Most of us have heard Exodus 14:14 used to express the importance of standing still and letting God fight for us. But what about when God tells you to move forward? Today, we’re looking at this important chapter of the Bible to find some lessons from Exodus 14 to give us balance and clarity about what it looks like to follow God.
The Bigger Story Around Exodus 14
Let’s start with a little backstory to set up the events of Exodus 14. This important chapter of the Bible falls right in the middle of the Hebrew exodus from Egypt. Leading up to this point, the people of Israel had been enslaved by the Egyptians for about 400 years! But God had finally prepared and sent Moses to demand that Pharaoh let God’s people go.
Of course, Pharaoh wasn’t too keen on the idea of giving up his massive free labor force. He had some pyramids to build! But when he refused to obey God’s command, God unleashed a series of plagues on the entire nation of Egypt. There were 10 of these plagues and each one struck a blow at the things the Egyptians held sacred.
Unfortunately, each time Pharoah was given another opportunity to obey God and allow the Israelites to leave, his hard heart got in the way and he refused, bringing on another plague. He had enough though when God took the life of every firstborn male from every Egyptian household (both human and animal). Pharoah finally relented then and Israel fled.
God had demonstrated His mighty power in Egypt through those plagues. He proved, not just to the Egyptians but to the Israelites as well, that He was a God to be feared and obeyed. He also proved that He was fighting for His people, the Israelites. But this didn’t stop when they left Egypt. God continued to show the people of Israel who He was by traveling with them in a pillar that appeared as a cloud during the day and as fire at night. This pillar moved in front of them and showed them which way to go, when to go, and when to stay still.
And that brings us to the beginning of Exodus 14.
As Exodus 14 opens, God had started to do something that seemed a little strange. Rather than leading the people toward the land He had promised them along a straight and efficient path, God told them instead to turn back and camp in a location that made no logical sense. He told them Pharaoh would see what they were doing and think they were confused, then he would chase after them, giving God one final opportunity to demonstrate His power and glory among the Egyptians.
After this, God said, the Egyptians would know that He was the Lord!
Israel obeyed and sure enough, Pharaoh saw and pursued. In fact, he came after them with the full force of the formidable Egyptian army. But suddenly, as the Israelites were faced with hundreds of chariots and a well trained fighting force barreling toward them through the desert, they forgot about God’s power and presence and got real scared.
They turned on Moses in their panic with a complete lack of faith in the God who had brought them so far already. “Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness?” they asked Moses.
And this is where the most famous verse in Exodus 14, Exodus 14:14, comes in.
Exodus 14:13-14 (NIV) – Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”
We all love to latch onto that concept – that God is going to fight for us so all we have to do is stand there and watch. But we have to be super careful with Scripture because a verse taken out of context can do a lot of damage. So let’s look at the very next verse, Exodus 14:15.
When God Tells You to Move Forward
Exodus 14:15 – Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the people to get moving!”
Even if Moses did tell the people to stand still (we’ll talk more about that in a minute), it was Moses who said it, not God. God said to get moving! That doesn’t mean that if that’s what he meant, Moses was all wrong. God WAS going to be the one fighting for them, and the people DIDN’T need to panic or be afraid. The only part that was wrong was the standing still part, and even then, only because God had told them to move!
Guys, we have to stop using Exodus 14:14 to justify standing still when God has told us to move. When God tells you to move forward, inaction is not acceptable. So let’s be really careful how we’re using the Word of God!
Thankfully, Moses and the Israelites responded in obedience in Exodus 14, and God went on to do one of the biggest and most famous miracles in the entire Old Testament. He parted the Red Sea, giving Israel a path to freedom. Then, when the Egyptians followed Israel into the middle of the Sea, God sent the water back into place, drowning Pharaoh and his entire army.
He certainly DID fight for Israel that day! They only had to move forward when He told them to, He did everything else.
4 Lessons from Exodus 14
So that’s Exodus 14. Now, let’s do what diligent students of the Word of God should always do in good Bible study and pull in some other Scripture passages to help us interpret the lessons God has for us here. After all, the Bible actually supports the idea of being still before God, we just have to be careful in our application. We want to use God’s Word accurately and then be fiercely obedient to what we find. We do NOT want to use God’s Word out of context as feeble support for our own misguided ideas.
So here are four lessons from Exodus 14 backed up and expanded upon by the whole of Scripture:
Lesson #1 – God WILL fight for His people.
There is no doubt that Scripture supports the idea of God fighting for His people. The list of verses that back up this concept is long, too long to cover here. But we’ll cover some of my favorites.
First, there are the verses from the Old Testament where God promised to fight for Israel because they were His people:
Deuteronomy 20:3-4 – He will say to them, “Listen to me, all you men of Israel! Do not be afraid as you go out to fight your enemies today! Do not lose heart or panic or tremble before them. For the Lord your God is going with you! He will fight for you against your enemies, and He will give you victory!”
Isaiah 41:8-10 – But as for you, Israel my servant… I have chosen you and will not throw you away. Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God; I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.
See also 2 Chronicles 20:17, Deuteronomy 1:30, 3:22, Jeremiah 1:8, 23:10, Isaiah 43, and many more.
Then, there are the general promises throughout Scripture to all of God’s people in both the Old and New Testament:
Isaiah 54:17 – But in that coming day no weapon turned against you will succeed. You will silence every voice raised up to accuse you. These benefits are enjoyed by the servant of the Lord; their vindication will come from Me. I, the Lord, have spoken!
Psalm 138:7 – Though I am surrounded by troubles, You will protect me from the anger of my enemies. You reach out Your hand, and the power of Your right hand saves me.
See also Isaiah 40:31, Psalm 34:17, Psalm 44:5, Psalm 18:39, Isaiah 42:13, Psalm 118, and many, MANY more!
Finally, there are the verses from the New Testament that speak about how God is fighting for us today, not only against our flesh and blood enemies, but against the powers of darkness that wage war on our souls.
2 Corinthians 10:3-4 – We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments.
Ephesians 6:10-13 – A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all the strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh and blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm.
2 Thessalonians 3:3 – But the Lord is faithful; He will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one.
Romans 8:31-39, James 4:7, Luke 10:19, 1 John 4:4, 2 Thessalonians 1:6, and many more.
So you see, Moses was right when he told the Israelites they didn’t need to be afraid because God was going to fight for them. God is always fighting for His people and we never need to feel like we have to win the battles on our own. We can have confidence in the God who strengthens us, equips us, and fights our battles for us!
Lesson #2 – When “be still” means have faith, be still!
Like I said above, the idea of being still before God IS actually a Biblical concept. It IS one of the lessons from Exodus 14 that we can cling to. But it needs to be understood correctly.
I used the NLT translation above for Exodus 14:14 because it’s the one I see used most often, but I happen to think it is a very weak translation. You see, where the NIV says “you need only to be still,” most other translations use wording like this: “Just stay calm” (NLT), “you have only to be silent” (ESV), “while you keep silent” (NASB). And that really changes things!
As usual, I think the NLT does the best job of capturing the heart of what was being said here. You see, I don’t actually think Moses was telling the people to stand still, I think he was telling them to stay calm. I think his message was one meant to quiet their fear, not immobilize their feet. He was reminding them of the God in whom their faith should have been firmly placed by this point in the story.
Here are some of the other verses from the Bible that talk about being still. Look at them and tell me, do you think the best interpretation for “still” is inaction or calm and steady faith?
Psalm 46:10-11 – “Be still, and know that I AM God! I will be honored by every nation. I will be honored throughout the world.” The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us; the God of Israel is our fortress.
Psalm 37:3-7 – Trust in the Lord and do good. Then you will live safely in the land and prosper. Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you your heart’s desires.
Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust Him, and He will help you. He will make your innocence radiate like the dawn, and the justice of your cause will shine like the noonday sun.
Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for Him to act. Don’t worry about evil people who prosper or fret about their wicked schemes.
Isaiah 26:3 – You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in You, all whose thoughts are fixed on You!
John 16:33 – “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in Me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”
You can also look at these incredible passages for further study: Psalm 62, Philippians 4:6-8, Isaiah 30:15, 1 Peter 3:4, Zechariah 2:13, Habakkuk 2:20, Isaiah 40:31, and many more!
I don’t believe there is any room for doubt. When the Bible talks about stillness it is most often a stillness of heart. It is a peace in our innermost being that trusts in the God to whom we belong. This kind of faith should be the desire of our hearts and something we all pursue every day of our lives.
Lesson #3 – When God tells you to move forward, move forward
We have learned that God is always on our side, fighting for us and equipping us, so we can stay calm and have faith in Him always. Now it’s time for the third of our lessons from Exodus 14, and the one that seems to almost always be left out of the commentary. That lesson is, when God tells you to move forward, for heaven’s sake, move forward!
Hebrews 12:1-2 – Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses tot he life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith…
Philippians 3:12-14 – I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to posses that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.
Psalm 32:8-11 – The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you. Do not be like a senseless horse or mule that needs a bit and bridle to keep it under control.”
Many sorrows come to the wicked, but unfailing love surrounds those who trust in the Lord. So rejoice in the Lord and be glad, all you who obey Him! Shout for joy, all you whose hearts are pure!
Luke 6:46-49 – “So why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say? I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it. It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against that house, it stands firm because it is well built. But anyone who hears and doesn’t obey is like a person who builds a house right on the ground, without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will collapse into a heap of ruins.”
See also, Proverbs 3:5-6, Proverbs 4:25, Isaiah 43, 1 Corinthians 9:24, James 1:22, Romans 6:16, Luke 11:28, and many more.
Look, there ARE going to be times when what God tells us to do is wait or be still or do nothing. I am not suggesting here that we try to force our way forward in those situations. That would be just as detrimental as doing nothing when God has said move! What I am saying is that our attitude toward God should be reflected in the words Ruth spoke to her mother-in-law Naomi: “Where you go, I’ll go, and where you stay, I will stay.” Obedience is the key.
Lesson #4 – Fear only God, for He is awesome!
One quick and final thing I want to point out, and something I don’t want to leave out of our lessons from Exodus 14 is this: We should never be motivated by fear unless it is the fear of the Lord.
God had demonstrated His power to the Israelites in staggering ways. He had not only proven Himself mighty, but shown that He was on their side too. So even though the Egyptians represented a terrifying threat to anyone else, there should have been no fear among the people of God.
It’s easy to look at the Israelites and wonder how they could have been so fickle and faithless, but there is no less of an excuse for us today! God has done even greater and mightier things for us than he did for them. His miracles for us haven’t just freed us from bondage to human oppressors, He has set us free from the shackles that hold us to sin and death! He doesn’t lead us in a pillar of smoke and fire, he leads us through the actual indwelling of His very own Spirit within us!
So friends, let’s never become paralyzed to disobedient inaction as a result of fear. We have nothing to fear. There is absolutely nothing, not one single thing, that holds more power than our God. There is no person, no situation, no unseen enemy of darkness that has the power to do something God does not allow. So we don’t need to cower, we can confidently move forward and run the race to which we’ve been called with endurance.
Deuteronomy 31:6 – So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you.
So keep your eyes on Jesus, friend, and when God tells you to move forward, GO!