Moses stood on an outcropping of rock beside the Red Sea.* Below him, the Israelites paced, wrung their hands, and threw glances up at him. Pharaoh’s army was closing in behind them, and there were no boats to ferry more than a million people (Exodus 12:37-38) plus all their animals across this deep body of water. As evening approached, Moses lifted his hand out toward the sea and a strong east wind blew across the waters. Within a few hours, the water was gone, and the Israelites walked across the sea bed like it was an empty Wal-mart parking lot.
All the pictures, all the movies, and all the Bible storybooks—even the way we tell the story—would have us think Moses parted the Red Sea, but it wasn’t him.
It was God.
If God parted the waters, what was Moses doing there? Why did he raise his hands like that? Because God told him to. He said, “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” (Exodus 14:16).
Here’s what happened next:
Then Moses stretch 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, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. -Exodus 14:21-22 (emphasis added)
The Lord drove the sea back.
An entire sea doesn’t just evaporate overnight. God was working a salvation-style miracle here.
You know the rest of the story. The Egyptians think they can follow the Israelites across, but the ground turns to sludge just in front of each step so that their chariot wheels, shoes, and hoofs can hardly move. As soon as that last little Israelite lamb (my imagination here) steps out of the water’s path and just as the tail-end of the Egyptian army enters the muck, Moses stretches out his hand again. The water crashes back into the basin. The entire Egyptian army drowns (Exodus 14:23-28), but not one Israelite is injured.
That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant. -Exodus 14:30-31
The Israelites clearly knew God was the one doing the “heavy lifting” here. Why did God tell Moses to raise his staff? Why risk Moses getting part of His glory?
God likes to let us “help.”
Like the guys who rolled the stone away from Lazarus’ tomb (John 11:39), our participation in God’s miracles is often inconsequential. Yet He calls us to it. He glories in our obedience while we get to taste His power.
I remember guiding my little girl’s hand to write “Daddy” on one of those first Father’s Day cards. She got to taste the power of writing while I enjoyed the feeling of her hand beneath mine, going where I moved it. She said, “Look, Daddy, I wrote your name!” But she couldn’t read or write on her own.
The people needed to trust Moses.
Moses was going to be their leader for the next forty years, and they needed to understand that God intentionally placed him in that position despite his rap sheet (murder forty years earlier – Exodus 2:11-14) and his fear of public speaking (Exodus 4:10).
When God lets us participate in His work on earth, it validates our spiritual leadership—both for ourselves and for those who follow us. Because of this event, the people trusted Moses (Exodus 14:31 above).
I must add one word of caution here: humility. Always humility, people! Moses never tried to claim this power as his own, and when he didn’t do as God instructed, well… Remember that time he hit a rock to get water instead of speaking to it as God had instructed (Numbers 20:1-13)? Yeah, that was bad.
We need to know God will fight for us.
Because God responded to Moses’ very visible action, it was clear to everyone that God was on the side of the Israelites–that small, weak, enslaved people group with no homeland. Yet they belonged to God and He to them.
Come and see what God has done,
his awesome deeds for mankind!
He turned the sea into dry land,
they passed through the waters on foot–
come, let us rejoice in him.
Throughout the rest of the Bible (OT and NT), the people reference this event whenever they need to remember what God has done and encourage themselves about what He will do.
You can use this same event to encourage yourself, or you can nail down a spiritual marker at some important event in your personal history. The point is, as humans, we need something to remind us of God’s stake in our lives.
Before Moses stretched his hand over the sea, he encouraged the people. (This is the part of the story most people skip, but I love it!)
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. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still. -Exodus 14:13-14
Do not be afraid.
Let Him do the work.
Let Him fight the fight.
Let Him get the glory.
We just do the simple little thing He’s given us to do. Sometimes it’s a little something like lay our hands on someone. Sometimes it’s just to watch (Habakkuk 1:5). Usually, on this side of the cross, it’s to pray. Always, it’s to be still and let Him do the work. Let Him fight the fight. Then let Him get the glory.
It’s easy—simpler really—to make Moses the hero of this story. We can all-to-quickly make ourselves the heroes of our stories, too. In Gospel Fluency, Jeff Vanderstelt challenges us to pay attention to the hero of our life stories.
When you talk about things that have happened in your life (the good and the bad), who is the hero? Who is your story really about? I had to make some adjustments in my narration so that God was always the hero even when the story seemed to be about me.
Like Moses at the Red Sea, the story doesn’t change, just the way you tell it.
Do you have a story you need to rewrite, like I did? Tweet me with the 140-character version of your personal God story. I’ll retweet every one I receive!
You can also/instead leave a comment about your story rewrite or about something else that struck you from this post. I’d love to hear from you!
*I officially acknowledge that it may, in fact, have been a sea of reeds or some other nearby body of water which we struggle to translate properly. That’s not the point. (“A rose by any other name…”)
A shorter version of this post later appeared at T. Murphy Writes.