The Victory at the Red Sea
Enns stresses that this chapter marks out a new beginning for God’s people: ‘This passage tells not only of the end of Israel’s servitude to Egypt and the beginning of her servitude to Yahweh, it tells of the beginning of Israel itself, from a band of slaves to a nation.’
The identity (and therefore the location) of the ‘sea’ which the Israelites crossed is subject to some uncertainty. Heiser (The Bible Unfiltered, ch 14) notes that in the present chapter it is simply referred to as ‘the sea’. But in many other places in the OT it is called yam suph. This phrase actually means ‘sea of reeds’ (not ‘red sea’). Few reeds grow along the Red Sea, due to its salt water.
‘It’s possible that when the Israelites emerged from Egypt that they crossed a smaller body of water adjacent to the Red Sea—possibly one of the Bitter Lakes or Lake Timsah—rather than the Red Sea itself.’
According to Heiser, another interpretation is possible:
‘Since biblical Hebrew words were originally written without vowels, the phrase yam suph could be read as yam soph. The odd-sounding result would be “the sea of the end” or “the sea of extinction”—a phrase that refers to an ancient cosmological notion that the world was flat and surrounded by a water boundary. In this view, the Israelites would have thought they were approaching the end of the world, venturing out into the desert wilderness and straight into the primeval waters where no one could live.’
Fretheim rightly stresses that the passover and the sea crossing are two sides of the same act of divine deliverance.
Alexander notes some themes that the present narrative shares with the earlier part of Exodus:-
‘The twofold reference to Pharaoh’s heart (vv. 4, 8; cf. v 17, which speaks of the ‘heart of the Egyptians’) recalls how this motif comes in all of the earlier ‘sign’ episodes, with, in particular, the Hebr. verb hzq, ‘to strengthen’, occurring in Ex 4:21; 9:12; 10:20, 27; 11:10. Twice YHWH states his intention that ‘the Egyptians will know that I am YHWH’ (vv. 4, 18), echoing a motif that comes previously in Ex 5:2; 6:7; 7:5, 17; 8:10, 22; 9:14; 10:2.
‘Pharaoh’s remark that ‘we have released Israel from serving us’ (v. 5; cf. v. 12) recalls the frequent request that the Israelites should be released in order to serve YHWH (Ex 4:23; 5:1–2; 6:11; 7:2, 16; 8:1–2[7:26–27], 8, 16–17[12–13], 24–25[20–21]; 9:1–2, 13; 10:3–4, 7).
‘The association of God’s presence with the pillar of fire and cloud (v. 24; cf. Ex 13:21–22) is reminiscent of his appearance as a flame of fire in 3:2…
‘All of these links convey strongly the impression that the account of the destruction of the Egyptian army should be viewed as a natural sequel and climax to the story recounted in the preceding chapters…’ (Numbering and formatting added)
According to Thomas W. Mann (Feasting on the Word, Year A Vol 2)
‘Exodus 14 combines several literary sources, producing numerous inconsistencies. In one scenario God makes the sea bed dry with a wind, moves in a cloud between the Israelites and the Egyptians, leads them to the other side, and then the sea returns, drowning the Egyptians, whose chariots had become mired in the sand. In another, the sea is divided, with walls of water making a corridor, through which Israel and the Egyptians pass, until the walls collapse on the troops. Not only is it impossible to know “what actually happened,” but we should read the story as historical fiction—more an interpretation of an event than a report of the facts.’
We think, with Alexander, that a good case can be made for the essential literary unity of the chapter.
Ryken reminds us that the crossing of the Red Sea may be the single most celebrated event in the entire Old Testament.
‘Anyone who knows anything about the Bible knows that the children of Israel passed through the sea. This miracle has been acclaimed by composers like George Frideric Handel, actors like Charlton Heston, preachers like Martin Luther King, Jr., writers like Leon Uris, cartoonists like Charles Schulz, animators like Walt Disney, and even singers like Bob Marley: “Send us another brother Moses! From across the Red Sea … come to break down ’pression, rule inequality, wipe away transgression, set the captives free.”’
14:1 The LORD spoke to Moses: 14:2 “Tell the Israelites that they must turn and camp before Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea; you are to camp by the sea before Baal Zephon opposite it. 14:3 Pharaoh will think regarding the Israelites, ‘They are wandering around confused in the land—the desert has closed in on them.’ 14:4 I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will chase after them. I will gain honor because of Pharaoh and because of all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD.” So this is what they did.
“They must turn” – Apparently, from an east southeast direction (Ex 12:37; 13:20) to a roughly northward direction.
“Pi-hahiroth…Migdol…Ball Zephon” – The location of these sites (be they geographical features or places of human habitation) is unknown.
“Camp by the sea” – Presumably, the Red Sea in meant. A potentially dangerous place, cutting off (so it would have seemed) their escape route.
‘If even an act of God must have seemed unloving this was it, for all too soon they found that they had apparently been led into a trap, which rapidly closed upon them (Ex 14:9). And it was God who had put them there!’ (Motyer)
‘What had happened was that a complete reversal of direction had landed the Israelites somewhere along (as is most likely) the Red Sea coast, looking as if they were afraid to head out into the actual wilderness.’ (Stuart)
“Pharaoh will think…” – ‘Like a master chess player, God induces Pharaoh to move his king into checkmate, and he doesn’t even realize it.’ (Enns)
“I will gain honour…and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord” – This sentiment is important, for it is repeated in v18. Fretheim observes that there is no mention of the liberation of the Israelites here. That will happen, of course, but God’s primary purpose is to bring honour to himself. What do we make of that?
This honouring of God is given voice in chapter 15.
‘This episode may seem like a superfluous show of strength after the plagues, but the persistence of the pharaoh is shown to be unrelenting. God’s final demonstration of counterforce brought an end to all negotiations and clearly established the Lord’s reputation for the world. In the ancient world, the name of Yahweh was not known. The witness of the text is that the Lord came down at this point in history to reveal who God is in a unique and unequivocal way. God’s identity was greater than simply being the “God of the Hebrews, who wanted the people freed.” God’s purpose was not limited to manipulating a specific Pharaoh for one specific purpose. The scope of the Lord’s action and self-revelation is, at once, historical and cosmic.’ (Bruckner)
14:5 When it was reported to the king of Egypt that the people had fled, the heart of Pharaoh and his servants was turned against the people, and the king and his servants said, “What in the world have we done? For we have released the people of Israel from serving us!” 14:6 Then he prepared his chariots and took his army with him. 14:7 He took six hundred select chariots, and all the rest of the chariots of Egypt, and officers on all of them.
When it was reported to the king of Egypt that the people had fled – Enns comments that Pharaoh probably expected the Israelites to go on a three-day journey, which is what Moses had originally asked for. Now he realises that the three days are up, and the Israelites have just kept on moving.
‘The number of days or weeks that had transpired since the night of the Passover cannot be determined from the narrative. Supposing that a week or two had gone by, it is not difficult to imagine that the leaders of Egypt were beginning to receive reports related to work stoppages of all sorts on important defensive building projects in the northeast delta,33 by reason of the absence of Israelite brickmakers and construction workers.’ (Stuart)
“What…have we done?” – ‘Note, It is very common, but very absurd and criminal, for people to repent of their good deeds; their justice and charity, and even their repentance, are repented of.’ (MHC)
‘From the perspective of the Israelites, their departure from Egypt has been divinely accomplished. From an Egyptian perspective, the Israelite slaves have been driven out (Ex 11:8; 12:31, 33).’ (Alexander)
He prepared his chariots – Note the accumulation of terms describing the Egyptian army: an indication of the unevenness of the contest. The Israelites have no chariots and were not equipped for warfare (Alexander disputes the usual translation of Ex 13:18).
‘Every chariot (fourteen references in chaps. 14–15!) and every horse/horseman (twelve times), indeed the entire Egyptian army, is thrown into the fray. Egypt devotes its brightest and best to the chase. This is no minor military maneuver from the Egyptian perspective. Yet, given God’s announced involvement (v. 4), the reader knows that all this bravado will finally be in the service of Israel’s God and God’s mission in the world.’ (Fretheim)
‘In every period, professional armies tend to have some weapon which smite terror into the untrained man’s heart, however brave and strong he may be. With the Egyptians at that time it was their chariot force. Horses were not used for riding – the horsemen of the story are charioteers – but they were used in chariors, in which there would be a driver and a fighter, normally armed with bow and arrows. the infrantry, through well trained, served on such occasions mainly to defend the chariots, if they got into trouble on difficult ground.’ (Ellison)
‘Even though he witnessed the signs and wonders, and the death of the Egyptian firstborn males, Pharaoh’s actions reveal that he still has not grasped the truth regarding YHWH. The same, however, may also be said of the Israelites, in the light of their reaction to the advancing Egyptian chariot force.’ (Alexander)
He took his army with him – lit. ‘his people’. Stuart infers from this that Pharaoh and his advisers went a certain distance, leaving his army to press ahead into their watery graves.
“We have released the people of Israel from serving us!” – This defines what the Israelites had been released from. They had been slaves.
14:8 But the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he chased after the Israelites. Now the Israelites were going out defiantly. 14:9 The Egyptians chased after them, and all the horses and chariots of Pharaoh and his horsemen and his army overtook them camping by the sea, beside Pi-hahiroth, before Baal-Zephon.
The Israelites were going our defiantly – or, ‘boldly’ (Bruckner). Or, again, this may be a reference to their organisation into regiments of fifty men apiece (Ex 12:17, 41, 51; cf. Ex 13:18).
Alexander, however, supports the idea of ‘defiance’: ‘While there is no suggestion in the present context that the Israelites are blaspheming YHWH, this brief remark may possibly imply that they considered themselves, rather than YHWH, to have won the victory.’
But their confidence will soon turn to consternation.
His army overtook them – In v10, we read that the Egyptians were ‘marching after them’. It may be, as Humphreys suggests, that the horses and chariots took a longer (but, for them, faster) route around the Israelites, and that the foot soldiers marched behind them. They were caught in a pincer movement.
14:10 When Pharaoh got closer, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians marching after them, and they were terrified. The Israelites cried out to the LORD, 14:11 and they said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the desert? What in the world have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? 14:12 Isn’t this what we told you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone so that we can serve the Egyptians, because it is better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!’ ”
The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt – Alexander quotes the puzzlement of Gowan: ‘If God could harden Pharaoh’s heart, why did he not instead soften his heart, and thus avoid all that suffering and death? Christians believe that by the work of the Holy Spirit, God can and does bring about radical changes in human personalities; would it not have been far better to treat Pharaoh as he treated another persecutor of his people, the apostle Paul (Acts 9:1–22).’ No doubt the complete resolution of such questions does not lie within our reach. But we should at least recall that, in the account of the plagues, the general tendency was for Pharaoh to harden his own heart before God hardened it. Part of the answer, then, lay in the direction of what some call ‘judicial hardening’, of God, in the end, confirming the uncoerced decisions of those who repeatedly resists him.
The Israelites cried out to the Lord – They soon forget the reassurances of vv1-4. They had first cried out to the Lord in Ex 3:6, and subsequent events had shown that he had heard and responded. As Enns says, ‘The sudden reiteration of that cry, so soon after they have witnessed God’s mighty acts in the plagues, is nothing less than capitulation to the appearance of their immediate circumstances, of which the events of the previous thirteen chapters should have cured them.’
Enns comments further that this complaint is the first instalment of a grumbling theme, hinted at in Ex 2:11-14, and characteristic of Israel’s behaviour throughout their desert wanderings. In Ex:16:3; 17:3 they speak again of preferring to serve and die in Egypt. Israel’s grumbling is remembered in Psa 106:6f.
‘At the first sight of trouble, they are willing to march straight back to Egypt, ignoring the mighty acts of God that have brought them out in the first place. With Pharaoh in hot pursuit, they do not give a second thought to the promise God made to the patriarchs. They still have not learned that God’s purpose for bringing them out of Egypt is not simply to save them, but to maintain his covenant tie to all his people, past, present, and future. They have still not learned that their circumstances are not the final standard on which to view the work of God.’ (Enns)
‘The people’s lack of trust in both Moses and YHWH becomes a recurring motif in the account of their wilderness journey, often involving a yearning to be back in Egypt (cf. Ex 15:23–25; 16:3; 17:3; Num. 11:1–6; 14:1–4; 16:13–14; 20:2–5; 21:4–5).’ (Alexander)
14:13 Moses said to the people, “Do not fear! Stand firm and see the salvation of the LORD that he will provide for you today; for the Egyptians that you see today you will never, ever see again. 14:14 The LORD will fight for you, and you can be still.”
“Do not fear!” –
‘Note, It is our duty and interest, when we cannot get out of our troubles, yet to get above our fears, so that they may only serve to quicken our prayers and endeavours, but may not prevail to silence our faith and hope.’ (MHC)
“The Lord will fight for you” –
“You can be still” – Enns says that this is not a word of comfort, but rather of impatient command: “Shut up!”
Chester invites us to imagine what it must have felt like to be commanded to ‘be still’ when the most powerful army in the world was bearing down on you!
Fretheim agrees that this ‘is not a call for passivity, as if angels will now come and carry them across the sea (see Ex 14:15). It is a word calling for silence. What the people might have to say, whether in lament or battle cry (see 2 Chron. 13:14–15), will have no bearing on what is about to happen. Neither Israel’s words nor deeds will add to what God is effecting on their behalf (cf. Ps. 46, highly pertinent for this setting).’
For Alexander, this means that ‘whereas YHWH will do the fighting, the Israelites are to be calm and silent. They are to be witnesses, rather than participants in the battle. Their salvation will come from YHWH, who without assistance will overthrow the Egyptian army, ensuring that the glory for the victory will be God’s alone.’
14:15 The LORD said to Moses, “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. 14:16 And as for you, lift up your staff and extend your hand toward the sea and divide it, so that the Israelites may go through the middle of the sea on dry ground. 14:17 And as for me, I am going to harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will come after them, that I may be honored because of Pharaoh and his army and his chariots and his horsemen. 14:18 And the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD when I have gained my honor because of Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.”
“Why do you cry out to me?” – Rather puzzling, in this context. Some think that this verse belongs after v12. But it is possible that Moses had participated in the general complaining recorded in v10, or that he had been busy ‘crying out’ in pray on behalf of the people, but the Lord wanted him to stop praying and start leading. (Bruckner)
“As for you…” – ‘Moses is given a central place as agent for the saving work of God (Ex 14:16, 21) and is given recognition for this in later tradition (Isa. 63:12). This does not in any way stand at odds with the tradition that speaks solely of the dividing of the waters as the work of God (see Ps. 78:13; Neh. 9:11). This dual involvement was announced initially by God (Ex 3:8, 10), and it is recognized as such by the people on the far side of the event (Ex 14:31). This is consonant with God’s ways throughout the Scriptures and beyond, from those who preach and teach the word of God to those who preside over the sacraments. Salvation is no less the work of God because God uses human beings (or nonhuman entities such as the wind) as instruments in and through which to work.’ (Fretheim)
In v16, ‘three phrases allude to the creation: as God’s spirit hovered over the waters (Gen. 1:2) so Moses was told to raise his staff over the sea; as God separated the water (Gen. 1:7) Moses’ action divided the water; and as God made dry ground (Gen. 1:9) so the people would go through the sea on dry ground.’ (Bruckner)
“So that the Israelites may go through the middle of the sea on dry ground” – There is uncertainty about precisely which body of water is meant. Clearly, it was large and dangerous. The Apologetics Study Bible summarises the biblical evidence: ‘the waters were deep (Is 63:13), but that God split them and made them stand “like a wall” (Ps 78:13) on either side of the fleeing Israelites (Ex 14:22, 29). When the waters returned to their original position they covered the Egyptians’ chariots, horses, and soldiers (v. 27; 15:1; Dt 11:4; Jos 24:7; Ne 9:11; Ps 78:53), thereby killing all the enemy (Ex 14:27–28, 30; Ps 106:11). In the NT, Stephen, the apostle Paul, and the writer of Hebrews referred to the body of water as a sea (Acts 7:36; 1 Co 10:1; Heb 11:29).’
I am going to harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will come after them – Stuart comments that this would have been against the Egyptians’ better judgement: no sensible commander would have taken his chariots into a muddy area. But God had strengthened their resolve to follow the Israelites. Moreover, they would have been under strict orders to recapture the Israelites, and it would have seemed a lame excuse to say that ‘they simply walked across the sea.’
“The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord” – ‘Many in the future would honor Yahweh as the God who created, who creates new realities, and who redeems those who cry out to him.’ (Bruckner)
14:19 The angel of God, who was going before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them. 14:20 It came between the Egyptian camp and the Israelite camp; it was a dark cloud and it lit up the night so that one camp did not come near the other the whole night. 14:21 Moses stretched out his hand toward the sea, and the LORD drove the sea apart by a strong east wind all that night, and he made the sea into dry land, and the water was divided. 14:22 So the Israelites went through the middle of the sea on dry ground, the water forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.
Fretheim thinks that there is a historical core to this account, but that multiple sources are responsible for this
‘kaleidoscope of images: divine messengers, pillars of fire and cloud, alternating light and darkness, a strong east wind, the sea cleft in two, walls of water standing up and lying down, a dry sea canyon pathway, bogged-down Egyptian chariots, a lonely human hand twice stretched out, and a shore strewn with dead bodies…Trying to sort it out in a literal fashion, or suggesting that Israel considered the detail to correspond precisely to reality, is like retouching Renoir’s paintings to make them look like photographs.’
We think, rather, that the theological points that Fretheim wishes to draw from the text lose much of their power if the historical basis for them is watered down to that extent.
The angel of God – would appear to be a manifestation of God himself, for in Ex 13:21 the Lord himself performed the same function.
The pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them – That which had been their guide now becomes their guard.
In Humphrey’s view, it was not the pillar of cloud which moved behind them, but rather that the Israelites changed direction (see v1), such that the pillar of cloud was now at their rear. However, this does not explain v20, according to which the cloud came between the Egyptians and the Israelites.
The pillar of cloud – Dark and impenetrable from the Egyptian side; lighting up the night on the Israelite side. ‘Just as events of the Passover night had differentiated Israel from Egypt to the disadvantage of Egyptians, the events of this night similarly worked against Egypt’s interests.’ (Stuart)
Stuart says that the sense is, ‘…so the pillar of cloud moved…’, making it clear that the angel of God and the pillar of cloud are the same thing.
Moses stretched out his hand…and the LORD drove the sea apart by a strong east wind – As Ryken points out, three elements – the natural, the human, and the divine – are brought together in this one verse.
‘Again, judgment takes the form of un-creation. Water and land un-separate, just as they did when God sent judgment during the time of Noah. Judgment takes the form of water. In 10:19 the Spirit-wind of God carried away the locust army into the Red Sea. Now the Spirit-wind of God carries away the Egyptian army into the same sea.’ (Chester)
The Lord drove the sea apart…and the water was divided – As Enns remarks, the plagues represented a reversal of creation. So it is with the parting of the sea: whereas in Gen 1:9 the seas are gathered, and separated from the dry land, here they are split open to reveal the land beneath. ‘In Genesis 1, the dry land brings forth the myriad of creatures who will live there. So too in Exodus, the dry land will give life to the Israelites. For the Egyptians, however, this act of “creation” is reversed, for it brings death, not life. As such, it is not just a creation reversal, but the ultimate payback for Pharaoh’s attempt to kill the Israelite firstborn in the waters of the Nile.’
A strong east wind – As with the plagues, this raises the question, in many minds, of whether such mighty works were achieved through natural, or supernatural means. As Enns remarks, such an either/or approach is alien to the thinking of the ancient Israelites. Mention of this strong wind clearly indicate that natural forces were responsible, at least in part, for what happened.
Reid notes the following echoes of the creation narrative in Genesis: ‘First, there was the presence of a spirit or wind (the same Hebrew word is used for wind and S/spirit; rûaḥ), connected with water (Genesis 1:2; Exodus 14:21). Second, ‘dry ground’ appears out of a watery mass (Genesis 1:9, 10; Exodus 14:21–22).’
Ellison thinks that other references to the Exodus, in Judg 5:4f; Psa 77:16-19; 114:3-6 and Hab 3:3-6 – all poetic in style – suggest the additional force of an earthquake. This might have led to sea-bed being temporarily lifted, and then returning to original level after the Israelites had crossed.
The water forming a wall for them on their right and on their left – Ellison says that the popular idea of a wall of water piling up on either side is due more to the poetic language of Ex 15:8 than to the more descriptive wording of the present verse. Instone-Brewer (Science and the Bible: Modern Insights for an Ancient Text) notes that the expression is used figuratively in 1 Sam 25:16, where David’s men are said to form a ‘wall’ of protection around the shepherds. Bruckner agrees that the key point here is that the Egyptians would not be able to perform the usual outflanking manoeuvre.
The parting of the Red Sea ‘was the terror of the Canaanites (Jos. 2:9, 10), the praise and triumph of the Israelites, Ps. 114:3; 106:9; 136:13, 14. It was a type of baptism, 1 Co. 10:1, 2. Israel’s passage through it was typical of the conversion of souls (Isa. 11:15), and the Egyptians’ perdition in it was typical of the final ruin of all impenitent sinners, Rev. 20:14.’ (MHC)
‘Note, God can bring his people through the greatest difficulties, and force a way where he does not find it. The God of nature has not tied himself to its laws, but, when he pleases, dispenses with them, and then the fire does not burn, nor the water flow.’ (MHC)
‘This march through the sea was in the night, and not a moon-shiny night, for it was seven days after the full moon, so that they had no light but what they had from the pillar of cloud and fire. This made it the more awful; but where God leads us he will light us; while we follow his conduct, we shall not want his comforts.’ (MHC)
14:23 The Egyptians chased them and followed them into the middle of the sea—all the horses of Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen. 14:24 In the morning watch the LORD looked down on the Egyptian army through the pillar of fire and cloud, and he threw the Egyptian army into a panic. 14:25 He jammed the wheels of their chariots so that they had difficulty driving, and the Egyptians said, “Let’s flee from Israel, for the LORD fights for them against Egypt!”
The Egyptians chased them and followed them into the middle of the sea – forgetting that his magicians, after the first two plagues, had been helpless against the Israelites and their God, Pharaoh pursues them, thinking to overcome them. ‘Note, The ruin of sinners is brought on by their own presumption, which hurries them headlong into the pit. They are self-destroyers.’ (MHC)
In the morning watch – ‘It is ironic that the Egyptians were defeated at daybreak because that is when their sun god was supposedly rising in the east. But Ra could not save them.’ (Ryken)
He jammed the wheels of their chariots – or, ‘He made the wheels of their chariots come off’ (NIV). Alexander says that the Heb. is difficult, although the main point is clear – the chariots became difficult to manoeuvre.
If we take Psa 77:16–20 as our guide, the east wind was accompanied by torrential rain, which would have turn the pathway to mud – impossible for the chariots to negotiate.
‘We should not lose sight of the fact that this tactic hits the Egyptians at their symbol of power—their mighty chariots—which earlier struck fear into the Israelites. It is precisely that element that God mockingly derails. There they are, stuck in the middle of the sea, unable to proceed or retreat, and it finally dawns on them that they are, literally, in over their heads. In what is an almost comic confession in light of the preceding fourteen chapters, their wooden brains finally draw the obvious conclusion, “Let’s get away from the Israelites! The LORD is fighting for them against Egypt” (v. 25).’ (Enns)
“Let’s flee from Israel” – Words not attributed to Pharaoh, but to his army. Is this mutiny? Throughout the narrative, the people have been more favourably disposed towards the Israelites and their God, than Pharaoh.
‘They might have let Israel alone and would not; now they would flee from the face of Israel and cannot.’ (MHC)
The LORD fights for them against Egypt! – This remarkable confession fulfils v4, and vindicates Moses’ promise in v14.
14:26 The LORD said to Moses, “Extend your hand toward the sea, so that the waters may flow back on the Egyptians, on their chariots, and on their horsemen!” 14:27 So Moses extended his hand toward the sea, and the sea returned to its normal state when the sun began to rise. Now the Egyptians were fleeing before it, but the LORD overthrew the Egyptians in the middle of the sea. 14:28 The water returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen and all the army of Pharaoh that was coming after the Israelites into the sea—not so much as one of them survived! 14:29 But the Israelites walked on dry ground in the middle of the sea, the water forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. 14:30 So the LORD saved Israel on that day from the power of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the shore of the sea. 14:31 When Israel saw the great power that the LORD had exercised over the Egyptians, they feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses.
Not so much as one of them survived! – ‘This may seem harsh to us, but the men of Egypt are drowned for drowning the boys of Israel (Ex1:22). And they are drowned at daybreak (Ex 14:24)—which is when Ra, the sun god, should have risen to their aid. But Ra was unable to save them.’ (Chester)
The Israelites walked on dry ground in the middle of the sea, the water forming a wall for them on their right and on their left – Durham cautions that such language does not lend itself to naturalistic explanations. This is the language, he says, ‘of confession. This victory, like the victories in Egypt, is declared to be Yahweh’s victory, Yahweh’s alone. What we may make of that is our problem. The compositor who set these lines together was speaking from faith and attempting both to address faith and to stimulate faith…Every tradition employed and virtually every word used are to that end.’
The Egyptians dead on the shore of the sea – ‘The Egyptians were very nice and curious in embalming and preserving the bodies of their great men, but here the utmost contempt is poured upon all the grandees of Egypt; see how they lie, heaps upon heaps, as dung upon the face of the earth.’ (MHC)
Did Pharaoh himself drown? The text seems to suggest so, and this is reflected too in Psa 136:15. According to Alexander this does, however, create a problem if the exodus is to be dated to around 1447 BC, which would be in the middle of the reign of Thutmoses III (1479–1425 BC). Ellison thinks that there is ‘no suggestion’ that Pharaoh accompanied his chariots. Nor, he says, is there any evidence of a Pharaoh of that period meeting his death by drowning.
They feared the Lord –
‘Hebrew uses the same word for being afraid and for revering, for a negative fear and a positive submission. At the beginning of the story the midwives feared God in a good sense rather than fearing Pharaoh and doing what he said. At the end of the story Israel gives up fearing the future and fearing Pharaoh in a bad sense because it has seen the reason for fearing God in a good sense. That it is a good fear is indicated by the fact that it goes along with trusting in Yahweh. The Israelites have caught up with the midwives.’ (Goldingay)
They believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses – ‘How much more should we, when we see our deliverance in the cross and resurrection, put our trust in God, by putting our trust in Jesus his servant.’ (Chester)
‘Salvation and destruction came together. The sea of protection from evil was also the sea of destruction for evil forces.’ (Bruckner)
Chester quotes Donald Bridge, who tells the story of ‘a liberal preacher visiting an African-American church. As the minister talked about the crossing of the Red Sea, someone shouted, “Praise the Lord. Takin’ all them children through the deep waters. What a mighty miracle!” The minister, who did not believe in miracles, was annoyed at this intervention. So rather condescendingly, he told the congregation that the Israelites were probably in marshland with an ebbing tide, so they were simply wading through six inches of water. In response to this, the same voice as before shouted, “Praise the Lord. Drownin’ all them Egyptians in six inches of water. What a mighty miracle!”’ (Signs and Wonders Today).
‘Isaiah repeatedly speaks of a coming new exodus (Isaiah 4:5-6; 11:15-16; 35:6-10; 40:3-5; 43:14-19; 48:20-21; 50:2; 51:9-11; 63:11-14; see also Jeremiah 16:14-15; 23:7-8; 31:31-33). And this coming act of liberation is described as an act of new creation (Isaiah 25:6-8; 42:5; 44:24; 45:11-12; 65:17-25).’ (Chester)
‘The drowning of the pharaoh’s chariots and horsemen is unequaled in the history of OT revelation. It demonstrates that the Lord is God over all chaotic and oppressive forces that rule in the created world…The lordship of Yahweh means more than release for slaves; it means the coming end of the principalities that twist the world. The luring of Pharaoh into the heart of the sea revealed the Creator’s move to redeem creation and restore it to the Creator. Escaping the pharaoh was not enough. His power had to be broken in such a way that the entire world would know who the Lord is and what God’s sovereignty can mean.’ (Bruckner)