Standing Still, Moving On

“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on (Exodus 14:14-15). 

At the Red Sea, panic started to set in. For the people, that is. Not for Moses. Certainly not for God.

We can hardly fault the Israelites for freaking out at that particular place, in that particular moment. Looking back, they could see dust clouds announcing the approach of Pharoah’s army – chariots, horsemen, troops (14:9-10). Looking ahead, they saw a body of water that stopped them in their tracks.

They were terrified and cried out to the Lord (14:10). In response they received two words of instruction.

They were not told to fight the Egyptians.

They were not told to part the waters of the Red Sea.

They were not told to take a different route.

They were told to stand still. And they were told to move on. Those seem contradictory, confusing, inconsistent. But both are rooted in the one thing that God wants his people to learn.

Standing Still

At the sight of the approaching Egyptian army a contagion of fear spread among the Hebrews. There was nowhere to go. They vented their anger at Moses: “What have you done?”  And then they slipped into despair: “Slavery would have been better than a death in the desert” (14:12).   

In the midst of their anger and despair, Moses gave a word of instruction and promise.  “Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today.  The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (14:14).

You need only to be still.  Nothing could be harder.  Stillness is counter-intuitive when we’re eaten up with anxiety. It’s hard to find stillness when you’re trapped, out of options.

When financial options are exhausted. When a relationship seems damaged beyond repair. When a career is going nowhere. And yet these are the places where God’s work of salvation unfolds.  The stillness Moses commanded is how we get out of the way.  Stillness allows us to enter into that salvation work.

Moving On

But at some point, the stillness must meet with action and risk. At the Red Sea God eventually commanded his people to stop crying and start moving.  “Why are you crying out to me?  Tell the Israelites to move on” (Ex. 14:15).

At this moment in Israel’s journey stillness and movement stand shoulder to shoulder. I’m struck by how they connect, how stillness shapes the movement, what the movement reveals about the stillness.

To stand still and never come to a point of moving on is to be paralyzed by fear.

And moving on without first finding that place of stillness easily becomes an impulse reaction that is likewise driven by fear.

Something different is happening at the Red Sea. Moses’ command to “stand still” and God’s command to “move on” are both expressions of trust. The paralysis of fear is absent here. And the out-of-control knee-jerk reaction is also absent.

At the Red Sea to stand still is to believe that “the Lord will fight for you” (14:14). God is present and active; God is on your side; God has the matter firmly in hand.

And to move on is to believe that there’s a way forward that you cannot see in this present moment. There will be firm ground beneath your feet. 

The question for your journey: Which of these is God trying to teach you today?

Is there a way in which God is inviting you to stand still, to be at rest in his care, to get out of the way and see the salvation of the Lord?

Or is this a moment in your life when God is asking you to take a step, to risk moving even though you’re not entirely sure what’s ahead for you?

Standing still and moving on. Both teach us trust. And trust, perhaps even more than destination, is the point of the journey.


With every step of our journey, O God, you are working to teach us to trust you. Sometimes that means being still, getting out of the way. At other times that means risking the next step. We ask you now to give us wisdom to know what you’re asking of us today. Accompany us on the journey, we pray, and lead us to know you better. Give us grace to become who you’ve called us to be, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen. 

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