ŇBy faith they passed through the Red sea as by dry land: which the Egyptians assaying to do were drowned.Ó Hebrews 11:29.
Hitherto, we have heard the faith of Moses alone highly commended in two examples. Now followeth a commendation of his faith with others; so that here is a new example of faith; to wit, of the Israelites together with Moses. For Moses is here to be considered not only as one of them, but as a principal agent in this work of faith. And here their faith is commended to us by a wonderful strange action which they did, through the power and goodness of God; namely, by their passing through the Red Sea; not by passing over it, for that might have been by art; but through it; which is above nature and art, and merely miraculous. This fact of theirs is largely set down in Exod. 14. And that it might appear to be every way wonderful, as it is indeed, the author of this epistle commends it by two circumstances; which notably set forth unto us the strangeness hereof; first, by their manner, how they passed through, namely, as by dry land; secondly, by the time when, namely then, when the Egyptians following them were drowned. Here first we will speak of the fact itself, and then of the circumstances.
I. The fact is set down in the first words:
By faith they passed through the Red Sea.
The words are plain of themselves, and offer unto us sundry points worthy of our observation:
1. And first, it may be asked, who they were that here passed through by faith? The answer is, the Israelites. But some will say, we read in the history that when the people came to the Red Sea they were wonderfully afraid, and murmured against Moses, saying that it had been better for them to have lived in the bondage of Egypt than to come into the desert and there die. Now how can they murmur impatiently and fearfully, and yet pass through by faith? Answer: At the first indeed they murmured, when they saw the danger they were in, having the huge army of Pharaoh following them, and the Red Sea before them, and hills and mountains on each side. But howsoever they murmured at the first, yet when Moses spake words of comfort unto them in the name of the Lord, bidding them not to be afraid etc., and when he held up his rod and entered into the Red Sea before them, then they followed him by faith; and hereupon the Holy Ghost gives unto them the title of true believers.
(1) Here we may learn that true faith in GodŐs children is mingled with unbelief. The IsraelitesŐ faith was true faith, but yet it was very imperfect and weak; for if it had been perfect and sound faith, they would never have murmured, nor have been impatient and fearful. But look as it is in nature, so it is in grace. In nature we cannot pass from one contrary to another, but by the mixture of the contraries; as in light and darkness, the one doth not follow the other immediately; but first, there is a mixture of them both in the dawning of the day and closing of the night; and so it is in other contraries, even in those which concern the soul; unbelief is a sin, faith is a virtue and grace contrary to it. Now unbelief cannot be expelled by faith, before there be a mixture of them both, and so when faith prevaileth, unbelief decayeth; neither can faith be ever perfect, because it is ever mingled more or less with unbelief.
This plainly overthrows the opinion of the church of Rome, who say that after a man is regenerate and believes, there is nothing in him that God can hate. For they imagine that he is soundly sanctified, that there is nothing in him which may properly be called a sin; but here we see their doctrine is false, seeing faith and unbelief are always mingled together.
(2) Secondly, as it falls out with faith, so it is with the rest of GodŐs graces; look as faith is not perfect, but mixed with unbelief; so are all other graces of God whatsoever. The fear of God is not perfect in a man, nor the love of God; for the fear of God is mingled with the fear of men; and the fear of God for His mercy, is mingled with the fear of God for His judgments. And hereby many are deceived; for when they fear God for His punishments, they think themselves to be most miserable and void of grace, but they deceive themselves. For there is no man upon the earth that feareth God only for His mercies, and doth not fear God also for His punishments in part; for GodŐs graces in this life are ever mingled with their contraries. And therefore to imagine that a man may fear God for His mercies only, and not for judgments also, is to conceive of such a man as none is, nor can be in this life; for the best fear that is in any man living, is a mixed fear.
(3) Further, when Moses had spoken words of comfort unto them, the unbelieving and fearful Israelites do stir up their hearts to believe. So we accordingly must labour and strive against that inbred unbelief which is in us; for every man hath innumerable sins in him that resist faith; and if they be not checked and suppressed, they will master his faith; but he that would have faith to continue and last, must strive against natural unbelief, as the Israelites do in this place; and as the man in the gospel (Mark 9:24), when he saith to Christ, Lord, I believe, help my unbelief, knowing that his unbelief did suppress his faith. And so did the disciples of our Saviour Christ, when they prayed, Lord, increase our faith (Luke 17:5). And David, being oppressed with deadness of heart, stirs up his faith, saying, Why art thou cast down my soul etc. Wait on God (Psa. 42:11). For he that hath faith, is troubled with unbelief; and the more it troubles him, the less he believeth, unless he strive against it manfully.
2. 2nd Question: But how many of the Israelites believed and went over by faith? Answer: Not all; for Paul saith, With many of them God was not well pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness (1 Cor. 10:5). Which shews that all that passed over had not true faith; for some believed; and by the force of their faith, all went over safely.
Hence we note this (which hath been often taught us), that an ungodly man receiveth many temporal benefits by the society of GodŐs people which believe; as here the unbelieving Israelites had this benefit, to go through the Red Sea safely, by reason of those that believed. And in the former example, the brute beasts were freed from killing by the angel, because they belonged to the host of the LordŐs people. Now shall a brute beast have benefit by being with GodŐs people, and shall not a man much more? Yes undoubtedly; for so we may read that for PaulŐs sake, all the mariners and soldiers that were in the ship, were saved from drowning (Acts 27:24). This point must persuade every one of us to make choice of the godly for our society and company, with whom we live and converse, for by them we do reap many benefits, and freedom also from many heavy judgments.
3. The third point is this: When did the Israelites believe? This circumstance is worth the marking. They believed when they passed through the Red Sea; for they believed not only in general that God was their God, as He had promised to their fathers; but they believed that God would be with them, and give them life in the midst of the Red Sea. A notable point. They believed (as it were) in the middle of their graves (for so might the Red Sea be well called), that God would give them life everlasting, and preserve them safely through the sea, and from their enemies.
In their example we are taught the same duty, to do as they here did. The child of God in this life hath innumerable causes of desperation; and sometimes his own conscience will take part with Satan in charging the soul to be in a state of damnation. In this heavy case, what must be done? Surely at this time, when a man is a castaway in himself, he must even then believe; being in hell (as it were) he must believe that God will bring him to heaven. It is nothing for a man to believe in prosperity and peace; but in time of desperation to believe, that is a most worthy faith; and indeed, then is the right time for a man to shew his faith, when there is in himself no cause of believing.
Objection: But when a man is in this case, he cannot believe. Answer: Indeed to believe then is a wonderfully hard thing, and a miracle of miracles. But yet this is the property of true faith so to do; and if there be but one dram of true faith in the heart that despairs, howsoever it may for a time lie hid as dead; yet at length it will make him to hope, and wait for mercy and life at the hands of Almighty God. And therefore, if it shall please God at any time to lay a torment upon our consciences, so as we shall strive with the wrath of God, thinking that He hath cast us away; yet for all that, then we must believe GodŐs promises, and set before us His mercies, and therewith refresh us. And if this faith were not, the child of God many times were in a most miserable case; the Lord therefore hath most mercifully provided to help him by the grace of faith. When a man is past all hope of life, he must then believe and hope for life, as the Israelites did in the Red Sea for preservation. And undoubtedly this is a most comfortable sign of grace, if a man in the horror of conscience can shew forth the least spark of true faith.
4. Fourthly, note the effect and issue of this faith: They passed through the Red Sea. We say usually that water and fire be unmerciful creatures; and therefore the natural man fears them both; but the IsraelitesŐ faith makes them not to fear the water; but it makes them bold, even to pass through the sea. The like we may see for fire in the three children (Dan. 3:16,23), who were not afraid of the hot burning oven, but were as bold in it as out of it. Ravenous and wild beasts are terrible unto men, but faith makes a man not to fear them; and therefore Daniel feared not the lions, though he were thrown into their den to be devoured (Dan. 6:22). Great is the fruit and force of faith; it takes from a man the dear of those creatures which by nature are most terrible. And here we see a cause why the holy martyrs of God died most cheerfully. A man would think it strange that one should go into the fire rejoicing, as many of them did; but the reason is because they had faith in their hearts, which taketh away the fear of the most fearful creatures.
But if it be so (may some say), that the Israelites by faith went through the Red Sea, not fearing the water; why may not we that believe now do the same, for we have the same faith that they had? Answer: We have indeed the same faith, and yet we cannot pass through waters as they did. For their faith rested on two promises: first, on this made to Abraham, I will be thy God and the God of thy seed; secondly, on a particular promise made to Moses. For when He commanded him to go through the Red Sea, withal He made a promise to keep and preserve them; and this they believed, and so went through. Now howsoever we have justifying faith, having the same general promise; yet we have not the like particular promise, that if we pass through the Red Sea, God will be with us and save us. And therefore, if any man shall adventure to do so, let him look for nothing but death; for it is not an action of faith, but presumption. And therefore Peter sunk when he would needs walk unto Christ upon the sea, having no such hold upon GodŐs special promise as here they had; and the Egyptians following presumptuously were all drowned. Wherefore let us here be warned not to attempt to do extraordinary works without GodŐs special warrant; for a particular faith requires a particular promise besides the general promise of God in Christ.
Further, let us here observe a wonderful work of GodŐs mercy and power. When these servants of God were brought into extremity of danger, so as they were in a desperate case for their temporal life; yet then the Lord finds a way of deliverance. And indeed, if a man consider aright of it, he must needs acknowledge that these Israelites were in a pitiful case; for they had the Red Sea before them, and mountains on each side, and themselves hindered from flight by their bag and baggage, and with their children, and the huge host of Pharaoh behind them; so as to manŐs reason there was nothing but present death to be looked for; yet the Lord in mercy to save them, makes a way where there was no way, and openeth them a gap to life, when natural reason could lay before them nothing but violent death. Which shews the wonderful mercy of God to His own people and servants. And the like thing we may read of David when he abode in the wilderness of Maon; for there Saul followed him, and he and his men compassed David and his men round about (1 Sam. 23:26,27). Now what hope of deliverance was there for David? Answer: Surely this only: David was the servant of God, and the Lord preserved him, that he might rule His people after SaulŐs death; and therefore he escapeth, though wonderfully; for a messenger came to Saul, and bids him haste, for the Philistines invaded the land; and so Saul returned from pursuing David, and went against the Philistines.
Hence we learn this general rule; that in the extremity of all danger, God hath means to preserve and save His own children and people. Which must teach us to commend our case to God, and to rest on Him in all dangers; for when our case is desperate in our sight, then are we fittest for GodŐs help. Let us therefore in such cases learn to practice our faith; and then especially to cast ourselves upon God. This Jehosaphat did most notably; for being assaulted with the huge armies of the Moabites, Ammonites etc., he prayed unto the Lord most fervently (2 Chr. 20:12), saying, Lord there is no strength in us, we know not what to do, but our eyes are towards thee; and thus doing, was preserved; for God will in no extremity whatsoever forsake them that trust in Him.
The Red Sea.
In many places of the Old Testament it is called the sea of rushes (Psa. 106:7,9), or the sea of sedges (Jer. 49:21). It is a corner of the Arabian Sea that parteth Egypt and Arabia. Those which have seen it in travel, say it hath no other colour than all other seas have. Why then is it called the Red Sea? Answer: To omit many supposed causes hereof, there be two especially, for which it is so called: First, because of the red sand; for both the bottom of the sea and the shore are full of redder sand than ordinarily is elsewhere. Secondly, some think it is called the Red Sea by reason of the sedges and bulrushes which grow much at the seaside, and be of a red colour; which by reflection, may make the same colour appear on the water. But this need not to trouble any man; for the Holy Ghost useth the same name which commonly the men of that country gave it. And thus much of their fact, that they by faith passed through the Red Sea.
II. Now we come to the two circumstances whereby it is commended.
1. The first circumstance is the manner of their going through the Red Sea: They went through as on dry land. This must not be conceived to be by the help of bridge or ship, nor by means which men use, such as swimming, sailing or wading; but their passage was miraculous; for the waters stood like walls on both sides of them. And the channel of the sea was as a pavement or dry land (Exod. 14:22). Which noticeably setteth forth the strangeness of this act, shewing that it was a wonderful work of God. And this also confuteth certain enemies of the Scripture, who have cavilled at all the miracles which are recorded therein; accounting of Moses but as a magician and sorceror, and of the miracles which he did, as of illusions; and for this miracle they make no account of it; for, say they, Moses being a great scholar and a wise man, knew the time of the rise and fall of the waters, and knew the fords and shallow places; therefore he took his time, and found a place so shallow, that when the tide was past, the sands were bare and dry (as the marshes in England are), and then he led the host of Israel through. But Pharaoh and his host following them were drowned, because they went through at the flowing of the sea. Answer: Whereas they say that this their passage was no miracle, here we see it is overthrown by this circumstance of the manner of their passing over: for the bottom of the sea was a pavement, and as ground on which no waters fall. Now in most places of the sea where the waters ebb and flow, the ground is never fully dry, but watery and full of moist places.
Again, the waters passed not away as at an ebb, but stood as walls on each side of the host of Israel, both on the right hand and on the left; both which shew plainly that there was no advantage taken by the ebbing and flowing of the water (as ungodly atheists do cavil, deriding GodŐs works to their own destruction), but a mighty and miraculous work of God, first making the waters stand like two walls, and then making the earth under it firm and dry, contrary to nature in them both.
2. The second circumstance is concerning the time when he passed through; even then when the Egyptians assaying to do, the same were drowned. Mark the words, for the thing is strange; the Egyptians come armed after the Israelites, with a huge great army. Now the Israelites they take into the sea, and the Egyptians seeing them, stand not still upon the bank, but adventure after them, not by ship, but the same way that the Israelites took before them; but yet without any warrant or commandment from God; so great was their malice against them; and yet a man would have thought they durst never have adventured into the sea after them, as they did.
(1) Here by this fact of Pharaoh and his men, we learn that when God forsakes a man and leaves him to himself, he doth nothing else but run headlong to his own destruction. God, as Moses saith, raised up Pharaoh to shew His power upon him; and now it pleaseth God to leave him to himself, and he pursueth the Israelites to his own destruction. And this is the course and state of all those that are forsaken of God. The consideration whereof must teach us a special clause to be used of us in our prayers: we must ever remember to pray for this, that God would never wholly forsake us nor call us off. This condition is more fearful than the state and condition of any creature in the world besides; for when God forsakes a man, all that he doth is hastening himself to his own destruction. David knew this well, and therefore he prays, Oh knit my heart unto thee, that I may fear thy name (Psa. 86:11). And again, he prayeth that the Lord would not forsake him overlong (Psa. 119:8), as if he should say, If it be thy pleasure to try me by leaving me to myself, yet Lord let it be but for a while, forsake me not overlong. This is the scope of the sixth petition, Lead us not into temptation; where we are taught to pray that God would not forsake us or leave us to ourselves, or to the power of Satan; but that He would be with us, and shew His power in our weakness continually. And this may enforce us unto this petition; for the consideration that men forsaken of God do nothing but work their own destruction, is many times a cause of great trouble of mind. For some desiring to see such as hang or drown themselves, by beholding of them get this conceit in their heads, that God will likewise forsake them as he hath done these whom they behold; and so shall they make away themselves; whence followeth great trouble and anguish of soul for a long time. Now, how must a man or woman in this case help themselves? Answer: The best way is by prayer to crave at GodŐs hands that He would ever be with them, and never wholly forsake them. And further, this must be remembered withal: that God will never forsake any of His servants before they first forsake Him. And therefore they that can say truly and unfeignedly that they desire to serve God, and to be His servants, and seek His blessing by prayer; they may stand fast on this ground: That God will never forsake them till they first forsake Him. And therefore Azariah the prophet saith notably to king Asa (2 Chr. 15:2), The Lord will be with you while you be with Him; and if ye seek Him, He will be found of you; but if ye forsake Him, He will forsake you. And James saith, Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you (Jam. 4:8). It was never heard that God did ever forsake any that did seek Him. And if the causes were known why men make away themselves, it would prove (generally) to be thus, because they first by some fearful sins have forsaken God; and then He in His justice forsakes them. And therefore they that are troubled with this temptation, must pray earnestly that they may stick fast unto God by faith and holiness; and so will He never forsake them.
(2) Secondly, in this circumstance that the Egyptians following the Israelites were drowned, we have a notable pattern of the state and condition of all persecutors of GodŐs church. In Pharaoh and his host we may see their end, which is usually destruction; that is their reward for persecuting GodŐs church. Cain slays Abel, that notable servant of God; but his reward was this, he was cast forth of GodŐs church (Gen. 4:11-13), and stricken in GodŐs just judgments, with final desperation. Saul persecuted David; but his end was to kill himself with his own sword (1 Sam. 31:4). And Jezebel, she persecutes the prophets and children of God; but her end was this, the dogs did eat her flesh (2 Kin. 9:10). The whole stock of the Herods were great enemies to Christ, but their name was soon rooted out; and Herod called Agrippa, that slew James, and persecuted Peter, was eaten up of worms (Acts 12:23). Many great emperors in the primitive church were persecutors; but they died desperately. And Julian, for one, once a Christian, died blaspheming Christ; and casting his blood up towards heaven, cried, Thou hast overcome, O Galilean, thou hast overcome. And to come near these times, what reward from God the persecutors of the church have had, we may read in the book of Acts and Monuments, which was penned for that purpose. And to come to these out days, the whole band of those that call themselves Leaguers, in France, Italy, Spain etc., like the tabernacles of Edom and the Ishmaelites, Moab and the Agarims etc. (Psa. 83:5,6), they vow the destruction and persecution of GodŐs church; but yet GodŐs church stands; and He so contrives the matter that they draw swords against themselves, and slay and poison one another. Herein doth God graciously make good His promise to His church, that the weapons made against her shall not prosper. And (Zech. 12:13) there is a prophecy of the church in the New Testament, the Lord saith, He will make Jerusalem (that is, His church) an heavy stone; for all people that lift it up shall be torn, though all the people of the earth be gathered against it; where the prophet setteth down notably, what shall be the condition of those that persecute GodŐs church; the more they persecute her, the more they shall have GodŐs hand against them to confound them. There is mention made (Dan. 2:34) of a stone hewn out of a rock without hands, which smote the image upon the feet, which were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces. By that stone is meant the kingdom of Christ, which shall dash in pieces the kingdoms of the earth, which set themselves against Christ and His kingdom. For Christ must reign till He have put all His enemies under His feet; so that destruction is the end of the enemies of GodŐs church. For the hand of the Lord shall be known among His servants, and His indignation against His enemies (Isa. 66:14). And thus much of the second circumstance.
Now in this whole fact of the Israelites passing through the Red Sea, towards the land of Canaan, there is a notable thing signified: namely, Baptism. So Paul saith, The Israelites were baptised into Moses in the sea (1 Cor. 10:2). Yet we must remember, it was not ordinary baptism, but extraordinary; never administered before, and never shall be so again, for ought we know. The minister of this baptism was Moses; an extraordinary minister, as the baptism was extraordinary. The outward sign was the Red Sea; or rather the water of the Red Sea. The departing of the children of Israel out of Egypt through the Red Sea, signifieth the departing of the children of God out of the kingdom of darkness, from the power of sin and Satan. And the drowning of Pharaoh with all his host in the Red Sea, signifieth the subduing of the power of all spiritual enemies, with the pardon and death of sin; which stands partly in the abolishing of sin, and partly in newness of life. And to this alludeth the prophet Micah, saying, He will subdue our iniquities, and cast all their sins into the bottom of the sea (Mic. 7:19). As if he should say, Look as God subdueth Pharaoh and all his host in the bottom of the sea; so will He cast, and put away the sins of His people.
From this we learn two points:
(1) First, that the baptism of infants hath warrant in GodŐs Word, howsoever some men be of a contrary opinion; for here we see all the Israelites were baptised in the sea; and among them no doubt were many children. If it be said that this baptism was extraordinary, and is no ground for ours; Answer: True, it was extraordinary for the manner; but yet herein, the matter and substance, and the thing signified is ordinary, and in the end all one with ours; and therefore the baptising of infants in the Red Sea is some warrant for the baptism of infants in the church nowadays.
(2) Secondly, here we may learn another instruction. As the Israelites went through the Red Sea (as through a grave) to the promised land of Canaan; so we must know that the way to the spiritual Canaan, even the kingdom of heaven, is by dying unto sin. This is a special point to be considered of every one of us. We profess ourselves to be Christians, we hear GodŐs Word, and receive the sacraments, which are the outward badges of Christians, and we persuade ourselves of life everlasting after death. Well; if we would have that to be the end of our journey, then we must take the LordŐs plain way in this life; which is to die unto all our sins. So it is said, They which are ChristŐs have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts thereof (Gal. 5:24); where this duty is enjoined to every Christian; he must crucify the lusts and affections of the flesh, and not live in sin. For a man cannot walk in sin, and so run the broad way to hell, and yet wait for the kingdom of heaven; these two will not stand together. And therefore, if we would walk worthy of the calling of Christianity, we must have care that all our sins, whether they be of heart or life, little or great, new or old, may be mortified and abolished. Many will for a time become civil, and seem to be religious, especially when they are to receive the LordŐs Supper; but when that time of the sacrament is past, then they return to their old custom in sinning again; whereby it appears that their change was but in shew, to blind the eyes of men. And do we not each Sabbath profess ourselves good Christians, and seem to glory in it, by keeping this day with such solemnity? But alas! As soon as that day is past, many (and some even this day) run into all riot. This is not Christianity; this is not the way to heaven; but if ever we think to come to Canaan, we must kill and bury our sins, we must die unto them; or else we shall never come to the end of Christianity, namely, eternal life. And thus much of this circumstance, and also of the example itself.