09-27-2015 message by Pastor Rich Doebler

Heb 11:29 (NIV) By faith the people [of Israel] passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.

Here is a fascinating verse about two different groups of people—similar in a lot of ways and yet very different. Both groups took a risk; they both did something heroic. They both did the same, exact thing—something bold and courageous.

But that’s where the similarities end—because even though their actions were identical, their motives were not. One acted by faith, the other acted out of foolishness.

Just because you’re bold and courageous—just because you dare take a risk—doesn’t prove faith in God. Doing something risky can be a sign of foolishness, not faith. Doing something reckless could mean self-confidence rather than confidence in God.

So just because you act religious or you act spiritual doesn’t necessarily mean that you are. Faith means more than merely doing religious things. Here are some of the lessons we learn from this verse.

  1. Some things that LOOK like faith—aren’t.

It was by trusting God that the Israelites crossed the Red Sea. They did it by faith. The Egyptians had faith—but their faith was in themselves. They didn’t have faith in God.

They did something that looked like faith. They thought they could do what the Israelites did, only they didn’t have the God of the Israel. So the Israelites acted by faith, but the Egyptians acted out of foolishness.

It was a stupid thing for them to do.

Did you ever do something stupid? Did you ever do something without thinking through where it could go—without considering the possible outcome?

I crashed a car when I was 16—because I was being stupid. I listened to friends instead of thinking for myself and being responsible. Thankfully, no one was hurt, but it could have been serious.

Did you ever do something stupid?

I have a friend who at the age of 12, on a whim—without thinking—stuck her finger in the back of a Brink’s armed guard waiting at a cross walk with a pile of money. She said in her best grown-up voice: “Stick ‘em up.” That was not a wise thing to do. Before she could blink, she had a gun in her face, held by a very nervous (and very angry) guard, who said, “Don’t ever do that again.”

Did you ever do something stupid?

A doctor, a lawyer, a pastor, and a boy were all on a small plane when the plane developed engine trouble. In spite of the best efforts of the pilot, the plane started to go down. The pilot grabbed a parachute and yelled to the passengers: “Strap on your parachute. We’ve got to jump out.” Then he bailed out.

Unfortunately, there were only three parachutes remaining for the four passangers.

The doctor grabbed one and said “I’m a doctor, I save lives, so I must live,” and he jumped out.

Then the lawyer said, “I’m a lawyer and lawyers are the smartest people in the world. I deserve to live.” So he grabbed a parachute and jumped.

The pastor looked at the little boy and said, “My son, I’ve lived a full life. You’re young; you have your whole life ahead of you. Take this parachute and go serve the Lord.”

The little boy handed the parachute back to the minister and said, “It’s okay, Pastor. The smartest man in the world just jumped out with my back pack.”

Some people talk about a blind leap of faith. But faith is not a blind leap. Faith is like skydiving with a parachute. It’s trust based on a relationship with a loving God.

Faith is a leap into the arms of Someone who has proven himself over and over. Your faith grows everytime God shows himself to be real and true and reliable.

Faith doesn’t always make sense, but it also doesn’t mean that we reject all reason and logic! God gave us minds for a reason. Christianity does not require that you check your mind at the door of the church.

Faith is not foolishness. Faith is like skydiving with a parachute. Foolishness is like skydiving with a backpack. It’s foolish to put your trust in something that has never been proven.

Some people don’t see the difference between faith and foolishness—until after they jump. It’s when they reach for the ripcord that they realize they have a backpack instead of a parachute.

Beforehand, something foolish may look just like something requiring faith. But after you’ve done something, the results make it easier to tell the difference. Hindsight is always 20/20.

With their chariots stuck in the mud, their wheels coming off, their horses sinking deeper, and the water surging back on them, the Egyptians said, “Uh oh! This was a stupid idea.”

Actually they said more than that. As the waters of the Red Sea washed over them, they finally acknowledged the God they had resisted. They said, “Let’s get out of here—away from these Israelites! The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt!” (Exod 14:25, NLT)

Give them credit for daring to do something reckless and risky. But what good is that if you’re not trusting in the Lord? Some things that look like faith are foolish.

  1. Some things that look foolish are actually faith.

Put yourself in the place of the Israelites. You’ve been riding an emotional roller coaster for a while—first thinking Moses was leading you out, instead your slavery became more cruel and harsh.

Then you see these miraculous plagues—one after another—shaking Pharoah’s grip, only to have him change his mind and tighten the screws.

Then comes the tenth and final plague allowing 3 million Israelites to march out of Egypt, only to look up and see Pharoah’s entire military might bearing down on you, hemmed in by the sea.

So naturally, you’re afraid. You know you’re going to die. You complain to Moses, “It would have been better to be slaves in Egypt than to die in the desert.”

Then Moses holds out his staff over the sea. All night a strong east wind blows, and before dawn the waters have been pushed back leaving a pathway across the sea. Moses says, “Let’s go!”

And you think, “After all I’ve been through, is this really a good idea? Isn’t this a bit foolish?”

You’ve been on an emotional roller coaster for a long time, so what would it have been like to look over the Red Sea and see a path of ground between two walls of water?

Have you ever been to the Aquarium where there’s a huge wall of glass with dolphins or beluga whales playing on the other side of the glass? Maybe crossing the Red Sea was a bit like that. Your kids are excited to see dolphins and fish swimming at eye level as they walked by?

I don’t see it as a solid, glass wall holding the water back. In my mind, I think of a liquid wall. Water piled up high, jiggling and wiggling like a mountain of Jello. I imagine it as a wall of liquid that looks for all the world like it could come splashing down at any moment.

And I’m thinking that every single step you take between those two walls of water would have to be a step of faith. Your kids go over to touch the wall of water and their hand goes right into the wall and comes out wet.

If I’m the parent, I’m thinking, “You kids get away from that wall of water. You might punch a hole in it! You want all that water to come down on you? Leave it alone.”

So I admire the Israelites for daring to do something that seemed foolish. It was another event on their roller coaster ride, but it wasn’t foolishness. It took faith to step out in faith to cross the Red Sea.

  1. There’s a huge difference between faith and foolishness.

Both Israel and Egypt set out to cross the Red Sea. Both would have felt apprehension. Both had to act courageously to overcome their fears. So similar, yet so different. We see:

  • A difference in focus. Where is your focus? What are you looking at? Real, genuine faith is confidence in God—not in false gods, not in human effort, not in positive thinking—but in God!
    Heb 11:1 (KJV) Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
    (NIV) Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
  • A difference in results. Both did the same thing; both crossed the sea between two walls of quivering water. But Israel was delivered, while Egypt was destroyed.
    Exod 14:27-29 (NLT) …The Egyptians tried to escape, but the Lord swept them into the sea. 28Then the waters returned and covered all the chariots and charioteers—the entire army of Pharaoh. Of all the Egyptians who had chased the Israelites into the sea, not a single one survived. 29 But the people of Israel had walked through the middle of the sea on dry ground, as the water stood up like a wall on both sides.
  • A difference in motives. Israel acted out of obedience to God. Egypt acted out of greed and anger. (Greed? They wanted the economic advantage of owning all those slaves. Anger? Because they felt tricked into letting the Israelites escape.)
    → Some say Israel was motivated by fear. It’s true, they were afraid of the Egyptian army.
    But they were also in awe of Yahweh—a reverence for God that fueled their faith to obey.
    → Faith allowed them to put their lives into God’s hands—plus their children’s lives, all their possessions, their flocks and herds, their entire future—they put it all into God’s hands.

Genuine faith leads to a tangible response or action—though sometimes our response should be to “stand still” and see what God will do; sometimes our response is to wait.

When we trust in God by listening for his direction, our faith will move us to take action. Sooner or later it must move us. Like the old song says: Trust and obey…

If you always wait and never do anything, that might indicate a weak and anemic faith (even a “dead” faith).

James 2 says that faith without action is “dead.” Jas 2:17 (NIV) …faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. Dead “faith” is not really faith at all; an inactive faith is not alive.

You might have an unused bank account, just sitting, waiting for some activity—a deposit or a withdrawal. But even an unused account should be earning a little interest. The best kind of accounts will have your money “working” for you.

Faith doesn’t just sit there—it’s earning interest. It should be growing. But if you’re not exercising your faith to grow stronger, then it will begin to shrivel and waste away.

The difference between “Israel” and “Egypt” was faith! Both did a crazy, courageous thing, walking across the Red Sea. But Israel walked in submission, trusting the Lord, while Egypt marched defiantly against God and his people.

Who will you be like? The Israelites? Or will you be like the Egyptians? Will you put your faith and trust in God? Will you submit to him? Or will you trust in yourself and do things your way?

(The following is not included in the recorded message.)

For further reading…

(Exod 14:1-14, NLT) 1 Then the Lord gave these instructions to Moses: 2 “Order the Israelites to turn back and camp by Pi-hahiroth between Migdol and the sea. Camp there along the shore, across from Baal-zephon. 3 Then Pharaoh will think, ‘The Israelites are confused. They are trapped in the wilderness!’ 4 And once again I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will chase after you. I have planned this in order to display my glory through Pharaoh and his whole army. After this the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord!” So the Israelites camped there as they were told.

5 When word reached the king of Egypt that the Israelites had fled, Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds. “What have we done, letting all those Israelite slaves get away?” they asked. 6 So Pharaoh harnessed his chariot and called up his troops. 7 He took with him 600 of Egypt’s best chariots, along with the rest of the chariots of Egypt, each with its commander. 8 The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, so he chased after the people of Israel, who had left with fists raised in defiance. 9 The Egyptians chased after them with all the forces in Pharaoh’s army—all his horses and chariots, his charioteers, and his troops. The Egyptians caught up with the people of Israel as they were camped beside the shore near Pi-hahiroth, across from Baal-zephon.

10 As Pharaoh approached, the people of Israel looked up and panicked when they saw the Egyptians overtaking them. They cried out to the Lord, 11 and they said to Moses, “Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness? Weren’t there enough graves for us in Egypt? What have you done to us? Why did you make us leave Egypt? 12 Didn’t we tell you this would happen while we were still in Egypt? We said, ‘Leave us alone! Let us be slaves to the Egyptians. It’s better to be a slave in Egypt than a corpse in the wilderness!’”

13 But Moses told the people, “Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today. The Egyptians you see today will never be seen again. 14 The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.”

(Exod 14:21-31) 21 Then Moses raised his hand over the sea, and the Lord opened up a path through the water with a strong east wind. The wind blew all that night, turning the seabed into dry land. 22 So the people of Israel walked through the middle of the sea on dry ground, with walls of water on each side!

23 Then the Egyptians—all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and charioteers—chased them into the middle of the sea. 24 But just before dawn the Lord looked down on the Egyptian army from the pillar of fire and cloud, and he threw their forces into total confusion. 25 He twisted their chariot wheels, making their chariots difficult to drive. “Let’s get out of here—away from these Israelites!” the Egyptians shouted. “The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt!”

26 When all the Israelites had reached the other side, the Lord said to Moses, “Raise your hand over the sea again. Then the waters will rush back and cover the Egyptians and their chariots and charioteers.” 27 So as the sun began to rise, Moses raised his hand over the sea, and the water rushed back into its usual place. The Egyptians tried to escape, but the Lord swept them into the sea. 28 Then the waters returned and covered all the chariots and charioteers—the entire army of Pharaoh. Of all the Egyptians who had chased the Israelites into the sea, not a single one survived.

29 But the people of Israel had walked through the middle of the sea on dry ground, as the water stood up like a wall on both sides. 30 That is how the Lord rescued Israel from the hand of the Egyptians that day. And the Israelites saw the bodies of the Egyptians washed up on the seashore. 31 When the people of Israel saw the mighty power that the Lord had unleashed against the Egyptians, they were filled with awe before him. They put their faith in the Lord and in his servant Moses.

The following observations are adapted from George H. Guthrie’s NIV Application Commentary on Hebrews (Zondervan Publishing: 1998), pp 388-390. He says that Hebrews 11 teaches us that…

  • Faith involves confident action. (11:1) Acting in synch with what God is doing or saying.
  • Faith is a response to an unseen God and his unseen promises. We see with eyes of faith.
  • Faith involves God’s workextraordinary miracles in the lives of ordinary people.
    Noah (got drunk and lay naked in his tent); Abraham lied about his wife; Isaac lied about Rebekah, Jacob was a deceiver; Moses was a murderer; the Israelites were ungrateful grumblers; Gideon was a doubter; David was an adulterer.
    But real faith must be expressed by real people—pilgrims on a journey who are searching and have not yet arrived.
  • Faith works in various ways. It works in every kind of situation.
    In Hebrews 11 there is not one single healing mentioned. Instead, we read about an offering (sacrifice), a man taken to heaven, building a boat, moving a family, having a child, surrendering that child to God, seeing into the future, defying an authority, choosing suffering over pleasure, etc. [commentary]
  • Faith may take the long view. Sometimes faith yields a “delayed” or even a “negative” outcome.
    Abel was murdered; Abraham had to wait for the promise; some were tortured, mocked, beaten, destitute, stoned, put in prison, mistreated, mutilated. Faithful people sometimes do not see “results” in this life. [commentary]
  • Faith is rewarded by God. Faith helps us align our lives to God, his values, his timing.
    So we can look beyond the immediate troubles to see the larger significance of the ultimate and the eternal.
Faith or Foolishness?