Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Unseen Footprints

Ignore the title. I promise there will be no sentimental poetry today. You can all breathe easier.

Circumstances are very much open to interpretation.

When an angel appears to declare to you the meaning of events you have just gone through or are about to witness, you can be 100% sure you’ve got cause and effect in the correct order and rightly attributed.

Otherwise, well, we’re kind of in the dark. Or at least twilight. Taken on their own, the meaning of even very unusual events can be ambiguous.

Approaching Deep Water

Now of course that doesn’t mean those of us who believe in God never have the percentages strongly on our side. There may be very solid reasons to attribute our circumstances to the hand of God even in the absence of an angelic annunciation.

Say, for instance, you find yourself standing on the shore of the sea, trapped between deep water and an approaching army bent on wiping you off the face of the planet. Then your leader tells you, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today,” whereupon he raises his staff and the sea parts itself so that you can walk through to the other shore on dry land and make your escape. Chances are high, I think we would agree, that God is in your corner. Furthermore, even if you are not quite convinced of that, your options are severely limited. So on you go.

A Historically Unfortunate Decision

But the Psalmist tells us that not everybody who saw the Red Sea parted viewed it as miraculous or attributed it to God:
“Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen.”
Two great walls of water and a pathway through the middle to the other side of the sea are not things one sees every day. But they did not in the least deter the unbelieving armies of Pharaoh, who pursued Israel into the depths and were buried by the raging waves, drowned to the last man. We are not given a lot of insight into the thought process by which that historically unfortunate Egyptian general decided charging into the sea bed with a bunch of horses and chariots was a bright idea, but it seems likely that even though the circumstances were unusual in the extreme, he attributed the wall of water to natural causes.

God’s footprints were unseen.

A Two Part Lesson

But that’s not all. Though we are told that Israel saw and believed, a vast majority of God’s people failed to internalize the lesson they had just learned and save it for next time. In the very next chapter, the people are already grumbling. Only two chapters on, they are accusing Moses of bringing them out into the wilderness to starve them to death. Three chapters on, they are asking “Is the Lord among us or not?” And it goes on and on.

The lesson of the Red Sea was intended to be twofold. Israel missed Part Two.

Blind as Egyptians

The first lesson should have been obvious: God is unbelievably powerful. Most of the Israelites looked at the bodies of the Egyptians washing up on the seashore and grasped the concept. They even sang to each other about it.

But the second lesson is that God cares for those he has called out of the world. Even in times of deep personal trial, Asaph can speak in the Psalms not just of God’s power, but of his steadfast love, grace and compassion. How likely is it that a God who chooses to bring you through the Red Sea one week is planning to starve you to death the next?

By most that stood on the shore that day, the footprints of God were unrecognized in any way that might make them useful to the nation in its next crisis, and the crisis that followed, and the one that came after that.

The Egyptians didn’t even see the footprints. But for the most part, Israel didn’t really “see” who made them. In their own way they were as blind as the Egyptians.

I trust you and I can do better than that.

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