Beshalach – “When He Sent”

This week’s Torah portion is entitled Beshalach meaning “When He Sent”. It covers Exodus chapters 13-17. As Israel leaves Egypt for the Promised Land, Adonai decides not to take them from point A to point B by the shortest route possible. Instead, He leads them on an indirect route, in a pillar of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night.

To the Egyptians, however, it appears that Israel is wandering aimlessly through the desert, so Pharaoh takes the opportunity to harden his heart one more time, and attempts to recapture them. He pursues them with his military forces, thinking he has them pinned against the sea. But God had other plans.

In that moment, the Israelis see it the same way; that they are trapped with the Red Sea in front of them, and the army of Egypt behind them, and they were terrified! In their panic, they turn against Moses, blaming him for their predicament, and accuse him of leading them to certain death. Moses turns to Adonai, pleading for help, and Adonai simply responds saying “Why do you cry out to Me?  Tell the people of Israel to move forward.”

So, Moses extends his staff, and the waters of the Red Sea part, allowing the Israelis to cross on dry ground, with a wall of water on each side. Suddenly, the nation of Israel is transformed from passive victims to active witnesses of Adonai’s power as they walk bravely into the midst of the sea, marching forward through a completely dry seabed.

At daybreak, the pillar of smoke lifted, and the Egyptian army rushed in after them. But just as soon as Israel had all crossed safely, God released the waters, and Pharaoh’s military might is utterly destroyed as his army, with its chariots and horsemen, is swallowed by the Red Sea.

Because of God’s awe-inspiring display of power, the Israelis sing a song of praise and adoration, led by Moses and Miriam. This song is more than an expression of fleeting joy or emotion; it’s an anthem of enduring faith that is recited publicly every year from the Torah: once on Shabbat Shirah (the Sabbat of Song, when this parasha is read), and on the Seventh Day of Pesach (Passover), when the miracle of the splitting of the Red Sea is commemorated.

Despite this great outpouring of faith, the Israelis would face many challenges and hardships in the wilderness. Three days after crossing the Red Sea, in the midst of the desert the people could find no water.  When they arrive at Marah, they are thirsty, but the water they find there is bitter. Adonai shows Moses a tree to throw into the water to cure it of bitterness.  The tree makes the water sweet and good to drink. Another challenge they faced in the wilderness was the depletion of food that they carried out of Egypt.

By the fifteenth day of the second month, they were longing for the food they had in Egypt, and began to grumble and complain. In response, God gives them manna. Later, He will give them quail.

At Rephidim, the Israelis quarrel and test God, demanding water.  In response to their need, God commands Moses to speak to a rock so that water is miraculously provided for them.

At Rephidim, the Amalekites attack Israel. During the battle, the Israelis prevail as long as Moses holds up his hands with the staff of God.  But when he becomes tired and lowers his arms, the Amalekites prevail. Seeing this, Aaron and Hur come beside Moses, and hold his arms up. In this way, Moses’ hands remained steady until sunset, and Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.

Our Parasha ends here with Moses building an altar and calling it “the Lord is my Banner.”

From Israel’s perspective, they were pinned against the Red Sea with a deadly army coming to destroy them. But God had this very moment planned out long before it came to pass.

Hysteria, panic, and looking for someone to blame might be our first and natural human reaction to a crisis, but God would have us learn to cry out to Him and trust Him to fight our battles.

Yet, trust in God must be paired with the courage to act. It took courage to walk out into the parted water, and faith to realize that it would not close on them. This act of courage marked the beginning of their transition from slavery to freedom.

Just like the Israelis at the Red Sea, we need to overcome any type of slave or victim mentality, but walk in faith, so that we can possess the birthright Yeshua has given us. We are not slaves, beggars, or second-class citizens, but are children of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

We must become people who confidently step out in faith, trusting God to direct our footsteps. Fears, doubts, and insecurities can paralyze us, but just as it’s pointless to try to steer a parked car, we cannot expect direction if we are passive and refuse to move forward.

The response of the Israelis to the challenges and hardships they faced in the wilderness serve as an example, and a warning, for all Messianic Jews and Christians alike. Even though God brought them out of Egypt and worked great miracles on their behalf, because of their unbelief, all except Joshua and Caleb from that generation perished in the wilderness.

When we meet challenges and face hardships, or realize that Adonai is not leading us on the easiest route possible, we must hold onto our confidence that Yeshua will meet every need and see us through every battle, no matter how desperate the situation looks.