The book of Exodus records the epic battle between God and Pharaoh over the Hebrew nation of slaves. The will of God for Pharaoh is understood from the beginning: “Let my people go.” God had no interest in attacking the Nile, of overrunning the country with insects and amphibians, of sending boils and hail, of blighting the crops, of killing livestock or the sons in each unguarded household. The point of it all was this: the people of God were to be set free.
But Pharaoh, believing that he was the only one to decide what would and would not be permitted within the borders of his country, chose not to surrender to anyone’s demands, even if that One stood above time and eternity. And so he clamped an iron grip on the chains of the slaves while his nation collapsed around him. He failed to notice that in refusing to surrender the slaves, he surrendered everything else. When at last he loosened his grip, he and the nation were broken, bleeding and bowed down.
The freed slaves sang all the way out of town. All seemed to be going quite well until they arrived at the shores of the Red Sea. Before they could even plan their next move, they turned around to see the dust of Pharaoh’s chariots and heard the faraway tramp of horses' hooves. Pharaoh had one thought in mind. He had come to return the Jews to slavery, to restore things as they had been, to prove that even after all he suffered, nothing had changed. Egypt would be restored to order which included a nation of slaves to serve and to scrape and to bow. He still commanded the people’s fate and these would be bound again. Slavery would define their existence.
Rather than trusting in the God who had delivered them mightily, there was panic among the people. They wailed to Moses, “Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’?” (Exodus 14:11) It may be that the chains of slavery had been severed from the hands of the Jews but they remained slaves in their hearts and minds. Freedom was something too wonderful to grasp. Slavery, as cruel and exploiting as it was, at least was a life they understood. Liberty presented too many choices and ultimately, too much personal responsibility. As long as they were slaves, the people had someone to blame for their troubles but when freedom came they faced the terrible tyranny of choice. No wonder to some the life of a slave looked better.
When someone becomes a child of God, that one has been wrested away from Satan. And even though Satan knows his kingdom is even now beginning to crumble, like Pharaoh he wants to hold on to the former slave of sin even though at Calvary the fatal wound was struck. But he wants that soul. He wants you. It would seem that Satan would accept the defeat and move on. Like Pharaoh who mounted his chariot and led his forces into battle to recapture the slaves, Satan wants you back. He cares not for his defeat at the cross because it is you he wants back in chains, back in servitude, back in subjection.
Too often, we are like the former slaves of Israel. Though we are free, we remain slaves in our minds. Rather than rising up to claim the riches of the people of God, we look back to slavery with its thoughtless doom and find that somehow that was more secure. In our slavery, in our sin, we could blame the addiction or the consequences of our foolishness or the people we imagined who were out to get us. But standing as free men and women in Christ, there is a wide plain before us with choices and the demand that we grow in faith. For some, that can be frightening.
Or maybe it is not a return to slavery but a return to Egypt that is the goal. If we can just live in Egypt but not be slaves, we imagine we can have the best of both worlds. And that is precisely what millions of Christians try to do. They try to live in the land of sin but claim the freedom that is in Christ.
But Pharaoh wasn’t charging out to bring the Israelites back as freed men and citizens of his kingdom. Egypt meant only one thing: slavery. And for the Christian fool enough to think they can live in the sinful land as a freedman there is only one fate to be had: slavery.
Don’t turn back. Don’t live as a slave. Cross over. There is nothing behind but chains.
You are free now. The Promised Land is yours.