If God is for us, who can be against us?
The line is from Romans 8:31, but it also serves well as the lesson from today’s story in Exodus 14:10-31.
In revealing his true power to both his chosen people, the Israelites, and to the greatest power on earth, Egypt, God arranged for the Israelites to find themselves trapped between the Red Sea and an advancing Egyptian army.
Yes, Pharaoh had already suffered under the mighty hand of Yahweh in the form of plagues, including the death of all the firstborn males in Egypt, human and animal—Israelites exempted, of course. Yes, God was visibly present with the Israelites, in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. But still, the Israelites found Pharaoh’s approaching army terrifying.
Pharaoh led his pursuit with 600 chariots, wheeled terrors capable of defeating even well-trained, fully equipped phalanxes of soldiers. Drawn by massive horses, each chariot typically carried a driver and an archer with an arsenal of arrows and spears. In battle, they functioned the way tanks might be used today. The 600 carried Pharaoh’s elite charioteers, what we would call Special Forces; the rest of the Egyptian army was close behind.
But remember: If God is for us, who can be against us?
The Israelites cried out to Moses in terror, saying he had brought them into the desert to die. Despite the evidence of God they had seen, were seeing, and were about to see, they would continue to complain like this for years; it’s astonishing God put up with them. Moses told them, “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”
If we’ve spent much time in church, hearing basic Bible stories in Sunday school, we know what happened next. God’s visible presence moved to separate the army from the Israelites, and then God told Moses what to do as a prelude to God showing his power in parting the Red Sea. “Lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the Israelites may go into the sea on dry ground.”
I’ve wondered what Moses felt as he did this. Could he feel God’s Spirit rush through him? Did he sense the power it took to drive billions of gallons of water apart?
The Israelites crossed safely. Pharaoh and his army pursued but died, the water crashing down on them, destroying the mightiest military force humanity had to offer.
If God is for us, who can be against us?
Yes, it’s a lesson from an Old Testament story. But it’s also a New Testament Bible verse for a reason. As people who believe God is for us, we are called to let go of fear, the same lesson the Israelites were supposed to learn.
We know that most of all, God has been for us by living and working in Jesus to eliminate all our reasons for fear. Jesus picked up on the Old Testament theme by saying repeatedly in his teachings, “Fear not. Fear not.”
I’m like most people in that I’ve carried a lot of fear around in my life. I’ve had childhood fears. I’ve had adult fears. For me, both have seemed to aggravate me the most in the middle of the night, when worry seems to be at its strongest.
I’m probably typical that most of my fear is of the future, of what might be. But that doesn’t make sense, not if we think about it. Through Jesus Christ, God already has captured the future. God is in the future, ahead of us, waiting on us.
We may have to go through some rough patches to get there, but because we believe in Christ, we know our future ultimately is holy and eternal. A good word to describe it might be “blissful.”
When we learn to live into this belief, wonderful things begin to happen. Fear is replaced not only by courage, but by a kind of joyous courage, a willingness to abandon this world’s worries and pursue God in full. We not only stop fearing the future, we begin living in its bliss now.
John Wesley, the 18th-century founder of the Methodist movement, had great expectations regarding what freedom from fear means for the world.
“Give me 100 preachers who fear nothing but sin, and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen; such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven on earth.”
That is what we seek, isn’t it? The end of fear forever, and eternal union with God.
Next week, I’ll detail how we’re freed from death, and we’ll explore further what it means to live as a people who already have eternity.