Sometimes biblical stories have become so familiar to me that I tend to neglect the details—but sometimes the details express the true heart of the story. I have written previously of the way that familiarity breeds contempt; when I see something so recognizable, I tend to skim over it, but in so doing, I can overlook the small things that coalesce to create something wonderful.
Recently, my Bible reading took me to Exodus chapter 14—a very familiar passage, but something stood out to me that I had never really noticed before. As the Israelites are fleeing Egypt, they see the Egyptians pursuing them, and they begin to complain to Moses:
“Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? … For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” (vs. 11, 12b)
Beyond the obvious facts—how God has just accomplished a remarkable deliverance for His people from their Egyptian captors, and yet it only takes them a matter of days before they begin wailing and complaining again—Moses’ response from the Lord is what stood out to me:
“And Moses said to the people, ‘Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. … The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.’” (vs. 13-14, emphasis mine)
What strange and noteworthy words: you have only to be silent.
Stop this ridiculous moaning, Moses seems to say. He must have wanted to smack his countrymen over the head. After all the miracles—the wondrous signs God had performed on their behalf in Egypt—they have already forgotten everything and want nothing more than to return to the “comfort” of their captivity. Have you forgotten?! Is your memory truly so clouded?! Don’t you remember what the Lord has done for you?!
At the same time, though, Moses’ response exudes gentleness and comfort as well. Don’t fear. I know you’re terrified. I know you think you’re facing certain death. But I promise you, the Lord is on our side. You have only to be silent.
Human nature almost never tends toward silence in moments of fear and distress. So often, we assume the worst—about both God and the ultimate outcome of our circumstances—and we will, without fail, naturally respond with grumbling, blame-shifting, and fearful outbursts. But rarely silence. Call it a need to feel in control: if we occupy ourselves with complaining about what has led us to a point of distress, then we might be comforted if we feel a false sense of control. When humans respond to trying circumstances, they want to be in control. But when control spins out of our hands, we are left disoriented and terrified.
Here is the beauty of trust in God’s sovereignty. Instead of that obsessive need to control our circumstances, we need only rest in His providence—we have only to be silent. God has called us as His own; why do we mistrust Him at every bend in the road? Stand down, God says. Hold fast; I am fighting for you. Don’t complain. Don’t tremble. Don’t fear. Be silent, and watch what I will do.
The chapter finishes with a declaration:
“Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.” (vs. 30-31, emphasis mine)
Only hours before, the children of Israel stood at the edge of the Red Sea, unable to see any way out. God’s deliverance seemed unlikely, not to mention physically impossible. But after such a clear, visible outpouring of both wrath and mercy, the people also saw God’s deliverance. With their own eyes, they looked in wonder on the mangled bodies of the Egyptians and the wreckage of their mighty chariots.
It’s true that God doesn’t always employ such a visible rescue from the troubling circumstances of our lives. Sometimes we might never “see” our salvation except through the eyes of faith, at least on this side of eternity. But the exhortation and the promise remain the same:
Stand fast. Fear not. The Lord fights for you, and you have only to be silent.