Following the Staff
Readings: Exodus 17:1-7, Matthew 21:23-27, Secrets of Heaven #8554 (see below)
See also on Youtube at https://youtu.be/t6kmSOzFu9w
There is nothing easy about extended trips with lots of people! How many of us have hurled this command towards the back seat of a car: “you stop fighting or I’m stopping this car right now!” We might well resonate with Moses’ frustrated cry: What am I to do with these people! Traveling can bring us face to face with our flaws, as we are challenged to be resilient, flexible, patient, and resourceful. This is one reason why these wilderness stories can speak to us so deeply about traveling on the path of life. All the ways in which the children of Israel were challenged, we find in them a picture of how we are challenged, for we are all human, are we not?
This week, the Israelites are still traveling from place to place. They reach a place called Rephidim and find there is no water to drink. They start sniping at Moses, and again wonder why they were on the journey at all, if they are just going to die of thirst. The Lord answers them of course, and bids Moses strike a rock with his staff, so that it might flow with water for the Israelites to drink.
And like last week, this story is a picture of a kind of temptation we might experience during our life, from time to time. Let’s first contrast it with last week’s story. Swedenborg tells us that the story of the manna in the wilderness speaks of a challenge in which we cannot see or find or feel any goodness. In terms of our experience with the pandemic, for example, this might be like the tension and sadness and regret and disappointment we feel around not being able to do the things that we used to be able to do, see the people we used to be able to see; the fact that our normal ways of giving and receiving love and goodness are disrupted, and we might despair and worry about how are to experience our life now, how we will enjoy life, how we will survive the isolation, how we might have to adapt and let go of our expectations, or how we might have to reach out in new ways. And the question for that story becomes, do we believe that the Lord is working to bring into being goodness and love for a us in new ways, and to bring goodness and love and growth out of our challenge. If we can believe that, we will see the manna available to us.
This week, we get a picture of a different kind of temptation. Bread represents goodness; water represents truth.(1) The Israelites were thirsty, desperately thirsty. And this is a picture of a challenge in which we cannot see or find or feel any truth, a temptation in which we are thirsting for truth, wanting to know what is real and right and true, but for whatever reason, it feels obscure to us. (AC8568) To use a similar example as before with the pandemic, this might be a picture of how frustrating and anxiety-producing it is to not know what the right thing to do is, how to handle our everyday life in the absence of helpful information, or in the presence of conflicting information. During the last six months, we have all been learning about the virus a piece at a time, as science finds out more about how it works. But that means that we don’t always know what the best thing to do is, and that can, at the very least, throw us off balance. We have had and will continue to have, many questions: Do we need to disinfect our groceries? How many people are okay to be together if we are outside? How well will a vaccine work when we get one? How do we care for people’s emotional needs if we can’t gather together? When will life return to normal? Will it ever return to normal? There are so many things that we don’t know, or don’t know fully, or find that the knowledge is developing and not ready yet.
And those everyday questions we have are ultimately connected to much larger philosophical questions: what is our responsibility to each other? how much can or should we be expected to sacrifice? how can God let this happen? where is God in all this?
This is the final central question in many of our spiritual temptations. The Israelites were wondering “Is the Lord among us or not?” As we read the story, that doubt might seem incredible given the miracles that the Lord had already, visibly wrought for them. But I think it is a doubt that we can all recognize, right? Is this not the secret heart, the secret cry, of many of our own temptations? We look at the world right now, with all its challenges, and we wonder Where is God, is God among us or not? How does God engage with the world? What is God calling *me* to do?
And so we resonate with the exhausted, traumatized, thirsty Israelites wondering “Is the Lord among us or not?” but turning that vulnerable wondering into a concrete complaint: how can Moses (and by extension God) let us camp here without water?” Moses is exasperated. So God engages in a little religious theatre. He asks Moses to take his staff, the very staff that convinced Moses of God’s power, the very staff that was used to convince Pharaoh of God’s power, and in front of the elders, (which were the leadership of the Israelites), Moses reminds the people once again, God listens, God cares, God will provide and God has the power to do so. As water gushes forth from the rock, and we look at that water through the eyes of correspondences, we are likewise invited to ask: What gives truth its power? Swedenborgian doctrine is unequivocal: goodness and service gives any truth its power, and connecting with this goodness this is how the Lord is among us.
I would argue that you won’t find a more foundational doctrine in Swedenborgianism than the assertion that truth takes its life, takes its soul, from goodness. For truth to actually be true, it must forward, perpetuate and advocate for goodness, love and service. If some principle is devoid of goodness, then it can never be spiritually true, no matter if it *sounds* true to our brains, to our egos, to our emotions. No matter if it calms our fears and makes us feel better, or gets us what we want. Falsity can do that just as well as truth, maybe even more so.
We see this demonstrated in our other lectionary reading for today, from the gospel of Matthew. In it, the chief priests are asked a question, but they resist answering truthfully for self-centered reasons. They chose to answer in a way that would avoid any accountability, that would simply calm the crowds and get them out of a jam. Their thinking was not based in truth but in expedience. This is the irony of that story, that they were challenging Jesus authority yet abdicated their own because they did not value truthfulness.
They answered “We don’t know.” And that is not a bad answer, per se. There is definitely a lot we don’t know, all the time, and we should be willing to admit to that. But there is a difference between humility and avoidance. Because in the story of striking the rock with the staff, we are reminded of the basic things we *do* know. As we look for truth, as we endeavor to quench our thirst, we know that the power of truth lies in goodness. We may not know the answer to everything yet, now or ever, but we know that much. And that foundational knowledge can go a long long way.
Last week, the Israelites asked “What is it?” and we were reminded that, when we look to God for sustenance, that it might come to us in ways that we don’t immediately recognize. This week, we are looking less for sustenance and more for guidance. The question is more, what do we do? How do we orient our life and our behavior? And the answer is to follow the staff to the rock and watch it make the water flow. The answer is to look for truth that finds its power in love, service, sacrifice and dignity. This is the power that quenches our thirst, and keeps us on the journey. This is how the Lord is among us.
1 The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the LORD to the test?” 3 But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?” 4 Then Moses cried out to the LORD, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 The LORD answered Moses, “Go out in front of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the LORD saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?”
23 Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus replied, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 25 John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?”They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘Of human origin’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” Then he said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.
Secrets of Heaven #8554
The previous chapter dealt in the internal sense with a third temptation - a stage when good was lacking. The present chapter deals in the internal sense with the stage that came after the people had been given that good - a fourth temptation, in which truth was lacking. This temptation is meant by the grumbling of the children of Israel because they had no water; so they were given the truth of faith by the Lord, which is meant by the water from the rock of Horeb.
Manna in the Wilderness
Photo credit: Flora Westerbrook on Pexels
Readings: Exodus 16:1-15, Divine Providence #59 (see below)
See also on Youtube https://youtu.be/3xogv3no4WU
I don’t know about you, but this text feels very timely. It is speaking into my soul and into this moment. Perhaps you can, as I do, feel some resonance with the experience the children of Israel. Obviously, not with their literal circumstances, but with the metaphorical sense of being in the wilderness, of feeling unmoored, lost, unsure, abandoned, afraid. We are in challenging times right now, my friends. We are experiencing a global pandemic, with all the attendant uncertainties and stressors, our concerns about our safety and our livelihoods, about juggling the needs of our children and our work. We are experiencing a time of extreme political division in the United States (and around the world), a heightened tension around questions of human rights, political competence and honesty, the continuance of democratic ideals. We are experiencing a time of increased urgency around climate change; daily we receive notice of signs that we are running out of time to make the changes we need…the Greenland ice shelf breaking apart, orange skies from constant wild fires, an unprecedented Atlantic hurricane season.
So it is not surprising if we resonate with this story of a people in the wilderness, and particularly, perhaps, with how many times we are told that the children of Israel are grumbling. While it may at first be easy to dismiss this as petulance, we really know that what is underlying this impulse is fear and grief. Swedenborg writes that this is exactly what is indicated by the internal sense of their grumbling.(1) Even in the literal story, this makes sense, that a traumatized people might transmute their feelings of grief and fear into a type of complaining. Perhaps we do this, too? Perhaps we transmute our feelings of grief and fear into grievance, because grievance feels more powerful, more in control, more active?
And to be clear, I’m not talking here about oppression. When the Israelites cried out to God from the midst of slavery, this was true suffering, and true suffering deserves to be heard in authenticity and fullness. But that is a different thing to when we choose to retreat into grievance to avoid processing our own feelings of grief and fear. Part of the invitation of spiritual work is to notice our own grumblings and defensiveness and to go a little deeper, to willingly take on the responsibility of processing our own insecurities, so that we then might be able to show up to our lives with clarity and purpose, rather than just being reactive.
But interestingly, this story is not so much about what *we* do. While we can infer a message about our response to our own wilderness times, this story is more about God’s action. What this story tells us is that God hears us, hears our unprocessed grumbling and responds with compassion. We don’t have be a fully actualized person before God will hear our prayers. God sees who we are and sees what is below the surface and responds in a way that will help us to take whatever next steps we need into fuller understanding.
God stepped up into the experience of the Israelites and provided for them the most basic of securities: nourishment for the day. Many interpretations of this story talk about trust. The fact that the manna could not be hoarded, could not be kept beyond one day (except for the Sabbath) meant that the Israelites had to trust that it would be there every morning. They were being invited to salve their fear and grief and worry with the knowledge that God would show up for them consistently, that God was steadfast.
But what is standing out to me about this story today, is that while it can be argued that the grumbling came from a sense of distrust, the distrust itself came from an act of forgetting, or even an active misremembering.(2) As the Israelites experienced hunger in the wilderness, they cast their minds back to their time in Egypt and remembered the food available to them there. They yearned for their full bellies in that time, conveniently forgetting that the cost of that food was unrelenting labor. They yearned for the simplicity of knowing that food would be on the table, conveniently forgetting that the cost of that food was their lack of autonomy. They grumbled about the uncertainty of the wilderness, conveniently forgetting that God had just parted the Red Sea for them, conveniently forgetting all the miracles that had led to their freedom.
As so, as the Israelites wake in the morning and see the manna on the ground, they ask “What is it?” They meant it literally, as they had no idea what it was. But I also see a more poetic meaning to that question, one that points towards the forgetting that brought the manna to them in the first place.
The manna in verse 4 is called bread from heaven. Throughout Swedenborg’s interpretive landscape, bread means goodness.(3) Just as bread nourishes our bodies, so does goodness nourish our soul, our heart, our mind. Goodness and love given from ourselves to others, goodness and love offered to us from other people. We cannot live without it, in a most basic emotional sense. And so metaphorically, in this story, we are invited to see how God is committed to providing us with as much spiritual goodness as we are willing to gather in each day. And then God shows up again the next morning. This arrangement is not contingent on our diligence or our foresight; we don’t have to gather enough for both today and tomorrow or next week or next month. This arrangement is contingent on God’s nature; on the ongoing giving essence of God’s divine love.
But sometimes, many times, we forget. The stress of our lives, our ongoing challenges, contribute to a sense of amnesia about who God is. We might look back at previous times with longing, forgetting that *all* times have their challenges, and that God helped us through them even then. We might even look back and re-tell the story with ourselves as the hero. And then when we see the manna given to us, we look at it without recognition: what is it? Though God’s care for us has been manifest so many times before, we still ask, what is it? Trust is built on remembrance but there is so much that can distract us or tempt us from a true remembering.
And while we sometimes might forget the obvious goodnesses that come to us in challenging times: the sunset, the smile, the meal, the song, the nap that we needed; what we forget *most* often is that goodness also comes through our challenges, not just in spite of them. That God does of course apply a balm to our woundedness so that healing might come to us, but not as if somehow we could get back to being un-wounded. God helps us to see how goodness might come through our woundedness, how we might integrate our woundedness into our own sense of wholeness, and to know that no part of our experience is wasted, or alienated from God’s active care. We don’t recognize the manna because, on the outside, it doesn’t always look like something that will nourish us. But if we could remember how deeply God works for us, we might see…
…oh right, goodness happens when I have this kind of difficult, brave conversation. Oh right, goodness happens when I allow myself to rest. Oh right, goodness happens when I commit to doing the hard right thing. Oh right, goodness happens when I let myself grieve, or be angry, or stand up for myself. Oh right, goodness happens when I take this challenge and see what I can learn from it. Oh right, goodness happens when I put aside my version of how things are supposed to go.
Father Richard Rohr writes:
"If I were to name the Christian religion, I would probably call it “The Way of the Wound.” Jesus agrees to be the Wounded One, and we Christians are these strange believers in a wounded healer. We come to God not through our strength but through our weakness. We learn wisdom and come to God not by doing it all right but through doing it all wrong…If we do not transform our pain, we will always transmit it. Always someone else has to suffer because we don’t know how to suffer; that’s what it comes down to.(4)"
In this story, with all its grumbling, we find not a judgment but an invitation. An invitation to take an active part in our ongoing transformation, one that God modeled for us in Jesus. God knows who are all are. God knows our forgetful natures, our selective memories, our desire to feel that we have some control. As we grumble, God knows our grumbling can be a stepping stone into lament, that lament can be a stepping stone into surrender, and surrender can be a stepping stone into trust. We are given a gentle reminder: What is it? Oh right, I’ve seen this before. I’ve seen that:
In everything that it does, the Lord’s divine providence is focusing on what is infinite and eternal (4).
(1) Emmanuel Swedenborg, Secrets of Heaven #8402.
(2) Michael J. Chan, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4573
(3) Emmanuel Swedenborg, Secrets of Heaven #8414.
(4) Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation, “Transforming our Pain,” September 18, 2020
(5) Emmanuel Swedenborg, Divine Providence #46
1 The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt. 2 In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. 3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the LORD’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” 4 Then the LORD said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. 5 On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.” 6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you will know that it was the LORD who brought you out of Egypt, 7 and in the morning you will see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us?” 8 Moses also said, “You will know that it was the LORD when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the LORD.” 9 Then Moses told Aaron, “Say to the entire Israelite community, ‘Come before the LORD, for he has heard your grumbling.’ ” 10 While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the LORD appearing in the cloud. 11 The LORD said to Moses, 12 “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God.’ ” 13 That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread the LORD has given you to eat.
Divine Providence 59
…divine providence focuses on our eternal state at every step of our journey. It cannot focus on anything else because Divinity is infinite and eternal, and what is infinite or eternal or divine is not in time. It therefore sees the whole future as present. Since this is the nature of Divinity, it follows that there is something eternal in everything it does, overall and in detail.
People who think in terms of time and space find this hard to grasp, though, not only because they love temporal matters but also because they think in terms of what is present to people in the world and not what is present to people in heaven. This latter is as remote from them as the ends of the earth. However, people who are engaged with divinity base their thinking on the Lord and are thinking in eternal terms even while they think about what is present to them...
Thinking like this is thinking in terms of eternity even while we are thinking about what is present; and when we both think and live this way, then emanating divinity with us, or divine providence, focuses on the state of our eternal life in heaven at every step of our journey, and is leading us to it.
Crossing the Red Sea
Photo credit: Emiliano Arano on Pexels
Readings: Exodus 14:19-31, Secrets of Heaven #8206 (see below)
See also on Youtube at https://youtu.be/SeBh1ORLHXM
Today we pop up right in the middle of some serious action for Moses and the children of Israel. Let’s back up a little to set the scene. We left off back in July with the story of Jacob and Esau. Jacob would have son named Joseph, whose brothers would sell him into slavery in Egypt. But due to Joseph’s success there, eventually his whole family would join him as honored citizens in that new land. Over time, Joseph’s family grew into a numerous people, the children of Israel. And unfortunately, over time as well, the leaders of Egypt grew fearful of of the children of Israel and enslaved them, forcing them to perform hard labor. Into this situation comes Moses, an Israelite child secretly adopted into the Egyptian royal family, who after being called by God in the form of a burning bush, sets out to free his brethren. The Pharaoh, of course, has no interest in freeing such a lucrative source of labor for Egypt, but after God sends ten plagues upon him, he finally relents and lets the children of Israel leave.
And this is just about where we find ourselves in our text today. The children of Israel have followed Moses into the desert away from Egypt and towards his vision of the promised land. But eventually they come to the vast Red Sea, which hems them in and they can go no further. Even though Pharaoh agreed to their leaving, he cannot resist such a strategic gift, and he once again tries to assert his dominance. He orders his mighty army to pursue the children of Israel and bring them back.
The children of Israel are understandably afraid, and begin to wonder if they should have left Egypt at all. But God works a mighty miracle through Moses, who parts the waters of the Red Sea in two, so that the children of Israel might walk on dry land to the other side, and the pursuing Egyptians are drowned in the sea as the waters return.
This story has been a powerfully important narrative of liberation for many peoples over time. It gives hope because it tells us not only what God will do but what God is for. God is for the freedom and autonomy of people who are enslaved and diminished, and God is against forces that dominate and degrade and take advantage. This is an important thing to know about God.
The Swedenborgian interpretation brings it home to the level of our own personal psychological landscape: the domineering and hard hearted Pharaoh represents false ideas that enslave us. Perhaps we can all identify a particular idea that has gotten its hooks into us and prevents us from living as freely and authentically and as charitably as we might otherwise. Perhaps we have a story, a false but seductive story, that we tell ourselves about someone’s approval that we need, about our own lack of worthiness or conversely about our own natural superiority, a story about how we think things are supposed to go, about who our children are supposed to be, a story about what constitutes success, or honor, or safety, a story about what God wants that ever so conveniently coincides with what we also want.
We all have many notions such as these, bumping around inside of us. We are all enslaved to false ideas of some kind or variety, under the thumb of a metaphorical Pharaoh, being made to do Pharaoh’s bidding, and building mighty monuments that perpetuate his dominion, all inside our own mind. But the children of Israel represent our growing awareness that there is freedom that can be had, that there is something else beyond that which Pharaoh decrees. They represent truths becoming clearer from goodness and love. The growing recognition that the false Pharaoh idea does not serve love and goodness, doesn’t not perpetuate love and goodness, and it so must not be true. In this moment, we start to wriggle free from our servitude.
And our text today gives us one way of understanding how God is present for us within this dynamic. Newly free, newly exploring what it feels like to think differently, we are not always free and clear right away. Reframing or reimagining how we think is often a lengthy winding process. We start to let go, we explore new ways of seeing things, but the old ideas hang on, coming back for us when we are particularly vulnerable or stressed. This is pictured by the Pharaoh’s army pursuing us, well after we thought we were finally free of them. In these times, we might feel frustrated, disappointed, afraid. The children of Israel resort to some dark sarcasm towards Moses saying: “Were there no graves in Egypt that you have brought us into the desert to die?” They are panicking. But Moses tells them simply: “The Lord will fight for you; you need only be still.”
And from this we understand that we are not in this alone. When we wish for freedom from false ideas, from ingrained and habitual ways of thinking, God helps to preserve and grow that freedom within us. If we were to look at Swedenborg’s verse by verse interpretation of this story, every action that occurs, the pillars of fire and cloud standing in the way, Moses stretching out his arm, the waters parting and standing as a wall - they are all in various ways picturing how God works to protect us internally from the false ideas that we are trying to move away from. And what is particularly important about this dynamic is the one that is highlighted in the reading: we are active participants in the process. When we move away from false ideas, and back that up with choosing new behaviors that allow us to live in a new way, this is the dynamic into which God can act. Our false ideas, "they are constantly attempting to rush in…, but they cannot do so because the Lord's presence, residing in the goodness and truth, holds them back.” When we take our own steps towards freedom, tiny but concrete steps, good and loving steps, God resides in the growing goodness and love that is being born there, and works from the center of our being to expand our access to our new freedom, to our new ways of living. The biblical text is but a pictorial representation of a process that might well take many go arounds, but it helps us to get a sense of God’s will for us, and God’s desire to help us.
But now, as with all Swedenborgian interpretation, which makes the bible about our own internal process, it is important to turn in the other direction and broaden the scope, lest the message become too much about our own internal reality, or exclusively about the personal spiritual journey. The bible IS about the personal spiritual journey, but all of our personal spiritual journeys are inter-connected. The false ideas that govern our thinking, feeling and acting, ripple outward from us like the circles from a stone dropped in a pond.
False ideas based in dominion, control, cruelty, superiority, tribalism; they have a cost, not only a cost to our psyche, but an actual human cost. We need only return to the literal meaning of the story to see this in the false and evil idea that one culture should be allowed to enslave another. The personal and the societal work hand and hand. The Pharaoh, enslaved himself by avarice, ego, domination in own mind, turns around and enslaves the children of Israel in body.
When false ideas are enacted through policy and culture they create suffering. We all have a collective responsibility to prevent this suffering, and to recognize when our own inner Pharaoh is adversely affecting the lives of others. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr has said, no one is free until we are all free. And this takes on a particularly complicated shade when we get to verses 28-30:
28 The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen—the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived…30 That day the LORD saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore.
We might wonder, how are we supposed to react to this? Are we supposed to be happy that the Egyptian soldiers are dead? Does the bible include this verse so we can gloat and cheer that they got what was coming?
Surely not. One commentary that I drew from for this sermon pointed to the Talmud for illumination on this point, and I quote:
…ministering angels desired to sing a song of praise before God in response to the decisive victory over the Egyptians. God, however, said to them: “My handiwork [the Egyptians] are drowning in the sea, and you are reciting a song before me?” These observations illuminate Exodus 14’s ethical sophistication.(1)
I so appreciate how the author highlights this aspect. The parting of the Red Sea is an iconic, exciting and cinematic battle, and the ones we are rooting for, the children of Israel, are victorious! But this story doesn’t actually allow us to have it so easy. It resists being a “tribalistic, us-vs-them story.”(2) Even as we acknowledge that God saved the Israelites, we must also look at the Egyptian soldiers dead on the shore (in the very same verse, and the very same sentence), and grapple with what that means. God sees the human cost of false ideas, the human cost of division, the human cost of collective hubris and the diminishment of empathy and God grieves it all. Let’s be clear; the army was prevented by God from doing the harm that Pharaoh intended. God’s stand is not negotiable; God’s stands for the value of every human person, and means for enslavement, for dominion over others, to end, in whatever form it takes. But God looks back at the whole it, and grieves every lost life, even the ones lost while still living, like Pharaoh.
And thank goodness this is so, for otherwise our God would be nothing but the captain of our particular team, and what a small God that would be. Amen.
19 Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, 20 coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long. 21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the LORD drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, 22 and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. 23 The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea. 24 During the last watch of the night the LORD looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion. 25 He jammed the wheels of their chariots so that they had difficulty driving. And the Egyptians said, “Let’s get away from the Israelites! The LORD is fighting for them against Egypt.” 26 Then the LORD said to Moses,“Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen.” 27 Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward it, and the LORD swept them into the sea. 28 The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen—the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived. 29 But the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. 30 That day the LORD saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. 31 And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the LORD displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.
Secrets of Heaven #8206
'And the waters were a wall for them on their right and on their left' means that they were held back from falsities on every side…
 Goodness accompanied by truth destroys, that is, removes evil accompanied by falsity, because goodness is from God and consequently possesses all power…When the evils accompanied by falsities residing with a person are removed they stand around us, as stated, like a wall. They are constantly attempting to rush in on a person, but they cannot do so because the Lord's presence, residing in the goodness and truth, holds them back. These are the considerations meant by the waters being like a wall for them on the left and on the right…Yet no one can be held back from evil and maintained in good unless they have received that ability through exercising charity in the world. A life of good, that is, a life led in accordance with the truths of faith, and therefore an affection for or a love of good, achieves this. The person who has a love of and affection for good as a result of the life they lead can be in a sphere of goodness and truth, but not one who through the life they lead has taken on the nature of evil.