Egypt’s army dies at sea
Israel backtracks1The LORD told Moses, 2“Tell the Israelites to turn around and go back to Pi-hahiroth. Camp near there, between Migdol and the sea, near Baal-zephon. Point the camp toward the sea. 3Pharaoh is going hear about this, and he’ll say, ‘Those people have gotten lost. They’re lost out in the desert wasteland.’ 4I’m going to add some hardener to his heart and he’s going to chase you down. But in the end, people will honor me because of what happens to him and his army. When this is all over, the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD.” So, the Israelites did what God told them to do.
5When the king of Egypt got the confirmation that the Israelites had left, he and his advisors changed their minds. They decided they didn’t want the Israelites to leave after all. They said, “Why did we do this? Why did we let these people go? They were our slaves, doing our work for us?” 6The king called for his chariot. Then off he went, chasing after the Israelites. 7He took his elite chariot corps—600 of the best—along with other chariots and their commanders. 8The LORD made Pharaoh stubbornly determined to capture the Israelites, who were boldly fleeing the country.
Egyptians catch up with Israelites9The Egyptians began the chase, taking with them all of Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, along with his charioteers and soldiers. They caught up with the Israelites, camped by the sea, near Pi-hahiroth and Baal-zephon. 10As Pharaoh approached the Israelites with his entire army, the people of Israel became terrified. They started praying to the LORD.
11Then they took their complaint to Moses. They said, “Is there a shortage of graves in Egypt? Is that why you brought us out here to die in this wasteland? What have you done to us? Why have you led us out of Egypt? 12Isn’t this exactly what we told you not to do when we were back in Egypt? Didn’t we say, ‘Leave us alone. It’s better to work in Egypt than die in the desert?”
13But Moses told the people, “Don’t be afraid. Watch and see how the LORD is going to save you today. Take a good look at those Egyptians over there because after today you will never see them again. 14The LORD is going to fight this battle for you. So, stop this blasted complaining.”
Israel, on the move15The Lord asked Moses, “What are you doing talking to me right now? Tell the Israelites to get going. Break camp and move forward. 16I want you to lift your walking stick and hold your arm out over the sea. The water is going to split apart. The people of Israel are going to march right into the sea, on a path of dry ground. 17I’m going to make the Egyptians so stubborn that they’ll chase you right into the water. People are going to glorify me because of what happens to Pharaoh and his army, chariots, and charioteers. 18The Egyptians are going to realize that I am the LORD, once people start honoring me because of what happens to Pharaoh with his chariots and charioteers.”
19God’s angel had been leading the Israelite army by going in front of them in a pillar of smoke. But now the angel moved back as a rearguard. The pillar of smoke took up that new position. 20It formed a barrier between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Smoke darkened the sky. The Egyptians could not push any further throughout the night.
God parts the sea21Moses lifted his hand toward the sea. The Lord sent a strong wind blowing in from the east. It blew all night, splitting the water into two sections. That split produced a path of dry ground where the water had been. 22The people of Israel walked across the seabed on a strip of dry land. The water stood in place like two walls facing each other—one on the right and another on the left. 23Egyptians charged onto the seabed. Pharaoh’s army of chariots and charioteers all rushed into the sea.
Egyptian army panics and dies24That morning, the LORD looked down at the Egyptian army, through the smoke and fire of the pillar. He made the Egyptians panic. 25He bogged down the wheels of the chariots. They could hardly move. The Egyptians said, “Let’s get out of here. The LORD is fighting us.” 26The LORD told Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward the sea. When you do, the water will fall back in place, crashing over the Egyptians, washing away their chariots and charioteers.”
27So Moses stretched his hand out toward the water, and the sea fell back in place that morning, with the Egyptians caught in the middle of it. The LORD washed away the Egyptian army. 28When the water fell back into place, Pharaoh’s entire army that had charged into the sea died. Not one soldier survived.
29The people of Israel survived. They walked away on a path of dry ground laid across the seabed. The parted water stood like two walls, one on the right and the other on the left. 30The LORD saved Israel that day. The Israelites stood along the sea and watched dead Egyptian soldiers wash ashore. 31When the people saw the kind of power the LORD unleashed in this battle against the Egyptians, they started to fear and respect him. They trusted him along with Moses, who worked for him.
Location uncertain. Some scholars break down the name to read “mouth of Hiroth,” possibly the name of an irrigation canal or a stream.
The word Migdol shows up in Egyptian writings to identify several military sites: watchtowers or forts. An Egyptian letter from Pharaoh Seti II (reigned 1204-1198 BC) reports one in the Sinai desert near Wadi Tumilat, which ran by Succoth, one of the cities the Israelites passed through earlier (Exodus 12:37). A wadi is a desert stream bed that sometimes runs dry.
Baal-zephon was a Canaanite God. The reference here, some scholars say, likely refers to a location where this Canaanite God was worshiped in Egypt. Several such sites by that name have shown up in Egyptian records. Scholars make educated guesses about where this was. Some put it along an escape route toward the Red Sea, and associate it with the wall-protected city of Arsinoe, modern Ardscherud, at the northern tip of the Red Sea’s Gulf of Suez. Some scholars make the educated guess that Baal-zephon was near Lake Sirbonis, along Egypt’s northern coast, beside the shortest route back to the Promised Land of what is now Israel and Palestinian Territories.
The song of deliverance that the Israelites will sing in the next chapter, Exodus 15, identifies the sea they cross as the “Reed Sea” (15:4). Many Bibles say “Red Sea.” But the Hebrew words are yam suph, “sea reeds.” Scholars usually track Moses and the Hebrews escaping Egypt by walking southeast, out of the Nile Delta fields and toward the Red Sea and the Sinai Peninsula. They would have passed through lake regions along what is now the Suez Canal, which connects the Red Sea’s Gulf of Suez to the Mediterranean Sea. These lakes and ponds reportedly had reeds growing along the banks, like the ones the Bible says grew along the Nile River and helped anchor Baby Moses in a basket (Exodus 2:3).
This is the king’s reaction to the Israelites turning back, as though they don’t know what they’re doing or where they’re going.
The Hebrew word for “angel” is malak. It can mean “messenger,” celestial or human. That would make it an angel or a neighbor. Some scholars say it can also refer to God himself. Some also suggest the phrase can refer to Jesus, in this case, more than 1,000 years before he took human form.
This is most often translated as a pillar of cloud. But it can also mean smoke, whether natural or supernatural. Since this is a pillar of fire at night, it might seem logical to presume it’s a pillar of smoke and fire in the day.
There is no known report of a natural occurrence like this. The northern tip of the Gulf of Suez can be affected by strong winds and tide, which push the water back from the shore. Then when the tide comes in with a strong wind pushing it, the water can rush back in surprisingly fast. A report in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, written by scientists specializing in meteorology and oceanography, theorize that a wind blowing 45 miles an hour (72 kph) for 10 hours could temporarily lower the depth of the Red Sea 10 feet (3 m) or more, pushing back the northern shoreline for about a mile (1.6 k). If the Israelites crossed on a raised sandbar, there could have been water on both sides of them—but not standing up as walls of water, which some scholars might suggest is an exaggeration. Another study, this one in the Bulletin of Russian Academy of Sciences, says there is a four-mile-long reef at the northern end of the Gulf of Suez. Two Russian scientists writing the article said an all-night wind could have pushed back the 10-foot-deep (3 m) water. And once the wind stopped, the ocean could have rushed back within half an hour. French general Napoleon, riding his horse there, reportedly almost drowned when the water rushed back too quickly. There’s a similar story from Mari, a town in Syria, about an army that escaped from a pursuing army by crossing a river at low tide. When the army chasing them came to the river, the tide had risen, they couldn’t go any further.
It seems difficult to tell if the entire Egyptian army died or if just that part of the army that waded into the sea died. But in the story of the great Exodus of the Hebrew people out of Egypt, this is the last we hear of the Egyptians.
BY ROBERT V. HUBER
Still reeling from the devastation brought down on them by the plagues, the Egyptians begin to assess their situation and come to regret sending the Israelites away. The pharaoh and his advisers decide to pursue the Israelites and bring them back. After all they have suffered as a result of the Israelites, why do you think they would do that?
Pharaoh calls together his most elite troops to pursue a group of slaves. Does this sound likely to you? Why would he use his best forces for a policing job?
When the Israelites see the Egyptian troops coming against them, they throw a hissy fit. Complaints went something like this: “Why did you get us into this situation? We were better off as slaves in Egypt than as the corpses we’re going to be in the desert. Didn’t we tell you to leave us alone?” After all the evidence of God’s power they had seen, why are they acting this way?
In the most spectacular and dramatic incident in the Book of Exodus, and probably in the entire Old Testament, God outwits Pharaoh, saving the Israelites and killing Pharaoh’s forces in the waters of the Reed Sea. The account is told in a heightened literary style. Do you think this is poetry, history, or a story that gradually grew from one generation to the next?
Verse 21 tells us that when Moses waved his staff over the waters, the LORD sent a strong wind out of the East, which split the waters. Do you think this means God used natural phenomena to part the waters of the sea? And does it diminish God when people say God used natural means instead of supernatural?