Exodus 14:2-3, "Speak unto the children of Israel, that they turn and encamp before Pihahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, over against Baalzephon: before it shall ye encamp by the sea. For Pharaoh will say of the children of Israel, They are entangled in the land, the wilderness hath shut them in."
This morning, man still thinks more highly of himself than he ought to think, particularly when so many things happen that he cannot control or govern. Have you ever stopped to ponder just how many things happen on a daily basis and thought of the ratio of things we have some control over to those we have no control over? Just for starters, being time and location bound creatures, we cannot control much if anything that happens in other geographical locations. I have no sway or control over anything in other countries or locales. Yet, even in my local vicinity, so many things happen daily that I cannot control, and I must admit that my limitations are great. So, when great things happen in this world, how foolish would it be for me – a small, limited man – to claim credit for the wondrous thing! Further still, looking at the things I have some control over and my historical record for making large messes in my life, again how foolish would it be for me to claim credit when wondrous things happen in those areas as well.
In our study verses above, we are on the cusp of one of God's great deliverances of the children of Israel. He has just brought them out of Egypt with a high hand. After suffering the ten plagues from the Lord – ending with the death of the firstborn in Egypt – Pharaoh finally relents to let the people go out from Egypt. Yet, the Lord is not through with His work on this wicked ruler. (Romans 9:17) Though the Lord could have directed His people in any direction He was pleased to purpose, He chose one of the most puzzling routes, when looking at it from natural man's perspective.
From the outset, we freely admit that the overarching spiritual application of this passage is a correlation to regeneration. The parallels are too numerous to ignore. All the children of Israel came out of the dark land of Egypt: all of God's children came out of sin, death, and depravity. They came out with a high and victorious hand, spoiling their enemies as they left: God's children come with the righteousness of Jesus Christ being partakers of His spoils over His enemies. Every man, woman, and child went into the banks of the Red Sea dry shod, crossing to the other side: all of God's children land on the other shore by the power of God, fully there by His grace and mercy. Again, the parallels are endless, but let us broaden our thoughts on the study verses to take into account not only the primary application of regeneration or free grace, but also the Lord's providential direction and protection as He did for His children on this occasion.
Looking at the route that God sent His nation in, there seems no path of escape, naturally speaking. With a sea in front of them, mountains on either side of them, and Egypt behind them, surely Pharaoh's thinking has natural merit and validity. The wilderness has shut them in, and they were not even smart enough to take a path that would not entangle them with the land's natural traits. Verse 4 tells us that the Lord specifically shows His power in this decision and will be honoured upon Pharaoh and His host for this action. In other words, God is again doing things according to His good purpose – not some random and haphazard decision – and the end of the day will be marked by an overwhelming manifestation of the power of God and His work of deliverance.
Consider the primary application of this lesson firstly. If regeneration did require a cooperative effort between man and God or even worse a sole effort of man to affect it, who would be honoured? The man would either share or have the glory and honour that rightfully belongs to God. Just as man was the last of God's natural creation (thereby removing any ability man could have to claim creative power over anything), so also man is the last when it comes to his spiritual creation in Christ. He knows nothing of God's eternal purpose beforehand, did not assist Christ in His work of redemption, does not seek the direction or counsel of God one moment before He is created alive in Christ, nor does He yearn for God in the slightest inkling of his being. (Psalm 10:4, Psalm 14:1, Psalm 53:1, Isaiah 1:6, Romans 3:10-18)
Therefore, when regeneration comes to the man, no credit can rightfully be claimed as there was nothing of man's power to affect this change. The children of Israel find themselves "hemmed in" as it were with no observable way of escape. Yet, the way of escape not seen before it arrives proves 100% successful for them and 100% unsuccessful for their enemies. So, also our deliverance from sin, death, hell, and the grave is 100% successful in the person of our Saviour, while He, by the same token, vanquished sin, death, hell, and the grave forever and ever. Do we have the power to control death, hell, sin, or the grave? Short of God's power, we would have been "hemmed in" forever. Short of God's power here, they would have been hemmed in to die at the hands of their enemies.
Moving into the field of providential protection, consider the analogy we started with: just how little we are able to control on a day to day or moment to moment basis. Should there be any doubt that when majestic and marvellous things happen where the source of that thing is? There should not be, though oftentimes man tries to ignore the facts. For the minister, have you ever been carried up and away to a place indescribable? For the hearers, have you ever been carried up and away with the minister when that display and demonstration happens during his discourse? (I Corinthians 2:4) Hopefully, we can answer yes, but what do we make of those times? When such an event happens to the minister (would to God it happened every time though it sadly does not), he many times sits down thinking, "What just happened here?" Oftentimes, I have witnessed while in the congregation a series of muffled "Wows" when the demonstration of the Holy Spirit concluded at the end of the message. Both the speaker and the hearers understood that naturally speaking, nothing that great should have happened.
When surveying the scene of our natural lives, how many times should you have died in your life? The number of times is too numerous for me to count up each occurrence (or perhaps remember them all). Yet, looking back at some of them, I was hemmed up completely with no conceivable way of escape or deliverance. Still, here I am today: alive and walking this earth. Nothing short of the power of God and His providential protection can possibly suffice to explain how our lives continue to this very hour. The wilderness of life does entangle us, and the land seems to constantly shut us in, but the Lord has led us thus far and will continue to lead us on to our bright and heavenly home.
One last thought of providential care and protection is the thought that the church of the Lord Jesus Christ continues to this day. Looking at the bloody pages of church history, there is no naturally conceivable reason that she should still be here, yet she abides on this earth still. Who can study the history of the church without exclaiming a series of "Wows" about the Lord's remarkable providence to provide the way of escape for His faithful, little flock here in this earth? (I Corinthians 10:13) Sometimes the dear and faithful saints suffered the loss of life for following the cause, and sometimes the Lord directed and moved them elsewhere. Yet, she is still alive in this earth today.
Friends, our enemies seek the advantage over us at every turn in the road. Solomon cried that some of our enemies – such as sin and death – are never satisfied to have enough. (Proverbs 30:15-17) Can any doubt the persistence of these two enemies even today? We see them all around us. The enemies of the cross of Christ seek to serve their own bellies and devour the flock of God's heritage, and the enemies of the gospel seek to overthrow the faith of some. (Romans 16:18, II Timothy 2:16-18) In all of these things, we find ourselves "hemmed in" from time to time. Sin, death, hell, and the grave had us hemmed in but for the grace of God in the Person of Jesus Christ. The enemies of the Lord's church seem to hem in God's people, yet the Lord's gracious providence keeps her to this hour.
May our course be to stand still and see the salvation of the Lord. May we move at the command to move, and may our eyes ever be attuned to see the way of escape and deliverance that He graciously puts in our paths. Even if death be our course, that provides escape into the blissful shining portals above. Since death and hell cannot hold us, the experience of death should not frighten us. Since the Lord promised to be with and never leave us nor forsake us, we should not be affrighted when our enemies encircle us with the land entangling us. Who doth know how the Lord will deliver us in that trial? However He is pleased to do so, rest assured, the way will be honouring to Him upon the heads of His enemies. While I do not sometimes see it while in the midst of a trial, I remember what another minister told me when I was faced with a difficult ministerial situation: "Well, I am looking forward to watching this." When I asked why, he responded, "I just can't wait to see how the Lord delivers you and brings you through it."