The Importance of Being Still

The Importance of Being Still

Last week we saw how “God led the [Israelites] around by the desert road toward the Red Sea”[1] and that “After leaving Sukkoth they camped at Etham on the edge of the desert.”[2] As his people left Egypt, the LORD determined to lead them by a pillar of cloud by day, a pillar of fire by night,[3] with Moses as his representative. These are the primary means at this time that the LORD used to lead his people back to the land he had promised Abraham from whom all the Israelites had descended.[4] Yet as we’ll see, throughout this mass departure the Israelites mistrusted God’s guides. As soon as hard times and trials arrived, they feared—and complained—and determined that they knew what was best. This morning’s passage presents us with an early instance of this along with Moses’ answer to their grumbling—and perhaps to ours as well.

As chapter 14 opens, verses 1 and 2 state, “1 Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Tell the Israelites to turn back and encamp near Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea. They are to encamp by the sea, directly opposite Baal Zephon.’” As one scholar notes, by leading his people back near Pi Hahiroth, “This invited Pharaoh’s pursuit.”[5] It invited Pharaoh’s pursuit because the LORD was now leading his people northward, back in the direction from which they’d come. But there was a divine method to this seeming madness. As verses 3 and 4 make clear, the LORD told Moses, “Pharaoh will think, ‘The Israelites are wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed in by the desert.’ And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them. But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.” Pharaoh was being provoked by the LORD for a divine purpose for by leading his people in this manner, God planned to display his glory.

Now humanly speaking, Pharaoh’s thinking would be correct—the Israelites would be “hemmed in by the desert” on one side and the Red Sea towards which they were “marching out boldly” (verse 8) on the other. But where Pharaoh’s thinking was incorrect was in assuming that the “Israelites [were] wandering around the land in confusion.” This clearly was not the case. Again, encamping back at Pi Hahiroth was by divine order and design. Consequently, as Pharaoh pursued Israel, God would gain glory for himself by means of Pharaoh’s pursuit. What is more, the LORD did this not only for the sake of rescuing his own people, but in order that the Egyptians, too—this nation that followed other gods[6]—would know that the LORD is God over all nations, including their own. For God is ever the evangelist who discloses himself to others that they might turn to him. He ever seeks to tell people the Good News that he is the one and only true God in order that they might know him as such. As for Israel, at the point of receiving these instructions they obeyed for there was yet no danger or threat to them. As stated at the end of verse 4, “So the Israelites did this.”

Next we see the result of the LORD’s working in the heart of Pharaoh. As stated in verse 5, “When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds about them and said, ‘What have we done? We have let the Israelites go and have lost their services!’” It’s important to note that when, during the tenth and final plague the LORD struck down all the firstborn in Egypt because of Pharaoh’s refusal to let the Israelites go and worship as he commanded,[7] Pharaoh and his people had insisted that the Israelites leave Egypt. As stated in Exodus 12, “31 During the night Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, ‘Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the Lord as you have requested. 32 Take your flocks and herds, as you have said, and go. And also bless me.’” For their part, “33 The Egyptians urged the people to hurry and leave the country. ‘For otherwise,’ they said, ‘we will all die!’”[8] Yet now Pharaoh and his officials had had a change of heart. What had they been thinking in urging the Israelites to leave? The Israelites had provided free labor and had been a boon to their economy during the time that they had been enslaved. Now that they were gone, who would make all of those needed bricks?

The only thing left for Pharaoh to do was to go after Israel and claim the people he felt were rightly his. Therefore, as stated in verses 7–9,

He took six hundred of the best chariots, along with all the other chariots of Egypt, with officers over all of them. The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, so that he pursued the Israelites, who were marching out boldly. The Egyptians—all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, horsemen and troops—pursued the Israelites and overtook them as they camped by the sea near Pi Hahiroth, opposite Baal Zephon.

The moment of truth had arrived. Israel’s enemy had overtaken them at the very place that the LORD had commanded them to encamp. Whereas the Egyptians had “six hundred of the best chariots, along with all the other chariots of Egypt, with officers over all of them” (verse 7), the Israelites had none. What were they to do? Would they respond in faith, trusting that the LORD knew what he was doing in leading them back to encamp at Pi Hahiroth by the Red Sea, or would they respond in fear? Would we respond in faith or in fear under such circumstances?

Well, although the Israelites began with faith, their fear-filled faith quickly turned into an angry and faithless fear. Their faith is noted in verse 10: “As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord.” Crying out to the LORD when we are terrified is a faithful response. To feel fear in the face of danger isn’t a sin. Crying out to God is an acknowledgment that we know that he is watching over us and is able to come to our aid.

However, having displayed their faith by initially crying out to God, the Israelites then displayed a lack of faith by turning on his chosen servant Moses through whom the LORD had led them. As stated in verses 11–12, they said to him, “11 Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!’” Again, the response of the Israelites is problematic for to turn against Moses was the same as turning against the LORD since he it was who had given Moses the instructions they had followed. What is more, so far as the Scriptures record, the Israelites had never told Moses to leave them alone that they might serve the Egyptians while they were living as Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. In fact, early on when Pharaoh told them that they were expected to make the same number of bricks while finding their own straw, their response had been to go to Moses and Aaron and accusingly state, “May the Lord look on you and judge you! You have made us obnoxious to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”[9] Subsequently, Moses sought to reassure them by bringing them God’s Word as he declared,

I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the Lord.[10]

Yet despite this reassurance, the Israelites at that time “did not listen to him because of their discouragement and harsh labor.”[11]

Positively, when the LORD gave his people the instructions for celebrating the Passover just prior to their leaving Egypt, the “Israelites did just what the Lord commanded Moses and Aaron.”[12] Consequently, not only did the LORD spare their firstborn during the tenth plague but, before they left, “35 The Israelites did as Moses instructed and asked the Egyptians for articles of silver and gold and for clothing. 36 The Lord had made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and they gave them what they asked for; so they plundered the Egyptians.”[13] The point is that so far as the Scriptures record, the Israelites never told Moses, “Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians” as stated in verse 12. Instead, the pattern represented in these brief examples is one that continues to play out in the book of Exodus: when things go well for the Israelites, they are content and obey; but when they don’t, they grumble and disobey.

Well what was Moses to do? All he could do was to bolster their confidence by pointing them to God and reminding the Israelites about his faithfulness and love for them. As recorded in verses 13–14, Moses answered them, “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. 14 The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”:

Do not be afraid but stand firm and watch for God’s deliverance? Despite Pharaoh having brought his army of six hundred plus of his best chariots with him?

Do not be afraid but stand firm and watch for God’s deliverance? Despite being stuck between the rock of the Red Sea and the hard place of Pharaoh’s armies surrounding them?

Do not be afraid but stand firm and watch for God’s deliverance? Despite knowing that if they crossed the Red Sea, they would drown; but if they fought Pharoah, they would die or be enslaved again?

Yes, this was what Moses, knowing the goodness—and greatness—and steadfast love of the LORD was telling them to do. They were to trust that the LORD would fight for them. They were to trust and wait upon him. Their part required but one act: be still. One who is still neither moves nor makes a sound. This was the level of trust that the LORD was calling his people to place in him for he had promised that he would gain glory for himself through Pharaoh and his army so that even the Egyptians would know that he was LORD. The only thing required of his people, even in the face of such a real and great and imminent danger, was to trust God—and be still.

Well, perhaps the Israelites—and perhaps we—could learn a lesson about being still from the wind and waves. Surely if the wind and waves are able to obey the LORD and be still, then so should we! And so we turn to the fourth chapter in the Gospel of Mark which records the well-known and remarkable account of how Jesus calmed the wind and waves.[14] Earlier on this particular day, as Jesus began teaching by the lake, “The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge.”[15] Mark notes that from this boat,

Jesus taught the crowd the Parable of the Sower;[16]

and he told them about the importance of placing their lamp on a stand;[17]

and he taught them the Parables of the Growing Seed[18] and of the Mustard Seed.[19]

Then, having spent the day teaching the crowds from the boat, verses 35–36 state, “35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side.’ 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him.” “The other side” would have been the other side of the Sea of Galilee which is about thirteen miles long and eight miles wide.[20] Concerning this sea one commentator observes that it’s “696 feet below sea level, resulting in violent downdrafts and sudden storms.”[21] Another notes, “Situated in a basin surrounded by mountains, the Sea of Galilee is particularly susceptible to sudden, violent storms. Cool air from the Mediterranean is drawn down through the narrow mountain passes and clashes with the hot, humid air lying over the lake.”[22]

These geographic realities come into play in this account for as Jesus and his disciples were out in the boat, verse 37, “A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.” A squall is “a sudden violent gust of wind or a localized storm, especially one bringing rain, snow, or sleet.” So although any squall is comprised of a violent gust of wind, this squall is further described as being furious. It was so intense that “the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.” Therefore, at least from the disciples’ perspective, they were all in danger of drowning. Not so from Jesus’ perspective. Having spent the day teaching, verse 38 notes that “Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion.” Talk about a sound sleeper! Despite this “furious squall” crashing down upon their boat, his sleep was undisturbed.

But, as stated in the latter part of verse 38, in the midst of this fearsome storm the disciples “woke [Jesus] and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’” At one level, this was the correct response. As the Israelites had done when they were trapped with the Red Sea before them and Pharaoh’s army behind them, the disciples cried out to the LORD, that is, they cried out to Jesus who is Lord over all, because they, too were terrified and knew that he was able to rescue them. However, as the Israelites complained to Moses, questioning whether he had brought them to the desert to die, so did Jesus’ disciples question his care for them in asking him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” They asked this of Jesus who had done nothing but love and care for them!

Having been awoken, verse 39 records how Jesus “got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.” That’s all it took. Apparently, Jesus who made the world and everything that is in it,[23] understood that even nature misbehaves at times! Yet with but a few words from Jesus its Maker, the wind died down; with but a few words from Jesus their Maker, the waves became completely calm. The obedience of the wind and waves was immediate, absolute, and complete.

Then, as stated in verse 40, Jesus their Maker turned to his disciples and said but a few words to them: “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” These questions were more than fair to pose to his disciples. For listen to but a sampling of the many things that, according to Mark, the disciples had heard Jesus teach and seen him do up until this point:

They saw him cast out an impure spirit from a man;[24]

They saw him heal Peter’s mother-in-law;[25]

They saw him heal “many who had various diseases” and drive out many demons;[26]

They saw him heal a man with leprosy;[27]

They saw him forgive the sins—something only God can do—of a man who was paralyzed and subsequently heal his paralysis;[28]

Having heard him teach that he was Lord of the Sabbath,[29] they saw him heal a man with a shriveled hand on the Sabbath;[30]

They saw him heal many with diseases and witnessed impure spirits fall before him and cry out, “You are the Son of God;”[31]

All of this leads us to ask: How many more miraculous acts would the disciples require of Jesus before their faith took the place of their fear and they were able to trust in Jesus’ love and care for them?

Mark doesn’t record the disciples’ response to Jesus’ question but notes instead, verse 41, “They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!’” Having been fearful when the wind and waves were out of control, now that Jesus had caused the furious squall to cease, terror took the place of the disciples’ fear. “Who is this?” is certainly the right question to ask for a raging and furious sea had, upon receiving but a few words from Jesus, given way to a peaceful and placid one. Given Jesus’ power over nature, the only correct answer to the disciples’ question is that this Jesus who so fully displayed his humanity in needing to sleep after a day of teaching is also God who made the wind and the waves. Jesus is God whom the wind and the waves obeyed. Jesus is God before whom the wind and waves became still.

And so I have to ask, dear sisters and brothers, if the wind and waves obey the words of their Maker and Lord, shouldn’t we? If the wind and waves are still before their Maker and Lord, shouldn’t we be? For Jesus is God before whom we’re called to be still. And what both of our passages this morning call us to is learning to trust our loving and heavenly Father, who is one with his Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, and be still before him. Both of these passages highlight the importance of being still, obeying God, and trusting in his deliverance.

This isn’t to say that God will spare us from all suffering for even those who know and love him continue to live in a fallen world marked by evil and sin. However, we must remember that conquering the suffering and death caused by Satan, the author of evil, and sin, the result of our disobedience, is why our heavenly Father sent his Son, Jesus Christ, into this world. For Christ came to destroy Satan—and take away sin—and thereby destroy the death that results from sin. Though we don’t need deliverance from the Red Sea before us and the Egyptians behind us; though we may not need deliverance from a furious squall that is threatening to overtake a boat we’re in, we do need deliverance from Satan, sin, and death. And that deliverance is precisely what Christ Jesus came to earth to procure by his life, death, and resurrection from death. And he guarantees that deliverance by sending his Holy Spirit to seal and indwell all who believe and receive Jesus as their Maker, Savior, and LORD.

The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is why we can trust in God to deliver us from Satan, sin, and death;

the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is why we can trust God to fight for us;

the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is why can be still before him;

the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is how why we can obey him by the Holy Spirit he’s so richly bestowed upon us—and by the Old and New Testament Scriptures he enlightens for us—and by his Church, our eternal family who are our fellow sojourners both in this life and in the one to come.

I would encourage all of us this week to take time to be still—and talk with our dear Jesus—and read and listen to his Word—and bring all of our problems and joys and those we love before him knowing that he loves us; knowing that he cares for us; knowing that he listens to us; knowing that he seeks his best for us.

As I’ve been thinking about the importance of being still this past week, some small ways I’ve found to be still before him include turning off the radio—we don’t own a television—and choosing instead to talk with our gracious Lord. I know that if I’m talking with someone, I’ll automatically turn off the radio or put away my phone and so that I can give them my undivided attention. How much more ought I do when I talk with our gracious Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who is ever attentive to us? And at night, when I’ve awoken as I often do, rather than turning to scan the news headlines on my phone, I’ve again turned to talking with our Lord who never sleeps but is ever there to listen. Granted these are small examples and they may not be examples that work for you, but I encourage you this coming week to find ways to come before our loving and kind Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and be still before him. And dwell upon his Word. And consider that he is ever present—ever with us—ever for us. And that he wants us and all people to know that he is the LORD. And therefore we can always have faith in him; we can always trust him; and need never be afraid.

Let us pray.

Benediction: Numbers 6:24–26: 24 The Lord bless you and keep you; 25 the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; 26 the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.



[1] Exodus 13:18.

[2] Exodus 13:20.

[3] Exodus 13:21–22: 21 By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. 22 Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.

[4] Genesis 12:1–3: 1 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. 2 I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

[5] Reformation ESV Study Bible note on Exodus 14:2. Emphasis added.

[6] Including the river God (Reformation ESV Study Bible note on Exodus 7:19: “All the natural waters of Egypt were involved, including the arms of the Nile, the irrigation canals, and the pools formed by river flooding. The Nile River, the source of Egypt’s agricultural life, was revered as a god. Beginning with this plague the Lord’s superiority over the Egyptian pantheon of gods is demonstrated.” The Zondervan NIV Study Bible note on Exodus 7:20 similarly observes, “Egypt’s dependence on the life-sustaining waters of the Nile led to its deification as the god Hapi.”), the goddess Heqt represented in frogs (Zondervan NIV Study Bible note on Exodus 8:2. “The frog (or toad) was deified in the goddess Heqt, who assisted women in childbirth.” Reformation ESV Study Bible note on Exodus 8:3 similarly states, “Frogs represented the primoridial goddess Heket in Egyptian religious life.”) and the sun god Ra (Reformation ESV Study Bible note on Exodus 10:22: The Egyptians typically celebrated the morning light when the sun god Ra was thought to overcome the dreaded serpent of hostile chaos and darkness. This supernatural darkness was further demonstration of the Lord’s superiority over the Egyptian pantheon.).

[7] Exodus 10:28: Pharaoh said to Moses, “Get out of my sight! Make sure you do not appear before me again! The day you see my face you will die.” Exodus 11:29–30: 29 At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well. 30 Pharaoh and all his officials and all the Egyptians got up during the night, and there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead.

[8] Exodus 12:31–33.

[9] Exodus 5:21.

[10] Exodus 6:6–8.

[11] Exodus 6:9.

[12] Exodus 12:28. This is restated at the end of the chapter in Exodus 12:43, 50–51: 43 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “These are the regulations for the Passover meal:…. 50 All the Israelites did just what the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron. 51 And on that very day the Lord brought the Israelites out of Egypt by their divisions.

[13] Exodus 12:35–36.

[14] Parallels to this account are also provided in Matthew 8:23–27: 23 Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. 24 Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. 25 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” 26 He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. 27 The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”; and Luke 8:22–25: 22 One day Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side of the lake.” So they got into a boat and set out. 23 As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger. 24 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. 25 “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.”

[15] Mark 4:1.

[16] Mark 4:3–20.

[17] Mark 4:21–25.

[18] Mark 4:26–29.

[19] Mark 4:30–34.

[20] Reformation ESV Study Bible note on Mark 4:37.

[21] Crossway ESV Study Bible note on Mark 4:37.

[22] Zondervan NIV Study Bible note on Mark 4:37.

[23] John 1:1–3, 10:In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made….10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.; Colossians 1:15–17: 15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.; Hebrews 1:1–2: 1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.

[24] Mark 1:21–28.

[25] Mark 1:30–31.

[26] Mark 1:32–34.

[27] Mark 1:40–45.

[28] Mark 2:1–12.

[29] Mark 2:23–28.

[30] Mark 3:1–6.

[31] Mark 3:9–12.