The final plague to strike Egypt was also the most devastating. God had warned Pharaoh that if he didn’t acquiesce to the requests made by Moses and Aaron on His behalf, Egypt would pay the ultimate price; the death of all its firstborn.
But Pharaoh refused to yield. To give in and grant Moses and Aaron’s request at that point would be tantamount to admitting defeat, to admitting that he had, in fact, been wrong and that was not something he was willing to do.
So he defiantly dug in his heels and refused to let the Israelites go. It was then that God directed Moses to prepare His people for the coming storm of grief and loss. The Israelites were told that the angel of death would scour the length and breadth of the land that very night. They were instructed to take a lamb, a young, unblemished lamb, and kill it, then to take its blood and smear it over the lintel and doorposts of their homes.
Moses assured them that all those whose homes were covered by the blood of the lamb would be spared the stroke of the angel’s sword. The blood of the lamb would cause the angel to pass over them.
This would be the first Passover. A festival that has been celebrated by Jews for over three thousand years, not only remembering God’s miraculous deliverance from slavery but also remembering that He spared his people from the finger of death because of the blood of the lamb.
That night the angel of death went through the land of Egypt and took the lives of all the firstborn. Every firstborn that was not under the protection of the blood of that paschal lamb. That lamb was a symbol of Jesus, the ultimate Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world and protect us from the final destruction of the wicked described in the Bible.
When the first keening wails of grief spread across the land, gouging out the hearts of its inhabitants Pharaoh came face to face with the cost of rebellion. The very real cost of turning up his heel against the God whose hand curled around the breath in his body
Summoning Moses and Aaron he commanded that they and their people leave Egypt without delay. The Hebrews were ready and raring to go but they didn’t leave empty-handed. The Bible says that they plundered the Egyptians. Not by force because the Egyptians piled them with gold, silver, and other precious things freely, without murmur or complaint.
God went before His people in a pillar of cloud. When the Hebrews left Egypt they were 600,000 men strong, without counting women, children, and livestock. They created a great breathing chain of humanity, raising the brown dust beneath their feet in clouds that swirled around them, their livestock bleating, their children prancing before them.
They made their way south and camped on the shores of the Red Sea, a sliver of blue under a clear sky. The smoke of their campfires could be seen from a distance and the great brooding pillar of cloud, bright white against the azure sky hovered protectively over them.
Then came the shout. Passing from sentries watching the road towards Egypt. The unmistakable thunder of hooves in the distance, pounding the red dessert earth, churning plumes of dust that could be seen miles away. The glint of shields and spears, bright under an unrelenting sun. It was the army of the Egyptians, crazed with a wild desire to recapture their slaves.
There was panic throughout the camp. Screaming women gathering their children, men shouting to their wives, trying to herd their livestock. No one really knowing where they were going until as one single heaving mass of panic and terror they turned on Moses, standing firm in their midst, calmly assessing the approaching Egyptians.
Moses turned to God, which is probably where the Hebrews should have turned to, to begin with as well.
God directed Moses to hold out his staff over the ocean and then He sent a wind. A scouring wind that swept sand into crevices and lifted the waves of the ocean higher and higher, their foam caps frothing and billowing under the squalls until it seemed as though the entire mass of water was lifting and shifting, being torn apart like an old garment ripped along the seams, exposing the bare bones of the ocean floor, sandy and tranquil beneath the towering walls of blue-green water curling like spires towards the sky.
The pillar of cloud moved between the Israelites and the approaching Egyptians. And then, at daybreak Israel crossed the sea on dry land. When they were all safely ashore, the cloud lifted. When the Egyptians saw the open path through the water, they plunged ahead. The Bible paints the poignant picture of God, looking down from the ruckling crowds overhead, and confounding the belligerent Egyptian host until their wheels were mired in a sticky mess of sand and trickling water. And then without warning, like a collapsing wall, the waters sank to their knees with a hiss and a roar, rushing over the Egyptians in a single, deadly sweep. Just like that, the Egyptian army perished and the Hebrews didn’t lift a finger.
The story of Israel crossing the red sea draws our minds back to that most powerful promise found in Exodus 14:15 “the Lord shall fight for you and you shall hold your peace.” Sometimes faith requires action and sometimes faith requires us to stand still and see the Salvation of the Lord.