The parasha for this Shabbat is entitled Beshalach which means “in his sending”, referring to Pharaoh’s finally letting the Jewish people go (after ten terrible plagues). It takes from Exodus 13:17 – 17:16. When God led us out of Egypt, He didn’t take us straight north. Though it would have been a much shorter route, it would have taken us directly into Philistine territory, and we were unprepared at that point for a prolonged conflict. Instead Adonai led us through the wilderness to the Red Sea, accompanying us all the way, manifesting His presence in a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day. Moses took Joseph’s bones with them – fulfilling the promise that when we eventually left Egypt, we were to take his bones. Joseph wanted to be buried in the land of his ancestors, not in a foreign nation.
Chapter 14 opens with a bit of subterfuge. Adonai tells Moses to lead the people south, which will give Pharaoh the impression that the Jews are wandering aimlessly and are now trapped at the shore of the Red Sea. Even after the last and deadly 10th plague, Pharaoh changes his mind, realizing he has just freed nearly half a million unpaid laborers, with his many construction projects sitting half-completed. So again, predictably, Pharaoh hardens his heart, saddles up and takes 600 of his best charioteers and a massive army to pursue Israel. When the Israelis see that army approaching, they panic and yell at Moses, “Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?” It was meant as sarcasm, mocking the Egyptians’ obsession with death, graves and the underworld!
It certainly wouldn’t be the last time our people wrongly accuse Moses. In fact, three times in just these four chapters Moses is accused of malicious intent (14:11-2, 16:3 and 17:3). But now, faced with what appears to be certain death at the hands of the mighty Egyptian army, Moses utters these unforgettable words: “Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the Lord… for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever.” At God’s command, Moses waves his staff over the Red Sea. The Lord sends a powerful east wind – so powerful that the sea is swept back and divided in two, completely drying out the ground in the middle to make the way of escape for the Jewish people. We walked through the midst of the Red Sea, a wall of water on either side of us, and not so much as one Israeli sandal got damp!
All that night the pillar of fire, which had gone before us, was situated behind us, preventing the Egyptians from giving chase. At daylight the pillar was lifted, and Pharaoh’s army resumed their pursuit and drove right into the Red Sea, which at that point was still parted. God then threw the Egyptian army into confusion and impeded their chariots. The Egyptians understood immediately that the God of the Hebrews was doing this, and began to flee. God commanded Moses to stretch out his hand once more over the Red Sea, and those massive walls of water came thundering down over that army, drowning every single one of them.
The Passover and our Exodus from Egypt would become the single most significant event for the Jewish people for thousands of years to come. Dor l’dor – from generation to generation we’re reminded that the Lord redeemed us from the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery. We read that the people feared the Lord when they saw this deliverance. Egypt, too, learned that their gods were nothing and the God of Israel was the only One.
Chapter 15 contains a song – a poetic break in the narrative. Of course, whenever that happens we are meant to pay special attention. Remember, in ancient times there were no books, as we have them today. The Scriptures were read aloud in the synagogue, so you had to be a good listener. Whenever a narrative was interrupted by something different – a song, a poem, it was designed to capture your attention! The song interprets the event. And in the Song of Moses we find these marvelous refrains: “The Lord is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation… Who is like You among the gods, O Lord? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, awesome in praises, working wonders? And The Lord shall reign forever and ever…”
Miriam and the women danced and sang with timbrels. Our people had been delivered! But Moses’ song was more than a glorified sigh of relief; it was a series of lofty theological assertions. Two facts of extraordinary importance come through:
1. The God of Israel is the only God.
2. Man cannot save himself. Salvation comes from God alone.
I wish I could say that chapters 16 and 17 are filled with faithfulness on our part, but instead they are filled with complaining. In the Wilderness of Sin we ran out of food, got hungry and kvetched. We accused Moses of bringing us out into the wilderness to kill us. God graciously sent manna – supernatural bread from heaven. He also sent quail. He also sent instructions. We didn’t follow the instructions. We found out the hard way that manna didn’t keep overnight. Then we came to Rephidim and had no water, so again we blamed Moses. God graciously provided water. By the way, there’s no record of any apology to Moses for the accusations.
In chapter 17 the Amalekites attacked Israel. Joshua led Israel’s army, while Moses went up on a hill and lifted his staff. So long as Moses’ staff remained above his head Israel prevailed. But when his arms got weary and came down, Amalek prevailed. Aaron and Hur knew just what to do – they sat Moses down and each of them held up one of Moses’ arms until Joshua completely defeated the Amalekites. Attacking a weary and wandering people was wicked enough. But in Deuteronomy 25 we learn that the Amalekites attacked at the rear, targeting the weak and elderly and those with very young children – those straggling behind. God declared His contempt for Amalek and would later instruct Israel to blot out their very memory from under Heaven! At this victory, Moses built an altar and named it Adonai Nissi – the Lord is my Banner! If we need a miracle, Adonai is able to provide it. In the midst of life’s raging battles, the One who is our Banner is always able to come to our aid, leading us to victory!
A few final thoughts:
1. Some people claim to believe in God, but don’t believe the miracles in the Bible. The parting of the Red Sea is a great litmus test for someone like that. If you’re talking with someone who thinks it’s just a nice story, or insists on some kind of naturalistic explanation for the parting of the Red Sea, chances are they really don’t believe. You can help them to see that.
2. Our people repeatedly rejected Moses’ leadership, even after witnessing the many miracles God performed through him. Even after he led us out of slavery in Egypt, we still managed to bad-mouth him and accuse him of terrible things. In that regard, Moses was the first in what would prove to be a long line of servants of God who would suffer indignities from the very people they came to serve. It should come as no surprise, then, that Israel’s leaders and most of our people rejected Messiah Yeshua when He presented Himself 2,000 years ago, despite His performing of wondrous miracles and teaching and doing only good.
But Israel’s lack of appreciation didn’t prevent God from fulfilling His promise and bringing us into the Land. In the same way, Israel’s rejection of Yeshua will not prevent God from fulfilling the promises He made concerning our eventual restoration and blessing in the Land. Some have failed to see the bigger picture and have arrogantly written off the Jewish people, and that will prove to be a huge mistake.
3. In contrast to the majority of Israel who treated Moses badly, Aaron and Hur are forever remembered for their wisdom and dedication in coming alongside Moses and holding his arms up. It is a portrait of two types of responses to leadership; those who stand aloof and criticize, and those who come along side to assist. Which type would you say more closely describes you? I am reminded of the exhortation from the writer of Hebrews (The Letter to the Messianic Jews): Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you (Hebrews 13:17).
May the Lord make us all to be like Aaron and Hur – encouragers. And whenever we face some seemingly insurmountable problem – our own Egyptian army, as it were, let’s remember and call on the God who gives deliverance and victory – sweet victory!