As we read through the Book of Exodus in daily Mass at this time of year (16th Week of the year) there comes the passage about the crossing of the Red Sea. As God parted the waters, He went on ahead of the people in the fiery column of His presence. And describing the Egyptians pursuit of the Israelites is this passage:
In the night watch just before dawn
the LORD, through the column of the fiery cloud,
cast a glance upon the Egyptian force that threw it into a panic; (Ex 14:25)
It’s quite a remarkable line, filled with drama and mystery. And though it is a matter of vindication for the Israelites and all who seek to follow God, we cannot fail to have a holy fear of the Lord, whose mere glance could send an ancient, powerful, and well-trained army into a panic.
What are we to make of this look of the Lord, this glance of God? It is a look that sees into the depths of the heart, discloses thoughts, lays bare guilt, and burns away rationalizations and pretensions. It is a look of truth that diffuses lies and error. And yes, it is a look of love, a look that offers the light of truth to those who will accept and endure its disclosing power and seek to acclimate themselves to its bright glory.
Perhaps some other Scriptures will help frame this glance of God.
- On the Lord’s Day I (John) was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet … I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was one like a Son of Man…The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire….His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance (Rev 1:12-18, selected).
- I lifted my eyes and looked, and behold, there was a certain man…his face had the appearance of lightning, his eyes were like flaming torches (Dan 10:6).
- And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God (Rev 19:11-13).
- The Lord is in his holy temple, the Lord, whose throne is in heaven. His eyes look down on the world; his gaze tests mortal men (Psalm 11:4).
- For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we must render an account (Heb 4:12-14).
- For [The LORD] looks to the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens (Job 28:24).
- And the wicked say: “The Lord does not see; the God of Jacob pays no heed.” Mark this, most senseless of people; fools, when will you understand? Can he who made the ear, not hear? Can he who formed the eye, not see? Will he who trains nations not punish? Will he who instructs us not have knowledge The Lord knows the thoughts of men. He knows they are no more than a breath (Psalm 94:8-11).
- And Jesus looked at them and said … (Cited in dozens of places in all four gospels).
Yes, the look, the mere glance; the fiery eyes of God, which see but also give light.
And to those who love the light, his look can be that of love, even when that look must disclose our sins, hurts, resentments, or erroneous thoughts. Yet it is a look that can heal, even if it first wounds or convicts.
But to those who prefer the darkness (cf John 3:19), the look is blinding, disconcerting, and provokes a wrath in them that they project back on God, who is Love.
And thus from the pillar of fire the Lord cast a glance! In what condition does His glance find you and me? And how do you and I experience His glance?