(“Questions From Israel’s Exodus” series: post #11)
In the previous post, I explained that God’s route for Israel’s exodus from Egypt was not the commonsensical route that anybody would have expected them to take. Rather than have the Israelites head northeast along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, He had them head southeast toward Mount Sinai. Why did God do this?
His reasons were three-fold. First, He didn’t want the just-released Israelites to have to quickly go from slaves to soldiers when they would inevitably encounter the Philistines who lived along the Mediterranean coast. Second, Mount Sinai was where He had spoken to Moses at the burning bush and promised him, “When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain” (Exodus 3:12, N.K.J.V.). Third, even though the Israelites didn’t know it yet, God planned for them to remain encamped at Mount Sinai for well over a year as they received His law and built the Tabernacle, that movable site of worship that would serve them so well in the centuries before Solomon would build the Jerusalem Temple.
On their way toward Mount Sinai, God told Moses to have the Israelites camp at a specific site along the shoreline of the Red Sea (Exodus 14:1-2). Camping at that site would make the Israelites totally vulnerable to attack because it would pin them up against the waters of the sea where they would have no path of escape. Was God crazy for leading His chosen people to such a bottleneck? To the contrary, it was all part of His plan. He told Moses, “For Pharaoh will say of the children of Israel, ‘They are bewildered by the land; the wilderness has closed them in.’ Then I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, so that he will pursue them; and I will gain honor over Pharaoh and over all his army, that the Egyptians may know that I am the Lord” (Exodus 14:3-4, N.K.J.V.).
Once the location of Israel’s encampment got back to Pharaoh, he became emboldened to act. Some time had now passed since the night of the tenth plague, things had settled down in Egypt, and he and his fellow Egyptians had come to regret letting the Israelites leave. So, he climbed into his personal chariot and led 600 other chariots, as well as untold numbers of horsemen, in a hot campaign to reclaim the Israelites (Exodus 14:5-9). When they came upon the Israelites, who were still encamped at the Red Sea, the specter of Pharaoh and his mighty army struck great fear into the Israelites (Exodus 14:10).
As would be their consistent pattern in years to come, the Israelites immediately turned upon Moses and blamed him for what they felt was going to be their certain doom. They said to him, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in this wilderness” (Exodus 14:11-12). Moses, to his eternal credit, remained calm and didn’t respond in anger to the rebuke. He simply said, “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever. The Lord will fight for you and you shall hold your peace.” (Exodus 14:13-14). That’s faith. That’s leadership.
The rest of the story played out to the tune of the following sequence:
- God promised Moses that the waters of the sea would be divided and the Israelites would cross through the midst of the sea on dry ground. (Exodus 14:16)
- The Angel of God (Jesus in pre-incarnate form), who was inside the pillar of cloud, moved from standing ahead of the Israelites to standing behind them. (Exodus 14:19)
- The presence of the Angel/cloud served to keep the Israelites and the Egyptians separated for the rest of that day and all of that night. The Israelites, however, didn’t even know when the night began because their side of the Angel/cloud remained in light the entire time while the Egyptians’ side sank into darkness. (Exodus 14:20)
- Moses stretched out his rod over the sea, as God had previously told him to do (Exodus 14:16), and the Lord caused a strong easterly wind to start blowing. The strong wind blew all night long, and the end result was that the waters of the Red Sea were walled up on both sides thus creating a path of dry land right through the middle. (Exodus 14:21)
- The Israelites marched into the path and walked it completely through the Red Sea until they reached the opposite shore. (Exodus 14:22)
- The Angel/cloud allowed the Egyptians, chariots and horsemen alike, to head into the dry path themselves. Once all the Egyptians were inside the Sea, the Angel of the Lord slowed down the Egyptian chariots by causing them to have difficulty with their wheels. (Exodus 14:24-25)
- When Egypt’s soldiers saw the trouble the chariots were having, they panicked and said, “Let us flee from the face of Israel, for the Lord fights for them against the Egyptians.” But it was too late as God told Moses, who was standing on the opposite shore, to stretch out his hand (rod) over the sea again and bring the waters back together so that the sea could reclaim its full depth. (Exodus 14:25-28)
- The Egyptian army — men, chariots, and horses — was drowned by the crushing waters as those waters fell upon them like awesome waterfalls. As the Israelites stood on the opposite shore, they watched as some of the drowned corpses of the Egyptians started washing up on that shore. (Exodus 14:30-31)
One of the questions that commentators and Bible scholars debate is whether or not Pharaoh himself was part of the drowning in the Red Sea. If you’ve ever seen the famous Cecil B. DeMille movie “The Ten Commandments,” you know that the Pharaoh of that movie survives by remaining on the shore while his troops move into the Red Sea. Some students of the Bible have disputed that part of the movie, but others say that DeMille probably got that part right.
In Exodus 14:28, the Bible says: “Then the waters returned and covered the chariots, the horsemen, and all the army of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them. Not so much as one of them remained” (N.K.J.V.). Notice that the wording there doesn’t specifically name Pharaoh. Furthermore, it also leaves open the possibility that some of Egypt’s army didn’t actually enter into the Red Sea in pursuit of the Israelites.
Also, the debate about the actual identity of the Pharaoh comes into play here. For example, if the Pharaoh was Amenhotep II, historical records indicate that he did not die by being drowned in the Red Sea. Unfortunately, however, even solid, reputable, conservative scholars aren’t all in agreement on which Pharaoh was the Pharaoh of the Exodus. That’s actually a big part of the whole debate.
Those who believe that Pharaoh did drown in the Red Sea point to Psalm 136:15, which says that God “…overthrew Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea” (N.K.J.V.). That verse is basically just a repeating of Exodus 14:27, which says “…So the Lord overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea.” At first blush Psalm 136:15 might seem to make a slam-dunk case that Pharaoh did drown, but the interpretation isn’t so simple. I say that because the Hebrew word translated as “overthrew” in both Psalm 136:15 and Exodus 14:27 is naar, and that word literally means “shook off.” You see, saying that God “shook off” Pharaoh and his army might equate to Him killing Pharaoh by way of drowning him, but it doesn’t absolutely have to equate to that.
Another passage that gets kicked around in an attempt to answer the question is Exodus 15:19. That verse says in the classic King James version: “For the horse of Pharaoh went in with his chariots and his horsemen into the sea, and the Lord brought again the waters of the sea upon them…” Many point to the use of that singular word “horse” and say, “That proves that Pharaoh went into the sea and drown there.” Here again, though, the interpretation isn’t so simple. This time the problem is that all the modern translations, including the New King James, use the plural word “horses” rather than the singular word “horse.” The plural, of course, opens the door for a completely different conclusion.
But that’s enough of all that. Regardless of whether or not Pharaoh himself drowned in the Red Sea, the question before us right now is: “Can God make a way where there seems to be no way?” And the answer to that is an emphatic, “YES!!!” Any God who can create a dry path for the Israelites to use to walk through the heart of the Red Sea can certainly create a path of deliverance for you, too. Keep this in mind the next time you find yourself trapped in a situation that seems to hold no way of escape. Just look to God and say, “Lord, right now I feel like the Israelites standing on the shore of the Red Sea with Pharaoh’s army bearing down upon them. You helped them, so I’m asking you right now to help me.” Pray that prayer in faith, and then don’t be surprised when you start feeling God’s wind upon your face and seeing His path.