Here we should pause and ask some pastoral questions about the scene before us: Who set this stage? Who is in control of the details of Israel’s story at this point, the Israelites or God? Who brought them into Egypt four hundred years earlier to preserve their lives in the midst of an imminent famine? Who raised Joseph to second in Egypt to be a father and protector for His people? Who caused them to grow numerically from a small host to a company more innumerable than the sand on the seashore? Who defeated Egypt and all their gods falsely so-called? Who is the God of the sea?
Exodus 14:11–12 records a remarkable profession of anti-faith by the people of Israel. They ask 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.” It is hard to imagine a more rebellious slap in God’s face than this. After all that He had done to show Himself faithful and strong, it is heartbreaking to hear what the people of God said to Moses. And yet we should ask ourselves honestly, Would we have done any different? We all crumble at weak moments, and sadly, we have all had seasons of doubt in which, no matter how many times God has shown Himself faithful, we still doubt His faithfulness. The storms of this life often toss us to and fro, and though He never abandons us, we often lose sight of the God of the storm in the midst of the sea.
“But God . . .” Those are always wonderful words. God, who set this stage, had a plan for this conflict. Once more, Israel would “stand still and watch” as God performed yet another mighty act of redemption on the stage of world history. God parted the sea. In what is arguably one of the most amazing miracles recorded in Scripture, God caused the waters of the Red Sea to stand up on either side, creating a passage for safe journey through the midst of the sea. And Israel would walk through as on dry ground. Not even mud would stick to their shoes as they passed through the bottom of the sea, for God had dried the water up. Though this is often overlooked as an incidental detail, it is actually quite important. Bodies of water (and water itself) are often symbolic of God’s judgment in Scripture. That is certainly the case here. Israel was led to the Red Sea not by accident but by the sovereign hand of a gracious God who intended to set yet another stage on which He would display His glory in the context of redemptive judgment. And so He did. The Israelites passed through the water of judgment on dry ground, but when the Egyptians attempted to do the same, the two walls of water came swiftly upon them and swallowed them up (every one of them) in a tempestuous gulp of divine judgment.
This event ought to make us think of our baptism and the promises that lie behind it, for two reasons. First, Scripture elsewhere (see 1 Cor. 10:1–2) refers to the Red Sea event as a baptism. Second, nearing the end of His earthly ministry, Jesus said that He had yet another baptism to undergo, and how distressed He was until it was fulfilled (Luke 12:50). He was referring to His death at the cross. Jesus, our great King and Savior, had to be buried in death for us. The floodwaters of God’s judgment had to sweep over Him so that we might pass safely through those waters in the day of judgment. The absence of the sea in the book of Revelation (Rev. 21:1), as has been noted by many, is a figurative way of saying that the very place of judgment seen in Scripture (the sea) has now become a thing of the past. Those who are in Christ shall safely traverse those eschatological (end times) waters and rest safely on the on the other side because Jesus Christ is our great Redeemer who has undergone judgment in our place.
The sea is indeed a beautiful sight, especially when the waters are still and tranquil. Thanks be to our God—the God of the storm—who leads us not simply to those waters (even if they appear threatening), but also through them triumphantly in Jesus Christ.