By Rev. Katherine Todd
When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, the minds of Pharaoh and his officials were changed toward the people, and they said, “What have we done, letting Israel leave our service?” So he had his chariot made ready, and took his army with him; he took six hundred picked chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them. The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt and he pursued the Israelites, who were going out boldly. The Egyptians pursued them, all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, his chariot drivers and his army; they overtook them camped by the sea, by Pi-hahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon.
As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” But Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. But you lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the Israelites may go into the sea on dry ground. Then I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them; and so I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army, his chariots, and his chariot drivers. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gained glory for myself over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his chariot drivers.”
The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night.
Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. At the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, “Let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.”
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers.” So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the Lord tossed the Egyptians into the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.
When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”
When I was in Israel, Jesus’ life began to open up to me in new ways. One of the first places we visited was Ceasarea. This was where Herod built a bold, nature-defying palace in the waves of the ocean. Right on the seashore are the ruins of his palace. It is remarkable, even for today. It’s ruins are magnificent. The city has an amphitheater, still standing and used. It has an old arena. It makes an impression, and that is what is was made for.
Herod, Israel’s Roman ruler during the days of Jesus, was notorious in many ways, but architecturally he was a wonder. He communicated Roman strength, longevity, endurance, and ingenuity through bricks and mortar. He built in places where people had never before built because of extreme and unfriendly natural elements. He simply overcame them with science. He built with exquisite and rare stones – imported and distinct from anything the people of Israel had seen. His buildings were conquests, doing more, accomplishing more, bigger and better than the people ever could have imagined. His works were impressive.
In Jerusalem, the holy mount where the temple was located was expanded by Herod. Build on a mountain, there was no large, flat location to claim, and so he created one. And it still stands today. It is the foundation of holy sites still hotly contested by so many different people of faith. And in one location, a glass window allows you to peer under the structure to see enormous arches below your feet that support the entire platform. It is amazing. The stones themselves were enormous, many the size of a modern-day tractor trailer, hewn from the mountain rock downhill, and rolled uphill and into position.
And this is the wonder of it all, even still. Jerusalem is on shifting tectonic plates. The earth there moves. HOW could anyone build such a mighty structure on it successfully? Herod overcame that. He would use sheer gravity to hold the massive foundation stones in place. They could move with the moving plates. They would merely shift. And his mighty arches below the surface of the foundation allowed water to pass through the surface and not weight down it down causing the sides to buckle and fall.
From an architectural standpoint, I stood amazed in Jerusalem. It was entirely fascinating. It was truly a wonder.
And all this was merely the foundation of the structure Herod was building in Jesus’ childhood. This was Herod’s conquest and mighty display of power in Israel. He would build an exquisite and mighty temple in Jerusalem. To this day it is considered his masterpiece.
And THIS is the very structure about which Jesus says, “The days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”
Can you imagine the people’s stares? Can you imagine them trying to work out how Jesus’ words could ever come to pass? Each stone had been positioned with hundreds and hundreds of slaves all working together with engineering brilliance. It was masterful. WHO could destroy such a wondrous temple?
And it was brand new, state of the art, and engineering masterpiece. It had been under construction for decades. The people did not have missiles. They did not have nuclear weapons. They did not have guns and fire power. HOW would anyone destroy such a mighty fortress?
And THAT is precisely what Jesus is saying.
It sounds absurd. It sounds reaching.
And yet today, indeed not one stone is left upon another of that temple. The wailing wall is merely the retaining wall of the that foundation Herod built.
Every word came to pass.
Something no one could have conceived of.
And it calls us to perk up and listen to Jesus’ words.
Jesus knows we are drawn to shiny, new things. We love new construction. We love new clothes. We love new appliances. We love new buildings.
And in the end, we put a lot of faith in these things. We try to surround ourselves with shiny new things in order to give us comfort and security, peace of mind. And here Jesus is pointing out the fallacy of their sense of wonder and security.
In fact, this mighty masterpiece was destroyed in a mere decades by the same ingenuity and powers by which it was created. Rome besieged Jerusalem in 70 CE and destroyed it.
It didn’t even last a century.
And so I ask you. In what do you place your trust?
Do you place your trust in the work of your hands?
Do you place your trust in the ingenuity of your mind?
Do you place your trust in your social finesse?
Do you place it in the money you’ve stored in accounts and stock and investments?
Do you place it in insurance policies and long-term planning?
None of these things are bad. In fact, most of these things are wise. They are responsible. The Bible exhorts us to plan and to work hard. God calls us to use God’s gifts and multiply them. When we invest in our knowledge and skills, when we invest our money, when we work hard and make the most of what we are given in this world, we are in fact following God’s instructions for life!
And yet, the difference somehow comes when we start placing our TRUST in these things.
Rome wasn’t the first to conquer territories with their ingenuity and might. Egypt in fact was also mighty, and they owed much of their success to chariots. They invented the yoke saddle for their chariot horses, and thus they were able to take the Mesopotamian invention of the wheel and chariot to a new level in battle.
They put a lot of trust in these chariots, which allowed them to overtake their enemies. And yet, even these could not save them. When God parted the waters of the Red Sea, allowing the people of Israel to cross by foot on the dry riverbed, the Egyptians who followed them in chariots all got stuck and drowned in the sea as the waters returned.
So as we hear Jesus’ words about the temple, may our ears stand alert. May we rightly assess what we have placed our trust in.
And if it is not in the Lord. If our trust resides in the gifts of God or the abilities given to us by God, or our endurance and skill as we’ve walked in the grace and mercies of God, may we beware and turn around. For none of these things can save. God alone saves. God alone is enough for every contingency. God alone is WORTHY of our trust.
May we place our TRUST in God.