Beshalach (When He Sent Away)
Exodus 13:17–17:16; Judges 4:4–5:31; Revelation 19:1–20:6
“When Pharaoh let the people go [beshalach / sent way, released], God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, ‘If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.’” (Exodus 13:17)
Last week in Parasha Bo, the Israelites ate the first Passover meal in haste, with their sandals on and their bags packed in anticipation of their miraculous deliverance from Egypt. In fact, after the final plague—the death of the firstborn—Pharaoh drove the Israelites out of Egypt.
They left Egypt in such haste that they did not have time to allow the yeast (chametz) to rise in their dough, so they baked unleavened bread (matzah).
This week’s portion of Scripture, Parasha Beshalach, is packed with exciting drama—the daring escape of the Israelites from Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, and both water from a rock and manna from Heaven as a source of supernatural provision.
In Parasha Beshalach, God does not lead the Israelites out of Egypt on the shortest route possible, but instead leads them by a Pillar of Cloud by day and a Pillar of Fire by night on an indirect course.
Because God leads the Israelites on a roundabout path, Pharaoh perhaps assumes they are lost and that he has finally gained the victory.
He pursues them with his military forces, thinking that he has them pinned against the sea. He is certain they will have no option but to resubmit to his leadership and return to slavery.
But God has an unusual victory in mind—one that stirs the heart with faith and fires the imagination with the kinds of acts that God is willing to perform on behalf of His people.
He moves the Pillar of Cloud between the Israelites and Pharaoh. And while the Cloud brings darkness to the Egyptians, it illumines the way for the Israelites.
Still, in that moment, all the Israelites see is that they are trapped with the Red Sea in front of them, the armies of Egypt behind them, and mountains on either side. They have no inkling of the victory ahead of them and they are absolutely terrified!
In their terror, they turn against Moses, blaming him for their predicament. They accuse him of leading them into a certain death in the desert.
“Was it because there weren’t enough graves in Egypt that you brought us out to die in the desert? Why have you done this to us, bringing us out of Egypt?” (Exodus 14:11)
God’s answer to Moses’ plea for Divine intervention might seem surprising.
He says, “Why do you cry out to Me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward!” (Exodus 14:15)
At God’s direction, Moses puts out his staff and the waters of the sea part so they can cross on dry ground.
At daybreak, after they had all crossed safely, the Pillar of Cloud lifts, which allows the Egyptian army to move.
Pharaoh commands his army to pursue the Israelites through the parted waters of the sea. As the wheels of the chariots begin to jam in the midst of the sea, Pharaoh’s army understands that the God of Israel is indeed working on behalf of His people.
“And the Egyptians said, ‘Let’s get away from the Israelites! The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.’” (Exodus 14:25)
Pharaoh’s military might is utterly shattered as they are swallowed by the Red Sea.
“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.” (Exodus 14:28)
A Time to Pray and a Time to Act
Hysteria, panic, and looking for someone to blame might be our first reaction to a crisis, but God desires that we learn to cry out to Him and trust Him to fight our battles.
“I said in my haste, ‘I am cut off from before Your eyes,’ nevertheless You heard the voice of my supplication when I cried out to You.” (Psalm 31:22)
No matter what enemy we are facing, or how desperate our need, the answer is always to confidently call on the Lord, knowing He will answer us.
There are perhaps times when lengthy prayers are appropriate; however, when the Israelites were pinned against the Red Sea with the enemy pursuing them, it was not one of those times!
The Torah teaches us here that when our survival is at stake, action takes precedence over contemplation. Trust in God must be paired with the courage to act.
It took courage to walk between walls of water and faith to realize that they would not close on them.
Thus the nation was transformed from passive victims to active participants in their own salvation as they step bravely into the midst of the sea, marching forward through a dry seabed.
This act of courage marked the beginning of their transition from slavery to freedom.
Just like the Israelites at the Red Sea, we need to overcome any type of slave or victim mentality in order to possess our birthright. We are children of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, not slaves, beggars, or second-class citizens.
We must become people who confidently step out in faith, trusting God to direct our footsteps.
Fears, doubts, and insecurities often paralyze us, but in the same way that it’s pointless to steer a parked car, we cannot expect direction if we are passive and refuse to move forward. Kadima (onward)!
God intervenes with a miracle after we take the first step of faith.
The Song of the Sea
Because of God’s awe-inspiring display of power at the Red Sea, the Israelites understand that God is sovereign, that He is committed to them, and that Moses is the servant of the Living, All-Powerful God of Israel.
It is a defining moment. God has completely destroyed enemies who were actively pursuing them. He has also revealed that no force can stand against Him.
And while the Israelites are relieved and jubilant, they also fear God with a deep reverence.
“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.” (Exodus 14:31)
In a joyful outpouring of conviction, Moses and all Israel sang a song of praise to God called the Shirat HaYam (Song of the Sea) or Az Yashir Moshe (Then Moses Sang).
“Then Moses [Az Yashir Moshe] and the Israelites sang this song to the LORD: ‘I will sing to the LORD, for He is highly exalted. Both horse and driver He has hurled into the sea.’” (Exodus 15:1)
This song is more than an expression of fleeting joy or emotion; it is a beautiful song of enduring faith.
This song is so beloved that it is recited daily and read twice publicly every year from the Torah: once on Shabbat Shirah, which is this Saturday, and also on the Seventh Day of Pesach (Passover), when the Miracle of the Splitting of the Red Sea is commemorated.
The Song of Miriam: From Bitterness to Joy
Singing, dancing, and playing instruments in praise to the Lord is an expression of the joy we feel in the victories the Lord works on our behalf.
In fact, the tambourine is also called Miriam’s Drum, since immediately after the Song of the Sea is finished, Miriam and the women went out with tambourines and danced for joy singing what is called Shir Miryam (Song of Miriam), which echoes the first line of the Song of the Sea.
Rabbinic commentators believe that Miriam and the women, being confident in God’s redemption, brought their musical instruments with them when they left Egypt. By faith, they understood in advance that God would bring the victory.
Ironically, Miriam’s name comes from the Hebrew word mar, which means bitter.
Miriam had known the bitterness of slavery in Egypt. Despite having experienced such terrible suffering, she was able to lead the other women to the heights of great joy.
Deborah and Barak’s Song of Thanksgiving
“Hear this, you kings! Listen, you rulers! I, even I, will sing to the Lord; I will praise the Lord, the God of Israel, in song.” (Judges 5:3)
Haftarah Beshalach also highlights a song of praise that follows a miraculous victory over an oppressor of Israel.
After 20 years of cruel oppression under Sisera (the commander of the army of Jabin, the king of Canaan), Israel cried out to the Lord.
Deborah, the prophet who was leading Israel at that time, called for her army commander, Barak, telling him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them up to Mount Tabor. I will lead Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.’” (Judges 4:6–7)
Because Barak said he would go only if Deborah accompanied him, they led the offensive together.
Sisera learned from Heber, a descendant of Moses’ brother-in-law, that Barak and his men had gone up Mount Tabor, so he summoned all his men to the Kishon River.
Barak and his 10,000 men came down from Mount Tabor and annihilated Sisera’s troops; however, Sisera fled on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber.
When Sisera fell asleep exhausted, Jael killed him by driving a tent peg through his temple.
Following that, the Israelites fought against Jabin, destroying him, as well.
Deborah and Barak’s ensuing song of thanks recounts how the Kishon River swept Sisera’s troops away, praising the Lord and those who had the courage to act.
The Bitter Waters of Marah
“March on, my soul; be strong!” (Judges 5:21)
Decisive victories that result in joy and worship do not mean that everything is going to be easy afterward.
Despite the great outpouring of faith in the Song of the Sea, the Israelites faced many challenges and hardships in the wilderness.
In one instance, for three days after crossing the Red Sea, the people travel through the desert without finding water. When they arrive at Marah (feminine name derived from mar), they are thirsty, but the water they find there is bitter (mar).
This Hebrew name meaning bitter (Marah) is also found in the book of Ruth. Because of Naomi’s bitterness after losing her husband and both her sons, she changes her name from one that means “pleasant” to Marah.
Like Naomi, many are bitter against God because of loss, disappointments or unexplained tragedies.
Some of us are bitter against people who have hurt, abandoned, betrayed, or mistreated us. Some are bitter against all the injustices of life itself.
In this Parasha, God shows Moses a tree to throw into the water to cure it of bitterness. The tree makes the water sweet and good to drink.
“And he cried unto the Lord; and the Lord showed him a tree, and he cast it into the waters, and the waters were made sweet.” (Exodus 15:25)
Likewise, for us, there is only one way to turn the bitter waters sweet: the tree upon which Yeshua was executed will cure our bitterness.
When we look up to Yeshua nailed to the tree for our sins and hear Him say, “Abba, forgive them,” then we find our bitter waters healed.
It is not a coincidence that at the waters of Marah, God first reveals Himself as our healer (Rophe—doctor / physician).
Perhaps the primary healing we need is for our hearts to be healed of bitterness.
God promises the people that if they will listen to Him and keep His commandments, then He will put none of the diseases upon them that he put on the Egyptians; “for I am YHVH your physician (healer).” (Exodus 15:26)
Another challenge the Israelites meet in the wilderness is the depletion of the provisions they carried with them from Egypt.
By the fifteenth day of the second month, they are longing for the delicacies found in Egypt, and they grumble.
In response, God gives them manna and quail.
Later, at Rephidim, they quarrel and test God, demanding water. In response to their need, God commands Moses to strike the Rock so that water is miraculously provided for them.
Because of their quarreling, that place is called Miribah, which is derived from the root riv (argue). (Exodus 17:7)
Complaining and arguing opens the door to the enemy, and there at Rephidim, the Amalekites attack the Israelites. (Exodus 17:8)
During that battle, the Israelites are victorious as long as Moses holds up his hands with the staff of God. But when he lowers his hands, Israel suffers defeat.
So, too, if we fix our gaze on Yeshua (Jesus) who sits at the right hand of God, we will have an overcoming faith that leads to victory. But when we begin to look down at our inadequacies and our problems, then we begin to sink in defeat.
The response of the Israelites to the challenges and hardships they faced in the wilderness serve as an example and a warning for all Believers.
Even though God brought them out of Egypt and worked great miracles on their behalf, all except two of that generation perished in the wilderness due to unbelief. Only Joshua and Caleb entered the Promised Land.
“So we see that they were unable to enter because of lack of trust.” (Hebrews 3:19)
When we meet challenges and face hardships, or realize that God is not leading us on the shortest route possible, we must hold onto our confidence that He will meet every nee and see us through every battle, no matter how desperate the situation looks or circuitous the route.
“Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.” (Hebrews 10:35–36)
Even when our patience is tried and we are going through difficult times, we can have our instruments ready to sing songs of praise in anticipation of the coming victory.
Such confidence is in keeping with the spirit of those overcomers who sing the Song of Moses and the Song of the Lamb in Heaven:
“Those defeating the beast, its image and the number of its name were standing by the sea of glass, holding harps which God had given them. They were singing the song of Moshe, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb: Great and wonderful are the things you have done, Adonai, God of heaven’s armies!” (Revelation 15:2–3)