The great adventure begins! Moses had finally been able to convince the Jewish people, the slaves of Egypt, to seek freedom from their oppression. He had also finally been able to convince Pharaoh that it was in the best interests of Egypt to let the Jewish people go. So, the children of Israel have begun their great journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, from oppression to freedom, from living as slaves in Egypt to living as the Chosen People of God. What a great adventure!
But such a momentous journey turned out to be a much more difficult one than anyone, including Moses, had imagined. As soon as the Jewish people left Egypt, the Pharaoh changed his mind and sent his armies to re-impose his will by bringing back the slaves, at least those who would survive the confrontation. The army caught up with the slaves as they camped by the sea. The slaves were caught between the army and sea so there was nowhere to flee.
The Egyptians were elated, and the Jewish people lost heart and were in despair. They turned on their leader, Moses, with anger and berated him for bringing such calamity upon them. Moses turned to God. God responded, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the children of Israel to go forward….” God created a path for them, a path that turned out to be a safe path for the Israelites but a path to destruction for the army of Pharaoh.
This story marks the beginning of the great journey (the forty-year Exodus) of the children of Israel. This crisis that marks the beginning of the journey, is only the first of many. Again and again the people will lose heart and believe that their journey is impossible to complete because of outside forces: the hostility of their environment, lack of food and water, attack by other peoples, devastation by wild animals, and most tragically their infidelity to God. But God remains faithful throughout, patiently responding to their cries for help by meeting their needs and encouraging them not to lose heart.
As we live our lives, we, too, often fear that the obstacles we meet, the betrayal’s we experience, and the frailty of our faith will destroy us. This story of Exodus reminds us that God is always faithful, ever ready to hear our cries for help and give us new courage “to go forward” in our personal journey.
Fr. Michael Higgins, C.P. is the director of retreats at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.