The Israelites were free. They had been released by Pharaoh and asked…uh, rather…told to get on their way. They left with great wealth, large families, and much cattle. Off they went into the wilderness, being led by a pillar made of a cloud during the daytime and a pillar of fire at night. Their God was now visibly present as he led them out of oppression and to freedom.
Dirty feet and broken sandals pounded the sandy road, bringing forth a large cloud of dust in their wake. Their exodus from Egypt came as a result of God’s miraculous hand intervening in the final years of their slavery. There was nothing they did other than paint blood on their door frames to procure their safety and release. Everything that happened was completely due to the hand of God.
At the back of the joyful crowd of Israelites a small boy cried, his voice unheard under the din of mooing cattle, rolling carts, and excited people. Again, he cried, but this time louder, “they are coming!” A few people nearby looked at him and then in the direction he was pointing. When they saw what the boy was pointing to, their voices joined the cry as they frightenedly yelled, “THEY ARE COMING!” This time the cry was heard further up into the crowd and it was not long before the throng of people ground to a halt, turned around, and looked behind them.
In the distance a cloud of dust filled the sky. At the base of the cloud glints of sunlight continually sparkled. It didn’t take long for the crowd to realize they were seeing sights they with which they were familiar: dancing sunlight reflecting off of the metal surfaces of many chariots pulled by decorated war horses. It was a sight they had seen for years in Egypt and it was now obvious the Egyptians must have had second thoughts as they were now in pursuit to recapture them and return them to their dingy houses.
How could broken sandals and naked feet withstand the onslaught of solid chariots pulled by majestic horses driven by spear and sword wielding warriors? They might be able to run for a short while, but every Israelite knew the inevitable conclusion: capture, death for some, and slavery for the rest. Panic struck the crowd and the momentarily still feet began to run forward against all reason.
Pressing up over the nearest hill, those in the front of the writhing crowd stopped in despair. In front of them was a vast body of water, an ocean: they were now trapped between the horse driven chariots and the ocean. The realization of their inevitable demise swept back over the frightened crowd of former slaves soon arming their voices with accusation directed at their leader. “How could you bring us here? How could you lead us to death? We were safe in our homes in Egypt. We had food and a roof over our heads. But now? You have killed us all!”
Pandemonium nearly overtaking the crowd, Moses raised his arms and sang to the people,
May the Lord answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.
May he send you help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion.
The crowd’s anxious voices fell to a whisper.
May he remember all your sacrifices and accept your burnt offerings.
May he give you the desire of your heart and make your plans succeed.
One by one they stopped looking at the horses and chariots behind them and turned to listen to Moses, standing between them and the ocean, singing a blessing.
May we shout for joy over your victory and lift up our banners in the name of our God.
May the Lord grant all your requests.
The pillar of cloud behind Moses rose up over the crowd moving to the back of the now calm throng. As it settled to the ground, obscuring the rapidly approaching chariots and horses, Moses spoke,
Now this I know: the Lord gives victory to his anointed.
The cloudy pillar began to spin, blowing a gentle breeze across the first boy in the back of the throng of Israelites who had seen the approaching Egyptians.
He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary with the victorious power of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
The gentle breeze grew into a mighty wind rushing across the crowd, and kicking up dust and sand on its way to the ocean.
They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm.
Lord, give victory to the king!
Answer us when we call!
The ocean before them parted creating a dry path leading to the other side of the water. Moses, with his hands still raised high, turned and faced the waters. It was only a moment before the people ran forward with cries of joy and praise now on their lips.
When the last of the Israelites exited the dry path, the cloud raised up, crossed the water, and settled behind the massive throng, now standing on what was once the far side of the water. The Egyptians entered the ocean’s chasm and rode furiously on horse and chariot to meet the former slaves.
The last thing seen by the Israelites as the water closed was a lone chariot and single horse floating on the surface of the water for a moment before sinking out of sight. The crowd turned, resumed their joyful chatter, and followed the pilar of cloud as it continued into the wilderness.
(Image courtesy of http://www.thehistoryblog.com/archives/6608)