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    Images of the Savior (22 -- The Crossing of the Red Sea)

    And Moses said unto the people, “Do not fear, stand fast and behold the salvation of Yahweh which he will perform for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never again see any more. Yahweh will fight for you – so you, be still”. – Exodus 14:13-14

    The effectuation of God's delivering his people from their bondage in Egypt, as we have often observed before, tended in many particulars to two diverse, yet complementary ends: which are the glory of his just wrath and fury, which is displayed in his fierce judgments against the Egyptian people; and the glory of his free mercy and covenant faithfulness, which is displayed in his redeeming the children of Israel, and bringing them out from the house of slavery. These two facets of God's glory, as different as they are, do not detract from each other, but rather serve to set each other off with a more distinct and brilliant luster, the severity of the judgments underscoring the depth of the calamity that awaits those who have not known mercy, and thereby magnifying the greatness of God's grace, which, when sin and wrath abounded in full measure, still abounded even more (cf. Romans 5:20-21). The stubbornness of Pharaoh, whose heart God had hardened for this purpose, brings out this various glory in greater measure; for the heavy and unyielding hand which he laid upon God's people made necessary a very strong and admirable salvation, if God were to bring them out from his cruel oppression, and at the same time provided cause for the ongoing and ever-increasing displays of God's wrath and punishment upon the land of Egypt. This twofold glory was most poignantly displayed in the first Passover, when the Angel of the Lord, who is Christ, poured out God's final cup of wrath upon his enemies, and put them all to a violent death; and yet, on the day of judgment, he mercifully passed over all those who were covered by the blood of the Passover Lamb, who underwent his bloody judgment in their place. Now, as the great and manifold glory of Christ was admirably displayed in the climax of the redemption from Egypt, that is, in the Passover celebration; so would it also be displayed in the culmination of the redemption from Egypt, in at least two marvelous ways, which are, first, the appearance of the pillar of cloud and fire; and second, the crossing of the Red Sea. And thus, in order that this diverse excellence of Christ might be brought to its final display, God hardened Pharaoh's heart yet again, so that he pursued the children of Israel into the wilderness, after he had once let them go.

    Let us first observe what we may learn of the manifold glory of Christ from the pillar of cloud and of fire. In the first place we must note the timeliness of its appearing: the children of Israel had just been set free from their slavery in Egypt; but now, they were in a dry and barren wilderness, without the necessary provision for their journey, not knowing which way to go or how to circumvent all the perils awaiting them on their way to the promised land, and beset all around by many enemies, the Philistines lying in wait to one side, the impassable Red Sea stretched out upon the other, and the hosts of Egypt pursuing from behind. It was at this time that the pillar appeared, teaching us this necessary lesson, that Christ does not save us from our sin in order to abandon us on the journey home. No, those whom he saves, he saves indeed, and provides them with everything necessary for their final victory. O faltering believer, already set free from the kingdom of darkness, but now fearing that you might perish in the thirsty wasteland which lies between you and Canaan, take heart! Has not Jesus promised never to leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5)? Will he not complete the work of grace which he has begun (Philippians 1:6)? Do not lose courage, for he who redeemed you by his blood will now support you and guide you with his very presence, proving himself all that you could ever need and more.

    This is what we learn from the appearance of the pillar of cloud and fire. Only observe how fitting a sign it is of the person of Jesus: for first of all, and most significantly, it was the display of God's unapproachable glory, accommodated to the weakness of men. Its light and fire represented the piercing glory of the Godhead, which consumes everything impure and unholy, and its cloudiness represented the unapproachable and unknowable nature of his being. This visible shekinah glory taught that God “dwells in light unapproachable” (1 Timothy 6:16), and that no man can see his glory and live (Exodus 33:20; see also Genesis 32:30; Judges 6:22; Isaiah 6:5-7; John 1:18); and yet, the children of Israel saw the pillar of cloud and fire every day and every night, and not only did they live, but they were provided by it with everything they needed for life and godliness. In the same way, Jesus brought down the unapproachable and unknowable glory of God to the world of men, and wrapped it up in a form which accommodated their weakness, when he took on human flesh and suffused it with all the fullness of the Godhead. In Jesus, we can see God and live, and in that beatific vision of God is everything necessary for our eternal life and joy (cf. John 17:3, 24). In this way, Jesus' incarnation was the antitype of the pillar and the final accomplishment of all that it was intended to convey, only in a much greater way: and so the prophet looked ahead to the day in which Yahweh would make upon every dwellingplace of Mount Zion a pillar of cloud and fire (Isaiah 4:5); which he has done in this gospel-age, mediating the very presence of Christ to every believer, through the Spirit he sent to inhabit their hearts.

    But not only did the cloud represent the body of Jesus, which would make visible the ineffable glory of God; it also showed forth in a mystical manner the many good effects which follow the presence of God in the person of Jesus. Note how the cloud ever went before Israel and guided them on their pathway to the promised land, bringing them away from the Philistines when they were too weak in the faith to stand against them, shielding them from the Egyptians when they were sore pressed, etc. So today, Jesus goes ever before us, guiding us through every difficulty and trial, and protecting us when we are in any trouble. Then, notice as well how the pillar changed its nature in accordance with the needs of Israel, in the darkness of nighttime becoming fire and light, and in the scorching heat of the day becoming shade and cloud. So too, Jesus becomes to us every good thing that we might ever need: when the way is dark, he is light for the path, and wisdom from God; when the day is hot and the sun is heavy upon us, he provides us with refreshment, shade, and and relief from our burning trials. How well does Jesus answer to the various nature of this typical pillar, who is indeed our immovable pillar, and our never-ending source of every kind of help and blessing we could need! Truly did Isaiah prophesy of him that “a man will be like a hiding place from the wind, and a shelter from the tempest, like streams of water in a dry land, like a shade of a great rock in a weary land” (Isaiah 32:2). In the same way, as the various properties of the pillar typified, Jesus is every sort of rest and refreshment and aid that we could ever need.

    Before we move on to observe what we may learn from the crossing of the sea, we must also note this in passing, that the same pillar which was light to the Israelites, was inscrutable darkness to the Egyptians; and whereas it guided and protected Israel, it hindered and prevented Pharaoh (Exodus 14:19-20). In the same way, Jesus is Light and Life to all the men whom God has given him (cf. John 1:4); but darkness does not comprehend him (cf. John 1:5), and the glory of the gospel-light which shines so brilliantly from his lovely face is obscured to those who are still in bondage to the god of this world, of whom the Pharaoh was a type (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:3-4). Thus it is, that he who is so comfortable and delightful to his people, providing them with all that they could ever need, is misunderstood and hated by the world, and becomes their downfall, for they stumble against him in unbelief, and are crushed against him as against an immovable cornerstone (see Isaiah 8:14-15; Matthew 21:42-44; 1 Peter 2:7-8; Psalm 118:22).

    Now, we may learn the same lesson from the crossing of the Red Sea as we learn from the pillar, namely, that in Jesus all God's people are delivered, but all God's enemies are utterly destroyed. In I Corinthians 10:2, the apostle instructs us that this crossing of the sea was indeed a baptism; and as such, it held forth the same gospel realities to Israel that Christian baptism holds forth to us today, and likewise it conveyed the same spiritual truths. Let us remember that every man will be made to pass through God's judgment in baptism: both God's people and God's enemies went through the Red Sea, which is a type of God's great and furious retributive wrath; and so it is with all men today. Only, the children of Israel went through with Christ, who held back the waters from overwhelming them, and brought them across on dry land; but the Egyptians, passing through without Christ, were utterly destroyed in the sea.

    In the same way, we all must undergo God's judgment, and pass through the fearsome waters of his wrath: but those who belong to Christ pass through this judgment in union with him, so that the brunt of it all falls upon him, and they are preserved and protected in him. Thus it is said that believers are “crucified with Christ,” and that they now live their lives in him (see Galatians 2:20); and that they have died with him in baptism, and have been raised again to new life in him (Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 3:1-3). But of the world, who has not passed through God's wrath in union with Christ, which is signified today in water baptism, Jesus solemnly pronounced that he would one day make them to pass through the baptism of fire (Luke 12:49-50; cf. also Matthew 3:11-12; Malachi 3:2, 4:1), in which he would bring down upon their heads with everlasting fury the wrath of God; and they will have to endure it alone, for they have not already passed through that wrath in Jesus, and been protected in him. Reader, be sure that you will cross the Red Sea! “It is appointed unto man once to die, and after that the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). But will you cross it now, in union with Christ, who will absorb all God's punishment and bring you along on dry ground, as it were, or will you cross it later, apart from Christ, and for all eternity know the waters of God's wrath, as they break upon your miserable head in ceaseless and holy fury?

    From the bondage of slavery throughout Egypt-land
    God delivered his own with a mighty right hand;
    And mocked was Osiris, the Giver of Breath,
    As the firstborn of Egypt were smitten with death.

    God delivered his own while in sorrow they toiled,
    And the Pharaoh was humbled, and Egypt was spoiled,
    As the Children of Israel, in ranks upon ranks,
    Fled from Egypt unto the Red Sea’s stormy banks.

    ‘The retreat of the Israelites now hath been blocked!’
    Oh, but be not deceived, Pharaoh, God is not mocked.
    Stand ye still, Israel, fear not the Gentile horde:
    Stand and watch the salvation that comes of the Lord!

    And encouraged was every Israelite heart,
    And they walked on dry land when the waters did part;
    But the armies of Egypt, assaying the same,
    Were destroyed in the deluge, and swallowed in shame!

    And the blood-tainted waters that lap on the shore
    Bear a witness to legions that conquer no more;
    And in Egypt a pallor seems sickly to roll
    O’er the land – for bereavement hath smitten each soul;

    And no more wild cheers will resound in the streets
    As each child his spoil-laden father he greets; –
    For the glory of Egypt, and Pharaoh’s proud might,
    The Savior of Israel hath stricken from sight!

    Posted by Nathan on September 5, 2008 11:01 AM

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