The morning was cool. The sounds of the city were waking up. But they hadn’t slept a wink last night. They huddled together under cover of night making the final plans for their new life. For years they’ve been overwhelmed by a life dictated by someone else’s dream. Forced to work for an ideal that provided them no benefits; enslaved. Their only hope was the morning. A small window of escape just before their masters arose from slumber. As the sun crested the distant mountains they slipped across the city limits without a trace. No dogs barked. No goats bleated. The birds even seemed strangely silent. Had they done it? Had they escaped? Was their next stop the land that had been promised to them years before? Sure seemed so.
They walked for a few hours and stopped for lunch and a brief rest. This river seemed like a good place anyway. The breeze blew cool across the swift moving water of the swollen banks. It was flood season and the water was especially deep. As they sat and ate with lightened hearts, they told stories of all the things they wouldn’t miss about “back then” and the first thing they’d do when they got “there.” Quietly, a rumble could be heard in the distance. Thunder probably. No clouds, but these storms pop up out of nowhere this time of year.
The rumbles didn’t cease.
In fact it seemed to get gradually louder. A cloud of dust could be seen on the horizon a mile or so off.
Each man, one by one, stood slowly to his feet and tried to focus his eyes to the shadows inside the storm. The women gathered the children and whispered calmly to their ears, “Everything’s gonna be alright. God has brought us this far and we are his.” This small army of refugees were heart-ready to fight but their hands held no weapons. Their enemy-oppressor was angry and ready to kill. The smell of vengeance floated heavy in the air.
At once, each person on the river bank looked to him; the former shepherd-turned-negotiator and spokesman for God. He brought them here. But could he save them? Moses turned his eyes to heaven, “God, what do we do?”
I’ve felt this before.
Today, in fact.
I wish I could shake it.
The pressure of work, of husbandhood, fatherhood.
And all eyes look to you as if to beg, “What’s the plan? Certainly you have a plan, right? What are we gonna do?”
Your people want answers. But sometime you don’t have anything. And to twist the knife deeper, nothing about your situation makes sense to you, so you can’t even make a flow chart to help you negotiate it. It’s all frustratingly illogical.
We know we need to get moving.
Behind us approaches an army ready to steam roll us. In front of us is a flooded river ready to swallow us whole.
There’s no lifeline. No escape. Not ahead of us. Not behind us.
The Psalmist recalls the emotion like this,
You don’t let me sleep.
I am too distressed even to pray!
I think of the good old days,
long since ended,
when my nights were filled with joyful songs.
I search my soul and ponder the difference now. – Psalm 77:4-6
Right!? I find myself feeling like this. What happened God? I thought we were good. I know I heard you when you led us here and now we’re just gonna die in the dessert? This can’t be how it ends. God you’ve got to do something or we’re toast. What do you want me to do?!?!?!
I remember a few years ago when we walked away from convention into the unknown-to-us world of adoption. Full of promise. Filled with excitement. But it wasn’t long until we came face to face with opposition. It felt like one thing after another from the moment we submitted our application to the agency. Literally, the next day we woke up and our car had been stolen.
Every milestone seemed to be married to a millstone.
Things like this happened with such frequency they almost became normal. We’d nearly grown accustomed to the weight.
Until one night, about a month before we were supposed to travel. We had taken the kids to Williamsburg on the hunt for cheap shoes at the outlets. When we got back in the car to leave, the key wouldn’t turn ignition switch. There we were. Stranded far from home. We called a locksmith to see if he could get our key working or re-key it. He told us he could do it but it would cost us $500.
I snapped. I lost it. I went savage.
I started railing on the locksmith, steam spewing from the sides of this pressure-cooker-of-a-heart inside my chest. I could feel the anger like a presence, the tears somehow stuck in my throat. I couldn’t swallow. I could only yell. “Five hundred dollars! Five hundred dollars! Don’t you understand! We’re just weeks away from traveling to China to pick up our daughter and you want to take $500 away from us for this? Do you realize your $500 fee is going to delay our travel by a month?! Do you realize that my daughter is sitting in an orphanage without her family for another month because you want $500 to start my car?!” I still feel a little guilty for how I spoke to him, but the pressure had become too much. I could no longer keep the lid on. I was shaking and screaming. My standard MO is very calm. Reasonable. Near Vulcan-like logic. But my baby with a broken heart was in a crowded room in an orphanage on the other side of the world without her family and this guy was standing in my way. We got home that night and I was still bubbling with anger.
I looked up to heaven and cried like the refugees, “God, what are you doing? You’ve brought us this far. Are you turning back? Where’s your provision? What do we do now?” My wife looked at me hoping God had offered an answer to the questions.
I felt empty. I had nothing. I felt like a failure.
In that moment through the tears, we began to sing the lyrics to our anthem through the fight,
Mighty is the one who’s for us
Mighty is the one who’s strong to save
He will make a way
You will make a way
Our God is fighting for us always
Our God is fighting for us all
Our God is fighting for us always
We are not alone. We are not alone. (Open Up Our Eyes, Elevation Worship)
We were desperate and directionless. But we had forgotten one thing:
We were not alone.
God leaned in to Moses and quietly spoke as one friend might to another,
“Touch the water.”
“Touch the w——… Say what?! Is this a joke? You’re losing me… They’re gonna kill us and you want me to splash around in the water?”
“Just reach out and touch it. Touch it. Do it! Don’t just sit there! They’re coming and you need to get moving! Touch. The. Water… NOW!”
And with the faith of legends, (part-believing, part-skeptical), Moses did:
[And] when the Red Sea saw you, O God,
its waters looked and trembled!
The sea quaked to its very depths.
The clouds poured down rain;
the thunder rumbled in the sky.
Your arrows of lightning flashed.
Your thunder roared from the whirlwind;
the lightning lit up the world!
The earth trembled and shook. – Psalm 77:16-18
God created a diversion between his people and their growing fears. A smoke screen. A flash bang. It gave them time to gather themselves and see where God was pointing. It would’ve never made sense if he’d told them ahead of time. They probably would’ve tried a different way had they known.
Instead, God put them in a place where the choice was Trust and Obey or Wait and See.
Either choice involved a measure of faith. One way, a faith that God is working and has a plan. Or the other way, faith in themselves to muster the strength and rise above the uncertainties of the coming onslaught. It’s tempting to choose the latter. It’s better to choose the former.
In a move that must’ve seemed like suicide at first, they turned their backs on the enemy and stepped into the water.
I can’t tell you what “touching the water” might mean for you. But for us, that night with tears in our eyes and hearts gaping open, it simply meant one more step in the direction toward God and in doing so we found what those desperate refugees found…
He had already prepared something and kept it hidden just for them for just that moment.
Your road led through the sea,
your pathway through the mighty waters —
a pathway no one knew was there!
You led your people along that road like a flock of sheep,
with Moses and Aaron as their shepherds. – Psalm 77:19-20
A pathway no one knew was there…