God Sovereignly Uses Sinners

After God redeemed Israel from Egypt through a series of ten miraculous plagues, he had Moses lead the people of Israel out of Egypt near the shore of the Red Sea. Strategically, this appeared to be a very unwise move, unless you are God. God knew that Pharaoh would change his mind about letting the people of Israel go and that he would pursue them to bring them back to Egypt. God didn’t want to lead the people around the Red Sea by the way of the Philistines knowing they might get scared and run back to Egypt (Ex. 13:17).  For this reason God purposefully led the wondering multitude to a place where there was no possible way of escape from Pharaoh and his army, humanly speaking. A lesson worth considering, but not the main lesson I want to focus on, is that God often put us into situations where only He can deliver us.  He does this for obvious reasons. He wants us to trust in Him, to rely on Him, to cry out to Him, and then give Him glory for delivering us. When we reach a dead end in our own resources, God can part the sea of the impossible and get us through, but I digress.

The people of Israel, were backed up against the Red Sea with Pharaoh’s army charging at them. They were afraid. They had no weapons to fight Pharaoh’s army, no experience in war, no ability to defend themselves, and no way of escape. It was their God, or at least the God of Moses, that just killed all the first born of Egypt. They were the ones who asked for valuables from the people of Egypt, who were so fearful and stricken with grief that they gave the departing Israelites their riches, literally paying the Jews to leave Egypt (Ex. 12:35-36). But now, the grief of the Egyptians had subsided and was replaced with anger and regret. Pharaoh’s heart was hardened again. He mustered his army and went after the Jews in hot pursuit. The people of Jacob were trapped. They were in an impossible situation with no way out. Many believed they were going to die and complained to Moses (Ex. 14:11). Then we read this in Exodus 14:13-16:

But Moses said to the people, “Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the Lord which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever. “The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent.” Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to Me? Tell the sons of Israel to go forward. “As for you, lift up your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, and the sons of Israel shall go through the midst of the sea on dry land.

There are so many amazing things in these few verses. First, we see the faith of Moses. God had not yet told Moses what He was going to do, but Moses knew the Lord did not redeem the Israelites from Egypt to have them slaughtered. Moses had great faith! He told the people that Pharaoh’s army would be wiped out, though he did not know how.

Second, the proper response to any trial or danger is to “not fear” but “stand by and see the salvation of the Lord.” How many times do we fret and worry and then see the Lord deliver us and realize that all of our anxiety and fretting was for naught, that it accomplished nothing, but was an expression of our sinful doubt?

Third, it is necessary for us to remain silent, to not fret, grumble, or complain, while we wait for the Lord to deliver us from whatever trial we are suffering. This was Moses’ advice to the people of Israel when facing the imminent threat of death, and it is true for us as well when facing any trial. Impatience and failing to trust God is never helpful. Anxiety, worry, anger, never help remedy the situation, they are emotions that compound our trials and betray that in our hearts we don’t believe God, don’t trust God, and don’t think He is good.

Fourth, God’s command seemed impossible to obey. He told Moses, “Tell the sons of Israel to go forward.” But how? Were they to march into the sea holding their little ones, driving their cattle, and pushing their elderly? Were they to voluntarily all drown? That is what “moving forward” would require, or so it seemed. And it is just like God to ask us to do hard things, things that seem impossible, that we know in our hearts we can’t do. God asks us to do things we can’t do, because it makes us trust IN HIM, not ourselves. It forces us to live by faith, which is how He wants us to live all the time because it gives Him glory.

Fifth, and the point I want to focus on, is that the Lord tells Moses, “lift up your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, and the sons of Israel shall go through the midst of the sea on dry land.” I find this very interesting and encouraging. Why? Because God does miracles by His own power. Moses didn’t have any power to divide the Red Sea. Moses didn’t have any power to bring the ten plagues upon Egypt either. It was all the Lord. The Lord did it, but He did it through Moses. The Lord even tells Moses to do it, “divide it!” God doesn’t need men, but God chooses to use men at times to accomplish His sovereign will. We see this all the way through the Bible. He uses believers and unbelievers. Though absolutely sovereign, all knowing, all wise, and everywhere present, God uses sinners to accomplish His will.

God didn’t need to have Moses lift up his staff. But God gave the command, Moses obeyed the command, and in a sense Moses divided the Sea, as the Lord commanded, and in a more ultimate sense God did the miracle and divided the Red Sea. Moses was an instrument, a tool, a vessel for God’s use, and so are we all. We see the same thing after the Israelites cross the Red Sea and are attacked by the Amalekites (Ex. 17:8-13). God could have had the earth swallow up the Amalekites. He could have rained fire and brimstone down on them. He could have just caused them to drop dead. However, he had Aaron and Hur hold up Moses’ arms and had Joshua lead the armies of Israel. He used sinners to accomplish His sovereign will.

When God desires to save someone, He raises up Christians to preach the gospel. The Bible says, “God was well pleased through the message preached to save those who believe” (I Cor. 1:21). And goes on to say, “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!” (Rom. 10:14-15). Two verses later, in Rom. 10:17 Paul writes, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ.” When we preach the gospel to someone and they come to saving faith, we don’t boast that “we have saved them” but that God has saved them, though we were the instruments of God’s saving work. God sovereignly saves sinners, yet, He often uses sinners to accomplish His sovereign will.

We pray because we believe God, because we want to trust in God, praise God, ask God for things we can’t do ourselves. We pray because God is sovereign and all powerful. Why bother praying to a God who isn’t? Even those who have a very low view of God’s sovereignty, if they pray, pray because God is perfectly sovereign, otherwise prayer would be an exercise in futility. When we pray, we strive to pray according to God’s will (I Jn. 5:14). We when we don’t know if something is God’s will, we pray, “Yet not my will but yours be done” (Mt. 6:10). God has already determined the end from the beginning (Isa. 46:10). He is working all things after the counsel of His will (Eph. 2:11). Our prayers do not alter God’s eternal decree. Our prayers aline us with God’s eternal decree. Prayer is one of the means God uses to accomplish His sovereign will and get glory for himself. God has sinners pray and answers the prayers of sinners that are according to His will, getting glory for himself. 

In our text, Ex. 14:16, God, who is all powerful and infinitely sovereign, tells Moses, “lift up your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, and the sons of Israel shall go through the midst of the sea on dry land.” Why didn’t God just part the Red Sea? Why tell Moses to lift up his staff and stretch out his hand over the see and be the instrument God would use to divide the sea? I think we can learn some great lessons by answering these questions. A complete answer is impossible for “who has known the mind of the Lord” (Isa. 55:8-9). I am sure God has many reasons for doing the things He does in the way and timing of His choosing, but let’s consider some likely reasons He used Moses, a sinner, to be the instrument of His sovereign, miraculous work of dividing the Red Sea.

First, the people of Israel were for the most part leaderless. They had been in Egypt under Egyptian task masters for 400 years. At the beginning of their sojourn, Joseph was ruler of Egypt, a son of Jacob, and watched over his own. Joseph made Egypt phenomenally wealthy during the years of the famine. But we learn that over time a new Pharaoh arose who did not know Joseph or respect what Joseph had done (Ex. 1:8). The new Pharaoh saw the Israelites as a plague in the land. At first he ordered the Israelite babies to be killed at birth by the midwives (Ex. 1:15-16), later to be thrown in the Nile (Ex. 1:22). Moses was a by-product of the Egyptians attempts to hinder God’s blessing upon them, was placed in pitch covered basket and set adrift in the Nile, but rescued, weened by his own mother, adopted into Pharaoh’s house, and educated in all the learning of Egypt (Acts 7:22). Eventually, Pharaoh decided to use the Jews for slave labor. God then raised up Moses and his brother Aaron as instruments to deliver the people of Israel from cruel bondage. God wanted the people of Israel to look to Moses as their God appointed human leader and deliverer. This seems to be one of the reasons God had Moses lift up his staff and hands to divide the Red Sea.

A second reason, related to the first reason, is that God knew that by doing His miracles through Moses, Moses would then in turn give glory to God. If God did the miracles without Moses, amazing things would have happened, but the people would not have known what was going on or what to do. Moses give the Israelites specific instruction and visible representation from the invisible God. This shows the mercy and compassion of God to help the Israelites.

A third reason God had Moses raise his staff and hands before dividing the Red Sea is that God delights to use sinners to accomplish His sovereign will. As with the raising of Moses’ hands by Aaron and Hurt, sharing the gospel, or praying, God delights in and receives glory for himself, when we submit to His will, live by faith, and obey His Word. When we do that we become His instruments to accomplish His sovereign will. Jesus, in the Olivet Discourse, gave the parable of the sheep and the goats. The sheep representing believers who did God’s will and the goats representing unbelievers who do not do God’s will. Jesus said the unbelievers failed to give him food, drink, nurse him in His sickness, or visit Him in prison. The unbelievers, become confused, not remembering ever having the opportunity to serve Jesus. Jesus’ point is clear, “The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’”

Here we see that when believers are doing the will of God, obeying the Word of God, and serving even the least of the Saints, they are God’s instruments, doing Jesus’ will, ministering to Jesus’ people, His body, His bride. God could by-pass us and do everything himself, but He does not. He chooses to use sinners to accomplish His sovereign will, often in ways we don’t even understand. But what a privilege it is to be used by God! What an honor to serve the King of kings. It is not our responsibility to determine how God will use us, but it is our responsibility to be faithful to obey the Word of God. Then God, in His sovereign power and will, takes our weak and fallible service, and accomplishes His will, like parting the Red Sea.

Believer, don’t think that your faithful service to your local body of believers is insignificant or accounts for little or nothing. God sees. God will use it even if you do not understand how. Eternity will reveal how your faithful service was used by the Lord in amazing ways. I am a preacher and Bible teacher. At my own local church, and everywhere else I go, faithful men and women record my sermons in audio and sometimes video. They post my sermons on the web and people listen to or watch me preach all over the world. I run into people in different countries or am contacted by those from different countries who have been blessed by my preaching. They thank me for posting my sermons on the internet. But the fact of the matter is it wasn’t me! It was the tech team, the web master, the secretary, or whoever posted my sermon on line. I might preach to 100 people on Sunday morning in my own little church, but I preach to thousands over the internet. My ministry is small locally, but gigantic because of the faithful service of others. In heaven, “each man’s praise will come to him from God,” and God will be glorified for sovereignly using sinners for His good purposes (I Cor. 4:5).

When you find yourself in a tight spot and you can’t see any way of deliverance, have faith in God, obey His Word, and wait for the salvation of the Lord. Things may seem impossible, and for men, they might be impossible, but nothing is impossible with God (Lk. 1:37). When God does something completely different and unexpected (Numb. 16:30), when he uses you or others, delivering you from your trials, be sure to praise, thank, and give Him all the glory for sovereignly using sinners.