When I was a youth I used to play of lot of sand-lot football. I was always the smallest kid in the group so I never got to run the ball or run a pass play. During the huddle the quarterback would call a play, but never gave me an assignment. I guess they figured I would get creamed by the defense. I got tired of being left out and one day, after the play had been called, I asked what I should do. The quarterback said, “go deep.” Later I realized that was just an excuse to get me out of the way. But, I was faster than most and they finally figured out I could outrun most anyone. After catching a few “deep” passes, they started including me in the patterns.
Those words, “Go deep,” still ring in my head forty years later. For me, going deep meant survival. But, it also meant patience and eventually a sense of belonging. To be people of faith we have to go deep. As long as we stay in shallow waters we will never learn to trust in God. We may not understand at the time, but there are times when we have to go deep to save ourselves or experience a more fulfilling life.
The Israelites were trapped between the Egyptian Army and the sea. If they were to survive they had to go deep. So Moses led them into the “midst of the sea” and God divided the sea and gave them dry land to walk across. They escaped to the other side, then God caused the sea to close upon their pursuers. They had been liberated from their oppressors, all because they were willing to follow Moses and go deep.
This is just one great moment in history where people had to cross the sea for their salvation. Our own country was discovered by men and women who were willing to cross the Atlantic Ocean. There were the adventurers like Magellan and Columbus who crossed the ocean and discovered new worlds. There was Admiral Byrd, who reached the North Pole and Neil Armstrong, who crossed the Sea of Tranquillity and landed on the moon. Or what about George Washington, who crossed the Delaware?
By the beginning of December 1776, there were only 3,400 men under Washington’s command and he decided to leave New Jersey altogether. After securing every boat from the Jersey side for miles around he crossed the Delaware into Pennsylvania. Washington was aggressive by nature, and also knew his men needed something to boost their morale. He decided to strike at Trenton, New Jersey, a town held by 3 regiments of Hessians under the command of a Colonel Rall. The plan was to recross the Delaware in three spots. Washington would cross in the vicinity of McKonkee’s Ferry with 2,400 men, General Ewing would cross further south to cut off any retreat, and a Colonel Cadwalader would cross even further south to guard against any reinforcements coming from that direction..
Washington started them across on Christmas night and by 3:00 AM they were on the Jersey side. The crossing took 9 hours due to the extra artillery taken along, and the horrible weather. The Marblehead, Massachusetts men saved the day for Washington with their expert seamanship. It was another hour before the column got underway for Trenton, nine cold and snowy miles away. The sun would be up by the time Trenton was reached, denying the attackers complete surprise, but it was too late to turn back now.
At 7:45 AM the Americans reached the town and launched a spirited attack. Their attack was nothing short of miraculous, but attack they did. It was a lightning fast strike. Since their gunpowder had gotten wet they had to fix their bayonets. They hit the Hessians with such speed and fury, the mercenaries could hardly get a defense together. The battle lasted all of 90 minutes and ended in a complete Hessian defeat.
When the smoke cleared, the Hessians had lost 22 dead and 1,000 captured. Colonel Rall was mortally wounded, and died 36 hours later, after getting assurances from Washington that his captured men would be treated with honor and dignity. The Patriots lost 2 dead and 2 wounded. There had also been two men lost the night before in the crossing. Four hundred Hessians had escaped due to the failure of Ewing and Cadwalader to get their men across the Delaware. Some officers wanted to pursue the Hessians, but Washington took the advice of a council of war he called together who advised against it. Besides, it didn’t matter. They had beaten the mighty Hessians.
The crossing of the Delaware was a turning point for the revolution. Because Washington and his army had made the crossing it boosted their morale and gave new spirit to the freedom they were fighting for. As a result many of the “part-time” soldiers were motivated to renew their enlistments. This was a crucial point in Washington’s career, one where he had gone deep.
After Moses and the Israelites had crossed the sea they looked back, only to see the Egyptian army totally consumed by the water. Their powerful chariots had gotten stuck in the mud and they were unable to cross. The powerful, oppressor was destroyed. Their superior technology and weapons were no match for the people of faith.
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When we encounter deep waters or some other obstacle we normally turn back or give up. Just as God told the people of Israel to “go forward” God is telling us to go forward as well. We like to hang on to the past, living in familiar surroundings, maintaining our comfort zone. Going forward overwhelms us, so we keep everything the same resisting change and opportunity. Had the people of Israel not gone forward they would have surely perished at the hands of the superior Egyptian army.
Unlike Washington, who used boats to cross the Delaware, Moses and his people moved ahead only on faith. Their crossing depended on complete faith in God and trust in Moses to lead them. This story is a call to faith, to trust in the power of God over the power of your enemies.
Many of you have seas to cross. Some are starting new jobs. Others are beginning a new year of school. Still others are starting retirement and some are moving out of the old homestead and downsizing to a smaller condominium. Some of you are trying to overcome addictions and illnesses. There are may obstacles, many uncharted waters ahead. Will you move forward, or will you stay frozen in time, falling prey to difficult circumstances?
When rough waters lie ahead we often panic and get anxious. We don’t like to wait and feelings of aloneness and fear consume us. Not too long ago my wife and I were in Port Clinton, Ohio, getting ready to board the ferry to South Bass Island. My wife noticed several sailboats sitting in the channel. The sight got my immediate attention as one who loves to sail. Their sails were down and they were inching along. It was extremely warm with little wind. I have experienced the dreadful conditions myself of being onboard a sailboat, going ever so slowly, the sun beating on your body. All you want to do is get to your destination, or at least pick up speed and feel the wind in your face. The sailboats, however could only wait. It wasn’t quite time for the drawbridge to open. After a period of being “dead in the water” the bridge opened and the sailors moved on.
Moses told his people that “The Lord will fight for you, but you have to be still.” In other words, following the Lord requires not only trust but patience. The bridge will open, the way will be clear, but some waiting is required. I had to go deep quite a few times until I finally got a chance to catch the ball. And the crossing of the Delaware and surprising the Hessians wasn’t the only battle Washington would have to fight. The Israelites too would face many other hardships and obstacles. But this time they went deep, very deep, and from then on, “the people feared the Lord and they believe in the Lord and in his servant, Moses.”
––Copyright, 2002, Dr. Keith Wagner. Used by permission.