The Lord is a Man of War

With heads held high for the first time in years, Abraham’s family marched out of Egypt. God’s plagues had wracked Egypt and freed them from slavery. A smile lit every face, and hope was in the air. Led by a mysterious pillar of cloud, they were on the way to the Promised Land Moses had told them about!

Infected by their parents’ high spirits children ran about, dodging among the great herds of sheep and goats, horses and camels. At the banks of the Red Sea the nation on the move drew up. Some wondered why the cloud had led them to this place where the sea blocked their path in both directions as far as the eye could see, but all were grateful for a chance to make camp.

Fathers started fires and mothers took the opportunity to bake unleavened bread from the kneading troughs bound on their backs. The flat bread was poor fare, but a festival atmosphere prevailed. They were free! The once-small band now numbered in the millions, as numerous as the sand of the seashore on which they stood.

Then they saw the dust cloud. One by one people began to straighten and stare off to the west, the unleavened bread forgotten in their hands. Slowly, the dark line at the base of the cloud grew clearer, resolving itself into shapes. War chariots. Hundreds of them. Horsemen by the thousands. Marching infantry stretched from horizon to horizon.

A long wail of collective fear began to rise throughout the camp of Israel. “Oh LORD! We’re going to die!”

Angry, fearful Israelites rounded on the grey-bearded prophet who stood in their midst. “Moses, is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? wherefore hast thou dealt thus with us, to carry us forth out of Egypt? Is not this the word that we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians? For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness.”

Moses lifted up his voice, his words ringing out over the congregation. “Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will show to you today: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen today, ye shall see them again no more forever. The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace.”

Moses bowed his head in prayer. How could his people already have forgotten all the wonders the LORD had worked in Egypt? “LORD, where is their faith? Oh LORD, save us once again from the Egyptians!”

The reply came back, clear and sonorous, though heard only within. “Wherefore criest thou unto me? Speak unto the children of Israel that they go forward. But lift thou up thy rod, and stretch out thine hand over the sea, and divide it, and the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea.”

As the LORD spoke to him, Moses watched the cloud before them lift. Heads turned upward to stare as it moved overhead and then settled behind them, creating a wall of mist that obscured the Egyptian army from view.

“And I behold, I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians,” the LORD continued, “and they shall follow them: and I will get me honour upon Pharaoh, and upon all his host, upon his chariots, and upon his horsemen.” The power in God’s words fairly vibrated within Moses. “The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD.”

Moses smiled grimly. Once Pharaoh had asked him, “Who is the LORD?” If he still didn’t know after all the plagues Jehovah had brought upon Egypt he was about to find out once and for all.

Night was falling, and now a glow began to rise from the cloud to light the camp of Israel. It was as if a fire burned in its depths. In that crimson light, Moses climbed onto a rock overlooking the Red Sea. Once he would have feared to step out in faith, believing for the impossible. But he had seen too much to doubt the LORD’s word now. He lifted his rod and stretched his hand out over the sea.

At first it was just a breeze from the east, then the wind began to rise until it was blowing in with such force that it raised whitecaps out on the water. Moses’ beard whipped his face and he had to brace himself to keep from toppling from the rock on which he stood. The wind rose until it was flattening the waves, throwing them back in great plumes of spray, pushing and driving the water until it had cleaved a deep channel through the midst of the sea. Still the wind blew until the muddy sea bed was dry. Then it died, leaving an eerie stillness.

Everyone stood and stared disbelieving at the sight before them. A mile-wide path had opened through the sea. On either side the water towered to the sky like the walls of Pithom and Raamses.

“Go forward!” Moses’s voice was a roar. The people looked at one another, hesitating to step into what only moments before had been a raging sea.

Shaking his head, Moses sprang down from the rock and made his way to where his people formed a solid line along what had once been the sea shore. Pushing through the crowd, he stepped down into the sea bed and stamped his foot. Dust rose. The people gasped and stared, then surged forward.

The nation of Israel flooded the path through the sea, filling it from one watery wall to the other. Sheep and goats bleated, cows lowed, carts and wagons rumbled. Children tried to skip rocks along the walls of water on their right and left. They squealed with delight as their parents pointed out fish swimming right up to the invisible barrier restraining the sea to stare at the interlopers with wide eyes.

“Look Father, that one’s all spiky!” one little girl shouted. Spotted, spiny, and striped, large and small, the sea creatures filled the sea with a riot of vivid reds and yellows and deep blues and greens.

As the last Israelite stepped onto the sea bed, the glowing wall of cloud rolled in behind them, still separating them from their pursuers. Though it was muffled by the mist, those at the rear of the great column could still hear galloping hooves, tramping feet, and rumbling chariot wheels. They hurried on.

On the other side of thRed Sea Egyptianse cloud, the dim light of dawn illuminated a sight that made the Pharaoh order his charioteer to draw rein. The wall of mist was receding through the midst of the sea. The sea bed had become a broad plain walled in on three sides by water and cloud. For a long minute Pharaoh stared, his mind struggling to comprehend what his eyes were seeing. This could only be the hand of the Hebrews’ God, the same hand that had devastated his land with plague after plague. The same God that had killed his firstborn son.

A red rage rose in him, grappling with his gut-deep fear. There was something so ominous about the way those walls of water rose on either side. Like two halves of a trap ready to snap shut. But judging by the position of the cloud in the midst of the sea the Israelites were only half-way across. This Jehovah could not yet bring down the walls of water without destroying his own people. There was still time to catch them if he took only his fastest troops.

“Sound the pursuit,” he ordered his signallers. “Chariots and horsemen forward at all speed! Infantry to halt here.” Banners waved and trumpets rang out over the assembled host. With shouts and the crack of reins and whips the vast squadron of chariots and wings of cavalry swept down into the sea bed, Pharaoh’s golden chariot in the lead. They picked up speed, closing quickly on the slow-moving cloud.

Pharaoh smiled through gritted teeth, his knuckles white on his war bow, an arrow ready on the string. He balanced lightly in the chariot, riding the bumps with the ease of long practice. In minutes the flying crescent of chariots that led the way would burst through the feeble barrier of mist and begin their slaughter of the escaping slaves.

A sudden impact threw the Pharaoh forward to crash into his driver. The chariot slewed violently and then began to skid. He cursed the charioteer as he struggled to his feet, thinking the man had hit a rock and torn off the wheels. Shouts of alarm from all sides drew his attention and he looked around wildly. Chariot wheels were spinning away on all sides as though plucked from their axles by an unseen hand. The fighting platforms skidded along the ground or tipped on their sides to be battered to splinters as panicked horses charged ahead with wild eyes and snorting nostrils. The cavalry couldn’t draw up in time and crashed into the shattered chariots, horses and riders tumbling with cries of fear.

“Let us flee from the face of Israel; for the Lord fighteth for them against the Egyptians,” someone in the milling, screaming mass shouted, and then the headlong charge became a full-Red Sea Moses and peoplefledged rout.

As the last Israelite stepped onto the far shore, Moses heard God’s voice once more. “Stretch out thine hand over the sea that the waters may come again upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen.”

As the sun burst over the eastern horizon, the cloud lifted to reveal the fleeing Egyptian host. Moses stretched out his hand over the sea.

With a roar, the sea burst through the invisible barrier that had been holding it back. From north and south it closed on the Egyptians like the jaws of a trap. Moses caught one last glimpse of riders flogging their horses into a desperate gallop before the surging waters dashed them from their feet and rushed over them.

As they watched the Egyptians wash up on the far shore Moses and Israel burst into spontaneous song.

“I will sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.

The Lord is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation: he is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation; my father’s God, and I will exalt him.

The Lord is a man of war: the Lord is his name.”

***

The Israelites quickly forgot all that God had done for them. Surely the 10 Plagues on Egypt were fresh in their minds. God had kept every promise He had made to them and brought their slave-drivers to their knees, yet now at the first sign of trouble they lost faith and began to wish they had stayed slaves under their masters’ whips. This is why God constantly told them to set up memorials: Aaron’s rod that budded, the pot of manna, the memorials in the Jordan River bed and beside it.

How quickly we too forget what God has done for us in the past. We too must build memorials and keep record of the great victories of the past so when we face present problems we can look at past victories and gain courage and faith.

Red Sea backpackMoses said to stand still; God said to go forward. Moses spoke out in faith even before God had given him specific instructions or promised him victory for this specific battle. But while Moses told the people to stand still and then cried out to God, God told him to command the people to go forward. They couldn’t fight and they couldn’t part the sea, but they could march!

Don’t just stand around waiting for a miracle when God’s told you to march. You can’t save anyone, but you can pray for them and witness to them. You can invite them to church. You can give them a ride. You can teach them in Sunday School. You can teach them a Bible Study. You do the walking, and let God do the fighting and the sea-parting! He can make a way there there is no way. Not just a path, but dry land!

The cloud was both direction and protection for Israel. That cloud symbolized the presence of God and the Spirit of God. It both led them in the right direction and became a wall between them and their enemies. Notice, that God led them into a precarious position for a purpose. He intended to show His power one last time against Pharaoh and his army.

God’s Spirit will never lead you into a place where it can’t also protect you. We must allow the Spirit to lead us. If we walk in the Spirit it will guide us in the path that will bring the most glory to God. And it will protect us from sin and the attacks of the Devil.

The LORD fought for Israel against the Egyptians. Even the Egyptians realized this by the end and fled. This is one of the greatest battles and victories of the Bible, and yet God didn’t make the Israelites fight in this battle. Later He would expect them to fight, but this nation of newly-freed slaves wasn’t organized and ready yet.

When you’re faced with a battle that is too hard for you, God will fight for you. God knows how to deliver the righteous out of temptations and trials. God specializes in deliverance. Like Israel, he wants to bring us out of slavery to sin and make us a nation of kings and priests that will show His power to the rest of the world.

Do you have a story of miraculous protection or deliverance you’d like to share? I’d love to hear it!

Introduction to The Bible’s Greatest Battles series.

Ride with Abraham’s 138 servants to rescue his nephew Lot.

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3 thoughts on “The Lord is a Man of War

    • I hope to have dramatized all the battles of the Bible by sometime next year. Then I’ll start compiling them into an actual book. Books? 🙂

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