I remember studying in Israel and longing to go to the coast, see the Mediterranean Sea, and swim in it. I remember asking some of my Jewish friends if they wanted to go. There was more than one of them that said, “Oh Matt, Jews don’t do water.” What? Why not? I inquired if it was modesty thing from their religious culture. No. And it’s not a hair thing? No. “So what is it?” I asked. “Oh Matt, go read your Bible,” one of my friends said dismissively.
Well, today I may have finally found the answer! And it is in today’s Exodus reading. This is a central story to Jewish identity. Moses, with outstretched hand, is leading the people across the Red Sea. The Egyptians are following. The wall of water forms. The Lord turns part of the sea into dry land, and they pass on dry ground.
You know how the story ends. The Egyptians are trapped in the sea, and eventually drowned.
Part of the reason for my friends joking about their aversion to water may have to do with the fact that the story of Jewish identity, in fact all of our identity, comes about through the dry land/dry ground distinctions of our faith. In Genesis, those of us on dry land are set apart in God’s creation. Here in Exodus, the “dry landers” become those chosen as God’s people. In Joshua, dry land leads the people to the promised land. With the East wind, the strength of the Lord, and the guidance of Moses, the identity of God’s Chosen people is hewn.
In Jonah we also see the sea as a force, and as a metaphor of chaos and death. To be on the rock, or on sure footing, or on dry land is seen as blessing and power. It certainly was for Noah.
Time and time again we see a consistency in the story. Frankly it is good writing. It is easy for children to remember and track. It makes for good bedtime stories.
It also leads us on a journey to discover God at work more deeply in our lives. Where are the waters of chaos in our lives? What is dry land going to look like for us spiritually? Where and how will I find that dry land?
These are the questions that God is asking us. And as we remember the goodness and the guidance God has already given us, let us be thankful for the dry land we have, and continue to seek out the dry land we need.