Pharaoh allowed the Hebrews to leave Egypt not because they were worthy, but because of God’s unmerited favor (Hebrew chen translated as grace in the OT) brought plagues to force the Pharaoh’s hand. God loved His chosen people and desired to fulfill covenant with Abraham. While they left in haste, it’s interesting they are described as having marched out “with a high hand” or boldly as if there were nothing to be concerned about (Exodus 14:8). But the Pharaoh, as a type of Satan today, was fully determined to recapture all who were escaping bondage (14:5,6). And as people come to Christ, rarely are they aware or warned that Satan is looking to devour them again, requiring them to be vigilant as well as humble under the mighty hand of God (1 Peter 5:6,8).
God was aware of the Hebrew’s unwarranted confidence, so He did not let them take the shortest route through the land of the Philistines, “lest perhaps the people change their minds when they see war, and they return to Egypt” (Exodus 13:17). God had Moses lead the people to camp by the Red Sea. However, as Egyptian chariots and soldiers drew near, the Hebrews found themselves trapped with their backs to the sea, wishing they’d never left Egypt (Exodus 14:12). But Moses told them to not fear and to stand still to see the deliverance of the LORD (14:13,14). Such is a repeated exhortation to stand fast in times of trial in the NT as well. We are even told by Peter to rejoice in our trials in order that our faith, being more precious than gold that perishes, though it be tried with fire might be found to praise, honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ so we can receive the end of our faith, the salvation of our soul (1 Peter 1:6-9).
It is not always easily remembered that the battle belongs to the LORD. When Moses stretched his staff over the sea as commanded by God, the waters divided so Israel could cross on dry land (Exodus 15:22). The same thing would take place later when Israelites would cross the Jordan during flood stage on dry land. And all believers under the new covenant should expect such provision of God as the Hebrews experienced during our personal times of trial and challenge. We are given the same charge as Moses gave the people by Paul in our times of challenge: “There has no temptation taken you but such is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Safely crossing the Red Sea and seeing the Pharaoh’s chariots and soldiers drowned by the waters that closed over them, Moses and the people sang, “The LORD is my strength and song and He is become my salvation…. The LORD shall reign for ever and ever” (Exodus 15:2,18). There was recognition that God was their salvation, and they praised Him: “Who is like You, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders” (15:11). Three days later after finding no water, they came to Mara where the waters were bitter. They murmured, quickly forgetting God who had delivered them. Their song to the LORD had not been of faith, but merely of gratitude as anyone is prone to do when all goes well. “The LORD shall reign for ever” was already forgotten. Jesus is looking for those today who will praise Him in faith when faced with danger before any Red Sea type of crossing has taken place.
Shortly the Amalekites came against Israel. Amalek was the grandson of Esau who had disavowed his birthright for a bowl of stew, being more concerned about satisfying his fleshly desires than his rightful inheritance before God. Moses sent Joshua with men to fight while Moses stood on top of a hill with the staff of God in his hand and Aaron and Hur aside. While Moses held up his hands interceding, Israel prevailed; but when his arms tired and his hands were let down, Amalek prevailed (17:11). So Moses sat on a stone with Aaron and Hur holding up an arm on either side and the Amalekites were routed (17:13). Amalek is a type of Satan and the battle foretells ongoing war with Satan as described in Ephesians 6:12. After that first battle, Moses said prophetically of times to the present, “The LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation” (17:16).
Here Moses is foretelling Jesus in two more respects. The first is going up a hill with the staff of God. It foretells Jesus going up Mount Calvary bearing a cross. The second is Moses’ intercession for his people in battle against the enemy. We have an intercessor sitting at the right hand of our heavenly Father today at the throne of all mercy and grace, “the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5), mediating for us. And what the LORD said to Moses about having war with Amalek will continue until Satan is thrown a the lake of fire together with his angels: “I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven” (Exodus 17:14).
In the third month, the Israelites reach Sinai and camped at the base of the mountain. Calling to Moses, the LORD said, “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself, Now, therefore, if you will obey My voice indeed, and keep My covenant, then shall you be a peculiar treasure to Me above all people” (19:4,5). When Moses told the people what God said, they answered, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do” (19:8). But the Hebrews did not recognize (nor do many who profess Christ) that they were facing adversaries both outwardly and inwardly. The latter was a carnal (sinful) nature and iniquity inherited from Adam that would incline them to rebel against the commands of God. Their outward adversaries would be nations of heathens (representing ways of the world) who would become a snare and thorn in their sides because the Hebrews failed to fully drive them out of the land.
The people then consecrated themselves as Moses commanded with the symbolic act of washing their clothes and abstaining from sexual relations in marriage. On the third day, the mountain quaked and became covered by a thick cloud with thunder and lightening. A trumpet sounded loudly and the majesty of the sight caused the people to tremble as they pleaded with Moses, “Speak you with us, and we wll hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die” (20:19). This is true of many believers today. Why would they not want to hear from God but only from Moses? If we hear directly from God, we understand there are consequences if we refuse to obey. We itch to hear pleasant worlds instead of being told to turn from unrighteousness or being commanded to sacrifices our own desires and pleasures for the sake of righteousness. “Let me travel a road without either suffering or sacrifice.”
Even Aaron, head of the priestly order responsible for sacrifice and worship, compromised the standards of God to please people by making a golden calf much as takes place today in the majority of American churches. And the people responded, “These be your gods, O Israel, which have brought you up out of the land of Egypt” (32:8). In the meantime, Moses was up on Mount Sinai for forty days, during which time he received the law and Ten Commandments or Testimony written on two stone tablets by the finger of God (31:18). During his absence, the people pressured Aaron to “make us gods which shall go before us” (32:1). He took gold earrings from the people, cast them into the form of a calf and built an altar for sacrifices. God was so distressed that He spoke of destroying Israel and building a new nation through Moses. But God relented as Moses reminded Him of the covenant with Abraham, again foretelling Jesus Christ mediating on our behalf during our stumbles in life (1 Timothy 2:5).
We may well wonder how they could possibly worship a golden calf lest we forget that we also are brought out of the idolatry of the world and are commanded to never return. But do we not continue to love the world and things of the world in contrast to the command of God that we not do so. We live in a society of materialism and bow to idols of my types (1 John 2:15). While God is long-suffering and merciful, there is a point of no return when His favor is withdrawn because of persistent unrighteousness when we love the world and the things of the world as we shall learn.