It caught me unawares as the Scripture sometimes does. Wilderness, perhaps, the word which snagged on the edges of my consciousness. Or shut them in. For I have felt like that too.
But I was not expecting to be caught on this verse of Exodus 14. No, I was running ahead to the verse about the LORD fighting. Only having to be silent. And the verse about the dry ground and the waters a wall. No, I was not expecting this verse, the one where YHWH tells the people to turn back.
Then the LORD said to Moses, 2 “Tell the people of Israel to turn back and encamp in front of Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, in front of Baal-zephon; you shall encamp facing it, by the sea. 3 For Pharaoh will say of the people of Israel, ‘They are wandering in the land; the wilderness has shut them in.’
The wilderness has shut them in. The great open spaces have shut them in?
But even as I ask how Pharaoh could think it, I understand it. That to exchange narrow place for broad places is sometimes not what we thought. That, though it is his delight which gives Israel spacious places for her feet, it may be gift that overwhelms her. That wilderness could shut her in.
And I hear the Scripture whisper to my heart too. Whispering that wilderness, the place where I find myself again so soon, could make me choose to wander in manageable circles, follow well-worn paths for my feet as I tread again and again the same land. That, as I cower almost petrified by the intensity of the emotion it has unleashed, stand stunned by the utter disorientation of points of reference removed, the vastness of it could shut me in.
The wilderness could shut me in.
Or I could look for the cloud which brings both darkness and light. Darkness to Egypt. But to Israel light.*
* This is a meditation on the passage preached in chapel this morning. The reading came from the NIV which draws out this implication in 14:20; although it is not to be seen in the literal word-for-word translations, some commentators seem to think this is the reasonable implication of the actual Hebrew words in this verse.