For the week of February 3, 2007 / 15 Shevat 5767
Torah: Shemot / Exodus 13:17 - 17:16
Haftarah: Shoftim / Judges 4:4 - 5:31
As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the LORD. They said to Moses, "Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn't we say to you in Egypt, 'Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians'? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!" (Shemot / Exodus 14:10-12)
In preparation for writing this week's TorahBytes message, I have been thinking about the people of Israel anticipating attack by the Egyptian army while they were camped by the Red Sea. What we tend to remember about this story is the great miracle of the parting of the sea, the people of Israel marching across on dry land (not mud - dry land!), and the Egyptians drowning when the waters returned. But to really appreciate this miracle, we need to first put ourselves in the shoes (or sandals) of the Israelites.
The parting of the Red Sea is the climactic event of a very long and difficult period in Israel's history - a history that was part of the very heart of the people camped by the sea that day. For many years they had been slaves, suffering under the cruel mastery of the Egyptians. They had been made to work hard under severe circumstances due to Pharaoh's fear of the possibility of Israel's participating in an uprising against him. Since subduing the people through suffering wasn't enough to alleviate his fears, for a time he decreed the murder of every Israelite baby boy.
When the day came for their deliverance under Moses' leadership, it was no smooth ride. At first their hard labor was increased. Then they lived through terrible plagues sent from God. While they were kept safe from the effects of the plagues, they, unlike ourselves, were not able to read the end of the story. What they saw was destruction, but no deliverance for another significant period of time.
Then the day finally came when they were able to leave. That might sound wonderful, and it was in many ways, but packing up and heading out into the unknown is never easy. I am sure there are people hearing or reading this who have experienced this first hand. The transition of leaving even a bad situation to go to a new one is a hardship. And remember the people of Israel were the victims of a cruel society. While they may have had some level of hope to encourage them on, I would expect that their psychological state would not have been all that good. Then, on top of everything else, they end up facing complete destruction at the hands of a cruel and powerful army with nowhere to go and next to no means to defend themselves.
Can we blame them for their sense of hopelessness? Even without the years of oppression, what would it take to face this situation with confidence? But then to realize that they faced this situation on top of everything else…I still can't comprehend it!
Having experienced deep discouragement, I know for myself what it's like to be in a hopeless situation. I could try to compare my life's struggles to that of the Israelites at the Red Sea and accept that it was way more hopeless than anything I have experienced, that is if you can have degrees of hopelessness.
This is all to say that they really were in a hopeless situation. Yes, they had God, but would we react any differently? I know that is not the end of the story, but in order to get the story's full impact, we need to start with catching the sense of their hopelessness.
So in the midst of one of the most dismal situations in recorded history, comes God's deliverance. First Moses speaks to the people with an amazing confidence (see Shemot / Exodus 14:13,14). Somehow he understood God's intent and his power, thus enabling him to encourage the people. But what he didn't understand was exactly what God was going to do. Instead of the kind of thing they witnessed in Egypt, where they found themselves stuck as oppressed victims, now they were to move forward into the seemingly immoveable obstacle. I don't blame Moses for not expecting this tactic (see Shemot / Exodus 14:15,16).
Through the centuries one of the most difficult things for God's people to learn has been that God is not predictable. He leads us into impossible circumstances and them comes through for us in ways we don't expect.
While God does the unexpected, he wants us to learn that he does indeed come through for us. It is good to learn to relate to the people of Israel in this story, not thinking that our outlook would have been any better than theirs. But the lesson of the story is that with God there is never any reason to lose hope - even in the most desperate of situations.
E-mail this TorahBytes to someone? Click here
To have TorahBytes e-mailed to you weekly