Crossing the Red Sea, pt. 1
by Arthur W. Pink (1886-1952)
1And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, 2“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. 3For Pharaoh will say of the children of Israel, ‘They are entangled in the land, the wilderness hath shut them in.’ 4And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, that he shall follow after them; and I will be honored upon Pharaoh, and upon all his host; that the Egyptians may know that I am the Lord.” And they did so.
5And 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?” 6And he made ready his chariot, and took his people with him: 7And he took six hundred chosen chariots, and all the chariots of Egypt, and captains over every one of them. 8And 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. 9But 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.
10And 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. 11And 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? 12Is 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.”
In this lesson we are to have for our consideration one of the most remarkable miracles recorded in the O.T., certainly the most remarkable in connection with the history of Israel. From this point onwards, whenever the servants of God would remind the people of the Lord’s power and greatness, reference is almost always made to what He wrought for them at the Red Sea. Eight hundred years afterwards the Lord says through Isaiah, “I am the Lord thy God, that divided the sea, whose waves roared; the Lord of hosts in His name” (Isaiah 51:15). Nahum announced, “The Lord hath His way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of His feet. He rebuketh the sea, and maketh it dry” (Nahum 1:3, 4). When the Lord renewed His promise to Israel, He takes them back to this time and says, “According to the days of thy coming out of the Land of Egypt will I show unto him marvelous things” (Micah 7:15 and cf. Joshua 24:6, 7: Nehemiah 9:9; Psalm 106:7, 8; Jeremiah 31:35, etc.). It was this notable event which made such a great impression upon the enemies of the Lord: “For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you, when ye came out of Egypt; and what ye did unto the two kings of the Amorites, that were on the other side Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom ye utterly destroyed, and as soon as we have heard these things, our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man because of you; for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath” (Joshua 2:10, 11).
The miracle of the Red Sea occupies a similar place in the O.T. scriptures as the resurrection of the Lord Jesus does in the New; it is appealed to as a standard of measurement, as the supreme demonstration of God’s power (cf. Ephesians 1:19, etc.). Little wonder, then, that each generation of infidels has directed special attacks against this miracle. But to the Christian, miracles occasion no difficulty. The great difference between faith and unbelief is that one brings in God, the other shuts Him out. With God all things are possible. Bring in God and supernatural displays of power are to be expected.
Before we consider the miracle of the parting of the Red Sea, we must first give a brief notice to what preceded it. Exodus 14 opens by telling us, “And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, ‘Speak unto the children of Israel that they turn and encamp before Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, over against Baal-zephon; before it shall ye encamp by the sea’” (vv. 1, 2). In this word God commanded Israel to turn off from the route they were following, and encamp before the Red Sea. Many attempts have been made to ascertain the precise location, but after such a lapse of time and the changes incident upon the passing of the centuries it seems a futile effort. The third verse tells us all that it is necessary for us to know, and the information it supplies is far more accurate and reliable than any human geographies Israel were “shut in by the wilderness,” and the Red Sea stretched before them. Thus Israel were so placed that there was no human way of escape. In the mountain fastnesses they might have had a chance; but surrounded by the wilderness, it was useless to flee before the cavalry and chariots of Egypt.
“Speak unto the children of Israel, that they turn and encamp before Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, over against Baalzephon; before it shall ye encamp by the sea” (14:2). Here, as everywhere in Scripture, these names are full of meaning. They are in striking accord with what follows. “Pi-hahiroth” is rendered by Ritchie “Place of Liberty.” Such indeed it proved to be, for it was here that Israel were finally delivered from those who had long held them in cruel bondage. “Migdol” signifies “a tower” or “fortress.” Such did Jehovah demonstrate Himself to be unto His helpless and attacked people. Newberry gives “Lord of the North” as the meaning of “Baal-zephon,” and in scripture the “north” is frequently associated with judgment (cf. Joshua 8:11, 13; Isaiah 14:31; Jeremiah 1:14, 4:6; 6:1 Ezekiel 1:4, etc.). It was as the Lord of Judgment that Jehovah was here seen at the Red Sea.
“For Pharaoh will say of the children of Israel, ‘They are entangled in the land, the wilderness hath shut them in’” (14:3). How this brings out the inveteracy of unbelief! How it demonstrates the folly of human reasoning! Granting that Israel were “entangled in the land,” that they were “shut in” by the wilderness, that they were trapped before the Red Sea, did Pharaoh suppose that they would fall easy victims before his onslaught? What of Israel’s God? Had He not already shown Himself strong on their behalf? Had He not already shown Egypt that those who persecuted His covenant people “touched the apple of His eye” (Zechariah 2:8)! What a fool man is? How he disregards every warning? How determined he is to destroy himself? So it was here with Pharaoh and his army. Notwithstanding the ten plagues which had swept his land, he now marches out against Jehovah’s redeemed to consume them in the wilderness.
“And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, that he shall follow after them; and I will be honored upon Pharaoh, and upon all his hosts; that the Egyptians may know that I am the Lord. And they did so” (14:4). Here was God’s reason for commanding Israel to “encamp by the sea.” “Terrible as Egypt’s chastisements had been, something more was still needed to humble her proud king and his arrogant subjects under the felt hand of God, and to remove from Israel all further fear of molestation. There was one part of Egypt’s strength, their chief glory, which had so far escaped. Their triumphant army had not been touched. Moses is told that, when Pharaoh’s spies carried the tidings to him that the Israelites had gone down by the Egyptian shore, it would seem to the king that his hour for vengeance had come. A force advancing rapidly upon the rear of the Israelites would block their only way of escape, and so the helpless multitude would be at his mercy” (Urquhart).
“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 then said, ‘Why have we done this, that we have left Israel go from serving us?’ And he made ready his chariot, and took his people with him; and he took six hundred chosen chariots, and all the chariots of Egypt, and captains over every one of them. 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. 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 Pi-hahiroth, before Baal-Zephon” (vv. 5-9). All happened as God had foretold. Pharaoh and his courtiers became suddenly alive to their folly in having permitted Israel to go, and now a splendid opportunity seems to be afforded them to retrieve their error. The army is summoned in hot haste, Pharaoh and his nobles arm and mount their chariots. The famous cavalry of Egypt sally forth with all their glory. Not only the king, but his servants also, the very ones who had entreated him to let Israel go (10:7), are urgent that Israel should be pursued and captured. The judgments of God being no more upon their land, and recollecting the great service the Hebrews had rendered them, the advantages of having them for slaves, and the loss sustained by parting with them, they are now anxious to recover them as speedily as possible.
“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. 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 with us, to carry us forth out of Egypt? 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’” (vv. 10-12). This was a sore trial of faith, and sadly did Israel fail in the hour of testing. Alas! that this should so often be the case with us. After all God had done on their behalf in Egypt, they surely had good reason to trust in Him now. After such wondrous displays of Divine power, and after their own gracious deliverance from the Angel of Death, their present fear and despair were inexcusable. But how like ourselves! Our memories are so short. No matter how many times the Lord has delivered us in the past, no matter how signally His power has been exerted on our behalf, when some new trial comes upon us we forget God’s previous interventions, and are swallowed up by the greatness of our present emergency.
“And when Pharaoh drew nigh, the children of Israel lifted up their eyes, and, behold, the Egyptians marched after them” (v. 10). Their eyes were upon the Egyptians, and in consequence they were “sore afraid.” It is always thus. The only cure for fear is for the eye to remain steadfastly fixed on the Lord. To be occupied with our circumstances and surroundings is fatal to our peace. It was so in the case of Peter as he started to walk on the waters to Christ. While he kept his gaze upon the Lord he was safe; but as soon as he became occupied with the winds and the waves, he began to sink.
“And they were sore afraid; and the children of Israel cried out unto the Lord” (v. 10). Had they prayed unto God in this their distress for help and assistance, protection and preservation, with a holy yet humble confidence in Him, their crying had been right and laudable; but it is clear from the next two verses that theirs was the cry of complaint and despair, rather than of faith and hope. It closely resembles the attitude and action of the disciples in the storm-tossed ship as they awoke the Master and said, “Carest Thou not that we perish?” How solemn it is to see that such unbelief, such despair, such murmuring, can proceed from the people of God! How the realization that we have the same evil hearts within us should humble us before Him.
“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 out of Egypt?’” (v. 11). How absurd are the reasonings of unbelief! If death at the hands of the Egyptians was to be their lot, why had Jehovah delivered them from the land of bondage? The fact that He had led them out of Egypt was evidence enough that He was not going to allow them to fall before their enemies. Besides, the Lord had promised they should worship Him in Mount Horeb (3:12). How, then, could they now perish in the wilderness? But where faith is not in exercise, the promises of God bring no comfort and afford no stay to the heart.
Israel had been brought into their present predicament by God Himself. It was the Pillar of Cloud which had led them to where they were now encamped. Important truth for us to lay hold of. We must not expect the path of faith to be an easy and smooth one. Faith must be tested, tested severely. But, why? That we may learn the sufficiency of our God! That we may prove from experience that He is able to supply our every need (Philippians 4:19), make a way of escape from every temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13), and do for us exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think.
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