The little boy stood on the seashore, mixed emotions tumbling in his mind. He and his people were trapped. There was no way forward and nowhere to retreat.
Yet, his heart was full of joy and his eyes were shining. He pursed his lips and let out a single, clear note.
“I can whistle!” he said to himself.
“I can whistle!” he shouted, and he turned away from the water and ran up the bank to find his brothers to tell them his good news.
His two older brothers, Yosef and Isaac, dismissed his accomplishment.
“How can you think of whistling, Perez, when the fate of Israel hangs in the balance?” they demanded, their disdain evident in their eyes.
The child turned away, saddened for a moment. But then he found Daniel and Hosea, his younger brothers. Their eyes widened with admiration as he demonstrated his new found skill again and again.
In the distance a cry rose up.
“The Egyptians are coming! The Egyptians are coming!” Panic ripped through the camp. Women screamed and began to search frantically for their children. Daniel and Hosea scurried back to their tent, where their mother was grabbing possessions, clutching Tirzah, her small daughter to her which made the child shriek in protest. Men ran up and down the bank. Only a few had slings or clubs. In each man’s heart was fear. Across the camp, voices were raised to Yahweh as the men turned to look for Moses.
“Did you bring us to die here in the desert because there were no graves in Egypt? We told you it would be better for us to serve the Egyptians. We pleaded with you to leave us where we were. Now look at us! We are going to die in the desert.”
Moses stood on a small rise down by the sea.
“Don’t be afraid. Stand firm. You will see how the Lord will save you today. Do you see these Egyptians? You will never see them again. The Lord will fight for you. Just be still.”
The shouting stopped as Moses turned his back on them. Yosef and Isaac ran straight past Perez.
“Abba says we must join him in the tent and help Ima carry things,” they called as they dashed past. Perez wanted to watch Moses, but he knew the cost of disobedience, so he followed his brothers, stumbling now and again on the rough ground. The desert was a hard and rocky place.
“What’s going to happen, Abba?” the boy asked as he burst through the entrance to the tent. A strange mixture of fear and excitement made his voice more shrill than usual.
“I don’t know, Perez. But what I do know is that we have come here by Yahweh’s command, and he will not desert us. We may appear trapped, but Yahweh will show us the way. You can see the pillar of cloud ahead of us. And you have seen the pillar of fire when it is dark. Yahweh has led us here. We are where he wants us to be.
“Look at Moses. Even now, as he stands on that small rise in the ground he’s not watching the Egyptians, but looking away from them across the sea. Be alert, my son. Capture every moment of this time for Yahweh is at work here.”
Perez’ mother was relieved the family was all together again. She began to give them orders as to what to take and what to leave.
“Come, boys, there’s no time to talk. We must move and be ready to do as Moses tells us.”
Daniel and Hosea were standing shoulder to shoulder, watching the feverish activity of their mother with wide eyes. Hosea had his thumb in his mouth. Perez knew they were trying to give each other the courage they needed. He wondered if they could understand the consequences of the events which were looming over them. He wasn’t sure he understood, but he could feel the fear in the camp.
Perez looked at the pillar of cloud. It was not moving forward, yet Perez was sure the Egyptians were still racing across the desert towards them. They would have horses as well as war chariots and weapons. Apart from the few slings and clubs some of the men possessed, Perez knew there were no other weapons of war in the camp. He tried to harden his heart against the fear that flooded through him. He was not a baby any more. After all, he could whistle! That meant he was no longer a little boy anymore! A pang of regret struck him. Maybe he was never going to have the opportunity to be a man.
As he gazed at the cloud it began to move. Instead of moving ahead of them, signalling their departure, it swung above their heads and settled behind them.
“Abba, look at the cloud!” As they watched, it began to glow, filling the camp with golden light. Perez could no longer see the cloud of dust being raised up by the Egyptian army.
“It’s as if Yahweh is hiding us from the Egyptians, Abba,” he whispered, as he tugged his father’s arm.
“Yes, my son. We can trust Yahweh.” He squeezed the little boy’s hand. Perez turned around to gaze at Moses.
“Look at Moses, Abba. What’s he doing?”
The family stared down the bank to the shore where Moses still stood, his hand stretched out towards the sea. As he did so, a wind began to blow, gently at first but gaining strength by the moment.
The surface of the sea ruffled and became restless as the wind strengthened.
“Look!” Yosef cried, “the wind’s not moving the sand. It’s only moving the water. Look!”
It was true. There was no dust in the air. Only the waves tossed on the sea as if a hand was stirring them up from deep within.
But they were strange waves. They did not lap against the shore as they had been doing earlier in the day. They ran north and south along the sea’s length.
Intrigued, the Israelites stood in silence watching. Moses did not move and the wind grew stronger, and the waves grew higher. Flowing south and north, a furrow developed where the waves formed.
The wind blew and the furrow deepened. It became a valley, with waves as the surrounding hills. It was dark now but, by the light of the glowing cloud, the Israelites watched in amazement as the waves part and the seabed open before them. There was a strip of dry land between the two walls of water.
A path of dry land between two walls of water? How could this be? Moses turned to the people and gave a command.
“Go! Take your children and your animals; carry your possessions and leave. Walk through the water. Yahweh is with us. He is opening the way for us. Go, my people. Take courage and walk forward.”
Excitement flooded the camp as the people realised the sea had opened for them so they could walk between the waves.
Perez looked at his father. For a moment, he thought he detected a fleeting glimpse of fear flash across his father’s face before the tall man straightened his shoulders and turned to them.
“Come, my sons, let us do as Moses commands us.” He put his hand gently on his wife’s shoulder, then turned and gathered up an armful of their possessions, telling the boys to do the same. They all hurried aware the Egyptians were still in hot pursuit.
Wide-eyed, the family followed their father down to the shoreline. Already ahead of them, people and animals were walking between the walls of water.
“Stay together, boys,” their mother called as she hurried to keep up with them. “Don’t move away from us on the seabed.” Her voice trembled with fear and the boys suddenly understood the danger they were in. What would happen if the waves crashed back down on them?
Perez hesitated. He wanted to turn and run away, but he realised the only way to survive was to go forward with his family. Cautiously they joined the stream of people heading for the chasm. Perez could hear cries of delight from the people ahead. He glanced at Yosef and Isaac. Their eyes were shining and they began to stride ahead, eager to see what others already saw.
Perez hurried to keep up with them, ignoring his mother’s cries to wait.
Then he understood.
For the land between the towering walls of water on each side of them was dry; and, apart from the rocky bottom of the sea, the path was easy. As Perez peered up at the strange phenomenon of the water barriers, he could see dark shapes moving within their depths. For a moment he was puzzled. What could they be? Then he realised.
He could see fish, their eyes glinting in the strange light from the glowing cloud behind them. It was a curious sight, watching the fish appear and disappear for they seemed to be observing the Hebrews, just as perplexed by the sight of men and women passing through their world as the people were, to see them in the water.
Perez glanced behind him. Hordes of people were entering the path Yahweh had opened up before them; but right at the back, he could see the high, shining cloud of the Lord’s presence. There was no sign of the Egyptians behind them.
The animals were herded through the open corridor. They sounded their objections to the dry, strange land which was hemmed in by walls so high, nothing else was visible. The golden light was eerie as it reflected off the banks of water, sparkling brightly, but not quite real. The bleating and lowing of the sheep and cattle echoed through the passage. Children were running backwards and forwards, shouting and pointing out the various sights and sounds of this strange experience.
The three boys began to run. They wanted to see what happened at the end of the corridor and raced some of their cousins and friends. Dodging sheep, carts and elderly people, who were moving slowly but steadily along the trail, they sprinted through until they broke out of the watery passage onto the land on the other side.
“Come on,” called Isaac, “let’s go back.” So they all turned back and ran to their family, as their parents and younger brothers and sister made their way through the waterway.
“Boys, slow down! Wait for us now. We need your help here with the animals and the little ones.”
Isaac hoisted Hosea onto his shoulders, and Yosef took Tirzah from his mother. Daniel clutched her skirt as he hurried, desperate to keep up with her. Perez went to his father to help him with the animals.
“Are you aware of what is happening, my son?” his father asked him. “Do you understand what Yahweh has done for us?”
“I think so, Abba. But what about the Egyptians? Won’t they follow us through the passage?”
As he asked his question there was a cry of alarm from behind them. The people at the back of the crowd began to scream, “The Egyptians are coming! They’re nearly here! Run! Run!”
People began to run. The animals panicked and scattered, driven forward by the fleeing crowds.
“Wait, boys! Trust in your God. Yahweh will not let us be overtaken by the Egyptians after all he has done for us.”
The steady voice of his father calmed Perez and the people around him. It was only a short distance to the end of the towering walls of water. Now they were through and they emerged into moonlight. The desert was illuminated around them, by both cloud-light and the moon. It was almost as clear as day as the last of the Hebrews clambered up the bank, out of the sea.
Perez stood on the bank and peered back along the corridor of dry land. He could see the light glinting off the harness and wheels of the Egyptian chariots. His heart was beating like a drum. He didn’t want to admit it, even to himself, but he was terrified. How long would it be before the Egyptians arrived and slaughtered him and his people? What hope of escape was there for them? Why hadn’t they stayed in Egypt? At least there they knew what their future held, in spite of the cruelty they suffered.
Yet even as he thought these things, he became aware of a peace rushing through him. At that moment he knew Yahweh still had a plan. As he watched, he witnessed an amazing thing.
The Egyptians rushed into the corridor between the walls of water. But instead of closing the gap between them and the Hebrews, they slowed down and the horses began to rear and scream. The Egyptians struck them to make them move forward, but they refused, terrified by the strange light and the narrow path between the high walls. Could the chariots be bogged down?
How could that be? The land was dry. Yet the Egyptians seemed to be stationary. Now the men themselves began to panic. Cries of terror rose from the middle of the corridor. The horses could not turn and the pathway was blocked by the number of chariots. The only way was forward, towards the Hebrews, who clambered up the bank, away from the passage, as they realised the Egyptians were now advancing on foot.
Perez noticed Moses once again, was standing on the shoreline. He raised his hand to stretch it out towards the sea. Perez watched him, transfixed. He caught a new movement out of the corner of his eye.
“The water! It’s collapsing! Look! It’s folding in on itself!”
The Hebrews stopped, alerted to the change by his call. Moses did not move but continued to stand immobile as the walls of water, almost bending from the summit of their height, collapsed inwards over the struggling Egyptian army. Screams of men and horses split the air for a few seconds until the waves smashed down upon the entire army.
The water rushed into the space between the two barriers and found its own level. The silence was immense. Not a scream or a sign of the army which had, moments before, threatened the existence of the Chosen People of God. Not a murmur from one of the Israelites. No sheep bleated, no cattle lowed. No baby cried. Silence. Thick, oppressive silence.
Then they heard the voice.
Singing to their God.
“I will sing to the Lord.
He is greatly honoured. . . .
He is my God.
I will praise him. . . .
Lord, who among the gods is like you,
Who is like you?
You are majestic and holy.
Your glory fills me with wonder . . .
The Lord will rule forever and ever.”
The people joined in the hymn, praising their God. Perez sang at the top of his voice.
Yahweh! Yahweh was their God. Yahweh was his God. He vowed then he would worship Yahweh for the rest of his life. He knew he would.
As the hymn finished, the Hebrews turned from the sea. The sun was rising and the pillar of cloud swept across the water, settling once again, in front of them. They followed it.
Perez skipped ahead to catch up with Yosef and Isaac. He was searching for them, not looking where he was going. He bumped into the man so hard they both staggered.
“I’m sorry, Abba,” he gulped, afraid he had hurt the old man. Looking up into his face, he gasped, half in terror, as he recognized the man. It was Moses. The leader of the Hebrew people looked down at him, his face stern. Perez was afraid he was now going to be punished for his clumsiness.
“My boy, what do you think of the events of today? What was the greatest thing that happened?”
There was a twinkle in his eye and Perez paused a moment as he considered his answer.
Then, with great daring and a cheeky smile, he gave his reply.
“I can whistle, sir,” he said. Moses threw back his head and laughed with delight, clasping the boy to him in a firm hug.
“That’s the spirit, my son,” Moses said, then released him to run back to his family. As Perez darted away, he heard the old man continue to chuckle.
“I can whistle,” he repeated. “Whatever next?”