Let him who is convinced that his views are true and right express them . . . at every opportunity . . . without considering how much support or how much opposition he will encounter. Only falsehood is in need of many supporters in order to win the day; falsehood must have the authority of numbers to make up for what it lacks in justification. Truth, by contrast, will always prevail, even if it takes time. Noble, courageous and pure, expressed with all the fiery zeal and conviction and with all clarity of sure awareness, stated again and again at every opportunity, truth will ultimately gain respect and admiration even of those who do not accept it. The only truth that can be lost beyond recall is that truth whose adherents no longer have the courage to speak up candidly on its behalf. Truth has never gone down in defeat as the result of opposition, it has done so only when its friends are too weak to defend it. - R' S.R. Hirsch

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Water-Walk II: The Red Sea Prequel

To begin, let's go back to the book of Exodus, just after the first Passover has taken place.  Pharaoh has finally demanded that Israel leave Egypt, and the people immediately pack up and go.  They are journeying into the wilderness, and then G-d turns them around and leads them towards the Red Sea, which appears to be a dead end.  Back in Egypt, Pharaoh has changed his mind and decided to pursue Israel to wipe them out completely.  He gathers all of his chariots, horsemen and footmen and sets out to trap Israel at the seashore, where no one will be able to escape.  Ahead, the sea bars Israel's progress.  On both sides, impassable mountains block their way, while behind them Pharaoh's army approaches.  There is no way out.

The people of Israel lift up their eyes and see Egypt coming after them, and they are terrified.  Many cry out to G-d for aid, while some blame Moses for being the cause of their imminent deaths.  Moses tells the people not to fear, but to stand fast and watch G-d's salvation; they will never see Egypt like this again.

At this point, G-d says to Moses, "Why do you cry out to me?  Speak to the children of Israel and let them journey forth."  Why does G-d tell Moses to stop crying out to Him?  The Jewish rabbis deduced from this that Moses must have been praying to G-d for quite a long time, while the people became more and more panicked; now G-d is telling Moses that it is time to tell the people to act by crossing the sea.  While this detail may not seem important, you might want to store it away in your mind for now: prior to the crossing of the Red Sea, Moses had been praying to G-d for some time.
Next, G-d sends a powerful east wind which blows all night long.  As we watch this take place in our minds' movie screens, it is clear that a miracle is being performed here: the wind does not affect Israel when they cross the Sea from west to east.  Were this a natural wind, no one could stand up against it, much less travel directly into it.

The sea divides, and the people begin to cross. Now how would this have looked? If you've ever seen a seabed, you know that it is not a level expanse of sand. There are hills and valleys, rocks and crevices, cliffs and canyons that would make walking across the seabed very difficult, if not impossible. So how did Israel manage to cross along with all their young children, animals and possessions? Let's look more closely at the passage itself for a better picture.

"Dry Ground" - a Quicksand of Translation

Most English translations of Exodus 14:22 tell us that "the children of Israel came in the midst of the sea upon dry [ground], and the waters were a wall to them, on their right and on their left." Now as you read the translation of this passage, you may note that the word "ground" is in brackets (or italics, as the case may be), and for good reason: the word "ground" is not in the actual Hebrew text, but the translators have made an assumption and put it there in order to "fill in the blanks" of their understanding in order to make it more understandable to the English-speaking reader.

It must be understood that the word "ground" in this passage is not Scripture, but human commentary on the text.  Without any of the translators' additions, the verse would say that "Israel went in the midst of the sea upon the dryness."  So it must be understood that nowhere does the text say that G-d parted the waters right down to the seabed and then dried up "the ground" of the seabed to enable Israel to get across. 

In fact, Psalm 66 recounts the Exodus story and says regarding the crossing of the Sea, "He changed the sea into dryness...", that is, it does not say that G-d parted the sea to "reveal the dry ground", but rather that He actually "transformed" (Hebrew: haphak - "converted") the sea water into "dryness". The Hebrew word, "yabashah" , sometimes translated "dry", is legitimately translated "solid" in this particular passage.

Based on the above analysis, the famous Jewish commentator Ohr HaChaim taught a fascinating explanation of the Red Sea crossing.  He said that in order to spare Israel from having to navigate the rocky seabed, G-d separated the waters into two layers.  The upper layer He split, making the waters into a "solidified" wall on each side, but He caused the lower layer of water (the depths) to solidify underfoot, so that Israel could walk across on the surface of the depths, with protection on both sides by "solidified" wave walls.
This interpretation of events would also explain why the Bible frequently refers to Israel walking "in the midst of the Sea.  So, does the Ohr HaChaim have any other biblical proof of this claim, that there were layers in the sea, and that the lower layer of deep waters was solidified for Israel to walk across?  Let us look at Exodus 15, during the Song sung by the people immediately after the crossing: "At a blast from Your nostrils the waters were heaped up, straight as a wall stood the running waters; the deep waters became congealed in the heart of the Sea."  The Hebrew word "kapha", translated, "congealed" - literally means "to thicken; to be curdled; to become dense".  The Hebrew of the Bible says that the deep waters were "made dense"… in other words, they were solidified.

Israel walked through the night upon the top of solidified waves... as we look at that mental movie, comparisons start springing to our minds. "This was just like what Jesus did!" "He was showing Himself to be a second Moses!" Finally, we can understand the motivation behind the miracle, and appreciate the effect it must have had on the disciples.

"Seeing the Salvation of the L-RD"

Picking up where we left off, we see Israel crossing the sea... by walking on top of some water, with towering walls of water on each side... unhindered by the strong winds. Before we jump forward again to the time of Jesus, let's finish this particular part of the story. Israel proceeds to cross the sea throughout the night, but as morning approaches, Egypt is still pursuing Israel, and we can see their chariots gaining quickly.

At the "time of the morning watch", which is the last watchman's shift during the night and corresponds to 2:00-6:00 AM, G-d looked down upon Egypt and threw them into confusion, so much confusion that later on as the sea came crashing down on them, the Egyptians were actually running further into the sea, instead of running away from it.  Picture an army which suddenly has trouble figuring out which way is up... and then G-d made their chariots fall apart.
At this point, Egypt realizes that it is doomed.  Moses stretches out his hand one more time, and the water upon which the Egyptians also have been walking and driving returns "to its full depth", and the armored Egyptians sink like stones.  The walls of water then collapse, covering any trace of the Egyptian army, and all is still.  The people stand still in shock, looking back at the now-peaceful waters, while the wind dies away, leaving a great calm.  Then, as G-d brings the bodies of the Egyptians to the shore, and each of the people of Israel see their own tormentors powerless to harm them ever again, a great fear of G-d falls upon them... and then, all at once, they all simultaneously burst into a song of praise. 

As of this moment, after the miraculous crossing, they have a full and complete "faith in G-d, and in His servant Moses". Further trials and tests of faith may await in the future, but here and now they recognize the power of G-d and the authority He has given to Moses to be His representative.

According to the narrative found in Matthew 14, "Y'shua made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side... and He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray.  Now when evening came, He was alone there. But the boat was now in the middle of the sea, racked by waves, for the wind was contrary [an east wind]."
This sets up the scenario for us.  We have all the ingredients here to begin our comparison: it is late at night, there is a powerful east wind blowing over the water, the disciples are growing frightened, and Y'shua has been spending some time alone, praying at length.

The narrative continues:  "Now in the fourth watch of the night Y'shua went to them, walking on the sea.  And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a spirit!” And they cried out for fear.  But immediately Y'shua spoke to them, saying, “Courage! It is I; do not be afraid.” "
Note the time of night Y'shua chose to walk on the water: the fourth watch of the night.  The fourth night watch had another name: the 'morning watch', so called because it was the watch which finished as morning broke; it was between 3:00-6:00 AM.

Now what about the disciples' reaction to seeing Him?  Why the terror, why the cries of fear?  Most of all, why did they think it was "a spirit"?  You have probably seen translations which say that they thought it was a ghost (the departed soul of a dead person).  But the idea of dead men's ghosts walking around, the whole concept of 'haunting', while part of Anglo-Saxon lore, was completely foreign to the Jewish way of thinking.
Jewish belief understood that when a person died, their soul would never wander the earth.  Ghosts in white sheets were very popular in pagan European tradition, but not in the Judaism of Y'shua's day.  So what "spirits" did they believe in?  Well, that should be obvious to anyone who reads the Bible.  Unclean spirits, otherwise known as demons, were well-known in those days, and Y'shua cast out many unclean spirits who were possessing people.

He even referred to them in his teachings, telling of unclean spirits who, once cast out of a man, traveled through dry and desolate places seeking rest.  Unclean spirits were a fact of life, and the only people who denied their existence were the Sadducees, who didn't even believe in resurrection or Heaven or Hell. 

Keep in mind that nothing in the Scripture is put there by accident or in a careless way; every word has a purpose.  Since that is the case, what purpose does it serve for us to know that the disciples thought they saw an unclean spirit coming after them?  Could this be paralleling something in the Red Sea story, something we haven't discovered?  Let's take a look.

(To be continued . . .)

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