Movies and pictures have shaped how we imagine Moses leading Israel out of Egypt. I’ve never imagined Moses like a military general leading an army equipped and ready for battle.
One Word –
But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. And the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle. Exodus 13:18
Daily Bible Reading: Exodus 11, 12, 13; Luke 14
Big Idea –
God is the one who brought Israel out of their bondage in Egypt. They had been powerless to bring about their freedom, but the LORD redeemed them “with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment” (Ex. 6:6). With ten plagues culminating in the death of the firstborn God displayed His power on behalf of His people.
Yet as the LORD brought them out He did not lead them in a direct way to Canaan and the Promised Land; if they took the direct route they may become discouraged fighting the Philistines and want to return to Egypt. Therefore God took them another way, through the wilderness toward the Red Sea. Nevertheless Israel left Egypt armed and ready for battle.
Undoubtedly the time would come when they would need these weapons of war; in fact it is most likely that they accumulated even more weapons after the Egyptians were drowned in the Red Sea with some of their bodies being washed ashore. But Israel had no need of weapons to fight against the Philistines or the Egyptians. It was the LORD who fought on their behalf.
Exodus 13 concludes with the awareness of God’s leading and presence with His people Israel. “The LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.“ (Ex. 13:21-22).
This cannot be overlooked. You see not only did the LORD deliver His people from Egypt, but God continued to lead them in victory. The LORD took them away from battle with the Philistines toward the Red Sea where God continued to fight on their behalf drowning the Egyptian army that pursued them. And the pillar of God’s presence and protection continued to remain with His people as they would continue their journey from the Red Sea to Mt. Sinai.
You see those weapons would eventually be needed. However, I think it is significant that the first time these recently freed Israelites must pick up their weapons to fight against Amalek at Rephidim, the LORD is the One Who helps them prevail in battle. As long as Moses’ hands were raised Joshua and his troops prevailed, but when Moses’ hands came down Amalek began to defeat Israel. Thus Aaron and Hur held up Moses’ hands so Israel defeated Amalek with the sword. In memory of this victory “Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The LORD Is My Banner” (Ex. 17:15). It wasn’t military might or experience that won the battle, it was the hand of the LORD giving Israel victory.
And so let’s not forget that it is Jesus who has redeemed us setting us free from the bondage of sin. Having set us free from the bondage of sin, Jesus “Christ always leads us in triumphal procession” (2 Cor. 2:14). He fights and wins the battles on our behalf.
But like Israel we are to follow Jesus armed or equipped for battle. We are encouraged to be strong in the LORD and to “put on the whole armor of God” (Eph. 6:11).
The Holy Spirit has equipped me to stand in the midst of the enemy who would seek to destroy. I must be ready daily to follow the LORD’S leading and rely upon His strength and protection.
Yes to Yield –
LORD Jesus, You know that I often would choose to run from a fight and prefer trying to get along over confronting the schemes of the enemy. Yet I need to ask You to forgive me for those times when I try to fight my own battles and don’t look to You. Holy Spirit, I am thankful that You are always with me, that You will give me wisdom leading me in the way You would have me go. Help me to follow You confident of Your help enabling me both to stand when it is time to stand, and to fight, even to the pulling down of strongholds, when it is time to fight.
An Unexpected Commentary (A Midrash)
As I looked at various commentary on Exodus 13:18, I did not find what I expected. I thought many of the Christian commentary would describe Israel’s coming out of Egypt armed for battle with thought similar to those I shared above. Instead, many focused instead on how the Hebrew word chamush is related to the word for ‘five’ chamesh. Their focus was not on actually having weapons, but leaving Egypt ‘five in a rank,’ or in a military order.
This got me wondering if there was something to this idea or if perhaps our biblical commentators had missed something. So I did a search to find what Jewish rabbis had written based upon their midrash or commentary passed down to them. Perhaps the people God actually delivered had some insight that we as Christians did not.
I must say I was surprised by what I found. Some did comment that their ancestors did literally leave Egypt equipped for battle. One even pointed out that even as slaves to the Egyptians they still had weapons to defend themselves (and Egypt) against those who would try to invade from the East. They said this is why the Egyptian Pharaoh feared Israel would continue to become more numerous and join with their enemies to fight against them (see Ex. 1:10). However, Jewish rabbis and their midrash said little about their weapons of war and God’s protection in the midst of battles to come.
Yet there was an unexpected connection to the connection between the words chamush (armed) and chamesh (five). According to the ancient midrash only ONE-FIFTH of Israel came out of Egypt; the other four-fifths were died during the ninth plague of darkness because they were given to idolatry and did not want to leave Egypt since the oppression of their bondage had been broken. They had been completely assimilated into Egyptian culture and therefore God judged them, and only redeemed the one-fifth who were ready to give themselves wholeheartedly to the LORD.
Nothing in the biblical record is said that would support this interpretation. However, when that generation that the LORD brought out was about to inhabit the Promised Land, they chose to grumble and complain that there were giants in the land and Moses had led them out of Egypt to die. And don’t forget how they grumbled and complained that they might die in the wilderness because they had no water. This generation was judged by the LORD and over the next forty years would die in the wilderness. It would be their children who would eventually go in to possess the land. Thus the LORD’S judgment against those who would rebel is not something we would be surprised God would do.
And so I think it is worth asking ourselves how tightly do we hold onto the pattern or ways of this world? Have we been so assimilated into the American culture that only ONE-FIFTH of those who claim to be Christians would actually follow Jesus out of the system of this world that is so familiar to us? Are you and I among those who would follow Jesus armed to do battle that we might inherit our Promised Land.
LORD Jesus, may we within Your church be willing to come out from this world and be separate, a holy nation as You desire.