The plagues were gone. There were no more flies or frogs than usual for that time of the year. The weather was bright and sunny, children were well and the flocks were flourishing. But the slaves had been freed, and there were rumors in the papers that the Egyptian citizens would have to work in the brickyards in place of the slaves. The Egyptian citizens saw themselves as fools because they had let their slaves go free. They blamed their hysterical bureaucrats who got them into this mess. They figured that they would have to have their slaves back if they were going to remain one of the great powers of their world.
The Egyptians believed that a number of natural disasters had caused the Pharaoh to free the Israelites, not the power of God who was responsible for the plagues. Anyway, they figured that the gods of Egypt were more powerful than the one God of the Israelites.
The Pharaoh, I think, who was either very scared or very repentant, was more than willing to let the people go because he was afraid of more plagues. We don’t talk a lot about repentance, but this is where we see that what we are doing is destructive to us and others and that unless we make a change, either minor or major, we are going to continue to destroy people and things and that the situation might even get worse. Repentance is the first step in growth or wisdom and new life.
Six hundred Egyptian chariots were bearing down on the helpless Israelites. Each carried two people, one to drive and one to shoot arrows. They were made of wood and leather and had an axle and two wheels, pulled by horses. They were the tanks of Biblical times. 600 chariots of soldiers who knew the area west of the Red Sea could surely surround and capture a mob of former slaves and drive them back like a herd of cattle. But even their power was no match for God who could destroy both the chariots and the soldiers. So far we have talked about the Israelites and the Egyptians and the pharaoh, but let’s remember that the main character of this story is God.
With the sea in front of them and the Egyptian soldiers coming up from behind, they were frightened. But they had been frightened before and Moses, under the guidance of God, had brought them through some very tough times safely. Where was their faith now? Had they forgotten the times that God had been there for them? Trapped against the sea, the Israelites thought they were doomed and they grumbled and complained. After watching God’s powerful hand deliver them from Egypt, their only response to having nowhere to run was fear and despair. Where was their trust in God? Had they trusted the God who had always taken care of them, they would have been spared an awful lot of grief. Their lack of faith in God is startling, yet how often do we find ourselves doing the same?
Moses encouraged them to watch the wonderful way God would rescue them. Moses had a positive attitude when it looked like they were trapped because he trusted God completely and totally, and so Moses called upon God to intervene. We may not be chased by an army but we may feel trapped at times. Instead of giving up in despair, when we are faced with insurmountable odds that we cannot control or defeat we should adopt Moses’ attitude to stand firm and see the deliverance God will bring.
Notice how God told Moses to stop praying and get moving. Prayer must have a vital place in our lives, but there is also a place for action. Sometimes we know what to do but we pray for more guidance as an excuse to postpone doing it. If we know what we should do, then it is time to get moving.
There was no apparent route of escape, but God opened up a dry path through the sea. Sometimes we find ourselves caught in a problem and see no way out. Don’t panic. God can open up a way. It may not be in the time or manner that we might expect, but God will carry out God’s plan for our lives, whatever that is.
Scripture says that a strong east wind blew all night, not just blowing the water off the ground but drying the ground that had been wet. The swampy area at the southern edge of the Red Sea is intermittently covered by shallow water or laid dry by the action of the wind. In the spring, high winds off the Persian Gulf blow in waters at high tide that covers the area. This would have been shallow enough for the people to wade across but a place where the chariots could not follow. But the Bible clearly states that God drove the sea back with a strong wind and turned it into dry land. Also, it says that the water was deep enough to cover the chariots. The God who created all that exists performed a mighty miracle at exactly the right time to demonstrate God’s power and love for God’s people. God could have used natural events but then magnified the dramatic nature of what happened in order to save the people that were intended to tell the world about God’s love. It is important that the land that the Israelites crossed on was dry, not just too muddy for the chariots, but not for people on foot. It was dry land in the midst of the sea. I hate mud. Mud is the obstacle to all true progress. Sometimes we say that our thoughts are muddy, how it clutters our inner life with inexact thinking, and unsatisfied moods of gloomy worry. Have you ever been stuck in the mud, either literally or figuratively? What a terrible feeling. Maybe you can see your goal. Perhaps you're almost there, but the simple combination of dirt and a little water is holding back your advance.
Most biblical scholars believe the Israelites did not cross the main part of the Red Sea but one of the shallow marshy areas attached to the main body. They probably headed for this area since they knew that there was no way they could get through the main body of the sea. I don’t know the depth of the Red Sea, but I am sure that it was too deep to wade through. Maybe they could get through the muddy, marshy area.
Remember the pillars of fire and smoke? God had used them to mark Israel’s path. Now the smoke would protect them from their enemy. The strong wind blew the smoke toward the approaching Egyptians in such a way that they could not see where the Israelites were, giving them time to escape across the newly dried land unseen.
As soon as the Israelites were safely through the area and the Egyptians were surrounded by water, God made the wind blow the water back covering the chariots and soldiers. This may seem severe, but what if the Egyptians had crossed after them? It would not have been long before the Israelites would have been caught and taken back to Egypt.
When they were in peril together and saw what God was doing to save them, they had no thought but to march forward and sing together songs of victory. As soon as the danger was over though, the Israelites had time to dissent and murmur again. Two million people crossed through the sea. Much of the time Moses acted as a buffer between God and the people. At times he had to respond to God's anger for their stubbornness and forgetfulness. At the next moment he had to react to the people’s bickering and complaining. At still another moment he had to react to their unjustified attacks on his character. Have you ever been in this situation and had to do what you believed God wanted you to do regardless of what people thought or said or did?
Notice if you will that the Israelites had what I call “walking faith”. No one had gone ahead and checked to make sure that it was dry all the way across. It was dry as far as they could see, but what if they got beyond their current sight and found themselves deep in water again? What if the wind stopped and the water returned and they were killed? What if they got part way but could not go all the way across? And what if it stayed dry after they crossed? What would keep the chariots from following them? I was not there, but I think the way that it happened was that God dried the land for them as they walked. With each step, God dried a little bit more land. With each step of faith, God rewarded them and directed them a bit more and more. I don’t think the land was dry and they stepped forward as much as they stepped into the water and as they did, it turned to dry land. They knew that we can’t always see the way through things and that we have to start out trusting that God will take us all the way through.
Every morning and afternoon and evening we have to practice, through the best thinking of which we are capable, the sincerest detesting of the flaws and heartfulness within us, as well as the most imaginative and realistic picture in our mind of the promises of God and God’s forward mission, committing ourselves to the new way of miraculously being more open to God as we move along.
I believe in miracles. I have seen them. God has used miracle after miracle to bail me out of foolish, hurtful things that I have done. But too many people rely on miracles out of laziness. God has given us resources and talents and yet we stand back and expect God to do what is our responsibility. We see God’s power and might in miracles, and yet we stand around with our hands in our pockets waiting for God to fix everything. God's love and power are manifested in great manner when God inspires people to think up for themselves some ingenious way of outwitting their pharaoh and getting across their Red Sea. God is with us, but God wants us to use the brains and physical and emotional ability that God has given us to work within God’s desire and design for us.
Moses took a lot of criticism from the people. Everyone, sooner or later meets with similarly mean remarks about themselves and their work. How should one act in such cases? The natural reaction is indignation and frustration that someone would think such things. Until you have met real injustice in your life, you cannot tell whether you are a man/woman or a mouse. The mouse gets all wrapped up; the man/woman ignores the personal slander and goes on to do the best they can. Have you ever broken something and admitted to your parent, knowing that they would forgive you? “I did something. It was the best I could do. If it hurt anyone or anything, I am truly sorry”.
God gave the Hebrews a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire so they would know both day and night that God was with them on their journey to the Promised Land. What has God given us so that we can have the same assurance? The Bible—something that the Israelites did not have. We look to God’s word for reassurance of God’s presence and power. As the Hebrews looked to the pillars, let’s look to the Bible, creation, service, Christian conversations, prayer, worship and Holy Communion to know that God is with us, helping us on our journey. Fear not, stand firm and see what God is going to do in and through you to change you and our world forever. Exercise your “walking faith” as you step forward into the water and see what God opens up before you.