Crossing Waters

Yeshua asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah of God.”
—Luke 9:20

Yeshua’s disciples were among the first to recognize Yeshua for the purpose he came—to be the anointed King of Israel. We know in hindsight that he didn’t step into this role during his time on earth as an itinerant rabbi, although his disciples maintained that expectation even to the point of his ascension (Acts 1:6). One of the most famous early Nazarenes was the Pharisee Shaul, whose letters advocate on behalf of the Greek converts who were aliens to the Hebrew faith. Even he apparently expected to be alive to see the return of Yeshua in glory (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17). But with all this focus on Yeshua as the Anointed, the Son of God (a royal title; cf. Psalm 2:7), there is a tendency to overlook another early identification of Yeshua made by the same Peter who first declared him the Messiah.

Moses said, “Yehovah God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.”
—Acts 3:22-23

Peter identified Yeshua as the Prophet who would come after Moses. The context to this new prophet is that when Yehovah gave the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) to Israel at Mount Sinai, they cowered from his voice and demanded a mediator—namely, Moses—to stand between them and the voice of the Almighty, lest they die (Exodus 20:18-21). Every man in Israel was intended to serve as a priest of Yehovah over his own household, but this recoil marked the first step of making the Levites stand-ins on behalf of the rest of the nation. The sons of Israel drew away from the voice of Yehovah out of fear; only Moses had the faith to stand before him and receive the Torah.

When Moses reiterated the instructions to the new generation of Israelites after the forty years in the wilderness, he gave the promise which Peter quoted in his second sermon:

“Yehovah your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen—just as you desired of Yehovah your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of Yehovah my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And Yehovah said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.”
—Deuteronomy 18:15-19

This future prophet would be the very voice of God to his people. He will be like Moses, heralding the Torah and proclaiming repentance and salvation. Those who believe on his words and do them shall live, but those who reject his words shall be condemned (cf. John 3:18-21).

Given this background, we would expect to see parallels between Yeshua and Moses; not only parallels, but examples of Yeshua exceeding the works of Moses. Moses was the mediator of the covenant at Sinai, but it was a flawed covenant in that the Torah is external to us, so we are by nature compelled to live contrary to it (cf. Galatians 4:21-31). Yeshua is the mediator of a better covenant (Hebrews 7:18-22), so we would expect him to do things even greater than Moses. There are many examples of this when one compares the Gospels with the Pentateuch, but the one I want to focus on today is one that just occurred to me a few days ago.

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and Yehovah drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.
—Exodus 14:21-22

I’m sure from the banner photo you can already see where this is headed, but please indulge me as I explore this in more detail.

The background of this story in Exodus is that the Israelites have been fleeing from Egypt for a week. On the seventh day, they reached the Red Sea and were trapped. The people cried out to Moses in despair, and he, in turn, took their appeal to Yehovah. The messenger of God who had been leading the Israelites moved behind them to form a barrier of impregnable fiery cloud. Moses lifted his staff over the water, and a strong wind divided it such that the children of Israel walked on dry ground between two walls of water. As Egypt tried to follow them, God released the waves to crash down on their heads, killing all the hosts of Pharaoh.

(A similar event occurs about forty years later with Moses’ successor, Yehoshua. I want to keep this post relatively brief, so I won’t go into that at this time. But Yeshua the Messiah bears many things in common with Yehoshua ben Nun which are worthy of future study.)

Now we turn to Yeshua the Messiah. He had just fed thousands of people with just a few loaves of bread and a few dried fish. Once dinner was cleaned up, he sent his disciples across the Galilee as he dismissed the crowds, then sought solitude to pray. A storm raged all night, and the disciples struggled against the waves.

In the faint predawn light, the disciples looked back toward the distant shore and saw a fearful sight: Someone was walking toward them across the waves! They believed it was a phantom, but Yeshua spoke up, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” The ever-brazen Peter replied, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Yeshua bid him come, and Peter began to walk across the sea. But as he saw the waves, fear overtook him, and he fell into the waters. Yeshua pulled him out and they climbed into the boat, and the storm ceased.

There are some obvious differences in the two stories above. In the first, Moses guides the nation of Israel across the dry seabed, while in the last, Yeshua the Messiah merely walks himself across a stormy sea, then bids Peter to join him. But it is in those differences that we see how Yeshua, the promised Prophet, is even superior to Moses (something we take for granted, but wasn’t so expected in his own day).

Whereas Moses caused the waters to split, Yeshua walked upon them like dry ground. Whereas Moses led faithless refugees like a herd of sheep through a valley, Yeshua bade his students to join him in faith. While Moses commanded the sea through his staff, Yeshua had a flippant disregard for it as it bowed to his will. I can’t help but wonder if the disciples had the Red Sea crossing in mind as they processed all they’d just seen.

Image source: buildingontheword.org/peter-walks-on-water/

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