By Sam E. Stone
Last week we reviewed the institution of the Passover meal when the Israelites prepared to leave their bondage in Egypt. With the death of every firstborn Egyptian, Pharaoh relented and gave permission for God’s people to leave. As they did, the presence of God went before them, visible in a pillar of cloud and of fire (Exodus 13:21).
God told them to take a most unlikely route. He directed them toward the Red Sea rather than going northward on the Via Maris through the land of the Philistines (13:18). Their circuitous route made Pharaoh conclude that they were confused and in disarray. Soon the Israelites were terrified when they learned that the Egyptians were now coming in pursuit of them. From a human perspective, things looked hopeless. They had no “escape route.” The sea was ahead of them, the Egyptian army behind them.
Exodus 14:13, 14
The people were very upset. They cried out to the Lord, and asked Moses why he hadn’t just left them in Egypt rather than leading them out, only to die in the desert (Exodus 14:12). Moses told them, “Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today.” Peter Enns declares, “This is no word of comfort but an angry denouncement of Israel’s paper-thin faith.” Despite their miraculous release from slavery in Egypt, they were already complaining to the Lord. Moses told them that God would fight for them that very day.
Verses 15-20 (not in our printed text) contain God’s command to Moses: “Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground.” God used the pillar of cloud to separate the Egyptian army from them, leaving their pursuers with no available light.
God used a strong east wind to divide the waters and dry the land. Some Bible scholars suggest that the dry land was likely an entire mile in width. It evidently was still night as the Israelites crossed, since God did not destroy the Egyptians until the last watch of the night (v. 24). God had hardened the hearts of the Egyptians (14:4, 8, 17), and they were determined to recapture their former slaves.
The Lord threw the Egyptian pursuers into confusion, however, and jammed the wheels of their chariots. As they realized what was happening, members of Pharaoh’s army shouted, “Let’s get away from the Israelites! The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.” These were the last recorded words of the Egyptians (see 14:25).
James E. Smith notes, “At daybreak, when the Israelites could witness the miracle, God ordered Moses to stretch out his hand over the sea. When he did so, the waters rushed back together. Not one member of Pharaoh’s army which followed Israel into the sea survived . . . The people feared Yahweh, and put their trust in him and his servant Moses.”
Now the Israelites understood what the Lord had done for them and why he led them on this unusual route to the promised land. No longer were they complaining. As Moses himself had assured the people, “The Egyptians you see today you will never see again” (v. 13).
“Egypt has finally paid the ultimate price for the ultimate transgression,” says Peter Enns. “Their king has been contending with God, thinking that he was his equal. He set out to destroy God’s beloved son, Israel. Now, finally, once mighty Egypt understands that this was a mistake.”
Exodus 14:29, 30
The crossing of the Red Sea has special meaning for Christians. The apostle Paul uses this event to teach about baptism. “Our forefathers were all under the cloud and . . . all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Corinthians 10:1, 2). Just as the Israelites submitted to Moses as their deliverer and leader, even so the believer submits to Christ as Savior and Lord. Just as the Israelites had water all around them and were covered by a cloud above, so the immersion of a repentant believer pictures his burial with Christ in baptism into death (Romans 6:1-4). Now he is ready to live a new life in Jesus.
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.