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Shemot/Exodus 14:21 And Moshe stretched out his hand over the sea and the L-rd pushed the sea with a strong east wind all night
The Israelites are set on the Egyptian side of the Reed Sea - be that the Gulf of Suez or the Gulf of Aqaba - trapped by the army of Pharoah, king of Egypt, who has had second thoughts about letting them leave Egypt and has pursued them with an army of chariots to recapture them and take them back to Egypt.HaShem's pillar of cloud, which has been leading the way, has moved round behind them to separate the Israelite camp from the Egyptians. The Israelites have railed against Moshe for bringing them out "to die in the desert" (Shemot 14:11) and HaShem has responded to Moshe by telling him to, "lift up your rod and hold out your arm over the sea and split it, so that the Israelites may march into the sea on dry ground" (v. 16, NJPS). This is a new challenge for Moshe who, as far as we know, hasn't split so much as a puddle before. What is he supposed to do now?
Our text is clear and brief; although the words don't exactly match the instructions, Moshe addresses the sea. The verb - the Qal 3ms prefix form of the root , "to stretch out or extend" (Davidson), in a vav-conversive construction to indicate past tense, narrative sequence - makes it clear that Moshe does what he has been told.Targum Onkelos switches to the Aramaic , "and he lifted up", perhaps in order to be closer to the instructions, but both the Hebrew and Aramaic texts omit any reference to the rod (or staff) at this point; the sea has to make do with Moshe's hand. Nevertheless, HaShem responds by means of an east wind. The verb used here, is the Hif'il 3ms prefix form of the root , "to walk", also with a vav-conversive for past tense, narrative sequence. This paints the delightful picture of HaShem causing the water to walk all night, translated here as 'and He pushed the water", although some commentators suggest "and He led the water".
How is this pushing or leading of the water to be done? By means of a strong east wind that attracts the attention of the commentators.Rashi says that it was done "with an east wind which is the strongest of winds" and goes on to claim that "it is the wind through which the Holy One, Blessed is He, exacts punishment from the wicked, as it says in the following verses: 'Like the east wind, I will scatter [My people] before the enemy. I will look upon their back, not their face, in their day of disaster' (Jeremiah 18:17, NJPS); '>though [Ephraim] flourish among reeds, a blast, a wind of the LORD, shall come blowing up from the wilderness; his fountain shall be parched, his spring dried up. That wind shall plunder treasures, every lovely object' (Hosea 13:15, NJPS); 'Your oarsmen brought you out into the mighty waters; the tempest wrecked you [Tyre] on the high seas' (Ezekiel 27:26, NJPS); and 'Assailing them with fury unchained, His pitiless blast bore them [those who beat and slay Jacob] off on a day of gale' (Isaiah 27:8, NJPS)." The Bekhor Shor agrees, saying that "this wind is at the ready to be used for punishment."
Contrariwise, Mizrachi claims that "'strong' is descriptive of the east wind in general. The verse is not saying that G-d brought an east wind that was stronger that usual"1 and theRashbam adds that "the Holy One did this is a natural way, with the wind baring and drying the streambed." The Ramban goes as far as explaining that, "the intention of the Blessed One was to make it look as if the wind were drying out the sea. For they thought that it might be the wind that was splitting the sea, rather than G-d doing it for Israel. Wind could not split the sea into a series of dry channels, but they did not think of that. They followed after them out of their lust to do them evil."
Modern commentator Peter Enns attempts to harmonise these opposing views by pointing out that, "the natural-supernatural dichotomy, we must remember, is essentially a modern invention. No Israelite, or inhabitant of the ANE world for that matter, would have considered that G-d's acts and everyday occurrences are incompatible. G-d does not need to alter the laws of nature in order to act; He can make use of them."2 Another modern commentator, Terence Fretheim, offers a different way of resolving the ideas: "G-d acts in and through a human agent, Moshe stretching out his hand/staff over the sea, and a natural entity, a strong east wind blowing all night long (note the length of time it takes; it is not a divine snap of the finger). The agencies that create the path through the sea are thus threefold - divine, human and non-human - working in harmony with one another."3 As to the idea of Moshe splitting the sea, Brevard Childs reads our text carefully and observes that "Moshe executes the command to raise his arm and split the sea, but in between the raising and the splitting the water the writer again introduces Yahweh's direct action. He has caused a strong east wind to blow all night which dried up the sea."4 So, as Nahum Sarna writes, "Moshe implements the instructions detailed in verse 16. It is not he but G-d who is the effective cause, the one who controls nature."
The critical question at this point has to be, what did Moshe expect to happen when he stretched out His hand? He has boldly told the Israelites "Have no fear! Stand by, and witness the deliverance which the L-RD will work for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you will never see again" (Shemot 14:13, NJPS), so he must have expected something pretty dramatic. His instructions seemed to suggest that he, Moshe, would split the water so that the Israelites might cross through the sea on dry land. But did Moshe actually have even the foggiest idea of how that would happen? What would you have expected to happen? When the Israelites crossed the Jordan forty years later, "as soon as the bearers of the Ark reached the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the Ark dipped into the water at its edge, the waters coming down from upstream piled up in a single heap a great way off ... and those flowing away downstream to the Sea of the Arabah (the Dead Sea) ran out completely" (Joshua, 3:15-16, NJPS); an instant miracle. Yet here, a strong east wind gets up and blows all night to part the waters and dry the land. How many times did Moshe get up during the night and come down to the water's edge to see what was happening? How did he feel when he first held out his hand over the water and nothing seemed to happen? Did the wind instantly start and nearly blow him into the water as a sign of what was coming, or did it take half an hour or so to work up a head of steam? Probably the most we can say for certain is that Moshe had great and miracle-working faith that something would happen, so he was prepared to step out and take the public risk of looking foolish.
Perhaps it is obvious, but it seems to me that we need to ask ourselves the same question: what do we expect to happen when we pray for others, or when we take a stand for the kingdom of G-d? Presumably we do anticipate that something will happen, otherwise, why pray or take the stand? Are we confident that G-d will do something there and then and rescue us from looking foolish, or do we qualify our prayer with opt-outs such as "if it be Your will" so giving G-d a get-out and avoid us actually having to have any faith in our request? When we pray for healing, do we rebuke the sickness and the devil who caused it, commanding healing in Yeshua's name, or do we ask instead for peace to accept G-d's perfect will while mentioning that "if that is possible" healing - or at least a reduction in the sickness or pain - would be a wonderful blessing? What would Moshe do in the situations we face today?
This is where we turn to Rav Shaul's writing to the believers in Corinth. There he writes, "To each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good ... to another faith by the same Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:7,9, NASB) Given that all believers must have and exercise faith - for "by grace you have been saved through faith" (Ephesians 2:8, NASB), because "if you confess with your mouth Yeshua as Lord, and believe in your heart that G-d raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved" (Romans 10:9, NASB) and "without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to G-d must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6, ESV) - what is this extra gift of faith, not given to all believers or at all times, about? It is the certainty to ask for big things knowing that G-d has already revealed that He is about to act. It is a speaking of the Spirit that tells us that G-d is going to heal a person, is about to cast out a demonic spirit, is going to release funds, is about to to a miracle or power. This enables us to speak with authority and announce or even command the miracle in the name of Yeshua. This is what Moshe had on the shore of the Reed Sea - He knew that G-d would do something even if he didn't know exactly what - and this is what we can have today, when we hear the Spirit speaking to us. Ask and listen; then speak out!
1. - A super-commentary on Rashi's Torah Commentary, by Elijah Mizrachi of Constantinople, 1455-1526 CE, the Grand Rabbi of the Ottoman empire.
2. - Peter Enns, Exodus, The NIV Application Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), page 276-277.
3. - Terence E. Fretheim, Exodus, Interpretation, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), page 159.
4. - Brevard S. Childs, The Book of Exodus: A Critical, Theological Commentary, The Old Testament Library, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), page 227.
Further Study: Luke 12:29-31; Romans 10:11; 1 Corinthians 12:8-11
Application: Are you out of your depth in life at the moment? Sick, unemployed, coping with family stress? Can you see what G-d is doing or do you, like Moshe, have no clue what is about to happen? Just be obedient and hold out your staff over the situation. G-d will do "far more abundantly than all that we ask or think" (Ephesians 3:20, ESV).
Comment - 02Feb20 19:05 Kate: Yes, absolutely out of my depth and not sure what God is doing or going to do. Thanking Him for His Word arriving just in time and for the edification, exhortation and comfort in this drash. I can by faith be obedient and hold out my staff, though like Moshe I cannot move the wind or the water - or the mountain before me! These words strengthened my weary arms - thank you.
Comment - 02Feb20 21:22 J Paschal: Excellent teaching. Thank you for reminding us that our Father in heaven wants us to ASK, SEEK, KNOCK because He desires to give good gifts to His children. But we also have a responsibility as His children to expect Him to do what He has said!
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© Jonathan Allen, 2020
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