God commanded the children of Israel to camp in front of Pi- Hahiroth between Migdol and the sea in front of Baal- Zephon. Much ink has been used and many maps drawn in an effort to pinpoint the exact location although this is problematic. However they were trapped between the devil (Pharaoh) and the deep blue sea (Red Sea) and that may well be where that famous expression is derived.[i]
Pharaoh was convinced that they had lost their way and sought an opportunity to recapture them. There was a delay for a little while as the Egyptians buried their firstborn throughout the land though now there were between two to three million Israelites being pursued by the Egyptian charioteers.
In the movie ‘Ben Hur’, the chariot race scene depicts the riders careering around the arena at breakneck speed. If they were racing on thick unforgiving sand however, they would lose almost all momentum. If the children of Israel had continued in the direction in which they were proceeding, it would be almost impossible for the Egyptians to pursue them by chariot. Yet now they have double-backed and are seemingly trapped between the Red Sea and the Egyptian army.
On several occasions Moses had requested from Pharaoh, a three- day wilderness journey to worship in the wilderness. Allowing for a day set aside for that task and the return journey, to satisfy that request would take a week in total. But now it was evident that the Israelites were not coming back. Pharoah thought they were trapped and even some of the Israelites thought the same, although God had already explained precisely what His plans were (Exodus 14:4) and the Egyptians would know that He is the Lord.
Ibn Ezra notes that considering God’s infinite wise counsel it is not fitting for an intelligent individual to scrutinize God’s actions and question them.[ii] Rashi observes that when He exacts vengeance, His name is glorified and magnified. [iii]Pharaoh’s stubbornness in pursuing the Israelites is astonishing in view of the destruction following the plagues in which the country was ruined. Or HaChaim believed this was predicated by Pharaoh’s misjudgement of God omnipotence, hence the deceptive tactics employed.[iv]
God had deliberately hardened Pharaoh’s heart, just like He did with the ten plagues prior to the Exodus. He would gain glory over Pharaoh, his host, his chariots, and his horsemen. It seems that this fact is repeated for emphasis, encouragement, and reassurance.
Fear on the Horizon
When the children of Israel became aware of Pharaoh and his armies, they immediately became dreadfully afraid. We all have things that we are afraid of and it is sensible and wise to have a respectful fear in certain situations merely for preservation, but when we persistently succumb to the fear of man or circumstances in place of the fear of the Lord, there are all manner of consequences. This type of fear blinds and crippled their speech and actions. Fear is the antithesis of faith and the consequences are fatal. Their fear resulted in false accusations about being taken from Egypt to die in the wilderness (Exodus 14:11). We must be ever so careful not to fall prey to the same snare.
Chizkuni asks and answers his own question about why 600,000 able bodied Israelite men were scared of 5000 Egyptians and states that it was based on their ‘slave mentality’.[v] Similarly Tur HaAroch cites Ibn Ezra’s surprise that the Israelites were scared in view of the numbers and like Chizkuni, concludes that the reason is solely psychological and notes that those Israelites were raised in slavery from infancy though adds that they would not know how to defend themselves.[vi] Following on from that latter point, the Egyptians would be armed as well as skilled in war. It would be unlikely that the Israelites would possess weapons since having left Egypt in haste, how or where could they have acquired weapons from?
Their comments and sarcasm about there not being enough graves to be buried in Egypt were doubly ironic since Egypt had just buried a vast number comprising all their firstborn and in addition, they buried their Pharoah’s in giant Pyramids. To return to Egypt would be a disaster and a return to oppression and spiritual as well as physical slavery. Israel had come out of Egypt though they had taken something of the Egyptian mindset with them. Those accusing Moses were spiritually dead, blind, and deaf, to see and hear what God was doing.
The Israelite issues and problems are the same the world over and apply to all generations in that resigning themselves to fear lead to foolishness and false perceptions of reality. They maintained that it would be better to serve the Egyptians than die in the wilderness and they had lost sight and memory of who delivered them and how, such a short while previously.
They had witnessed ten miraculous plagues in quick succession exactly when foretold and had left Egypt. They left with silver, gold and possessions that in a sense could be considered ‘back wages. Yet because of their fear they had their eyes locked on Pharoah instead of having them fixed on the Lord. They were rendered senseless, illogical, rebellious and their own worst enemies. Next time a fearful situation looms on the horizon, we would do ourselves a great favour by recalling God’s mighty works and provision through Scripture and also from our own lives.
Walking by Faith
How could the children of Israel witness so much of God’s deliverance and then sink so low so soon afterwards? It is a little bit like scoring in a football match. You score a cracking goal and are immediately energised and retrieve the ball from the back of the net and place it on the halfway line, though that is likely the time when you are most susceptible to conceding one.
George Williams wrote, “each Bible student finds these evils in his own heart and learns by sad experience, that great depression of mind usually follows exceptional spiritual triumphs… The way of faith is life to the redeemed but death to the rebellious.”[vii]
The late Warren Wiersbe stated, “Unbelief has a way of erasing from our memory all the demonstrations we’ve seen of God’s great power and all the instances we know of God’s faithfulness to His word.”[viii]
How did Moses respond and how might you or I respond in this situation? In hindsight we may be tempted to say “Well no one is stopping you from returning to Egypt and I’m sure they’ll have you back! Would 100 or 1000 plagues make you more certain of the outcome?” We may be facetious and remark “Yes of course I led you out of Egypt only so you could die in the wilderness!” Nonetheless, Moses knew that fear had blinded them and since they were paralysed by fear he did not attempt to reason with them but instead reassures them. A valuable lesson is not to succumb to fear and with the excessively fearful to reassure them.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom (Proverbs 1:7; 9:10). When we truly fear the Lord, we can encounter the same issues and see the same situation in an entirely different way. True saving faith is not governed by how we feel, what we see or based upon our circumstances. Genuine faith is rooted in trusting in the Lord, not ourselves and in His righteousness not ours. Sadly, some profess to be believers, yet their lives are characterised by perpetual complaining, restlessness and false accusations. The cure for this is saving faith which is a gift from God and is demonstrated through a godly fear of the Lord.
Moses’ gracious response was to have them be still and be silent (Exodus 14:13-14). Fearful people exhaust themselves and others through needless worry. The solution is to look to the Lord for the salvation of the Lord and turn your eyes to Yeshua (Jesus) the Saviour.
Three times in this chapter we read that the Lord will get glory over Pharaoh (Exodus 14:4, 17, 18). Some might say that God is trying to tell them something. But God does not try to do things in the sense that we do and since He is sovereign, He will accomplish His purposes. Ultimately the parting of the Red Sea is about God being glorified. The same is true of the Bible. God is glorified. When God is glorified, our problems become relatively smaller, and we recognise the omnipotence of the Lord. When God is glorified, we are no longer in the centre of our myopic universe and we readily acknowledge that God created the universe, and it belongs to Him.
The Angel of God
The Angel of God came before them and moved in a pillar of cloud. Who was this mysterious Angel? This was the same Angel that fought and blessed Jacob who saw God yet lived (Genesis 32:30). This was the same Angel that appeared to Gideon as the Angel of the Lord and the Lord assured him that he would not die (Judges 6:22-23). Again this is the same Angel that met Samson’s parents and though they saw God, they survived (Judges 13:21-23). How can this be since in Exodus 33:20 when the Lord hid Moses in the cleft of the rock he could not behold His face lest He die? Philip wanted to see the Father though Jesus explained that whoever has seen Him has seen the Father (John 14:9). John 1:18 states, “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.” Furthermore Colossians 1:15 tells us that Jesus is the image of the invisible God. The Angel of the Lord is the Lord Jesus who in many places and times throughout the Tanakh (Old Testament), appeared in preincarnate form, a term that theologians usually refer to as ‘theophanies’.
The Lord was between the Egyptians and the Israelites and led them by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire at night. The Lord is present by the Holy Spirit, provides for our needs and watches over us. Our Lord calmed the storm on the sea of Galilee when the disciples were afraid. Like the Red Sea miracle, our Lord is in control of the elements. The Psalmists often look back at the Exodus and the parting of the Red Sea and that encourages them. So when we face the storms of life, turn to God and His Word, and remember His mighty works.
So Moses stretched out His hand over the sea and the waters parted. This was a large- scale miracle though there is no shortage of natural theories offered in explanation. Recently someone I spoke with suggested it was a tsunami though that would not help anyone! Other ideas about winds in excess of sixty miles per hour in the right place and at the right time have been put forward though this is incredibly unlikely and like the ten plagues it was the Egyptians not the Israelites who suffered the effects of those plagues.
Isaiah 43:1-7 is a wonderful passage speaking to Israel that the waters would not overwhelm them, and neither would the fire scorch them. We can relate the waters to passing through the Red Sea and the fire to the miraculous preservation of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who refused to worship the gold statue of Nebuchadnezzar, yet their lives were preserved since the Lord sent His Angel (Daniel 3:28) and the fourth was like the Son of God (Daniel 3:25).
I remember having this passage brought to my attention four times in the week before I left for University. That summer I had not managed to secure a place though speedily things fell into place. On my second night at University most of my hall mates went to a hypnotist show which I avoided for obvious reasons and instead went to the gym to play basketball. There was one other chap there who was also a believer and with whom I would share a house the following two years, and I knew that the Bible speaks today and that the Lord was directing my paths.
A Brief Archaeological Note
It will probably be no surprise in that there have been rumours of chariots discovered in the Red Sea. This is possible though unlikely since these have been photographed though not excavated. There are undoubtedly round objects on the sea- bed that resemble the appearance of wheels though ships do pass through and it is likely that marine vessels have sunk in times ancient and modern. We know that Tuthmosis III is known as the Napoleon of Ancient Egypt[ix] and that he rode chariots. The so called ‘Cleopatra’s Needle’ on the Embankment in London originally was in honour of him too.
Applying the Red Sea Crossing in Today’s World
This event applies to everyone. The children of Israel were redeemed from slavery, passed through the Red Sea, and journeyed toward the Promised Land. The implications both then and now are life and death. We need to be freed from the slavery of sin and to be delivered from Pharaoh (Satan) and the world (Egypt). We are incapable of saving ourselves and without the Lord we are trapped between the devil and the deep blue sea. The Promised Land is an imperfect type of heaven and the only way of salvation is through the Lord Jesus our Saviour.
This event also foreshadows (mikveh) baptism (I Corinthians 10:1-5) which symbolises that the old life has died, and new life has commenced in Yeshua. It is also a public declaration of what has taken place and it is an act of obedience to the Lord.
The Egyptians like many people currently; probably thought they were free since they were the slave masters not the slaves though they were seemingly unaware that they were enslaved in sin. Sin blinded them so that they rebelled against God and His people, even though the signs were telling, and the writing was on the wall. What are the wages of sin? The wages of sin are death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Messiah Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23). “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).”Though the trappings of Egypt (world) might seem appealing, God gives the believer new tastes, a different spiritual appetite, a new heart, new life, and eternal life. We should not love the way of the world but look to Messiah who brings deliverance.
How did it end? It ended the way that people come to faith and trust in the Lord. The people feared the Lord, believed in Him and His servant Moses. A transformation evidently occurred amongst some of the children of Israel. Previously they doubted, spoke accusingly and presumptuously, and were controlled by fear. But now they had passed from death to life. The believer is no longer a child of wrath but a child of God having been adopted by Him and changed inwardly (Ephesians 2:1-7; Romans 8:15-17). This was a turning point resulting in a complete change of direction, focus, thinking and attitude and actions, made possible only through the Lord’s enabling.
They also believed Moses and Moses points us to the One who alone can save us. Moses spoke of a greater Prophet like him from the midst of his brethren (Deuteronomy 18:15-19). That Prophet was recognised in John 1:43-51 when the disciples recognised Yeshua as the Messiah and Prophet who Moses spoke of. The whole Bible speaks of Messiah and Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). Fear Him, listen to Him, adore Him, and keep your eyes firmly fixed on Him, because He is the Author and Perfecter of our faith.
[i] William MacDonald Believer’s Bible Commentary (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995; Nashville), p101
[ii] Ibn Ezra on Exodus 14:2 https://www.sefaria.org/Ibn_Ezra_on_Exodus.14.1.1?lang=en&with=all&lang2=en
[iii] Rashi on Shemot-Exodus 14 https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/9875/showrashi/true/jewish/Chapter-14.htm
[iv] Or HaChaim on Exodus 14 https://www.sefaria.org/Or_HaChaim_on_Exodus.14.10?lang=bi
[v] Chizkuni on Exodus 14 https://www.sefaria.org/Chizkuni%2C_Exodus.14.10.2?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en
[vi] Tur HaAroch on Exodus 14 https://www.sefaria.org/Tur_HaAroch%2C_Exodus.14.15.1?lang=bi
[vii] George Williams Williams’ Complete Bible Commentary (Kregel, 1994; Grand Rapids), p50-51
[viii] Warren Wiersbe The Wiersbe Bible Commentary (David C. Cook, 2007; Colorado Springs), p168