We were so afraid. Slavery teaches you to live by fear, but these cascading events had opened us to levels of terror we had sought our whole lives to avoid. We had watched with horror, wonder and amazement while the plagues fell on our Egyptian neighbours. Were the old stories true? Did we really belong to a different God, greater than all the gods of Egypt, who, after leaving us alone and enslaved for generations, was suddenly making Himself known by great works of power? It was hard to comprehend, to re-adjust our thinking. Still, being freed from slavery sounded wonderful, even if we couldn’t quite understand what the alternative would be.
Then came the night that was different from all other nights: we went through the preparations like people in a dream, performing a sequence of actions with little understanding. It was all unreal. Then, right at midnight, a great cry of pain went up from the broken land. Egypt had stood firm against hail and darkness, pestilence and destruction, but the death of the firstborn brought a proud nation to her knees. Suddenly, they weren’t only allowing us to leave; they were urging us to be gone as quickly as possible! So at Pharaoh’s command and our neighbours’ encouragement we left, though we had never known any other home.
The next days passed in a haze of unreality: there we were, a huge mass of people, with our flocks and herds and basic belongings, following a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Who has ever heard of such a thing? And then, while we were still trying to make sense of it all, we learned that Pharaoh was pursuing us. Of course, what else should we expect? This had all been a dream of surpassing strangeness, and we would wake again to harder, harsher labour, if we woke at all, and did not simply die in the desert. We were very much afraid.
But Moses was unperturbed. As we stood there, helpless, between the great waters and the advancing Egyptian army, he stretched out his staff, a strong wind blew, and an impossible path opened before us. We walked across those strange wet sands clinging tightly to one another, watching with a kind of fascinated terror the mighty wall of water that loomed on either side of us. There was no human reason why it should not fall down on top of us at any moment. By the time we got to the further shore we were aching with tension – and the army of Egypt was still following us, right down onto that terrible path across the bottom of the sea. And we stood there and watched them, blankly and bleakly, too spent with both the travelling and the terror to run any further.
Then, even as we watched, Moses stretched his hand out over the waters once more, and those towering walls came crashing down, and a gasp of wonder rose from our whole people as the Egyptians were swept away in that mighty torrent. Not one of them was left. And, as we watched, that enormous wave threw their bodies, their countless broken bodies, up upon the shore. And we wept and trembled at the marvel.
But as we stood there in shock, Moses led us in a song of praise to the God who had delivered us, and suddenly we were a people released into song, and with the singing came tears, and laughter and understanding, as we spoke out what we had seen and our words gave meaning to the events we had witnessed: