This morning, I read about the Israelites’ journey from slavery to freedom through the parting of the Red Sea (you can read it in Exodus 14.) It’s a pretty amazing story. The Israelites have left Egypt, where the Egyptians have kept them as slaves for several generations. En masse, they are on the move, being chased by Egyptians and led by Moses—a guy with some confidence issues and a speech impediment.
As I read, it struck me hard that the Lord knew and was completely in control of the outcome of this situation.
He told Moses very directly what Pharaoh would think, what Pharaoh would feel, what Pharaoh would do, and what would happen:
“He will chase after you. I have planned this in order to display my glory through Pharaoh and his whole army. After this, the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord!”
But despite giving Moses a play-by-play of Pharaoh’s actions (which is pretty generous, really) he left out the part I’d care about most if I were Moses…like what He would do to display His glory and what that even meant. You know, specifics!
The Egyptians begin to catch up with the Israelites. So far, all God has told the Israelites to do is turn back and camp on a shore, which isn’t exactly what I would feel inclined to do if I was being chased by an army wanting to recapture me as a slave.
But it’s what they did. They did as they were told.
I wonder if Moses felt peace at all as he settled the people onto the shore, or if (like me) He struggled with the unknown. Did he wrestle inwardly, wanting to trust God’s character, reciting promises of God and trying to rest in those truths but just wanting to know the freaking outcome?
We know how the Israelites felt. When they saw the Egyptians coming towards them on the shore, they began to fear. They didn’t fully trust God. The text says that they “panicked” and cried out to the Lord and Moses questions like “why have you brought us here? What have you done? Why did you make us leave?” With their former captors advancing upon them, they said they wished they were slaves again—because at least that was known.
But Moses told the people:
“Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today…the Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.”
Oh, how I long for this faith—the kind of faith that says “yes, I fear and yes, the known felt safer…but I stand here anyway in the unknown, expectantly waiting the Lord’s work in my life because He has called me here.”
Not “you’re right! This is terrifying! Let’s run away!” Or “ahhh! God isn’t working in the way that seems obvious to us! Better think of our own plan!”
No. This faithful servant of God says, STAND STILL AND WATCH THE LORD WORK.
Even though his words display faith (and great truth,) it sounds like Moses may have felt like me on the inside. Because the Lord says to Moses next:
“Why are you crying out to me? Tell the people to get moving!
Pick up your staff and raise your hand over the sea. Divide the water so that the Israelites can walk through the middle of the sea on dry ground…my great glory will be displayed through Pharaoh and his troops…all Egypt will see my glory and know that I am the Lord.”
If I were Moses, I would be terrified. God has given Moses some specific steps to take, but he still hasn’t told Moses what the outcome will be—just that it will glorify Him.
And yet…that’s all we have to work with too. We don’t know what the outcome of any situations will be, and any sense of control and predictability we feel is an illusion. Like Moses, we just have to trust that He is in control, know that He will be glorified in every situation, and pray that we won’t miss out on seeing His glory because our hearts and attitudes and fears hinder us from the steps He asks us to take.
And so we get moving with the directions that we have, praying to the God we may even be struggling to trust for faith and courage.
And this is faith—when we start walking where we feel called to go even if our stomach is clenched with fear and when we tell ourselves, do not fear and do not run in circles trying to control this. Instead, STAND STILL AND WATCH THE LORD WORK.
You can read the rest of the Exodus story to see what happens in this particular instance, but I will say this: it’s what happens every time.
God comes through.
And as much as I am challenged by Moses’s example, I am also encouraged. Because he spoke God’s truth—and he acted on it—but he still had very real feelings about it that didn’t always line up with what he probably wanted to feel or felt he “should” feel.
Psalm 22 offers another example of this, where David wrestles with how the Lord has been faithful to generations before him—and has shown faithfulness in his own life!—but how in this particular moment, with the unknown and terrifying at his doorstep, he still fears. Or there’s the father in Mark 9:24 who says “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!”
What I can conclude is this: faith is not the absence of doubt. Faith is taking a risk to believe in spite of our doubts.
Faith is standing still and getting moving at the same time.
And faith is what I’m choosing.
“Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see…therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.” –Hebrews 11:1, 12:1-2