Poetic Justice at the Red Sea
The recent Exodus: Gods and Kings made a splash by deviating from the biblical story—even the preview made one wonder how much liberty the director would take. Outside of Hollywood’s liberties, many have wondered if this story is even true. Maybe the whole story is a “special effect,” a fable. Many biblical scholars beg to differ, and Nicholas Perrin, professor of biblical studies at Wheaton College, is one of them. In the following portion from his book The Exodus Revealed: Israel’s Journey from Slavery to the Promised Land, he helps us grasp not only how the Israelites experienced the events surrounding the sea’s parting, but also how we might understand that “special effect” scientifically.
The Scriptures inform us that a pillar cloud had led the tribes the whole way [from Egypt]. Whatever its physical appearance, the column-like cloud would be all the more awe-inspiring by virtue of what it represented, for the Lord was in the cloud (Ex. 13:21). Moses, Aaron, and the tribal leaders instantly interpreted this as God’s leading presence, whether the average Israelite understood it as such—we don’t know. I believe so. Ancient Near Eastern mythology is filled with stories of gods who ride on the clouds. Although the Israelites knew so very little about this God to whom they were entrusting their very lives, they would have naturally associated a bright pillar cloud with theophany. The God of Israel was with his people.
“But,” the Israelites surely wondered in their hearts, “would that be enough?” We can hardly imagine the swirl of emotions. On the one hand, the cloud, having appeared quite suddenly, must have inspired feelings ...
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