And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
Verses 1-4. - THE DIRECTION OF THE JOURNEY CHANGED. Hitherto the march of the Israelites had been to the south-east. Another day's journey in this direction would have taken them beyond the limits of Egypt, into the desert region east of the Bitter Lakes, which was dry, treeless, and waterless. In this tract there would have been but scant nourishment for their flocks and herds, and absolutely no water for themselves, unless it had been obtained by miracle. God therefore changed the direction of their route from south-east to due south, and made them take a course by which they placed the Bitter Lakes on their left hand, and so remained within the limits of Egypt, in a district fairly well watered, but shut off from the wilderness by the Bitter Lakes and the northern prolongation of the Gulf of Suez, with which they were connected. This route suited the immediate convenience of the host; and, having no suspicion of any hostile movement on the part of the Egyptians, they - not unnaturally - made no objection to it. It had, however, the disadvantage, in case of a hostile movement, of shutting them in between their assailants on the one hand, and the sea upon the other; and this circumstance seems to have led Pharaoh to make his pursuit.
Speak unto the children of Israel, that they turn and encamp before Pihahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, over against Baalzephon: before it shall ye encamp by the sea.
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.
For Pharaoh will say of the children of Israel, They are entangled in the land, the wilderness hath shut them in.
Verse 3. - They are entangled in the land. Or "they are confused," "perplexed" - i.e.. "they have lost their way." Pharaoh could not conceive that they would have taken the route to the west of the Bitter Lakes, which conducted to no tolerable territory, unless they were hopelessly at sea with respect to the geography of the country. In this "perplexity" of theirs he thought he saw his own opportunity. The wilderness hath shut them in. Pharaoh is thinking of his own "wilderness," the desert country between the Nile valley and the Red Sea. This desert, he says, "blocks their way, and shuts them in " - they cannot escape if he follows in their steps, for they will have the sea on one hand, the desert on the other, and in their front, while he himself presses upon their rear.
And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, that he shall follow after them; and I will be honoured upon Pharaoh, and upon all his host; that the Egyptians may know that I am the LORD. And they did so.
Verse 4. - I will be honoured. See the comment on Exodus 9:16. That the Egyptians may know that I am the Lord. Compare above, ch. 7.§
And it was told the king of Egypt that the people fled: and the heart of Pharaoh and of his servants was turned against the people, and they said, Why have we done this, that we have let Israel go from serving us?
Verses 5-9. - THE PURSUIT OF ISRAEL BY THE EGYPTIANS. A short respite from suffering was sufficient to enable Pharaoh to recover from his extreme alarm. No further deaths had followed on the destruction of the firstborn; and he might think no further danger was to be apprehended. The worst of Moses' threats had been accomplished- perhaps Jehovah had no more arrows in his quiver. At any rate, as he realised to himself what it would be to lose altogether the services of so vast a body of slaves, many of them highly skilled in different arts, he more and more regretted the permission which he had given. Under these circumstances intelligence was brought him of the change which the Israelites had made in their route, and the dangerous position into which they had Brought themselves. Upon this he resolved to start in pursuit, with such troops as he could hastily muster. As his chariots were six hundred, we may presume that his footmen were at least 100,000, all trained and disciplined soldiers, accustomed to warfare. The timid horde of escaped slaves, unused to war, though it might be five or six times as numerous as his host, was not likely to resist it. Pharaoh no doubt expected an unconditional surrender on the part of the Israelites, as soon as they saw his forces. Verse 5. - It was told the King of Egypt that the people fled. Pharaoh, when he let the Israelites go, must have felt tolerably certain that they would not voluntarily return. Formally, however, he had only consented to their going a three days' journey into the wilderness (Exodus 12:31). When, being at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness, they did not enter it, but marched southward to Pi-hahiroth, the Egyptians might naturally report that instead of sacrificing, they were flying - hasting forwards - placing as much distance as they could between themselves and the Egyptian headquarters. But this report alone would scarcely have moved Pharaoh to action. It was in the accompanying circumstances, in the particular line of route, that he thought to find his opportunity. The people "were entangled" (ver. 3). They might be taken at a disadvantage, and might be reduced to choosing between starvation and a. return to Egypt. The heart of Pharaoh, and of his servants, was turned against the people. The reaction of feeling was not confined to Pharaoh. His subjects participated in it. The loss of such a large body of labourers would be generally felt as a severe blow to the prosperity of the nation. It would affect all classes. The poor labourers might be benefited; but the employers of labour are the influential classes, and they would be injured. So "Pharaoh's servants" were of one mind with their master, and they "turned against" the Israelites. Why have we done this? In the retrospect, the afflictions which they had suffered did not seem so very great. They at any rate had survived them, and were not perhaps even seriously impoverished. Royal favour will find a way of making up any losses which court minions have suffered, out of the general taxation of the country. But in prospect, the loss of 600,000 (more or less skilled) labourers appeared a terrible thing. The official class was quite ready to make a strenuous effort to avert the loss.
And he made ready his chariot, and took his people with him:
Verse 6. - He made ready his chariot. The Egyptian monarchs, from the time of the eighteenth dynasty, always went out to war in a chariot. The chariots were, like the Greek and the Assyrian, open behind, and consisted of a semicircular standing-beard of wood, from which rose in a graceful curve the antyx or rim to the height of about two feet and a half above the standing-beard. The chariot had two wheels and a pole, and was drawn by two horses. It ordinarily contained two men only, the warrior and the charioteer.
And he took six hundred chosen chariots, and all the chariots of Egypt, and captains over every one of them.
Verse 7. - Six hundred chosen chariots. Diodorus Siculus assigns to one Egyptian king a force of 27,000 chariots (1. 54, § 4), which however is probably beyond the truth. But the 1200 assigned to Shishak (2 Chronicles 12:3) may well be regarded as historical; and the great kings of the nineteenth dynasty would possess at least an equal number. The "six hundred chosen chariots" set in motion on this occasion probably constituted a division of the royal body-guard (Herod. 2:168). The remaining force would be collected from the neighbouring cities of Northern Egypt, as Memphis, Heliopolis, Bubastis, Pithom, and Pelusium. Captains over every one of them. Rather, "Captains over the whole of them." So the LXX. the Vulgate and Syriac version. Some, however, understand "warriors in each of them ' (Gesenius, Bodiger, Kalisch).
And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued after the children of Israel: and the children of Israel went out with an high hand.
Verse 8. - The Children of Israel went out with a high hand - i.e., boldly and confidently, not as fugitives, but as men in the exercise of their just fights - perhaps with a certain amount of ostentation.
But the Egyptians pursued after them, all the horses and chariots of Pharaoh, and his horsemen, and his army, and overtook them encamping by the sea, beside Pihahiroth, before Baalzephon.
Verse 9. - All the horses and chariots of Pharaoh Rather, "all the chariot horses." There is no "and" in the original. His horsemen. Rather "his riders," or "mounted men " - i.e., those who rode in the chariots. That the Egyptians had a powerful cavalry at a later date appears from 2 Chronicles 12:3; but the Hebrew text of Exodus, in remarkable accordance with the native monuments of the time, represents the army of this Pharaoh as composed of two descriptions of troops only - a chariot and an infantry force. (See Hengstenberg, Aegypten und Mose, pp. 127-9). Overtook them. It is uncertain how long the Israelites remained encamped at Pi-hahiroth. They would wait so long as the pillar of the cloud did not move (Numbers 9:18-20). It must have taken Pharaoh a day to hear of their march from Etham, at least another day to collect his troops, and three or four days to effect the march from Tanis to Pi-hahiroth. The Jewish tradition that the Red Sea was crossed on the night of the 21st of Nisan (Abib) is therefore, conceivably, a true one.
And when Pharaoh drew nigh, the children of Israel lifted up their eyes, and, behold, the Egyptians marched after them; and they were sore afraid: and the children of Israel cried out unto the LORD.
Verses 10-14. - THE TERROR OF ISRAEL AND THE COURAGE OF MOSES. It has been argued that the Israelites, if they were so numerous as stated (Exodus 12:37), must have been wretched cowards, if they were afraid to risk an engagement with such an army as that hastily levied one which Pharaoh had brought with him. But the difference between an army of trained soldiers, thoroughly equipped for war, with helmets, shields, breastplates, swords and spears, and an undisciplined multitude, unarmed for the most part, and wholly unaccustomed to warfare, is such, that the latter, whatever its numbers, may be excused if it does not feel able to cope with the former, and declines an engagement. Numbers, without military training and discipline, are of no avail - nay, are even a disadvantage, since the men impede one another. It is not necessary to suppose that the Israelites were debased in character by their long servitude to account for their panic on seeing the army of Pharaoh. They had good grounds for their fear. Humanly speaking, resistance would simply have led to their indiscriminate massacre. The alarm of the Hebrews, and even the reproaches with which they assail Moses, are thus quite natural under the circumstances. What is surprising is, the noble courage and confidence of Moses. Moses, though only vaguely informed, that God would "be honoured upon Pharaoh and all his host" (ver. 4), is perfectly certain that all will go well - how the result will be achieved, he knows not; but he is sure that Israel will be delivered and Egypt discomfited; his people have no reason to fear - they have but to "stand still and see the salvation of God" (ver. 13); "the Lord will fight for them;" they will have simply to "hold their peace" (ver. 14). Verse 10. - They were sore afraid. Before the Israelites are taxed with cowardice, let it be considered -
1. That they were unarmed. Egypt was so settled a government that civilians generally went unarmed; and slaves, like the Hebrews, would scarcely have been allowed to possess any arms, if the case had been otherwise.
2. They had no military training. Whatever had been done to teach them order and arrangement in connection with their proposed journey, we may be sure there had been no drill or training in the use of arms, since this would have been regarded by the Egyptians as open rebellion.
3. They were quite unaccustomed to warfare. The Pharaohs main-rained large garrisons of Egyptian and mercenary troops in the frontier provinces, to resist the invasions to which they were liable. The Hebrews may have had occasionally to defend themselves against a hasty raid: but in real war they had stood aloof, and left the fighting to the regular Egyptian army. The children of Israel cried out unto the Lord. The appeal to Jehovah showed that, with all their weaknesses and imperfections, the Israelites were yet true at heart. They knew where alone help was to be obtained, and made their appeal accordingly. No cry is more sure of an answer than the despairing one - "Lord, save us; we perish."
And they said unto Moses, Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness? wherefore hast thou dealt thus with us, to carry us forth out of Egypt?
Verse 11. - And they said to Moses. It was not unnatural that, while flying to God as their only refuge, they should be angry with Moses. Moses, they would argue, ought to have known better than to have brought them into a situation of such peril. He, the leader, should have known the geography of the country - he, the courtier, should have known the temper of the court. It is always a satisfaction to men to vent their anger upon some one when they are in a difficulty. No graves in ]Egypt. Egypt, with a necropolis outside every city, was "a land of tombs;" surely they might have found graves there, instead of being led out to such a distance simply to die.
Is not this the word that we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians? For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness.
Verse 12. - Is not this the word that we did tell thee? The reference was probably to that time of depression, after their burdens had been increased, and before the series of miracles began, when the Israelites had addressed reproaches to Moses and Aaron (Exodus 5:21), and refused to listen to words of encouragement (Exodus 6:9). It was not true that they had uniformly held the same language, and desired Moses and Aaron to cease their efforts. It had been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die. The spirit to prefer death to slavery, where they are the only alternatives, is not a common one; and we must not be surprised that a people which had grown up in servitude and had no traditions of national independence did not rise to the heroic height attained under other circumstances by Greeks, by Switzers. and by Poles. It would have been most extraordinary had they done so.
And Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will shew to you to day: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever.
Verse 13. - And Moses said... fear ye not. Moses knew that the pursuit of Israel by the host of the Egyptians was a part of the counsel of God, and was to tend in some way or other to the promotion of God's honour and glory (ver. 4). He had sufficient faith to believe in a deliverance the nature of which it is not likely that he could anyway conjecture. Whether hail would fall from heaven and destroy them (Joshua 10:11); or the earth gape and swallow them up (Numbers 16:32); or the angel of death smite them all in the night (2 Kings 19:35); or any other strange form of destruction come upon them, he did not know; but he concluded from what had been revealed to him, that God was about to vindicate his own honour without the aid of man. Hence his words - Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord - which assigned to the Israelites a mere passive attitude of expectation. For the Egyptians, etc. The order of the words in the original favours the marginal rendering, which is to be adopted with one slight change. Translate - "For, as ye have seen the Egyptians to-day, ye shall see them again no more for ever," i.e., ye shall see them no more alive, vigorous and menacing, but still and lifeless upon the Red Sea shore (ver. 30). There is no reference to any other Egyptians than those with Pharaoh in the camp, nor to any later relations between Egypt and the chosen people.
The LORD shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace.
Verse 14. - Ye shall hold your peace - i.e., "do nothing, remain at rest."
And the LORD said unto Moses, Wherefore criest thou unto me? speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward:
Verses 15-18. - GOD'S ANSWER TO MOSES' PRAYER. To the faithful prayer of Moses, albeit pitched perhaps in too low a key, God made gracious answer. A "cry" had been unnecessary, since his word was already pledged to bring his people safe to Canaan, and to get himself honour upon Pharaoh in connection with the pursuit (ver. 4). But, as the appeal has been made, he responds with a plain statement of what has now to be done: -
1. The Israelites are to make themselves ready for a forward movement (ver. 15);
2. Moses is to stretch oat his rod over the Red Sea, and it will be divided;
3. The Israelites are then to make the passage on dry ground;
4. The Egyptians are to follow, and then honour is to be gotten upon them; and they are to know by the result that God is indeed Jehovah. Verses 15, 16. - Wherefore criest thou to me? It is evident that Moses, while boldly encouraging the people, himself needed the support and consolation of prayer. The Syriac translator shows us that he divined the fact aright, when he without authority intruded the words, "Moses then cried to Jehovah." The form of the Divine reply to his prayer seems to indicate a certain amount of reproach, as if Moses himself had become unduly anxious. Speak unto the children of Israel that they go forward. The Israelites were not to rest in their encampment, but to form in line of march, and descend to the very shore of the sea, and there hold themselves in readiness. Moses was to lift up his rod - the rod with which his other miracles had been wrought - and stretch out his hand over the sea, and then the drying up was to begin. Thus was most of the night passed.
But lift thou up thy rod, and stretch out thine hand over the sea, and divide it: and the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea.
And I, behold, I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they shall follow them: and I will get me honour upon Pharaoh, and upon all his host, upon his chariots, and upon his horsemen.
Verse 17. - I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians. Here, and here only, are the hearts of the Egyptians generally said to have been "hardened." Whatever meaning we attach to the expression, there will be no more difficulty in applying it to them than to Pharaoh. They had made themselves partakers in the monarch's guilt by mustering in hot haste when he summoned them, and had allowed themselves to revel in the anticipation of plunder and carnage (Exodus 15:9). Under such circumstances, the general laws which govern human nature would be quite sufficient to make their hearts grow hard. They shall follow them. Upon this act - rash, if the phenomenon had been a mere natural one - presumptuous and infatuated if the drying up were regarded as miraculous - depended altogether the destruction of the Egyptians. They had only to have "stood still" and allowed the escape, which a week previously they had done their best to encourage, in order to have remained safe and unhurt. It was their stupidity and blood-thirstiness which alone brought them into any danger. Upon his horsemen. Rather "his chariotmen." See the comment on verse 9.
And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gotten me honour upon Pharaoh, upon his chariots, and upon his horsemen.
Verse 18. - The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord. All Egypt would learn the destruction of the host, and the circumstances under which it occurred, whose miraculous nature could not be concealed. And the consequence would be a wide recognition of the superior might of Jehovah, the God of Israel, over that of any of the Egyptian deities. More than this the Egyptians were not likely to admit under any circumstances.
And the angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of the cloud went from before their face, and stood behind them:
Verse 19-22. - THE PASSAGE OF THE RED SEA. The Egyptians had arrived in the near neighbourhood of the Israelite camp, at the close of a long day's march, towards evening. Having ascertained that the fugitives were still, as they had expected them to be, shut in between the sea and the wilderness, they were content, and made no immediate attack, but encamped over against them. Hereupon, "the pillar of the cloud," which was at the time in front of the Israelite camp - probably near the point where God intended the passage of the sea to be effected "removed" from this position, and placed itself directly behind the Israelite encampment, between them and the Egyptians. This movement alone was calculated to alarm the latter, and prevent them from stirring till near daybreak; but, the better to secure their inaction, the pillar was made to overshadow them with a deep and preternatural darkness, so that it became almost impossible for them to advance. Meanwhile, on the side which was turned towards the Israelites, the pillar presented the appearance of a bright flame, lighting up the whole encampment, and rendering it as easy to make ready for the march as it would have been by day. Thus, the beasts were collected and laden the columns marshalled and prepared to proceed in a certain fixed order - and everything made ready for starting so soon as the bed of the sea should be sufficiently dry. Moses, about nightfall, descending to the water's edge, stretched forth his rod over the waves, and, an east wind at once springing up - accompanied perhaps by a strong ebb of the tide - the waters of the gulf were parted in the vicinity of the modern Suez, and a dry space left between the Bitter Lakes, which were then a prolongation of the Gulf, and the present sea-bed. The space may have been one of considerable width. The Israelites entering upon it, perhaps about midnight, accomplished the distance, which may not have exceeded a mile, with all their belongings, in the course of five or six hours, the pillar of the cloud withdrawing itself, as the last Israelites entered the sea-bed, and retiring after them like a rearguard. Thus protected, they made the transit in safety, and morning saw them encamped upon the shores of Asia. Verse 19. - The angel of God. The Divine Presence, which manifested itself in the pillar of the cloud, is called indifferently "the Lord" (Exodus 13:21; Exodus 14:24), and "the Angel of God" - just as the appearance to Moses in the burning bush is termed both "God" and "the angel of the Lord" (Exodus 3:2). Which went before - i.e.., "which ordinarily, and (so to speak) habitually preceded the camp" (Exodus 13:21; Psalm 78:14). And stood behind them. Took up a fixed station for the night, or the greater portion of it.
And it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel; and it was a cloud and darkness to them, but it gave light by night to these: so that the one came not near the other all the night.
Verse 20. - It was a cloud and darkness to them, but it gave light by night to these. Though there is nothing in the Hebrew correspondent to the expressions "to them," "to these," yet the meaning seems to have been rightly apprehended By our translators. (See the Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan, the Syriac version, and among moderns, Knobel, Maurer, Rosenmuller, and Kalisch.)
And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.
Verse 21. - Moses stretched out his hand. As commanded by God (ver. 16). Compare the somewhat similar action of Elijah and Elisha, when they divided the Jordan (2 Kings 2:8, 14). The Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind. The LXX. translate "a strong south wind" (ἐν ἀνέμῳ νότῳ βιαίῳ); but the Hebrew kadim is certainly "east" rather than "south." It is not, however, "east" in the sense of due east, but would include all the range of the compass between N.E. and S.E. If we suppose the Bitter Lakes to have been joined to the Red Sea by a narrow and shallow channel, the action of a south-east wind, by driving the water of the Lakes northward, may have easily produced the effect described in the text. A simultaneous ebb of the lower gulf would have further facilitated the passage. The waters were divided. Water remained in the upper extremity of the Gulf, now the site of the Bitter Lakes, and also, of course, below Suez. The portion of the sea dried up lay probably between the present southern extremity of the Bitter Lakes and Suez. By the gradual elevation and desiccation of the region, it has passed into permanent dry land.
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.
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.
And the Egyptians pursued, and went in after them to the midst of the sea, even all Pharaoh's horses, his chariots, and his horsemen.
Verses 23-31. THE DESTRUCTION OF THE EGYPTIANS. As the rearguard of the Israelite host having entered the tract from which the waters had retired, proceeded along it, and left the western end of the isthmus vacant, the pillar of the cloud seems to have followed it up and withdrawn with it. The Egyptians immediately advanced. Notwithstanding the preternatural darkness, they had become aware, perhaps by means of their ears, of the movement that was taking place, and with early dawn they were under arms and pressing on the line of the Israelite retreat. They found the channel still dry, and hastily entering it with their chariot force, they hurried forward in pursuit. The first check which they received was wholly supernatural. "The Lord looked unto the host of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and of the cloud, and troubled the host of the Egyptians" (ver. 24). Details here are wanting; but less cannot be meant, than that some strange phenomena connected with the retiring "pillar" caused a panic and threw the ranks of the army into confusion. Then followed natural impediments. The Lord "took off," or "clogged" their chariot Wheels, and made them go heavily - i.e., the chariot wheels, not by miracle, but by the operation of God's natural laws, sank into the soft sand over which the Israelites had passed easily, having no wheeled vehicles, and the chariots were consequently dragged forward slowly and with difficulty. The double hindrance, from the confusion and the stoppage of the chariots, so discouraged the Egyptians, that after a time they resolved on beating a retreat (ver. 25). They had set out on their return, when Moses, at God's instance, stretched forth his hand once mere over the sea, and the waters on both sides began at once to return. The Egyptians saw their danger, and "fled against" the advancing tide, racing against it, as it were, and seeking to reach the shore. But in vain. The waves came on rapidly, and (in the language of ver. 28) there was not a man of all those who had entered the dry bed of the sea that was not overwhelmed and drowned in the waters. We should he wrong to press this language to the extreme letter. In graphic narrative the sacred writers uniformly employ universal expressions, where they mean to give the general fact or general result. The true meaning is, that the pursuit altogether failed. Not an Egyptian made his way alive across the strait. All that the Israelites ever saw afterwards of the army that they had so much dreaded (ver. 10) was a ghastly mass of corpses thrown up by the tide on the Asiatic shore (ver. 30).
Exodus 14:23 Verse 23. - All Pharaoh's horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. Here, as elsewhere, the word translated "horsemen" probably means the men who rode in the chariots. Observe that the Pharaoh himself is not said to have gone in. Menephthah was apt to avoid placing himself in a position of danger (Records of the Past, vol. 4. pp. 44, 45). Nor is any of the infantry said to have entered the bed of the sea.
And it came to pass, that in the morning watch the LORD looked unto the host of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and of the cloud, and troubled the host of the Egyptians,
Verse 24. - In the morning watch. The "morning watch" of the Hebrews at this period of their history lasted from 2 a.m. to sunrise. Sunrise in Egypt, early in April, would take place about a quarter to six. The Lord looked unto the host of the Egyptians. The description in Psalm 77:17, 18, is generally regarded as belonging to this point in the narrative of the Exodus, and may be considered as the traditional exposition of it. "The clouds poured out water: the skies sent out a sound; thine arrows also went abroad; the voice of thy thunder was in the heavens; the lightning lightened the world; the earth trembled and shook." As Josephus says "Showers of rain came down from the sky, and dreadful thunders and lightning, with flashes of fire; thunderbolts also were darted upon them; nor was there anything, wont to be sent by God upon men as indications of his wrath, which did not happen upon this occasion" (Ant. Jud. 2:16, § 3). And troubled the host. Or "disturbed the host," i.e.," threw it into confusion.(συνετάραξε, LXX.).
And took off their chariot wheels, that they drave them heavily: so that the Egyptians said, Let us flee from the face of Israel; for the LORD fighteth for them against the Egyptians.
Verse 25.- And took off their chariot wheels. The Sept. has "clogged the axles of their chariots;" but this is from a reading not at present found in the Hebrew MSS. Most modern commentators, however, prefer the reading, which gives a
And the LORD said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand over the sea, that the waters may come again upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen.
Verses 26, 27. - And the Lord said. God here interposed a new difficulty. Moses was instructed to stretch out his rod once more, and undo his former work. At the appointed sign, the east wind ceased to blow, and the waters of the Bitter Lakes, no longer driven to the north-west by its force, flowed back with something of a reflux, while at the same time, the tide having turned, the Red Sea waves came rushing on at unwonted speed. In vain the Egyptians fled. They were met by the advancing floods, which poured in on either side, overwhelming and covering up all those who had entered on the dangerous path.
And Moses stretched forth his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to his strength when the morning appeared; and the Egyptians fled against it; and the LORD overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea.
And the waters returned, and covered the chariots, and the horsemen, and all the host of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them; there remained not so much as one of them.
Verse 28. - The chariots and the horsemen, and all the host of Pharaoh. Rather "The chariots, and the chariot men of all the host of Pharaoh." So Knobel correctly. Kalisch thinks - "We are not permitted to suppose that only the Egyptian chariots pursued the Israelites into the sea, while the infantry remained behind, so that the former alone were devoured by the waves." But even he admits that "both in this and in the following chapter, and in most other parts generally, the destruction of the chariots (chariot force?) and its warriors is chiefly alluded to, so that this particular stress would perhaps justify that conclusion." What is clear is, that no force but the chariot force is said to have entered the bed of the sea in pursuit of Israel. There remained not so much as one of them. On the proper understanding of this statement, see the introductory paragraph to the chapter.
But the children of Israel walked upon dry land in the midst of the sea; and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left.
Verse 29. - Walked. Rather, "had walked." The waters were a wall. Rather, "had been a wall." For the meaning of the expression, see note on ver. 22.
Thus the LORD saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the sea shore.
Verse 30. - Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the sea-shore. Josephus says (Ant. Jud. 2:16, § 6), that, after the passage of the sea by the Israelites, a west wind set in, which (assisted by the current) drove the bodies of the drowned Egyptians to the eastern side of the gulf, where many of them were cast up upon the shore. In this way Moses, according to him, obtained weapons and armour for a considerable number of Israelites.
And Israel saw that great work which the LORD did upon the Egyptians: and the people feared the LORD, and believed the LORD, and his servant Moses.
Verse 31. - And Israel saw that great work. The "work" was, at the least,
(1) the (almost) entire destruction of that arm of the service - the chariot force-on which the Egyptian kings mainly relied for success in all their wars; and
(2) the defeat and disgrace of the Egyptian king himself, in an expedition for which he was alone responsible, involving permanent discredit to his military capacity, and naturally tending to shake his authority over his subjects. It secured the Israelites from further persecution, mainly by the reminiscences which it left behind, but partly also by removing them to a distance from the natural course of Egyptian warlike or commercial movement. Though Egypt had mining establishments in the Sinaitic peninsula, at Wady-Magharah and Sarabit-el-Khadim, yet as these were avoided by the Israelites on their way to Sinai, and never afterwards approached, there naturally was no collision between them and the Pharaonic garrisons at those sites. Still more remote were they during their wanderings from the Egyptian military route, which proceeded along the coast from Pelusium to Gaza, and then ran northwards through the Shephelah. Thus the Passage of the Red Sea brought one phase in the life of the people to an end, and was the commencement of another. It separated them from Egypt until the time came when their king would hold communication with its monarch on equal terms (1 Kings 3:1). It secured their independence, and raised them at once into a nation. It further caused them to exchange the artificial life of a bureaucratical and convention-loving community for the open space and untrammelled freedom of the desert. It thus rejuvenated and reinvigorated the race, and enabled them to enter on that career of conquest which culminated in the Kingdom - may we not say the Empire? - of David. some writers have supposed that the blow to the Egyptian power was greater than here represented. They believe the entire warrior caste or class to have taken part in the expedition, and to have been destroyed in the Red Sea Thus they describe the calamity as "the total annihilation of the whole military force of the Egyptians" (Kalisch). They also believe the Pharaoh to have perished with his host. To the present writer it seems that the former opinion is contrary both to the text of Scripture, and to the after course of Egyptian history, for it is agreed on all hands that Egypt continued nearly as powerful as before, while the latter he regards as at least exceedingly doubtful. Psalm 86:15, is quoted as asserting it; but it appears to him
(1) that "overthrow" is not necessarily "death;" and
(2) that "Pharaoh and his host ' may be put for "Pharaoh's host" by hendiadys. The absence of any prophecy that God would take the Pharaoh's life, and the entire silence of Moses on the subject in chs. 14. and 15. seems to be scarcely explicable on any other theory than that he escaped, not having accompanied his chariot force in its rash pursuit of the Israelites.