Except for God!
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Except for God!
Richard Niell Donovan
Throughout the Bible, we find “David and Goliath” kinds of stories—where the little guy, by the grace of God, wins.
This is one of those stories. The Israelites had no generals, no army, no weapons, no strategy and no hope. Pharaoh, on the other hand, presided over the world’s greatest nation and commanded the world’s most powerful army. The outcome of any conflict was obvious. The Egyptians win!
Except for God! A better name for the Bible might be “Except for God!”
• The Egyptians win! Except for God!
• Goliath wins! Except for God!
• The Midianites defeat Gideon! Except for God!
• The cross defeats Christ! Except for God!
As the Israelites fled from slavery in Egypt, God placed a cloud in front to guide them and an angel behind to protect them.
Then they came to the Red Sea. They were trapped. The sea stopped them from in front, and the Egyptians pursued them from behind.
But “Moses stretched out his hand over the sea,
and Yahweh caused the sea to go back
by a strong east wind all the night,
and made the sea dry land,
and the waters were divided.
“The children of Israel went into the midst of the sea
on the dry ground,
and the waters were a wall to them on their right hand,
and on their left” (14:21-22).
That was the first miracle. The second was that, when the Egyptians tried to pursue, Moses stretched his hand over the water again, and the water returned—drowning the Egyptians and saving the Israelites.
I must share two stories with you. The first is a lovely Talmudic story that, when Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, the waters did not part to let the Israelites through. Nothing happened until one person stepped in. Then the waters rolled back.
The second story took place in a seminary classroom. The professor explained that this miracle was quite natural. He told the students that, on the eastern shore, the Red Sea is quite shallow. In the springtime, winds sweep across the marshes, evaporating the water and drying the ground. There was nothing unusual about the Israelites crossing on dry ground.
One of the students said, “How spectacular!” The professor said, “What’s spectacular? These marshes dry up every springtime. There is seldom more than an inch of water.”
The student said, “I think that it is spectacular that God drowned the Egyptians in an inch of water.”
God saved the Israelites at the Red Sea. He saved them so that the world would know that he was God and that the Israelites were his people—and that he would always save his people.
The Egyptians learned that lesson. When God clogged their chariot wheels, they cried out:
“Let’s flee from the face of Israel,
for Yahweh fights for them against the Egyptians!” (14:25).
Powerful Egypt acknowledging the power of God! I am reminded of the Roman centurion at the foot of the cross. When Jesus died, the centurion said:
“Truly this was the Son of God” (Matthew 27:54).
Powerful Rome acknowledging the power of God!
And when the Israelites saw what God had done,
“(They) feared Yahweh;
and they believed in Yahweh,
and in his servant Moses” (14:31b).
God often intervenes to save his people—and to save the world. One of the most dramatic salvation stories of this century was Dunkirk. Some of you will remember Dunkirk.
Hitler was on the rampage in Europe. His storm-troopers had swept through Poland, defeating the Polish army in three weeks. He had swallowed up the Sudentenland, and had brought Denmark and Norway under his control. Finally, in May, 1940, his armies struck at Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg. The French and British sent their armies to the rescue.
But it had not worked. The German army crashed through the Ardennes forest, which the French had thought impenetrable. Von Rundstedt swept through to the sea, dividing the Allies.
Three French tank brigades tried to stem the tide, but they never had a chance. One brigade ran out of gas; another was caught just getting ready; the third was gobbled up piecemeal. The panzers were now in the clear. There was nothing to stop them. General Brooke noted in his diary:Nothing but a miracle can save (us) now.
The fate of the free world hung in the balance. The British and French were trapped at Dunkirk. The sea lay to their north. Germans pressed them from the east and from the west. General Ironside wrote:
“We shall have lost practically all our trained soldiers
by the next few days—
unless a miracle appears to help us.”
In London, the Royal Navy was explaining why they could not evacuate the British soldiers. Too risky!
Once Hitler destroyed the French and British armies at Dunkirk, England would be ripe for invasion. Having defeated France and Britain, Hitler would control Europe and the Atlantic.
Except for God!
A SUBSCRIBER SAYS: “Richard, you have no idea how much I look forward to finding an e-mail from you. It’s a positive delight to journey through the exegeses with you as you open up the scriptures for me. Please don’t change a thing.”
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God had decided not to let Hitler rule the world.
First, God got under the skin of General Field Marshall Herman Göring, Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe. Göring saw the panzers about to win the battle, and feared that the Luftwaffe would not get any of the credit. He called Hitler, told him that the panzers were over-extended, and promised that the Luftwaffe could win the victory. Hitler bought it, and ordered the panzers to stop. That bought the British time—several days.
Second, God inspired the British to send every vessel at their disposal to the rescue—fishing boats, yachts, sailboats, tugboats, ferries, and rusty old scows. Those little boats braved minefields, bombs, and strafings to cross the channel. Many were hit, and many were sunk. But those that made it saved the British army and many of the French. That rescue operation was the hinge upon which the fate of our world turned. But it was not fate; it was God.
God saves us in many ways, great and small. Every Sunday we pray for people in need. I believe that I owe my life to your prayers. I believe that Sheryl owes her life to your prayers. I believe that Sarah owes her health to your prayers.
But God also saves us in less dramatic ways. Nancy Smith is a woman who struggled for years with mental illness. Her recovery was slow. She saw God at work in the hands of those who cared for her while she was ill. She writes:
“Instant miracles are the easy kind.
Any of us would hold a possessed person in our arms
and instantly heal him if we had the power.
The results would be quick
and we would be heralded as heroes.
But how many of us would lovingly devote
twenty-six years and longer
to the daily, trying task
of living with a mentally disturbed person?
To me, the hard-worked-for miracles
are more characteristic of Christ’s love
than is divine magic.”
(Nancy Smith, Journey Out of Nowhere)
God saves us in great ways. Most of us have had a “Red Sea” experience. We have been trapped between the devil and the deep-blue sea. We have been places where there was no hope—no way out.
Except for God! God does his best work in the worst of times.
• It was at the Red Sea that God made himself known to the Egyptians.
• It was at the Red Sea that God created the nation of Israel.
• It was at the cross that God saved the world.
And God also saves us in small ways.
• He saves us through the prayers of the people.
• He saves us through the bread that he provides day by day.
• He saves us through the bread and wine that we share at Christ’s table.
The next time you have a “Red Sea” experience—the next time you are caught between the devil and the deep-blue sea—the next time you are trapped—remember these words: “Except for God!”
God saves those who serve him. Bring him your life, and receive his salvation today.
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2006, Richard Niell Donovan