Bible Commentary: Exodus 13:17-14:31

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Exodus 13:17-14:31

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Miracle at the Red Sea

God brought Israel out of Egypt through great signs and wonders. He had communicated to them through His servant Moses and was now miraculously leading them through the wilderness. Israel was now witnessing another miracle—God leading them by a pillar of cloud during the day, which brought welcome shade during the afternoon heat (Psalms 105:39 Psalms 105:39He spread a cloud for a covering; and fire to give light in the night.
American King James Version×
; compare Isaiah 4:5-6 Isaiah 4:5-6 [5] And the LORD will create on every dwelling place of mount Zion, and on her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night: for on all the glory shall be a defense. [6] And there shall be a tabernacle for a shadow in the day time from the heat, and for a place of refuge, and for a covert from storm and from rain.
American King James Version×
; Isaiah 25:4-5 Isaiah 25:4-5 [4] For you have been a strength to the poor, a strength to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat, when the blast of the terrible ones is as a storm against the wall. [5] You shall bring down the noise of strangers, as the heat in a dry place; even the heat with the shadow of a cloud: the branch of the terrible ones shall be brought low.
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), and by a pillar of fire during the night, which gave them a warm, glowing light. But He was leading them in a way that did not seem to make sense, since it was not in the direction of Canaan and was, instead, heading toward a dead-end entrapment. Pharaoh had once again changed his mind, and now the Israelites found themselves trapped between his army and the sea.

One might think that, after witnessing the tremendous miracles that had already taken place, the Israelites would begin to show evidence of trust and faith in the One who had delivered them thus far. Instead, we find a continually complaining, murmuring and backsliding group of people who just aren't getting the point! However, God reminds us that these ancient examples have been recorded for our benefit today (1 Corinthians 10:13 1 Corinthians 10:13There has no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it.
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). The people, places and events may be different, but the attitudes prevail throughout the ages.

Are we that different today? Do we ever find ourselves questioning the existence or whereabouts of our Creator? Do we ever doubt God's miraculous intervention in our lives? Do we ever complain, gripe or murmur when things don't seem to be going our way? When our backs are to the "Red Sea" with no relief in sight, do we trust in the words, "Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord"? An end-time event is yet to occur that will test the faith of God's elect (Revelation 12:13-16 Revelation 12:13-16 [13] And when the dragon saw that he was cast to the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child. [14] And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent. [15] And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood. [16] And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth.
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). Will God's people remember His miracles, or will they be like the Israelites of old? If one can read about and believe in the One who was so patient, loving and merciful to a stubborn and stiff-necked people, why would one doubt His patience, love and mercy for today? God does not show partiality (Acts 10:34 Acts 10:34Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons:
American King James Version×

While the armies of Pharaoh were encompassed by the dark of the night, the pillar of fire was guiding millions of Israelites, a mixed multitude and millions of animals over the dried bed of the Red Sea. This was an enormous undertaking. One scholar, estimating the throng numbered 2.5 million—when it was likely closer to 3—mathematically "figured that marching ten abreast, the numbers would have formed a line over 150 miles long, and would have required eight or nine days to march by any fixed point" (Jonathan Kirsch, Moses, A Life, p. 175). Obviously since they crossed the Red Sea in a single night, the Israelites were lined up in numbers much greater than ten abreast—probably more like hundreds or thousands abreast!

Pharaoh's rebelliousness was finally brought to an end, then, in a miraculous series of events that all were able to witness. Many have claimed that the Israelites simply walked across a marsh or shallow lake when the water level was low. Part of their argument is that the original Hebrew term translated "Red Sea" is Yam Suf, meaning "Sea of Reeds"—reeds being plants like cattails, rushes and papyrus. However, the word suf can also mean seaweed (Jonah 2:5 Jonah 2:5The waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head.
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). In fact, the Gulf of Aqaba, a finger of the Red Sea, is actually called Yam Suf in 1 Kings 9:26 1 Kings 9:26And king Solomon made a navy of ships in Eziongeber, which is beside Eloth, on the shore of the Red sea, in the land of Edom.
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. Others, accepting this, will argue that the Israelites were walking on a sandbar at low tide—while the Egyptians got swept away when the tide came in. Yet the Bible clearly says that the waters were a "wall" to the Israelites on both sides (Exodus 14:22 Exodus 14:22And the children of Israel went into the middle of the sea on the dry ground: and the waters were a wall to them on their right hand, and on their left.
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)—an awesome miracle that cannot be explained by a coincidence of natural phenomena.

To quote biblical historian Eugene Merrill: "The crossing of Israel, which immediately preceded the drowning of the Egyptian chariotry, cannot be explained as a wading through a swamp. It required a mighty act of God, an act so significant in both scope and meaning that forever after in Israel's history it was the paradigm against which all of his redemptive and saving work was measured. If there was no actual miracle of the proportions described, all subsequent references to the exodus as the archetype of the sovereign power and salvific grace of God is hollow and empty" (Kingdom of Priests, p. 66). 

Through this incredible symbolic baptism (1 Corinthians 10:2 1 Corinthians 10:2And were all baptized to Moses in the cloud and in the sea;
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), would the Israelites emerge with a renewed attitude?

Map of the
Exodus Map

Supplementary Reading: “The Exodus Controversy”, Good News Magazine, March-April 2002, pp. 8-11, 28.