Dr. Mark Scott wrote this treatment of the International Sunday School Lesson. Scott teaches preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College, Joplin, Missouri. This lesson treatment is published in issue no. 2 (weeks 5-8; February 2-23, 2020) of The Lookout magazine, and is also available online at www.lookoutmag.com.
Lesson Aim: Trust the Lord to honor his promises in spite of what appear to be overwhelming obstacles.
By Mark Scott
Abraham Lincoln will be remembered this month. He delivered his powerful 271-word address at the Gettysburg Battlefield/Cemetery on November 19, 1863. One line from it is, “That these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom.” The nation of Israel needed the same thing. She had been in bondage long enough. Last month we considered how Israel was “delivered” from slavery. This month we will study how those delivered slaves would form a “new nation.”
When you visit Israel you can purchase a T-shirt that says, “Red Sea, Med Sea, Dead Sea.” The land of Israel does have some water around it. Our text only mentions the Red Sea. But what happened there ended up making it a dead sea and, conversely, a life sea.
The Roadblock of the Red Sea | Exodus 13:17–14:4
Israel celebrated her freedom from Egypt with a Passover Festival that was followed by the Feast of Unleavened Bread. God slew the firstborn of Egypt but allowed Israel to consecrate their firstborn (Exodus 13). Since this new nation was battle ready but not battle tested, God allowed them to take the long road home. The shorter route to the land flowing with milk and honey would be through the Philistine territory via Beersheba and the upper Negev. So God led them south to the roadblock of the Red Sea.
Two details are mentioned about their journey: bearing the bones of one of their former leaders and the GPS that would guide them. The bones of the patriarch Joseph were carried by the Israelites to the new land to fulfill a promise that his descendants made to him (Genesis 50:25). This reminds one of the promise of the “land” from which the Messiah would come.
Five places are mentioned as early stops for Israel. As they left their home in Goshen they journeyed to Sukkoth and then to Etham (just south of Sukkoth). They might have wandered north a bit to Migdol since that is closer to the Med (Mediterranean) Sea. But then they moved south to Pi Hahiroth and Baal Zephon. The text even says they were wandering around the land in confusion (perplexed or entangled). But God knew what he was doing. His GPS was the best. By day he led them with a pillar of cloud and by night he led them with a pillar of fire. Clouds and fire were symbols of God’s presence, showing that God was really the one leading them—or his angel (Exodus 14:19).
As it worked out, the desert and the Red Sea hemmed (shut or imprisoned) Israel in. But God had one overall goal in leading them this way. He wanted to gain glory for himself and reveal his true identity to the Egyptians one more time. Sometimes Pharaoh hardened his heart, sometimes Pharaoh’s heart was hardened. But in this text God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (Cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12). The roadblock of the Red Sea was about to give way.
The Red Sea that Became the Dead Sea | Exodus 14:21-31
It did not take Pharaoh long to realize that he had expelled his workforce. He gathered his army, 600 chariots, and took out after Israel. With mountains around them, Pharaoh behind them, and the Red Sea in front of them, Israel believed that they were doomed (14:10-12). Nothing could have been less true. With God’s protection standing between the enemy army and Israel, the Red Sea miraculously divided. All night God blew with a strong east wind (Spirit) and opened a path through the sea and dried up the ground for Israel’s safe passage. Does this mean that they actually traveled from south to north as they crossed?
When the Egyptians attempted to follow, their chariot wheels got jammed so that they drove with difficulty, and they were thrown into confusion. With Israel safe on the other shore, God released the waters and the Egyptians were swept away in the Red Sea. There were no survivors.
Israel was now officially a new nation. God had redeemed them. The mighty hand of the Lord, that can be trusted yet today, saved them. The Red Sea became the Dead Sea (not literally) for Pharaoh and his army. But it became a place of life for the new nation of Israel. Similar to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, the news was delivered at a place of death though the main metaphor in the speech was one of conception and life. Israel saw, feared, and put their trust in God and in Moses. In fact, years later Paul would say, “And all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and the sea” (1 Corinthians 10:2, ESV).
Lesson study ©2019, Christian Standard Media. Print and digital subscribers are permitted to make one print copy per week of lesson material for personal use. Lesson based on the scope and sequence, ©2019 by Christian Standard Media. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.
Image: Crossing the Red Sea, an oil painting (circa 1630-35) by Cornelis de Wael (1592–1662). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.