I was a child when we left Egypt, but I remember the Nile. I remember how our neighbours would pray to the river, and to the other gods for its yearly flood, for that water was our life – our very existence. I remember the tumult of our leaving, most clearly of all I remember that dreadful passing across the sea bed with that mighty wall of water rising up beside us – a frozen wave just one motion away from crashing over our heads. And, of all the things to remember from the confusion of those times (I was a child, it was all confusing), I remember most clearly my parents explaining as we walked along that we were going to a land where no one had to pray to a river. A river could be spoiled, at the word of the prophet (the word of God Himself), the water of life could be changed to blood—the blood of all those Hebrew babies who had been thrown cruelly into its waters, But this land would be a land watered by God Himself. We would not pray to a river, but turn our eyes upwards to the clouds in thankful prayer, while the mercy of God rained down upon us, bringing fruitfulness, bringing life. For forty years I have cherished those words in my heart.
My parents did not live to see this land. In the starkness of the desert they became afraid, their hearts yearned again for Egypt where they had always been as sure as a slave can be that there would be food and shelter. They forgot the whips of the slave masters, they forgot the grief and terror when their baby boys were snatched away and drowned, in the terror of the desert they imagined that they had once been wonderfully secure. And in the long years of waiting they died, belonging neither to one land or the other.
But I was a child, and the desert was my playground and my great adventure. My memories of Egypt were memories of darkness, and I was glad to leave them behind. To me the vast skies and the searing winds were like a whisper of glory to come. For forty years I have been waiting – sometimes in hope, sometimes in fear, most often in deep weariness. And after forty years I am no longer a child. I have borne children, and my children have borne children, and still we are a nation without a home. I no longer question whether God can preserve us; I have seen His provision in the manna and the quail and the waters found for us in the midst of a dry and barren land. But I had begun to doubt if we would ever have a home, if that lovely land watered directly from heaven even existed. Perhaps it was just the dream-memory of Eden, before that other exile happened at the beginning of the world.
Today we crossed the Jordan. Today I did not see the miracle with the eyes of a child, but with eyes that have spent long years scanning the lonely horizons of the desert. This time I knew what the miracle meant, and as I walked across the riverbed my cheeks were wet with tears. That I should live to see this day! I thought of those who had finished their lives in the lonely spaces between Egypt and the promised land, and I knew that all of us together were called into the promises once given to Abraham. I knew that it was in this land that all the promises would find their fulfilment, for one who was greater than Moses would be born here. I lifted up my face in wonder, and then I was moved by an even greater wonder. For my cheeks were not wet because of tears alone. There was a fine rain falling from the sky, sprinkling all the people of God with the benediction of his mercy. I was not the only one crying. And while the priests and the Levites took their places, and the fighting men went on ahead, we women stood in the rain and wept for wonder and for joy. We had come home, by strange hard paths He had led us to the place where His promises became the solid ground beneath our feet. And we were where we had always been: in the centre of the mercy of God, and He, himself, is our life.