Pastor Scott Jonas
Crossing the Red Sea
The is a lot of evidence for the Exodus. Last year in Adult bible class we watched a documentary called “Patterns of Evidence:Exodus.” In it the talked about a famous papyrus called “Admonitions of an Egyptian Sage.” When you hear its’ words, it is obvious that is is a first hand account of the plagues. Here are some of the words written down as a historical account by an ancient Egytian, not a Hebrew, scribe.
“Take some water from the nile and pour it on dry ground and it becomes blood. If you drink it, you lose your humanity, and thirst for water. All the Egyptian livestock died.. lightning struck the earth and the Lord rained hail on the land..the flax and barley were destroyed…Those who had shelter are in the dark of the storm…Behold plague sweeps the land, blood is everywhere, with no shortage of dead..He buries his brother in the ground is everywhere…woe is me for the grief of this time…There is a loud wailing throughout the land, mingled with lamentations.” Those are the excerpts of a much longer accounting of the plagues from an eye witness.
History and the Bible agree that the plagues were devastating. I can’t imagine living through them. St. Louis has experienced a tornado in 2011, flooding in 1993, an earthquake in 1811, a mass shooting in 2008, cholera epidemic in 1849, locusts in 1875, and ice storms of 1951. Imagine going through them back to back. Even if you didn’t die, even if none of your family died, it would be traumatic to say the least.
Pharaoh is letting the Hebrews go but they are in wretched shape. Slavery is a daily trauma where your basic human rights are stolen. You have no agency. You have no freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, freedom to protect your family and freedom of religion. The Hebrews were worked to death. They existed on little food. If they didn’t comply then they were physically abused or murdered. The Lord’s wrath on Egypt has released his people but they aren’t free from the ravages of their captivity. Add in witnessing the plagues themselves and we are dealing with people who are shells.
Today we call it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It’s hard to imagine that any Hebrew, Moses included, could have survived slavery and the plagues without it. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event. It is natural to feel afraid during and after a traumatic situation. Fear triggers many split-second changes in the body to help defend against danger or to avoid it. This “fight-or-flight” response is a typical reaction meant to protect a person from harm. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened, even when they are not in danger. Symptoms may include intense fear, flashbacks, nightmares, memory loss, avoidance, guilt, anxiety, anger, and many others.
Moses is Shepherding these people through God’s guidance. Pharaoh’s Plague induce weakness turns to fury and he and his army frantically pursue them. The people are terrified. Moses takes these thousands of refugees to the edge of the Red Sea and at God’s command the Sea splits. The waves pile up on either side. He tells God’s people to run to the other side. It is almost more than anyone could take in. I wouldn’t blame any of the former slaves if they just plopped on the ground and said, “No more. I’m done. It’s too much. Death is better than this.”
You and I have never been through plaques. But I guarantee that people listening to my voice have experienced trauma such as witnessing death, experiencing a car crash, sexual assault, combat, abuse, and any number of horrors. As a pastor, I believe that it is rare to get through life without trauma. Either you’ve endured it or someone you love has which is just as traumatizing.
What do we do as people of faith when we’ve been traumatized? First of all, there is no shame in admitting it. Trauma is the result of a fallen sinful world. It is not pay back or justice for your sin. The Israelites did not deserve the agony of being slaves. They didn’t earn their trauma, it was imposed on them. The most powerful and life altering trauma is childhood trauma and they certainly do not deserve it. If you want to be free you have to recognize that you do not deserve your trauma.
The Hebrews instincts are all wrong. They’ve been shaped by generations of abuse. When they get to the edge of the Red Sea they cry out, “We’re going to die!” and “Let us go back to serve Egypt!” They may be technically free of their masters but they aren’t fully free. So God creates a miracle to show so they will trust him. The parting of the Red Sea is a gate way towards healing. It will take 40 years to begin to mend this trauma. Some healing can only occur in the new heaven and the new earth. But they listen to Moses and to God, and go through the gateway towards healing. Behind them is only death, fear and helplessness.
One of the reasons Jesus gives us the church is for these times. He doesn’t want you to go off on your own to suffer alone. God doesn’t want you to go back and live in your trauma. He wants you to go forward side by side with His people. When you go through something horrific, you have to realize that the survival instincts that got you through the trauma may not help you make good decisions afterwards. That’s when you need to rely on a Pastor, a Moses or sorts to lead you to a better place.
The beaten down Hebrews did not want to walk through the Red Sea. It’s terrifying. It’s not natural. But it was the right decision and God lead them to that decision through the help of Moses and the church. Picture that scene at the Red Sea. Thousands of God’s people helping each other get through the scariest time of their life. Men carrying the injured. Women holding children. Everyone was in it together. We all make it through or no one makes it through. Death is approaching from behind but God has something glorious in front of us. Jesus defeated death on the cross and God defeated the Egytian army through the crashing waves.
If you’ve been through a horror as a child, an adult or recently, let the church get you help. We have access to counselors like Lutheran children and family services, addiction support groups like Alcoholics anonymous and crossroads, support groups for families with a prison member, grief groups, and so much more. We are in this together through the waters.