Fellow Passengers: This week’s Promise Passage* (Exodus 14:10-29) transports me to a dramatic desert chase scene, with Boss Pharaoh and his Sheriff leading a posse in hot pursuit of the runaway slaves who had plagued them so. The newly freed families had left Egypt with a rebel yell, bearing a heavy plunder of jewels and fine clothes given to them by their grief-crazed captors. The Hebrews had been straightening the curves and flattening the hills for hours when a foreboding started to descend on them and they began to look back over their shoulders, expecting to see who knows what. One of these glances back provided them with the answer: they saw dust stirring up on the far horizon and before long realized that it was the horses and chariots of Pharaoh and army. (Perhaps one of them did a Butch Cassidy impersonation: Who are those guys?) Suddenly they were laden with fears heavier than all the gold and silver on their backs. They ran harder, haunted by the impending prospects of death by horse and chariot stampede. Their terror found an outlet in bitter complaints to Moses, I’d rather be a slave than be buried in my grave under the scorching sand of this strange land! Moses responded with the standard leadership challenge: Fear not! Stand firm! And there they stood, while the Lord created a conspiracy of miracle workers with cloud and fire and wind confounding and confusing the pursuers, splitting the sea into two water walls, drying the saturated soil.
I can resonate with how the runaways must have felt as Moses tried to calm their fears. With human-borne violence behind and water-borne violence ahead, they found themselves standing in the consummate no-man’s-land with no way out. That old Egyptian roof overhead and the three squares of slavery must have looked far better from this angle. As they stood there close to the shore of the rip-tide filled water, I imagine them looking at the sea the way King Hrothgar looked at the imposing lake of the monster Grendel when he described it to Beowulf: A deer, hunted through the woods by packs of hounds, a stag with great horns, though driven through the forest from faraway places, prefers to die on those shores, refuses to save its life in that water. The mighty courage of the great-horned stag, that ancient symbol of macho, was no match for the horrors raging under the surface beyond the shore. I also think about Indiana Jones at the end of the Temple of Doom, when he stood at the door of the cave out onto the cliff and the mammoth drop to the bottom of the ravine, and this was his only way out. He had to have the faith to step out into the abyss of nothingness in order for the bridge to appear. Those are all familiar feelings to any of us called to face our worst fears, to walk through the sands of a soon-to-be raging sea, trusting that the walls of water will not suddenly break the spell and come crashing down, to trust that the land will indeed stay dry enough for us to put one foot in front of the other, and not suck us down into the mire.
The Hebrews listened to the voice of courage, as did Beowulf and Indiana Jones, and walked through their fears. And then God conspired once more with nature and had the waters drown every last one of the Egyptians. In preparation for this watery demise, God spoke, in what I read as a bit of macabre comic relief. God told Moses that by drowning these evil Egyptians, the pursuers would finally be able to acknowledge that He is Lord. Now there’s some radical evangelizing! It reminds me of a cold-war witnessing plan my seminary roommate and I hatched up: ICBMs (Intercontinental Ballistic Missions), where we proposed putting thousands of copies of the Four Spiritual Laws on the heads of all our nuclear missiles, to be released just prior to the explosion, so that the Rooskies would learn that God loves them and has a wonderful plan for their lives right before they go up in the mushroom cloud. God is not the only one with a weird sense of humor.
How about you? Where does this Promise Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.