A cloud of fire, that reassuring sign of the divine presence, brilliantly lighted the night sky. But it wasn't so reassuring now. Panic was written on so many faces, and even the nonchalant laughter and giggling of the children was absent, everyone understood the gravity of the situation.
There was a storm brewing and not just from the raging sea ahead but from the hoof beats behind and the noises of the chariots. By morning, the red sea would be a shade darker, stained with the blood of thousands.
There was chaos everywhere and a riot was brewing, and Moses was at the centre of it all. Many were talking of stoning him. He was a deceiver, coming to them in the name of Yahweh and telling blatant lies.
Why would God deliver them out of the Egyptian oppression only to have them killed in the wilderness? It just didn't add up. Moses wanted fame, and he had conned them. Only his plan wasn't foolproof, they were stuck in between two certain death, neither better than the other in its power and violence. Ahead of them was the vastness of the red sea, waiting to drown them and behind was pharaoh's army riding towards them in fury. On either side mountains hedged them in.
Moses was rattled. He had been anxious in the past ten days that the Lord had told him to take the route that led to the red sea. He had been wondering how they were going to cross the red sea. A tiny part told him of the possibility of pharaoh raising his army in pursuit, and that they would be trapped with nowhere to run.
He was now faced with his worst nightmare. They were indeed trapped. He looked at the multitude and shook his head in despair. None of the men had been trained for war and worse still, they had no weapons whatsoever. It had been a deliberate act of the Egyptians, to prevent any insurgencies. They were like sheep being led to the slaughter.
Why had Yahweh chosen to lead them through this way? He mused for the umpteenth time. He looked around and saw Aaron trying to calm the multitude, and was gesticulating with his hands. The people seemed to be listening to him for some were nodding their heads. But for how long could Aaron keep them from violence he thought despondently.
’God, why me?’ He thought, ‘I am incapable of leading these people. Right from the first day I talked to them, I had been facing rejection from them. What did you see in me?’ The Egyptian armies were drawing nearer, the sound of hoof beats were getting louder.
Unsure of what to do, Moses fell on his face. He opened his mouth to pray but no sounds came. He didn't have the words to say. Surely God would not have sent him to deliver the Israelites from bondage if he had no plans for them. God had told Abraham their father that he was going to make him a mighty nation and that cannot happen if they all died tonight. It was his covenant to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that he was honoring by delivering them from bondage. Suddenly he knew words to say.
''God, deliver your people from the hands of the Egyptians; remember your covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. You promised that their seed would inherit the gentile nations. Save us this day, O God''. He said each word with increasing confidence and conviction. God honors his words and He would not back down now.
''Why are you crying unto me'' it was God speaking to him. He was puzzled.
‘‘Because you told me to go and bring your people out of the land of Egypt, and I have done everything you asked me to do. But now the Egyptians are after us to kill us'' he replied
''speak to the children of Israel that they should go forward''
’Forward?’ He thought confused. Forward was towards the red sea. Would God actually lead them through the red sea? Maybe the red sea would dry up or it would solidify and become ice. As he thought about it, his heart soared. There was nothing impossible for the Lord to do. Had he not seen a bush on fire yet not burning? Had God not caused darkness in the whole land of Egypt but not in Goshen where the Israelites lived? Yes, he was the creator of the earth and there was nothing impossible for him to do. He stood up with a lighter heart. God has spoken and it was time to act.
He moved towards the camp where Aaron was still talking to the men gathered around him. They were the elders, heads of clans and tribes. They were not as receptive to what Aaron was saying as before. He gently tapped Aaron, who stepped aside.
‘‘Stand still and see the salvation of the lord which he will show you today'' he sad to them '' the Egyptians that you see today, you will see them no more forever''
Something about the way he was talking attracted more people to him, and he was talking louder now for them to hear.
''The lord has instructed me that we should break camp and move forward towards the sea'' he faced the leaders and told them to go and hurry their men.
There was an air of excitement in the air, and there was a bustle of activities as sacks were packed and tents brought down. Many were talking animatedly and wondering what lay ahead.
Moses moved away from the camp towards the sea. There was a wind blowing from the sea towards the land and made the air cool, and he could taste the salt in the air. He took a deep breath and wondered at the awesomeness of God. Times like this he was humbled to be the one God has chosen to lead his people. It was not easy but it was rewarding.
The assembly looked up to him and hung on his every word. It was too much power that could intoxicate any man. The voices in the camp were a faint noise by now. He stretched his rod with his right hand towards the sea just as God had told him to. He was excited to see how God was going to lead them through the red sea. He closed his eyes and prayed.
As he stood there with eyes closed, he felt power surge through him and then a strong wind began to blow, and seemed to come from the rod in his hands. God was moving and he was doing that through him. His eyes remained closed.
By the time he opened his eyes, it was dawn and the day was getting bright. What he saw amazed him. He had been expecting something spectacular but not this.
The waters of the red sea were parted and in the middle was dry land, the ocean sand. The waters on either side were standing erect like a wall, only they weren't frozen but were actually moving but in different directions. It was a wonder to watch. He didn't know how long he stood there gawking. He returned to the camp quickly and barked instructions to the elders of the tribes to lead their people towards the sea. By now the day was brighter and people could see each other's faces clearly. That was when the people saw it.
Gasps escaped their lips and they stood transfixed. Moses and Aaron had to urge then forward. The children raced themselves to the path while mothers shouted and ran after them, and then the elders and then the whole multitude.
Moses noticed that something was not right but he couldn't place it. Maybe it was sleep deprivation he thought. And then he knew it; the pillar of cloud that normally guides them was nowhere to be seen. Before setting camp, it was the cloud that stops, and at the time of breaking camp, the cloud lifts and is always in front but not today. Then Moses saw it, it had lifted and stayed at the rear.
He smiled. It was acting as a shield for the Israelites as they crossed the red sea and keeping the Egyptians from getting close. He waited for the last man to cross before crossing so that he was just in front of the cloud. He had assigned Aaron to take the lead alongside the elders.
Passing through the dry land, he could not but touch the wall of waters on both sides and was amazed. His hands dipped into the waters and he felt the currents. God indeed was great.
On the other side of the sea, Moses stood looking at the path they had taken and to his dismay, he saw the Egyptians crossing the red sea too.
‘This is not happening’ he thought frantically. The others had seen it too and were also pointing. Then God spoke to him to stretch his hands towards the sea again. And he did.
Pharaoh and his host were dumbfounded. They couldn't believe what they were seeing, a path right in the middle of the sea. His men told him to give up, the god of the Israelite was powerful and with all the plagues that he had rained on them, it was better they didn't attempt crossing the red sea.
Pharaoh was adamant, his heart was hardened, he needed the Israelites back and he would get them at all cost. He ordered his men to charge forward, he himself at the head.
Then at the middle, his chariot bucked, and was slowing down. Impatiently, he cracked his whip on the horses' back thinking they were terrified of the water body but they didn't move faster. Just then, one of his generals raised an alarm, the chariot wheels had gone off, and not only his but others as well. That was when the fear gripped him full force and his heart started beating faster. This was real trouble.
There was general panic amongst his men and they were wide eyed with fear. It was finally time to admit defeat; he was no match against the Israelite god. He gave a command to his men to turn back to dry land. And then the worst happened.
He knew it before he saw it. The crashing sound of water. He had heard it before, at the waterfalls. When he looked back, his fears were confirmed, the water was congealing together again and was starting at the other side where the Israelites were. He barked an order to the men to retreat but their speed was impeded by the lack of wheels on the chariots. He told them to leave the chariots and flee on foot.
He felt bad, he had led them on and they had followed him willingly. They had been loyal to him and now his arrogance and haughtiness was going to get them killed. He lifted up his face to the sky and gave a roar.
The Israelites could not believe what they were seeing. Jehovah truly was a warrior. As the waters congealed and drowned the fleeing Egyptians, they shouted in a loud voice and whooped. It was a roar of praise. The Egyptians were no more. They were free, just as He has promised.
As the shouting subsided, the crowd noticed Moses lying face down on the earth and as the whole multitude joined him, his voice sounded loud and clear and broke out in a song
''Who is like unto you O Lord among the gods? Who is like you, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?''