Originally published Tuesday, 10 December 2013.
God's people were hard pressed. Slaves to a foreign king, the Israelites cried out to God to intercede on their behalf. Their cries were heard, and scripture tells us "God saw the people of Israel––and God knew" (Exodus 2:25, emphasis mine). He knew their distress––knew their pain––and would soon come bringing deliverance along with Him.
We all know what happened next in the story––Moses, the burning bush, the plagues on Egypt––all resulting in Pharaoh's reluctant release of God's chosen. The Israelites were free. Set free by the heavy hand of God upon an unbelieving ruler.
The story is familiar. So familiar, in fact, that we often miss treasures––hidden just below the surface––that are intended to bring greater depth and richness to that which has become commonplace. I just love how God's Word is inexhaustible––there are always more treasures to be found. A few months ago, I sat reading Exodus 14 and was astounded by new truths that emerged out of such a well-known story.
Right before Exodus 14, the people had been set free. God then led Israel with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night that the people might travel both day and night out of Egypt to the shoreline of the Red Sea on their way to the promised land. At this point, as you most likely know, Pharaoh changed his mind and began to pursue God's people in order to bring them back into slavery. God's people––standing at the edge of the Red Sea––were trapped, it seemed.
Exodus 14:10-12 tells us, "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.'”
Moses responded and said, "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 14:13-14, emphasis mine).
Now this is where it gets interesting. Moses said, "stand firm." But in response, God said, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward" (Exodus 14:15).
Why do you cry out to Me?
But I thought we were supposed to cry out to God. I thought that crying out to God would be the appropriate course of action in a situation like this––or in any situation, for that matter. Why would God pose this question?
Remember, God was leading them. He led them to that shoreline––to that place that now seemed to ensnare. But instead of delivering His people right then and there, God told His people to, "go forward." And I believe so much is contained within that command. I believe God was essentially saying, I have already told you what you need to do. I told you to follow Me out of Egypt. You did, and this is where I led you. I know it looks like you have reached a dead-end, but you haven't. Keep going forward in the direction I have led and watch Me work. You do what I told you to do. Believe Me. And I will move on your behalf.
God told Moses, "Lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go through the sea on dry ground," and Moses did (Exodus 14:16, 21). The angel of God who had been going before Israel in cloud and fire moved behind, taking up the rear––becoming their rear-guard––standing between Israel and the Egyptian army. God's people moved forward, Moses stretched his hand over the sea––just as God commanded––and God went to work, driving the sea back and dividing the waters.
Through the night, with Moses as their lead and God protecting their rear, God's people walked on dry ground through the Red Sea, as Egypt pursued to no avail. Come morning, God told Moses to stretch his hand back over the sea that the waters would cover and destroy the Egyptian army. Moses obeyed, and God worked, gaining victory over Egypt for His people. And all the people feared and believed in God that day.
Here's the thing. God has invited us to participate in His story of redemption. The Christian life is not one of passivity. I know I've said this before, but I believe we need frequent reminders of such important messages. We are called to do our part.
How many times have you prayed for deliverance from a situation in your life, didn't see it, and wondered why God did not move? Could it be that you did not do your part, and that you expected God to work alone when He had made it perfectly clear what your role would be in the situation?
Could it be that you're waiting for God to heal you physically, yet you haven't done your part by eating better, exercising more, and consistently following your doctor's advice?
Could it be that you're waiting for God to bring you a new job, yet you haven't taken the time to gain the necessary skills required?
Could it be that you're waiting for God to provide more monitory resources, yet you haven't made a budget and implemented necessary cuts to your spending habits?
Could it be that you're waiting for God to redeem your marriage, yet you haven't taken initiative to love your spouse as Christ loves you?
I know these things are difficult. I'm speaking to myself as much as I'm speaking to you, but how long will it take for us to realize that oftentimes when we cry out to God to fix our circumstances, God is saying, "Why do you cry out to Me? I've already told you what you need to do. Now, just do it (with the empowerment of the Spirit that you already have, of course). And once you do what you can do, I will do what only I can do." Make no mistake, God is the one who accomplished the work. But He has given us a role to play.
Sometimes, I think God allows us to stay in our Egypt until we are willing to do that which He tells us to do.
But we do need to cry out to God. It's not that crying out to Him is wrong. You see, the Israelites did cry out to God in the beginning, as we should. And when they did, God began to move. So we do need to cry out to God, asking Him to intervene in our situations, but the Israelites had already done that. God was already moving. He had already told them to follow Him. To go forward. But then, once fear took hold, their trust in the Lord waned, provoking them to cry out once again for deliverance, while paralyzed by fear.
But we need not allow fear or laziness or lack of faith to stop us from doing our part. As Christ followers, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to do everything God calls us to do. And as we follow God, He may lead us to a point that seems to be a dead end, but it will never be to our demise, for God is faithful to work all things for our good.
Our dead ends are where God begins that He might display His glory in the face of the impossible.
So, do your part. And God will do His.