Birth

Day 22

Birth

“The Lord is my strength and my defence;

    he has become my salvation…” 

Exodus 15:2

“The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’”

Romans 8:15

Found in Exodus Chapters 12 to 15

I remember when both my babies drew their first breath; life sprawling out, all infant flailing limbs, tiny lungs burning with the filling, tiny arms reaching wildly to be held, to be connected, to be close. I remember it all through a tired haze of exhilaration and joy, knit with trauma and pain. 

Birth. It’s a messy business. The humiliation of it all, the excruciating pain, the lack of control. But then arrives that moment. After the pain. The moment this tiny person was bundled into my arms. My arms cradling, holding them close, their heartbeat slowing, regulated by mine, their skin so soft, warmed against mine, their breath calming with every rise and fall of my lungs.  And in that moment. I knew it. I felt it. Eternity. So close. And I will remember that moment forever. It was the beginning of something that will last. Forever.

Birth. It’s a messy business. And a mystery. And somehow in the tension between the two there is a beauty that finds no words. Only salty tears. 

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God was there, when the first humans drew their first breath. Life sprawling out, lungs burning with the filling. And He was close. As close as breath. Softly silently exhaling life into brand new lungs. God breathed into us His own breath, His own life and we lived. And it was a giving. A giving of Himself. Part of Himself that became the whole of us. In breathing life into our lungs He breathed His life into our souls, His mystery into our existence and beauty, so much beauty. And we knew it. We felt it. Eternity. So close. 

Birth. It’s a messy business. And a mystery. And somehow in the tension between the two there is a beauty that finds no words. Only salty tears.

But tears of Joy in that first garden soon became tears of betrayal, a tearing apart of all that connected us to eternity, to our very Breath. Darkness swirled mixing with light and humanity’s hearts slowed. Eternity felt distant. Far.  Heard only through the muffling echo of the closing dark. Though YHWH kept close, reaching out to human beings, our human hearts beat numb. And tears became familiar in an ever darkening world.

Tears were familiar for these people. But not tears of mystery and joy. Theirs were salty tears corroding hope, wiped across red cheeks raw with the constant grief of a life lived under centuries of oppression. These people conceived by God’s love and Abraham’s obedience had been gestating for centuries in the belly of slavery, struggling in the dark womb of Egyptian power.

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But then this day arrived like a dawn. Like a thin rim of gold against the heavy quilt of night. A new day, the first day of Israel’s brand new month, brand new year. In the darkest watch of the night God ends the slavery of His people, by taking back the breath of Egypt’s first born sons. 

Even before the spreading rays of dawn touch the people of Israel’s skin they are woken by their call to freedom. And Israel walks through the doorway marked by the blood of a lamb into their first day of freedom and the first day of their brand new year. A birth day.

As Egypt’s firstborn loose their breath, the infant nation Israel takes it’s first; life sprawling, new lungs burning with the filling, flailing to escape, to be safe. To be free. 

“During the night Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the Lord as you have requested. Take your flocks and herds, as you have said, and go. And also bless me.’” Exodus 12:32

Pharaoh finally pries his fingers off Israel’s newborn throat. But after the smarting grief and numbing emotion of loss lifted, Pharaoh’s heart began to shift. All it felt like was defeat. Losing a battle. Losing a workforce. Losing control. Losing face. Losing. Everything.

Pride has always been a sore loser and vengeance rides on the coat tails of defeat.

When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds about them and said, “What have we done? We have let the Israelites go and have lost their services!” So he had his chariot made ready and took his army with him. He took six hundred of the best chariots, along with all the other chariots of Egypt, with officers over all of them.” Exodus 14:5-7

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All our thousand forms of slavery from that day to this never let go of us without a fight. Whether it is human trafficking, crippling addiction, cyclical abuse, paralysing habits of the body or soul, or un-relentless patterns in our thoughts; darkness does not willingly pry its fingers from the throats of human beings. It never has. Never will. There can be no peaceful parting, no truce, no amnesty with slavery in any form. Only abolition.

God, He’s always been about the business of emancipation and justice, from His first charge to Abraham (Genesis 18:19) to His calling of Moses. God is passionate about justice and righteousness, because He is passionate about human beings. He fights for us, with us and in us, for ourselves.

It took William Wilberforce, Samuel Sharpe and others 18 years to see their efforts to abolish the trans-Atlantic slave trade succeed, and even longer to end the practice of slavery itself. Some of our addictions may take a lifetime, or a life. There can be no truce. No middle ground. It’s always going to be a fight. To be born. 

“As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord.” Exodus 14:10

Wild Wind Whipped Waves, Cornwall'Power' Waves in CornwellJPG

Fear. The sound of horses pounding earth, the shouts of men traversing ground, the drum of chariots closing in, the thud of hearts pounding chests, the thrum of pulses throbbing in ears, the grip of panic closing throats.

When fear kicks in, coping mechanisms begin to hum and whir, our inner scars become slave drivers themselves, raising the whip in panic, looking for someone to blame, lashing with words, clawing for a way out, flailing in bitterness that only drives us further into desperation and despair.

Birth. It’s a messy business. The trauma of it all, the excruciating pain, the lack of control.

The fear. 

“They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!’” Exodus 14:11-12

Ocean Rage, Cornwall

Freedom can be a new and scary thing, especially when you have to fight for it. And you always have to fight for it. The chains of our past can look comforting, familiar, like a well worn path in our souls winding cosily around our wearied hearts.

Moses responds to their frantic fear with one command. The one command in the Old Testament and New Testament scriptures uttered more than any other (81 times).

“Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid….” Exodus 13a

Do not be afraid. A command spoken by Angels and men throughout scripture, and usually as an exhortation from the heart of God Himself. But fear is a wild horse to tame and a people forged through whips and chains are quick to flinch and slip into their self preserving defence mechanisms. They’ve lived the fight. They’re survivors. They’re slaves and the children of slaves. Self preservation and survival is a familiar thing. Courage is not.

But the opposite of fear isn’t courage. Neither is it fearlessness. The opposite of fear is seeing. God with you. They were not alone. Moses knew his job was to remind them of this.

“…Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Exodus 13b-14

Stand Firm. That’s their only job. The fight isn’t theirs. The standing firm is.

Moses talks Israel down from the precipice of all their fears by reminding them Who is with them and whose fight this really is. Be still. Know that He is God. Still your whirring hearts your frantic flailing, drowning in the fears of all your past combined. Stand firm. Be still.

‘The Lord will fight for you. You need only to be still’. You cannot deliver yourself. This is done for you. You just need to breathe. To stand. To be still. 

Just breathe.

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And could Moses have guessed his name meaning ‘drawn through waters’ would also name his destiny this day as he partners with God to deliver this infant nation out into new life? 

“Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground…” Exodus 14:15-16

“…Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel…” Exodus 14:19-20

God placed His presence between Israel and everything they feared, while at the same time providing a pathway out of all they fear.

A Curling Wave, Cornwall

“Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left…” Exodus 14:21-22

“…He jammed the wheels of their chariots so that they had difficulty driving. And the Egyptians said, “Let’s get away from the Israelites! The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.” Exodus 14:25

“Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen.” Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place…” Exodus 14:26-27

“But the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore.” Exodus 14:26-27

So often we want God to apply a quick fix to the problems we face, to get us out, to make it all go away so we can get on with living a comfortable, happy life. And we get disillusioned with God when we struggle and He ‘doesn’t come through for us’.

But God doesn’t always save us from challenge. Instead, He gets down into our suffering, pain and struggle with us, and walks along side us each step of the way whispering ‘I’m here. With you. Let’s get through this together’. You are not alone.

God could have simply transported the people of Israel out of slavery, out of struggle, like He transported others later in the New Testament scriptures (Acts 8:39, John 6:21). But instead He chose to partner with Moses to reveal Himself and His presence to Pharaoh, to Egypt, to the whole community of Israel, and through this story now echoing down through time, to the whole world.

He didn’t make the Red Sea vanish, He made a way through the Red Sea… with Him. God’s purpose is to use the struggles we face in life to reveal Himself, His faithfulness and His presence with us.

“And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.” Exodus 14:29-31

YHWH Jesus God

Birth. It’s a messy business. But then arrived that moment. After the pain. The moment this tiny nation followed God out, through all the fear, pain and wrestling struggle, emerging through the doorway of blood and the parting of waters, into the first day of their brand new life.  A re-newed nation. A re-born people. Free. For now.

And their freedom walk becomes a freedom song as Moses and then Miriam leads Israel in a beautiful moment of celebration and praise to God. The first song of a reborn nation…

“Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord:

“I will sing to the Lord,

    for he is highly exalted.

Both horse and driver

    he has hurled into the sea.

“The Lord is my strength and my defence;

    he has become my salvation…” Exodus 15:1-2

 

And this Hebrew word for ‘defence’, also means ‘song’1 ...”The Lord is my strength and my song”.

When God defends us, we are freed to sing, to soar into the freedom that only His love releases. And His love releases this song deep within us, a song of praise and thanks to Him, the song we used to know by heart, but habitually forget by scars. The song He once sung over us in a garden long ago. The song of His Breath within us. 

God was there, when the first humans drew their first breath. Life sprawling out, lungs burning with the filling. And He was there, when the infant Israel drew its first breath. Life sprawling out, lungs burning with the filling. 

He was close. As close as He intended to stay. Their heavenly father. 

“The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’”

Romans 8:15

Birth. It’s a messy business. And a mystery. And somehow in the tension between the two there is a beauty that finds no words. Only salty tears.

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Journey Further

“The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’”

Romans 8:15

Slaves live in fear. Children live in confidence. What does it mean for you to live in confident freedom as a child of God?

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References, Notes and Credits

1 NIV study notes ‘the Holy Bible, New International Version®’, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™

 

All Biblical quotations are from the NIV Bible UK version (NIVUK) unless otherwise stated. Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.All photos are taken by myself (Liz Campbell) unless otherwise specified below.

All photographs of baby lambs and the bumblebee by Simeon Evenhuis

Photographs of my daughter Zoë as a baby by Caroline ‘Monkey’ Harrison. 

 

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