Updated: Feb 3
“The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night.
Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. At the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, “Let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.”
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers.” So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the Lord tossed the Egyptians into the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.
Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great work that the Lord did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the Lord and believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.”
This is the primary Old Testament selection in the Episcopal Lectionary for Year A, scheduled as Proper 19, the fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost. It will next be read aloud in church on Sunday, September 17, 2017. It is the story reproduced in the Hollywood movie The Ten Commandments, with Charlton Heston as Moses.
The story is that of Moses parting the Red Sea, so the escaping Israelites could cross safely, with the approaching Egyptian chariots caught drowning. This story is both awesome and difficult to totally believe. It is one of those stories that tell of miraculous happenings that have not been reproduced since.
Disbelievers can point to that uniqueness and scoff that the story is simply made up – untrue. Believers seek natural phenomena (such as the destruction of the island Santorini and the subsequent major tidal changes at the “Reed Sea”) as explaining this rare (but repeatable given similar conditions) occurrence.
Such arguments, as with any that debates the truth of God in the absence of observable proof, can never be completely solved. It is either believed or not. After all, it happened so long ago that there are no witnesses alive that can confirm how Moses put an end to the Pharaoh’s last-ditch chase.
The Old Testament, as is every holy document, is primarily intended to be prophecy. Sure, Exodus tells a series of great stories, worthy of Cecil B. DeMill’s attention; however, prophecy is less about the cinematic details and more about the symbolic fabric. Prophecy is always more applicable to the present and future, than as a presentation of the fixed and fast past.
While it has to be wholeheartedly believed as a story that is totally, completely and 100% true, with everything happening exactly as the holy book of Exodus claims, that story must also have a personal and most real application to those who do believe in the parting of the Red Sea and the escape of the Israelites, under the guidance of Moses. That application does not require one go to Egypt.
The story of the Israelites being freed from bondage under a mean Pharaoh has to be seen personally, as one reaching a point where the stresses and pains of life make it a struggle to continue onward. When whatever happiness one finds from life is short-lived and replaced by another oppressive demand that seems almost impossible to bear, the story of freedom from such bondage is one that can be renewed continually. Thus, the willingness of Pharaoh to allow one to escape becomes symbolic of one seeing the light of opportunity that comes in serving God. Christ then becomes one’s personal Moses, who has taken up the staff of responsibility over one’s soul.
That comparison of Jesus to Moses is a good one to ponder. Recall how Matthew wrote of the Transfiguration of Jesus, as witnessed by the disciples Peter, James and John (of Zebedee). They saw Jesus glowing brightly and standing alongside Moses and Elijah. That threesome is less symbolic of three separate persons, or three separate souls, but one most holy soul manifest in three different mortal manifestations. Jesus is Moses and Jesus is Elijah. Jesus leads souls to safety and teaches them how to be holy priests. Jesus is the most high prophet who speaks through the Mind of Christ, as one being with a soul. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who knows each lamb by name and goes to rescue the ones who get lost.
When one has found faith in God has moved one to act, then one stops sitting on the sofa complaining about how hard my life has been. So much has been debated about the teeter-totter of just who qualifies as a Christian, based on works or faith. So many Christians sit on the fence, afraid to do much of either. Saint James made that issue fairly moot, when he wrote:
“But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?” (James 2:18-20, NIV)
That last verse recalls how all mortals are “born of death,” which means human beings are born into life after life of reincarnations that says a soul is marked as, “Couch Potato Here.” To get beyond that eternal cycle of death, one has to be moved by the Holy Spirit to do something to save yourself. After you prove you are capable of following the lead of a Moses, or Elijah, or Jesus, you can begin your training to actually help others.
So, you have to be able to see yourself in this Exodus story. You have to be the eyewitness that saw the miracles happen, just as written. You must be one who saw the angel of God and the pillar of cloud, before you and behind you. You have to have personally marched on dry land, between two walls of water. You have to be able to look back and see how miraculously you were saved, while those who hated seeing you leave their ranks – as the living dead – drown in the same emotional upheavals (walls of water that come crashing down) that always does in those who are enslaved to the material realm.
The Israelites were oppressed in Egypt, known to be a separate people of faith; but their works were those of slaves to a human ruler, not to the God in whom they professed faith in. Only when Moses was sent to the Israelites by God, hearing their moans and groans from being too weak to act on their faith alone, did the Israelites get off their Egyptian couches and march to the commands of God’s voice. Therefore, in this selected reading, it projects upon anyone who has up-close and personal experience of having followed that inner voice that comes from the LORD.
I can relate personally to this reading from Exodus. In my early twenties, I was stupidly headed down the wrong life path. I was close to be enslaved to the world, which would have meant a most bleak future. Without going into the sordid details, inexplicably, I had an automatic writing experience. That means I suddenly began writing down on paper a conversation that sounded loud and real (not imagined), as if two men were standing behind me. It was God and Satan; and they were (calmly) discussing who had the right to take my soul. Satan pointed out the rewards of my present being his bargain with me. God told Satan that He had plans for me and Satan must stand down.
That experience was frightening. I have not had one since and do not expect to ever have another one. Still, it made a cold chill run down my spine, because I was alerted that I was in perilous danger if I did not immediately change the direction I was headed. I did just that and my life changed for the better. I avoided ruining my life by believing that conversation, which I heard as quite real, as a warning to act now, not later.
Like the freed Israelites, I had been told to leave and I obediently did. Out into the unknown I went, but as I wandered through life I became attentive to signs that led me to an eclectic education. I was open to investigating and exploring, with the faith that God was exposing me to new ideas for a purpose. I learned things that are known, but not commonly. I found values from experiences, rather than simply being told what to believe and disbelieve. I became a seeker, but I did not know what (if anything) I expected to find.
Then, I went dormant, like a seed waiting to germinate. It was like a shell surrounded me that made my past invisible. This period of my life was like walking through the sea on dry ground, with walls of water forming the path I was supposed to take. I did not look back with emotional fondness or anger, as I lacked personal emotions because I could not be distracted from my commitment to walk the straight and narrow. Those I once associated with, who might have been wildly chasing after me to drag me back into a past that I was being led away from, they drown into history. Once I had reached a point of safety, on the other side of that sea of personal history, I could see the bodies of those I once knew washing ashore, like the Pharaoh’s men. I had reached a point where my past could no longer harm me.
Just as Moses had the story be written in the Torah – “Israel saw the great work that the Lord did against the Egyptians” – I saw that my actions were successful because I had followed the directions of the LORD. I followed diligently and had been protected.
Still, my life was my own. Sure, I had followed God’s warning and straightened out my course through life, but like all other human beings I was necessarily selfish. I cried when things did not go my way and rejoiced when things did. In that phase, I had developed a hard shell. But, then my shell split open and I began the evolution towards being what God had said His plan for me was, so many years before. My static life changed and I began to grow. What would develop over the years to come, in hindsight was a rapid transformation into a vine cultivated to bear fruit.
As those roots were taking hold, the forces of nature – the world’s darkness that I was saved from in my early twenties – tried to destroy me again, before I could bring forth a yield. At those times I was again protected. I have been aware of how little (small and insignificant) I can become, as if invisible, when the world is blindly swiping at anything not paying attention to its wrath. This, again, is walking through the sea on dry ground, with all the turmoil parted away from one’s path.
The destructive powers of nature are still collapsing on those unprotected, just like it swallowed up the Egyptian army. I watched as those who sought to return me to a life I was not meant to live realized: “[They] said, “Let us flee from the [Protected], for the Lord is fighting for them against [Us].”
I thought I would share this with you so you do not yawn when you hear another unbelievable Bible story and think, “This has nothing to do with me.” Hopefully, it has everything to do with you, as you too have a similar life story as mine.