Full Text for Scientific Theology and the Miracle at the Red Sea (Text)

THE SPRINGFIELDER January 1974 Volume 38, Number 1 "Scientific Theology and the Miracle at the Red Sea" REV. THOMAS SOLTIS Holy lrinitjl Lutheran Church, Yonkers, New York 0 UKS IS A SCIENTIFIC AGE and theologians are not immune to its influences. The scientific nlethod and the products of its progress have produced a materialistic world view, not only in terms of technological accomplishments, but also in history and human behavior. With scientifically structured minds concretely oriented in practicality, "Scientific Theologians" readily accept the historicity of Biblical events, but strip them of the supernatural. Exegetical studies of the rniraculous begin by cluestioning. Where theologians of the History of Religions School 111ight be inclined to reject the historicity of Isracl's crossing of the lied Sea altogether, Scientific Theology .cvould vie~v the account as an historical happening, but devoid of the miraculous. Utilizing the scientific method, hypotheses are sought to explain the water's abatement by purely natural causes. "ISRAEL'S CROSSING OF THE RED SEA" (EXODUS 14: 21,22) V. 2 1 : "AND MOSES LIFTED UP HIS HAND OVER THE SEA, AND THE LORD DIVIDED THE SEA WITH AN EAST WIND FIERCELY BLOIVING THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE NIGHT; AND HE MADE THE SEA INTO DRYNESS 1IJHEN THE 'I17ATERS WERE DISSOLVED. V. 22: THEN THE SONS OF ISRAEL WENT THROUGH THE CENTER OF THE SEA UPON DRYNESS, AND THE WATERS \\ERE TO THEM AS A \VALI, ON THF, RIGHT AND THE LEFT SIDE."' Scientific Theology comes face to face with this stuyendousl~ sul7crnatural event and begins to form explanations in tevms of natural phenomena. A good example of such an approach may be found in the booklet, "WHAT ARCHEOLOGY SAYS ABOUT THE BIBLE, where the author zvrites, "It was not the Red Sea that they crossed. That reference in the Bible is a mistranslation. It was another body of water farther to the north, known as the Weed Sea or Bitter J.,ahes. This was much closer to heir labors at the store-cities, and yre- sumably they had been permitted to pasture their herds on the shores of this water. Kno*wing this crossing as the Weed Sea gives us another insight into the ancient chronicles. It is not at all uncommon, in certain periods of the year, for the winds to push the shallow waters of this lake back, making it possible to walk across its bed. U~zdozlbi- edly it was such a phenomenolz that tooh place when the Hebrews were escaping, and its providential occurrence became so well grounded in the lore which these people carried with them that it soolz became one of their favorite sagas, later becolning incorporated into th.eir u7ritten literature."' By pointing out that "Red Sea" is a mistranslation, the author intends to locate Israel's crossing at a point north of the Recl Sea as we know it today, a point where the waters would have been shallo~~ enough to permit the natural force of winds to reduce then1 for n non-miraculous crossing. Such an explanation could be readily received by our scientifically structured society. It is highly palatable and causes 1,ittle indigestion for theologians \+?hose theologies neccs- sarily reject the miraculous. The statement that the tcrnm "Red Sea" is a mis is translation is correct. The Hebrew text of Exodus 14: 21,22 uses only ''YAI\!ln (sea). Exodus 15 : 4 (The Song of Rloses) and Exodus 15 : 22 utilize the term "YAR.1 SUPH" (sca of reeds; sea of weeds) 1vit11 reference to the crossing. "Thc word "YAM" is used either of the ocean or any of its parts, or of inland lal~es."~'SL?PH" inay he trailslated "rush, reed, sea weed."-' I11 com.menting on "YAhl SUPH," Gesenius states, "the aveecly sea, i.e., the Arabian Gulf which abounds in sea weed, 1's. ; 106: 7,9,22; 136: 13."" Nunlbers 21 : 4 uses "YAM SUPH" for the waters of the Gulf of Akaba. Exegetically it can be seen that the term "Sea of 1Veeds" cannot he limited exclusively to a body of \vatel: north of the Gulf of Sucz such as the Hitter Lakes. It is also a name for portions of thc Rcd Sea. To state definitely that it refers to the 13ittcr IAes would be a theoretical assumption without conclusive excgeticnl, historical or scientific evidence. Thc 1,XX and St. Jeroine translatcd "YIIXI SU PI-I" as "ned Sea." Why they did so has not been conclusively established.. How- ever, thc mistranslation in 110 way implies that the Children of Israel did not cross over the Recl Sea as wc Itnow it today. 'The exact point at which Israel crossed the "YAK1 SU'L-'1-1" has not been deterlnined. The actual location of Baal Zephon, the landing place on the eastern shore, is also not known. A study of various maps in Bil~lc atlases has revealed at least five different points for suggested crclssings and three different locations for Baal Zephon, illdicating a dieerqnce of opinio11. Some claim the Gulf of Suez has receded at least hfty milcs si.nce the birth of Christ." If this were the case, we coulcl cxj>cct deeper and wider waters separating Egypt fro111 the ~~vilclcn~ess. Elowever, even if the exact location were established, it ~vouId bc of little use in determining ~l~eiher the waters were shallow or ilecp, wide or narrow. Topography changes ~vith time. Ocean bottoms arc susceytible to cl~ange.'~ 'The Holy Scriptures indicate that the waters tverc wide and deep enough to drown an Egyptian army with illorc than 600 chariots an(l many horsemen (Exodus 14: 7,28). 'T'o clai111, therefore, that the crossing took place further north of the Gulf of Sucz as we ~ shallo~~ waters of the "YAR!! STJ'PI-1'" 1.ic1.c abated by thc natul-al force of winds, rcs~llting in a non-miraculous crossing. I1 is tr~lc that today winds can aff'cct a change in thc water lc\:el of the. 1:c.d Sea. \'ill~erl a strong \\jind bl.o\\.s fro111 tllc: ~~ortl.~'o.est, it dl:ives the 11 at-crs sout.ll~\lard. 'iVIle11 thc 1~7ilicls 1110'11' fro111 tlie ~o~th~ilst, tl~c \vatcrs are driver1 no~:thrvaicl to [he extell1 of risinqsis to ninc f'cct Stlch n n;itural phenoll~cnon also occurs 011 I,alie h:ie \vhcl~cver n strong .rvil~d blows fro111 the south~~vcst, callsing the \.ciater Icvcl at Buffalo to l~cc'omc higher than that at Toledo. Theoretically, then, il northwest 11:ind could callsc- n na t i~ral abate~ncnt. 'The Scriptures, however, do not sl.)cal; of n nortl-1 ivind, but. of an east wind, thc "RVACH QAlIIR1." It is true tllat thc' term "QA.DIb~l" (east) coi~ld possjbly include the southeast or thc 11ort11- east, since the E4ebrc11- language has dcvcloped words for only thc foilr cardinal points of the compass. 'The tc~:nl coultl ncvcr, I~OI~CVCT, refer to the northn-cst. Accordjllg to natural la\\-s, a si~utl~cast ~vit~d ivould cause the nlntcrs to rise at the point of cl-ossinz; a ~-lol-tl-~c!ast wind \'c:oul.d pile up the waters on thc' .r\?cs!c.rn shore: ;I dircct east cvjnd \vould do the same. Yet the Scriptures state, "tl-it: Ivaters Iiicrc divided" . . . "the ~vaters \vere ;3 ,11:n22 unto them on their right: hal~il and on their left." (Exodus 14: 2 1,22) No ~vind, from anv j~oint 011 tllc compass, coultl ;~cc.onlplish tllis through natiil-a1 cnuscs. 'The "RUACH (lhDIA4" has been conside1:ed thc n~ost \:jolcl~t. wind in \\Testern Asia and ad joining seas (Ps. 4 S : 8; Job 2 7 : 2 1 ; Is. 2'7:s; )'c:r-. 1S:17; Ez. 27:26)-scorcl~ing plants and herbage (Gcn. 11: 6,23; Jon. 4:s). Co~llmenti~lg on Genesis 8: 1, Luther ivritcs, "lt is nothing new for .tr?incls to dry up moisture, especially those from the East, which our people call, "Molewind," 11ut Vergil calls, "Bunling," bccause of the drought they bring upon the earth. Hosea, too, malics mention of this ( 13 : 15). The answer is easy. The test says that a ~vind was brought over the earth, that is, over the silr- face of the water, until the dried-up waters again 1-evealed the earth to human beings. Thus in Exodus 14: 2 1 it is stated that the Red Sea was driccl up by a torrid cvincl. IZven though the ldord could have achieved the same result without the wind, ne\:ei:theless He likes to make use of the means that nrerc created for a definite purpose."" A fiercely burning east wind \\:as the means by which the Lord ~niraculously dried up the waters for a dry passage. 'J'hc nianncr in \vhich He used the wind .is beyond our con~prehension. Atteml~ts to explajn the event as it is described in the Scriptures merely upon the l~asis of nat-ural phenomena fail. 'r'he Lord n~irnculously int.ervcned. Moses credits the stupel~clo~~s went to God, not the wind. In his song he sings, "And vvit.11 the blast of Thy nostrils thc waters wcrc gathered together, the floods stood upright as a heap" , , , "Thou didst l>low Thy wind, the sea covered them: they sanlc as lend in the mighty waters." (Exodus 15 : 5,10) We have a right to marvel at the miraculous here even as the men marvelled about Christ sayjng, "What manner of Inan is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?" (Matt. 8 : 27) "Dryness" in our text is a translation of two Hebrew words- '"LECHAKAVA" and "BAYABASHA." In verse 2 1 "LECHARAVA" is the same word used in Gen. 8: 13 where it is said that on the first day of the first month the ground was "CHARESH," meaning, "free from water, drained." In verse 22 "BAYABASHA is the same word used in Gen. 8 : 14 where it is said that on the 27th day of the 2nd month the earth was "YAVESH," meaning, "free from moisture, dry." Apparently the "LECHARAVA" (drying up of the sea) left a muddy soil. "BAYABASHA" denotes the ground being reduced to bone-dryness. With this miracle the gracious generosity and goodness of our Lord is displayed. Israel did not have to clean muddy shoes on the other side of the Weedy Sea! Wallting was made easy, espe- cially for.the women and children. An abatement of the waters due to purely natural phenomena of winds and tides could hardly accom- plish the feat of providing a bone-dry path through the sea in the short span of one night. "And the waters were to them as a wall on the right and the left side." (verse 22b) "CHOMAH (wall) comes from the Hebrew root "CHAMAH" which means to "surround," as walls surround a town.TThe picture is that of "walls of water" piled up on Israel's left and right as they crossed the bone-dry ground. The concept of per- pendicular walls is consistent with Scripture's statement concerning the destruction of the Egyptian army. The natural movement of winds and tides, no. matter how fast or violent, ~rould hardly accom- plish such a great and total devastation upon the Egyptians. The direct ~niraculous intervention of God mas necessary. Action produccs reaction. Miraculous action produces historical reaction. The miracle of the crossing of the Red Sea had its effect up011 history. In Exodus 15 : 14- 16 R/loses prophesies the alarm of neighbor nations concerning the miracle. The harlot Rahab is one instance of the fulfillment of his prophecy; speaking for her people she says in Joshua 2: 10a, '''C.47~ ha~le heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you, when ye came out of Egypt." The miraculous event was perpetuated historically in the worship ritual of Israel; their miraculous triumph is expressed in the Psalms ( 1 14 : 3; 106:9; 136: 13,14; 66:6). The Passover Feast inscribed the event upon the Israelite mind, sensitizing the nation to the miraculous power of God. I-lundrecis of years after the time of Moses, Isaiah alludes to the miraculous crossing as a fact of the past. (Is. 11 : 14,15) The historical impact slices through the New Testament also. Stephen mentions the crossing as manifesting the glory of Moses (Acts 7 : 3 6). Hebrews 1 1 : 29 refers to it as a striking instance of what faith can do. The chief iS. T. reference, however, is 1 COT. 10: 1,2, where St. Paul draws a comparison bctwecn Baptism and the crossing. In so doing, he links the greatest personal cvent in the life of a Christian, i.e., rebirth, to the crossing and thus historically perpetuates the miracle at the Red Sea for all Christendom for all ages to come. The A,lirncle At The Red Scu 5 9 Scientific Theologians never really get past point one of the scientific method, i.c., the hypothesis. Judgments made only in the light of current, observable phcnomcna are inadequate stepping stones to~vard proof of a non-rnjr:tculous crossing. Scientific evalua- tiolls of the crossing prove to be subjective and nonconclusive. A rejection of the miraculous on the basis of supposed natural phe- nomena ends up totally hypothetical. In thc last analysis, the scieiltific method is not completc1~- capable of addressing itself to questions pertaining to the n~iraculous. The method limits itself by its own definition, rules and scope. It works only within the context of concrete, observable phenomena and conditions within the physical framework of nature. The miraculous frustrates the laws of nature upon whosc consistency, continuity and irrefutability the scientific method depends. Scientific Theologians nevcrtheless utilize scientific hypotheses to strip Scripture of the miraculous in order to nlake Biblical events historically credible to our materialistic age. Those who strip Scrip- ture of the miraculous, ho~vever, also strip God of His omnipotence in the eyes of mankind. God demands from us a faith which believes that ivith Him all things are possible. Yet Scientific Theology con- tinues to challenge the kind of faith Gabriel demanded from Mary: "With God nothing shall be impossible!" (Luke 1: 37) Scientific Theology continues to doubt the power of God to do the impossible. Whatever science cannot explain is non-existent. The miraculous is impossible. God is powerless in His creation. Christ is simply a verjr good man; Resurrectioil is impossiblc. Faith in the Gospel of Christ and thc power of salvation is converted into an ethical plea for love, peace and morality. Pastors, saturated with "scicntisn~," no longer preach with authority the I'lrord of God, but are transformed into patient, sympathetic, understanding, condescending listeners to the spiritual whims and fancies of the flocks. In some instances misled sheep lead the shepherds, and, for some, God Himself is dead-if He ever lived. Science, so called, bids fair to becoming a new "Golclen Calf" and is attracting a goodly number of Aarons to serve and worship at her feet. The question of Jesus seems more piercing than ever: "PVhen the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18 : 8) FOOTNOTES 1. Translated from the Czech Text dated 161 3 : "Bibli Svath podle poslcdniho vydani kralickkho z roku 161 3." 2. Albert N. Williams; "What Archeology Says about the Bible"; (New York: Association Press; 1957) pp. 56, 57. 3. "Gescnins' Lexicon"; S. P. Tregelles; (Grand Rapids: Eerdmen's; 1950) p. 350. 4. Ibid.,p. 581. 5. Ibid. 6. "Analytical Concordance"; R. Young (New York: Funk & Wagnalls; 1936) p. 799. 7. Frequent revisions of government navigational charts bear this out. 8. "Luther's Works"; Vol. 2; "Lectures on Genesis"; ed. J. Pelikan; (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House; 1960) pp. 106, 107. 9. "Gesenius' Lexicon"; S. P. Tregelles (Grand Rapids : Eerdman's, 19 50) pp. 265, 286.