(This is part of the Story series. To catch up on any posts you might have missed, click here.)
Mankind had seriously messed up God’s perfect world, sending it spiraling back down into chaos almost as quickly as it had risen out of it. At this point in time, God could easily have thrown up His hands and left His now-marred world to its own destruction and demise.
But He didn’t. From before the foundation of the world God had a plan to send a Savior who would redeem mankind. This Savior, however, couldn’t simply drop out of the sky, fix the problem with a snap of His fingers, and return to the clouds. The Savior had to come in the “likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin…”1 He had to be “born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law…”2
And so God chose a single man – Abraham – and promised to number his descendants as the stars of heaven, and to bless the entire world through his Seed.3 But another promise was also given him: that his descendants would “be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years.”4
Abraham’s descendants – the Israelites – found themselves living in Egypt, in the midst of a complex anti-story. The Egyptians believed the rituals performed by the pharaoh and the priests at the temples maintained order and kept chaos at bay. If the rituals didn’t work, it was believed, the thing they symbolized wouldn’t happen.
But this story came with a price, for the Egyptian society was one in which the strong were exalted and the weak trampled.
God’s story intersects the Egyptian anti-story in one of the most dramatic accounts recorded in Scripture. The Text says, “Now it happened in the process of time that the king of Egypt died. Then the children of Israel groaned because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry came up to God because of the bondage. So God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God acknowledged them.”5
God chose a partner to help Him bring the Israelites out of the chaos that was slavery in Egypt and into the peace of the Promised Land. We know this partner to be Moses, a Hebrew raised in the Egyptian palace, a man with a speech impediment who had spent half his life shepherding sheep in the desert, a man who didn’t consider himself qualified for the task at hand.
God saw all that. But God also saw something else. He saw a man with a heart like His own, a man who stood up for the injustices he saw in the world, a man who championed the weak.
He saw a man who could not simply bring a message to Pharaoh, or instruct the Israelites as to their message.
He saw a man who could be the message.6
With Moses as His partner, God showed His power to both the Egyptians and the Israelites through a series of ten consecutive plagues. Each plague was an intense struggle between the two competing stories, showing yet again Whose story would ultimately win.
After the tenth plague – the death of all the firstborn of Egypt – Pharaoh commanded Moses to take the Israelites and leave Egypt.
With the pillar of cloud and pillar of fire to guide them, God led the Israelites out into the wilderness, straight up against the Red Sea. Pharaoh, having decided he wanted the Israelites back, took all the chariots of Egypt and charged after the Israelites in hot pursuit.
Now the Israelites were trapped. On one side rolled the waves of the Red Sea; on the other Pharaoh’s army, bearing down hard upon them.
“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.’
“And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Why do you cry to Me? Tell the children of Israel to go forward.’”7
We know what happens next in the story. The Israelites crossed on dry land, and the waves swept over the pursuing Egyptians and drowned them all.
As amazing as this part of the story is, it is only the beginning. And as much as I love the picture of God’s grace splitting the Red Sea and drying the ground beneath for the Israelites to walk upon, I love the next part of the story just as well.