He heard them coming all day, yesterday, the rising thunder of chariot wheels and horses. At first, it felt like a small earthquake, but as the day went on, it became increasingly clear that Pharaoh had gone back on his word. They wouldn’t get the easy journey out of slavery. Instead, Pharaoh pursues them even still. He wished that he could be surprised at this point, but a lifetime at the hands of Pharaoh and his slave drivers left little room for that. Pharaoh would not accept defiance.

As sunset approached, the roaring and pounding got so loud, he risked a glance behind him. What he saw nearly made him stop in his tracks. Hundreds of chariots and thousands of horses bore down on them with spears, swords, and archers. How could they stand up to the might of Pharaoh? Moses pulled some neat tricks, but the assembled forces looked unbeatable. They would crash through the ragtag ranks of former slaves like a hammer splitting a pot. Any thought of running felt equally hopeless. Ahead of them, the sea stretches out in infinite vastness.

“Curse you, Moses.” He says to no one in particular. “Did they run out of graveyards in Egypt?” As more began to look behind, and the bleak picture sank in, more folks began to offer up similar thoughts. He can hear shouts of, “I’d rather have died a slave!” and “At least Pharaoh let us die in our own beds!” Moses, for his part, didn’t seem much better. He was just visible at the front of the column yelling animatedly at the Pillar of Cloud. This didn’t inspire confidence.

The brain does strange things, when overwhelmed with the fear of imminent death. He thought about his last conversation with Sarai, on the night of the Passover, how he had promised to speak with her father. He had meant to do it yesterday as they walked, but he ran out of bravery. He thought about how he’d promise his youngest brother that they’d start wood carving lessons, so he could start making his own toys. And, he couldn’t stop thinking about how his mother was going to die riding in a cart with the busted wheel that he had assured her that he would fix. He didn’t know if he should keep walking or just stop letting the chariots overtake him. He kept trudging forward, eyes on the dirt, but felt utterly disconnected from the experience.

Suddenly, a ripple of noise from the crowd made him look up and shattered his stupor. As soon as night fully set in, the Pillar of Cloud transformed again into the Pillar of Fire, but it had moved from its position in front to standing between Pharaoh’s army and the Israelites. An equally fiery and terrifying Angel of the Lord had joined it. Just has as the thundering chariot were about to overtake the Israelites, they came to a sudden stop. A strange silence settled over both groups. He could hear the swirling of the flames in the Pillar, crackling in the air like a bonfire. His terror and resignation were replaced with confusion. How could the army just stop like that? What happens now? They still have us trapped at the edge of the sea.

Another roar from the crowd shifted his attention back to the front of the column. Moses stood on a rocky outcropping facing the sea, staff in hand. Energy radiated out into the crowd, as if the fabric of reality itself began to vibrate. Moses directed his staff towards the sea. Instantly, the sea exploded into confusion. Waves crashed in impossible ways. Two giant tidal waves began moving in opposite directions. The sounds of sea and wind nearly deafened the crowd. The roiling chaos slowly emerged into order. The sea resolved into two colossal columns of water with a narrow track of sea floor exposed between them.

Everyone, Israelites, and Egyptian troops, stood transfixed – unable to move. The uncontrollable sea had neatly parted. Many blinked, dumbfounded. The scene lacked any plausibility, and yet, here they stood with the sea obeying an even more unfathomable power. Moses came down off his outcropping, walked down onto the beach, and out into the narrow track of seabed. The Israelites hesitantly followed him. At the urging of their generals, the Egyptian army followed the Israelites. The Angel and the Pillar continued to separate the two groups.

They journeyed this way for hours, until the seabed began to slope upwards towards the opposite shore. The Israelites climbed towards the beach, but the Egyptians stopped moving – unable to get past the Angel and the Pillar. Person by person, cart by cart, the Israelites emerged from the sea. Confusion and panic grew in the Egyptian ranks. Some began to drive their chariots back towards the other shore. Others ran towards the Pillar to try and break through. The mighty army became a terrified mass.

When the last of the stragglers made it safely to shore, Moses again stood before the sea and the fleeing army. The tingle of energy rose again. He brought his staff up again. With incredible speed, the sea restored itself to its original position, drowning the entire Egyptian army in a moment.

All of the Israelites stood together on the beach, staring at the sea and the remains of the Egyptian army floating to the surface. Shock turned to joy and reverence. They were free. God had freed them. God deployed impossible power to vanquish a seemingly all powerful enemy.

Moving through the crowd, he found his fiancé, his youngest brother, his mother, and his father. They were safe. They had a future. God had given them that. From somewhere behind them, they heard singing.

The Lord is my strength and my might,*
   and he has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise him,
   my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
The Lord is a warrior;
   the Lord is his name.

(Exodus 15:2-3 NRSV)