Story of the Chosen People - Helene Guerber

The Crossing of the Red Sea

The Israelites, having finally got Pharaoh’s permission to go out into the wilderness, made ready to start. First they borrowed all the golden ornaments of the Egyptians, and then they roasted and ate the lambs whose blood had marked their doorposts.

When they set out, they carried with them some dough which had not had time to rise; and they baked bread from it at their first halting place. In memory of this flight from Egypt, the Jews, at the yearly celebration of the feast of the Passover, still eat the flesh of a lamb and unleavened bread.

The Israelites numbered more than six hundred thousand men, without counting the women and children; but they all followed Moses into the desert, the Lord himself showing them the way by going before them in a pillar of cloud by day, and in a pillar of fire by night.

The Israelites had not been gone long when Pharaoh regretted having allowed them to depart. So he gave orders that an army should set out in pursuit of them, with "six hundred chosen chariots, and all the chariots of Egypt, and captains over every one of them."

The Egyptian cavalry soon came in sight of the host of fugitives, who had stopped near the shores of the Red Sea. Pharaoh rejoiced, for he imagined that it would now be a very easy matter to force them to turn around and come back.

But the Israelites, who had never been very anxious to leave their homes in Egypt, although they had been so badly treated, were terrified when they saw the sea in front of them, and Pharaoh’s army behind them. In their fear, they began to murmur against God, and found fault with Moses for bringing them there only to perish.

But when Moses raised his rod, the waters of the sea parted, and allowed the Israelites to go across dry shod. The waters were held back by a high east wind which God had sent for that purpose, and the gale blew all night, until all the people had passed over.

Morning came, and Pharaoh and his army pursued the fleeing host. But now the wind ceased to blow, and the waters, no longer held back, rushed upon the Egyptians and drowned them all.

The Israelites, who had seen the "great work which the Lord did," now believed the Lord and his servant Moses; and the latter celebrated their deliverance by a grand song of triumph and thanksgiving.

Next Moses led the people southward, into the wilderness, where they suffered greatly from thirst, because they could find no water. At last they came to Marah, where there was water in abundance; but they were greatly disappointed when they found that it was bitter and not fit to drink.

The people began to murmur sorely, but Moses, advised by God, sweetened the water by a miracle, so that they could drink to their hearts' content. From Marah the Israelites now wended their way through the desert once more, until they came to an oasis, where they rested for a while.

When they began their journey again, they passed into another part of the wilderness, where the food which they had brought with them soon gave out. As the Lord did not wish his people to starve to death, he now sent them plenty of quails, and rained down their daily bread from heaven in the form of Manna.

On this occasion God reminded the Israelites that they were to do no work on the Sabbath, for no manna fell then, while a double portion was given them the day before.

By Moses' order a measure of this heavenly food was gathered and carefully kept, so that the Israelites, in years to come, might show their children a sample of the wonderful food upon which they had fed all the time that they were in the desert. Strengthened by this food, they journeyed on in comfort, until they again began to suffer from lack of water.

The ground was hard and dry, and there was not a stream to be found where the people could quench their thirst. They were in despair, and Moses, not knowing what else to do, began to pray for water. In answer to this prayer, God bade him strike a certain rock with his wonderful rod. As soon as Moses had done so, there gushed forth from it a stream of pure water. The people, who saw this miracle with delight, could now satisfy their great thirst, and as they did so they thanked God for giving them plenty of water in time of need.

Danger of death from lack of water was scarcely over, when the Israelites saw the army of the Amalekites coming to meet them. As soon as Moses saw these foes, he bade his captain, Joshua, lead the fighting men against the enemy, while he himself knelt on a hill nearby, fervently praying for victory. There he soon noticed that as long as his hands were uplifted his people were strong, but that the Amalekites had the best of the fight as soon as he let his hands fall. So, fearing that his arms might drop from weariness, Moses bade his brother Aaron and another man stand on either side of him, and support his hands, while he fervently prayed until the victory was won.