Through the Waters, Up the Mountain
This is a funny little motif I’ve seen as I’ve been reading through Exodus, and I’ve noticed it time and time again through the Old Testament.
The waters are a foreign symbol for us to grasp, as most of us spend most of our time seeing it only via the screen in front of us, or perhaps out of the window of an airplane as we soar over it. But, throughout Scripture, waters represented the deepest, most chaotic, most ominous and foreboding things of this world. It represented evil, as it was chaos personified — completely uncontrollable.
Even the basic idea of traveling across it without any kind of steam engine basically meant that you relied upon it, as an entity, being merciful — it had to choose to cooperate, or you basically resigned yourself to not passing through it. For us, in modern times, who have become accustomed to controlling the climate of our existence… the sheer uncontrollableness is tough for us to grasp.
But the Old Testament writers knew it well, and anytime they spoke of the deep waters, they gave it the reverence it was due. It was a place for monsters like Leviathan, not for mere men.
The opposite of waters for Old Testament writers, though, was the mountain. The mountain is continually a symbol for a meeting place with God. It’s sort of a “primitive” idea, sure, but it makes sense spatially — if God resides in the sky, the heavens, and you want to meet with Him, then you’d probably want to get as close as topographically possible. You climb up His creation, to His ordained meeting places on the top of mountains (Sinai, Horeb, Zion), and you met with the Lord.
It’s why God knocked over Babel like a bad Jenga set. They tried to make their own mountain to get up to God. But it even seems like there’s something primeval written into every culture that ever existed. Look at any ziggurat, any mesoamerican pyramid, any giant Buddhist temple — it’s mountain, mountain, mountain.
We all instinctively know that to meet with God, you probably want to get as high as you can.
And yet, knowing both of these things, what I constantly see throughout the Old Testament, and prominently demonstrated in Exodus, is God leading His people to pass through waters, in order to end up at the mountain.
It’s how Noah passed through 40 days of flood to wind up at the top of Mount Ararat to receive covenant from the Lord.
It’s seen as the Israelites pass through the Jordan River to enter into the Promised Land, and then find ultimate rest as the Solomonic Temple is built on the top of Mount Zion.
It’s even seen in miniature in the way the tabernacle was constructed, in washing yourself in the bronze laver (or sea of bronze,) crossing it, and then entering into the Holiest of Holies, passing past the veil.
But, it’s seen clearest as the Israelites cross through the Red Sea to arrive at Mount Sinai.
Think about the symbolism seen here, repeated over and over again for the people of God. In order to come to the place that they will meet with God most clearly, powerfully, and viscerally, it requires them to pass through the place of deepest fear and chaos by the supernatural intervention of God.
I mean, stand in an Israelite’s sandals for a moment.
You’ve spent your entire life in captivity in Egypt, where the culture worships the Nile as an all-powerful source, yet it’s chaotic waters and capricious current are known to all. And as you now get up to the waters of the Red Sea, you look behind you, and you see your oppressors coming for you in droves, ready to kill you for leaving their nation behind.
And now, this guy named Moses, who no one is sure if we really like leading us anyways, is telling us to walk towards the sea, because God is going to part it for us.
This is the definition of lunacy.
And yet, as they reach the banks of the Red Sea, which, if you look at a map is enormous, all of the chaos, all of the destructive power, stands on it’s own head as Moses speaks the name of Yahweh over it.
What, for your entire life as an Israelite, had symbolized completely uncontrolled and unruly fury, now politely holds the doors open for you as you walk your way through it.
And what’s more, as you pass through it safely, it then comes crashing down on all of your pursuers, obliterating your lifelong oppressors right before your own eyes.
Then, you turn, and you set your eyes on Sinai. You have come to the mountain of the Lord.
Somehow, God patterned the whole damn thing so that facing what has seemed most terrifying, chaotic, intractable, and violent in our lives will actually provide for us safe passage to the mountaintop meeting place with the Lord.
Don’t despise what seems low and contains the most monsters. It might just be God reenacting his ancient patterns in your life and calling you to the privilege of participation. It might be him taking you to the place that houses the sea monsters, parting it, and causing you to pass through them, in order to come to where you might see Him most clearly, face to face.
Even in the New Testament, see that there is no being made into the temple of God without passing through the waters of baptism. It’s when you have identified with your humanity, and let it die and wash away in the swirling deep waters, that then you become more alive than you ever could have imagined.
Don’t despise the chaos in your life, in your story, or in your own heart. Choose to face it, pass through it, and come out the other side — triumphant, face gleaming like Moses, ready to ascend the hill of the Lord.