The scripture referred to is Exodus 14:19-31, and 15:1b-11,20-21.
The Bible, as Old Testament scholar John Walton tells us, was written for us but it wasn't written to us. It's rather like Paul's epistles. They were written to the churches in Corinth, Ephesus, and other cities and regions of the Roman Empire in the first century but what Paul says about the issues they are dealing with has been preserved for our edification. Just so, scripture in general was written to an ancient Near Eastern audience, who lived in various cultures different from ours. It uses images and concepts that were familiar to those people. That means sometimes we need background information to understand certain passages and features of scripture better.
For instance, in Biblical imagery the sea was often a symbol of chaos. Water is after all shapeless, taking on the form of whatever it comes into contact with. Unlike dry land, it changes, often and drastically, sometimes calm and sometimes churned up and dangerous, even to those on the land. Thus the second verse of Genesis 1 reads, “Now the earth was without shape and empty, and darkness was over the face of the watery deep, but the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the water.” (NET translation) And the rest of the creation account can be seen as God containing and imposing order on the chaos that the waters represent, literally locking excess waters behind doors in the heavens and under the earth. The psalms sing of God setting boundaries to the waters. (Psalm 104:5-9) This idea of water as an symbol of chaos explains why, in the last part of Revelation, it says that the sea is no more. (Revelation 21:1) There is no chaos in the new heavens and new earth.
This gives an added dimension to our reading from Exodus. In it God parts the sea, the symbol of chaos, which enables the Israelites to escape the pursuing Egyptian army. And so important is this act of salvation for the Israelites that the oldest passage in the Bible, as determined by the very ancient form of the Hebrew used, is the last verse of our reading from Exodus 15, the song of Miriam: “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and the rider he has thrown into the sea.” (By the way, that means the oldest verse in the Bible was written by a woman.)
The sea is chaos but ultimately, God is Lord even over the chaos.
That's something we have to remember a week after Irma, the fifth most powerful Atlantic hurricane in recorded history, the most intense since Katrina and the first major hurricane to hit Florida since Wilma. And you might well say, “But God didn't split the waters for us, did he? They went right over the land and our homes and businesses and left chaos in their wake.” Why did God allow this to happen?
This has led some TV evangelists and fundamentalists to see this as the judgment of God on our nation for issues mentioned either rarely or not at all in the Bible. Which is another problem of not understanding the time and culture of the people to whom the Bible was originally written. Again OT scholar John Walton points out that for them there was no concept of impersonal forces in the world. Everything that happened was attributed to conscious agents, either humans, angels, evil spirits or ultimately, God. There was no understanding of natural laws that operate without intelligence or intention. And we still do that. We curse at our car or computer or the weather when they do things that inconvenience us as if they meant to act that way. For that matter scientists speak of evolution as if it made choices or had intentions, rather than as the blind accumulation of accidents and happenstance, which if you pressed them, they would admit to supposedly believing.
We Christians can believe that God is behind the natural laws that govern the universe, without directly attributing to him every side effect of those laws. When God created light he made shadows possible, though that is not the primary purpose of the light. None of us has created a universe, much less a world and so thinking we can do so without byproducts like earthquakes and hurricanes is mere fantasy. And although we don't create earthquakes and hurricanes, science says we can exacerbate them through activities that throw nature out of balance like fracking and the generation of greenhouse gases which are altering our climate and increasing the intensity of storms.
Yet the fact is we live in a universe that is fine-tuned for the existence of life. If any of several dimensionless universal constants—gravity, the strong nuclear force which holds matter together, the ratio of dark energy to the critical energy density of the universe, the number of spatial dimensions in spacetime—were altered by just a little, life could not arise or be sustained. It's really hard not to conclude that we were meant to exist.
The Bible tells us we were meant to do more than exist; we are meant to reflect the image of the God who is love. And as we see in the life of Jesus, we are meant to do it even under the worst of circumstances. And we are not to get sidetracked by theological speculation. When Jesus was told about a disaster, he dismissed the idea that it was because the people who died were worse sinners than anyone else. (Luke 13:1-4) When his disciples pointed out a man born blind, Jesus refused to pin the blame on the man or his parents but saw it as an opportunity to display God's power and mercy by healing him. (John 9:1-7) Finger pointing in such cases ultimately yields nothing useful. A helping hand is what's needed.
When Mr. Rogers was a child, he was frightened by a newsreel showing a disaster. His mother told him to look for the helpers. There are always helpers, she said. As followers of Jesus we are called to be helpers, not judges. We are to focus not on fixing the blame but on fixing the problem.
But, and this is something I have been reminded of again and again by the bishop and by disaster experts, we must not refuse to let ourselves be helped as well, nor should we neglect to care for ourselves. On every plane ride they tell you that should the oxygen masks drop down and you are traveling with someone who will need help, put your mask on first. You won't be able to help them if you pass out because you neglected to take the time to get the air you need.
Paul said, “Bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2) If we all help each other with the gifts God has granted each of us—the listeners listening, the strong cutting and hauling, the healers healing, the cooks cooking, the organizers making things efficient, the fixers fixing, the safety-minded protecting, the builders building, the comforters comforting—we can face this and we can make things better. This is God's work and with his grace and our hands, guided by his Spirit, we can reflect the love of Christ for all. To paraphrase Paul, in all of these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels or demons, neither the present or the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in creation—not even Irma—can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-39, amended)