Full of fear at the prospect of being destroyed by the Egyptians for leaving enslavement, the Israelites complained as they saw Pharaoh’s army about to catch them near the Red Sea. Instead of believing that the Lord would save them once again, Israel told Moses that it would have been better for them to have died as slaves than to be killed in the wilderness (Ex. 14:10–12). It would be easy for us to be hard on the Israelites for their lack of faith, but we must take care to remember how often we act just like them. Even though we have seen God’s mighty hand of providence do good for us, in times of darkness and difficulty we likewise can forget what the Lord has done. Thus, Scripture often calls us to remember the Lord’s great works so that we will be encouraged to continue trusting in our Creator when things are at their worst (Deut. 8; Ps. 105:5; 1 Cor. 11:23–26; 2 Tim. 2:8).
Thankfully, God is exceedingly gracious and did not respond in wrath to the Israelites’ lack of trust, as we see in today’s passage. Moses does not condemn the people but rather encourages them to keep on looking to the Lord for their salvation (Ex. 14:13–14). Matthew Henry comments, “God bore with the provocation they gave to him, and did not (as he might justly have done) chose their delusions, and bring their fears upon them.” Such is the Lord’s patience with us that He does not quickly bring upon His people the severest discipline but continues to show mercy to them, His patience seeking to bring them to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).
Moses encourages the people of Israel in Exodus 14:13–14 not to fear but to have faith. Egypt’s approach will give the Israelites an opportunity to see the Lord work yet again and to fully and finally defeat Pharaoh. There is even a sense here that this trouble is a good thing. After all, God has already promised that He will “get glory over Pharaoh and all his host” (vv. 1–4), and if the Egyptian army were not in hot pursuit of Israel, there would be no chance for the Lord to keep His word. Considering Israel’s trouble from that perspective helps us reframe our own difficulties. If our lives were easy all the time, we would hardly be able to see God’s sustaining hand in our difficulties and thus to know that He truly remains with us always (see Matt. 28:20).
At this point, Israel must only believe God. They do not have to fear their lack of battle prowess, for the Lord will fight for them (Ex. 14:14). He continues to fight for His people today (Ps. 24:7–10).