Lessons from Israel: No.23 : God of Strategy – Again
Ex 14:1-3 Then the LORD said to Moses, 2″Tell the Israelites to turn back and encamp near Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea. They are to encamp by the sea, directly opposite Baal Zephon. 3Pharaoh will think, ‘The Israelites are wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed in by the desert.’
As we have been considering what we can learn from the revelation of the Lord with His activity with Moses as he prepares to make Israel into a nation, we have seen a number of things about the Lord which overlap. For instance we have seen that the Lord knows all about us, and He knows how we will act. He also has plans, things that He wants to achieve to reveal Himself to the inhabitants of the earth. Knowing how we will respond, He works through those plans to take account of that. He has seen His people being enslaved by this idol-worshipping despot in Egypt and determines to bring judgment upon him, but it is not as simple as that because He wants the world to see and know and understand.
As we’ve noted before, the Lord could have killed Pharaoh outright at the beginning but instead He chose to give Pharaoh the choice – again and again – to submit to Him and avoid each of the ‘plagues’, but Pharaoh revealed his pride and stupidity and allowed his nation to suffer. Yet at the end of the last plague, Pharaoh is still alive! Why? Because God is yet going to show once more his folly, and this time it will be folly that will destroy him. In the annals of history you can never say Pharaoh wasn’t given every chance. At the end of the day his death was his own fault, as it is for every person who refuses the Lord again and again throughout their lives today, and thus fail to enter heaven. It is entirely their own folly!
Now, to return to the account of Israel leaving Egypt: so far we have seen them leaving and everything looks well but, as we’ve just noted, the Lord knows us and know how we will react and so sees that Pharaoh has never come to a place of repentance and so is still a candidate for judgment, but it will be a judgment he will bring on himself. How is that going to happen? The Lord is simply going to make Israel look vulnerable so instead of escaping directly out of the land by the easy route to the north east, He has Moses lead them down the ‘coast’ so it looks like they are hemmed in by the shore, and appear to not know where they are going. Surely they have made a mistake, surely they are wandering aimlessly, surely they are vulnerable and weak.
See what the Lord says about Pharaoh. “Pharaoh will think, ‘The Israelites are wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed in by the desert.” Yes, Pharaoh will see and Pharaoh will reason – wrongly! Why? “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them.” (v.4a) All it needs is for the Lord to whisper in Pharaoh ear, ‘Why don’t you go after them,’ and the pride in his heart will rise up and he will steel himself against all that he knows has happened recently and will go after them.
If we have never put to death the old self-centred sinful nature in us when we came to Christ, we will always be vulnerable to the temptations that the Lord allows to come through the enemy. The path is quite clear: we surrender our lives to the Lord – and that means totally – and so we crucify and put to death the old sin nature (Rom 6:11,12) because it has already been crucified and put to death; we’ve just go to believe it and act accordingly and make that an act of will that brings our experience in line with God’s will. Until we do we will be vulnerable to the attacks of temptation.
The Lord knows Pharaoh is still full of pride and so He is going to deal with him: “I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD.” (v.4b) God is going to create a miracle to enable Israel to leave Egypt but that miracle is not there for Pharaoh and so it will be the means of his death, but that is of his own choosing. So the Lord has laid out his strategy to Moses and so we read quite simply, “So the Israelites did this.” (v.4c) At the moment they don’t realise the significance of what they are doing. We’ll see in the next meditation their agitation when they realise what is happening but for the moment they are at peace – which is more than can be said for Pharaoh: “When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds about them and said, “What have we done? We have let the Israelites go and have lost their services!” So he had his chariot made ready and took his army with him.” (v.5,6)
Here they go! It’s just as the Lord said it would be – not because He made them do it, but simply because He knew that that’s what their sinful, foolish hearts would do. Pharaoh, you really don’t want to do this! Oh yes, I do, I’ve had it up to here with these Israelites; now I’m going to sort them once and for all! You really don’t want to do this! Oh yes I do! Here in today’s world is the man who starts letting his eyes stray from his wife to other women. You really don’t want to do that! Oh yes I do. Oh you foolish man! Have you never read, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction.” (Gal 6:7,8) Be warned! Whatever the sin, the same is true. You won’t get away with it. Step back, step away from it while you can and before it’s too late!