Miracles happen in the strangest places. If you haven’t seen one in a while, take a long stroll down the beach as the sun is setting. It doesn’t have to be any beach in particular; just find that mysterious boundary where the ocean comes to an end and dry land begins.
There is something mystical about this place. Leaping from the waters, wave after wave assaults the shore only to melt back into the sea, leaving a vanishing trail of foam to mark its retreat. As you stroll along this rhythmic boundary, each step creates fresh impressions on an empty canvas. Then, the sea heaves forward once again and washes them into the sands of history.
On these not-so-distant shores of beginnings and endings, the entire third day of creation is replayed throughout the world. Each time you cross the boundary between sand and surf, you step across the ages to the moment that God gathered up the seas and dry ground first appeared.
Approximately ten percent of the earth’s surface area is covered by these mysterious borders between land and sea. When you view them from the window of an airplane, the shoreline appears stable, well-defined, even “unwavering.” From high above, they trace the course we see on a globe at home. The shoreline of Florida really does have a panhandle, and Italy is seemingly giving Sicily the boot. This is the first miracle. God commanded the seas and oceans to stop right there, and they did. The vast ocean, whose depths and secrets remain a mystery, powerfully approaches this arbitrary border and then obediently retreats, repeatedly.
However, when you visit these same shorelines with your kids and start building sandcastles, these immovable boundaries seem far more “fluid.” What seems so stable when viewed from 35,000 feet, becomes pretty chaotic to the kid who just had his castle washed away by an unexpected wave. All of the digging, packing, designing, and imagining is gone in an instant as a wave washes the freshly constructed castle back into the beach.
You can see the disappointment in their eyes, but there is no going back. Their great castle, along with its moat, has been relegated to the past by a stream of foam that is racing back to the sea to the fuel the next wave. Something has been lost. But, something new is also gained. As God had originally pulled back the waters to free the land, these new boundaries created space for new opportunities and new hope. The future has been cleaned like a slate and given a new chance to build again, to start anew.
We live within similar rhythmic boundaries between our endings and beginnings. The past is always coming in waves, relentlessly storming the shore of the present. Each wave brings change and opportunity, uncertainty and freedom. Within these boundaries of endings and beginnings, the future is forged.
Unfortunately, we have a tendency to move inland and seek higher ground. Security, safety, and stability are found a bit further from the shoreline. We might want to listen to the waves from a distance, but we really prefer to build our castles once and dig our moats deep. We may vacation along the beaches of uncertainty and occasionally embrace the unknown, but we would rather not live there.
• • •
Three million Israelites followed Moses out of Egypt, ending a terrible period of slavery and beginning a new era as a free nation. However, it was not long before they found themselves standing on another shoreline. Across the waves of the Red Sea, an unfamiliar freedom awaited. Behind them, the great Egyptian army aggressively approached, bringing the past. Waves of hopelessness and fear were crashing around them.
As the water reached their feet, the familiarity of their past and the comfort of the known, which included the oppressive grip of slavery, seemed increasingly appealing. As the thunder of the Egyptian chariots shook the ground, the courage of God’s people drained into the sand. In fear, they cried out to Moses, begging to return to the oppression that they knew.
Moses held his ground. He turned to his frightened people and declared, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the LORD will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again.” (Exodus 14:13) Moses was looking to the future with hope and trusting in the God who had just miraculously freed them from the clutches of Pharaoh. He believed that the God who restrained the Red Sea to the shoreline where they now stood could also save them from the approaching chariots. The sea was their future if they were willing to move forward.
According to the account in Exodus, God commanded Moses to hold out his staff over the waves, causing a new set of boundaries, a new shoreline to be formed through the heart of the Red Sea. I guess if God can stop an ocean, the northern tip of the Red Sea was a piece of cake.
However, there is a slightly different story told in the Jewish Midrash about the moment the Red Sea opened an express lane for the Israelites. According to the rabbis, when the Israelites reached the Red Sea, it did not automatically part. Instead, a man named Nachshon ben Aminadav played an important role in this critical moment.
At first, Nachshon faced the sea, and stepped his foot into breaking waves. The sea still did not relent. Nachshon continued as the water reached his knees. Still, the sea held its place and the hoof beats began to roar louder. In faith, Nachshon forged ahead to his waist and then to his chest. The only change was the increasing thunder of Pharaoh’s chariots. Everyone standing on the shore watched. Were they asking themselves at what point would Nachshon turn around and give up? Were they hoping he would succeed? Or, were they shaking their heads at his act of desperation? Were they glad that someone else had the faith to march toward freedom so they wouldn’t have to? The space between endings and beginnings is always a dangerous place and reserved for the courageous.
The water reached his neck. Nachshon faithfully took the next step. As the waves touched his nostrils… at this last possible moment... the Red Sea relented.
• • •
Boundaries are never to be underestimated. So much of life, perhaps more than we expect or dare to admit, is defined by the fleeting moments of our beginnings and endings. As each new wave is driven toward the beach, it pulls with it water returning from the shore; each ending becoming part of a new beginning, and each beginning strengthened by the remembrance of an ending. And in the middle, in the midst of the boundaries and the relentless flow, courage is forged.
So go, build a new sandcastle for today.