Monday 16 April 2012

Bible Book:

"The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night." (v. 21)

Exodus 14:21-31 Monday 16 April 2012


This dramatic passage in Exodus is well known to us. However,perhaps our image of it is more influenced by Hollywood than theactual text.

There is a debate over the understanding of what is happeninghere. Modern liberal sensibilities baulk at the idea of Godsupernaturally intervening to drown the Egyptians. However thetruth is that many who have been enslaved in history have foundpower and hope in this narrative as it tells the tale of the defeatof the oppressors and the liberation of the oppressed.

The Exodus story has been an inspiration to the Jewish people asthey faced persecution down the centuries. It was also aninspiration to those who ran the underground railroad that helpedslaves in the southern states of America escape to freedom in theNorth in the mid-19th century. Harriet Tubman who had escaped fromslavery herself risked her life and freedom to rescue others andbecame known in the anti slavery movement as the Moses of hertime.

But as we read this passage closely we can see that thesupernatural explanation is not the only reading open to us. ChiefRabbi Jonathan Sacks has pointed out that this text can be read twoways, both seeing God at work in the liberating of the Israelitesand in the drowning of the Egyptians: but one asserts theHollywood-like supernatural understanding and the other sees God atwork in the processes of nature in the changes of the tides. TheEgyptians in this second more naturalistic reading contribute totheir own demise by the fact that their armour and chariots, theirmilitarism and their wealth, lead to them being stuck in the mud asthe tides turn.

Maimonidies, a medieval Jewish Scholar, was at pains to point outthat the people followed Moses not because of his supernaturaldeeds but because he brought the people the way of Torah - the Wordof God. Some of the early rabbis saw the parting of the sea asstemming back to the creation: the setting of the tides by God atthe beginning of time (Genesis1:9-10) was God's action for the Israelites freedom.

To Ponder

Which interpretation of this passage do youprefer and why?

Have you ever felt God's presence in nature? Whatwas your experience? And how did you feel God in it?

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