The Red Sea and Baptism

The crossing of the Red Sea is one of the most important events in the history of Israel.  Before God intervened, any rational observer would have said the Israelites were dead meat.  There they were, on a hostile shore, no means of crossing to safety, and an enemy army coming up to destroy them.  However, God did intervene, and by the time He was through, it was the Egyptians, not the Israelites, who had been destroyed.  Clearly, their deliverance was due to God and God alone.

Most students of the Bible know this, but far fewer recognize the importance of a similar event to God’s people today—baptism.  As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:1-2, “For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.”  The New Testament antitypes of God’s cloud of presence and the waters of the Red Sea appear when we are “born of water and the Spirit”.  Indeed, there are many ways in which the Israelite crossing of the Red Sea and our baptism are similar.

Both bring salvation. Before God’s power parted the waters of the Red Sea, the Israelites were dead meat.  Before God delivered us through the waters of baptism, we were dead in our trespasses and sins.  In both cases, the difference between what was going to happen and what did happen is stark.

Both reveal God’s work. In Exodus 14:14, Moses tells the people, “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”  Of course, it is not strictly true that the people did nothing.  All of them had to walk through the water and out the other side.  However, the notion that they were somehow saving themselves, rather than being saved by God, is laughable.  They knew perfectly well that “The Lord is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation.”

In the same way, the notion that we save ourselves in baptism, rather than being saved by God, is laughable.  In fact, we do even less than the Israelites did.  The Israelites had to hike; we just have to tell somebody, “I want to be baptized,” and wait for them to do their thing.  Nobody could possibly be more dependent on the grace of God than the Israelites were when they passed through the sea; nobody can be more dependent on the grace of God than we are when we are baptized.

Both are only a beginning. God’s work at the Red Sea saved the Israelites from the Egyptians, but the coming decades would reveal that God’s people had brought a far more potent enemy with them—themselves.  The Israelites’ repeated rebellion accomplished what Pharaoh’s army never could have.  Only two men who crossed through the Red Sea survived to cross into Canaan.  All the rest, hundreds of thousands of them, were struck down for their unbelief.

In 1 Corinthians 10:6-13, Paul warns us explicitly that we need to learn from the Israelites’ example.  It’s marvelous that we belong to God’s people now, but they were God’s people too.  Just as the wilderness of Sinai was filled with spiritual dangers, so are our lives on the other side of baptism.  Satan yearns to destroy us as he yearned to destroy Israel, and unless we are more faithful than they were, he will succeed with us too.

Falling from grace is not an impossibility.  Instead, it is a very real danger.  We should rejoice that we have known the salvation of God even more powerfully than the Israelites did.  However, we must also fear lest, like they did, we fall short of entering His rest.

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