Moses forsook Egypt. He endured the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart and his refusal to let the people of Israel go. He stood before this powerful king with no fear of his wrath. Moses did this because he was a man of faith. He believed God’s promise that by his hand God would deliver His people from the bondage of Egypt. He trusted God.
In our broadcast today we learn how Moses forsook Egypt. God accomplished this by means of the last plague: the angel of death that killed the firstborn of every household of Egypt. This plague broke Pharaoh. The pressure of his princes and his people forced him to let the nation of Israel go. But this was not the end of the matter. The final deliverance from Egypt actually came about by the crossing of the Red Sea. There the power of Egypt was finally destroyed. Pharaoh and his army were drowned in the sea. Israel was free to go her way with no one to stop her.
This is the account we have before us today in Hebrews 11:28, 29. We read there, “Through faith he [Moses] kept the passover, and the sprinkling of blood, lest he that destroyed the firstborn should touch them. By faith they passed through the Red sea as by dry land: which the Egyptians assaying to do were drowned.”
These two verses of Hebrews 11 point us to the faith of both Moses and the people of Israel. We are told in verse 28 that by faith Moses kept the passover. Obviously, he was not the only one who kept the passover however. Moses instituted the Passover, but the people kept it together with him. In verse 28 we learn that by faith “they,” that is, Israel, passed through the Red Sea. So, we will examine today both the faith of Moses and that of Israel in this forsaking of Egypt.
There is something distinctly new concerning faith that is also introduced in these verses. The writer to the Hebrews writes of faith in contrast to unbelief. By faith Moses and Israel kept the passover. In unbelief the firstborn of Egypt were destroyed. By faith Moses and Israel passed through the Red Sea. In unbelief the Egyptians were drowned in the Red Sea. Faith is given the victory while those lost in unbelief are ultimately destroyed. This is true because unbelief despises God and His cause in this world. Faith clings to God and casts its lot in with God’s people.
I. Their Departure
In our last broadcast we left Moses standing in the presence of Pharaoh enduring Pharaoh’s wrath. Pharaoh told Moses that he never wanted to see his face again. Moses, we learned, had replied that Pharaoh would never see his face again. But Moses also informed Pharaoh of the last of the ten plagues that would befall Egypt. We read in Exodus 11:4-6, “Thus saith the Lord, About midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt: And all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sitteth upon his throne, even unto the firstborn of the maidservant that is behind the mill; and all the firstborn of beasts. And there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there was none like it, nor shall be like it any more.”
The writer to the Hebrews makes reference to this last plague in verse 28 of Hebrews 11. God commanded Moses to ready the people of Israel for departure from Egypt. The most important detail was this: that night the people had to slay a lamb to eat. They were then to take the blood of that lamb and sprinkle that blood on the door posts of their houses. In Exodus we learn that they must strike or smear that blood on the doorposts of their houses. If we were to draw a picture of this in today’s terms, they would take that blood (mixed with hyssop so it would not coagulate too soon) and smear it all over the frame around their front door.
Around midnight God would send an angel of death into Egypt and Israel. If the door of the house had blood smeared on it, the angel of death would not enter that house. He would see the blood of the lamb and pass over that house. If there were no blood sprinkled on the doorposts of the house, he would enter that house. He would then kill the firstborn of that household. If it were the owner of that house, his firstborn would die. If it were a servant who served the family of that household, his firstborn would die. Even the firstborn of the animals of that family would die. As such, the firstborn signified the entire household. He represented the entire family. If God took that firstborn, it meant that next he would kill them all! That very night a loud cry went up from the houses of the Egyptians. No retaliation—not a dog would move his tongue against the Israelites.
Instead of anger, there was great fear. Rather, the people of Egypt lent to the Israelites jewels of silver and gold. They gave to them of their flocks and herds and said, “Get thee out!” As a result, that night Moses led the nation of Israel out of the land of Egypt south into the wilderness that lay along the western shore of the Red Sea. This sprinkling of the blood of the passover and the last plague led to the departure of the children of Israel out of Egypt. But this was not the end of the matter. As long as Pharaoh and his mighty army were alive, Egypt would be a constant threat to Moses and the nation of Israel. God must needs annihilate the Egyptian power in order to set His people free from the bondage of Egypt.
God hardened the heart of Pharaoh after he let Israel go. This is the only explanation for the foolish move on the part of Pharaoh. Had not he learned that Jehovah was God and Moses was His servant? Did not he see with his own eyes what Jehovah had done to Egypt? The land was decimated! It would take years to recuperate from the damage done. But, no, Pharaoh was stubborn in his unbelief and hardened in his anger and pride and followed Israel into the wilderness now with his army. According to Romans 9:17, God had hardened Pharaoh’s heart. We will come back to that in a moment.
The children of Israel were caught between the Red Sea that lay before them and Pharaoh’s powerful army with its chariots and horsemen behind them. A complaint immediately went up from some in Israel: “You brought us into the wilderness to die by the hands of Pharaoh.” But this was not the complaint of all. Most trusted Jehovah that He would deliver them. God sent a fiery cloud that formed a barrier between the nation of Israel and the army of Pharaoh. It lit the way for Israel and was deep darkness to the army of Pharaoh. While the army of Pharaoh fought most of the night to bypass that cloud, God performed an amazing act that children enjoy recalling. Moses stretched forth his staff over the sea and God caused the waters to divide with a wall of water on either side. God also caused the ground to dry on that path through the sea. “By faith they passed through the Red Sea as by dry land,” we learn here in Hebrews 11. All night the people walked through that sea, and by morning light the last of them had crossed over to the other side. The people of Israel could now see the army of Pharaoh closing in on them fast.
You see, Pharaoh according to God’s sovereign direction made his way through the cloud. He saw the people crossing the Red Sea and, in the hopes yet of catching up with them, he, his chariots, horsemen, and all his captains entered upon that path that led through the sea.
Really, Pharaoh? How hardened in sin can you be? Jehovah God had opened the way for His people to cross the sea! What makes you think that He would allow you to cross after them? But God shows mercy unto those He chooses to show mercy and He hardens in pride and sin those whom He chooses to harden. The army of Pharaoh was making headway through that path as long as God’s people were still on it. But something was beginning to happen. That dry land was not so dry anymore. The chariots were sinking in mud and their wheels were breaking off. The horses with their riders were unable to move. Even the footmen sunk in the mud and were unable to withdraw their feet to continue their march.
The army was in chaos. By the time Israel had reached the opposite shore of the Red Sea, the entire army of Pharaoh was in the sea. Once more Moses stretched his rod over the waters and with a loud rush the waters of the Red Sea returned to their former place. So it was that the Egyptians, assaying to do as Israel did, drowned by the hand of God. This event sealed the deliverance of Israel from Egypt. The power of Egypt had been broken. Israel was free to travel to the promised land.
II. Their Faith
As usual, the writer to the Hebrews is not interested in a mere Bible story, as vital as these are to revealing the mighty works of God. The specific purpose he has in mind, we well know at this point in our series on Hebrews 11, is how God’s people acted out of faith. Faith must be the motivating principle behind all of our actions. Faith in God and in Jesus Christ motivates us in the best but also in the worst of conditions. Faith steers us through the hard times so that we are able to face even the unknown and the uncertainties of life. Not that faith is a power of our own so that we end up trusting in our own arm of strength. Faith is the gift of God that so binds us to Christ that we draw our life out of Him. God grafts us into Christ in such a way that our thoughts and desires are lit on fire by the Spirit. In times of hurt and in times of fear we turn to God and trust in Him. We are confident that He will not leave us in our times of need, but will be our sure protection, our guide, and our stay.
Such faith characterized Moses and all of God’s people in Israel at this particular moment in history. By faith Moses and the believing Israelites kept the Passover—not merely the sprinkling of the blood, mind you, but the entire Passover, as they were instructed. They killed the lamb to eat it and immediately spread its blood on their doorposts. They did so by faith. This is not to say that every person in Israel did so by faith. There were many in Israel who were not true Israel. They were unbelievers and followed the instructions simply out of fear of losing their own lives. But the commentary in our text pertains to the many in Israel who did believe. By faith they kept the Passover that Moses ordered by the mouth of God. The Egyptians who were lost in unbelief refused to heed the command of Moses to let Israel go. The next day the firstborn child of every household in Egypt was found dead.
By faith the children of Israel followed Moses into the wilderness with the angry army of Pharaoh at their heels. They were helpless, surrounded by water, the wilderness, and Pharaoh’s army. What would they do? Imagine standing there in the wilderness before a sea of water with your little children and your babies. These were ordinary people just like us. An insane king and his army rapidly bearing down on us to destroy us. All they had were these promises by God: 1) I will deliver you from the land of Egypt! And 2) I will never leave or forsake you in your times of need. That is what they had to go on—God’s promises. The same promises God gives us: 1) I will bring you to heavenly glory, and 2) I will never leave you in your times of need. We are told that these Old Testament saints followed Moses in faith. They believed those promises of God. By faith they walked between those two walls of water on each side of them, the army of Pharaoh not far behind them. The unbelieving Egyptians, in the hardness of their unbelief, followed them into the sea assaying (or trying) to pass through the sea as did those who believed. These men who opposed God and His church then perished in their unbelief! Faith versus unbelief. God saves His people through faith and destroys the wicked in their unbelief. But again, let us emphasize the truth that faith is not something that merits in God’s sight as if the believer himself has found the courage and power to stand against unbelief. Faith is not a work. Faith is a bond given by God that unites us to Jesus Christ our Lord.
That must be clearly seen from the Word of God before us today. In Romans 9:16-18 we read, “it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.” In this chapter of Romans, Paul explains the doctrine of sovereign predestination, namely, that God has from eternity chosen some unto salvation and others unto destruction. Those whom God has elected in eternity He has chosen unto faith. Election determines whether a person will believe. On the other hand, God has indeed chosen many unto destruction on account of their sin and unbelief. This reveals itself in this account before us. Why is it that by faith the Israelites kept the Passover? Why is it that by faith they passed through the Red Sea unscathed? The deepest reason for this is that God had chosen this people as His own. God chose Israel—God elected each and every individual believer in Israel as His own.
Why is it that God killed the firstborn of Egypt? Why is it that Pharaoh and his host were drowned in the Red Sea? Because God had rejected them in their unbelief. God had predestined them to perish in their sin. God has mercy on whom He will have mercy and whom He wills He hardens in their sin. God hardened the heart of Pharaoh and his men in order that by their very destruction God might show His power and in order that His name might be known throughout all the earth.
All faith is rooted in election, therefore. Faith is the earmark of all those whom God has chosen. It is so because God by His grace works such faith in the hearts of all whom He has chosen. How? Through the salvation Christ has earned for them on the cross. Through His death, Christ destroyed the power of sin. Through His resurrection, He has obtained for them life. Through His Spirit, Christ imparts to them that life. Having grafted those chosen to life eternal into Christ, God also calls them out of the darkness of unbelief and freely gives them a lively faith—a faith that knows God and the work of Jesus Christ, a faith that clings to God and His promises. A faith that sees clearly the things of the kingdom of God and embraces them as true. A faith therefore that endures.
In this we find the significance of our text in verse 28 too: by faith Moses kept the passover and the sprinkling of blood. As the Passover feast was held each year in the generations of the Israelites, it not only pointed them back to the event of their deliverance from Egypt. It was also meant to appeal to the faith of God’s people in the Old Testament to look ahead to their coming Messiah. Their knowledge of salvation in the blood of Christ was limited of course. But it really does not matter how much they knew and believed by faith then. The Word of God before us is for the benefit of believers today.
The sprinkling of blood on the doorposts is a picture of the blood of Jesus Christ that covers every believer and his household. God views believers not as we are in ourselves, but in the blood of Christ. We are sprinkled in the blood of Christ. Because we are covered in His blood, the angel of death, eternal death, passes over us. Those not covered in the blood, on the other hand, are exposed in their sin and destroyed. Being covered in the blood of the Lamb we are freed from the guilt of sin. His blood has paid the price of our sin. This is not true of the unbeliever. He is not united to Christ. Christ’s blood is not sprinkled on him, and as a result he is still exposed in his guilt and unrighteousness. Furthermore, he is not cleansed in the blood. We are sanctified in Christ’s blood and, being sanctified, we are able to believe. The ungodly man is not cleansed or sanctified and therefore has no ability to believe. Moses and the people of Israel did not understand all of this when they kept the Passover, but they in faith did keep it.
III. Their Deliverance
Through faith they were delivered from the bondage of Egypt. The hard and cruel slavery from which they were unable to escape of themselves God now made possible. Their deliverance was by means of the most fantastic of miracles. God had now delivered His son—the nation of Israel, which bore in its generations the beloved Son of God.
Such deliverance is significant for believers today too. God has delivered us from the cruel bondage of our sin and from the hold Satan had on us. Through the work of Christ, the chains of sin that held us in sway have been broken. We too have been delivered—set free from our sin and its curse. And we have been given the liberty of the sons of God. Christ said it: “If the Son shall set you free, you shall be free indeed!” We rejoice in this account of God’s faithfulness to His people. We rejoice in the gift of faith.