Oppression and bondage lay behind them, the terror of the unknown lay ahead. Their leader was a man who was one of them, yet not one of them. The oldest ones whispered that he had been rescued from death or slavery as a baby, and been brought up to the fine life of the palace. Then, about 40 years ago, he had been accused of murder, and fled the country. Now he was back, after twice escaping sentence of death, and he had achieved what no one else had ever achieved, but would it really work? They had seen the great plagues and the devastation that they wrought, but that was the battlefield of the gods, and not for the likes of them. And could they really trust this stranger, or would he just lead them into more danger and death than they would have known if they’d stayed quietly home as slaves? He spoke in the name of the God of their fathers, and appeared to be a mighty magician, but everyone knew how mighty the gods of Egypt were, whilst the God of their fathers had let his people languish in slavery for generations!
But they followed Moses, while their hopes fought with their fears, and they were led by a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night along the desert road towards the Red Sea. But the Lord bid them turn back, and encamp at Pi Hahiroth, and they were bewildered. Their bewilderment turned to terror though when they discovered that Pharaoh’s army pursued them. Was Moses torturing them, bringing them out here to be slaughtered rather than leaving them to die in comparative peace in Egypt? They were caught between the soldiers and the sea, and there seemed no hope.
But then, at Moses’ direction, they walked forward into a very different kind of terror. The pillar of cloud moved to the rear of them, standing between them and the Egyptians, and Moses, standing before them, stretched his hand out over the waters, and they were awestruck as, before their widened eyes, a strong east wind suddenly blew back the waters upon themselves, and a pathway opened up for them across the sea bed – a pathway they were called to walk between towering walls of water! Who had ever heard of such a thing?
But traverse it they did, for the fear of the Egyptians drove them forward – a fear they understood only too well. Nervously they looked from one side to the other as they crossed, knowing that they were walking through an impossibility, and at any moment those waters could crash down and sweep them all away. But every last one of them made it through, then turned, to watch appalled, as the army of Egypt started to cross on the impossible path as well. And Moses stood there and waited, and so, exhausted by this strange and dreadful journey, they stood and watched as well. Then, when most of the Egyptians were on the seabed, Moses stretched out his hand once more and there was no more path, for the waters descended and the Egyptians were swept away. Never before had a people been so mightily delivered, never before had a salvation looked so complete.