Imagine the wonder of it: to witness the plagues, each one more awful than the one before, to see the hail lash the land and darkness to descend for three days, but only outside the Israelite neighbourhoods, to sense the angel of death passing overhead but to be safe inside one’s home, then, after the departure from Egypt, to gaze up at a huge pillar of cloud guiding the way by day and a pillar of fire by night. Most of all imagine what it must have been like to watch the waters divide, allowing passage to the whole people, only for the waters to return and drown the pursuing Egyptian forces: chariots, horses, spearmen and bowmen, officers and soldiers, every last one of them. Wondrous, but traumatic.
Now if I were the Managing Director of Promised Lands and I were interviewing the Israelites for the position of settlers in the land of Canaan, I would not have been much impressed by them. My first question would have been:
“Can you give me an example of when you have faced a challenge?”
A truthful reply would have had to be along the lines of, “Well, after God led us out of Egypt, we reached the sea and then saw the Egyptians pursuing us. That was a real challenge.”
“And what did you do?” I would have continued.
“Well, we sort of… um… we panicked, I suppose. Mind you, we did give Moses a good telling off for getting us into the scrape in the first place.”
“I see, and now,” passing to the next question on my list, “Can you tell me of an occasion when you took the initiative?”
Their faces might have lit up a little here, as they replied, “Yes, after we defeated the Egyptians… ah, we mean,.. after God helped us defeat the Egyptians – for which, by the way, we thanked Him with a wonderful song – we came to this place called Marah and couldn’t drink the water.”
“Mmm, yes and…”
“We complained to Moses. We did it without being prompted.”
“And did that solve the problem?”
“Ah yes,” they might have answered, gaining in confidence. “You see, Moses was really impressed. He threw bits of wood from a tree which God showed him into the water and then we could drink it.”
At this point, I would have wished to draw the interview to a quick close but I might have risked one more question.
“Can you give an example of when you have thought and acted strategically?”
“Oh yes, that’s easy. After the affair with the water, we began to take the long view and consider our history, so we accused Moses of taking us out of Egypt to starve us. The thing is that in Egypt we got lots of food, even if we did have to work hard and suffer the odd humiliation and beating.”
Now I would definitely have stopped the interview. I would have thanked them for coming and told them I’d let them know at the latest within the next forty years. And that would have been the end of it for the Israelites. I would have moved on.
“Sarah,” I would have said to my PA. “Have the Nomadic Turkmen representatives come in, will you.”
Except that it wasn’t the end for the Israelites, not the end for us, because God was able to see the potential in the people, despite their complaining and backsliding. They might have kept losing faith in God, but God didn’t lose faith in them. And with His gentle guidance, by the end of B’shallach, they were able to fight a battle against Amalek and win. A fit preparation for Yitro, which starts with Moses’ father-in-law giving him some excellent advice to shift some of the burden of leadership from his shoulders onto those of leaders of thousands, leaders of hundreds and leaders of tens. In this way, the people begin to take responsibility for themselves and to face up to challenges. They are ready now to receive a great revelation. To hear this, come to the service this Saturday at 10.30. Harvey Kurzfield will be leading us.