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The story of parting the Red Sea. One of the most well-known Old Testament stories. The Israelites have escaped the Egyptians, but Pharaoh has decided to pursue them. Now the order in which these events happen is striking to me, and it teaches us an important principle.
- Pharaoh decides that he regrets letting the Israelites go and decides to pursue them.
- The children of Israel look up and see the Egyptians coming.
- They become terrified and rebuke Moses. They say something along the lines of, “Didn’t we tell you to leave us alone? If we had just stayed put, we wouldn’t die here at the hands of the Egyptian armies.”
And here is where I want to start to read some verses.
13 And Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord , which he will ashew to you to day: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever.
14 The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace.
15 And the Lord said unto Moses, Wherefore criest thou unto me? speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward:
16 But lift thou up thy rod, and stretch out thine hand over the sea, and divide it: and the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea.
Note the order in which these things happen.
The Israelites lose faith and are scared. Moses tells them that the Lord is going to fight for them. Then the Lord tells Moses how they’re going to escape. Moses didn’t pray first, asking how things were going to go, before he reassured the Israelites. Moses reassured the Israelites of the coming miracle before the Lord even told him a miracle was coming.
Where the Israelites had just come from
Let’s remember that the Israelites had just watched plagues rain down upon the Egyptian people. They had just performed sacred rituals that saved their sons (though they probably had no idea what those rituals were pointing to). They had just experienced phenomenal power from the God of Abraham, and they watched it happen through Moses.
But it wasn’t enough. The Israelites found themselves terrified again.
Compare their reaction to the reaction of Moses, and it is a stark difference.
Imagine what was occurring with Moses. He is the leader of these people. He has freed them, and they followed him to a dead end. Some very powerful soldiers are quickly catching up, and they are cornered. And in the eyes of those Israelites, it is all because of Moses.
And yet, Moses’ reaction is powerful. Rather than throwing up his hands and shaking them towards the heavens, saying, “Why did You lead us here? Don’t You know these people are counting on me?!” Moses rebukes the people and assures them that the Lord will fight for them.
And I absolutely LOVE that Moses said the Lord would fight for them because the Lord didn’t actually fight. Moses didn’t know what the Lord was going to do specifically, not really. In my mind, I believe that Moses saw the Egyptians coming and was like, “The Lord can take these guys. Somehow we will win this battle.” But there was never a battle. The Lord chose a different route to take care of His people. The point I’m trying to make here is that Moses had no idea what was about to happen, but he had enough experience with the Lord by this point that he knew something was going to happen.
So how do we get to that point? How do we grow to the point where we have found ourselves cornered and we triumphantly yell that the Lord will fight our battles? How do we find ourselves in the same arena as Moses, facing an immense obstacle and sincerely believing to our core that the Lord was going to step in with a miracle?
The importance of life perspective
Well, we compared the reactions of the Israelites to the reaction of Moses, and lest we become too judgemental, let’s try comparing life-situations of the Israelites and Moses.
The Israelites had just been enslaved for ages and had probably become quite distant from the God who loved them. What they understood of life was terrible slavery and dehumanization. Even when Moses came to save them, their lives got harder for a little bit. They also lived in a land where gods had weaknesses, foibles, and limitations. The gods of Egypt were not always perfect and all-powerful. They could be powerful, but they weren’t all-powerful.
And it is extremely important to understand this. What if you had been raised believing there wasn’t really a Being out there who could accomplish anything? What if you had been raised believing that there were some gods who could do cool stuff, but they couldn’t do everything and they certainly didn’t look at humans as their children.
The God of Israel was completely foreign to them. Not to mention, the only real experiences that they likely had with Him didn’t extend beyond watching Him crush the Egyptians. I can’t imagine that Moses had a lot of opportunities to sit with them and teach them about God and about how special they were as children of Israel, and so their understanding was so limited. Of course they were frightened. Even if this God of Israel is all-powerful, why would He care to help them?
I have been taught about God for nearly three decades, and I still don’t always have faith figured out. We would be insane to expect that kind of belief from the Israelites.
Compare this to the experience of Moses. Moses grew up in the Egyptian palace. He probably wasn’t beaten severely or forced to do heavy labor day after day. He also found himself in the home of Jethro where he was taught about who God is; he was likely also taught about who he was as a child of God. Moses tasted of the power of the Lord in Egypt, but he most likely also tasted of the goodness of the Lord while he lived with Jethro. Moses had personal experiences with miracles that grow out of trials. He had to run away from the only home he had ever known, but he was led to a better place. The head start Moses received in comparison to the rest of the Israelites is no joke.
So let’s break down the experiences of Moses and the Israelites and see if we can find some hints about how we can build our own faith in the Lord.
I believe I have a very, very simplified formula for how we can build the kind of faith that Moses had.
The ingredients include:
- Teachings about who the Lord is and who we are
- Multiple personal experiences with the goodness of the Lord
- Multiple personal experiences with the power of the Lord
- Multiple personal experiences with the miracle of trials
It really helps to start with some teachings. I wonder how the perspective of the Israelites might have changed if they had a little bit more of a doctrinal foundation of their God. How might their experience have shifted if they had known that the power of their God knew no bounds? How might they have looked at the plagues differently if they had known that the Lord was doing it for them? Would the plagues have looked less scary if they had a testimony of the Plan of Salvation? Would the God of Abraham look a little more approachable if they knew that all of the slain firstborn sons would be resurrected someday? Would they feel safer with the God of Abraham if they truly understood that someday, a perfect firstborn Son would die for them? I can only imagine that Moses previously received these teachings since he received the priesthood while staying with Jethro.
Having that solid doctrinal foundation is very helpful, but it’s not enough.
No matter how many times you have heard that God is powerful and loves you, you don’t truly learn it until you’ve tasted of it. It really helps when you’ve been given a solid foundation at home to start building your testimony of the love of your Father in Heaven. If I am loved by my parents, it makes it muuuuch easier to understand that there is a God who loves me as His child. But even if you weren’t given that blessing, you can still have experiences with Him directly. Don’t feel like you have to completely believe in His love or His power immediately. As we continue to read in these chapters, you’ll see how the Lord continues to take care of the Israelites despite their weaknesses. Allow the Lord to show you who He is, and give yourself time to build a relationship with Him just like you would with anyone else.
Also note that you need experiences with His goodness as well as His power. It’s not enough to know that there is a very powerful God who can do whatever He wants. It’s essential to also know that this powerful God loves you. The Israelites had just begun to have experiences with the power of their God; their experiences with His goodness were still limited.
Another important ingredient for faith is enough experience with miracles and trials. As you continually go through trials and as you repeatedly find yourself on the other side of them, you change. You start to realize that these trials may be difficult, but there is purpose behind them. They’re not some silly fluke. You start to find yourself in a “dead end,” and you recognize it. You think to yourself, “Hey, I’ve been in a situation like this before,” and so you know that you come out alive and stronger on the other side. Then when you run into your next dead end, you find yourself with the same faith as Moses. You may not know what is coming, but you’ve had enough life experience to know that something is coming. The Israelites had always lived under slavery; their main trials never really lifted. Moses may have had to leave his comfortable upbringing, he may have lamented the loss of his home, but he also made it to the other side where he learned about God, found a wife, and lived the gospel.
A doctrinal foundation of the Lord is extremely helpful, but it will never be sufficient to build the kind of faith that Moses had. That faith only comes through experiences. Oftentimes, it comes through many, many, many experiences over the course of a lifetime. You have to have experienced it often enough that you can remember it and trust it to happen again.
Faith that parts the seas
That is how you build the kind of faith that Moses had. When you have had enough experiences with God, and who He is, you start to find yourself at the Red Sea often enough that it becomes familiar. You have seen miracles before, and you know another one is coming. You don’t even have to turn to the Lord and say, “Hey! Remember me? Don’t forget me. I’m going to die. Are You there? Are You going to rescue me?” Instead, you find yourself like Moses. You run into that Red Sea, you smile to yourself, and think, “Here comes the miracle.” That is the kind of faith that brings the kind of miracle that parts seas.