When the Egyptians realized that they had just freed an entire workforce of Israelites, they panicked. The Israelites had been set to the tasks of hard labor for 400 years. Generation after generation woke up to move bricks and harvest wheat. The Israelite children did not dream of starting their own business or building a new home. Their future had been hijacked by the realities of slavery. All of their hope would be dictated by the Egyptians. For many Egyptians, outsourcing the hard labor had become a way of life.
For the Israelites, oppression and fear had define who they were as a people. No longer where those things to fight against. For generations, grandparents had instructed their grandchildren the ways to remain human and yet a slave. How to remain free in their soul while in bondage for their reality. When Moses shows up on the scene, he is asking the Israelites to strip themselves of the comfort they had found in oppression. It was who they had become. They had become someone else’s convenience. Freedom was a needless accessory. While their daily tasks were instructed, their necessities were taken care of. Now Moses is asking them to put their national freedom and the name of their God above all else. To forsake the daily provisions and proclaim their allegiance to God. To march defiantly away from Egypt and trust that the Lord is going to provide food, shelter, and a way of escape.
As Moses fought for their freedom, a sense of jubilation began to fill the cavities of a population emptied of identity. Under duress, Pharoah had let the Israelites go. I am sure tentative celebrations ensued. As they walked away from their homes, their heads were lifted in confidence by the protection they had received during the ten plagues. All around them they watched, heard, and smelled suffering among the Egyptians. It seemed that they had been inoculated from that reality. But their eyes would still behold the power and destruction that their God was capable of.
The scuffle of their feet created a barrier of smoke and dust as they pulled themselves into freedom. Their steps would quicken as they realized that retribution was only a fear entertained. Until someone heard a noise. The dust settled as their feet stopped walking. Whispers and confusion would ensue as they tried to identify the rhythmic sounds of an encroaching Egyptian army. Pharoah had been shaken to his senses by the tasks that were now laid upon his own people. They would have to do their own labor. They would have to own up to the tasks once belonging to the Israelites. That would not do. The social status gap had already widen and been set in stone. The Egyptians would not be doing the work of an Israelite.
The Israelites turned their heads from the sounds of oncoming horses and chariots to look straight ahead at a horizon of water. Trapped in by an enemy of humanity and nature. Their death would be by sword or drowning. Two fates and no faith. Exodus 14:12 “Is this not what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” Despite being rescued 10 times over in Egypt, their present reality pushed them so far into fear that their salvation seemed like a dream. Fuzzy and distant, they ached to remember the salvation of the Lord. It seemed a luxury to sit in the comfort of the Lord. Urgency would now force them to rely on their present circumstances.