And the children of Israel went into the middle of the sea on the dry ground: and the waters were a wall to them on their right hand, and on their left.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)The waters were a wall unto them.—Any protection is in Scripture called “a wall,” or “a rampart” (1Samuel 25:16; Proverbs 18:11; Isaiah 26:1; Jeremiah 1:18; Nahum 3:8). In the present case, the waters protected Israel on either flank—the Red Sea upon the right, the Bitter Lakes upon the left. Poetical writers, as was natural, used language still more highly metaphorical (Psalm 78:13; Exodus 15:8), and spoke of the waters as “standing on an heap.” Hence, some moderns have gone so far as to maintain that on this occasion the water “gave up its nature, formed with its waves a strong wall, and instead of streaming like a fluid, congealed into a hard substance” (Kalisch). But this is to turn poetry into prose, and enslave oneself to a narrow literalism.Nahum 3:8. The waters served the purpose of an intrenchment and wall; the people could not be attacked on either flank during the transit; to the north was the water covering the whole district; to the south was the Red Sea. Exodus 14:24.
The waters were a wall, both for height, and for their defence. Hebrews 11:29. It is the opinion of Aben Ezra, and some other Jewish writers, that the Israelites did not pass through the Red sea to the opposite shore, only went some way into it, and took a compass in a semicircle, and came out on the same shore again, and which has been espoused by some Christian writers; and chiefly because they were in the wilderness of Etham before, and from whence they went into it, and when they came out of it, it was still the wilderness of Etham they came into, and went three days' journey into it seeking water; see Exodus 13:20. Though it is possible the wilderness on the opposite shore might bear the same name, because of its likeness to it; and if it was the same wilderness that went round the Arabic gulf, or Red sea, and reached on to the other side of it, and so the wilderness of Etham lay on both sides, the difficulty is removed; for it seems most agreeable to the expressions of Scripture, that the Israelites passed through it from shore to shore. Others, in order to lessen the miracle, would have it that Moses, well knowing the country, and observing the tide, took the advantage of low water, and led the Israelites through it; and this story is told by the Egyptian priests of Memphis, as Artapanus (e) relates; but were the Egyptians less knowing of their country, and of the tide of the Red sea? and could Moses be sure of the exact time when they would come up to him, and the tide would serve him? Besides, the Egyptian priests at Heliopolis own the miracle, and relate it much as Moses has done; which must proceed from a conviction of the truth of it. And the above historian reports that the king (of Egypt) with a great army, and consecrated animals, pursued the Jews because of the substance they had borrowed of the Egyptians, which they took with them; but Moses being bid by a divine voice (or the voice of God, of Jehovah) to smite the sea with a rod, and hearkening to it, he touched the water with the rod, and so it divided, and his forces passed through a dry path, and the Egyptians attempting the same and pursuing, fire or lightning flashed out against them; and the sea shutting up the path again, partly by fire, and partly by the flow of the water, they all perished: and that this affair was miraculous, and could not be owing to any advantage taken from the tide, the following things have been observed; it is owned that the Red sea ebbs and flows like other seas that have a communication with the ocean, that is, the waters rise towards the shore during six hours, and having continued about a quarter of an hour at high water, ebb down again during another six hours; and it is observed by those who have examined it, that the greatest distance it falls from the place of high water is about three hundred yards; and that during the time of low water, one may safely travel it, as some have actually done; so that those three hundred paces, which the sea leaves uncovered during the time of low water, can continue so but for the space of half an hour at most; for during the first six hours, the sea retires only by degrees, and in less than half an hour it begins again to flow towards the shore. The most therefore that can be allowed, both of time and space of passable ground, in a moderate computation, is about two hundred paces, during six hours, or one hundred and fifty paces, during eight hours. Now it is further observed, that it is plain that a multitude consisting of upwards of two millions and a half of men, women, children, and slaves, encumbered besides with great quantities of cattle, household stuff, and the spoils of the Egyptians, could never perform such a march within so short a time; we may say within even double that space, though we should allow them also double the breadth of ground to do it on. This argument, it is added, will hold good against those who suppose they only coasted along some part of the sea, and those who maintain that they crossed the small arm or point of it which is toward the further end, near the isthmus of Suez; seeing that six or eight hours could not have sufficed for the passage of so immense a multitude, allow them what breadth of room you will; much less for Pharaoh to have entered it with his whole host (f): and for the confirmation of the Mosaic account of this affair, and as miraculous, may be observed the testimony of Diodorus Siculus, who reports (g) that it is a tradition among the Ichthyophagi, who inhabit near the Red sea, or Arabic gulf, which they have received from the report of their ancestors, and is still preserved with them, that upon a great recess of the sea, every place of the gulf became dry, the sea falling to the opposite parts, the bottom appeared green, and returning back with a mighty force, was restored to its place again; which can have reference to nothing else but to this transaction in the time of Moses. And Strabo (h) relates a very wonderful thing, and such as rarely happens, that on the shore between Tyre and Ptolemais, when they of Ptolemais had a battle with the Emperor Sarpedon at that place, and there being put to flight, a flow of the sea like an inundation covered those that fled, and some were carried into the sea and perished, and others were left dead in hollow places; after a reflux followed, and discovered and showed the bodies of those that lay among the dead fishes. Now learned men have observed (i), that what is here said of the sea of Tyre is to be understood of the Red sea, and that Sarpedon is not a proper name, but the same with , "Sarphadon", the prince of deliverance, or of the delivered, as Moses was:
and the waters were a wall to them on their right hand and on their left; some of the Jewish Rabbins from Exodus 15:8 have supposed that the waters were frozen as they were drove back by the east wind, and so stood up firm while the Israelites passed through, and then another wind thawed them, which brought them upon the Egyptians; but no doubt this was done by the wonderful interposition of divine power, and perhaps the ministry of angels was made use of, to detain and continue them in this position, until the end was answered. Adrichomius says (k), the breadth of the sea was six miles at the passage of the Israelites; but a late traveller (l) tells us, that the channel between Sdur (or Shur, on the opposite side) and Gibbel Gewoubee, and Attackah (which he supposes was the place of their passage), was nine or ten miles over. Thevenot says (m), that during the space of five days he kept along the coast of the Red sea, in going to Mount Sinai, he could not observe it to be anywhere above eight or nine miles over. A later traveller (n) tells us, that from the fountains of Moses may be plainly seen a wonderful aperture (Pihahiroth; see Exodus 14:2) in the mountains on the other side of the Red sea, through and from which the children of Israel entered into it, when Pharaoh and his host were drowned; which aperture is situated west-southwest from these fountains of Moses, and the breadth of the sea hereabouts, where the children of Israel passed it, is about four or five hours' journey. The Arabic geographer (o) calls the place Jethren, where Pharaoh and his host were drowned; and represents it as a dangerous place to sail in, and where many ships are lost, and that this rough place is about the space of six miles. A countryman (p) of ours, who had been in these parts, guesses that the breadth of the place (called by the Mahometans, Kilt el Pharown, the well or pit of Pharaoh) where the Israelites are said to pass through is about six or seven leagues; the difference between these writers may be accounted for by the different places where they suppose this passage was.
(c) Pirke Elizer, c. 42. (d) Antiqu. l. 2. c. 16. sect. 2.((e) Apud Euseb. Praepar. Evangel. l. 9. c. 27. p. 436. (f) Universal History, vol. 3. p. 392, 393. marg. (g) Bibliothec. l. 3. p. 174. (h) Geograph. l. 16. p. 521, 522. (i) Vid. Scheuchzer. Physic. Sacr. vol. 1. p. 167. (k) Theatrum Terrae, p. 123, 124. (l) Dr. Shaw's Travels, p. 314. Edit. 2.((m) Travels into the Levant, B. 2. ch. 33. p. 175. (n) A Journal from Grand Cairo, &c. in 1722. p. 13. Edit. 2.((o) Climat. 3. par. 3.((p) Pitts's Account of the Mahometans, p. 77.And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground: and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)22. and the waters were a wall, &c.] ‘A very summary poetical and hyperbolical (Exodus 15:8) description of the occurrence, which can at most be pictured as the drying up of a shallow ford, on both sides of which the basin of the sea was much deeper, and remained filled with water’ (Di.).Verse 22. - The waters were a wall - i.e., a protection, a defence. Pharaoh could not attack them on either flank, on account of the two bodies of water between which their march lay. He could only come at them by following after them. The metaphor has been by some understood literally, especially on account of the expression in Exodus 15:8 - "The floods stood upright as an heap;" and again that in Psalm 78:13 - "He made the waters to stand as an heap." But those phrases, occurring in poems, must be taken as poetical; and can scarcely have any weight in determining the meaning of "wall" here. We must ask ourselves - is there not an economy and a restraint in the exertion by God even of miraculous power? - is more used than is needed for the occasion? - and would not all that was needed at this time have been effected by such a division of the sea as we have supposed, without the fluid being converted into a solid, or having otherwise the laws of its being entirely altered. Kalisch's statement, that the word "wall" here is "not intended to convey the idea of protection, but only of hardness and solidity," seems to us the very reverse of the truth. Protection is at any rate the main idea, and any other is secondary and subordinate.
CHAPTER 14:23-31 Exodus 14:17 and Exodus 14:18 repeat the promise in Exodus 14:3, Exodus 14:4. The command and promise were followed by immediate help (Exodus 14:19-29). Whilst Moses divided the water with his staff, and thus prepared the way, the angel of God removed from before the Israelites, and placed himself behind them as a defence against the Egyptians, who were following them. "Upon his chariots, and upon his horsemen" (Exodus 14:17), is in apposition to "all his host;" as Pharaoh's army consisted entirely of chariots and horsemen (cf. Exodus 14:18).
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