Exodus 14:16-31

In which God is a bit of a jerk. Just a tiny bit of a mass-murdering jerk.

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. 24During 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 jammed the wheels of their chariots 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[c] 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 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.

Was that really necessary? I don’t mean escaping from Egypt. I don’t mean manipulating the water. But couldn’t God have been a little less bloodthirsty here? When Moses stretched out his hand, couldn’t the waters have risen up between Israel and Egypt, forming an impenetrable barrier that stood until Egypt realized they had to turn around?

I’d like to give God a little credit here. After all, God did put a pillar of cloud between them the night before, with one side bright and shiny and the other side dark. I’m guessing the light side faced Egypt to deny them easy rest and deny them the cover of darkness. The Egyptians might have stopped there, gone back, and said “Sorry, Pharaoh, they made the waters part and they put up some huge cloud barrier and frankly we were creeped out.” But I bet Pharaoh wouldn’t have liked that. So they pressed on. And it was only when they entered that barrier (“the Lord looked down from the pillar at the Egyptian army”; sounds to me like they were directly underneath it) that God brought the water back.

And it wasn’t all at once. Remember, the Egyptian chariots’ wheels got stuck. That tipped them off. I’ve got a bad feeling about this… — so then, Lord, why didn’t you let them run the other way? Their chariots were useless. They couldn’t catch up with Israel in full charioteer armor. That was some heavy armor, as we’re about to find out, because as soon as Israel had reached dry land, Moses drowned those chariots and everyone in them. Nobody survived. Was this because nobody could even dog-paddle their way back? No, it’s because they couldn’t get out of their armor fast enough. Why not bring the water back gradually so that it became increasingly obvious that the way to survive was to abandon military action, drop the armor, and go home? But let’s try to blame the Egyptians. Maybe they did see the tide coming in. Maybe they stubbornly refused to see the water, refused to lay down their machines of war, and they have only themselves to blame. Maybe the moral of this story is “If you go to war, you’ve got only yourself to blame for the casualties.”

But I still can’t buy that. If Egypt had been in possession of their usual rational faculties, sure, but they weren’t:

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.

See that? The Egyptian cavalry didn’t want to pursue Israel into the middle of what should have been the sea. They were already aware of God’s power and it freaked them out. But God hardened their hearts — caused them to be relentless. So they couldn’t have stopped there even though they wanted to. And they couldn’t take off their armor even if they wanted to. It was God’s doing, so God is the one I hold accountable for this. It’s a disturbing tale of hypnotizing an army into a charge that they know is suicide.

And what did God have against those poor Egyptian horses?

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