And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,…
These verses introduce the narrative of what the Lord "did in the Red Sea" (Numbers 21:14), when his people "passed through... as by dry land; which the Egyptians, assaying to do, were drowned" (Hebrews 11:29). This crossing of the Red Sea was no after-thought. God had it in view when he turned aside the path of the children of Israel from the direct route, and ordered them to encamp before Pi-hahiroth, near the northern end of the gulf. His design in this event was to give a new and signal display of his Jehovah attributes, in the destruction of Pharaoh's host (ver. 4), and in working a great salvation for his Church. By the events of the Red Sea, he would be shown to be at once a God of mercy and judgment (Isaiah 30:18); Supreme Ruler in heaven and in earth (Psalm 135:6); disposing events, great and small, according to his good pleasure, and for the glory of his name; making even the wrath of man instrumental to the accomplishment of his purposes (Psalm 76:10). Consider -
I. THE MYSTERIOUS TURN IN THE ROUTE. The command was to turn to the south, and encamp between Migdol and the sea, over against Baal-Zephon (ver. 2). This route was -
1. Not necessarily an arbitrary one. We need not suppose that God brought the Israelites into this perplexity - shutting them up between the sea and the mountains, simply for the purpose of showing how easily he could again extricate them. The choice of routes was not great.
(1) The way of the Philistines was blocked (Exodus 13:17).
(2) The way by the north of the Red Sea - between it and the Bitter Lakes - probably did not then exist. The Red Sea seems at that time to have extended much further north than it does at present.
(3) To go round by the upper end of the Lakes would have been to take the host far out of its way, besides exposing it to the risk of collision with outlying tribes.
(4) The remaining alternative was to march southwards, and ford the Red Sea. The route was, nevertheless -
2. A mysterious and perplexing one. Pharaoh at once pronounced it a strategic blunder (ver. 3). Supposing the intention to be to cross the Red Sea, no one could hazard a conjecture as to how this was to be accomplished. Ordinary fords were out of the question for so vast a multitude. Hemmed in by the mountains, with an impassable stretch of water in front, and no way of escape from an enemy bearing down upon them from behind, the Egyptian king mighty, well judge their, situation to be a hopeless, one. Yet how strangely like the straits of life into which God's people are sometimes led by following faithfully the guiding pillar of their duty; or into which, irrespective of their choice, God's providence sometimes brings them! Observe, further,
3. No hint was given of how the difficulty was to be solved. This is God's way. Thus does he test his people's faith, and form them to habits of obedience. He does not show them everything at once. Light is given for present duty, but for nothing beyond. Fain would we know, when difficulties crowd upon us, how our path is to be opened; but this God does not reveal. He would have us leave the future to him, and think only of the duty of the moment. Time enough, when the first command has been obeyed, to say what is to be done next. "We walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7).
II. GOD'S ENDS IN LEADING THEM BY THIS ROUTE. God had ends. He was not guiding the children of Israel blindly. His knowledge, his purpose, no less than his presence, go before his saints, as guiding pillars, to prepare places for them. God had a definite purpose, not only in leading the people by this route, but in planting them down at this particular spot - between Migdol and the sea. His ends embraced -
1. The humiliation of Pharaoh. That unhappy monarch was still hard in heart. He was torn with vain regrets at having let the people go. He had a disposition to pursue them. God would permit him to gratify that disposition. He would so arrange his providence as even to seem to invite him to do it. He would lure him into the snare he had prepared for him, and so would complete the judgment which the iniquity of Pharaoh and of his servants had moved him to visit upon Egypt. This was God's hardening of Pharaoh's heart (ver. 4). Note
(1) If God is not honoured by men, he will be honoured upon them (Scott).
(2) Retributive providence frequently acts by snaring men through the evil of their own hearts. Situations are prepared for them in which they fall a prey to the evil principles or dispositions which, in spite of warnings and of their own better knowledge, they have persisted in cherishing. They wish for something, and the opportunity is presented to them of gratifying their wish. They harbour an evil disposition (say lust, or dishonesty), when suddenly they find themselves in a situation in which, like a wild beast leaping from its covert, their evil nature springs out upon them and devours them. It was in this way that God spread his net for Pharaoh, and brought upon him "swift destruction."
2. The education of Israel. The extremity of peril through which Israel was permitted to pass - coupled with the sudden and marvellous deliverance which so unexpectedly turned their "shadow of death into the morning" (Amos 5:8), filling their mouth with laughter and their tongue with singing (Psalm 126:1) - while their pursuers were overwhelmed in the Red Sea, was fitted to leave a profound and lasting impression on their minds. It taught them
(1) That all creatures and agencies are at God's disposal, and that his resources for the help of his Church, and for the discomfiture of his enemies, are absolutely unlimited. As said of Christ, "even the winds and the sea obey him" (Matthew 8:27).
(2) That the Lord knoweth, not only "how to deliver the godly out of temptations," but also how "to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished" (2 Peter 2:9). It was thus
(3) A rebuke to distrust, and a Powerful encouragement to faith.
3. The complete separation of Israel as a people to himself. Paul says - "all our fathers Were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and were baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea" (1 Corinthians 10:2). Connect this with the spiritual significance of baptism. Baptism, especially as administered by immersion, figures dying to sin, and rising again to righteousness (Romans 6:4). It is thus the analogue of the passage through the Red Sea, which was a symbolic death and resurrection of the hosts of Israel. By saving the people from the waves which engulfed their enemies, Jehovah had, as it were, purchased the nation a second time for himself, giving them "life from the, dead." The baptism of the sea was thus a sort of "outward and visible sign" of the final termination of the connection with Egypt. Its waters were thereafter "a silver streak" between the Israelites and the land of their former bondage, telling of a pursuer from whom their had been delivered, and of a new life on which they had entered. - J.O.
Parallel VersesKJV: And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,