Crossing the Red Sea – Exodus 14

Read the Passage: Exodus 14

Egyptians’ Pursuit (14:1–9)

After the tenth plague—that is, the death of the firstborn in Egypt—Israel was released from Egypt, and that with much plunder (cf. Exod. 12:35–36). The easiest way for Israel to reach the Promised Land would have been to take the direct sea route northeast, through the land of the Philistines. However, the Lord knew that the trials of war that would accompany such a route would be spiritually disastrous for Israel, perhaps even causing them to return to Egypt (cf. Exod. 13:17–18). Thus, God led His people, who perhaps numbered between two and three million strong (cf. Exod. 12:37), southeast along a more difficult, circuitous route to the Promised Land. In Exod. 14:1–4 the Lord disclosed to Moses that he did this, in part, so that “I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord” (Exod. 14:4).

The Lord was actively guiding the Israelites via a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (cf. Exod. 13:21–22). This leading, along with the verbal directions God revealed to Moses (cf. Exod. 14:2), had led Israel to encamp on the shores of the Red Sea. When Pharaoh learned of Israel’s location, he and his advisors assumed that the Israelites were confused and lost in the wilderness. Against all logic, the Egyptians chose to pursue the Israelites with the intent of re-enslaving them. Given the ten plagues upon Egypt, which had resulted in near the destruction of the entire county (cf. Exod. 10:7), including the deaths of the firstborn, the notion of pursuing Israel seems ludicrous. Yet, the decision to sin is primarily a spiritual action, not an intellectual conclusion. Thinking Israel was trapped by the desert and the sea, Pharaoh and his army pursued God’s people to the shore of the Red Sea.

Israel’s Rescue (14:10–20)

When Israel first left Egypt, with plunder in hand, Moses records that they “went out with boldness” (Exod. 14:8). Given their manner of delivery, such boldness seems quite logical. Then, when the people of Israel saw the approaching Egyptian army, “they were very afraid, and . . . cried out to the Lord” (Exod. 14:10). This, too, is a logical course of action, for God had earlier delivered them from Egypt on account of their prayers (cf. Exod. 2:23; 3:7–9). Yet, the people’s attitude quickly changed, as they expressed a preference for the safety of bondage in Egypt over the trials of freedom in the wilderness (cf. Exod. 14:11–12). Such a cry would be reiterated numerous times over the next forty years of wilderness wanderings. In response, Moses called upon the Israelites to simply trust in God, saying, “Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord” (Exod. 14:13–14).

In Exod. 14:15–18 God reveals two purposes behind His allowance of the Egyptians’ pursuit and planned attack on Israel. First, God would gain honor and glory over Pharaoh and his army (cf. Exod. 14:17). This seems to be the main reason for God allowing Pharaoh to pursue Israel, which included the consequent destruction of the Egyptian army, as the Lord had earlier mentioned this to Moses (cf. Exod. 14:4). Note that God will share nearly all things with man (e.g., love, power, even His Son), but He will not share His honor or His glory, of which He is very jealous. The Lord declares, “I am Yahweh, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another or My praise to idols” (Isa 42:8; cf. Deut 4:24; Isa 48:11). Second, God desired for the Egyptians to know that He is Lord (cf. Exod. 14:18). Such knowledge was to be personal and intimate, not just intellectual.

God’s Deliverance (14:21–30)

Exod. 14:21–30 records the actual deliverance of Israel, via their crossing of the Red Sea, as well as the destruction of the Egyptian army. Exod. 14:21–24 reports God’s parting of the ocean waters via “a strong east wind” (Exod. 14:21). Yet, surely, the parting of the waters, which remained for a time, as well as the appearance of dry land, was a miraculous event. Although God had separated the Egyptians and Israelites with the pillar of fire of His presence (cf. Exod. 14:19–20), after God’s people had crossed the Red Sea, He allowed the Egyptians to follow them. The Egyptians’ pursuit, however, was short-lived, as God troubled them with equipment failure (cf. Exod. 14:24–25), as well as with perhaps a rain storm (cf. Ps. 77:16–20). The end result of the Egyptians’ attempt to re-enslave Israel was the drowning of the entire army, as “not . . . one of them remained” (Exod. 14:28).

Application Questions:

  1. Why did God send Israel on a circuitous route from Egypt to Israel (cf. Exod. 13:17)? What are some benefits that come from experiencing hardships in life?
  2. Given their great loss of property and life via the ten plagues, why did the Egyptians pursue the Israelites in the wilderness?
  3. In times of trouble, how can we distinguish the proper course of action? Are faith and works always opposing activities?
  4. What is the difference between the Egyptians’ stubborn rejection of God, and the Israelites’ lack of trust in and complaints to God?
  5. How was God glorified by the destruction of the Egyptian army? What effect did God’s deliverance have upon Israel, Moses, and others who learned of this event?