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The Blue Letter Bible

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. (Exodus 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 will pursue them). 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 that look confused because God would gain honor over Pharaoh through it.

2. (Exodus 14:5-9) Pharaoh decides to force Israel back to Egypt.

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 wasn’t difficult to think of at least ten good reasons — namely, ten powerful plagues — why Pharaoh let Israel go. This demonstrates how we are often quick to forget what God has done and demonstrated.

i. Perhaps Pharaoh thought that plagues were the limit of God’s power; that now he could successfully strike against Israel.

ii. There is an analogy in this to the spiritual life. We sometimes think that Satan will let us go easily, or we think that once we leave his kingdom he will forget 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.

iii. Made ready his chariot: “This is not merely his personal chariot. The meaning is probably ‘his chariotry’, a collective.” (Cole)

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

i. The idea behind the Hebrew words with boldness (ruwn yad) includes 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 most rebels is that they rebel against the wrong things.

3. (Exodus 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. They could see 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 into what seemed to be a trap. There was no way of escape except the way they had come in, and the Egyptian army had that path blocked.

ii. “Humanly speaking, they might easily overcome the unarmed and encumbered Israelites, who could not be supposed to be able to make any resistance against cavalry and war-chariots.” (Clarke)

iii. “There were no two ways to choose from: they could not miss the way, for they must needs march through the sea. No room for wandering remained: their road was walled up and they could not miss it.” (Spurgeon)

b. The children of Israel cried out to the LORD: Israel did the right thing. 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).

i. “The panic of the people is hardly to be wondered at when we think of their circumstances.” (Morgan)

c. Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness: Their fear, and their cry to the LORD made sense. Yet their words to Moses showed little faith and a loss of confidence in God. No reasonable mind could really think that Moses planned all this to lead the people of Israel to their deaths in the wilderness.

i. Moses said or did nothing that would support such an accusation, but the children of Israel still thought this way.

ii. “They mocked in the most satirical tone possible (since Egypt specialized in graves and had about three-fourths of its land area available for grave sites).” (Kaiser)

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

4. (Exodus 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 had no idea how God would help them in the situation. All he knew was God certainly would help. 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. Yet as God told Israel He often tells us to simply stand still and hold your peace 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.”

i. “Salvation is used here in its literal sense of saving life, or of victory instead of defeat in war. As the Old Testament moves on, ‘salvation’ will gain a more spiritual and less material sense (Psalm 51:12), although the Hebrew was not conscious of any sharp contrast between the two.” (Cole)

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. (Exodus 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; 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. This was a time for action, and Moses could pray along the way.

i. “There is a time for praying, but there is also a time for holy activity. Prayer is adapted for almost every season, yet not prayer alone, for there comes, every now and then, a time when even prayer must take a secondary place.” (Spurgeon)

ii. “There is something more to be done than to pray. We must not only crave God’s help, but be forward in the course whereby to make way for God’s help.” (Trapp)

iii. “There is a favourite sin, of which he has long been guilty; he does not give it up, but he says that he will pray about it. God says to such a man, ‘“Where fore criest thou unto me?” Give up thy sin; this is not a matter for thee to pray about, but to repent of.’ The man says, “I was asking for repentance.” Ask, if thou wilt, for repentance, but exercise it as well.” (Spurgeon)

c. Lift up your rod, and stretch out your hand: These were simple instructions connected to a mighty miracle. In the same manner, the greatest miracle of salvation happens with simple actions on our part. As the rod of Moses did not actually perform the miracle, so we do not save ourselves with what we do, but we connect with God’s saving miracle.

i. “Neither Moses nor his rod could be any effective instrument in a work which could be accomplished only by the omnipotence of God; but it was necessary that he should appear in it, in order that he might have credit in the sight of the Israelites, and that they might see that God had chosen him to be the instrument of their deliverance.” (Clarke)

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, yet Ephesians 3:10-11 tell us that God uses His people to teach angelic beings. 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. (Exodus 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. And the Angel of God… moved and went behind them: God sent both a specially commissioned Angel and the pillar of cloud (Exodus 13:21-22) as a barrier between Israel and the pursuing Egyptian army. 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, at least for a while. If they had submitted to the LORD who blocked their way with His presence, they would have been spared their coming destruction.

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 or work of God can be light to one person yet seem dark to another.

i. “Thus the double nature of the glory of God in salvation and judgment, which later appears so frequently in Scripture, could not have been more graphically depicted.” (Kaiser)

ii. The word of God has a dark side to sinners; as do also the gospel and even Jesus Himself.

3. (Exodus 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.

iii. Much recent research has proposed an alternative route for the Exodus of Israel from Egypt, one that sets Mount Sinai in the Arabian Peninsula instead of the Sinai Peninsula. This alternative route puts the crossing at the Red Sea’s Gulf of Aqaba, instead of at the Bitter Lakes, the Port of Suez, or the Gulf of Suez. At the Gulf of Aqaba, crossings have been suggested at the northern tip (at Ezion Geber), in the middle (at Nuweiba Beach), or at the southern end (at the Straits of Tiran).

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” (March 14, 1992):

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.”

ii. It’s important to note that this research does not prove that the crossing of the Red Sea happened at any particular place speculated on in the research; only that natural phenomenon exists, which God may have used to part the waters and allow Israel an exit from the Egyptian army. Even if God used natural phenomenon, it was still a great miracle.

iii. “An infidel may deny the revelation in toto, and from such we expect nothing better; but to hear those who profess to believe this to be a Divine revelation endeavouring to prove that the passage of the Red Sea had nothing miraculous in it, is really intolerable. Such a mode of interpretation requires a miracle to make itself credible. Poor infidelity! how miserable and despicable are thy shifts!” (Clarke)

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. It poetically describes how it rained, thundered, and struck lightning at the crossing of the Red Sea.

4. (Exodus 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.

i. Thomas H. Maugh continued in his Los Angeles Times article: “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 often uses people to take part in His miraculous works. We can say that many miraculous works of God are yet to be done because no person 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). With 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. (Exodus 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 tyrants still live. God wanted Israel to know that their oppressors were dead.

i. “This is a very graphic touch, an eye-witness account. The drowned Egyptian soldiers stand for an old way of life in slavery, now gone for ever. Somehow the sight of those dead bodies was the concrete sign that salvation and a new life for Israel were now assured.” (Cole)

ii. This principle applies to the day-to-day struggles of life. “Though the pressure of your trial is almost unbearable, you will one day see your Egyptian dead.” (Meyer)

iii. This principle also applies to our ultimate victory. “But as the morning of eternity breaks, they will awake with songs of joy to see death and the grave and all the evils that they dreaded, like Egyptians, strewn on the shores of the sea of glass.” (Meyer)

iv. Clarke speculates that the Israelites plundered these dead Egyptian soldiers and thereby gained weapons they would later use in battles against the Amalekites, Amorites, and others.

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.

ii. “The new nation walked through a threatened death toward a new life in a consciousness of the presence and power of Jehovah from which they could not escape.” (Morgan)

©2018 David Guzik — No distribution beyond personal use without permission


  1. Clarke, Adam "Clarke's Commentary: The Holy Bible Containing the Old and New Testaments with a Commentary and Critical Notes" Volume 1 (Genesis-Deuteronomy) (New York: Eaton and Mains, 1826)
  2. Cole, R. Alan "Exodus: An Introduction and Commentary" Volume 2 (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries) (London: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973)
  3. Kaiser, Walter C. Jr. "The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers" Volume 2 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1990)
  4. Meyer, F.B. "Devotional Commentary on Exodus" (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel, 1978)
  5. Morgan, G. Campbell "An Exposition of the Whole Bible" (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Revell, 1959)
  6. Pfeiffer, Charles F. "Egypt and the Exodus" (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1964)
  7. Spurgeon, Charles Haddon "The New Park Street Pulpit" Volumes 1-6 and "The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit" Volumes 7-63 (Pasadena, Texas: Pilgrim Publications, 1990)
  8. Trapp, John "A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments" Volume 1 (Genesis to 2 Chronicles) (Eureka, California: Tanski Publications, 1997)

Updated: August 2022

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