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The Parting of the Sea

Salvation in the parting of the Sea,
Its churning waves pierced by a knife of cloud
And split in two allowing us to flee
Egyptian swords! As one astonished crowd
We ran with haste into the wondrous scene!
A liquid canyon carved from waterfall
On either side with dry land in between!
This sight will ever hold me in its thrall—
A wonder wrought from God’s almighty breath
Which saved us from the Despot’s curse of death!

I thought that I had seen all God could do!
How weak my mind to think that I could grasp
The plans He writes! For now we start anew
A weary people freed from Pharaoh’s clasp.
Four hundred years we spent in chains as slaves
Our backs scarred from the overseer’s rod;
Our blood the mortar for Egyptian graves.
‘Till Moses, Prince of Egypt, obeyed God
And bid cruel Pharaoh heed the Lord’s command:
“Unchain us! Set us free to leave this land!”

“I know not God” said Pharaoh, “I won’t heed.”
The hardness of his heart cost Egypt dear:
I saw the sacred Nile River bleed;
The sun turned black for three full days of fear.
Locusts, frogs, diseases plagued this land.
Yet every miracle that Moses proved
As evidence of God’s almighty hand
Left the royal Son of Ra unmoved.
We ached that Egypt’s first born had to die
That woeful night Death’s Angel passed us by.

And with the anguish of that final curse
All of Egypt howled unto the dawn.
His pride destroyed, the Despot’s words were terse:
You wretched Jews are free! Get out! Be gone!”
And thus erupted blessed Jubilee!
A freedom unlike anything we’d known;
Chaotic joy as far as eye could see;
For Moses proved that we were not alone!
A din of joyous laughter, shouts and prayer
Accompanied this exodus… to where?

Towards the Sea while chariots pursued,
Commanded by the Pharaoh’s harsh decree
To slaughter us, but for a time subdued
By roaring flame while Moses split the Sea!
Impossible! we cried, and yet we saw!
We tunneled through the Deep on solid ground!
Once safe we then beheld with painful awe
The tragedy of Pharaoh’s soldiers drowned.
Vain fools to see God’s wonders and yet still
Forge a bloody path against His will!

Now we trek across the desert sand
To Sinai where the Lord shall give His law
To Moses carved with love in His own hand.
Without God’s words our lives are built on straw,
A mob of children lost in selfish youth.
What feeble form of liberty can last
If justice is denied and mocks the truth?
We dare not grow indifferent to our past.
Remember always all that God has done!
His miracles have only just begun!

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The Healing of Malchus

Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus. Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it? And Jesus touched the servant’s ear, and healed him. John 18:10–11; Luke 22:51

Our loyal soldiers seized the Blasphemer.
Though bane to the High Priest he held no spear
And fought us not. Yet violence did occur!
The one named Peter sliced away my ear!

I gasped in pain; my neck was wet with blood.
But then the Blasphemer did something rash—
He fled the soldiers, reached into the mud,
Retrieved my ear and placed it on the gash.

I saw bright flame illuminate his eyes;
His other hand in mine grew hot as coal.
The tender words he spoke assuaged my cries.
Then the pain dissolved and I was whole!

He said he healed me in his Father’s name.
He kissed my forehead and released my hand.
Confused, I could not face him for my shame.
The soldiers took him. I could only stand

A frozen statue staring where he went,
My thoughts a jumble. I heard shouts below.
I could not join them. My sad soul is rent.
For now I grasp how little that I know.

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Brian Yapko is a lawyer who also writes poetry. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.


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19 Responses

  1. Paul Freeman

    Excellent, Brian. If only they’d recounted Bible stories as accessibly as that at Sunday school when I was a kid.

    Reply
  2. Yael

    Your exciting Bible stories narrated from first person eyewitness and in a poetic format are as entertaining as they are thought-provoking and educational. I’m curious why you used the word Jews in the fourth line of the fourth stanza, which reads “You wretched Jews are free! Get out! Be gone!”?
    Pharaoh was expelling all the 12 tribes of Israel from his realm, not only the descendants of Judah, i.e. Jews.

    Reply
    • BRIAN YAPKO

      Thank you, Yael. I’m half-Jewish myself (my father’s side), went to Hebrew school etc., so I do indeed know better and you are quite right. I have to confess that I chose “Jews” out of poetic license because it scanned better than using the terms Hebrews or Israelites. I gambled that most people would either not notice or be troubled by the anachronism. If I said “You Israelites are free! Get out! Be gone” that would have scanned, but I would have lost a big chunk of Pharaoh’s hatred and emotional state by dropping the pejorative word “wretched.” Along the same lines of historical inaccuracy, I referred to the building of Egyptian graves but I think most archaeologists agree that the Hebrew slaves had no part in building the pyramids. Frankly, I struggled with appropriate rhymes and that was my solution. Anyway, you have a very good eye for detail and thank you again for the kind words!

      Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      I had a similar issue about the use of “Jews” in a poem on the Exodus, and got some interesting input from an Israeli scholar. He said that the Bible only begins to use “Jews” from the time of the splitting of the kingdom into ten tribes and two tribes, but tribal functioning had ended no later than the entry into Palestine after the Exodus. At that time Israelites began to operate as a confederation, with individuals and families moving freely across nominal tribal boundaries (just as Americans move from one state to another, without much concern about the state where they or their parents were born). Therefore, when the historic split of the kingdom happened after the death of King Solomon, both regions were already inhabited by persons descended from all twelve tribes, and “Jews” (when first used in the Bible!) did not mean descendants of Judah, but rather anyone living in the area of Judah’s symbolic dominance. Indeed, it might have been difficult to maintain strict tribal identity during Egyptian slavery, and “the children of Israel” departed with “a mixed multitude without number” (Exodus 12:38), not descended from any tribe. The ultimate reason that “Jews” became the name for a whole people has to do with the blessings of Jacob (Israel) for his twelve sons, recorded in Genesis 49. Judah is promised sovereignty over his brothers, and even the partiality shown to Jacob’s favorite child, Joseph, never outweighs that. The Jews, thus, are those who acknowledge Judah as their destined or symbolic king, even if they come from another tribe or no tribe or have mixed ancestry.

      I therefore see no problem with calling all the children of Israel “Jews,” as Israel himself named Judah their sovereign. And in your poem, Brian, the word doesn’t just suit the meter and the character you want to give that wretched Despot. “Jews are free” is echoed in your next line by “Jubilee,” another Biblical term. And let’s recall that the children of Israel had no jubilee custom before or during the Exodus. That came later, with laws prescribing how they were to act in the Promised Land. But don’t be scrupulous about using that word either. Both parts of the attractive internal rhyme are thoroughly justified by the beauty of the words, used as your readers today use them.

      Reply
      • BRIAN YAPKO

        Thank you, Margaret! I really appreciate the historical information which I did not know. I felt that my choice of words was justified by the poem itself but I’m doubly glad that I have some scholarly back-up. And I’m very glad you appreciate what I was aiming for — especially the use of “Jubilee.”

      • Yael

        Thank you Margaret for this great info. I had half suspected that Brian’s word choice had to do with rhyme and meter, since it fits so perfectly, but the Spirit moved me to ask him anyway and now I’m doubly glad that I did.

  3. Cynthia Erlandson

    This is wonderful, Brian! I will just quote a few of my favorite lines to let you know how much I like “The Parting of the Sea”. “Its churning waves pierced by a knife of cloud”; “A liquid canyon carved from waterfall”; “Our blood the mortar for Egyptian graves.” are rich with brilliant imagery/metaphor! “Without God’s word our lives are built on straw” is a beautiful twisting together of the image of the straw that, as slaves, they had to use to make bricks, and the New Testament admonishment to build our lives, in a spiritual sense, with things like gold and silver, instead of things like straw and stubble. And the two lines in the last stanza, (“What feeble form of liberty can last / If justice is denied and mocks the truth”) are very applicable to our current society.

    Reply
    • BRIAN YAPKO

      Thank you very much, Cynthia! I appreciate you letting me know which images you liked and, yes, the last few lines of the poem were intentionally pointed. I have strong issues with what I perceive as an out-of-control mocking and dangerous rewriting of history that seems to be undermining our society based on the rejection of basic truths. I especially love that you connected the straw image. I was hoping to find subtle ways to connect the Old and New Testaments. The first hint that this was my intention is the first word of the entire poem “Salvation.”

      Reply
  4. Margaret Coats

    Your perceptive vision from a well-portrayed point of view is remarkable in both of these poems. And in “The Parting of the Sea,” there are many, many gems of good lines. I particularly like the entire final stanza, and when you can offer an excellent end to a good poem, that’s a major achievement.

    Reply
    • BRIAN YAPKO

      Thank you so much, Margaret. I am an admirer of your work so getting such praise from you is very gratifying to me.

      Reply
  5. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Brian, I am in awe of your ability to bring a fresh poetic perspective to Bible stories. The magnificent linguistic images you paint in “The Parting of the Sea” are admirable. But, more than that, I love the lesson in the closing stanza, my favorite lines being, ” What feeble form of liberty can last/If justice is denied and mocks the truth?” If only today’s society would bear that in mind.

    “The Healing of Malchus” has blown me away. I have often wondered how those who had witnessed the miracles of Jesus could stand by and say nothing in the face of His suffering. This poem answers my question. Through your potent, perceptive and poignant words, I can feel the love and power of the Son of God. Your closing summary has my heart aching for all of us who think we know everything but know so little. Very well done, indeed!

    Reply
    • BRIAN YAPKO

      Thank you so much, Susan! I’m grateful for your kind words and glad that a kindred spirit sees the intent behind them. Like you, I am worried about much of the shallow ideology that is now governing our society, so if I can find a poetic way to make a pointed observation… I go for it! Passover’s rigorous focus on facing the past — the good and the bad — and not rewriting it to suit fashion — seemed like a valuable opportunity to bring my point home. I love what you have to say about The Healing of Malchus. I am prouder of this poem than almost anything else I’ve ever written because, although it’s simple, it tries to show compassion for one of Christ’s tormentors (echoing Jesus, in a sense) but it also tries to show an unexpected capacity for new insight and internal change — that ineffable, unexpected spark that might actually cause someone to give something a second look and change his mind. I’m really, really glad that you liked it.

      Reply
      • Susan Jarvis Bryant

        Brian, reading your beautiful and heartfelt words on your Malchus poem reminds me of the 2016 film “Risen” starring Joseph Fiennes as a Roman Tribune. It’s well worth viewing just for that “ineffable, unexpected spark that might actually cause someone to give something a second look and change his mind” moment you describe. Your poem captures all of that and more. You have every right to be proud of it.

    • BRIAN YAPKO

      Thank you, Susan. That sounds like a wonderful movie. I’ll look for it.

      Reply

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