The Crossing of the Red Sea

Their report ran like wildfire from one end of the camp to the other, and it was seized with panic terror. These men of Israel, born into slavery and forced their whole lives long to toil for a tyrant, were unused to any discipline except that of the lash and the goad. They had no knowledge or experience of warfare. They were hampered with their flocks and herds already spent by forced marches, and were burdened with a vast hoard of baggage. Only the open spaces of the wilderness lay around them, even to the sea, and there was nowhere any place of defence for their women and children. When then they knew that the dreaded armies of Pharaoh were in pursuit of them, their hearts melted like water. And in their despair they cried to the Lord.

But there were some among them who had been compelled to accept Moses as their leader against their will, men by nature rebellious, malcontents. They forced their way into the presence of Moses and reproached him bitterly for the mortal danger into which he had brought them.

‘Was it,’ they reproached him, ‘because there were no graves for us in Egypt that thou hast enticed us out to die in the wilderness? Why hast thou so dealt with us, compelling us to flee out of Goshen; ay, and our helpless women and children? There at least our lives were safe. When thou didst first return to Goshen and began to incite us to revolt against the king, did we not again and again adjure thee to leave us alone that we might continue our labours in peace and security? Were we the only slaves in Egypt? Is Pharaoh to be cheated of what is his? Far better to live in the vilest bondage under the Egyptians than to die here in misery and our bones bleach in the sands of the wilderness!’

Moses faced them without wavering. Nor did he answer them in anger, or reproach them for their faint- heartedness.

Far more clearly than they, he knew the supreme danger that now threatened them, and the massacre and horror that would follow if he swerved for an instant from his authority over them. He needed time to consider: but he remained steadfast and unmoved.

‘Fear not,’ he adjured them, ‘but stand fast. Every man in readiness and unafraid. And you shall see the salvation of the Lord. It shall be revealed to you this very day. Believe only in Jehovah, the Lord God himself, whose wonders you have seen in Egypt. He has seen fit that this Pharaoh should harden his heart even yet again, to pursue after Israel. Blind and stubborn, this proud king believes in his folly that Jehovah hath forsaken us, and that we know not which way to escape, being shut in between the desert and the sea. Watch and wait! For it is Pharaoh himself who shall be taken in a snare, and the Lord shall have glory over him, and all Egypt shall know that he is the Almighty. For I vow unto you that these warriors of Pharaoh, the dust of whose chariots beclouds the skies, you shall see again no more for ever. Jehovah himself shall fight for you, if only you have faith and hold your peace.’

He went out alone from among them, and continued on his way until he came down to the margin of the sea whose full flood-tide now lapped its sands. The waste of waters stretched out before him; and there in solitude, his face towards the distant land of Canaan, that he himself was to see but never tread, he prayed, wrestling in agony of soul for the safety of Israel. The sweat stood on his face as he bowed himself in entreaty before the Lord.

But peace at length calmed heart and mind; he was comforted and rose up. It was the hour of the setting of the sun, and even the eastern verges of the horizon to which he raised his eyes were inflamed with its last beams. The whole ample canopy of the heavens was lit with wondrous light and colour, ever changing, melting, its fires mounting, to fade and die with night. He lifted up his hands over the sea in enraptured salutation of the Eternal whom he worshipped. Then in the swift cold on-coming of the dark he returned back into the camp.

The pillar of cloud, that had gone on before the host of Israel, had removed and now stood kindled between the starry skies and the wrath behind them. Between the huge straggling host of the Israelites and the pursuing vanguard of the armies of Pharaoh, there settled a region of dense gloom—illumined, like the

  By PanEris using Melati.

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