I grew up in Indiana and Iowa. Tornadoes happen there.
I remember one day in the summer when I was a kid. I was walking home; this was in Indiana. The weather was so strange. Everything was eerily calm. It was like listening to music really, really loud and then someone pulls the plug and it all goes silent all of a sudden. It’s weird. No wind, no sound, nothing. Storm clouds did not appear on the horizon; it didn’t smell like rain. There was absolutely nothing that would serve as a warning sign for extreme weather. The sky was a beautiful orange color and then it almost looked purple? Did I mention how calm it was?
But then, as I got about halfway home, the wind picked up. It wasn’t gradual either. From one moment of calm, things got crazy in a second. Leaves and branches and debris started blowing behind, in front—all around me. I shielded my face and covered my eyes…
And I started to run.
That’s what we did in the Midwest when the eerie calm turned into a malevolent, strong wind. You don’t look back; you don’t take your time; while the sirens blare, you just run to the nearest place. I made it home. The winds got worse and a funnel cloud formed a few miles away. It’s amazing to see such a thing if you are looking at it from a distance. It’s beautiful. It’s short-lived.
Tornadoes, for the most part, last less than 10 minutes. That’s it.
Some tornadoes only last for a few seconds and then they’re gone.
But in a short time, a lot can happen.
Consider my former front porch in Iowa. The entire thing was lifted off by a tornado. Ask the farmers who discover farm equipment miles away from where they left it.
Weather is really not something we can control, right? Sadly, though, some are trying to control it with chemicals and other things. Perhaps one of our most fatal human mistakes is when we try to control nature. It always ends badly, doesn’t it?
Just ask the great Pharaoh of Egypt–perhaps Ramses II [and thousands of ancient Egyptians]–the ones mentioned in the stories of the Hebrew Scriptures. Insects, plagues, strong weather, and parting seas bombarded them. This is the Exodus story, a tale rich with natural images, but also a story that displays a two-sided, yin and yang theme. Nature can act beautifully and protectively. But on the other hand, that beauty can turn ugly and the protection can turn to destruction.
Moses and the Israelites, seeking to escape slavery and Egypt, cross the Red Sea because Moses lifts up his staff and the waters part for the Israelites. They cross unharmed, but the Egyptians, in hot pursuit, do not make it. The once-dry land spills over with raging waters and they all drown. The Israelites win and the Egyptians lose.
Even as the Israelites journey on to the Jordan River, they see the floating Egyptian corpses in the water.
There is a cloud by day and fire by night.
There is dry ground and there is flood.
There is a great escape from slavery, but then a famine.
There’s a heck of a lot more to this story than meets the eye, don’t you think?
For example, most Christians know that the New Testament contains Gospels [4 of them made it into what we call the canon]. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John passed the test and are printed in the various translations of the Bible. These Gospels tell the story of Jesus of Nazareth, but they do so in different ways. Each one adds and subtracts details and inserts different viewpoints about the same stories.
The same goes for the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures [OT]. In Genesis, we get more than one perspective about how the earth, sky, waters, animals and plants were created. We also get different points of view about how man and woman came to be. And in Exodus, we have varied perspectives, too.
How, you ask?
Well, just like in the NT, the OT books were not all written by just one author. Books like Exodus are compilations of different writers with different perspectives. Oral traditions got handed down and were added into the mix.
This particular Moses and Pharaoh story is told in three different ways.
The first version, and most likely the earliest version, is often called the Song of Moses; it appears in Exodus 15. It is a retelling of the Red Sea event in the form of a poem.
The second version appears in selected verses of Exodus 14.
This is considered a non-priestly version. A nice summary of this second version is provided by my OT professor from Princeton, Dr. Dennis Olson:
1. The divine cloud moves between Egyptians and Israelites
2. The LORD drives the sea back by a strong east wind all night (no account of Israel’s crossing or any action at all by any of the Israelites, including Moses (see 14:14–“The LORD will fight for you; you have only to keep still”)
3. Somehow through the pillar of fire and cloud, the LORD throws the Egyptians into a panic and they go into the sea and are drowned
That version is dated much earlier than the third and final version, called a priestly version. This third version, also selected verses of chapter 14, could be summarized as such [again, thanks, Dr. Olson]:
1. The Israelites see the advancing Egyptians and cry to the LORD
2. The LORD commands Moses to raise his staff over the water and the waters divide
3. A path of dry land opens up through the sea with walls of water on both sides
4. The Israelites walk safely through the Red Sea to the other side
5. After the Israelites have crossed, Moses stretches out his staff and the sea waters return, killing the pursuing Egyptians
Okay, why does this matter?
Because there is always more than one perspective to the story.
There is always more than one way to look at life.
Sometimes we are walking on dry ground and we feel like we’re being overwhelmed with floods of water.
Other times we may be inundated with rain and feel that we’re in a desert.
Sometimes a cloud can be wonderful. It can bring rain that sustains crops and provides sustenance. It cleans. It refreshes.
But other times clouds hide things from our vision. Literally, they “cloud” our path. They can also signal an upcoming, destructive storm.
A victory for some people means a loss for others.
Life for some means death for others.
We’re meant to live in this tension of duality the yin and yang [light and dark].
Creation and new beginnings are like that.
Yahweh creates something new.
People are invited to start over again.
They are asked to let go and to walk forward.
But it is not easy to do.
There will painful changes that people must make.
Letting go is really, really hard.
Complaining is really, really easy.
We all crave the “greener grass” on the other side of the fence, but when it comes time to do what is necessary to make a significant change in our lives, we lose our enthusiasm all of a sudden.
Walk on dry ground?
But that’s just it.
We have to let go and walk forward if we are to create and refresh.
If we don’t let go, we can behave like the Egyptians in the story [or any oppressors for that matter] and try to keep the status quo going, refuse change—at any cost. We are capable of enslaving ourselves and enslaving others.
If we don’t let go, we can behave like the Israelites did, and complain that the grass is always greener and that our current situation is always worse than somebody else’s.
When we don’t let go to let newness come, we drown in our stubbornness.
So the story invites all of us.
Live on the dry ground.
Live in the tension.
We are invited to see each day of our lives as an opportunity to be refreshed, re-created, and propelled forward.
After all, we cannot control the weather of life. And remember, weather changes pretty quickly.
Will we embrace the dry ground?