CONTEXT: The book of Exodus tells about the oppression of the Israelites in Egypt (1:8-22), and Moses' early life (chapter 2). Then follows the burning bush episode where Yahweh told Moses that Yahweh has heard the cry of the Israelites and has decided to deliver them-and that Yahweh has chosen Moses to confront Pharaoh and to bring the Israelites out of Egypt (3:1-12). Pharaoh refused to let the people go, so Yahweh brought ten plagues on Egypt (chapters 7-12).
Following the death of the Egyptian firstborn (the tenth plague), Pharaoh told Moses and Aaron to take the people of Israel and leave Egypt (12:31-32). As the people prepared to leave (12:33-40 - 13:2), Yahweh gave Moses instructions for Passover (12:43-51)-and Moses instructed the people concerning the Feast of Unleavened Bread (13:3-10) and the consecration of the firstborn (13:11-16). Then the people departed from Egypt, led by pillars of cloud and fire (13:17-22).
But then Yahweh hardened pharaoh's heart, and pharaoh led an army of "six hundred chariots chosen chariots, and all the chariots of Egypt" (14:7) to pursue the Israelites. "The Egyptians pursued after them: all the horses and chariots of Pharaoh, his horsemen, and his army; and overtook them encamping by the sea, beside Pihahiroth, before Baal Zephon" (14:9).
EXODUS 14:10-14. YAHWEH WILL FIGHT FOR YOU
10 As Pharaoh approached, the sons of Israel looked, and behold, the Egyptians were coming after them, and they became very frightened; so the sons of Israel cried out to the LORD. 11 Then they said to Moses, "Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you dealt with us in this way, bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Is this not the word that we spoke to you in Egypt, saying, 'Leave us alone so that we may serve the Egyptians'? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness!" 13 But Moses said to the people, "Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will perform for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again, ever. 14 The LORD will fight for you, while you keep silent."
Note: While these verses are not in the lectionary reading, they are nevertheless key to understanding the reading. The Israelites have seen miracle after miracle, and have plenty of evidence to convince them that Yahweh is for them so it matters not that Egypt is against them. However, as soon as they see the dust of Pharaoh's chariots, they immediately assume the worst-that Pharaoh's army will slay them and leave them to rot in this God-forsaken wilderness. They cry out to Yahweh in fear rather than in faith (v. 10). They lash out at Moses, whom they perceive as the architect of the coming disaster (v. 11a).
"Why have you treated us this way, to bring us out of Egypt? Isn't this the word that we spoke to you in Egypt, saying, 'Leave us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians?' For it were better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness'" (vv. 11b-12). While we have no record of this incident, it is likely that some Israelites, fearful of the Egyptians, resisted Moses' leadership once he started talking about an exodus from Egypt. They could have marshaled excellent arguments: How can we mount a successful rebellion when we have no military equipment or training and Pharaoh commands one of the world's finest armies? How will you feed hundreds of thousands of people in a wilderness better suited to small flocks of sheep? Where will we get water? Where do you plan to take us, and what will we do when we get there?
"Moses said to the people, 'Don't be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of Yahweh, which he will work for you today: for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you shall never see them again. Yahweh will fight for you, and you shall be still'" (vv. 13-14). Moses makes no attempt to claim that the Israelites can, on their own, withstand an attack by the Egyptians. If he were to make such a claim, he would lose all credibility. The Israelites are no match for the Egyptians. Everyone knows that.
EXODUS 14:15-18. THE EGYPTIANS SHALL KNOW THAT I AM YAHWEH
15 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Why are you crying out to Me? Tell the sons of Israel to go forward. 16 As for you, lift up your staff and reach out with your hand over the sea and divide it, and the sons of Israel shall go through the midst of the sea on dry land. 17 And as for Me, behold, I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them; and I will be honored through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. 18 Then the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD, when I am honored through Pharaoh, through his chariots, and through his horsemen."
"Yahweh said to Moses, 'Why do you cry to me?'" (v. 15a). It was the Israelites, not Moses, who cried out to the Lord (v. 10), but Yahweh addresses his question to Moses as the people's leader. The Israelites cried out because they assumed that Pharaoh's army, already advancing on them, would soon attack them, defeat them, and enslave them once again. Yahweh's question is intended as a rebuke, not to Moses, but to Israel.
"Speak to the children of Israel, that they go forward" (v. 15b). The sea has not yet parted, nor has Yahweh yet revealed that it will be parted. There is not yet any path forward, and Pharaoh's army is swift approaching from their rear. There is nowhere for the Israelites to go. They are trapped, and there is no way out-no exit-no hope.
"Lift up your rod" (v. 16a). A staff is a long stick that can be used to support its user or to ward off an attacker. A staff with a hooked end makes it possible for a shepherd to hook a sheep by the neck and pull it to safety. A staff is a simple instrument-far less sophisticated than a well-designed plow. However, in the hands of a good shepherd, it is a symbol of leadership-even a symbol of salvation.
"and stretch out your hand over the sea, and divide it: and the children of Israel shall go into the midst of the sea on dry ground" (v. 16b). Staff in hand, Moses is to stretch out his hand to divide the sea to create an avenue of escape for Israel. Not only will the sea be divided, but the pathway through the sea will be dry ground-easily passable-no mud or muck.
"I, behold, I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they shall go in after them" (v. 17a). Earlier, Yahweh hardened Pharaoh's heart so that "he will not let the people go" (4:21). This hardening of Pharaoh's heart was to give Yahweh opportunity to "multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt" (7:3). Note, however, that Exodus 8:15 says that Pharaoh hardened his own heart.
"and I will get myself honor over Pharaoh, and over all his armies, over his chariots, and over his horsemen" (v. 17b). Yahweh's glory is the purpose to be served by the destruction of Pharaoh's army. As noted above, Paul cites this in Romans 9:17.
"The Egyptians shall know that I am Yahweh, when I have gotten myself honor over Pharaoh, over his chariots, and over his horsemen" (v. 18). Yahweh has provided ample evidence to the Egyptians that he is God. The ten plagues proved that, but Pharaoh's hubris has made it impossible for him to acknowledge it. Now Yahweh will provide one more lesson-a final lesson-to drive home the point.
EXODUS 14:19-20. THE ANGEL OF GOD AND THE PILLAR OF CLOUD
19 Then the angel of God, who had been going before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them. 20 So it came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel; and there was the cloud along with the darkness, yet it gave light at night. Therefore the one did not approach the other all night.
"The angel (mal∙ak) of God (elohim), who went before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from before them, and stood behind them" (v. 19). A mal∙ak is an angel or messenger. The word translated "God" in this verse is not YHWH (Yahweh) but elohim, a more generic word that is sometimes used for Yahweh, but is also used for other gods (Ex. 12:12; Josh. 24:15; Jges. 6:10; 10:6).
"It came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel; and there was the cloud and the darkness, yet gave it light by night: and the one didn't come near the other all the night" (v. 20). The positioning of the cloud between the Israelites and the Egyptian army accomplishes several things.
"yet gave it light by night: and the one didn't come near the other all the night" (v. 20b). This part of the verse is difficult to understand. The most likely explanation is that this cloud, which until now has been benign, is lighting the sky with lightning bolts-light intended not to light the Egyptians' pathway but to warn them of God's displeasure.
EXODUS 14:21-25. YAHWEH CAUSED THE SEA TO GO BACK
21 Then Moses reached out with his hand over the sea; and the LORD swept the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land, and the waters were divided. 22 So the sons of Israel went through the midst of the sea on the dry land, and the waters were like a wall to them on their right and on their left. 23 Then the Egyptians took up the pursuit, and all Pharaoh's horses, his chariots, and his horsemen went in after them into the midst of the sea. 24 But at the morning watch, the LORD looked down on the army of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and cloud, and brought the army of the Egyptians into confusion. 25 He caused their chariot wheels to swerve, and He made them drive with difficulty; so the Egyptians each said, "Let me flee from Israel, for the LORD is fighting for them against the Egyptians."
"Moses stretched out his hand over the sea (yam), and Yahweh caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all the night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided" (v. 21). A yam is a sea, whether a saltwater sea, such as the Mediterranean or Dead Seas, or a freshwater sea such as the Sea of Galilee. In either case, yam indicates a substantial body of water-deep water. Some scholars have suggested that this sea was a shallow, marshy area rather than a deep sea. But by trying to explain supernatural phenomena as the product of natural causes, they do the scriptures a disservice. This yam is not a marsh. It is a sea.
"a strong east wind" (v. 21). In that part of the world, east winds blow from the desert. They are hot, dry, and can be destructive-often reaching 60 miles per hour (100 km/hr). People today call them a sirocco wind. People who live in areas where sirocco winds are common quickly learn to hate them, because their heat and dust make people miserable and often cause health problems. Also, dust and sand driven by the sirocco winds can strip the paint from buildings and cars and ruin glass windows.
"The children of Israel went into the midst of the sea on the dry ground, and the waters were a wall (homath) to them on their right hand, and on their left" (v. 22). The Israelites require no invitation. They know that the Egyptian army is close behind. Now that they are able to see an open pathway to their front, they move quickly to escape.
"The Egyptians pursued, and went in after them into the midst of the sea: all of Pharaoh's horses, his chariots, and his horsemen" (v. 23). Nor do the Egyptians require an invitation. As an army in pursuit is wont to do, the Egyptians plunge ahead even though even a quick assessment would counsel caution. It could be that the cloud is obscuring their vision to the point that they fail to see the danger.
"It happened in the morning watch, that Yahweh looked out on the Egyptian army through the pillar of fire and of cloud, and confused the Egyptian army" (v. 24). The morning watch would be "the last of three watches, from 2 a.m. to dawn, about 6 a.m. This, the darkest hour before the dawn, was traditionally the time for attack, when men's spirits are at their lowest" (Cole).
"He took off their chariot wheels, and they drove them heavily" (v. 25a). Perhaps Yahweh turned the dry ground into mud-or perhaps the chariot wheels just mired down where people could pass easily on foot. In any event, the Egyptian chariots quickly become a liability in this sea of mud.
"so that the Egyptians said, 'Let's flee from the face of Israel, for Yahweh fights for them against the Egyptians!'" (v. 25b). The Egyptian soldiers have seen sign after sign (plagues, the cloud, the walls of water, and the mired chariot wheels) that God is the power behind the Exodus-and that God fully intends to save the Israelites. However, it is difficult for soldiers to admit that they are fighting a losing battle. They fear letting down their fellow soldiers, and they also fear disgracing themselves. However, the mired chariots are the final straw for these Egyptian soldiers. They now acknowledge what has concerned them for some time-that they are fighting, not flesh and blood, but God. Their cause is therefore hopeless, and their lives are in terrible danger.
EXODUS 14:26-29. THE WATERS RETURNED, AND COVERED THE CHARIOTS
26 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Reach out with your hand over the sea so that the waters may come back over the Egyptians, over their chariots and their horsemen." 27 So Moses reached out with his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its normal state at daybreak, while the Egyptians were fleeing [r]right into it; then the LORD overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea. 28 The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen, Pharaoh's entire army that had gone into the sea after them; not even one of them remained. 29 But the sons of Israel walked on dry land through the midst of the sea, and the waters were like a wall to them on their right and on their left.
"Yahweh said to Moses, 'Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the waters may come again on the Egyptians, on their chariots, and on their horsemen'" (v. 26). Verses 26-29 are a companion piece to verses 21-25. In those earlier verses, Moses stretched out his hand over the sea to set in motion a series of events that enabled the Israelites to escape-while, at the same time, setting a trap for the Egyptian soldiers. In verse 26, Moses once again stretches out his hand over the sea, and this time sets in motion a series of events that will destroy the Egyptian army.
"Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its strength when the morning appeared; and the Egyptians fled against it. Yahweh overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea" (v. 27). It is not clear whether the Israelites have completed their journey to the far shore. If not, Yahweh continues to protect them (see v. 29) while trapping the Egyptian soldiers. A soldier's boots and armor, an advantage in battle, become deadly weights in deep water.
"The waters returned, and covered the chariots and the horsemen, even all Pharaoh's army that went in after them into the sea. There remained not so much as one of them" (v. 28). This verse confirms the fate of the Egyptian soldiers. They all died in the turbulent waters, and their equipment was lost as well. If these soldiers comprised a significant part of the Egyptian army, Egypt has been transformed into a nearly defenseless nation.
"But the children of Israel walked on dry land in the midst of the sea, and the waters were a wall to them on their right hand, and on their left" (v. 29). While the Israelites were walking on the pathway through the sea, the waters formed walls on the right and on their left. This verse makes it sound as if they were still crossing the sea as the Egyptians were being drowned at the other side, but it does not specifically say that. This verse is not intended to convey the sequence of events, but the fact that Yahweh was the force behind the salvation of the Israelites and the destruction of the Egyptians
Exegetical Notes: Exodus 14:13-28 (Lawson)
13 And Moses said to the people, "Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again.
Moses responds to the people of Israel. Verses 1-4 give the reader insight into what Israel did not have. God has placed Israel in a position of vulnerability in the eyes of Pharaoh. Through the hardness of his heart, Pharaoh has chosen to pursue Israel with great force (v. 6). Verse 4 reveals God's purpose behind this trap for Pharaoh. "I will get glory over Pharaoh" and "the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord." Although God has purposed and planned for this event, Israel responds with great fear (v. 10) instead of faith. In fact, as we progress through this chapter we'll see that the crossing of the Red Sea proves to be a great faith builder for the nation of Israel (v. 30).
"Fear not" -Moses addresses the obvious concern of the people from v. 11-12. In the minds of Israel, oppression was difficult to handle, but was better than death. Ironically, the evidence of God's deliverance through the plagues has quickly been forgotten. They now faced a new worry. 6
Attributes of God Deduced from Moses' Response in v. 13-14:
(1) God is a dispeller of fear, a comforter of those who are afraid.
(2) God is a deliverer from distress.
(3) God invites and expects his people to trust in him ("Stand firm ... you need only to be still").
(4) God removes danger.
(5) God is a warrior against the forces of evil.
(6)The timing and application of these attributes are under God's control, not man's Douglas K. Stuart, Exodus, vol. 2, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2006), 336.
"stand firm" -Literally, "stay put". In the NT, the phrase is often used to urge faith, and that may very well be Moses' intention, but we shouldn't assume that to be the case.
"For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again" -What Moses was saying was, in effect: "You should be glad you are seeing the Egyptian army coming at you. Because you have seen the Egyptians, it means that God's prediction that he will trick them and trap them is about to be fulfilled. If you didn't see them, now that would be cause for worry because then God's prediction to us would not be coming true." Douglas K. Stuart, Exodus, vol. 2, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2006), 336-337.
14 The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent."
15 The Lord said to Moses, "Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward.
"Why do you cry to me?" -This is most likely intended to be a rebuke to the nation of Israel, Moses serving as mediator between Israel and God.
"Tell the people of Israel to go forward" -God's exact plan of deliverance had never occurred to the people. This fact eerily parallels the redemption found in the death of Christ.
"go forward" -In saying "Tell the Israelites to move on," God was asking for a breaking of camp, rounding up of animals, packing of belongings, an orderly departure by ranks. All this would take many hours, and, indeed, the remainder of that day and almost the entire evening were used in the process of getting the Israelites out of their encampment and into and across the sea (vv. 19-22). Douglas K. Stuart, Exodus, vol. 2, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2006), 338.
16 Lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go through the sea on dry ground.
"your staff" -The staff of Moses was a sign of God's power and presence. This has been the case for Moses personally (Ex. 4:1-5) and the nation as a whole.
17 And I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they shall go in after them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, his chariots, and his horsemen.
"the Egyptians" -Not only was Pharaoh's heart hardened, the entire Egyptian army was hardened as well. No sensible chariot commander would order chariots to go into a wet area...Why, then, did the Egyptians follow the Israelites into the midst of the Red Sea, knowing full well that water and chariots don't mix? The answer is, similarly, that God lured them into it-made them stubborn enough to do it. Douglas K. Stuart, Exodus, vol. 2, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2006), 339.
God's hardening of individuals can be a source of great curiosity and bewilderment, but should never cause individuals to doubt the Creator's goodness. We may not always understand God's purposes in it, but in this text we see that it serves 1) an evangelistic purpose (Israel placed feared and believed the Lord) and 2) it also magnified God's character (the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord).
Paul, in Romans 9, doesn't even attempt to provide an answer to this dilemma, he simply argues that God is Creator and creation really doesn't have authority to object to God's plans and purposes.
18 And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen."
Verses 17-18 parallel verse 4. See comment in verse 13.
19 Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them,
Verse 19 would better be translated: "Then the angel of God, who was traveling in front of Israel's army, moved and went behind them, so the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and stood behind them." In other words, the angel of God and the pillar were the same thing: God's manifestation of himself in the visible presence of the Israelites. Douglas K. Stuart, Exodus, vol. 2, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2006), 340.
In this sense, God himself serves as a barrier between impending death (Egyptian army) and allows for Israel to experience His deliverance. In much the same way, Jesus' death is God himself standing between our judgment of sin and allows us to experience salvation by grace.
God is seen as leader and protector through the cloud.
20 coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the cloud and the darkness. And it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night.
A complex verse for translating, It is somewhat vague as to whether the Israelites and Egyptians were in the light or the Israelites experienced light and the Egyptians were in darkness. What is clear is that the cloud provided time for Israel to pack up their belongings through the night and begin their move across the Red Sea.
21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.
The text, however, says that the wind actually pushed one part of the sea away from the other part ("drove the sea back ... the waters were divided," v. 21) and created a "wall of water on their right and on their left." The term used for "wall" here, ḥōmāh, connotes a very large wall-not a small stone wall or retaining wall but always a massively large (usually a city) wall, towering above the Israelites, who marched on dry land with walls of water on either side of them. Douglas K. Stuart, Exodus, vol. 2, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2006), 342.
22 And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.
23 The Egyptians pursued and went in after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh's horses, his chariots, and his horsemen.
24 And in the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down on the Egyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic,
25 clogging their chariot wheels so that they drove heavily. And the Egyptians said, "Let us flee from before Israel, for the Lord fights for them against the Egyptians."
"clogging their chariot wheels" -Most probably a reference to bogging down.
"the Lord fights for them" -This truth should have become evident during the plagues, it only becomes evident to the Egyptians after it is too late.
26 Then the Lord said to Moses, "Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen."
"Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the water may come back" -Through Moses' stretching of hands, both the deliverance and judgment of God are seen. Deliverance for Israel, judgment for Egypt.
27 So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its normal course when the morning appeared. And as the Egyptians fled into it, the Lord threw the Egyptians into the midst of the sea.
28 The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained.
The return of the water back to its usual place may have taken a few minutes or may have been virtually instantaneous; the text does not say. It was fast enough that no Egyptians could get back to shore, but all were killed. If they were typical of most ancients, virtually none of them could swim. If the distance of the corridor through the sea were several miles, even the best of swimmers caught miles from shore were without hope. The Israelites were through the corridor and on dry ground; the Egyptians were in the corridor, and when the sea flowed over them, they were lost. Douglas K. Stuart, Exodus, vol. 2, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2006), 345.
29 But the people of Israel walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.
30 Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore.
31 Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.
Notice the results of God's magnificent saving act:
1. Israel witnessed the saving power of the Lord once again.
2. The fear of the Lord increased among his people.
3. Israel placed their faith in God and understood Moses to be the Lord's servant (prophet).
The implication from crossing the Red Sea becomes obvious in this verse. If God could deliver Israel and destroy the mighty Egyptians in this fashion, He could certainly fulfill His other promises to Israel and bring them into the promised land