If I say these three transitions, what Bible story do they make you think of?Chaos – order
Darkness – light
Storm – breath/life
I was hoping you would say creation. There was chaos, there was darkness, there was water over the face of the Earth, and God divided the seas and made dry ground, turned on the light, and the winds breathed life into creation.
It is a bit hard to look at our world in the past months, and not think of these things. Darkness; caused by power outages, and smoke from forest fires. Chaos; from water covering the land as well as disappearing from the sea, and from displaced populations struggling to find safety and direction. Strong winds of storms; blowing houses down, pushing the waters to destructive force.
Last week our reading told of the first Passover and the institution of that shared meal as an act of remembrance for the sparing of the Israelite first born children. Now we meet the same people, now a on the move with all their families, the young and the old, all their property material as well as animals. Not only were they permitted to leave Egypt but they had been chased out.
We meet with them at the beginning of the story today after Pharaoh had changed his mind and sent his troops to bring them back. The Egyptian army was now close on their heels, and since they were riding and driving chariots, they were sure to be overtaken. To top that off, they found themselves on the banks of a large body of water with nowhere to go but forward to drown, or back to captivity.
It was nighttime, and dark. The cloud that had been leading the people moved behind them, between the Israelites and the Egyptians, it lit up the night and kept the two “armies” separated for the night. When he had Moses stretch his hand over the sea God whipped up a strong wind that blew all night and cleared the sea aside so that there was a dry path across to the other side. Just like the passage of hurricane Irma sucked up the ocean around the Bahamas and bays and beach areas in Florida, this was not a snap of the fingers magic trick but the work of the wind.
In the morning the Israelites, I’m sure with some major trepidation, stepped out to cross the now dry path, a path easy enough that even the elderly and the very young were able to pass without trouble. Having observed this, the Egyptian army followed them down onto the sea bed to catch them.
There was a difference between the two groups on the path that day. One was, though being chased, really going towards the promise of God, while the other was determined to thwart the escape and thus working against God’s purposes. The ground which had been dry for the Israelites, began to get boggy and the horses and the wheels began to sink and get stuck. The Egyptians began to panic. Our reading says that the Egyptians realized that, “…the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.”
Once the Israelites were all safely on the other side God had Moses stretch out his hand again, and the water returned the sea, drowning the entire army.
The chaos in the Biblical narrative is represented by the sea, as it was in Genesis, but also in the panic people must have been feeling as their evacuation route became blocked and the rising flood, or flames, of the army were getting ever closer. The chaos became order for Israel, as the dry ground appeared and they were able to cross to safety. The darkness was in the night, and in the fear, and was broken by light coming out of a cloud. The wind of a storm so great as to sweep up the water from a sea became the breath of life for Israel.
Just as the Egyptians realized, too late, that God was fighting for Israel, the Israelites saw what he had done for them, and what he had done to the Egyptians. They were in awe of his power, relieved that he had saved them, and more than aware of what he could have done to them. These mighty acts would be one of the main points of reminder of God’s strength and work on behalf of Israel throughout history as used to draw the people back to God when they were straying.
On the far side of the sea, the Israelites took time to praise God. When we read from Exodus 15 in our responsive reading, we were repeating the words of worship led by Moses as well as the beginning of Miriam’s song of praise.
And what of our daily circumstances and struggles, our personal moments of chaos, darkness, and storm? We need to remember that God goes ahead of us to lead us to safety, but will also take up the rear guard to protect us. God has made a path for us to take. It doesn’t mean we won’t have fear, or that we won’t suffer along the way. We need to be brave in the face of those challenges with the memory of the power of the light, of order, and of the breath of life God brings.
Let us take up our tambourines like Miriam and sing,
“‘Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.’”