When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you, they were afraid; indeed, the deep trembled. The clouds poured out water; the skies gave forth thunder; your arrows flashed on every side. The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind; your lightnings lighted up the world; the earth trembled and shook. Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen. Psalm 77.16-19.
In the film “City of Angels” there is a scene I particularly like where angels are walking along the beach at what I think must be Santa Monica, but the impressions of their feet in the wet sand vanish as quickly as they are made. Angels have indeed passed along the beach but they have left no footprints. “And so it was,” says the Psalmist, “when God led the Children of Israel through the Red Sea. He was surely there, leading the way, else the waters of the sea would never have reared up and formed a way of escape for the Israelites fleeing from the Egyptians, but God left no footprints in the soft, damp earth of the seabed. Their deliverance itself was the sign of his presence.”
I am struck by the simple thought this morning that so it has been in my own life. Almost every morning, I begin my prayer time with the Third Collect at Morning Prayer from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer:
O Lord our heavenly Father,
almighty and everlasting God,
who hast safely brought us to the beginning of this day;
defend us in the same with thy mighty power;
and grant that this day we fall into no sin,
neither run into any kind of danger,
but that all our doings may be ordered by thy governance,
to do always that is righteous in thy sight;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
By so doing, I begin every day with a celebration of God’s deliverance. This morning, just like every morning since I became a Christian, I am able to begin my prayers with the thanksgiving that he has “brought me safely to the beginning of this day.” There were no footprints for me to follow yesterday or the day before or the day before that; but the waters parted for me yesterday as they have parted for me every day of my life and the unseen God who is my Lord and Saviour has led me through to dry ground.
Interestingly, the Hebrew word translated “path” in this morning’s reading (shabiyl) is actually in the plural — “Your way was through the sea, your paths through the great waters” — and this has led some rabbinic commentators to suggest that there were in fact twelve paths through the Red Sea, one for each of the tribes of Israel. This, they say, is also suggested by Psalm 136.13 where the literal translation of the Hebrew text is that God divided the Red Sea into “parts” rather than into just the “two” spoken of by most translations. Why interesting? Because the path God makes for me is not the path he makes for you. My path is unique and so is yours. I do not know what this day holds but I do know that the Lord is already ahead of me, opening up a special way through it for me and me alone — even though I cannot see his footprints.