It’s funny, but little kids remember a Bible story much better if they act it out.
Now, few parents want their children to get soaking wet on a Sunday morning — even if the teacher is telling the story of when the Israelites crossed the Red Sea on dry ground, while the Egyptian army got covered over with water.
So I was happy when I found a cool idea in some Sunday school curriculum years ago.
First, I had to enlist the help of some older kids.
Those kids would be divided into two groups.
Each group would hold a bed sheet. The sheet-holding groups would stand facing each other with a short distance between them.
Then younger kids — portraying the Israelites — would walk in between the sheets, pretending they were walking in between two walls of water.
When young kids — representing the Egyptian army — walked through, the older kids were supposed to cover them with the sheets.
I decided to try this idea, enlisting the help of another teacher and his students.
That Sunday, the first group of little kids walked in between the “walls of sea water” — just like the Israelites.
Then came the “Egyptian Army.”
The older kids had fun covering the younger ones, who got tangled up in the sheets — and had a great time.
Pretty soon, all of the little kids wanted to be Egyptians and get tangled in the sheets.
They had so much fun repeating that exercise.
Years later, I wonder if those little kids — now grown up — remember that silly Sunday.
Or if they remember the story we find in the 14th chapter of the book of Exodus.
At this point in Biblical history, the Israelites have been slaves in Egypt for 400 years.
God has sent a man named Moses to lead the people out of slavery.
The Egyptian Pharaoh isn’t about to let a lot of slave labor walk out of his country.
And you don’t have to be an expert in Egyptology to realize this king is arrogant.
He’s not pleased when Moses says the Lord — the God of Israel — wants him to let the people go so they can hold a feast to the Lord in the wilderness.
“Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go?” the Pharaoh asks. “I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.”
God then sends 10 plagues to loosen the Egyptian king’s grip on what scholars estimate was more than 2 million slaves.
Finally, the Israelites are allowed to leave.
God leads Moses and the people to the Red Sea.
The Lord sends a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way by day and a pillar of fire by night.
God tells Moses where to have the group stop.
Then in verse 4, we read something very interesting.
God says, “And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them (the Israelites) and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.”
Wait a minute.
Does that sound fair?
What chance does Pharaoh have of being charitable if God hardens his heart?
A pastor’s wife once compared this situation to the sun. When it shines on clay, the clay hardens. But when it shines on butter, it melts.
It’s a matter of substance.
I think that goes for the heart, too. I have a feeling the Pharaoh’s heart was like clay or a stone, unlike other Bible-times people such as David, who quickly repented when confronted about his own wrong-doing and was said to be a man after God’s own heart.
What’s more, if you look back a few chapters in the book of Exodus, you can see that the Pharaoh’s heart was hard even before the plagues started.
Through Moses, God repeatedly warns the belligerent Pharaoh — telling what plagues will befall the Egyptians if the king doesn’t free the Israelites.
And during the early plagues, Pharaoh’s heart does seem to soften a little.
But as soon as God takes away a plague, the brutal dictator’s heart hardens again.
And his hard-hearted times continue.
The Pharaoh could repent or relent at any time, but doesn’t — even though his own people are suffering terribly from these plagues.
And the last plague will be the worst — resulting in the death of every firstborn of the land — from the firstborn of the Pharaoh to the firstborn of the captive in the dungeon and all the firstborn of the livestock.
During the night, there’s a great cry in Egypt — because there’s not one house where someone isn’t dead.
Only the Israelites are spared.
The Pharaoh then tells Moses to take the Israelites and their animals and go.
So they do.
And after that, they end up at the Red Sea.
In the meantime, the Pharaoh changes his mind.
He not only takes his 600 best chariots, but all the other chariots of Egypt and sets out after the Israelites.
Before long, the Israelites are caught between the Red Sea and the Egyptian army.
They are terrified and start telling Moses it would have been better if they’d stayed in Egypt.
Yet Moses demonstrates his deep trust in God.
“Do not be afraid,” Moses says. “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.”
The pillar of cloud stands in between the Israelites and the Egyptian army separating them throughout the night.
God has Moses stretch out his hand over the sea. All that night the Lord sends a strong east wind and drives back the sea.
The waters are divided and the Israelites go through the sea on dry ground with one wall of water on their left and another on their right.
All the Pharaoh’s horses, chariots and horsemen follow them, but God has the sea go back into its place, covering the army.
Not one survives.
From what I’ve read, scholars disagree as to whether the Pharaoh actually drowned with his army, because the passages in Exodus don’t specifically point out that the contemptuous ruler perished with the troops.
But Psalm 136:15 talks about God who “overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea.” Some translations say God “swept Pharaoh and his army into the sea.”
I know. That doesn’t sound nice.
But what would that army have done to the Israelite men, women and children had God not intervened? I’m sure many would have died brutal deaths or suffered in other horribly unspeakable ways.
We don’t talk about stuff like that in a kids’ Sunday school class, but we do talk about how God helps us.
And it’s true that we can get tangled up in some messes — kind of like those kids in the bed sheets.
So I’m glad we have a loving God who can protect us in unforgettable ways — and maybe a few older kids — who can help us get untangled.
Tammy Real-McKeighan is news editor of the Fremont Tribune. She writes a weekly spiritual column.