Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the
“I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed
the horse and his rider he has thrown into the
The LORD is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation;
This is my God and I will praise him,
my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
The Lord is a man of war;
the LORD is his name.”
A professor from Yale, valiantly trying to debunk the Exodus, after explaining away the parting of the Sea, and the plagues, and all the signs and wonders, nevertheless concedes, grudgingly, that the portion of this most ancient and glorious song, “is a nice hymn,” and, that, “it fits rather nicely here as a celebration of the Exodus.” That is just the way to put it—it fits “rather nicely” in the way that we, faced with the wonder and power of God, try to put words around what he has done. What do you do, really, when God acts? What do you say?
“The Lord is my strength and my song,” sing the women, overcome with relief and joy, “and he has become my salvation,”
If you’re feeling fatigued, and, perhaps, lacking joy, pretend that you’re not sitting here on this dark, quiet evening in your basically peaceful pew. Pretend that you’re right there, singing along with Miriam and the others.
You’ve had a terrible couple of decades in Egypt–the sting of the whip, the futility of the endless horizon of bricks, the antagonism and cruelty of Pharoah. Then, when you’ve been crushed into the very dust, Moses comes along and, by the many “signs and wonders” of God, devastates the land of your torment. Isn’t that too often how it goes? You’re already sick, someone has already hurt you, you’ve lost money, or a job, or have been thrown into confusion for some reason—and instead of things getting better, for a long time, there is the gradual decreasing of good things until there are basically none. The comforts of life narrow down to a single candle flickering against the overpowering darkness of the evil around you. The frogs, the blood instead of water, the boils, the hail, the darkness, and then finally the death–though you hadn’t had to endure all of them, watching them from a far distance.
Is it any wonder, then, that as soon as you get to the edge of the Sea and stare out over the vast expanse of deep water, you easily join your neighbor’s querulous bitter question– ”Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have brought us out into the wilderness?”
You’re not trying to be mean to God. It’s just that it feels like he’s been mean to you. You’re scared and exhausted–aren’t you? The lamb of the Passover is still in your stomach. The aroma of bitter herbs still scents your bundles. The dinner was good, and you are relieved to have escaped intact. But the wailing of those bereaved Egyptian mothers and fathers—the memory of it wakes you up whenever you think of dozing off. It’s been a mad, chaotic rush. You’re alarmed, troubled, traumatized even. What is God doing? Why come here, to this expanse of water, to sit and do what? Die?
That’s the only logical outcome for the series of events as they stand now. For, “when Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly.” Just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean everyone isn’t out to get you. A good percentage of the things that we fear in life are real. We are sensible to fear. When you face your inevitable death, for example, and you have never died before and have no idea what it will be like, fear is a perfectly reasonable sensation. Unknown things are worth being afraid and anxious about. Painful things and hard things are worth weeping over.
And the trouble that I have, is that too often God himself is the one who increases the trouble. Too often, he is the one who makes things worse. You’re going along minding your own business, trying to get dinner on the table, and he arranges events so that you have no recourse but to cry out to him. Look at where he puts the people of Israel. “Tell the people to go forward,” says God to Moses. That would be toward the big body of water in front of them, geographically speaking. Then, he says, do something that, for all the sea of human logic, is a useless thing to do—”stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go through the sea on dry ground.” I wonder if Moses looked up into heaven and sighed heavily. Isn’t that just the sort of thing God so often says? Divide the Sea. Love me with all your heart mind soul and strength. Forgive completely. Don’t be anxious about anything but in everything, by prayer and supplication make your requests known to God. You can’t do any of these things.
Moses has some experience with the LORD, the God of heaven and earth, though, by this point, and so he does what he is told. He holds up his hand, and you–and the whole nation of Israel–stand there because still, walking out straight into a vast body of water is not a sensible thing to do.
Why is God doing this? That’s what you should ask yourself as you peer into the gloom. What possible purpose could he have in bringing us into this impossible situation? We only wanted to be happy with our meat pots–that we didn’t even really have. We didn’t want to be slaves, but we also didn’t want to be hassled either. We didn’t want to die, but we also wanted to cling, rather tightly, to all the things that made life in slavery bearable. Things like bitterness, unforgiveness, idolatry, covetousness, lust, and seething resentment against authority. We wanted out, but we were happy to be as spiritually stony as the Egyptians who–where are they now? Oh yes. They are riding swiftly in chariots towards you, standing there, for the very simple reason that God has “hardened their hearts.” And that so that he can “get glory” over them.
Remember, a few days ago, when Caiaphas, in bitter rage, put Jesus under oath by saying, “Give glory to God?” It was a technical, judicial formula. But at the same time, it was the very thing that Jesus most desired to do.
God will get the glory because he will do the impossible. He will save the weak and perishing, the person “under the sentence of death.” He throws down the mighty from his chariot and casts him into the sea. He looks Pilate in the face and exposes his soul. He is our Paschal Feast.
How does he come to be with us? The angel of God, who is also the pillar of cloud, who was going before the host of Israel, moved and went behind them, cutting off all the Egyptian army. And all night the pillar of cloud is there, lighting up the night. Much much later, when Israel has spent a long while in the Land the Lord has given her, still mired in the slavery of sin and rebellion, God makes this promise to her about this same cloud:
“Then the Lord will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory there will be a canopy. There will be a booth for shade by day from the heat, and for a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain.”
What is the cloud? Or rather, who is in the cloud? Shrouded in glory and light? Which way would you rather look? Back at the light and the cloud? The strange, terrifying protection from that malign and wicked army, determined to kill you? Or ahead at the sea which, as the wind blows strong, Moses’ outstretched rod pointing the way, is piling up in two great heaps.
Actually, you can’t stand there. You have to pick up your stuff–quickly–and go, grabbing the hand of any number of the hordes of children who are whining and afraid. Go through the water. For do you not know that all of you who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? It is a strange kind of baptism, this, where you don’t get wet. You go through death without having to die. You go through grief without being subsumed under the tide. You go from slavery to freedom, from sin into holiness, from poverty into riches, from condemnation to justification, from judgment into mercy.
The daylight is just beginning to shimmer over the crest of the hill. You have long been carrying all your stuff. What is it? Spices? Bitter herbs? Grief? The ground is parched as you toil up the slope. You have gone through the valley of the shadow, through the sea, beset by enemies you didn’t even know you had. You only wanted one thing–for God to do good. Not to have his Son die. Not to make you go into the very dark pit of horror, watching him carry his own beam, on his back, and be crucified. You asked him, as you saw it unfold, to make it stop. But he would not.
And that is because he isn’t satisfied with you being only partially made free. He isn’t satisfied with anything less than the total devastation of your greatest foe–pharaoh the very devil and all his wicked works, the very sin at the core of who you are, the things that pull you under the water, into the grave, that poison your mind and heart and body. No. They must all be destroyed.
The Marys all arrive at the tomb, out of breath. And who is there to meet them? The stone is tossed down like a plaything there is an angel. His appearance is like lightning. He tells them—as usual—“not to be afraid” which is the very thing you are because he is an angel and the light is blinding and you are a sinner and you feel yourself coming undone. But like the dry, empty sea, safe to cross, here is an empty tomb. And even though they have walked so far already, the angel tells them to “go—quickly—and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead.”
And as they go, they meet Jesus himself. Not in the cloud, not in the valley, not in some ephemeral and mystical way that no one can understand, but himself, in his body. He is risen, and so they can fall at his feet and look at him in the face and be astonished.
What about you? For, if you have died with Christ, you will also live with him. Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again. Which means, that though you die, you will never die, for you are alive in Christ Jesus. Who, though there is only the trailing smoke of the censor, and only the flickering light of the candles, is here in the most fitting and full and impossible way. Here, by the Holy Spirit, knitting us together into his very body, which, you can get up, out of your pew, and go forward to taste.
Alleluia. He is Risen.
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