The Israelites were slow learners. They had witnessed many signs and miracles attesting to the power of God, and yet they still had trouble believing. Exodus 7:14-11:10 recounts the ten plagues that God brought on Egypt to convince Pharoah to let the Israelites go. God led them out of Egypt, and yet when they got to a place where they appeared to be trapped on all sides (Exodus 14:2-3) they forgot that they could rely on the power and the love of God. We do the same thing all too often.
When the Israelites felt the Egyptians closing in on them, they became afraid and cried out. But they did not cry out for help in prayer to God; they cried out in sarcasm and complaint against Moses. (Exodus 14:11-12) They would rather continue to live in slavery to the Egyptians than to face the unknown and trust God to keep His word and bring them to the land He had promised them. (Exodus 13:5)
What was Moses’ response to this outcry? He comforted and encouraged them. He told them not to be afraid, and that God would surely deliver them. God would fight for them; they needed only to be still. (Exodus 14:13-14) The end of verse 14 has been translated a few ways that give a slightly different interpretation. The NET Bible says, “and you can be still”. This is a privilege: you don’t have to worry or fret; everything is taken care of. The New Living Translation says, “Just stay calm.” The New Revised Standard Version says, “you have only to keep still”. Other versions say that they needed to be quiet or silent. In any case, the Israelites just needed to stand there and keep their mouths shut. It doesn’t really seem like so much to ask, considering the solution that the situation called for, but you can bet that it was a challenge for them.
There are other passages in the Bible that tell us that we must be prepared, and that we need to not be lazy, but to earn our own way. (Proverbs 21:31, Proverbs 24:27, Proverbs 24:33-34, II Thessalonians 3:11-12) How do we know when we need to act or just wait on the Lord? The key, I think, is where we have put our attention. If we are focused on God instead of our circumstances, He will guide us, and He will give us peace. If we have ended up in a situation through our own bad choices, we need to ask Him for mercy and forgiveness, but if He has brought us into a situation, we can be sure that He already knows the way out. We need to trust Him. Remember that Peter was able to walk on water as long as he was concentrating on Jesus, but as soon as he started thinking about the strong wind, he began to sink. (Matthew 14:28-30) As my friend Ann Mainse would say, “Keep your eyes on Jesus; it’s all about Him.”