Exodus 13:17-14:31: Hallowed Be Your Name
We have finally come to the crossing of the Red Sea, which in the Hebrew text is actually the Sea of Reeds (see The Yam Suph: “Red Sea” or “Sea of Reeds”?). The story of this salvation event is divided into three parts, each part ending in a similar manner.
Part one consists of Exodus 13:17- 4:4. Here we are told geographically how Yahweh led the Israelites out of Egypt. If San Diego is Egypt and Sacramento is the Promised Land (the land of Canaan) the most obvious way to the Promised Land would be to take Interstate 5 straight north to Sacramento. Such a road existed between Egypt and Canaan, but rather than having the Israelites go that way Yahweh decided to lead them to Sacramento via Tucson, Arizona. Yahweh led the people southeast out into the desert rather than north along the main highway, a very unconventional way to go to Sacramento from San Diego.
Yahweh had the people turning this way and that in the desert, even turning back towards Egypt and camping with their backs up against the Sea of Reeds. They also carried the bones of Joseph with them, for Joseph had made Israel swear to bury him in the Promised Land.
Yahweh’s purpose in this confused desert wandering was to deceive Pharaoh. Yahweh knew that Pharaoh would think the Israelites were lost and helpless, dazed and confused in the Egyptian sun and sand. Yahweh knew that the Egyptians would pursue the Israelites in their hapless wandering. Yahweh hardens Pharaoh’s heart so that Pharaoh will chase after the Israelites and run right into the trap Yahweh has set. “I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am Yahweh, the One Who Is.” In short, Israel’s wanderings are a lure to entice Pharaoh into position for Yahweh to glorify Himself as the One who truly Is.
When we pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your Name” this is what we are praying. We are praying for God to gain glory for God’s Name, for our Father to glorify and make sacred His Name, to make His Name known in such a holy, powerful, awe-inspiring way that all humanity knows that He Is the One Who Is. Only God can hallow/glorify God’s name. Our prayer is an invitation for God to gain glory for God in our lives without having to harden our hearts to do so.
The second part of the Sea of Reeds crossing, 14:5-18, deals with the chase and entrapment of the Israelites by the Egyptians. Pharaoh wakes up to the fact that he has just released his slave labor force. He still needed a lot of bricks made and now he had no one to make them - at least not for free. He did what anyone facing a major brick shortage would do: he got his army together to go round up his much needed low cost labor. In fact, Yahweh so hardened his heart that he pursued Israel with his whole army, including his best troops. With all their chariots it did not take them long to overtake the Israelites who actually had turned back towards them and encamped by the Sea. Pharaoh had the Israelites right where he wanted them: between his army and the Sea. There was no place for the Israelites to go except to their graves or back to Egypt.
The Israelites were certain that they were going to their graves. They begin to cry out to Yahweh and Moses, accusing them of leading them to their deaths. They preferred to stay in Egypt, but Moses would not listen to them. Moses has deceived them. Yahweh may have been able to work a few plagues and even take out the firstborn, but now they are trapped by Pharaoh’s army with no way out. Fear has convinced them that their Yahweh ride has come to an end.
While the people have lost faith, Moses has not. He admonishes the people to stand firm, asserting that they will see the salvation of Yahweh: “Yahweh will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Moses does not yet know what Yahweh is going to do, but he is certain that Yahweh has not brought them thus far only to die at the hands of Pharaoh. Even though he cannot see it, Moses believes Yahweh will make a way.
No sooner has Moses uttered the words “Stand still” than we hear Yahweh say to Moses, “Tell the Israelites to move on.” I’m sure Moses’ mind must have raced: “Where? Pharaoh and company are in front of us and the Sea is behind us. There is nowhere to ‘move on’ to.” Yahweh continues speaking. “Raise your staff, stretch out your hand over the Sea, divide the waters, and march through on dry ground.” Yahweh’s salvation was beyond the imagination of Moses. Moses imagined Yahweh could and would do it, thus the exhortation to stand still. But Yahweh had something greater in mind. Move on. You are going through the Sea on dry ground. Yahweh’s salvation imagination is bigger than Moses’ imagination, and ours too.
The section closes like the first: “I will gain glory through Pharaoh and his army. . . The Egyptians will know that I Am the One Who Is.” In this salvation event (or judgment event, depending on which side you are on) Yahweh is going to hallow His Name. The Egyptians are going to experience the terrible glory of Yahweh. Again, notice that neither Israel nor Moses can gain glory for Yahweh. They cannot hallow Yahweh’s name. That is Yahweh’s work and Yahweh will do it so that even Pharaoh’s army knows that Yahweh Is.
The final section, 14:19-31, reports Yahweh’s glory-gaining salvation of Israel. The angel of Yahweh moves from the front of Israel’s ranks to the back, coming between them and the Egyptians. In the front Moses stretches his hand over the Sea and Yahweh drives the Sea back with a strong east wind. Pharaoh may have Israel surrounded and trapped, but Yahweh is on both sides of Israel, protecting from behind and making a way in front. Israel is enveloped by the saving presence of Yahweh. It does not matters where Pharaoh is or how strong an army he has brought.
Well you know the story. Israel goes through the Sea on dry ground and heart-hardened Pharaoh orders the troops to go in after them. In the dry seabed Yahweh throws the Egyptians into massive confusion. Their chariot wheels start falling off. Pharaoh’s soldiers begin to confess, “Yahweh is fighting for them against Egypt.” They know that Yahweh Is and that they, their Pharaoh, and all Egypt are no match for Yahweh. Yahweh gives the command to Moses to stretch out his hand once more and the walls of water come crashing down on the Egyptians, setting free the Israelites from the threat of Pharaoh.
Yahweh has gained glory through Pharaoh and his army. There is no longer a question as to Who Is, nor as to Whose word matters, nor as to Whom Israel belongs. The narrative ends by reporting the newly created faith of the Israelites. Having seen the awesome power of Yahweh displayed to an unparalleled degree, the Israelites fear/reverence Yahweh at a new depth and believe in Yahweh and Moses with greater conviction - that Yahweh really Is and that as servant of Yahweh Moses is to be followed.
Two points: First, Israel’s trap turned out to be Israel’s salvation. Pharaoh thought he had Israel trapped up against the Sea. In the end the Sea turned out to be Pharaoh’s trap. Yahweh turned the trap into an instrument of salvation for Israel. That ought to be good news! Yahweh is able to work traps for His glory. So whatever trap you find yourself in - whether you are there like Israel because you were following the LORD’s leading or whether you got yourself into it - pray “Our Father, hallowed be Thy Name. Bring glory to Yourself through this trap. Let your holiness be manifested in my life, that I and others might know that You are the One Who Is.” Rejoice and be ready to move on, for the LORD works salvation beyond our capabilities to imagine.
Second, the account began by mentioning that the Israelites were bringing with them the bones of Joseph to bury in the Promised Land. The event ends with Egyptians lying dead on the seashore. It’s not a pretty picture but it contains a message in the harshest of realities: Yahweh is faithful to His word. Yahweh promised the land to Abraham. Joseph knew the promise. Yahweh was keeping the promise. The journey home has begun. Pharaoh and his army are no longer an obstacle. Yahweh is faithful.
Pray the Lord ’s Prayer, making it the prayer of your life.