The basic elements of narrative come together in the Red Sea Story. The third-person narrator can tell us what God thinks, how the Egyptians change their minds, and how the Israelites attack Moses for bringing them out of Egypt. The story uses the basic plot of the battle narrative with changes to tell its own particular story with both realistic and thematic dimensions. Though created with quick strokes, its characters are vivid and memorable, and the story leaves no doubt about the Lord as the hero. Israel had “only to keep still.” The victory hymn in Exod 15:1-18 repeats in non-narrative sequence various moments of the battle, and then Miriam, with tambourine, leads the dance and celebrates the victory:
Sing to the LORD, for he is gloriously triumphant;
horse and chariot he has cast into the sea. . (Exod 15:20)
Our understanding of a story often depends on how we see ourselves in the story. The final redactor shaped this story for the Judeans living in the post-exilic period, and so the story suggests that the hearers identify with Israel, who moves from fear of Egypt to fear of the Lord. For the moment, all is resolved, but as readers of the Bible know, Miriam barely finishes the victory hymn before the murmuring motif returns (15:24). The events of the Red Sea are not enough to ensure that their faith endures.
Still, there are other possibilities. We could identify with Moses caught between God and the people. Or we could identify with the oppressive Egyptians. That would be uncomfortable and perhaps unthinkable, but still, it might fit. We could even identify with the Lord as the hero.
The story’s meaning depends upon our ability to find some relationship of likeness or some new possibility. What the story meant for its original audience will not be the same as what it came to mean for others or what it means for us. Stories do not provide answers to our questions but rather open a dialogue that brings us to a deeper understanding of what we hold or, perhaps, takes us to a new place.