Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏩ ⏹️
Water birth (source: Getty Images/Thinkstock)
And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground: and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left.
— Exodus 14:21-22
Many archeologists and scientists have invested time into attempting to prove i) that a sea or lake could actually be divided by just the right wind, or ii) that it wasn't the Red Sea that was crossed but an area of the Nile Delta, which is tidal, hence the parting of the water, and iii) that artefacts such as chariot wheels found on the sea bed can be dated to the Biblical period of the exodus. These efforts, while perhaps interesting to Bible literalists add little to the value of this story. This is a story of wonder and mystery, rippled with metaphor.
This parting of the waters can be understood as an image of a birth canal. Following a period of gestation in the womb of Egypt, the Israelites are born into freedom which is at the same time both welcome and terrifying, and the people will have to struggle through forty years of childhood and dependence before reaching the promised land of maturity.1 Looking at the many paintings of the incident over the centuries the imagery of the reproductive system and female genitalia is striking.2 Viewed thus we are reminded to embrace the mystery of life rather than always seeking explanations and justifications. Did the parting of the Red Sea, and the crossing of hundreds of thousands of people actually happen? It's unlikely. And yet the nation of Israel was indeed born (and in the fullness of time gave birth to its own offspring, but that's another story).
The episode may also be considered the largest ever demonstration against oppression, with suggested numbers ranging from 630,000 to 2,000,000.3 Logistically the idea of a single man leading so many people may seem unlikely, even impossible, but again that misses the point. The spirit of the story speaks volumes for humankind's desire for autonomy and control, both for the individual and the community to which they belong. Each time we stand up to oppression, each action we take to step into our integrity, to claim our own autonomy can be considered a rebirth, a liberation, a personal exodus into our true, God-given selves.
1 The birth analogy was suggested by Ilana Pardes in "The Biography of Ancient Israel: Imagining the Birth of a Nation", Comparative Literature Vol. 49, No. 1, Winter, 1997
2 The parting of the Red Sea, paintings
3 This was true until this century, and remains true in terms of percentage size of world population, but in actual numbers the largest demonstration recorded (to date) was the anti-Iraq war protest in Rome in 2003.