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Beshallach

“And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord caused the sea to go back… and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided” Exodus 14:21

    Charlton Heston says, in full theatrical throttle, “The Lord of hosts will do battle for us. Behold his mighty hand” (in the film The Ten Commandments). Within seconds, a calm sea becomes stormy and then splits before incredulous eyes. In The Prince of Egypt, Moses wades into a tranquil sea and smashes his staff down into the water, which recedes dramatically, and instantaneously.

    Of all the retellings of this miracle, the least dramatic account is found in the Bible itself. Moses stretches his hand over the sea. Then a wind blows. It blows all night. Twelve hours later, the sea is split.

    David Hume asks us to image that all historical sources, in all languages, uniformly testify to the fact that, in the year 1600, “there was total darkness over the whole earth for eight days”. Hume concedes that “our present scientists… ought to accept [the claim]… and to search for the causes for it.” That is to say, the rational thing to do, on receiving overwhelming evidence for a rupture in the normal running of the world, is to refine our understanding of the laws of nature, until the so-called supernatural event is rendered natural. There are no miracles. There are only more and less frequent varieties of natural event.

    The mindset of the Bible is not Humean. It presents its own most spectacular miracle without any effort to hide the natural forces involved in its occurrence. It was a twelve-hour meteorological process. 

    The Bible sees no tension between the natural and the supernatural. Maybe it views a miracle as nothing more than a natural event brought about at exactly the right time. Or, maybe it views all nature as miracle, and all miracle as nature. Perhaps that recognition is more dramatic than anything Hollywood has ever dreamt up.
     

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