God Parts the Red Sea

God parting the Red Sea is always a VBS favorite. But it is still one of my favorites as an adult. As I was reading this a couple of weeks a ago a few things struck me that I had never thought about before. Here is the text (Exo 14:10-31):

“As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the LORD. 11 They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”

13 Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. 14 The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

15 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. 16 Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. 17 I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. 18 The Egyptians will know that I am the LORD when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen.”

19 Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, 20 coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long.

21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the LORD drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, 22 and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.

23 The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea. 24 During the last watch of the night the LORD looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion. 25 He made the wheels of their chariots come off  so that they had difficulty driving. And the Egyptians said, “Let’s get away from the Israelites! The LORD is fighting for them against Egypt.”

26 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen.” 27 Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward  it, and the LORD swept them into the sea. 28 The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen—the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived.

29 But the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. 30 That day the LORD saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. 31 And when the Israelites saw the great power the LORD displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.”

I put in bold two things that I found interesting. The first is that God’s people were told to be still because God was going to fight for them. I think that is a concept many of us, myself included, need to get under our belts. What is interesting about that statement is that God involved the people in what was about to happen but the result wasn’t dependent on their power and ability. For instance, God told Moses to raise his staff over the water for it to be divided and for it to come back together. Moses obeyed God. God involved him in the events. But in the end, it was God fighting for them. They depended on following the lead of God for their deliverance.

The second thing was the actual miracle of parting the sea. I don’t like hypothesizing about too much but a couple of things struck me about the pure physics of this event. Here in Florida we are known to get hurricanes that produce a great amount of sustained wind. But even under the worst of circumstances (150+ mph winds) a hurricane has never produced a wall of water. They have never been so strong as to make water stand up in a wall, much less for hours and hours. What is even more amazing to me is that God sent such a powerful wind and yet none of God’s people were blown away! God is not bound by the laws of physics and can do things however he wants but in human terms you are talking about an event where a wind several hundred miles an hour stands water up into two walls, dries the ground beneath, and not a single person standing within who knows, a quarter mile of this event, is blown away. That is pretty amazing. That is how powerful God is. What is more, the water stood in a wall even after the wind ceased because the people were able to walk through the gap without any wind blowing.

There are several other miracles that are tucked away into this story. The angel that brings a cloud of darkness on one side and light on the other is one. God knocking the wheels of their chariots is another. What a mighty God we serve. No wonder this story became part of the bedrock foundation and narrative of an entire race of people. It is reflected all over the Old Testament in the psalms and prophets and elsewhere. It is the story of a liberation from one of the greatest powers of their day that could only take place through providential circumstances.


Show Me Your Glory – Moses, Elijah, & Jesus

The transfiguration is one of the most fascinating stories in the entire New Testament. When Jesus was transfigured on the mountain God sent Moses and Elijah to speak with him. What did they talk about on the mountain? I am really not sure but I have an idea.

The first clue that connects these three figures has to do with death. Popular Jewish stories hinted that Moses may have never died. Elijah, of course, was taken up into heaven and never died. Jesus was about to go to the cross and conquer death for everyone.

The second clue has to do with encouragement. When Moses was leading the Hebrews through the wilderness he got discouraged. He asked to see God. God showed up and only let him see him passing by through the mountains from behind. When Elijah was unpopularly speaking out for God he faced rejection and persecution. He needed encouragment. What did he do? You guessed it, he asked to see God. God showed up in the gentle whisper. Jesus was on his way to the cross. In Mark 9, Jesus is in the middle of his three passion predictions each of which is met by misunderstanding by his disciples and in need of further clarification. Even his own disciples were telling him it wasn’t a good idea. He faced opposition on every side. On the mountain, Jesus received more than encouragement from Moses and Elijah. Like Moses and Elijah, he received a revelation and experience of God, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” (Mark 9:7).

In all three instances death was overcome (only by tradition with Moses and not necessarily backed by scripture). In all three instances God made himself known at a crucial time. In all three instances they were encouraged and readied to go on to the next step. What did Moses, Elijah, and Jesus talk about? I am guessing it was pretty encouraging and that Jesus was getting geared up to go to Jerusalem and do what he needed to do with a result that all men everywhere could overcome death.

A Twist on the Divine Name

“Moses said to God, ‘Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers sent me to you’, and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’ This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am sent me to you.'” (Exodus 3:13-14)

Not only is that one of the hardest verses in the Bible to figure out where to put the quotation marks, it also gives us some insight into the nature of God. The name “I am” implies eternal existence. Jesus repeatedly expressed his identity this same way in the Gospel of John – the two most significant being in 8:58 – “before Abraham was born, I am!” and in 18:6 & 8 at his arrest. Jesus is clearly expressing his divinity in these passages in John.

In contrast to Christ, the I am, are those who are not the “I am.” Two stand out in the Gospel of John:

John the Baptist, when asked if he was the Christ (the I am) replied – “I am not the Christ” (John 1:20)

When confronted by the campfire outside the residence of the high priest Peter was asked if he was one of Jesus’ disciples. To that he twice replied, “I am not“. (John 18:17,25).

Just one more reminder that “He is God and we are not!”

What’s the Prophet Like Moses Got to do With It? – John 6

“After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.” – John 6:14-15

There had already been a stir in Judea that it may finally be happening, that the Prophet was among them. The first hint came by a camel-hair clad, honey eating man, who preached the coming of the Messiah and the need for repentance. They asked him if he was the “Prophet”, a claim he unequivocally denied. What he did not deny was that such a Prophet was among them (John 1:19-28). The next hint came at a well in Samaria where a woman was told “everything she ever did.” She knew the one who spoke to her was “a prophet” and wondered if he was the Christ. The Samaritans only believed in the first five books of the Old Testament (Pentateuch), where did they get the notion of the Christ? Finally, we have the story of feeding the 5000 in John 6, the only miracle of Jesus’ ministry recorded in all four gospels. What would cause the crowd to come to the conclusion that Jesus was “The Prophet?”

Who is this “Prophet”?

In Deuteronomy 18 God warns the people of Israel about following after witchcraft, sorcery, and divination. God says he will send another voice to give them guidance – the prophet who they are to listen to.

I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account. But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death.” You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD ?” If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him. – Deuteronomy 18:18-22

This passage is of key importance in understanding the Gospel of John. This is John’s bone to pick with the religious leaders and authorities who he typically calls, “the Jews.” John, himself a Jew, is not being “anti-Semitic.” Instead, he is saying that a true Jew should have understood these things. The Jewish leaders evaluated Jesus’ claims against their pride and arrogance instead of evaluating his claims against scripture. It is evident that they used the second half of this scripture in critiquing Jesus but not the first. They liked the part that said, “But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death.” because that fit their agenda of wanting Jesus dead. How could they work that out? They credited Jesus’ miracles to demons, which would have qualified him for death. They also said that Jesus was speaking in the name of God without being commanded by God to do so – that would qualify Jesus for death. What they ignored was the second part of this scripture – that if he indeed does speak in the name of the Lord he is to be listened to and those who ignore him will be called into account. They did not evaluate Jesus based on all of the criteria laid out in Deut 18 – that his words come true. If they had they would have realized that he was The Prophet.

Back to the feeding of the 5000. There are a number of parallels between this story and the context of the Prophet like Moses in Deuteronomy.

Notice what time of year it is – Passover (6:4). hat did Moses do at this time of year? He lead them out from Egyptian bondage. What did the 1st century Jews expect the Prophet like Moses would do? Release them from the Romans.
In reality there was a more significant bondage that Jesus was trying to deliver them from than the Romans. Jesus is with these people in the wilderness where there were no stores to buy food. So like mana in the wilderness Jesus provides them food. There are 12 baskets of leftovers – one for each disciple or one for each tribe. In doing all of this Jesus parallels the wilderness experience.

What happens next in John 6? Jesus walks on the water – paralleled to parting the Red Sea to deliver God’s people from their slavery in Egypt. As many people have noted the sea represented chaos and upheaval in their world. The sea was a place where friends and family who had left on ships never returned. That is significant in the creation story that God’s word had power over the sea. With a word God separated the waters and in doing so showed his power of chaos. Jesus walking on water is doing more than a neat party trick – he is showing that he also has power over creation and over the powers of chaos and darkness. In doing so he parallels the exodus experience.

Jesus is indeed the Prophet like Moses and because of that God tells us we are to listen to him (Deut 18:15).