Nobody likes tests. But the test is a recurring pattern in the biblical story for how God relates to his chosen ones. So are humans just lab rats in a divine experiment, or is there something else going on? Join Tim and Jon as they talk about the theme of the test and the famous account of Israel crossing the Sea of Reeds, as we dive into the second movement of the Exodus scroll.
The word “test" doesn't activate positive associations for a lot of people. But it is a word introduced in the biblical story for how God relates to his chosen ones. It’s not just that God enjoys testing everybody—the pattern is when God selects someone as his representative, he gives them opportunity and blessing and abundance and responsibility. All of those opportunities become a test. … The abundant trees of the garden become the test of whether Adam and Eve will trust God to give them wisdom or whether they will choose to do what’s wise in their own eyes.
In part one (00:00-14:30), Tim and Jon jump into the second movement of the Exodus scroll, which spans Exodus 13:17-24:18, covering Israel’s journey from Egypt through the wilderness to Mount Sinai.
In this movement, we’re tracing the theme of the test. During Israel’s years in the wilderness, God tests the nation multiple times. Passing the tests is in no way a prerequisite for God’s salvation—he’s already saved Israel from Egypt! So why does God test humans? It’s part of how God relates to his chosen ones. When God selects someone to represent him (and therefore, to receive his blessing), he gives them opportunities in life that he doesn’t give to other people. Those opportunities automatically become tests: will they trust God’s word and wisdom or will they do what’s good in their own eyes? In order for Israel to be Yahweh’s representatives to the nations, Israel and Yahweh need a close relationship built on trust.
In the wilderness, sometimes Israel’s tests come from their enemies, hot in pursuit. Sometimes tests arrive in the form of a total lack of resources. Each test comes down to a choice to trust their own attempts at security or trust God’s ability to protect them.
In part two (14:30-20:25), Tim and Jon talk about the opening of the second movement. The author of Exodus ties this new movement to the scroll’s opening movement and the conclusion of the Genesis scroll with what first appear to be random details.
For example, in Exodus 13:17-18, the narrator describes Israel’s exit from Egypt in language identical to the description of what Pharaoh was afraid would happen if he let Israel be fruitful and multiply (Exod. 1:9-10). Repeating the language signals to readers that the storyline of Exodus is restarting in a way—Israel is moving to a new geographical location.
The next line, verse 19, seems even more random: the narrator tells us Moses takes Joseph’s bones up out of Egypt. This detail links us back to the closing lines of the Genesis scroll.
In part three (20:25-33:30), the guys explore Yahweh’s choice to lead Israel the long way from Egypt, toward the Red Sea. What we know as the Red Sea is the Hebrew phrase yam suph, which literally means Sea of Reeds.
Ultimately, we don’t really know where the Israelites crossed the body of water called yam suph in Exodus 13, as yam suph refers to a number of different bodies of water throughout the Bible. Given the proximity of Exodus 13’s yam suph to the Sinai Peninsula, it could refer to the Gulf of Suez, the Gulf of Aqaba, or something else entirely. In other words, we can read the account of Israel’s crossing the Sea of Reeds more generally as their crossing of a great body of water.
The lack of specificity is intentional: geographical specificity is not the author’s goal here. The narrator of Exodus possibly has the theological significance of this place in view instead. Israel is going back into the watery waste, and life or death depends on whether or not they will trust Yahweh.
In part four (33:30-49:50), Tim and Jon discuss the final time Yahweh hardens Pharaoh’s heart—not during the tenth plague, but during his determined pursuit of Israel into the wilderness (Exod. 14:1-4).
Pharaoh, with an entire army, chases Israel to the shore of the Sea of Reeds, and this situation becomes a test for Israel.
Exodus 14:13-14 But Moses said to the people, “Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of Yahweh which he will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever. Yahweh will fight for you while you keep silent.”
Moses tells the people, caught between a body of water and a hostile army, to stand still. Israel is caught between life and death, but it looks like no matter where they turn, they’ll die. This is the first time in the Hebrew Bible that the word “salvation” appears. It’s the Hebrew word yeshua, which will appear later as Jesus’ name. Israel thinks their only option is to stand there and die, but because they are waiting at Yahweh’s command, their lack of movement results in their salvation. Israel passes this test and passes through the chaotic waters to dry land.
In part five (49:50-1:02:37), Tim and Jon examine the Song of the Sea in Exodus 15, a poetic retelling of Yahweh’s deliverance of Israel at the Sea of Reeds.
As Moses retells the story of the exodus in song, his actions become synonymous with Yahweh’s actions.
Exodus 15:6 Your right hand, O Lord, is majestic in power, Your right hand, O Lord, shatters the enemy.
Moses is the one who stretched out his hand, when his staff became a snake and when the waters of the Sea of Reeds parted. But here we see that Moses’ hand was a manifestation of Yahweh’s hand.
Exodus 15:17-18 You will bring them and plant them in the mountain of your inheritance, The place, O Lord, which you have made for your dwelling, The sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established. Yahweh shall reign forever and ever.
The end of the Song of the Sea foreshadows what is to come. Once Israel has endured years of testing in the wilderness, Yahweh will bring them into the Promised Land, pictured here as the garden of Eden—the mountain garden where Yahweh dwells with humanity.
Exodus 13-14 becomes a key narrative for how we should understand what it looks like for Yahweh to test people. He didn’t add any additional obstacles, as if humans are lab rats in a divine experiment. Rather, the evil of Pharaoh and the dangers of the wilderness created an environment where Israel had to choose to trust Yahweh or not. In any test, we see only options that look like death, and Yahweh provides another way that leads to life.
Show produced by Cooper Peltz. Edited by Dan Gummel. Show notes by Lindsey Ponder.
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