The Torah reading this Shabbat is Beshalach (“when He sent them out”), Exodus 13:17 – 17:16, and from the Prophets the reading is from Judges 4:4 – 5:31 (The story of Deborah and her song), and from the New Testament the reading is from Matthew 14:22-33.
Last week we read the story of the deliverance of the children of Israel along with a mixed multitude of people from different nations that saw what Israel was doing on the night that the angel of death passed through the land of Egypt and copied them. They watched the homes of the Israelites and saw the blood of the lambs that was put on their doorposts.
They watched the Israelites packing their belongings and they packed their belongings. They watched and saw that at dawn the children of Israel were marching out and they joined them. Now this Shabbat’s reading starts with the children of Israel led by Moses and Aaron leaving Egypt and starting their long journey to the land of Canaan.
For the vast majority of those Israelites leaving Egypt with their families and their belongings, the land of Canaan, the land given by God to their forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and their seed forever, was an unknown land. They were all born in Egypt, and most of had been born into slavery and that is all that they knew, slavery under hard labor in building the cities of the dead for the Pharaohs and the nobility of Egypt.
This is where our Torah reading starts:
“Then it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, ‘Lest perhaps the people change their minds when they see war, and return to Egypt.’ So God led the people around by way of the wilderness of the Red Sea. And the children of Israel went up in orderly ranks out of the land of Egypt.” – Exodus 13:17,18 [NKJV]
Right at the beginning, when the Israelites are taking their first steps to leave Egypt, we are given information regarding the situation that would not have been exactly encouraging if it had been us who were living there at that time.
God is not going to take them through the easy, quick, simple, regular, and usual way to travel from Egypt to the land of Canaan. The way that goes north to the seacoast of the Mediterranean and follows one of the main highways of the ancient world, the Way of the Sea (the Via Maris).
That highway connected Africa, Asia, and Europe. By using it, the travel to the land of Israel would have been between 11-14 days, definitely not 40 years. To me this text looks like a comment of the editor who already knew the end of the story However, the Holy Spirit saw fit to let us know from the very beginning of their journey that it was not God’s will to make things easy for the children of Israel.
Here comes the wisdom of the Lord over our own human limited by time and space wisdom. Our normal human wisdom would say, “Men of Israel, you are running away from Egypt, get out of there as quick as possible, run baby run!” Here is our limitation and the Lord’s foreknowledge of things that will happen and things that He, the Almighty, thinks that it is the best thing that needs to happen with these liberated slaves.
The Lord wanted to educate Israel, and give them the Torah, and have a virtual wedding at the foot of Mt. Sinai, and feed them the manna and sweeten their water, and train them to trust Him and see His faithfulness.
The main reason that is given to us in the text above is: “Lest perhaps the people change their minds when they see war, and return to Egypt.” In other words, God wanted to take the children of Israel through bootcamp!
The same God who wanted Egypt and the world to get acquainted with Him, the Creator of the World, through the hardening of the heart of Pharaoh, and to demonstrate to Egypt that He is the one who controls the forces of nature, the water in the Nile River, the locust, and the light and darkness, the weather, and life itself.
I find it interesting that only the firstborn of Egypt, humans, and animals, died on that dark night when the Angel of Death went through the houses of Egypt and harvested their firstborn children. This, the Lord chose to do, to show that He, and He alone is in control of everything from nature to all human life.
For us, these days, when the coronavirus is almost like the Angel of Death that visited Egypt on that night with the full moon, but the difference now, is that it is worldwide, from the East to the West, from the North to the South, on all seven continents.
It is good for us to know and understand and believe and trust the Lord, even today during these fateful times with a virus is raging throughout the world. We who read the word of God must remember and learn and wake up to the simple truth that the only boss, the only king and the only true ruler who directs and controls and educates and prepares this world for anything is the Lord God of Israel – who so loves the world that He sent His only begotten Son…
Let us all seek the Lord and repent of our personal sins and pray for our governments to repent and return to the Lord and His values and to a biblical faith and lifestyle.
One impressive thing that has captured my attention is that as much as the children of Israel were in such a hurry, they didn’t forget to take the bones of Joseph with them to carry them to the land of Canaan and to bury Joseph together with Abraham, Isaac, Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and Jacob in Hebron.
When you are leaving in such a hurry and don’t have much time and have children and stuff to carry, to remember the coffin (mummy) of Joseph that has been dead for at least 300 years is for me, quite impressive.
The next big thing in this reading of the Torah is the crossing of the Red Sea. I am much more impressed by what happened before the crossing of the sea, before Moses struck the water with his staff, before the water parted, before the people stepped down and walked through the corals, and the reefs of one of the most beautiful underwater seascapes.
Here is a short recap:
The large hoard of Israelites, and the mixed multitudes of people, left Egypt with the wealth of the Egyptians and had that feeling of finally being “free at last.” After only a brief couple of days, they see a dust cloud rising into the sky behind them, and hear the noise of chariots, hundreds of chariots, maybe thousands.
In front of them is the sea, behind them the Egyptian army ready for slaughter and to take them back to slavery with a vengeance. The situation looks hopeless! A sense of fear and horror engulfs them! The feelings of joy and hope that they left Egypt with, suddenly turn to horror and a nightmare.
They start to blame Moses, and Aaron. I am sure that Moses himself and Aaron as well, didn’t know what to do! It is at this very point that logically, from a human point of view, disaster is at hand!
By faith, Moses finds the following words to say to comfort the people:
“And Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever. The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.’” – Exodus 14:13,14 [NKJV]
Moses finds just the right words at the right time to say in order to encourage the people. This is of great importance for those who stand in pulpits and speak the word of God to the people in these difficult times. Moses is not fabricating stuff or giving false prophecies.
Moses knows God personally! The Lord prepared him and equipped him and Moses knew the Lord personally Moses knows that all that has happened in Egypt and to Egypt and all the wonders and miracles and plagues that he saw from God’s hand were not done to bring Israel to the wilderness of Sinai to die.
Moses knew that even though to human eyes and to human logic the situation looks impossible the same God that wanted to show Egypt and the world that He is in control and that He is the King of the universe, will now do the same and teach the Egyptians and the Israelites that same lesson!
“I am the Lord your God who brings you out of Egypt.” This is the kind of faith/trust that those of us living in these days of coronavirus have to restore in our relationship with the creator and with our savior. Just having faith in this or that doctrine, usually manmade doctrines that divide and create parties and sects, is not the essence of faith, the essence of faith is to trust in the Lord when our human minds can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel and know that He is there waiting for us with His open hands.
Here is what the Lord told Moses:
“And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Why do you cry to Me? Tell the children of Israel to go forward.’” – Exodus 14:15 [NKJV]
This is one of these texts that I keep in mind always. The complaining and the crying and the dark clouds that we raise over our own heads, dark clouds that rob us of hope and keep us from joy and inject depression into our hearts.
The Lord says to Moses – Stop crying, tell the people to go forward! But, let me take the side of the people here, and say that what the people see in front of them is the sea, and behind them Pharaoh and the Egyptian army. We have thousands of years of history and collective experience from Genesis to Revelation and another 2000 years of history and experience to know that God is faithful, and that He keeps His promises.
Israel of today is the greatest proof that we can trust God and His promises and not cry and complain, but to ask where the door is, that will open up to us, so that we can go forward! To step out on God’s promises and to trust – to trust –the one true Lord.
The next big story of this Torah reading is that after the crossing of the Red Sea and after the great victory over the Egyptians, less than two months after leaving Egypt, this is what the children of Israel said:
“Then the whole congregation of the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. And the children of Israel said to them, ‘Oh, that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’” – Exodus 16:2,3 [NKJV]
What can we learn about ourselves from this text? We could look at Israel through the eyes of anti-Semites and say: These nasty Jews, forever ungrateful and always wanting more and wanting something for free!
From my experience in the Sinai Desert traveling with some of the most famous Pentecostal (Charismatic) church leaders of the West, I can tell you that when difficulties occur on the road and cars break down, those leaders, who are considered super spiritual and full of the Holy Spirit and perform miracles and cast out demons and heal the sick, act like faithless heathens, even when experiencing much lesser difficulties than the children of Israel faced.
We are all human and all selfish, and in difficult situations, we all look out for number one, ourselves first. Put yourselves in the place of those Israelites that were born and raised in slavery. Yes, slavery, where you have no rights and no freedom, but someone takes care of your food and lodging no matter how poor and how hard your conditions might be.
You don’t have to worry about it – you are like a horse in the stall – you work, you ride, you race, but the master brings you your corn and hay. Now, there is no one to feed you and there is nothing much around for you to go and pick from the field. So, see how our gracious Lord provides for those recently freed slaves, bread from heaven! Daily bread from heaven, fresh and free, provided by the grace of God, daily!
I am not blaming the children of Israel! I am praising the Lord for His patience and grace, for His understanding of the people, and of their circumstances, and who for 40 years fed them the manna – bread from heaven. O Lord our Lord how wonderful are Your ways, and how great is Your love and patience with all Your children! We owe You so much!
This article originally appeared on Netivyah and is reposted with permission.