What I remember most clearly was the fear. I was only a little girl at the time, but I could feel the fear among the people, and my mother clutching my arm too tight and ordering me, over and over, to keep hold of my little brother. Of course, that was not a logical response to the mighty army of Egypt, but when did fear make people logical?
They were such strange days that even a child could feel their strangeness. For months the adults had been talking in serious, anxious tones about “plagues”; I remember the frogs (which we children thought were rather funny), and the giant hailstorm, and the locusts, and all the rest, but it was all a bit unreal since those plagues weren’t happening to us, just to our Egyptian neighbours. Only when I grew up, and heard the story repeated, did I begin to understand the sequence of events, and how our parents’ whole world was being turned upside down.
For me reality broke in when we reached the sea. We were camped there when the Egyptians came, and the fear that ran through our camp was something you could taste and feel. I remember someone screaming at Moses, “Have you brought us here to die?” and someone else laughing, in a tone that chilled my bones, “weren’t there enough graves in Egypt?” I was too young to understand, but I was frightened by the clamour and the yelling. I buried my head in my mother’s skirt. Then Moses spoke, and the clamour grew still. There was a darkness between us and the Egyptians, so that we could no longer see each other. Then, from nowhere, there came a wind, perfumed with a wild freshness that I have never smelled before or since, and the waters divided. It was a night so different from every other night, and all I felt was fear.
There was hubbub and confusion as we started moving forwards together, and then, by that strange light that shone from behind us, I saw the mighty wall of water. Several times the height of a man’s head, it reared up to our left, and if we hadn’t known that the Egyptians were right behind us, and that the punishment of runaway slaves was a fearful thing, I doubt if many would have crossed. That terrible wall of water loomed over us as we trod across the damp uneven ground that had been the seabed such a short time before, and we clutched each other tight and tried not to look. I could feel the tremble in my mother’s hands, and I know she was not the only one. It was a dreadful road we trod, and many, I suspect, had very little idea of what was happening. Then we reached the other side, and just as the last of our people clambered up to dry ground, the first of the Egyptians tried to cross the sea. Forward they came, and I can dimly remember the people asking why we did not hurry away (as if we could outrun the chariots of Egypt), but Moses shook his head and commanded them to wait. There seemed to be much confusion among them, certainly they were moving very slowly! Then, I think Moses moved his hand again, or something like that, and all that weight of water came crashing down. The army of Egypt was swept away!
I remember that night now, it all comes back to me, but for many years I hardly thought of it. I had understood so little at the time, and so many more things happened afterwards, that I think I simply locked my childhood memories away. Somehow, at least in my family, it became one of those things we never talked about.
Tonight Moses spoke, before all the gathered people, and at last I remembered and understood. He spoke of God as being like an eagle, an eagle who stirs up her nest so the young birds are forced to leave it and discover their wings, but then hovers beneath them and bears them up, so that they will not cannot fall. I remember the fear, and the horror, the people around me crushed by so much change; but I also remember the wonder and the joy. This is salvation, this is what it looks like when the Holy One Himself breaks into our little, broken lives. We are let loose into terror, the old order falls away beneath our feet, but then we are borne up by eagle’s wings, and carried where we never dreamed to go. We are saved into glory, and glory is a fearful thing, but nothing less can be our destiny. He will lift us, He will carry us, until we learn to grow wings ourselves, and then we will soar with Him, into love.