not Charlton Hesston's or Cecil DeMille's "The Ten Commandments" version. It's the version the writer of Exodus gives us. God opened up the sea. God caused walls of water within the sea; walls of water that stood up on the right and left sides of the people as they passed through the sea.
The people passed through on dry ground.
The people had divine company. The angel who was in front of the people moved to rear, between the Egyptian army and God's people. The cloud that was also in front of the people moved to the rear to be between the Egyptians and God's people. Additionally, the strong east wind God used throughout the night to keep the water divided and walls of water up for the people to pass through the sea.
When all God's people were out of the sea, God drowned Pharaoh and his army. The outcome for Pharaoh and his army is captured with these words:
30 That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore.
So, there was no going back to Egypt. God meant it when he told Moses and his people to move on. That's the message for God's people even when we face trouble. We may be tempted to go back but we are to go forward no matter how difficult it may seem to be. I have seen how this temptation plays out when parents are raising children. When their children are small, they find raising them a delight. They just love them to death. But when they reach adolescence and get addicted to electronics, seem to lack motivation, want to sleep all the time, refuse to clean up their rooms, love staying out until the wee hours of the morning, those same parents want to get rid of them and hurry back to those wonderful and delightful days when their children were small and easy to raise. But the fact is parents must move on and do the very best they can to raise their adolescences even if they have become incorrigible!
Also, I have seen this same behavior in Americans. When things get difficult in our country like they are now, we seek ways to go back to the "Good old days." We become very nostalgic! We saw a perfect example of this behavior when the 2016 campaign slogan "MAKE AMERICAN GREAT AGAIN" was used umpteenth times. That slogan appears to have been perfect for the hard times our country was going through. So, it appealed to us. It is still helping many to deal with the troubles in our country. But the words of God to the Israelites are words we need to hear today: "Move on." "Move on" despite the pain and sorrow about what's happening in our country. "Move on" because God never tells us to go backward. God tells us to go forward. God tells us to "move on. Amen.