Why does God sometimes wait to rescue? The Bible’s dramatic escapes reveal the answers.
Moses, rescued pretty dramatically himself as a baby by the daughter of the very Pharaoh who ordered his and every male Hebrew baby’s death, grew up to become instrumental in rescuing his entire nation from Egypt. In Exodus 6:2-9, God explains His purpose to Moses:
God spoke further to Moses and said to him, “I am the Lord; and I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name, Lord, I did not make Myself known to them. I also established My covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they sojourned. Furthermore I have heard the groaning of the sons of Israel, because the Egyptians are holding them in bondage, and I have remembered My covenant. Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you to the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession; I am the Lord.’” So Moses spoke thus to the sons of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses on account of their despondency and cruel bondage.
When God “remembered” His covenant with Israel, it’s not to say He ever forgot it. For God, remembering also means acting. He may accomplish His purposes instantly—or let them lie latent until the time is right, even if He chooses the last minute.
God rescued Moses and the Israelites so they would know Him—along with the Egyptians (Exodus 7:3-5): “’But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart that I may multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt. When Pharaoh does not listen to you, then I will lay My hand on Egypt and bring out My hosts, My people the sons of Israel, from the land of Egypt by great judgments. The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the sons of Israel from their midst’.”
God’s rescues help the entire world understand His unique Person, power and name (Exodus 9:13-16):
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Rise up early in the morning and stand before Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, “Let My people go, that they may serve Me. For this time I will send all My plagues on you and your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is no one like Me in all the earth. For if by now I had put forth My hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, you would then have been cut off from the earth. But, indeed, for this reason I have allowed you to remain, in order to show you My power and in order to proclaim My name through all the earth.
Unlike Pharoah seemed to think (along with many people these days), God is not small but very, very, very big. In fact, the Biggest.
Nobody and nothing can stand in God’s way. He says in Deuteronomy 32:39:
“See now that I, I am He,
And there is no god besides Me;
It is I who put to death and give life.
I have wounded and it is I who heal,
And there is no one who can deliver from My hand.”
If God were not also perfectly good and loving, we would have great reason to fear Him beyond His due.
God makes His Egyptian rescue memorable, so generations will know Him (Exodus 10:1-2): “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may perform these signs of Mine among them, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son, and of your grandson, how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and how I performed My signs among them, that you may know that I am the Lord’.”
Through may signs, wonders and miracles, God rescues Israel from Egypt, but they don’t leave as the penniless slaves they were (Exodus 12:35-36): “Now the sons of Israel had done according to the word of Moses, for they had requested from the Egyptians articles of silver and articles of gold, and clothing; and the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have their request. Thus they plundered the Egyptians.” Sometimes, God saves in style.
God considers prophecy and His promises when He rescues (Exodus 12:40-41): “Now the time that the sons of Israel lived in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years. And at the end of four hundred and thirty years, to the very day, all the hosts of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt.” The 430 years is disputed and confused with the 400 years prophesied below (also prophesied by the martyr Stephen just before his death in Acts 7:2-8). The difficulty is resolved by realizing that Abraham, (whom Stephen calls “our father Abraham”), sojourned in Egypt, marking the beginning of the 430 years. Like Stephen, Moses, the human agent who wrote Exodus at the Holy Spirit’s dictation, understood that Abraham received God’s promise and therefore was the beginning of God’s chosen people. The prophesied oppression began with Ishmael, Abraham’s older Egyptian son, mocking Ishmael, Abraham’s son of promise, 30 years later (Genesis 15:13-16):
God said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions. As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you will be buried at a good old age. Then in the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.”
God determines timing for salvation and judgment.
God’s tender Red Sea rescue also includes a divine shade from the sun and nightlight in the darkness (Exodus 13:17-22):
Now when Pharaoh had let the people go, God did not lead them by the way of the land of the Philistines, even though it was near; for God said, “The people might change their minds when they see war, and return to Egypt.” Hence God led the people around by the way of the wilderness to the Red Sea; and the sons of Israel went up in martial array from the land of Egypt. Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for he had made the sons of Israel solemnly swear, saying, “God will surely take care of you, and you shall carry my bones from here with you.” Then they set out from Succoth and camped in Etham on the edge of the wilderness. The Lord was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people.
The pillar of cloud soon serves another purpose.
Exodus 14:5-9 sets up the next escape:
When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his servants had a change of heart toward the people, and they said, “What is this we have done, that we have let Israel go from serving us?” So he made his chariot ready and took his people with him; and he took six hundred select chariots, and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them. The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and he chased after the sons of Israel as the sons of Israel were going out boldly. Then the Egyptians chased after them with all the horses and chariots of Pharaoh, his horsemen and his army, and they overtook them camping by the sea, beside Pi-hahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon.
The elite army terrifies Israel.
Suddenly, slavery seems preferable to the present predicament (Exodus 14:10-12):
As Pharaoh drew near, the sons of Israel looked, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they became very frightened; so the sons of Israel cried out to the Lord. Then they said to Moses, “Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you dealt with us in this way, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the word that we spoke to you in Egypt, saying, ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.”
Hemmed in between Pharaoh’s army and the Red Sea, Israel sees no escape.
Moses tries to reassure them (Exodus 14:13-14): “But Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the Lord which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever. The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent’.”
Moses sounds sure about God’s salvation, but verses 15-18 reveal his fear:
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to Me? Tell the sons of Israel to go forward. As for you, lift up your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, and the sons of Israel shall go through the midst of the sea on dry land. As for Me, behold, I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them; and I will be honored through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. Then the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord, when I am honored through Pharaoh, through his chariots and his horsemen.”
God honors Himself in His rescues.
Through the night, God accomplishes another rescue (Exodus 14:19-20): “The angel of God, who had been going before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them. So it came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel; and there was the cloud along with the darkness, yet it gave light at night. Thus the one did not come near the other all night.”
The Red Sea rescue soon follows (Exodus 14:21-25):
Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord swept the sea back by a strong east wind all night and turned the sea into dry land, so the waters were divided. The sons of Israel went through the midst of the sea on the dry land, and the waters were like a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. Then the Egyptians took up the pursuit, and all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots and his horsemen went in after them into the midst of the sea. At the morning watch, the Lord looked down on the army of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and cloud and brought the army of the Egyptians into confusion. He caused their chariot wheels to swerve, and He made them drive with difficulty; so the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from Israel, for the Lord is fighting for them against the Egyptians.”
Too late, the Egyptians realize Whom they’re opposing.
Exodus 14:26-29 details God’s final rescue:
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may come back over the Egyptians, over their chariots and their horsemen.” So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its normal state at daybreak, while the Egyptians were fleeing right into it; then the Lord overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen, even Pharaoh’s entire army that had gone into the sea after them; not even one of them remained. But the sons of Israel walked on dry land through the midst of the sea, and the waters were like a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.
Exodus 14 ends (verses 30-31), “Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. When Israel saw the great power which the Lord had used against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in His servant Moses.”
God’s rescues cause faith.
- Scripture quotations taken from the NASB (New American Standard Bible) copyright by The Lockman Foundation http://lockman.org