The transition from Moses’s word of comfort as the prophet of God and God’s own words has a comic ring to it. As God promised to save, he now commands the people to receive their final salvation from their captors. “Get moving!” he says, in effect.
The culmination of the relationship between Egypt and the children of Israel results in two things: salvation and judgment. Exodus 14 and 15 presents one of the clearest views of salvation and judgment outside of Revelation 20-22. God beckons his people away from their former place and leads them into his promise while he brings his wrath to bear on all those outside of his people.
In our contemporary, God-objecting age, we may feel as if God’s actions against Egypt have no justification. Recall several things. Later on, in Deuteronomy 32:35, God will claim vengeance as his own right (Paul restates the same in Romans 12:19-20). The people who pursue the children of Israel previously enslaved them and drowned their baby boys. In the West, we make a distinction between law enforcement and the military, but no such distinction existed in ancient Egypt. These armies bore the guilt of murdering children by throwing them in the Nile. Moses himself only lived due to his family’s direct action. The same army who would pursue Moses and the Israelites to the shore of the sea also experienced the upheaval in their nation during the plagues. Some of the Egyptians had abandoned their previous lives and went out with God’s people. None of those in God’s courtroom at the parted sea lacked witness to God’s revelation of himself in the confrontation between his prophet Moses and the false god Pharaoh.
As the people of God march through the parted waters on dry ground, the walls of water on both sides of them keep the withheld judgment of God in view. Of course, as the Egyptians follow their released slaves through the waters of withheld judgment, God withholds no more. Literal tons of water rush back in to fill the void, and the mightiest army on earth receives their due for every Israelite baby stolen from his mother and thrown into the river.
In the following text, Exodus 15, the saved of God sing his praises for their final deliverance from their captors. Several times, the text speaks of God throwing the Egyptian horsemen into the sea. One way God’s people give him glory is by repeating the actions he has done. In this case, God’s defeat of his people’s enemies serves as the focus of their praise. The people of Israel saw they no longer had anything to fear from those who held them in bondage for so many years.
When God saves his people, he saves them from something. Often, because we grow accustomed to language around salvation, we let our salvation become an abstract idea. We throw our words around like they do not communicate something of any real meaning. The good evangelical will recoil in horror from such a notion, and say things about sin and justification by faith, of course. However, sin manifests itself in sins, and not just our own personal sins. To be sure, we do indeed receive salvation from God from our own personal deeds of evil for which Jesus bore the very wrath of God at Golgotha.
The picture Exodus paints proves one of salvation from the sinful world. The world which constantly assaults those who seek to follow Christ in repentance and belief resulting in righteousness. The world which throws temptation after temptation towards the people of God. The world which causes them to suffer and die. In the West, we rarely face such opposition, but in places like China, Niger, and Saudi Arabia, Christians claim the name of Jesus with full knowledge that any day they could see staring at the wrong end of a gun or knife. Such things shall not stand forever. The world which chases down the people of God to fight against them, to return them to unrighteousness follows the same path as their Egyptian forebears. They walk through a torrent of withheld judgment, never knowing when God will unleash it. The Egyptians do not constitute a symbol of the world and the judgment against it. Rather, they provide one instance of the phenomenon.
When Jesus teaches on the Final Judgment, he speaks of the separation of the sheep from the goats. He commends the sheep for the treatment of his brothers; he condemns the goats for their failure to treat well “the least of these.” Folks often use Jesus’s words in Matthew 25:45 to speak of the poor or needy in general. However, the nearly identical wording in 25:40 clearly refers to Jesus’s brothers. Other Scripture passages point to care for the poor in general (Galatians 2:10, for example), but not the teaching on the sheep and goats (note: Matthew does not say Jesus called it a parable). The New Testament does not throw around the word “brother” lightly. It expresses something as bold as “native’ in Exodus 12:48. The brothers of Jesus consist of his disciples (see Hebrews 2:11). How the world acted towards the church, the brothers of the Lord, brought condemnation upon the goats.
The salvation of Israel and judgment on Egypt points forward to the great day on which Christ will judge the earth. Those who tossed away their false gods, sins, and everything else with no place in the new heavens and new earth will pass through into fellowship with their God. Those who sought to abuse God’s people, those who peddled idols and temptations will receive their due as well. The response of the people of God, forever freed from sin, their own and the world’s, will be to rejoice in the God of their salvation.
Further reading: The "Least of These Are Not the Poor But the Christian Baker, Photographer, and Florist"