Friday, January 29, 2010

Pharaoh's Wrath

Moving two million people off the beach wasn’t easy. People waited hours in line just to enter the ocean path.

It was nearly midnight before the last Hebrew tribe began to leave. Joshua rode at the back of the queue, keeping an eye on the stragglers - old people too tired to walk and youngsters half asleep.

With the beach much quieter and almost empty, he could hear strange noises from the Egyptian camp. Their horses were nervous and frightened. None of them could sleep so their masters kept whipping them in anger.

“Hurry up now,” urged Joshua like he was herding sheep. “Move along quickly. Don’t be afraid.”

“I’m not afraid,” replied a widow, “just not as young as I used to be. I’m not even sure if I can make it across.”

Joshua dismounted his horse to help her.

“If God can part the Red Sea, he can look after you,” he said helping her onto a hay cart. “I suggest you get some rest.”

“Thank you. You’re a fine young man. A good man.”

“Just doing my job, and I’m not that young.”

Joshua climbed back on his horse and galloped around to the southern dunes for a better view of the ocean. It was a sight he would never forget. The trail of lamps and torches stretched for miles across the dark ocean floor. Light danced and flickered along the watery walls with astonishing beauty.

They had a tough march to reach the other side before daylight, and who knew when Pharaoh would catch on to what was happening? Joshua didn’t want to wait to find out.

Farewell Egypt, he thought.

Farewell and good riddance.

He kicked his heels and galloped down into the ocean to catch up with the others.

The land bridge across the eastern arm of the Red Sea spanned some twelve miles across to the Arabian coast. Joshua kept watch at the rear of the march, keeping one eye on the deathly darkness behind him.

An hour after midnight, the first of the Hebrew tribes reached the other side with much celebration and relief. But even at the cracking pace Moses set for them, it was taking longer than expected. All the while, tiredness and fear gnawed away at Joshua’s will, like starving rats keeping him awake all night.

It was only a matter of time before death would pursue again.

By three in the morning, at the changing of the guard, the Egyptian night watchmen noticed the dark mist had lifted as quickly as it came the evening before. The beach was visibly empty in the dim moonlight, and all that was left were thousands of footprints heading out to the sea - or more accurately, where the sea once was.

Far in the distance, thousands of lights from the Hebrew slaves could be seen marking a trail right through the vast ocean canyon. Every twinkle of their glow mocked the Egyptians, almost daring them to follow.

Awakened from his listless slumber, Pharaoh immediately marched down to the beach and saw for himself the Hebrew’s way of escape. His white hot fury wrestled to overcome his better instincts.

If he followed the Hebrews into the canyon of water, what could stop him from drowning? If he allowed them to escape, could he live with the humiliation?

Almost anticipating his thoughts, Nemetha pulled up beside him.

“My Lord, stay here. I’ll chase after them. The victory will be the same, whether by my hands or yours. But if I die, Egypt will still have you on the throne.”

“Who do they think they are, making a fool of me?” Pharaoh replied.

His answer was more honest than intended. He despised both scenarios; a hollow victory or the shame of allowing the Hebrews to escape.

He quickly harnessed his chariot and charged down into the ocean road, with every Egyptian following in his wake.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Parting the Red Sea

Joshua breathed a sigh of relief. The Egyptians’ hasty retreat from darkness brought tears of joy and gasps of amazement across the crowds. Fear and panic quickly gave way to a holy calm.

Things that were frightening just moments before - the wind and stormy ocean, now seemed comforting in the last glow of twilight.

Nobody could deny God was with them. And while Pharaoh and his men were holed up the ravine like a genie in a bottle, the Hebrews basked in the soothing light from the pillar of fire.

Joshua closed his eyes and breathed in the fresh night air. Soaking up the warmth of God’s bonfire on his face, he listened to his heart beating with the symphony of waves crashing behind him. The ocean didn’t seem so terrifying now. After all, it was the handiwork of his Creator.

The sensation of a solitary tear drop tingling his warm cheek arrested Joshua’s quiet moment of reflection. He opened his eyes and turned to see Moses looking out over the sea.

“What now?” Joshua asked.

“It’ll take all night to cross,” Moses replied. “We needed a head start. I just hadn’t worked out how.

Joshua smiled with amazement. “You had to trust Him with that?

“Yes. He never explains everything,” replied Moses, stepping up onto a large rock to address the crowd.

“Caleb, go to the front.”

“The front?”

“When the waters open, take your torch and gallop across to the other side - fast as you can.” Moses urged. “Show everyone its safe.”

“Joshua, go to the rear and wait. See that no one is left behind”.

Joshua hesitated, thinking of something profound to say – but couldn't.

“You’ll be the last one to cross,” Moses continued. “Joshua, you hear me?”

Joshua nodded. The last. Why did I know he going to say that?

Moses climbed higher onto the rock so everyone could see him. Looking out over the ocean, the mighty prophet raised his staff to Heaven, with strength of stature that defied his eighty years.

“God of Abraham, by your mighty power you created the whole world. Nothing is impossible for you. The sun, stars and moon are all works of your hand.”

“And we, your people, remember the covenant you made to our father Abraham.”

“You promised him descendants, a land, and a messiah. Through Abraham’s Seed all the nations of the earth will be blessed.”

“There is no one greater than yourself, so you made this covenant by your own name. You are God Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth.”

“And so now, by the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, I command these waters to part. Make way for the Lord's people.”

And with those simple words, Joshua witnessed the greatest miracle he could possibly imagine.

A broad front of lightning stretched across to the opposite coast. The hot easterly wind rushed in like a tornado pushing down deep into the waters, like the hand of God carving a vast canyon into the sea.

To Joshua, it was simply awe inspiring.

A long straight road of dry land lay before them. The air inside the trench seemed quiet and still, and the ground surprisingly dry. The ocean walls were strangely solid, but wet like normal water. It still sloshed around, but any splashes fell straight back into the walls.

How fascinating, Joshua thought, the water falls into itself - not the ground.

Completely speechless, Joshua watched Caleb light a flaming torch and gallop down into the depths of the ocean. The further he rode, the darker it became - for the pillar of fire only lit the beach where they stood. Before long, all anyone could see was the flicker of Caleb’s torch half a mile away, bouncing light off the ocean walls.

“Sons of Abraham,” Moses continued, “remember this day when the Lord your God delivered you by his mighty hand. Nothing is impossible. Move quickly now and follow me to the other side, but leave no one behind in your haste.”

And with that, Joshua helped Moses down off the rock and bid him farewell. It seemed poetic for Moses to escort the bones of Joseph across. For the all the people would see the enduring power of hope.

But the important duties of a rear guard soon consumed Joshua’s thoughts. Mounting his horse, he turned and pressed against the fleeing crowds. With the Egyptians camped so close, waiting for everyone to cross was a test of nerves.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Pillar of fire

Dark swirling thunder clouds were brooding over the Red Sea, drawing a hot dry wind from the east. It was fuel for the tempest, fanning the wrath of Almighty God.

Joshua charged ahead, past scattered groups of people jumping out of his way, ever closer to the crowds gathered along the shoreline.

He could see Moses now, walking purposefully beside a cart carrying the coffin of Joseph - bones that refused to be buried in slavery, bound for the promised land.

Pushing his way through the crush, Joshua finally reached the old prophet.

“They're coming”, he gasped, “Pharaoh, and all his army”.

“Good. Not a moment too soon,” Moses replied with unwavering faith.

“Moses. We need a...”

“...The Almighty knows what we need, even before we ask.”

Joshua wanted to bite his lip. The finality of the moment demanded he state the obvious.

“I trust you know what you’re doing - what He’s doing”

“God’s with us Joshua. Don’t be afraid.”

“I know,” Joshua nodded reassuringly, then turned to face the commotion behind him.

It was Caleb barging his way through the thronging crowd. He arrived breathing heavily and tired, but only half as tired as his horse.

“We don’t have long... before panic… Do your thing Moses.”

Joshua sensed the crowds were increasingly terrified at the sight of Pharaoh’s army swarming onto the peninsula. People were pressing in closer all around Moses, wanting answers, comfort - something. But why was he looking to the sky?

“Moses led us into the wilderness,” someone shouted, “because there were no graves in Egypt?”

“Like he dragged you here kicking and screaming!” Caleb replied.

“There’s nowhere to escape, we’ll all be butchered,” another lamented. “Better off slaves.”

“What’s happening?” said Joshua looking heavenward, now oblivious to the growing chorus of dissent. A massive pillar of cloud over the ocean looked like it was changing into fire. And the fire was moving towards them.

“You’d trade freedom for slavery?” Caleb shouted.

“There’s no freedom in death,” the angry mob cried.

“Freedom from your complaining.”

“Hey is anyone listening?” Joshua interrupted again.

“Silence!” Moses need only to say one word for all to pay attention. He slowly raised his hands to speak.

“No one is going to die. Don’t be afraid. Look, see for yourselves what God is doing.”

The pillar of fire moved steadily across the breaking waves, lifting high up over the Hebrews, then rested on the low sand dunes behind them.

Pharaoh’s path to attack was blocked. What’s more, the same pillar that appeared as fire to the Hebrews was nothing but a wall of darkness to the Egyptians. The blackest of nights shrouded the Hebrews like a curtain of invisibility.

There was nothing Pharaoh could do but order his troops to stand still. Even if they wanted to attack, they could barely see a hundred yards ahead.

“Is it moving toward us?” Pharaoh asked his captain Nemetha, whose hardened body looked chiseled from stone.

“Your Majesty, I think so. Shall I order the men back into the ravine?”

“This is the strangest darkness,” Pharaoh replied. “We can’t see them, but can they see us?”

“I don’t know Master, but we’re safer in the valley.”

Pharaoh pondered a moment longer, looking deeper into a darkness he could almost touch.

“Where could they go?”

“Nowhere your Majesty. Our fort blocks the coastal road. Even if it were captured, moving that many people would be like draining the Nile with a straw.”

“Nemetha, I’ve travelled long enough,” replied Pharaoh. “As much as I want to rid the earth of this Hebrew stench - the men are tired, and my horse is thirsty. Set up camp in the valley for the night. That makes sense, right?”

“Yes it does Sir.”

“We’ll kill the Hebrews after a good nights rest.”

Pharaoh resolutely terminated the conversation, keen to prove he could sleep well before a massacre.

“As you wish, my Lord.”

Monday, January 25, 2010

Race to the Red Sea

It was an awe inspiring sight, galloping across the sandy peninsula at sunset, but Joshua had no time to reflect. The dust cloud of Pharaoh's mighty army rose ominously in the sky above the narrow ravine that wound its way along an ancient riverbed towards the ocean.

A mile in front, two million Hebrew slaves were trapped along the shores of the Red Sea. Joshua marveled at the wet sand between them, its pale luminescence clung to the last rays of sunlight. Such a shame, he thought, the beach would be red with blood by morning.

But whose blood?

Pharaoh led six hundred of his finest chariots in hot pursuit - his steely eyes blazed with unbridled rage. The gold rimmed wheels of his magnificently crafted vehicle barely touched the ground as he mercilessly whipped his horse to breakneck speeds. Further behind, fifty thousand horseman armed with spears heralded the true might of Egypt’s army; two hundred thousand foot soldiers jogging in tight formation through the canyon walls.

Pharaoh’s apocalyptic force amounted to well over a quarter of a million, some fifty men abreast stretching back for miles.

All that separated the Egyptians from the Hebrews was a narrow pass between two steep rocky hills some thousand feet high. The pass led out to a flat wide peninsula, semi circle in shape and three miles in diameter, jutting out in to the Red Sea. It was a flat broad area, with steep mountains jutting down to the water in the south. A narrow coastal road to the north was fiercely guarded by a garrison of Egyptian soldiers, permanently stationed to protect the trade routes.

After six days pursuing the Hebrews across the barren wilderness, Pharaoh finally had them cornered, or so it seemed.

Joshua turned back round and spotted another rider coming into to view a quarter mile in front. The other Hebrew signalman struggled to hold his speed on an older horse. Joshua smiled and raced ahead to catch up with him.

“Caleb,” Joshua laughed, “I feel sorry for your horse.”

“I’m all muscle,” he shouted. “You should be grateful I let you have the fast one.”

“Fast ‘cause my work’s dangerous,” Joshua replied overtaking him.

Caleb grunted in friendly rivalry and slapped his horses’ reins. “Well at least I know how to use a sword.”

Caleb glanced back at the sight of Pharaoh’s army flooding out of the narrow pass onto the peninsula. Archers in the chariots were drawing their bows to attack.

“Good Lord!” shouted Caleb. “Are we ready for this?”

View Larger Map

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The trap is set


All that man fears is revealed in darkness.

Ever since he was a child, Joshua feared the dark. He knew darkness itself had no real power, but rather those things that couldn’t be seen.

Running up the rocky hillside, Joshua raced against the darkness. Breathless, thirsty, tired and sore – every muscle in his athletic frame felt his age; forty hard years. Over the dusty barren landscape, the light was fading fast - both literally and metaphorically. Far on the horizon in the next valley to the west, the vast dust cloud of the Egyptian army blazed an ominous red in the fading light of day. The trap was set, but the bait had to be warned.

Scrambling over loose rocks and stones to the top of the hill, the sight of his own bloodied hands and knees reminded Joshua of what darkness can bring.

Darkness makes it hard to see friend from foe, and slave from master. Even life from death. Joshua knew of a darkness so great that a man could forget what he looked like. He could forget who he was, or worse still, who God was.

But the memory of light can be carried - like the smouldering coals Joshua unraveled from the bark envelope he carried in his satchel. Some hasty twigs and leaves, carefully laid around the coals would do the trick.

Joshua crouched down on his knees, a useful position for both prayer and blowing tiny glowing embers to life.

“God, I'm no use to you dead. Please, I've done this a thousand times.”

He fumbled around rearranging the twigs, took another deep breath and blew into the fragile nest of coals. The embers glowed in anticipation, but nothing took hold. His cradle of leaves and twigs lay dormant.

Sounds of murderous shouting echoed in the valley below.

He hastily blew again to resuscitate the tiny coals, like his life depended on it. All the while memories of those years of suffering flooded his mind - the hunger, sleep deprivation, and excruciating pain from the lash of his Egyptian master. Suffocating darkness can extinguish all hope. But not this time. Although Joshua had been captive all his life, he knew where he was going. It was written on his soul.

The voices were louder now. Four, maybe five of Pharoah's scouts - they knew his position.

He blew again, this time something caught alight. And then again, deeper and longer than before. The flicker turned into a flame; a flame into a fire; and then a fire into a pillar of smoke that could be seen for miles as it reached high to catch the golden rays of sunset.

Joshua paused to reflect in this brief moment of grace. Sadly, some men never see the light. Some see it from a distance, but prefer to hide their sin under the hideous cloak of darkness. Worse still, others know the light for a while, but are drawn back, where the darkness consumes them forever in the anguish of what they once knew.

SWOOSH! An arrow struck the rock behind him. Time to leave.

The Egyptians were coming, and so was nightfall. Joshua waited only for enough time to see another signal fire echo his message from the next hilltop. Moses would see that one.

Stoking the flames one last time, he scrambled back down to where his faithful horse was nervously waiting.

"The beach my friend," he whispered in its ear, "now or never."