The Red Sea


Introduction

The Gospel is wider and more complete than many Christians appreciate. To come into the good of “our Passover, Christ” is a blessing beyond price, knowing that He “has been sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5: 7) on our behalf and has “suffered for sins” as our substitute, “[the] just for [the] unjust” (1 Pet. 3: 18). His precious blood is the means by which we escape the judgment of God since, as having “faith in his blood” (Rom. 3: 25) and “justified in [the power of] his blood, we shall be saved by him from wrath” (Rom. 5: 9). For many, this is the limit of the deliverance provided in the Gospel, but it is not how Scripture presents things. Even after the Passover blood was sprinkled, Israel was not clear of Egypt and to meet that need, God provided the path through the Red Sea. Earlier, God had promised to redeem (or free) Israel (see Exod. 6: 6), and the Passover brought that about for, in the antitype, we have “been redeemed … by precious blood, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot, [the blood] of Christ” (1 Pet. 1: 18). However, just as Israel could not serve Jehovah in Egypt, so believers need “freedom from sin” in order to be “bondmen to God” (Rom. 6: 22) in a practical sense. Thus, as having crossed the Red Sea, the children of Israel praise God, singing, “Thou by thy mercy hast led forth the people that thou hast redeemed”; Thou hast guided them by thy strength unto the abode of thy holiness” (Exod. 15: 13). The Passover deals with sins (what I have done), the Red Sea with sin (what I am as having an evil nature). Both the Passover and the Red Sea picture Christ’s death, but in the former the blood is stressed, while in the latter death itself is emphasised. Not only has God saved the believer from judgment, but He has also saved the believer from the domination of sin—and it is not without interest that the word salvation is found in association with the passage of the Red Sea (see Exod. 14: 13; 15: 2) rather than the Passover. Much later in Israel’s history, we have the crossing of the river Jordan (see Josh. 3, 4), which, since it also pictures the death of Christ, has many points of similarity with the Red Sea. However, while the Red Sea speaks largely about what we are saved from (Egypt), the Jordan tells of what we are saved to (Canaan), for crossing the Jordan brings the believer into the land.

   Now in Exodus 12, the issue that needed to be settled was between Israel and divine judgment—for although the tenth and final plague was brought upon “Pharaoh and upon Egypt” (Exod. 11: 1), God’s chosen people still had to seek refuge from that judgment in the blood of the Passover Lamb. In Exodus 14, however, the issue was between Israel and their enemies, the Egyptians. Salvation from Egypt was provided by the Red Sea. The one was deliverance from judgment, the other was deliverance from the house of bondage. The one was settled by the blood; the other was settled by passing through the Sea. The salvation of God is therefore a complete salvation. Not only has “Christ died for our sins” (1 Cor. 15: 3) and been “delivered for our offences” (Rom. 4: 25), but the power of sin itself is broken in His death such that “we should no longer serve sin” (Rom. 6: 6).

A True Type

Of course, the subject of typology (of which the passage of the Red Sea is a prominent example) has often been undermined by well-meaning but fanciful interpretations. Is there then, any real justification for calling the Red Sea a distinct picture of what God has secured for His people in the death of Christ? Yes, indeed there is, for in 1 Cor. 10, the apostle Paul (speaking of Israel) declares that “all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and all were baptised unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (vs. 1, 2). He then goes on to say that “these things happened [as] types of us” (v6). Now the use of the word us means that the typology cannot be limited to Israel’s unfaithfulness as described in vs. 5-6 but also includes their position as “baptised unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (v2). It must do, because Paul employs the illustration of Israel not because Christians are “lusters after evil things” (though some may be) but in order “that we should not be” (v6, my emphasis).

   Keeping in mind this representative character of “Israel according to flesh” (1 Cor. 10: 18), it is evident that a parallel can be drawn between what was set out in Israel’s baptism to Moses in the Red Sea (and, mark, it was baptism not just a figure of it), and what is pictured in Christian baptism. Yes, I recognise that baptism itself is also a figure (see 1 Pet. 3: 21), but figures signify realities. Now the essence of baptism is dissociation and association, and in the case of Israel, the severance was from Egypt, and the new authority was established in Moses. They were “baptised unto Moses in the cloud and in the Sea” (1 Cor. 10: 2, my emphasis)—that is, they became his disciples. What, however, do these two contrary power centres of Egypt and Moses represent for the Christian?

The House of Bondage

It is not too difficult to see Moses as typifying Christ as the Sent One of God and preaching deliverance. Initially rejected by his brethren (see Exod. 2: 14), He was also the third child of Amram, and the third generation from Levi (see 1 Chron. 6: 1-3)the number three in Scripture consistently speaking of resurrection (see Gen. 1: 9-13; Matt. 12: 40 etc.). Just as Moses passed through the sea, so Christ “became dead” (Rev. 1: 18) but “has been raised up from among [the] dead by the glory of the Father” (Rom. 6: 4).

   What though does Egypt represent? Egypt is a picture of the world away from God, for, unlike Canaan which “drinketh water of the rain of heaven” (Deut. 11: 11, my emphasis), Egypt depended on the Nile, of which Pharaoh arrogantly declared, “My river is mine own, and I made it for myself” (Ezek. 29: 3). It is a place characterised by independence of God “doing what the flesh and the thoughts willed to do” (Eph. 2: 3)—in essence, a world of sin. It is there that the people whom God had chosen were slaves, for “the Egyptians made the children of Israel serve with harshness” and “embittered their life with hard labour” (Exod. 1: 13, 14). Yet if Egypt was a “house of bondage” (Exod. 20: 2) to Israel, in what sense is this present world a house of bondage to us? The Lord Jesus Himself provides the answer: “Verily, verily … Every one that practises sin is the bondman of sin” (John 8: 34). Men and women away from God sin habitually because sin is their master, their house of bondage, for “by whom a man is subdued, by him is he also brought into slavery” (2 Pet. 2: 19). They are bondmen of sin (see Rom. 6: 17, 20) and not only do things that “are worthy of death”, but they “have fellow delight in those who do [them]” (Rom. 1: 32). Sin reigns over them (see Rom. 5: 21; 6: 12) and sin dominates them (see Rom. 6: 14) and so sin is practised by them (see 1 John 3: 8).

   In the type, the situation of the children of Israel in Egypt was hopeless: Egypt was an “iron furnace” (Deut. 4: 20), a prison of suffering from which there was no escape.  God, however, was not oblivious to their plight and “looked upon the children of Israel” and “acknowledged [them]” (Exod. 2: 25). In grace, He sent Moses to them with a message of deliverance from bondage, and although Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let the people go, the power of God forced his submission. Thus, on the night of the Passover, “Jehovah smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon … And the Egyptians urged the people, to send them out of the land in haste; for they said, We are all dead [men]” (Exod. 12: 29, 33).

   However, although the children of Israel were set free on the night of the Passover to serve another master (see Exod. 12: 31), they were not yet delivered from Egypt.  The power of Egypt may have seemed to be defeated (for the Egyptians said, ‘We are all dead men’) but on the shores of the Red Sea, the oppressor terrifyingly reasserted his claim over Israel (see Exod. 14: 5, 8-10). The blood of the Lamb, fundamental as it was, did not bring Israel out of Egypt (indeed, the first Passover, as picturing the believer in his state of sin was necessarily celebrated in Egypt (see Exod. 12: 1, 2)for that is where the believer is when he receives the forgiveness of his sins.

The Believer Unsettled

Now the children of Israel “had gone out with a high hand” (Exod. 14: 8) from Egypt. Here the type closely reflects the antitype, for many newly in the good of Christ as the Passover Lamb are rightly marked by a euphoria in sins forgiven and freedom from judgment. This manifests itself in a determination to have done with sin (hence, in the type, the Passover is also the start of the feast of unleavened bread—see Exod. 12: 18-20; 39; Lev. 23: 5, 6 etc.—leaven being a well-known symbol of sin). The believer, however, does not yet appreciate the extent of his need, nor the scope of God’s salvation. Israel’s quickest route to the Promised Land avoided the Red Sea altogether, but the people were not ready for conflict with the Canaanites. Thus, God did not lead Israel “the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near” (Exod. 13: 17) but turned them into the desert in order that they “encamp before Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea” (Exod. 14: 2). This was a quite deliberate confinement in order that God might show His power, and that Israel might see that they had none. Migdol, the Egyptian border fortress, was the witness that freedom had not yet been achieved. Israel therefore needed to go forward but in front of them lay the impassable barrier of the Red Sea. Progress unsurprisingly stalled, and worse, when “the children of Israel lifted up their eyes … behold, the Egyptians marched after them” (Exod. 14: 10). The euphoria of the Passover was now replaced by alarm, and the people “were much afraid, and cried out to Jehovah” (v10). Pi-hahiroth is only Israel’s fourth encampment (see Num. 33: 3-7)possibly even reachable within the timeframe of the feast of unleavened breadbut the people were now in great distress, saying it would have been “better for us to serve the Egyptians” (Exod. 14: 12). However, it was for the very purpose of breaking that service that God that had ensured they were “entangled in the land” (v3)hemmed in by the mountainous wilderness, with a sea in front of them to drown in, and an army at their rear to either kill or re-enslave them (see Exod. 14: 5). With disaster looming, they accuse Moses of taking them out of Egypt “to die in the wilderness” (v11). Little did the people realise that soon the Egyptians would be dead to them, and that God had provided a way of escape from Egypt that was unthinkable: through the waters of death in front of them. As far as God was concerned, it was the only way out of Egypt.

   Such was the type. What then can be said of the spiritual realities that are pictured for the Christian? At Pi-hahiroth, Egypt sought to retain the people of God, and if the prince of this world cannot retain believers on account of their sins, he will seek it on account of their sinful nature. It is not long before the new convert discovers that sin still has a powerful hold over him. He finds that forgiveness of sins is not deliverance from sin, and that he needs deliverance from its bondage just as much as Israel needed freedom from Egypt’s servitude. He knows the problem, but he does not know the solution: “I am fleshly, sold under sin. For that which I do, I do not own: for not what I will, this I do; but what I hate, this I practise … I delight in the law of God according to the inward man: but I see another law in my members, warring in opposition to the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which exists in my members. O wretched man that I [am]! who shall deliver me out of this body of death?” (Rom. 7: 14-15, 22-24).

   What then is the divinely ordered way of escape? Is it by the believer comforting himself with the thought of that Christ’s precious blood has been shed on his behalf? No, for while the blood of Christ blots out sins, it does not meet the question of sin working in the believer after he is brought to God. Only one thing does and that is the death of Christ. Thus “God, having sent his own Son, in likeness of flesh of sin, and for sin, has condemned sin in the flesh” (Rom. 8: 3). How has sin been condemned? In the death of God’s Son, for “in that he has died, he has died to sin once for all” (Rom. 6: 10)—note, to sin, not for sins. Thus, just as the Red Sea was Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, so Christ’s death is the believer’s deliverance from the bondage of sin. Not only has Christ dealt with our sins by His blood, but by His death He has dealt with our sin. We “have died to sin” because “we have died with Christ” (Rom. 6: 2, 8).  In God’s eyes, when He died, we died also, for “our old man has been crucified with [him]” (v6)—crucifixion being a judicial death (that is, the sentence of death is upon our old sinful self). Many do not see this and strive by rule-keeping to improve what has been condemned by God. They expect something from that which God expects nothing. They may be Christians, but this is not Christianity, for, we “have been made dead to the law by the body of the Christ” (Rom. 7: 4) and “by the Spirit, ye put to death the deeds of the body” (Rom. 8: 13).

Standing Still and Going Forward

Now if “we have died with Christ” (Rom. 6: 8), then “he that has died is justified from sin” (v7)that is, it has no more claim on me. Sin was my master, but if death has intervened, then it can no longer be my master! Many, however, think that when the Bible talks about being “dead to sin” (Rom. 6: 11) it is something they must bring about themselves, and consequently they struggle earnestly to be dead to sin. At the extreme end this has led to monasteries and hermits, but such striving is also widespread among ordinary Christians. This is far from what the Bible teaches, for deliverance from the bondage of sin is not a question of effort but of simply believing what God has done for me in the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. The believer is not to try and make himself dead to sin, but to “reckon” himself “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6: 11, my emphasis). Faith is to lay hold on what God has done in associating me with Christ in death. When Israel crossed the Jordan into the land, they encountered enemies that find their present answer in “spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6: 12; AV) and they were to engage them in battle. By contrast, Moses never commanded Israel to fight the Egyptians. Indeed, his instruction was to expend no effort at all: “Fear not: stand still, and see the salvation of Jehovah, which he will work for you to-day; for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to-day, ye shall see them again no more for ever. Jehovah will fight for you, and ye shall be still” (Exod. 14: 13, 14). If Israel had fought the Egyptians, then they would never have escaped bondage, however hard they had tried. So what were Israel to do? Stand still! Who alone was to act? God.

   Thus Moses, at the word of God, took up his staff and stretched his hand over the sea, and at once the waters of death were divided. God’s people were about to go into what appeared to be a watery grave, and yet those waters of death were in fact the path of life. Now in the same way that God provided a way out of Egypt through death, so God has provided a way of escape for the believer from the bondage of sin. If Christ’s blood has secured our deliverance from the wrath to come, His death has secured our freedom “from the law of sin and of death” (Rom. 8: 2) for “our old man has been crucified with [him], that the body of sin might be annulled” (Rom. 6: 6). Is this something we only arrive at after years in the good of “Christ our Passover” (1 Cor. 5: 7; AV)? No! Baptism teaches us, in figure, these very things at the start of our spiritual pathway, for “as many as have been baptised unto Christ Jesus, have been baptised unto his death” (Rom. 6: 3, my emphasis) and “are become identified with [him] in the likeness of his death” (v5).

   With the sea in front of them, Israel was instructed to “go forward” (Exod. 14: 15, my emphasis)—a quite mad proposal to the rational mind. Such a movement could only be “By faith” (Heb. 11: 29)—the same faith that is operational in practical deliverance from the bondage of sin. God tells us in His word that Christ “has died to sin once for all” (Rom. 6: 10), and that we, as identified with him, “have died with Christ” (v8). We were not present at Christ’s death, and so we must believe these things on the basis of divine testimony. Therefore, as was said earlier, the believer is to reckon himself “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (v11). Christ’s death means that, for the believer, “sin shall not have dominion over you” (v14). Faith lays hold of that wonderful fact, rejoicing that death has broken the link to the old master, just as the Red Sea broke Israel’s link to Egypt and caused them to exult before Jehovah (see Exod. 15: 1-21). Of course, sin is still present with the believer (else why the need to reckon?), but it is not to reign. In Christ’s death, God has given the believer “freedom from sin” (Rom. 6: 22) and if sin is still operational in our lives, it is because we let it. As under the bondage of sin we serve sin; as cleared from the bondage of sin, the exhortation is “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body to obey its lusts” (v12). Thus, our reckoning ourselves “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (v11) needs to be a constant thing. From God’s side, all is secure, for even though the Egyptians pursued Israel into the sea (see Exod. 14: 23), Israel were beyond Egypt’s reach. Thus God “embarrassed the camp of the Egyptians … the Egyptians said, Let us flee before Israel, for Jehovah is fighting for them against the Egyptians! … and the sea returned … and covered the chariots and the horsemen of all the host of Pharaoh that had come into the sea after them; there remained not even one of them” (v24-28). As in the type, so in the antitype, for Christ’s death has secured a complete triumph over sin, and it is our privilege as believers to simply believe it. If Israel saw “the Egyptians dead on the sea-shore” and “the great power [with] which Jehovah had wrought” (vs. 30, 31), so the believer is to lay hold of what God has done in the death of Christ. He must reckon himself “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6: 11) and yield himself to God “as alive from among [the] dead” and yield his members as “instruments of righteousness to God” (v13).

Conclusion

Of course, the Red Sea was only the start of Israel’s journey with God—just as freedom from the bondage of sin, while vital, falls far short of the fulness of what God has in store for us. The Red Sea only put Israel into the wilderness, not the land—the wilderness being a picture of this earthly scene through which we make our pilgrimage, utterly dependent on God for our resources, “alive to God in Christ Jesus” (v11) and walking “in newness of life” (v4). Entering into the land (which typifies our heavenly blessings) took place after the much later crossing of the Jordan. We can enter that blessing now, but we need to know what it is to be raised up into the heavenlies in Christ Jesus (see Eph. 2: 6). Romans 6, (which the Red Sea pictures) does not take us quite that far, for although it speaks of resurrection, it is presented as something yet future: “so also we shall be of [his] resurrection” (v5, my emphasis). Nonetheless, let us ensure that we have really taken the lesson of the Red Sea on board because there can be no further progression with God unless we have taken that initial step. Let us also be kept from approaching these wonderful truths in a dry and cold manner. We should ever remember that it is Christ personally who has borne the penalty against sin, for He was “made sin for us” (2 Cor. 5: 21), and that He went “into the heart of the seas” on our behalf, and that the waters encompassed Him “to the soul” (Jonah 2: 3, 5). Without Him there would be no walking “on dry [ground] through the midst of the sea” (Exod. 14: 29) for us.

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