This week, when Jews around the world gather in synagogues (virtual or otherwise) to read the week’s verses, they’ll be hearing one of the most well-known stories in the Bible. It’s the story—the miracle that so many people think of when they think of miracles.
This is the part where the Israelites walk through the Red Sea, on dry land, to freedom.
As befits a story of this magnitude, there’s a lot of drama. The Israelites are rushed out of their homes in the dead of night, and they set into the vast wilderness. God appears to them in the form of “a pillar of cloud by day, to guide them along the way, and a pillar of fire by night, to give them light,” (Exodus 13:21) so that they can keep moving, keep moving, keep moving.
They have a lot of ground to cover if they’re going to make it to the shore before the Egyptian warriors in their chariots are upon them.
God takes them the long way, “by way of the wilderness at the Sea of Reeds,” (Exodus 13:18) which is an interesting choice because it creates a natural, impassable barrier. This is not lost on the panicking Israelites. Standing on the banks of these vast waters, with hordes of warriors bearing down on them in full military regalia, they scream at Moses and Aaron: “Was it for want of graves in Egypt that you brought us to die in the wilderness?” (Exodus 14:11)
Frankly, I’d be screaming, too.
We know how this ends. Moses reassures his followers, saying “Have no fear! Stand by, and witness the deliverance which the Lord will work for you today,” in Exodus 14:13. When the time is right, he lifts his staff above his head, and the waters part. The Israelites walk through “on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.” (Exodus 14:22).
The Egyptians? They don’t make it. “the Lord hurled the Egyptians into the sea,” says Exodus 14:27. The waters close. Not a one survives.