Exodus Day Twenty-Six
August 5, 2020, 4:00 AM

Something Happened
Exodus 14:13-14

Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD,
which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today,
you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”

Exodus 14:21-23, 26

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea,
and the LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land,
and the waters were divided.
And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground,
the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.
The Egyptians pursued and went in after them into the midst of the sea,
all Pharaoh's horses, his chariots, and his horsemen.

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea,
that the water may come back upon the Egyptians,
upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen.”

There has always been lively debate in scholarly circles about the historicity of the Exodus. Did it really happen like it says it happened? Or, is it just religious myth? Even if there’s agreement that Exodus is real history, then other avenues of questioning arise— What was the route of that Exodus? Some plot the Exodus down the Sinai Peninsula, where Sinai sits at the bottom of the geographic land triangle. Some trace the journey across the Peninsula, through the Gulf of Aqaba to the east, coming to what is modern-day Jebel El-Lawz in Saudi Arabia.

Another perplexing question, where did the Israelites cross the “Red Sea”? Perhaps a better question, what Sea did they cross? The literal translation of the Hebrew text is not “Red Sea,” but "Sea of Reeds" – Yam Suph. Another thorny mystery there— we’re not exactly sure where the so-called Sea of Reeds is located. Some think it’s in the vicinity of some marshy land between the Gulf of Suez to the south and the mouth of where the Suez Canal would one day be built from the Mediterranean Sea to the north. Not exactly the stuff of the great dramatic crossing of Cecil B. DeMille theatrics. How could an Egyptian army drown in a shallow swamp? There’s a well-worn preacher riposte to that skepticism, which is worth a moment’s pause, that even if it was a Sea of Reeds instead of the mighty Red Sea, it would still be a miracle that God drowned an entire army in shallow water.

If you need some other unanswerable variables to the story, there are the place names. Numbers 33 lists forty-two places where Israel encamped during their forty-year wilderness sojourn, and we can’t locate these places on the map with any degree of certainty. Piling on, a little more, there are no surviving physical remains in the area to prove an Exodus excursion in and around Sinai. Of course, this is a large expanse of land, and it is a wild wilderness area, where you wouldn’t normally expect much in the way of archeological artifacts.

So, many questions. Historicity? The route of Exodus? The Red Sea or a Sea of Reeds? Where were these encampments? Why has the trail vanished? It could be enough to try one’s Faith! However, all that to say this— Something Happened! Nahum Sarna, the late Jewish scholar, whom I’ve befriended during this study of Exodus (and he is a great literary friend!) considers all of these problematic, head-scratching conundrums, and comes to a conclusion he cannot deny: Even were his dish flambé atheist with a tinge of skepticism for extra flavoring – which he most decidedly does not cook in his kitchen – the dessert would always be, Something Happened. Why does he think this way? Why hopeful with the Exodus? He considers that through the passing of nearly four thousand years, this Moses; this fledgling nation of rag tag Hebrews, this fantastic Story of Red Sea crossing and the subsequent adventures on the way to the Promised Land— remains intact. No matter what. A solid bolt of soul fabric, unable to be torn, or denied, or thrown away. Seared into the national consciousness. (Virally transmitted to the nations in Christianity.) Forever and ever more, molding and shaping an identity of an ancient people who still exist today as a cohesive, unique people, when Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, Canaanites (not to be confused with Mosquito Bites) have long ceased to exist. Yes, Something Happened.

A helpful, necessary tutorial in studying your Bible is appropriate here. The Bible profitably read must be understood in context and interpreted as the ancient, eternal writing it is. What I mean is that the reporting of history packages differently from what you would receive from a modern newspaper article. They are different. The way history and biography has been written over time has evolved— shaped by the cultures in which it is conceived. The way we write and the even the words we use, change. The way we communicate changes. Translations help, translations go a long way in elucidating original meaning; but we must still strive to understand how the author has communicated. We require bare facts— names, dates, places – for literal, straight-forward reporting. That’s our standard, though “journalists” do a great job in using and misusing and omitting words to lead you to what they want you to think! The sacred writers, such as Moses, and other inspired hands involved in the final editing of the Bible books, aimed to tell the Truth. And in so doing, did theology. They were preaching and exhorting. They couldn’t not do so, for as Jeremiah memorably cried, “If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot[!]" (Jer. 20:9). They were artistically composing The Story – God’s Story of Redemption. Using the literary conventions of their days. They don’t follow the conventions of modern journalism. (And for that, we can be truly thankful!) The Bible is nothing, if not truthful. We know Something Happened in Egypt. We know the forming and wandering Happened in the wilderness, because that Story won’t go away.

Good solid reading and digesting of your Bible requires years of meditation, reading, expanding your understanding of that culture and time, looking to see how God has put the whole Story together. Growing in amazement in how the Word of God, an ancient Story, is yet a modern, relevant Story. And, as a final, encouraging note on the reliability of the Bible you hold in your hands: It is revealing at how transitory is our skepticism when archeological digs in and around the Holy Land continue to unearth many of the Stories once thought fantastic, religious myth. I’ve often described Israel as one, big archeological dig. And so it is. I can’t wait to return to that special geographical sanctuary each year, as the Lord gives me health and resources to do so. Perhaps you'll join me for one, some day?

Something Happened. Exodus Happened. The Story continues…

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