Book of Exodus Chapter Fourteen Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
God Opens The Sea
From the time Moses first heard from the Lord through the bush that burned but was not consumed, he communed with God. Just like it was for Moses, our first encounter with the Lord begins a journey that will eventually bring us to a blessed eternity. In Verses 1-4, "Now the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 'Tell the sons of Israel to turn back and camp before Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea; you shall camp in front of Baal-zephon, opposite it, by the sea. 3 For Pharaoh will say of the sons of Israel, ‘They are wandering aimlessly in the land; the wilderness has shut them in.' 4 Thus I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will chase after them; and I will be honored through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.' And they did so." Notice the precision of God's awareness of our thoughts and actions. Just like He knew about Israel and Egypt, He knows you. King David became aware of this, remarking to the Lord in Psalm 139:1-4, "You understand my thought afar off." There's no point in trying to fool the Lord—He already knows. "Pi-hahiroth" in the Egyption meant "house of Hathor," and came into the Hebrew language as "place of meadows" or "mouth of canals." "Migdol" translates as "tower," a place near the Mediterranean Sea. "Baal-Zephon" meant "lord of darkness." And note Pharaoh in these verses, who was now acting against himself. That's the way it is for those who oppose God.
Without realizing it, Pharaoh, in his rejection of the Lord, became like a puppet on a string, acting out the part God had written for him.
The man threw his freedom away. In Verses 5-7, "When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his servants had a change of heart toward the people, and they said, 'What is this we have done, that we have let Israel go from serving us?' 6 So he made his chariot ready and took his people with him; 7 and he took six hundred select chariots, and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them." Here is Pharaoh, doing exactly what God predicted. Note Solomon's observation in Proverbs 21:1—"The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord. Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes." Naturally Pharaoh regretted the loss of Israel, both in his pride and for his national economy, but just like you and me, he should have recognized his need and called out to God.
This proud Pharaoh continued to act as the Lord's sad puppet in Verses 8-9—"The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and he chased after the sons of Israel as the sons of Israel were going out boldly. 9 Then the Egyptians chased after them with all the horses and chariots of Pharaoh, his horsemen and his army, and they overtook them camping by the sea, beside Pi-hahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon." It's tempting for us to feel sorry for the man, but remember that those like him who reject God and insist on their own way, cause much of the sorrow and pain that fills this world.
In Verse 10, "As Pharaoh drew near, the sons of Israel looked, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they became very frightened; so the sons of Israel cried out to the Lord." Who or what frightens you? God is greater than your fear and He delivers His loved ones. Fear can be motivational, however, and the "sons of Israel" did the right thing when they "cried out to the Lord." But their cry turned into bitter anger at God's man, for in Verses 11-12, "Then they said to Moses, 'Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you dealt with us in this way, bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Is this not the word that we spoke to you in Egypt, saying, 'Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.'" Are you bitter at someone because of problems in your life? It is better to take your concerns to the Lord—His intentions for us are higher and better than we understand.
In Verses 13-14, "But Moses said to the people, 'Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the Lord which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever. 14 The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent.'" Moses now differed from most of the people he was trying to serve—he had faith that the Lord can and will do the "impossible." The Lord replied in Verse 15 with the interesting comment, "Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Why are you crying out to Me? Tell the sons of Israel to go forward." There are times for us to pray, and we certainly should, but there are also times when we are to ACT as led by the Lord.
What if the Lord told you to pick up some kind of stick, hold it out over a section of the ocean and use it to split the ocean in half, turning it into dry land? God will do what we cannot, but He often includes people in what He does. As Paul the Apostle would later observe, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13). Moses was told in Verse 16 of this chapter, "As for you, lift up your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, and the sons of Israel shall go through the midst of the sea on dry land." We focus on human strengths and weaknesses as our assessment of what is possible, but Moses was learning to have faith in the Lord, trusting Him for whatever God said.
The Lord was not done with Pharaoh, who elected to send his army in pursuit of the people Israel. The Lord said to Moses in Verses 17-18, "As for Me, behold, I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them; and I will be honored through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. 18 Then the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord, when I am honored through Pharaoh, through his chariots and his horsemen." Notice about Pharaoh that the man was making decisions, but the Lord was also making decisions FOR him. How many times have we thought it was ourselves or some other person who seemed to do something, when in fact it was the Lord causing us or them to do it?
Who is the "angel of the Lord" in Verse 19? In Exodus Chapter 3, we encountered the burning bush issuing God's words from both the "angel of the Lord" and also "God." All we know is that God's words were spoken, for when His agents are perfectly in His will, the result is the same either way. So, in Verse 19, "The angel of God, who had been going before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them." Just as God perfectly controlled Pharaoh at that moment, this "angel" utterly revealed God to Israel, Egypt, and to history, as recorded in these verses.
When forces oppose us, whether human or more than human, we should definitely call out to the Lord. Do you notice God's complete POWER, as revealed in Scripture? He is the One who can STOP the enemy who attacks you, or your family, business or nation. In Verse 20, "So it came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel; and there was the cloud along with the darkness, yet it gave light at night. Thus the one did not come near the other all night." This "pillar" has stood between you and death on many occasions...far more times than we could imagine. You can trust in the Lord, for He can and will save you. In Verse 21, "Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord swept the sea back by a strong east wind all night and turned the sea into dry land, so the waters were divided." God can perform miracles instantly and without fanfare, but He also uses so-called "natural" processes, such as this "strong east wind."
All of us are far more powerless than we like to think, but God, who can turn the ocean into dry land, has power beyond our dreams. Israel blessedly had the faith at the moment to believe what they saw and so in Verse 22, "The sons of Israel went through the midst of the sea on the dry land, and the waters were like a wall to them on their right hand and on their left." They had nowhere else to go, and so they followed the Lord. The Egyptians lacked faith, though individuals among them may have trusted in the Lord, especially in the light of recent events. They were brave, however, and afraid enough of Pharaoh to go into the trench between the piled up waters, as recorded in Verse 23: "Then the Egyptians took up the pursuit, and all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots and his horsemen went in after them into the midst of the sea." Bravery is a good thing, but there is a line between courage and foolishness...Egypt now crossed that line.
They should have known, based on events leading up to this one, that the God who led Israel was not to be trifled with. In Verses 24-25, "At the morning watch, the Lord looked down on the army of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and cloud and brought the army of the Egyptians into confusion. 25 He caused their chariot wheels to swerve, and He made them drive with difficulty; so the Egyptians said, 'Let us flee from Israel, for the Lord is fighting for them against the Egyptians.'" This was no small body of water that had been split in half. It had been night, time passed and now it was morning, and still the racing chariots had not yet reached the nation Israel.
And it was soon to be over—the mighty, mobile forces of Egypt would never catch their unequipped, slow-moving prey. In Verses 26-28, "Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may come back over the Egyptians, over their chariots and their horsemen.' 27 So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its normal state at daybreak, while the Egyptians were fleeing right into it; then the Lord overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea. 28 The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen, even Pharaoh’s entire army that had gone into the sea after them; not even one of them remained." Have you noticed that in most disasters, many may be lost, but others, often not the strongest, will survive? It does not mean that the dead were evil and the survivors good...instead it is God who rescues some into eternity and others still must work out His purposes here on earth.
In Verses 29-30, "But the sons of Israel walked on dry land through the midst of the sea, and the waters were like a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. 30 Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. God rescued a nation from certain destruction at that moment. And it isn't that one nation was simply nicer than the other. Later in time, Joshua would ask "the Commander of the Lord's army" a great question: "Are You for us or for our adversaries?" God's Commander replied to him "No, but as Commander of the army of the Lord I have now come" (Joshua 5:13-15). It is not that God is on our side or theirs—it is you and I who are to be on the side of the Lord. Israel walked through the Red Sea on dry ground, with the salt water heaped up high around them. The waters crashed back into place and Israel now stared at the bodies of Egyptian soldiers, washing up onto the shore.
We can see from these verses that miracles do happen, much more often than we think, but our faith, in order to last, must be based on the Person, the Character of God, not merely on those miracles. As Verse 31 states, "When Israel saw the great power which the Lord had used against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in His servant Moses." That's good, but we will see in upcoming chapters that this apparent faith was merely awe for most of them...the depth of their faith, like ours, would be tested.
Father, there are, and likely will be again, enemies that pursue us, and "seas" that block our way. Only You can rescue in a way that gives You glory and leads us to safety. Help us, Father. We cannot do this alone. In Jesus Name. Amen.