It is the last sweet day of my summer break from teaching, and I am savoring each moment, while trying to ignore the rising wall of tension and responsibility piling up on my right and left. Have you been there, on the cusp of a new day, cherishing the fleeting peace before you reenter the dreaded tumult? Are you there every day, every moment, trying to move forward while stumbling through the challenges of single parenting, widowhood, financial strains, family or marital strife, the terrifying halls of broken health or just plain living? You have a lot of company.
What to do when your spirit is about to be flooded and covered over? I do the only thing I can do. The only good thing-that which covers my heart and lifts me up. I run to God.
God pulls me toward Him with an image of His working. As always, history becomes proof of His faithfulness, and like our own past, is rich with lessons. Today He brings me back to the churning waters of the Red Sea, and places my sandaled feet down in the just-dried muck of the sea bed. I look up and am surrounded by the His people—men, women, children, young and old– with brows furrowed in anxiety and concentration, nervously looking back and forth over their shoulders and ahead at the backs of their neighbor moving forward. Surely the feeling of terror and despair filled many hearts, despite the history of God’s faithfulness. Sound like anybody you know?
Not for a moment do I pretend to understand what it’s like to live in real-world slavery, nor to be risking all to escape generations of oppression. My heart aches for those that know that battlefield. The walls of water towering by my sides are quite different. But here, in the memory of God’s holy work, He’s making a link and teaching my heart. So I pull up my heart-chair and listen. There’s a spot here for you, too.
We join the Israelites at their precipice of terror–the shores of the Red Sea. (Exodus 14)
Behind them: Generations of enslavement and separation from home. They had survived for years by God’s grace, creating families and carving out parcels of community and contentment amid the oppression and mind-numbing labor for their captors.
Before them: Places and events unknown. Certainly not a feeling of “home” or security. And water. Lots and lots of water. Through this boundary they need to carry their children, their livestock, the spoils of Egypt allowed by God and thrust into their hands at their departure.
So, here they are, God’s beloved children, at quite the terrifying crossroads. Trapped between two terrors.
Moses says: Fear not, stand firm…be still. Watch what God will do for you today.
God says: Go forward.
You’ve got to wonder at which point in time Moses let the people in on God’s instructions. He knew God would come through for them, but did he tell them of His plan to have him raise his arms up and part the sea, or did he just step forward and lift them up? Can you imagine the reaction to this crazy plan! I would love to have witnessed that conversation. Perhaps they were just learning to trust the pillars of fire and cloud, and took great comfort in being hemmed in by God’s physical Presence as He stood between the Israelites and the sea.
Then God prepares the way. He spends all night getting the pathway cleared. He uses a strong east wind to move the sea and dry the land. He readies the path. He moves while they wait.
I’m thinking it was a little difficult for the children of Israel to sleep through all of this. Imagine them sitting in the dark all night, waiting, huddled with their families and countrymen amid the spoils of Egypt that God had allowed, listening to the mighty wind…wondering… Were they reminding themselves of God’s faithfulness, reassuring each other to trust in the Lord? Or were they doubting, perhaps–crabbing with their neighbors and family members about how crazy Moses’ plan is and crafting a thousand ideas of how to better escape the enemy? They were definitely whining about all they left behind, and terrified to the very marrow of their bones. Again, does this sound like anyone you know?
This unknown, and the getting there under terrifying circumstances, made the harsh reality of their life in Egypt look attractive. At least it was familiar. And with familiarity comes comfort. Even the best of us resist change sometimes because, while the current circumstances may not be positive, or healthy, or have grown stale, at least they’re familiar. We know the script. We know how to move within the well-worn scenes of daily living, no matter how stale, how difficult, how unhealthy or removed from God they are.
With regard to the mounting walls, all God asks of His people in this pivotal moment is two things:
Be still and move forward. Wait… what? The Hebrew word for ‘be still’ really means keep silent. Be quiet and move forward. Walk forward. Keep their eyes on God. Follow His lead. Maybe that meant to stop striving and wondering and crafting human deliverance ideas together. Be silent. Let the Lord do His work. Move forward. Go. Pull up. Set out on a journey.
There is action here, but in this case, it is not action of God’s people dealing with the problem at hand. It is just moving with the Lord. Forward. He is the one that acts upon the situation. His angel. His Presence. His power is the working force.
Imagine how difficult it was to keep walking, without panic, ignoring the roaring, mounted walls of sea water. Foremost in the Israelites minds was the vengeful army of Egypt. Its soldiers, like wild wolves, were following open-mouthed on their heels, hungry for dominance.
We know how this story ends. “And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.”… “and the Lord routed the Egyptians in the midst of the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen and all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea. Not so much as one of them had remained. But the people of Israel walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters being a wall to them on the right hand and on their left. ” Exodus 14:22, 27-29
There is so much here for us, in this story of God’s work, so much for us to learn and cling to in the mired chariot wheels and mud-caked sandals. Here are a few lessons I see:
*Take action and move with God, even in the midst of fear.
*Sometimes God has a crazy plan, but it’s His, so it works!
*It is God who must push back the tide of what threatens to overwhelm us, and He does that, willingly and far better than our feeble arms or micro-management can do.
*Sometimes God leads us through the midst of turmoil to bring us where He desires us to be, so He can bless us and be glorified in the victory. He carves out a path of safety in it all.
*God’s best work often takes time, sometimes leaving us dangling on an edge. But He always comes through.
What are the churning waters and enemy armies that threaten me? Well, that depends upon the season of my life. Sometimes it’s relationships, parenting, finances, illness, death of a loved one, selling a house, work pressure, or all of that at one time. This is what I know, what He reminds me here:
..Be strong and courageous, and do not be afraid, the Lord goes with you each and every day. He will never forsake you…Deut. 31:6
What are your seeming impossibles that are about to overwhelm you? Be still. Move forward. Let God work. Rest in the victory.
May God bless you with a carved path of deliverance today, the eyes to see it and the faith to walk on it.
P.S. Guess what Moses and the Israelites right after God delivered them? They sang!