I sometimes feel when I get to a passage like Hebrews 11 that I'm almost like a little boy walking through the Hall of Fame wearing sneakers and a baseball cap and a wad of bubblegum in my jaw. And I look up into the faces of those people that appear in the annals of history like pictures hanging in a gallery and I ask myself How could I ever measure up? or Will I ever make it? There are people that live such godly lives they didn't even die. They were just taken off the earth, like Enoch. Or had such faith that they built a barge for over 100 years before there ever was rain, and never stopped working on it, like Noah. There's a young couple that has a little baby and the father is a 100 and the mother is 90, and they laugh with delight at what God has done. That same father and that same boy about 20 years later are walking up a mountain and the father is about to tie him on an altar and to take his life as an act of sacrificial worship.
Let's face it. When you identify with people like Moses and Joshua and Sarah and Abraham and Noah and Enoch and Abel, you're intimidated, you're spooked.
First, understand this, people are people. The world isn't divided in God's eyes between super duper saints and groveling saints. God doesn't divide the Christian community into the haves and have nots, the popular and the paeans. In God's family everybody is P.O.H., plain, old human. None of us can walk on water. We need to remember that when we come to a passage like Hebrews 11, or we'll be spooked. We'll think those people lived in another kind of world than we live in, therefore when we read about them it's sort of a half angel/half human type freak we're reading about. You're going to come to realize these people are absolutely totally unadulterated human beings and that's all. We need that reminder.
The second is that God is God. He wasn't more God back in the first century than he is today. He wasn't more a God to Moses than he is to people today. God is God. Greatest verse in Hebrews, at least the last half of Hebrews, is 13:8. "Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, [yes, even] forever." The same. He wasn't more Christ back then. He wasn't more significant or more inspiring or more miraculous or more powerful than he is today. No more now than yesterday. No more then than now. God is God.
Ever have the feeling God got personally involved in those lives but he doesn't get involved in the same way today? Listen, he bailed people out of the greatest misery back then you could imagine, and he still does that today. That's his specialty. He works on miserable people. He works on sinners. That means everybody qualifies, because people are people nothing more. God is God, nothing less.
And the third, miracles are miracles, nothing else. We're living in such a sophisticated day you'll have people explain miracles away. That's not God. That was an earthquake that caused those walls to crumble. It wasn't a miracle when they cast the nets on the other side. Just read the scholars. He saw a school of fish on the other side, so he said, "Hey, cast them over here." So they cast their nets and naturally they got fish. He saw the school of fish. It's not a miracle. A group of kids were asked some time ago if God understands nuclear energy. 64 percent said no. He can handle nuclear energy. God is God. Miracles are miracles.
If I were asked to define a miracle, having waded through all the books I could find on it and gotten very little help, I would give this definition: "A humanly impossible event that occurs in the natural realm apart from natural causes for the glory of God." That still goes on.
By the way, when they're truly miracles they defy explanation and they deny duplication. A human being cannot do them. They're rare. The guy that teaches you today that miracles happen every day in your life and if they're not happening something is wrong with you is out to lunch. Miracles are rare. They've always been rare. They're most unusual. God works them at most unpredictable times. When we are so pressed there is no other way through, then in his sovereign choice of the moment he may do the miracle. But they're unusual.
A miracle is a miracle, nothing else. God is God, nothing less. People are people, nothing more. If you forget that and you come to Hebrews 11:29-30 you'll be intimidated. You will feel like the little kid in sneakers walking through the Hall of Fame wondering Will I ever, ever be in that category? There is no category. There isn't some special saint that appears here and never gain. Save Jesus Christ the God-man, every other human being is a sinner that has been delivered from hell by the grace of God, nothing more. Now I want you to see how those principles apply in these verses.
People are people, nothing more
"By faith, they passed through the Red Sea as though they were passing through dry land. And the Egyptians when they attempted it, were drowned," (v.29). I have marked in red in my Bible the word they because I want to know who those folks are. What kind of great people must they have been to receive that kind of experience? How bold, how firm, how faithful to have been blessed with a sea that parts by the very word of God.
Let's go back to Exodus and check out the they of verse 29. Let me tell you where we are. These are people that had just come through the exodus. Literally they're only hours removed. They're fresh off the exodus. They remember that miracle. And they've come now all the way to the Red Sea. They have a mountainous range to the north of them. They have desert to the south of them. They have an Egyptian horde stirring up all kind of dust as the chariot wheels are rolling toward them to capture them again because the Egyptians realized they've let the best working force they'll ever have go and they want to capture them again. So they've got an enemy behind them, mountains and deserts, and in front of them a body of water called the Red Sea.
Look at verse 10: "Pharaoh drew near. As he did, the sons of Israel looked and behold the Egyptians were marching after them, and they…" Now this is the same they as Hebrews 11:29. So we're going to read about these great people of faith. "… and they became very frightened." Oh, I can identify with that. That's what I would have done. "So the sons of Israel cried out to the Lord." They have no extra special power. They have not wings that can fly them away from that moment. So they cry out just like you do when you're backed against the wall. "And they said to Moses…" Now you'll even identify more at this point. You'll feel very comfortable with these folks. "Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?" How is that for bold faith? "Why have you dealt with us in this way bringing us out of Egypt?" There's a little blame in that. "Is this not the word that we spoke to you in Egypt?" Does this sound like We told you so? "Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians. For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness."
I read panic, complaint, doubt, blame, second-guessing, and fear. These are our kind of people. It's right where we live. These are the they of Hebrews 11:29. And if you forget that, you'll be intimidated when you read Hebrews 11. Look at Moses. I wonder if he didn't stutter, verse 13: "Do-do-don't f-f-fear." Moses was just a man. "Don't fear. Stand by and see the deliverance of the Lord, which he will accomplish today. The Egyptians whom you've seen today you will never see them again forever." And just behind him there's just dust rolling up and the chariots are coming and maybe they could hear the roar and the stomping of those Egyptians horses as they were moving toward them. He says, "You see, you'll, you'll never see them again forever." Right.
God is God, nothing less
People are people, but God is God. Verse 14: "The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent." Verse 15: "Why are you crying out to me? Tell the sons of Israel to go forward." Sure. You know what's forward? I have never seen the Red Sea, but I've seen the Pacific and you have, too. I've seen the Atlantic and most of us have. I've seen vast bodies of water. I've never seen water part, ever. Every time I step into water I sink. He said, "Tell the children of Israel to go forward." Verse 16: "You lift up your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it." Now I've seen a few staffs in my day. I've seen more fishing rods than I have anything else over the sea, and I've never seen them part the water, ever. "The sons of Israel shall go through the midst of the sea on dry land." I have seen some dried up river beds but never river beds that have dried up in an instant of time or even overnight. It takes weeks. You're going to go across the bottom of this sea and you're going to choke on the dust. It's dry land. God is God.
What about the Egyptians? "Well, I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them, and I will be honored through Pharaoh and his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. Then all the Egyptians will know" What? God is God. There it is. They'll know I'm the Lord. See, when God does a miracle, he's glorified. When men attempt to do pseudo miracles, men are glorified. So God says when it's all said and done they'll realize they have been fighting Jehovah.
Verse 21: "Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord swept the sea back by a strong east wind all night and turned the sea into dry land." This giant heavenly fan blew against the base of that ocean bed and it dried up, and the waters were divided. "And the sons of Israel went through the midst of the sea on dry land, and the waters were like a wall." Note that. The waters were like a wall. If you can get Cecil B. DeMille's presentation out of your mind and the miracle of the Bible in its place you'll be better off. There's no way any human being with all the trick photography he has available can describe or display on the screen what this was like. Water a quarter of a mile high stood, held back by an invisible wall as they walked on dry ground. A miracle is a miracle.
Can you imagine what they said when they walked through? However they said wow in Hebrew they must have said it a time or two. They walked through on dry ground and there was water pushed back, and they could see into the depths on each side, but they were on dry ground. It was a miracle. And you know the story. They came through.
Verse 24: "About the morning watch the Lord looked down at the army of Egyptians through the pillar of fire and the cloud and brought the army of Egyptians into confusion." They're going to do the same thing, they think. "And he caused their chariot wheels to swerve and he made them drive with difficulty. The Egyptians said, 'Let us flee from Israel.'" For God is God. Jehovah is fighting for them against the Egyptians. We can't stand against him. "And the Lord said to Moses…" See, he's on the other side looking back, seeing the army arrive. "He says, 'Now, stretch out your hand so the waters may come back over the Egyptian, over their chariots and their horses." Isn't it interesting that God didn't just bring the waters back? He told Moses to take the same staff and turn and do it again that way. He's involved in it.
Some of you are under such intense pressure. The adversary is working overtime with his Egyptian army close on your heels. You're boxed in. You haven't a way to go to the left or to the right. You can't even retreat or you'll run face to face into the enemy. You have an absolute impossible situation in front of you and the pressure is just rising like the tide. You're only a person. But God is God, nothing less. You wait upon him, and who knows but his choice in your life might be one of those quiet openings of the sea.
I think we'll never learn this lesson. You know why? Because we've got it in the Bible and God knows we need the reminder on a rather regular basis. If we learned all of these lessons in a process of time who would need the reminder of Scripture? But all things were written in older times for our learning that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. Every time I read the story of the Egyptians and the Israelis as they go through the sea, my faith is strengthened.
Miracles are miracles, nothing else
Let's go back to Hebrews 11. Don't feel intimidated, especially when you understand who these people were, mentioned in verse 30. "By faith, the walls…" Here's a word we looked at earlier, except it was in the sea. Now it's not in the sea. Now it's on dry ground. Now it is not the Red Sea. It is Jericho. We've moved 40 years ahead in time, and the writer with just a stroke of his pen has brought us face to face to an absolute citadel of defense called Jericho. The verse says, "The walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days," end of verse. But wait a minute. Let me give you a little background.
These people were not great and glorious faithful saints. They had been wandering in the wilderness because of disobedience for 38 plus years. Okay? In the meantime they have seen all of the older generation die off. Remember the fabled story of Hansel and Gretel as they would drop crumbs along the way to remember the journey? These people had fresh graves as a reminder of their journey. Who knows how many thousands of funeral services Moses and Joshua and Caleb conducted along the way to Canaan. And now Moses dies out of disobedience. There's a brand new, untried leader named Joshua. And there's another formidable fortress, not a Red Sea but the city of Jericho sitting in the mouth of Canaan. And you don't cross the Jordan and get into Canaan without doing battle with Jericho. And there are walls.
One archeologist writes, "The city was protected by a double wall of brick. A six-foot thick wall was built in the edge of the mound, the outer wall. The inner wall was separated from it by a space of 12 to 15 feet and was itself 12 feet thick. The wall was originally about 30 feet high, the city was crowded, comprising only about a half dozen acres." This explains the erection of houses over the space between the inner and outer wall.
Let's go back to Joshua 6. We've got a rag-tag group of people who don't know a whole lot about battle. Joshua is probably the finest warrior, and perhaps for that reason he was chosen to be the leader, Moses' replacement. So Joshua and God take a walk to the wall and they're looking at this formidable fortress called Jericho, and God speaks to Joshua. The people are waiting to see what's going to happen. Put yourself in Joshua's sandals and leave the halo and wings off. Remember, he's just a person. He's just a man. He's never seen walls crumble. He's never read Joshua 6. So he doesn't know what's going to happen.
Verse 1: "Jericho was tightly shut because of the sons of Israel. No one went out and no one came in. And the Lord said to Joshua, 'See, I have given Jericho into your hand, its king and valiant warriors.'" Right. Can you imagine hearing that from heaven? What's he looking at? A 30-foot high wall on the outside and then what he can't see on the inside yet another wall twice as thick, and he says, "See, I've given you the city." Yeah. How is it going to happen? How are we going to get inside? Ready for a great military strategy? You got your boots tightened? You got your bows and arrows ready? Throw them away. You're not going to need them. Verse 3: "Joshua, march around the city, all the men of war circling the city once, and do that for six days." Okay. Got it. In a minute he's going to say, "Have the guys that play the horns out front. Let them blow those horns. Have the ark of the covenant behind." It's just a chest of wood that holds the sacred things of Israel. "And then all that army behind you. You go in that order. And you march around the city, don't say a word, once a day blowing those horns for six days."
There's got to be some kind of battering ram on the seventh day, Joshua must have thought. Verse 4: "Seven priests shall carry seven trumpets of rams' horns before the ark. Then on the seventh day march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpet. And this shall be that when they make a long blast with the ram's horn, and when you hear the sound of the trumpet, all the people scream a great shout, and the walls of the city will fall down flat."
Sure. Of course. No. Who are you kidding? People are people. Would you have done that? I would resist that. When is the last time you saw a couple of walls drop down because people screamed and blew horns? I know of some guys that play a bad horn but never that bad, never.
Go down to verse 12: "Joshua rose early in the morning." Talk about faith. "The priests took up the ark of the Lord and the seven priests carrying the seven trumpets and the ram's horn before the ark went on continually and blew the trumpets and the armed men went before them and the rear guard came. The continued to blow the trumpets." The second day they did that, and the third day they did that. And they did that for six days. Can you imagine people inside Jericho watching this happen? You talk about being spooked. They had never in their life had an army march around the city, playing the entire trip, and then walk away.
Seventh day comes, verse 16: "About the seventh time when the priests blew the trumpet, Joshua said to the people, "Shout! Jehovah has given you the city." Verse 20: "The people shouted. The priests blew the trumpets. It came about when the people heard the sound of the trumpet the people shouted with a great shout, and the walls fell down flat." A miracle is a miracle, nothing else. "The people went up into the city and every man straight ahead, and they took the city."
When I think of Jericho, I think of these massive impenetrable walls of defense that some of you are facing in another person's life. Walls have been erected, a double wall. Who knows. It may have taken that person years to build those walls. Every brick, every splash of mortar laid in bitterness and resentment, and maybe well-earned hatefulness, profanity, and irritability and unresolved conflicts, one brick, one row, one corner after another until they're so high you couldn't climb over them if you tried. And you wonder, How am I going to penetrate that wall? People are people. Of course they build walls like that. "A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city, and their contentions are like the bars of a castle."
You know a few folks like that? No amount of pleading or praying or Bible reading seems to penetrate. No amount of sincerity, no amount of promise. What's it going to take to bring the walls down flat? It's going to take a miracle, a miracle.
Can I remind you of a miracle? A humanly impossible event that occurs in the natural realm apart from natural causes for the glory of God. Those simple-minded, relatively young, inexperienced Israelis weary of 40 years of wandering stood back after shouting and they watched the walls collapse. They simply believed God.
You need escape from pressure? Count on him to get you through the sea. You need to get through to someone you can't seem to reach? Wait on him to penetrate the wall. Don't trust in people. People are people. Trust in God. God is God. And who knows if in God's "exception rather than the rule" kind of plan, he might simply have a miracle for you.
For Your Reflection
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Charles Swindoll is pastor of Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas, the Bible teacher on the radio program Insight for Living, and a best-selling author.