“Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward.” (Exodus 14:15)
The exodus is a central event in the Bible and has clear goal – for God to plant his covenant people in their land and to dwell with them. While the goal is central, the process of achieving the goal is important and, in many ways, directly applicable to the work of mission.
Exodus 14 is a clear example. This is the familiar story of the Israelites escape through the sea on dry ground. Perhaps the story is so familiar that we miss some of the details. I’d like to draw attention to a few of these and apply some biblical-theological thinking to mission.
1. God’s ways are not always the easiest or most pleasant.
In verse 1, the Lord tells Moses to lead the people to turn back. Remember the context – they had only just escaped from Egypt and likely had the feeling of ‘run for your life’ within their hearts. Yet, instead of continuing to run, God calls them to turn back toward the enemy. This was an angry enemy coming with a powerful army. The situation is less than comfortable. Why does God do this?
2. God’s ways are for his glory and our good
Repeated throughout the passage is the clear statement of God’s purpose – “that I may gain glory over Pharaoh” and so that “the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.” God does all things for the glory of his name. In his grace, the achievement of glory and honor also results in the rescue of his people. While sometimes strange, God’s glorious acts are also our greatest good.
3. God’s ways are always consistent
Throughout the first 13 chapters of Exodus, there have been constant reminders that the events taking place are in keeping with God’s covenant promises to Abraham. He promises to make Abraham into a great nation and to bless the world through his family. What if Abraham’s family dies at the hands of Pharoah or in the sea? God’s promises would fail, which is impossible. Thus, the rescue of Israel is a certainty.
But, there’s more. The escape through the sea is depicted in creational terms. Notice the following:
Light and Darkness (Ex. 14:20-21)
Separation of waters (Ex. 14:21)
Dry land emerges from the sea (Ex. 14:21)
Wind – same word as Spirit (Ex. 14:21)
Of course, like the creation account, everything in this chapter takes place by the word of God.
The point of this seems to be 1) to demonstrate the consistent character of God in keeping his creational and covenant promises and 2) to remind the Israelites that their God is the God of creation. Therefore, they need not fear. He is creating his covenant people in fulfillment of his original purposes for creation. The Sinai covenant will fill out the details, but the connections with creation make clear that God is at work for his glory and the good of his people. They need only to trust him and move forward.
How might this apply to mission?
The work of mission will always include suffering and the temptation to quit or complain. In those times, our motivation to continue is in the character and faithfulness of God. The exodus event served as a constant reminder of identity of Israel’s God and thus as motivation for faithfulness to the task to which they were called.
Biblical theology helps us see the faithfulness of our God to rescue his people, keep his promises, and glorify his own name. The call of mission is to join him in this work, resting in his power to complete the task.
Sometimes God takes us down the less than pleasant path, but this is for his glory and our good. The question is whether we will cry out or move forward.