Exodus 14:2
Speak to the children of Israel, that they turn and encamp before Pihahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, over against Baalzephon: before it shall you encamp by the sea.
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(2) Speak unto the children of Israel, that they turn.—The march of the Israelites had been hitherto almost due south-east. They had reached the edge of the desert (Exodus 13:20), near the head of the Bitter Lakes. If this direction had been maintained, their next day’s march would have taken them out of Egypt into the “wilderness of Etham”—a desolate tract, in which there was no water, and probably scarcely any herbage. The Bitter Lakes would have been upon their right hand, and, so far as the Egyptians were concerned, they would have been in safety. But at this point an express command was given them to “turn.” Kaiisch, Rosenmüller, and others understand this as a command to “return,” or “retrace their steps;” but this is clearly not what was intended, since their march was to bring them to “the sea,” which they had not reached previously. The question arises, What sea? Brugsch suggests the Mediterranean; but it is against this that the Mediterranean has not yet been mentioned in Exodus, and that, when mentioned, it is not as “the sea,” but as “the sea of the Philistines” (Exodus 23:31). “The sea” of this verse can scarcely be different from “the Red Sea” of Exodus 13:18, the only sea previously mentioned by the writer. To reach this sea it was necessary that they should deflect their course to the right, from south-east to south, so keeping within the limits of Egypt, and placing the Bitter Lakes on their left hand.

Pi-hahiroth . . . Migdol . . . Baal-zephon.—These places cannot be identified. They were Egyptian towns or villages of no importance, near the head of the Gulf of Suez, situated on its western shores. The names nearest to Pi-hahiroth in Egyptian geography are Pehir and Pehuret. Migdol would, in Egyptian, be Maktal; and there was an Egyptian town of that name near Pelusium, which, however, cannot be intended in this place. Baal-zephon was probably a Semitic settlement, which had received its name from some worshippers of the god Baal. Eastern Egypt contained many such settlements. The accumulation of names indicates an accurate acquaintance with Egyptian topography, such as no Israelite but one who had accompanied the expedition is likely to have possessed.

14:1-9 Pharaoh would think that all Israel was entangled in the wilderness, and so would become an easy prey. But God says, I will be honoured upon Pharaoh. All men being made for the honour of their Maker, those whom he is not honoured by, he will be honoured upon. What seems to tend to the church's ruin, is often overruled to the ruin of the church's enemies. While Pharaoh gratified his malice and revenge, he furthered the bringing to pass God's counsels concerning him. Though with the greatest reason he had let Israel go, yet now he was angry with himself for it. God makes the envy and rage of men against his people, a torment to themselves. Those who set their faces heavenward, and will live godly in Christ Jesus, must expect to be set upon by Satan's temptations and terrors. He will not tamely part with any out of his service.That they turn - i. e. away from the wilderness, and go southwards, to the west of the Bitter Lakes, which completely separated them from the desert.

Pi-hahiroth - The place is generally identified with Ajrud, a fortress with a very large well of good water, situated at the foot of an elevation commanding the plain which extends to Suez, at a distance of four leagues. The journey from Etham might occupy two, or even three days.

Migdol - A tower, or fort, the "Maktal" of Egyptian monuments; it is probably to be identified with Bir Suweis, about two miles from Suez.

Baal-zephon - The name under which the Phoenicians, who had a settlement in Lower Egypt at a very ancient period, worshipped their chief Deity. There can be no doubt it was near Kolsum, or Suez. From the text it is clear that the encampment of the Israelites extended over the plain from Pi-hahiroth: their headquarters being between Bir Suweis and the sea opposite to Baal-Zephon. At Ajrud the road branches off in two directions, one leading to the wilderness by a tract, now dry, but in the time of Moses probably impassable (see next note); the other leading to Suez, which was doubtless followed by the Israelites.

2. Speak unto the children of Israel, that they turn and encamp—The Israelites had now completed their three days' journey, and at Etham the decisive step would have to be taken whether they would celebrate their intended feast and return, or march onwards by the head of the Red Sea into the desert, with a view to a final departure. They were already on the borders of the desert, and a short march would have placed them beyond the reach of pursuit, as the chariots of Egypt could have made little progress over dry and yielding sand. But at Etham, instead of pursuing their journey eastward with the sea on their right, they were suddenly commanded to diverge to the south, keeping the gulf on their left; a route which not only detained them lingering on the confines of Egypt, but, in adopting it, they actually turned their backs on the land of which they had set out to obtain the possession. A movement so unexpected, and of which the ultimate design was carefully concealed, could not but excite the astonishment of all, even of Moses himself, although, from his implicit faith in the wisdom and power of his heavenly Guide, he obeyed. The object was to entice Pharaoh to pursue, in order that the moral effect, which the judgments on Egypt had produced in releasing God's people from bondage, might be still further extended over the nations by the awful events transacted at the Red Sea.

Pi-hahiroth—the mouth of the defile, or pass—a description well suited to that of Bedea, which extended from the Nile and opens on the shore of the Red Sea.

Migdol—a fortress or citadel.

Baal-zephon—some marked site on the opposite or eastern coast.

Pi-hahiroth, Heb. the month of Hiroth, i.e. the entrance or straits of Hiroth, two great mountains, between which they marched, and were enclosed on both sides.

Migdol, a city in Egypt, Jeremiah 44:1, wherein it is thought there was a garrison.

Baal-zephon, another place of note, situated in a high place, and having a fair and large prospect, and possibly a garrison too. Speak unto the children of Israel, that they turn,.... Not return to Egypt, or to the place, or towards the place from whence they came, but turn off, out of the road in which they were; for, as a late traveller says (a),"there were two roads, through which the Israelites might have been conducted from Cairo (which he supposes may be Rameses) to Pihahiroth. One of them lies through the valleys, as they are now called, of Jendily, Rumaleah, and Baideah, bounded on each side by the mountains of the lower Thebais; the other lies higher, having the northern range of these mountains (the mountains of Mocattee) running parallel with it on the right hand, and the desert of the Egyptian Arabia, which lies all the way open to the land of the Philistines, on the left, (see Exodus 13:17) about the middle of this range we may turn short on our right hand into the valley of Baideah, through a remarkable breach or discontinuation, in which we afterwards continued to the very banks of the Red sea; this road then, through the valley of Baideah, which is some hours longer than the other open road, which leads directly from Cairo to Suez, was in all probability the very road which the Israelites took to Pihahiroth, on the banks of the Red sea.''And again he says (b), this valley ends at the sea in a small bay, made by the eastern extremities of the mountains, and is called "Tiah beni Israel", i.e. the road of the Israelites, from a tradition of the Arabs, of their having passed through it; as it is also called Baideah from the new and unheard of miracle that was wrought near it, by dividing the Red sea, and destroying therein Pharaoh, his chariots and horsemen:

and encamp before Pihahiroth: which was sixteen miles from Etham (c), and by some (d) thought to be the same with the city of Heroes (or Heroopolis), on the extreme part of the Arabic gulf, or the Phagroriopolis, placed by Strabo (e) near the same place: according to the above traveller (f), Pihahiroth was the mouth, or the most advanced part of the valley of Baideah to the eastward toward the Red sea; with which Jarchi in some measure agrees, who says Pihahiroth is Pithom, now so called, because the Israelites became free: they (Hahiroth) are two rocks, and the valley between them is called (Pi) the mouth of the rocks: so Dr. Shaw observes (g); the word may be deduced from "a hole" or "gullet", and by a latitude common in those cases, be rendered a narrow "defile", road or passage, such as the valley of Baideah has been described: but as the Israelites were properly delivered at this place from their captivity and fear of the Egyptians, Exodus 14:13 we may rather suppose that Hhiroth denotes the place where they were restored to their liberty; as Hhorar and Hhiroth are words of the like sort in the Chaldee: but another very learned man (h) says, that in the Egyptian language Pihahiroth signifies a place where grew great plenty of grass and herbs, and was contiguous to the Red sea, and was like that on the other shore of the sea, the Arabian, which Diodorus Siculus (i) speaks of as a pleasant green field:

between Migdol and the sea; which signifies a tower, and might be one: there was a city of this name in Egypt, and in those parts, but whether the same with this is not certain, Jeremiah 44:1.

over against Baalzephon; which the Targums of Jonathan and Jerusalem take to be an "idol": and so does Jarchi, and say it was the only one left of the idols of Egypt; see Exodus 12:12 and so some Christian as well as Jewish writers suppose it to be; and that it was as a watch, or guard, or amulet, to keep fugitives from going out of the land: but by Ezekiel the tragedian (k) it is called a city; and so by Josephus (l), who says they came to Baalzephon the third day, a place situated by the Red sea; which is most likely, and it is highly probable that this and Migdol were two fortified places, which guarded the mouth of the valley, or the straits which led to the Red sea: Artapanus (m) the Heathen historian agrees with Josephus in saying it was the third day when they came to the Red sea:

before it shall ye encamp by the sea; and there wait till Pharaoh came up to them.

(a) Dr. Shaw's Travels, p. 307. Ed. 2.((b) lb. p. 309. (c) Bunting's Travels, p. 82. (d) See the Universal History, vol. 3. p. 387. (e) Geograph. l. 17. p. 553. (f) Shaw, ib. p. 310. (g) Ut supra. (a)) (h) Jablonski de Terra Goshen, Dissert. 5. sect. 9. (i) Bibliothec. c. 3. p. 175. (k) Apud Euseb. Praepar. Evangel. l. 9. c. 29. p. 444. (l) Antiqu. l. 2. c. 15. sect. 1.((m) Apud Euseb. ib. c. 27. p. 436.

Speak unto the children of Israel, that they {a} turn and encamp before {b} Pihahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, over against Baalzephon: before it shall ye encamp by the sea.

(a) From toward the country of the Philistines.

(b) So the Sea was before them, mountains on either side, and the enemies at their back: yet they obeyed God, and were delivered.

2. turn back] viz. from the route past Etham, straight on to Palestine. The ‘turn’ is the same as that mentioned by E in Exodus 13:18. The motive assigned for it is however a different one: in Exodus 13:17 fear lest the Israelites should shrink from facing the Philistines; here (v. 4), that Jehovah might get Himself glory by the overthrow of the Egyptians. See further the last note on v. 4.

Pi-haḥiroth, &c.] None of these places have been as yet identified: they consequently afford no help in determining the place where the passage of the Red Sea took place. M. Naville’s identification of Pi-haḥiroth, with Piḳereḥet, which he argues was on the SW. edge of Lake Timsâḥ, depends upon most precarious grounds (see p. 122). And no independent data whatever exist for determining the sites of Migdol and Baal-ẓěphön: their sites can only be fixed conjecturally, after the place of the passage has been already fixed upon other grounds.

On the sites of Pi-haḥiroth, Migdol, and Baal-ẓĕphôn (Exodus 14:2)

(1) Pi-haḥiroth. M. Naville identifies Pi-haḥiroth with the Egypt. Piḳereḥet or Piḳeḥeret. In lists of the ‘nomes’ of Egypt (Naville, Pithom, ed. 4, p. 24b, cf. pp. 6b, 8a), sometimes the temple of Pithom, sometimes that of Piḳereḥet or Piḳeḥeret, is mentioned as the principal sanctuary of the 8th nome of lower Egypt, in the ‘region of Thukke’ (Succoth: Exodus 12:37); and in the Inscription of Ptolemy II, found by M. Naville at Pithom (ibid. p. 18b), this temple of Piḳeḥeret is mentioned as an abode of Osiris; and it is stated (l. 7; ibid. p. 19b) that Ptolemy, in his 6th year, went to Nefer ab (i.e., probably, the capital of the nome, Heroopolis), visited the temple of Piḳereḥet, and dedicated it to ‘his father Etôm (see on Exodus 1:11), the great living god of Thukke, at the festival of the god.’ A temple of Osiris would be called by the Greeks a Serapeum; and as the Itinerary of Antonine mentions a Serapiu, 18 miles from Heroopolis, and 50 from Klysma (Kolzum, a little N. of the modern Suez), M. Naville identifies the temple of Piḳereḥet with this, and places it at the foot of Jebel Mariam, on the SW. edge of L. Timsâḥ, 12 miles E. of Pithom (p. 25; cf. p. 22a, and see the Map at the end of his volume). Not only, however, does Piḳereḥet not agree phonetically with Pi-haḥiroth as closely as could be desired; but the arguments by which M. Naville seeks to fix its site are anything but cogent: in fact (Griffith) such data as we possess all tend to shew that the temple of Piḳereḥet was the shrine of a serpentine god (Ḳerḥ(et) = ‘serpent’) in Pithom itself, and not 12 miles E. of it (cf. W. M. Müller in DB. ii. 1439, n. 5)1[139]

[139] The identification (Kn. al.) of Pi-haḥiroth with ‘Ajrûd (12 m. NW. of Suez) is quite out of the question: the phonetic equation implied is, as Di. justly objects, too ‘grässlich’ (‘frightful’).

(2) Migdol is a Heb. word meaning tower; and in the Egypt, form Mektol occurs frequently in the inscriptions; but the situation of these ‘towers’ is mostly either uncertain, or unsuited to the present context1[140]. There is however one which, if the Israelites really crossed the sea at or near L. Timsâḥ, may be the ‘Migdol’ here mentioned. In the reign of Merenptah’s successor, Seti II, an officer who had been sent to overtake two fugitive slaves tells us that he followed them first to the sgr (fortified enclosure) of Thukke (see on Exodus 12:37), then, turning to the S., to the khetem, or castle (see on Exodus 13:20), of Thukke, and afterwards to ‘the northern wall of the mektol of Seti’ (see Authority and Archaeology, p. 60f.; W. Max Müller, Migdol in EB.)2[141] This mektol must certainly have been somewhere E. of Thukke (or Pithom): it might therefore well be near L. Timsâḥ, and so would fulfil all conditions for those assuming that the ‘sea’ which the Israelites crossed was a northern extension of the Gulf of Suez, at a point a little S. of this lake.

[140] The Migdol of Ezekiel 29:10; Ezekiel 30:6, mentioned as a frontier-city of Egypt (render each time as RVm.), is probably the Magdolo of the Itin. Anton., 12 m. S. of Pelusium: but this is far too N. for the present ‘Migdol’. See Migdol in EB.

The ‘khetem which is in Thukke near the lakes of Pithom’ (L. Timsâḥ and the Bitter Lakes?) is mentioned also in another inscription: see Auth. and Arch. p. 59.

(3) The site of Baal-ẓĕphôn is quite unknown; all that can be said of it is that as the Israelites were to encamp over against it, i.e. (as we should now say) opposite to it, it will have been on the Asiatic side of the sea, opposite to Migdol (wherever ‘Migdol’ was).

The name ‘Ba‘al-ẓephon’ is interesting. We know that there were many local Baals (Ba‘al of Lebanon, of Tarsus, &c.), some of whom gave their names to places (as ‘Ba‘al of Peor’). Ba‘al-ẓephon either means ‘Baal of the North,’ or is a combination of Baal with the Phoen. god Ẓaphon (Rel. Sem.2[142], p. 95); cf. Baal-Gad. We know, now, from a treaty between Esarhaddon (b.c. 681–668) and the Phoenicians, that there was a Tyrian god, bearing the same name, viz. Baal-ṣapûna (KAT.3[143] 357), and also, from the annals of Tiglath-pileser and Sargon (ib. p. 479), that there was a mountain Ba’li-ṣapûnah, evidently so named from this deity. The place, Ba‘al-ẓephon, no doubt, either was, or had been, a sanctuary of the same deity. In Egypt itself, also, among the deities worshipped at Memphis, mention is made of a goddess Ba‘alath-ẓaphon (EB. s.v. Baal-zephon; W. M. Mülller, As. u. Eur. 315), who may have had some connexion with the corresponding male deity.

[142] W. R. Smith, The Religion of the Semites, ed. 2, 1894.

[143] Die Keilinschriften und das A T., 1903, by H. Zimmern (pp. 345–653) and H. Winckler (pp. 1–342).Verse 2. - Speak unto the children of Israel that they turn. Kalisch translates "return" - i.e., "retrace their steps," and supposes that Etham lay far south of Pihahiroth, on the west coast of the Gulf of Suez. But the Hebrew word means either "turn back" or "turn aside," and is translated here ἀποστρέψαντες and not ἀναστρέψαντες by the LXX. Dr. Brugsch supposes that the turn made was to the north, and the "sea" reached the Mediterranean; but all other writers, regarding the sea spoken of as the Red Sea (compare Exodus 13:18), believe the divergence from the previous route to have been towards the south, and place Pihahiroth, Migdol, and Baal-Zephon in this quarter. Pihahiroth. The exact position is nnknown. Neither the Egyptian remains nor the writings of the Greeks or Romans present us with any similar geographic name. If Semitic, the word should mean "the entrance to the caves," but it is quite possible that it may be Egyptian. Migdol. There was undoubtedly a famous Migdol, or Maktal, on the eastern frontier of Egypt, which was a strong fortified post, and which is often mentioned. Hecataeus called it Magdolos (Fr. 282). In the Itinerary of Antonine it is said to be twelve Roman miles from Pelusium (p. 76). But this is too northern a position for the Migdol of the present passage; which must represent a "tower" or "fortified post" not very remote from the modern Suez. Over against Baal-Zephon. The accumulation of names, otherwise unknown to the sacred writers, is a strong indication of the familiarity possessed by the author of Exodus with the geography of the country. No late writer could have ventured on such local details. A name resembling "Baal-Zephon" is said to occur in the Egyptian monuments. Dr. Brugsch reads it as "Baal-Zapuna." He regards it as the designation of a Phoenician god, and compares "Baal-Zebub." Others have compared the "Zephon" with the Graeco-Egyptian form "Typhon," and have supposed "Baal-Zephon" to be equivalent to "Baal-Set" or "Baal. Sutech" - a personification of the principle of evil. Journey from Succoth to Etham. - Succoth, Israel's first place of encampment after their departure, was probably the rendezvous for the whole nation, so that it was from this point that they first proceeded in an orderly march. The shortest and most direct route from Egypt to Canaan would have been by the road to Gaza, in the land of the Philistines; but God did not lead them by this road, lest they should repent of their movement as soon as the Philistines opposed them, and so desire to return to Egypt, פּן: μή, after אמר to say (to himself), i.e., to think, with the subordinate idea of anxiety. The Philistines were very warlike, and would hardly have failed to resist the entrance of the Israelites into Canaan, of which they had taken possession of a very large portion. But the Israelites were not prepared for such a conflict, as is sufficiently evident from their despair, in Exodus 14:10. For this reason God made them turn round (יסּב for יסב, see Ges. 67) by the way of the desert of the Red Sea. Previous to the account of their onward march, it is still further stated in Exodus 13:18, Exodus 13:19, that they went out equipped, and took Joseph's bones with them, according to his last request. חמשׁים, from חמשׁ lumbus, lit., lumbis accincti, signifies equipped, as a comparison of this word as it is used in Joshua 1:14; Joshua 4:12, with חלוּצים in Numbers 32:30, Numbers 32:32; Deuteronomy 3:18, places beyond all doubt; that is to say, not "armed," καθωπλισμένοι (Sym.), but prepared for the march, as contrasted with fleeing in disorder like fugitives. For this reason they were able to fulfil Joseph's request, from which fact Calvin draws the following conclusion: "In the midst of their adversity the people had never lost sight of the promised redemption. For unless the celebrated adjuration of Joseph had been a subject of common conversation among them all, Moses would never have thought of it."
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