One of the more illuminating moments in our marriage happened on the night when Nathan and I came to terms about The Leak. I don’t recall the particulars of our conversation anymore, but knowing me, I had likely cried and talked in circles for some time, trying to simultaneously figure out a point and make it. Knowing him, he had likely listened patiently and with a furrowed brow, putting forth a valiant mental effort to sift through what I was saying in order to hear what I actually meant.
We were talking about being busy and about the toll it was taking on things. That detail I do remember. Nathan had been working especially long hours: weekdays and -nights away from home on training exercises, weekends spent at his desk trying to keep up with everything that had piled on while he was away. Times like these are par for the course every so often with military life, but accepting that fact doesn’t necessarily make them easier. As is typical in our relationship, the feverish pace was leaving both of us beyond tired—but where his exhaustion was physical, mine was emotional. I felt like I couldn’t remember the last time we had invested together in our relationship, and I wasn’t sure I believed I could anticipate that changing anytime soon.
The tangible result of this—also par for the course with us—was irrational insecurity on my part. Blubbering. Snot-crying. Using far too many italics in my sentences.
“I told you before we even got engaged that it would be important for us to go on dates together! It doesn’t need to be fancy, but I need to spend time with you! Away from this house! And away from work!”
For probably a good hour I kept saying things like that, and Nathan kept replying that it wasn’t actually possible to fit one more thing on his schedule. I, for one, wondered if our differing perspectives would fly crosswise past each other all night, forever failing to connect. But eventually all Nathan’s brow-furrowing did its trick, and he saw beyond what I was saying, enough to see the deeper, unsaid thing underneath.
“You don’t feel loved right now.”
I hadn’t even known that was my point, until he said it. But it was, and as it swirled in the air between us, I felt terrible admitting to it. Especially because he was displaying so much care and faithfulness, listening to my words long enough to dig the truth out of them. And because doing that is such a selfless, difficult, loving thing. His whole face and posture just then were brimming with concern and intent and mission—there was no question he wanted to fix this. For me.
That was when I realized it. At issue that night wasn’t simply the question of how frequently or infrequently my husband put on cologne and took me out for dinner. It couldn’t be reduced to the amount of hours he spent at his desk on a weekend, or how many hours he spent at work during a week either.
I had plenty of reasons to know, unquestioningly, that he loved me. But I also had a problem: no matter how much love he poured into our relationship, as time passed, my trust of that love undoubtedly leaked.
Exodus 14 is the story of the Israelites crossing the Red Sea into Canaan, the Promised Land. They cross over in triumph and yet with a giant leak. Given the immediate details of the story, this shouldn’t be surprising to us. The God who leads them, after all, could come off as almost schizophrenic here, his behavior seems so confusing.
For starters, God has rescued his covenantal people out of slavery in Egypt, only to harden the heart of Pharaoh (verse 8), who then chases after them to recant their release. Then, at the sea’s edge, with a wall of water on either side and the Israelite nation ahead of them, God hardens the Egyptians’ hearts (verse 17) so they keep pursuing. The entire army goes into the sea and drowns—picture it: gasping, suffocating, flailing—so God can, in his own words, “get glory” over them. The sight of dead Egyptians on the shore is the thing that, finally, captures the Isrealites’ hearts:
Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses. (Exodus 14:31, ESV)
I’m sure I’m not the only one who has trouble understanding why God framed Israel’s exodus from Egypt with gruesome events like these. After all, if he can harden hearts, couldn’t he simply have chosen to soften them instead? And couldn’t walls of water be enough evidence of his power? Are the death and destruction really necessary?
Then again, I am the sort of woman who gets lost in my emotion, to the tune of italics in abundance. I fail to recognize devotion when it is staring me in the face. I get frantic with doubt, reading into some things too much and reading into others not enough. Sometimes I’m convinced love must be wearing cologne to be real.
“You don’t feel loved right now.” Truer words couldn’t have been spoken to the Israelites as they looked forward at a sea and backward at an army.
They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” (Exodus 14:11-12, ESV)
The Israelites who stood on the bank that day had been slaves all their lives, yes. For a long time, maybe they felt like they hadn’t seen even a wisp of God’s covenant come true. Maybe it had given them a complex. Or maybe they were simply regular, unremarkably leaky people who forgot, oh so easily, what love they had seen.
Just two chapters to the left of this one, God worked the miracle of Passover, which ushered the Israelites out of Egypt not only scot-free but loaded down with gifts of silver, gold, jewelry, and clothes (Exodus 12:35.) And now God had put his own presence among them, in a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire that would lead them through the wilderness. The proof of his care was blazing in front of their eyes, was clinking in their purses, yet they doubted the love was true.
How do you fill a sieve? There are two ways. You can stop it up with gunk first, clogging the pores, or you can surge into it, a heavy stream, continually. The latter requires gushing at a level that overwhelms and outpaces all the leaks. This is what God, through Christ, has done for us. This is why we need him so terribly.
When God brought Israel across the Red Sea and into the Promised Land, he was fulfilling item #2 on a three-item list. Back in the early chapters of Genesis, he had pledged to bestow upon Abraham’s descendants numbers greater than the stars, a land of their own, and the privilege of blessing the whole earth. He had made this monumental covenant for no other reason than the fact that it was—it is—the natural result of his character. He has been pouring himself out from the beginning.
The final item on God’s promised list was the most important: through Israel, all nations on the earth would be blessed. It was the hope of everything for all time, and the other two promises were instrumental in making it happen. One pivotal descendant from among God’s multitude would carry God’s message into the world—not through words or pictures or prophecies or promises, but through a breathing, never leaking life. Jesus Christ would show us all what it means to be a living being who is filled with God’s love, free of any doubt.
What does that look like? It looks like this: you overflow.
On the cross, Jesus gave everything he was, for people who didn’t deserve it one bit, in order to give them direct access to the Father’s love. This was the ultimate outpouring for eternity, but it was also just a continuation of the love story God had been writing over all of human history. Yes, all of human history, even in ugly and confusing places like Exodus 14, where Egyptian bodies are mangled and bloated by the sea.
We know from the story of Christ that love doesn’t necessarily come without horrific pain. We see at the cross that God will use even death, and even the death of one who is perfect, to catch those who are falling and cradle them in his arms. With these truths as our framework for understanding, we can find some sense in what seems senseless.
“I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians…” God says in verse 17. Why does he do this?
“…and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, his chariots, and his horsemen. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.” (Exodus 14:17-18, ESV)
When we look through the lens of Calvary, we understand that these words in Exodus are not the words of a God who takes pleasure in bringing people down. These are the words of a God who is willing to do whatever it takes, to give people an accurate glimpse of himself, of the Love that lifts them up. The Egyptians’ view of him must’ve been very dim, their doubt of him formidable, for it to take measures like this to help them see clearly.
Which is another way of saying: they were probably quite similar to you and me. Thankfully, Christ’s holiness is more than enough to make up for all our holes and leaks.
Today, may we remember the lengths to which he has gone to help us see. May we trust this rush of love that is ever-flowing, even though we have trouble with belief. May our doubts and insecurity be overcome by the confidence that’s found in encountering God’s love—in finding that it is more than enough to fill us, even us, to fullness.