Exodus 13:17-22; 14:9-6, 29-31
“When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was nearer, for God thought, ‘If the people face war, they may change their minds and return to Egypt.’ So God led the people by the roundabout way of the wilderness bordering the Red Sea.
The Israelites went up out of the land of Egypt prepared for battle. And Moses took with him the bones of Joseph, who had required a solemn oath of the Israelites, saying, “God will surely come to you, and then you must carry my bones with you from here.” They set out from Succoth and camped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness.
The Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.”
“The Egyptians pursued them, all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, his chariot drivers and his army; they overtook them camped by the sea, by Pi-hahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon.
As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, ‘Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone so that we can serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.‘
But Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish 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 keep still.’ “[…]
“Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. But you lift up your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the Israelites may go into the sea on dry ground.” […]
“But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great work that the Lord did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the Lord and believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.” (1)
Emanuel Swedenborg, Heaven and Hell §603
“All freedom is a matter of love or affection, because whatever we love, we do freely. freedom is a matter of love, it is the life of every individual. Nothing seems to be part of us unless it comes from freedom…
The Lord brings us into heavenly freedom through regeneration, and we need freedom in order to be regenerated. Otherwise the love of what is good and true could not be sown in us and become so much a part of us as to seem to be our own, because nothing is united to us that happens under compulsion.” (2)
Both our worldly journeys and our spiritual journeys are necessarily fraught with struggles. From the moment we decide to follow what is higher, and leave behind our lower attachments, we encounter inner conflicts. We want what we used to have and we want something new and better… This is the story of the Israelites,and this is our own story.
Why must we struggle? Ultimately, because there is a universal higher love that asks of us to live with integrity and to find true joy in the living of it. We are separating out our lesser loves that we are born with from our greater loves that are chosen from the Divinity within, and eventually become our better character.
So, when the Israelites, who symbolize us, encounter the Red Sea as a barrier on their journey early in their release from slavery in Egypt, this picture is the very first clash we have with our own false ideas, our ideas that serve only ourselves…
Encountering the Red Sea is really about the first barrier we come across that has to do with our fears, our doubts and our disbeliefs. Interestingly, this initial barrier of water shows up right after we decide to follow what is higher. Isn’t that a profound truth, that struggles follow awakenings? We come upon a serious test of our values and what we really want, as it must be, so that we can claim, for ourselves, the higher life.
The spiritual journey is not an easy one, but on the positive side, there is a universal call upward, in each and every one of us. If we but pay attention. We can see this in all areas of life. A police officer trying to be truly good, a politician trying to serve well their constituents by serving the common good with integrity… We strive with determination to do our best in life and we can remember always that when we do, it is in life’s design that obstacles come to challenge and test that determination. Otherwise, we cannot bring into ourselves what is truly good. We must invest ourselves in goodness.
This biblical lesson reminds us that we must love what is good, not simply think about it. Love is what makes us strong. The crossing of the Red Sea gives us a vivid picture of our own experience in life. We start a new job, for example, with eagerness and excitement, and suddenly find our boss asks us to perform beyond the skill level we are used to, the skill level we are comfortable with. We feel pressured and frightened and we question whether we have chosen the right job, whether we have chosen the right path. The pressure and fear are Pharaoh and the chariots chasing us, so then what do we do with this pressure and fear? Ahead of us is the sea we must cross in order to find a new life, and behind us is our past creeping up on us, threatening to drag us backward to be enslaved by old habits and negative patterns. What do we do? Crossing the Red Sea seems apparently impossible, we can’t see how to get through, how to change, how to move forward, so at this time, we need to do two things:
First, we need to notice that God has been leading us forward all along, that is the pillar of cloud by the day, the angels’ truth guiding us in earthly ways, and the pillar of fire by night, truth from Divine love illuminating and warming us in the darkness.
Secondly we need to ask God to do it with us. We can say “I need a little help with this”. So often, in some moment of high thought, we make decisions to break the chains that have kept us down, we decide to do things differently, to break the chains of how we used to be.
Sometimes, we have a high thought and then, almost immediately, we are tempted. The pendulum swings the other way, and we get confused and lost again. This story of crossing the Red Sea says to us, “trust in the Lord and go forward”.
The Lord is with you and will uphold and protect you. Even in the midst of scary times, we can feel safe with the Lord. All outward circumstances show risk or danger but, in the midst of this, it is possible to feel safe in the Lord. When the arm of Moses, the power of divine law, is stretched forth over us, the threatening waters will roll back under the strong east wind of truth from God, and we shall pass over on dry ground, the Firm basis of good character.
The good news is that Pharaoh and his army are drowned in the Red Sea. Remember the story in life. The conquering of doubt and fears is very important. Trust in the Lord and just keep moving forward.
(1) Holy Bible. New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition. Copyright © 2021 National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
(2) Swedenborg, Emanuel. Heaven and Hell. Translated by George F. Dole. West Chester: Swedenborg Foundation, 2000.
Rev. Renee Machiniak has been the minister of the Royal Oak Church of the Holy City for the past 25+ years, serving as a staff chaplain for both Beaumont Hospice and Oncology for 9 years, and now a volunteer chaplain with Beaumont’s Ovarian Cancer Support Group and the Royal Oak Police Department. She resides in Royal Oak Michigan with her husband, Joe, her parents, Rev. John and Sharon Billings, and dog Gertie.