We are still in our series looking at how God shaped the Israelites in the book of Exodus and how God is shaping us today. Last week Carol talked about responding to the call of God like Moses at the burning bush. Now we’re going to skip over a lot of the story. We’re skipping over some frogs, some locusts, some bloody water, and all the other plagues sent upon Egypt. At this point Pharaoh has finally relented and allowed the Israelites to go, but he changes his mind and sends the army after them. We heard in our first reading that the people were deathly afraid, but God sent a pillar of cloud to buy them some time and told Moses to stretch his staff over the water that prevented their passage.
Now why send the pillar of cloud when the waters are going to be parted? Well let me use an analogy. When I have been on youth mission trips, driving across the country, inevitably someone will need to use the bathroom thirty minutes after the last time we stopped. So one trip I radioed the other vans that we were stopping ONLY FOR BATHROOMS, don’t let anyone else out, we needed to make good time. But much to my dismay the second van that pulled in let everyone out so they could buy candy. Which made every other van driver cave in and let their kids out. And then my five-minute bathroom stop became 45 minutes. Trust me when I say this, you cannot stop for anything less than 45 minutes with a group of teenagers. So when Moses needs to get 600,000 cantankerous Israelites moving, I bet he was glad to see that pillar of cloud buying him time to get their hindquarters in gear. So with a little time to get everyone moving thanks to God, listen to what happened next.
21Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. 22The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. 23The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. 24At the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. 25He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, “Let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.”26Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers.” 27So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the Lord tossed the Egyptians into the sea. 28The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. 29But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. 30Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31Israel saw the great work that the Lord did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the Lord and believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.
15:1Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord: “I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea. 2The Lord is my strength and my might, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him. 3The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is his name.
Gotta Be God
I was pretty young, and we were living on Lake Austin. The skies outside were dark and foreboding, but that wasn’t anything new. But all of a sudden my parents rushed downstairs and took the family into the most sheltered part of the house. A tornado was carving a destructive path right through the lake, headed toward our neighborhood. When we emerged the biggest tree in our yard was laying on our neighbor’s roof. But you know what didn’t happen? The waters of Lake Austin never parted. No one was able to walk through on dry ground. Frankly it would’ve been pretty squishy ground. Not to mention the smell.
So when I hear so-called scientific explanations of how a natural phenomenon could account for the parting of the Red Sea, I don’t buy it. If a tornado couldn’t do it, I think it’s more convincing to just assume the existence of an all-powerful God. If you want to say this never happened, then I disagree with you, but OK. But if you want to try to say it was a strange tidal event, or a strong wind, or some other fortuitous occurrence, I’m going to point back to the Lake Austin tornado and say, I’m not buying it.
So for me, I look at this and say, “that’s gotta be God.”
And I think that gets at a common question: is that a coincidence or is that God? Is it luck, or is it God? Have you ever wondered if something in your life was a coincidence or God?
When I was younger in my faith I had frequent stretches where I questioned if it was all a lie. What if God wasn’t real? What if God was just a figment of my imagination? What if all those God-sightings were really just my brain creating a pattern where none existed? What if those times when God gave me direction were really just my own intuition?
Eventually I realized that, like the parting of the Red Sea, it was more likely that God exists than that all of those things were coincidences. For instance, take the intuition part. When I look back at the times I followed God’s direction, I don’t regret a single instance. So is it more likely that my intuition is right 100% of the time or that God exists and gave me direction? Even when I was 17 and knew everything in the universe I was pretty sure God was a more likely explanation than me being right all the time.
Have you ever had those times where you questioned your faith? Times where you wondered if you were following and serving a figment of your imagination? Well look back at your life. Is it more likely that those are coincidences, or God?
Remembering Through Song
After the Israelites made it across the sea, after God swallowed up the Egyptian army, after they benefitted from either one of the greatest coincidences in history or the divine intervention of God, the Israelites in chapter 15 broke out in song. “I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously… The Lord is my strength and my might, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him.”
I think this is incredibly important. Because time and time again in the Old Testament, God reminds the Israelites that he brought them out of Egypt. But you KNOW that sometimes they thought, “That didn’t really happen. Those are just the idle tales of old men and women.” This song, though, is how the Israelites remembered what happened that day. This song is how the Israelites remembered throughout the generations that God had really, truly, saved them on this day. This song is how the people would know to nod in recognition when God tells them later, “I am the God who brought you out of the land of Egypt.”
Kind of like how I can say, “Amazing Grace,” or “Here I Am Lord,” or “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” or “Joy to the World, the Lord Is Come,” and you can hear the tune and probably know the first verse or two. Of course by saying them all in a row you might have a jumbled mess in your head right now, and I’m sorry for that.
What are some of your favorite lines? When you need to remind yourself of God’s faithfulness, what song or what hymn gives you comfort? When you are in tears or at the end of your rope, what song or hymn gives you the strength to take another step? When you are questioning God or questioning God’s existence, what song or hymn reminds you of the reasons you believe?
Hearing or singing about God’s love is more powerful than hearing someone tell me that God loves me. What songs have been your traveling companions through your faith walk?
Sisters and brothers, our minds remember words but our hearts remember music. What does your heart need to remember? What song, what music can be with you through this next part of your walk? When the Israelites were rescued by God, they didn’t just entrust it to words, they knew they needed to put it to a song so that every generation could remember it. What does your heart need to remember? Thanks be to God for his faithfulness, but also for the music by which we remember it. Amen.