God’s presence

God was personally involved in the children of Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt. God instructed Moses to tell the people, “About midnight I will go out in the midst of Egypt, and every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the cattle” (Exodus 11:4-5). God protected the Israelites by means of a sacrificial lamb that served as a substitute for the firstborn of each of the children of Israel’s families. The blood of the lamb was put on the doorposts and the lintel of their houses and God said, “The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt” (Exodus 12:13). Moses described the Israelites departure from Egypt as a night of watching and said, “The time that the people of Israel lived in Egypt was 430 years. At the end of 430 years, on that very day, all the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt. It was a night of watching by the LORD, to bring them out of the land of Egypt, so this same night is a night of watching kept to the LORD by all the people of Israel throughout their generations” (Exodus 12:40-42).

The night of watching that took place when the Israelites left Egypt was a night vigil in which the LORD went through the land of Goshen looking for the blood of the lamb on each individual doorpost and lintel of the children of Israel’s houses. Extreme care was taken to make sure that the destroyer didn’t enter any of the houses that were displaying the lamb’s blood (Exodus 12:23). In the same way that the LORD had carefully watched over the children of Israel the night they left Egypt and protected them from the destroyer, Moses said the Israelites were to observe “a night of watching kept to the LORD by all the people of Israel throughout their generations” (Exodus 12:42). In other words, the annual Passover celebration was intended to be a night vigil in which the Israelites looked for their Savior, the Lamb of God’s arrival. John the Baptist’s announcement, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) should have triggered the Jews awareness that their Messiah had arrived on the scene, but the Passover celebration that took place the night of Jesus’ death seemed to go unnoticed by those who were supposed to be watching for God’s fulfillment of the Old Testament Covenants (Major Covenants of the Old Testament, KJSB, p. 16).

Psalm 114 focuses on God’s presence among his people. The psalmist stated, “When Israel went out from Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language, Judah became his sanctuary, Israel his dominion” (Psalm 114:1-2). A dominion is a territory over which one rules or governs. The Hebrew term memshalah (mem-shaw-law’) often “denotes the ruling power which one in authority exercises over his domain or kingdom” (H4475). Another way of looking at a king’s dominion is that it signifies the area over which he can exercise his sovereign authority (H4474). The reason why Israel was the Lord’s dominion was because God redeemed the children of Israel from slavery, making them his personal possession (Deuteronomy 7:6-8). Judah was thought of as the Lord’s sanctuary because Jesus was a direct descendant of Judah and was later referred to as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah” (Revelation 5:5) when he “took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne” in heaven (Revelation 5:7). Revelation 5:9-10 states:

And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
    from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
    and they shall reign on the earth.”

Ultimately, Jesus’ dominion will be over the entire earth, but initially, the blood of the lamb only covered the Israelites who were delivered from slavery in Egypt and were specifically chosen by God to be his treasured possession because of the covenant he made with Abraham (Genesis 15:9-21, Deuteronomy 7:8).

It was through his deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt that God’s presence on the earth first began to be felt. Psalm 114:7 states, “Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob.” The Hebrew word that is translated Lord in this verse, ‘adon (aw-done’) when applied to God, signifies His position as the “one who has authority (like a master) over His people to reward the obedient and punish the disobedient…In such contexts God is conceived as a Being who is sovereign ruler and almighty master” (H113). The Hebrew word chuwl (khool), which is translated tremble, conveys two basic ideas: to whirl in motion or writhe in pain. This word is often used to describe the labor pains of giving birth (H2342). The children of Israel’s supernatural deliverance from slavery in Egypt may have been likened to the labor pains of childbirth because in the process of birthing the nation of Israel God overthrew Pharaoh by means of a long agonizing process that included ten plagues and ended with “a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where someone was not dead” (Exodus 12:30). Afterwards, the children of Israel were thrust out and “the Egyptians were urgent with the people to send them out of the land in haste. For they said, ‘We shall all be dead'” (Exodus 12:33).

Like an annual birthday celebration, Moses told the children of Israel, “Remember this day in which you came out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, for by a strong hand the LORD brought you out from this place” (Exodus 13:3). The strong hand of the LORD was not only a symbol of his personal involvement in a situation but also the exercise of his power to accomplish a specific task. Israel’s deliverance from slavery had to do with their loyalty and devotion to God. The Passover celebration required the children of Israel to follow God’s instructions exactly in order to preserve their lives. What they were asked to do may not have made sense to them, but because the Israelites lives depended on it, it says in Exodus 12:28, “Then the people of Israel went and did so; as the LORD commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did.” This was an important turning point in God’s relationship with his chosen people, and therefore, it needed to be remembered. On a national level, it was like being born again. God saved the children of Israel collectively, as a group they became the children of God.

Psalm 114:7 describes the world’s reaction to God’s presence as trembling because there is always an emotional element to God’s involvement in our lives. The Hebrew word that is translated presence, paneh (paw-neh’) means the face. “In a more specific application, the word represents the look on one’s face, or one’s countenance” (H6440). The Bible clearly teaches that God is a spiritual being, but Jesus’ birth changed the way we interact with God and made it possible for us to see God in a physical form. Jesus’ presence in the world evoked different reactions from people depending on their relationship with God. Some people like Zacchaeus, a man described as a chief tax collector, were anxious to meet Jesus in person (Luke 19:3), but others like the ones who witnessed Jesus casting a legion of demons into a herd of pigs, “began to beg him to depart from their region” (Mark 5:17). Jesus’ strength was physically demonstrated when he calmed a storm that threatened his disciples lives (Mark 4:39) and made a fig tree wither (Matthew 21:19) because it failed to provide him with the nourishment he needed. After Jesus’ resurrection, “When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, ‘Truly this was the Son of God'” (Matthew 27:54).

When the children of Israel departed from Egypt, God went with them and his presence was manifested to them in the form of two pillars that were visible at all times. Exodus 13:21-22 states:

And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.

The Hebrew word paneh is translated “before” in Exodus 13:21-22 to convey the fact the God was physically present with the Israelites as they traveled. The tall pillars made it possible for everyone to see God’s presence no matter where they were in the camp.

Exodus 13:17-18 tells us, “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, ‘Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.’ But God led the people around by way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. And the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle.” God’s decision to lead the people by way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea had to do with their lack of experience with warfare. The people of Israel had been trained to submit to Pharaoh’s authority and to fear his soldiers. When it says that they went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle, it most likely meant that the people of Israel were physically capable of fighting, but were being defended by God’s army. Exodus 14:13-14 states, “And Moses said to the people, ‘Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”

The phrase “you have only to be silent” (Exodus 14:14) is translated “ye shall hold your peace” in the King James Version of the Bible. The Hebrew word charash (khaw-rash’) means “to scratch, i.e. (by implication) to engrave” (H2790). What this seems to suggest is something being etched in one’s memory. The salvation of the LORD was intended to be a memorable event in which the Israelites played no active part. Moses said they would “see the salvation of the LORD” (Exodus 14:13). The Hebrew word that is translated see, ra’ah (raw-aw’) basically connotes seeing with one’s eyes. “This verb can also mean ‘to observe’…The second primary meaning is ‘to perceive,’ or to be ‘consciously aware of’…It can also mean ‘to realize’ or ‘to get acquainted with’…It can represent mentally recognizing that something is true” (H7200). The Hebrew word that is translated salvation, yeshuw’ah (yesh-oo’-aw) means deliverance. “Many personal names contain a form of the root, such as Joshua (“the Lord is help”), Isaiah (“the Lord is help”), and Jesus (a Greek form of yeshu’ah)” (H3444).

As the people of Israel approached the Red Sea, it says in Exodus 14:19-20, “Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the cloud and the darkness. And it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night.” Traditional Christian interpretation has held that the angel of God “was a preincarnate manifestation of Christ as God’s Messenger-Servant” (note on Genesis 16:7) and is here associated with the cloud, a visible symbol of God’s presence among his people (notes on Exodus 13:21 and 14:19). The purpose of the angel of God moving behind the host of Israel was likely to separate and to protect them from the Egyptians, but he also may have moved and went behind them to keep the Israelites from running away. During the night, “the LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided” (Exodus 14:21).The strong east wind that divided the waters of the Red Sea might have had similar characteristics to a hurricane. Hurricane Irma, which was described as having unfathomable power and was estimated to have winds of approximately 200 mph, caused an estimated $50 billion in damage. In order to separate the waters of the Red Sea and make the sea dry land, there would have had to have been a supernatural force at work.

The Hebrew word that is translated wind in Exodus 14:21, ruwach (roo’-akh) is more often than not translated as Spirit or spirit. “It is clear that the wind is regarded in Scripture as a fitting emblem of the mighty penetrating power of the invisible God. Moreover, the breath is suppose to symbolize not only the deep feelings that are generated within man, such as sorrow and anger; but also kindred feelings in the Divine nature. It is revealed that God and God alone has the faculty of communicating His Spirit or life to His creatures, who are thus enabled to feel, think, speak, and act in accordance with the Divine will” (H7307). By resemblance breath is associated with the wind , “i.e. a sensible (or even violent) exhalation” and it could be imagined that the parting of the Red Sea was somewhat like God take a deep breath and blowing the waters aside so that his people could cross the land on dry ground. One of the key characteristics of this supernatural feat was that God made the sea dry land. In other words, it was as if the water had completely evaporated. The ground became parched like the desert (H2724). Exodus 14:22-25 states:

And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. The Egyptians pursued and went in after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. And in the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down on the Egyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic, clogging their chariot wheels so that they drove heavily. And the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from before Israel, for the Lord fights for them against the Egyptians.”

Moses described the LORD’s deliverance of the people of Israel this way:

At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up;
    the floods stood up in a heap;
    the deeps congealed in the heart of the sea.
The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake,
    I will divide the spoil, my desire shall have its fill of them.
    I will draw my sword; my hand shall destroy them.’
You blew with your wind; the sea covered them;
    they sank like lead in the mighty waters. (Exodus 15:8-10)

Moses’ tribute to the LORD focused on the visible evidence of God’s overthrow of the Egyptians. He said:

“I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
    the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.
The Lord is my strength and my song,
    and he has become my salvation” (Exodus 15:1-2)

Moses indicated that the LORD had become his salvation when he triumphed gloriously over the Egyptian army. The Hebrew word that is translated triumphed gloriously, ga’ah (gaw-aw’) generally means to rise (H1342). This seems to connect the Israelites’ deliverance with Jesus’ resurrection. It could be said that the Israelites’ crossing of the Red Sea was similar to being baptized in that it portrayed the death, burial and resurrection that believers are identified with through baptism. Exodus 14:30-31 states, “Thus the LORD saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great power that the LORD used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses.” The Israelites’ belief was a direct result of their personal experience and was based on what the LORD did to save them. Much like the disciples that witnessed Jesus’ resurrection, Israel saw the great power that the LORD used to defeat their enemy and “came to experience a personal relationship to God rather than an impersonal relationship with His promises” (H539).

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