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David Guzik :: Study Guide for Exodus 14

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The Crossing of the Red Sea

A. The pursuit of Pharaoh's armies.

1. (Exo 14:1-4) God draws Pharaoh to come out against Israel.

Now the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: "Speak to the children of Israel, that they turn and camp before Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, opposite Baal Zephon; you shall camp before it by the sea. For Pharaoh will say of the children of Israel, 'They are bewildered by the land; the wilderness has closed them in.' Then I will harden Pharaoh's heart, so that he will pursue them; and I will gain honor over Pharaoh and over all his army, that the Egyptians may know that I am the LORD." And they did so.

a. You shall camp before it by the sea: We could say that God set an ambush for Pharaoh. Even after the horror of the death of the firstborn, the change in Pharaoh's heart was only temporary. He was quick to strike at Israel when he had the chance.

b. They are bewildered by the land: This was exactly what God wanted Pharaoh to believe. God told Moses to lead Israel in a way that looked confused. God told Moses and Israel to do something crazy because God knew how He could be glorified through it.

2. (Exo 14:5-9) Pharaoh decides to bring the children of Israel back.

Now it was told the king of Egypt that the people had fled, and the heart of Pharaoh and his servants was turned against the people; and they said, "Why have we done this, that we have let Israel go from serving us?" So he made ready his chariot and took his people with him. Also, he took six hundred choice chariots, and all the chariots of Egypt with captains over every one of them. And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued the children of Israel; and the children of Israel went out with boldness. So the Egyptians pursued them, all the horses and chariots of Pharaoh, his horsemen and his army, and overtook them camping by the sea beside Pi Hahiroth, before Baal Zephon.

a. Why have we done this, that we have let Israel go from serving us? This was a strange question for Pharaoh to ask. It isn't hard to think of at least ten good reasons - namely, ten powerful plagues - why Pharaoh let Israel go.

i. This demonstrates how we are often quick to forget what God has done and what He has shown us. It is easy to quickly move from walking in the spirit to walking in the flesh.

ii. Perhaps Pharaoh thought that the LORD had shot all His arrows and had no more "ammunition" against Egypt. After all, no more died after the plague of the firstborn; but God isn't short on resources. He had plenty of ammunition left.

b. Six hundred choice chariots, and all the chariots of Egypt: Pharaoh was well equipped with the best military resources. Chariots were the most sophisticated military technology available at that time. Israel had nothing except the children of Israel went out with boldness.

i. The idea behind the Hebrew words with boldness (ruwn yad) include the idea of rebellion against authority (1 Kings 11:26-27). The rebellious nature of Israel was good when it was against Pharaoh and all it stood for; it was bad when it was against the LORD, Moses, and all they stood for. The trouble with rebels is they rebel against the wrong things!

ii. Psalm 106:7-12 describes this rebelliousness on the part of Israel at the Red Sea, also mentioned in Exodus 14:10-12: Our fathers in Egypt did not understand Your wonders; they did not remember the multitude of Your mercies, but rebelled by the sea; the Red Sea. Nevertheless He saved them for His name's sake, that He might make His mighty power known. He rebuked the Red Sea also, and it dried up; so He led them through the depths, as through the wilderness. He saved them from the hand of him who hated them, and redeemed them from the hand of the enemy. The waters covered their enemies; there was not one of them left. Then they believed His words; they sang His praise.

3. (Exo 14:10-12) The response of the children of Israel.

And when Pharaoh drew near, the children of Israel lifted their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians marched after them. So they were very afraid, and the children of Israel cried out to the LORD. Then they said to Moses, "Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you so dealt with us, to bring us up out of Egypt? Is this not the word that we told you in Egypt, saying, 'Let us alone that we may serve the Egyptians?' For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness."

a. They were very afraid: It made sense for Israel to be afraid. According to all outward observation, Israel was in serious trouble with Pharaoh's armies on one side and the Red Sea on the other. They seemed to have no chance for escape.

i. God led Israel right into a cul-de-sac. There was no was of escape except the way they had come in, and the Egyptian army had that path covered.

ii. We sometimes think that Satan will let us go easily, or we think that that once we leave his kingdom he forgets about us. Yet just like Pharaoh after Israel, Satan pursues us, attempting to keep us at least on the fringes of his domain and hoping to destroy us if he can.

b. The children of Israel cried out to the LORD: This was a good thing to do. When we find ourselves in dangerous places with no easy escape, we must cry out to God, because God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1).

c. Then they said to Moses: Their fear could be understood and their cry to the LORD made sense. Yet their words to Moses show a great lack of faith and loss of confidence in God. No reasonable mind could really think that Moses planned all this to lead the people of Israel to their death in the wilderness.

i. They thought they could read the mind and heart of Moses. We are often wrong and always on dangerous ground when we claim we can read the intentions of other's hearts. Moses said nothing or did nothing that would support such a conspiracy theory, but the children of Israel still thought this way.

d. Let us alone that we may serve the Egyptians: The children of Israel were not yet a week out of Egypt and they were already distorting the past, thinking that it was better for them in Egypt than it really was.

4. (Exo 14:13-14) Moses responds with great courage.

And Moses said to the people, "Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever. The LORD will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace."

a. Do not be afraid: At this point, Moses could have no idea how God would come through in the situation. All he knew was God certainly would come through. In a sense, Moses knew he was in such a bad situation that God had to come through.

i. When we see that our only help is God, we are more likely to trust Him. Sometimes it is the little things - the things we think we can do in our own strength - that get us down, not the big things that we know only God can do.

b. Stand still: Moses told the people of Israel to stop. This is often the LORD's direction to the believer in a time of crisis. Despair will cast you down, keeping you from standing. Fear will tell you to retreat. Impatience will tell you to do something now. Presumption will tell you to jump into the Red Sea before it is parted. But as God told Israel He often tells us to simply stand still as He reveals His plan.

c. See the salvation of the LORD: Moses didn't know what God would do. Yet he knew what the result would be. He knew that God would save His people and that the enemies of the Lord would be destroyed. He could say to Israel, "the LORD will fight for you."

d. You shall see them no more forever: The idea behind this implies much more than at first look. Moses perhaps spoke in terms of eternity as well as their present time.

B. God leads Israel across the Red Sea.

1. (Exo 14:15-18) God's instructions to Moses: stop praying and start doing.

And the LORD said to Moses, "Why do you cry to Me? Tell the children of Israel to go forward. But lift up your rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it. And the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea. And I indeed will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they shall follow them. So I will gain honor over Pharaoh and over all his army, his chariots, and his horsemen. Then the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gained honor for Myself over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen."

a. Why do you cry to Me? Before the people, Moses was full of faith. But before God he cried out in desperate prayer. This was good because Moses had to show confidence before the nation to encourage their faith.

b. Why do you cry to Me? There is a time to pray, and a time to act. It can actually be against God's will to stop doing and to only pray in a particular situation.

i. This is especially true when our prayer is not made unto God alone. Sometimes we pray out of the wrong motives and sometimes we pray to inform others who listen. We can use a call to prayer to actually control a situation or we can pray to avoid action or buy time.

c. Lift up your rod, and stretch out your hand: These were simple instructions that resulted in a mighty miracle. In the same manner, the greatest miracle of salvation happens with simple actions on our part.

d. Then the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD: God was not finished answering Pharaoh's question from Exodus 5:2, when Pharaoh asked "Who is the LORD, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go?" God used the miracle of the parting of the Red Sea to speak to Egypt as much as He used it to speak to Israel.

i. This is an aspect of the spiritual life rarely reflected upon. When God delivers us from a temptation or crisis, it is as much a testimony to our invisible adversaries as it is to us. God uses each victory in our life to tell our unseen enemies of His power and ability to work in and through frail humanity.

2. (Exo 14:19-20) God neutralizes the Egyptian army with the fire.

And the Angel of God, who went before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud went from before them and stood behind them. So it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel. Thus it was a cloud and darkness to the one, and it gave light by night to the other, so that the one did not come near the other all that night.

a. The pillar of cloud went from before them and stood behind them: The pillar previously mentioned in Exodus 13:21-22 was now positioned as a barrier between the attacking Egyptians and the children of Israel. God protected Israel from the Egyptian attack until a way was made through the Red Sea.

i. We often have little idea how much God does to protect us from the attacks of our unseen enemies. We sometimes feel that we are overwhelmed in a present spiritual struggle, but we may not know what it would be like if the LORD pulled back His protection.

b. It came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel: The Egyptians didn't know it, but the same pillar that prevented their pursuit of Israel also protected their lives. If they had submitted to the LORD who blocked their way with His presence, they would have been spared.

c. Thus it was a cloud and darkness to the one, and it gave light by night to the other: The pillar was a source of darkness to the Egyptians but a source of light to Israel. This is a vivid picture of how the glory of God can be light to one person yet seem dark to another.

3. (Exo 14:21-22) The waters of the Red Sea are parted, and the children of Israel cross over safely on dry ground.

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea into dry land, and the waters were divided. So the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea on the dry ground, and the waters were a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.

a. Moses stretched out his hand over the sea: Other passages (such as Exodus 13:18 and 15:14 identify this body of water as the Red Sea. The Hebrew phrase for Red Sea is yam suph, which clearly means "Reed Sea." Scholars and archeologists have attempted for years to positively identify this body of water.

i. "The term aptly describes the lake region north of the Gulf of Suez comprising the Bitter Lakes and Lake Timsah. It is possible that the Israelites went along the narrow neck of land on which Baal-zephon stood and that the Biblical Sea of Reeds was modern Lake Sirbonis. We are certain that the crossing was in this area because the Israelites found themselves in the Wilderness of Shur after crossing the sea (Exod. 15:22)." (Pfeiffer)

ii. We don't know exactly where the place was, and what the exact geography was. This is especially true because an area like this will change geography every flood or drought season. We do know there was enough water there to trap the Israelites and to later drown the Egyptians. We can surmise that this was perhaps 10 feet of water or so. We also can surmise that there was enough width in the crossing for the large group of Israelites to cross over in one night - perhaps a mile wide stretch.

b. The LORD caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea into dry land, and the waters were divided: Some believe this is simply an ancient legend and did not actually happen. However, modern research has demonstrated that it was completely plausible, according to a Los Angeles Times article by Thomas H. Maugh titled "Research Supports Bible's Account of Red Sea Parting" (3/14/92):

i. "Sophisticated computer calculations indicate that the biblical parting of the Red Sea, said to have allowed Moses and the Israelites to escape from bondage in Egypt, could have occurred precisely as the Bible describes it.

 Because of the peculiar geography of the northern end of the Red Sea, researchers report Sunday in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, a moderate wind blowing constantly for about 10 hours could have caused the sea to recede about a mile and the water level to drop 10 feet, leaving dry land in the area where many biblical scholars believe the crossing occurred."

c. The waters were a wall to them on their right hand and on their left: Psalm 77:16-20 gives more detail in the description of the course of events during the Red Sea crossing: The waters saw You, O God; the waters saw You, they were afraid; the depths also trembled. The clouds poured out water; the skies sent out a sound; Your arrows also flashed about. The voice of Your thunder was in the whirlwind; The lightnings lit up the world; the earth trembled and shook. Your way was in the sea, Your path in the great waters, and Your footsteps were not known. You led Your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

4. (Exo 14:23-28) God troubles the Egyptian army, and they are drowned.

And the Egyptians pursued and went after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh's horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. Now it came to pass, in the morning watch, that the LORD looked down upon the army of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and cloud, and He troubled the army of the Egyptians. And He took off their chariot wheels, so that they drove them with difficulty; and the Egyptians said, "Let us flee from the face of Israel, for the LORD fights for them against the Egyptians." Then the LORD said to Moses, "Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the waters may come back upon the Egyptians, on their chariots, and on their horsemen." And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and when the morning appeared, the sea returned to its full depth, while the Egyptians were fleeing into it. So the LORD overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea. Then the waters returned and covered the chariots, the horsemen, and all the army of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them. Not so much as one of them remained.

a. He took off their chariot wheels: God miraculously worked on the side of Israel against the Egyptians. He troubled the army of the Egyptians until Israel had crossed over the Red Sea. Only then did He allow the Egyptian army to continue their pursuit through the parted waters.

b. So the LORD overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea: Though some also regard this as simply an ancient legend, modern research again shows it is completely possible. Thomas H. Maugh continued in his Los Angeles Times article:

i. "An abrupt change in the wind would have allowed the waters to come crashing back into the area in a few moments, a phenomenon that the Bible says inundated the Israelites' pursuers."

c. Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the waters may come back upon the Egyptians: God told Moses to do something with his hand connected with the motion of the sea. We know that it was not really the power of Moses' hand that held back the sea or allowed it to come crashing back upon the Egyptian army. It was the power of God at work.

i. God could have performed this miracle just as easily without Moses' cooperation. Yet, God delights in using human agents to take part in His miraculous works. We can say that many miraculous works of God are yet to be done because no human agent has stepped forth to be the one who will "stretch out their hand."

ii. In addition, this was God's vindication of Moses. Israel previously accused him of the lowest of motivations, and the most evil state of heart (Exodus 14:10-12). Through this work through Moses God showed the whole nation that Moses was their chosen leader.

d. Not so much as one of them remained: The deliverance at the Red Sea became a turning point in Israel's history. In this era of Israel's history they had many troubles ahead but Pharaoh and the Egyptians never troubled them again.

5. (Exo 14:29-31) Summary: another act of redemption on Israel's behalf.

But the children of Israel had walked on dry land in the midst of the sea, and the waters were a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. So the LORD saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Thus Israel saw the great work which the LORD had done in Egypt; so the people feared the LORD, and believed the LORD and His servant Moses.

a. Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore: This was confirmation to Israel that their deliverance from Egypt was real and complete. An oppressed people are slow to believe they are free while their tyrant still lives. God wanted Israel to know that their oppressors were dead.

i. "Somehow the sight of those dead bodies was the concrete sign that salvation and a new life for Israel were now assured." (Cole).

b. So the LORD saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians: God delivered Israel in seemingly impossible circumstances. He demonstrated His faithfulness to Israel and to all His people.

i. Spurgeon told the story of an old saint who lay on her deathbed and declared that Jesus would never forsake her, because He had promised so. Someone asked her, "But suppose that He did not keep His promise, and you were to be lost?" She answered, "Then He would be the greater loser than I. It is true I would lose my soul, but God would lose all His honor and glory if He were not true." God's motive for delivering us is not only His love for us, but also a desire to guard His own glory and honor.

ii. "Brethren, if we have trusted in God, and have come out of the Egypt of the world through his grace, and have left all its sins behind us, if we were left to die in the wilderness, the Lord Jesus Christ would lose his glory as a Saviour, the divine Father would lose his name for immutable faithfulness, and the Holy Ghost would lose his honour for perseverance in completing every work which he undertakes." (Spurgeon).

c. The people feared the LORD, and believed the LORD and His servant Moses: This was just the result God intended. Sadly for Israel they did not stay in this place of respect and faith toward the LORD. This was probably more a circumstance of feelings than it was of true faith, because they left this place of respect for the LORD and Moses quickly.

i. We can say that the deliverance of Passover and the miracle of the Red Sea go together. If not for the victory won at the Red Sea, the redemption at Passover would have meant nothing. But they would have never made it to the Red Sea without the miracle of God's redemption at Passover. In the same way, the redemption of the cross would mean nothing without the miracle of the resurrection. The two works of deliverance must go hand in hand.

©2004 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission


The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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