Exodus 14:10-18 (ESV)
When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly. And the people of Israel cried out to the Lord.  They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt?  Is not this what we said to you in Egypt, ‘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.”  And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again.  The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”  The Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward.  Lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go through the sea on dry ground.  And I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they shall go in after them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, his chariots, and his horsemen.  And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.”
Exodus 14:14 “The Lord will fight for you, and you only have to be silent.”
To put verse 14 in our own words “Shut up and watch”.
The Israelites have just left Egypt. God, in Exodus 14:2 told them to head back in order to give the impression that they were afraid to travel into the Sinai desert. When Pharaoh sees this it is exactly what he concludes and this emboldens him to attack them and take them back to Egypt, or kill them all. The Israelites are out manned and outgunned. Unless a sizeable miracle occurs they will be slaughtered or taken back as slaves, and without the amenities that they had before. It is a grim prospect.
Considering what the Israelites have seen God do in the last little while it is a little surprising that they do not believe that He can or will do anything for them now. But this is what we will constantly see of them as they wander in the wilderness and as they make their first forages into the Promised Land. Moses’ response to the people as they make their complaint to Moses is that God is going to do something to save them and they should just sit back and watch what He does. What else can they do? If God does not intervene directly in a fairly spectacular way they are doomed.
How would a 21st century North American pastor preach from this text? We are a proactive people. We believe that the only way to get things done is to plan it out, get the manpower, work the plan, strategize. We have quaint little sayings that back this up. “If you fail to plan you are planning to fail.” “Use me or lose me”. “God helps those who help themselves” (a nice little saying that many Christians think is in the Bible. It actually came from a Deist – Benjamin Franklin, and it fits very well with deist understanding of things.)
We need to be in situations like the Israelites were here and discover that if God does not do something nothing will get done. Wait a minute. We are in the situation that the Israelites were in here. We are trapped between the Red sea on one side and an opposing army on the other. And what do we do? We mutter a twenty second prayer and then get to work planning our escape.
Of course when we find ourselves in such texts as these we are quick to point out how this does not mean that we sit around and do nothing, that it is not wrong to plan, and that God calls us to radical obedience. All this is true. But as soon as we say it we act like our planning and doing is the crucial element in getting things done. They aren’t. We do not believe that we are between Pharaoh and the Red Sea. We think Franklin’s statement about helping ourselves is in the Bible because we believe like Deists a lot of the time. We act like God is not the one working – we are. We think God is watching. We get so busy with our plans for success and contingency plans for failure, that we make the biggest failure of all. We fail to see what God is doing. Perhaps we need to find ourselves in situations that the Israelites were in.
We are not called to just sit and do nothing. We are to obey the commands that God gives us. We are to do whatever He tells us to do. But He does not tell us to do what only He can do. He does not tell us that if we have the right plan and organize it properly and get the manpower that we calculate is required, we are guaranteed success. He tells us to obey. He tells us to watch our lives and our doctrine closely. And He tells us that without Him we can do nothing. So we obey, and watch God do what only God can do. Just like the Israelites on the banks of the Red Sea.