Them Israelites. Fleeing from the Egyptian Army, one of the mightiest armies in the ancient world, ruthless and merciless and bloodthirsty:
They were in their thousands, men and women, young and old, hungry, exhausted, terrified, running from slavery and death, half starved and desperate for water as the sun beat down. For months they travelled, to some unknown destination, knowing only that there was something waiting for them, a promised land… but where? And what would it be like? And was it true? And always the enemy at their heels. They must have known that they were heading for the sea, that the way to freedom was blocked. The fear. Imagine it. And finally, the thing they dreaded, they came to the coast, the sea before them and death behind them. The fear must have been all consuming, the panic, the confusion… the few possessions they had brought with them abandoned on the shore, children crying, mothers clutching their babies, old men and women defeated and broken. Imagine the men, desperate to protect and guard their families, but powerless, bewildered, angry and fearful. The anger that comes from terror. And then God dried up the sea. Just like that.
Well, we don’t know if it was ‘just like that’. We don’t know if the tide went out, if the season turned to drought and the sea was no longer fed by rivers… but we know that God parted those waters and the children of Israel walked through to safety. And we know that the waters returned when they had gone through… and that the army following them perished. Pretty dramatic.
I read a verse this morning – ooh, that’s such a lie! I listened to it on my phone while I walked on the beach ( a great companion to any walk, Bible Gateway audio Bible) and this is what struck me: He rebuked the Red Sea, and it dried up; he led them through the depths as through a desert.
Some other translations replace ‘desert’ with ‘wilderness’. The Red Sea referred to here is the Gulf of Aqaba and archaeologists and those who have made a great study of these things tell us that the ditch through the Sea, where the people of Israel walked, was 9 miles long and 300 feet deep. Selah, my froodlepips! Think of that! They walked on land that had been 300 feet under water. Boy, that must have been weird… land rising on either side, 300 foot to the shore line, the smell of the sea, the claggy mud, the sea weed drying in the baking sun, stranded fish – flapping and gasping – other sea creatures, the salt, the amazement. They must have been dazed, overwhelmed, stumbling…. their great God had done this and yet their minds could hardly take it in.
Imagine the wonder, the children running to examine the fish, to prod the strange creatures who lived in the depths and never saw daylight, or were ever seen by man, imagine the old people trying to work out what had happened, what natural phenomena could possibly account for this, imagine the young men encouraging, helping, always looking back, rounding up stragglers…. for nine long miles. A fit young man with nothing to carry could have made the crossing in a couple of hours, but think of the news reels we’ve seen of people fleeing Syria, the old and ill being carried, babies in arms, pregnant women. And it was the whole Jewish nation… thousands upon thousands, so as the first reached the other side, thousands were still queueing up to start the trek across the sea bed. No, it wouldn’t have been crossed in a few quick hours. And we know the whole story now but they didn’t – they had no guarantee that the Egyptians wouldn’t follow them across the muddied plain and catch up with them on the other side. They didn’t know that the sea would close behind them wiping out their enemy.
It was a fabulous rescue, an amazing triumph, and when they reached the shore again and saw the sea slowly but surely creeping up behind them, wow, they must have thrown a fabulous triumphant celebration of God’s great kindness and mercy. Or maybe they were just so exhausted they sat on the shore and wept with relief and gratitude. They had been triumphant. I wonder if they could hear the distant cries and chaos of the Egyptian Army as the sea rushed in and carried away chariots, horses, camp followers, the bravest and fiercest warriors? I wonder if the Israelites looked at each other, amazed, hardly daring to believe their ears?
I bet they didn’t feel like it was triumphant when they were putting one foot in front of the other, sweating and fearful, slithering and breathless…… dragging children back from this rotting carcass or that thrashing shark… spurring each other on… ‘No, the sea won’t flood back in and drown us. Have faith in God… no, we won’t die out here… have faith.’ There would have been those who wanted to give up, who wanted to turn back, who wanted slavery or a swift death at the hands of the Egyptians rather than this slow torture. Not a lot of triumph going around.
It must have been a terrifying and seemingly endless, trudge through slime and decay.
If today it seems you can hardly breathe for the stink of decaying fish, and if your feet are slip sliding in ooze, and life’s just a bloody pain, remember, even this wilderness is His miracle, and even in this desert, lost and broken as you are, He is taking you to safety. It might not seem like it, but He has the power of the sea in his hands, and He has already saved you.