Israelites may not have been the first nation to find themselves caught between the devil and the deep sea. But, their story told in the book of Exodus chapter 24 is almost a literal depiction of that situation. In front of them was the Red Sea and behind them was the army of Pharaoh, the ruler who was deadly opposed to the God of Israel and as such a symbol of evil/devil. Moving forward or backward equally spelt death. The situation of Israel was not just perilous but also scandalous, to them as well as to all the believers. This is because they were brought to this situation through their obedience to the instruction of God. It was God Himself who asked Moses to lead the people to the Red Sea although there were other shorter routes to the land of Canaan. As a result of his obedience to God, they found themselves trapped. Thus, the Israelites represent all those who find themselves locked between dangerous alternatives just because they followed the will of God in their lives.
The situation of Moses and his people is a reminder that listening to voice of God and following it do not always save us from all undesirable situations and dilemmas of life. Sometimes we find ourselves in vulnerable, despicable and even dangerous situations exactly because we take heed of the word of God. But, the story also gives us the assurance that in such situations God Himself will reveal His glory, and His power over the evil by rescuing His faithful from His crisis and by destroying the evil.
It is strange that Pharaoh ordered his army to pursue the Hebrews. Why did he send his army to follow the Israelites although he himself knew that it was with his permission that they left Egypt. It means that he regretted his earlier decision. He regretted that he sent the Hebrew slaves away because their cheap labour was a great support for the Egyptian economy. Though his decision to free them was right and just, it cost him much and so he repented on his “just” decision. Thus, Pharaoh stands for all those sinful minds who repent on their good deeds, repent even on their repentance.
Pharaoh’s pursuing the Israelites also has a spiritual lesson to teach. The army of Pharaoh represents all those evil we run away from. It may be our bad character, temperaments, habits, circumstances, companions, and a host of other things. There are times in our life when we fight against them or flee from them. Then for a time being we find ourselves freed from them. But, evil does not relinquishes us so easily. It might follow us with added vigour and will try to overpower us. This is what we see in the picture of Pharaoh’s army pursuing the Hebrews who were already freed by them.
The reaction of the Israelites when they saw the Egyptian army is worth noting. They cried to God. Of course, who will not cry to God when one finds death face to face? But, was it a cry just out of fear of death, or a cry out of faith in God? Sometimes we might misunderstand our emotional upheavals in moments of fear as our earnestness in prayer. May be an easy way to check whether our prayers and praises are born out of fear or faith is to check whether we continue to pray and praise God even when the fear of peril and the excitement of a blessing are gone.
The Hebrews who “prayed” to God, now mercilessly blames Moses for their present crisis. They knew fully well that he was only following the instructions of God. Hence, their accusations against Moses is a clear sign of their lack of faith in God. Their quarrel with Moses illustrates how fast they forgot all the mighty deeds God did for them. The plagues in Egypt, God leading them through the pillar of fire and cloud, all vanished from their memory in a moment. In the face of a new crisis they forgot all that God did to save them from all their crises in the past.
When met with the hurdles on the way to the land of freedom the Hebrews thought that it was better to live in slavery. Freedom comes with a price tag. Those who are accustomed to slavery are reluctant to pay that price.