Israel’s deliverance at the Red Sea is mentioned many times in Scripture. It is a picture or type of salvation in Jesus Christ. Other nations and non-Israelites, like Rahab, heard what God did in delivering his people and destroying Pharaoh, and they feared the Lord for it. It is one of his works to be held in perpetual remembrance. He is known as the Lord by it. He is known by the judgments that he executes (Ps. 9:16). And make no mistake – this was an execution. God led Israel in such a roundabout fashion that defied all military logic and hemmed in his people so that they had nowhere to go but forward through the Gulf of Suez for one main reason: to glorify his name by killing Pharaoh and the Egyptian hosts. This is not because he lacked mercy or was a God of vengeance in the Old Testament, as heretics old and new have claimed. He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). If men in this age of the world do not repent, our Lord Jesus will in his wisdom and timing turn against them and crush them with a rod of iron (Ps. 2:9; Rev. 2:27; 19:15). At the end, he will return with fiery vengeance to destroy those who do not obey his gospel (2 Thess. 1:8). God saved Israel that day, and he also destroyed his enemies. In both, he will be glorified.
God’s Purpose: To Destroy Pharaoh (vv. 1-4)
1 Now the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 2 "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. 3 "For Pharaoh will say of the children of Israel, 'They are bewildered by the land; the wilderness has closed them in.' 4 "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.
His Deliberately Strange Guidance
It is always encouraging to hear that the Lord is our Shepherd. His guidance and protection are a great consolation in this troubled world. But what if he leads us in the opposite direction of what we think would be safe? This is what he did to the children of Israel. He had already led them away from the coastal highway that would have taken them into the heart of Philistine country, but he kept leading them south, along the Gulf of Suez. He might have turned them eastward sooner, which would have brought them into the Sinai wilderness outside of Egypt’s borders, but he led them further south, directly into the southeastern border of Egypt (Migdol). In fact, this route eventually hemmed them between towering mountains on either side, and the wider portions of the Gulf of Suez barring their way. Moses followed the Lord implicitly, of course, and so must we, whether to the hospital bed because we cannot avoid it, or to losing our job because we would not deny our faith. We must follow our Shepherd. We cannot understand his ways and often see only the shadows or outlines of them (Job 26:14). What we must believe is that he is always leading us along the proper path and will take care of us along the way.
His Purposes Always Bigger Than Know
This is such a basic truth, but what must Moses have thought as the Lord told him the way they were to go? He knew Egyptian geography very well, but he did not demur. What the Lord did tell Moses convinced him that God had something up his sleeve, larger purposes. It is not over with Pharaoh, the Lord said. He will come after you, and I will get glory over him and his army. We should pause here and consider that the Lord’s leading of his church in this world has a much larger dimension than our personal safety, growth, and enjoyment of the good things we have in Jesus Christ. Our thoughts normally stay here, in these green pastures, and this is understandable. We are but sheep. The Lord, however, has bigger plans. He knows that the spirits reserved for judgment are watching. The elect angels must continue to see his glory. His enemies must know who he is, and since they are enslaved to the devil, it is by judgment that God often makes himself known and teaches the nations to fear him (Ps. 9:16; Isa. 26:9). But the main point is this: when we do not understand what God is doing in our lives, our churches, our land, when his dealings with us defy our ability to explain them, or simply when we are in pain or lonely, and wonder if he loves us and why he has brought this upon us, let us remember that his ways are much higher than we can fathom (Isa. 55:8-9). If we cannot find peace in simply yielding to him and trusting his promises, then we shall find it nowhere (Isa. 26:3). If we refuse to follow him until we can understand his ways or agree with them, then we cannot be Christ’s disciples, or we shall follow him with such a divided and turbulent heart that we shall never have any true joy and rest in our Savior.
He Will Be Glorified in Salvation and Judgment
We would expect for the Lord to be glorified in the salvation of his people, but the odd thing here is that all the glory pertains to his judgment upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Perhaps his people thought, as we often do, that God’s main work is saving us! Having done that, what else is to be done? But then, he turns the around and leads them in the direction of danger so that Pharaoh will come after them. I hardly know how to express this as I would like, but we must learn to glorify God for his justice, his righteousness government of the world, and even his destruction of his enemies. Heaven does (Rev. 15:3)! Unless we tremble and worship God for his justice in judging his enemies, we shall never tremble and worship him for his grace to sinners (Rom. 9:22-23). We look at God’s works so much from our own perspective, and today, from the wonders of his longsuffering, that we forget his righteous judgments, that he is righteous and loves righteousness. As truly as he is glorified in salvation through his beloved Son, he will be glorified in taking vengeance on his enemies with consuming fire. Heaven will rejoice in one as in the other, for God’s mercy is in the heavens, and his judgments are a great deep. He is rich in mercy; he will not leave the guilty unpunished (Ex. 34:6). He is not one before the other; he is fully and wonderfully love; he is fully and wonderfully righteous and just. Let us worship him in the glorious simplicity that he is and has revealed himself to be.
God’s Enemy: Pharaoh Marches to His Death (vv. 5-9)
5 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?" 6 So he made ready his chariot and took his people with him. 7 Also, he took six hundred choice chariots, and all the chariots of Egypt with captains over every one of them. 8 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. 9 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.
Did Pharaoh not believe the Israelites would leave? Perhaps blinded by grief or driven mad by a seared conscience’s last assertion of an offended God, he asked, “Why have we done this?” Look out your palace window, Pharaoh. Your arrogance has destroyed your land and killed your firstborn. God has done this, but Pharaoh is still held in the grip of his god-delusion. I am Amon-Ra, or at least his glory-bearer on earth; hear me roar. He made ready his chariots. What! Your strength is scattered. Would you go from the funeral of your son to your own, and so soon? As you ride by scorched fields and a weeping people, what are you thinking? He is thinking about nothing but revenge. The Lord hardened his heart. He hardened his own heart. He gathered 600 hundred of his best chariots, perhaps hundreds of his second tier charioteers. He thought Israel was hemmed in. What God will save them out of my hand now! Here is a fair fight – me and my best chariots against two or three million slaves on foot, ragged looters and destroyers of Egypt. They will not leave. I will kill them. They have no weapons, no chariots, nowhere to go. We shall plough them through with horse and rider. Two days after his departure, and perhaps five after Israel left Avaris or Goshen, Pharaoh overtook the Israelites as they were camping by the seaside.
God’s People: Scared to Death (vv. 10-14)
10 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. 11 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? 12 "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." 13 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. 14 "The LORD will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace."
Fear, Unbelief, and Complaining: Sad Harbingers
Through the cloudy pillar, God’s people saw the dust of Pharaoh’s chariot army approaching. As they will so often do in the years ahead, they grew fearful and cried out to the Lord. Then, they began complaining and wickedly declared, not for the last time, that they would rather have remained in Egypt than die in the wilderness. Always that generation preferred the certainty of slavery to the responsibility of freedom under God. It is sad to hear this from them. Not many hours before, they certainly saw evidences of God’s great power and faithfulness. They are in the midst of observing a rather vivid Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread. The cloudy pillar is nearby. It is not enough for them. They will have life and freedom on their terms. They did not want deliverance from the world, for that meant a life of dependence upon God. They preferred their chains; like Lot’s wife, they were already looking back.
As evil as that generation was – and only two of those 2 million adults would reach the promised land – we have our own evils in this area. We have every reason to believe that God is our guide and will protect us. We have every reason to trust his love. We have so many records of his mighty deeds for us, and the pinnacle of the cross of our Blessed Savior, that we should never doubt or complain, but instantly at the first sight of trouble or grief, cast ourselves upon his promise of mercy. He is near to us, but we doubt. The world scares us, and we slink into our hiding places. Wicked men lie against God’s truth and undermine the authority of his Son, and we think all is lost. Instead, we must remember his judgments of old, and comfort ourselves (Ps. 119:52). He cannot fail us.
And let us not push him away by our complaining but endeavor to trust and love him to lead us safely through. Have we heard the way he preserved the wife watching her husband die, or the child watching his parent slip away into eternity? Have we seen him provide for those who had no jobs, or no strength for jobs? Have we seen him preserve his word when the fires of hell were threatening to engulf it? Has the church made resurgence after seeming all but dead in her sins and wedded to the world? Have we not in our own lives felt God’s quickening, saving, illuminating, guiding hand, even at the eleventh hour, when all hope seemed lost? Again and again the answer comes. Yes, the Lord has done all these things. Therefore, when more troubles come, and we must have our share in Christ’s cross so that his glory may rest upon us (Acts 14:22; 2 Cor. 12:), let us run straight into God’s arms and trust his promises. If he slays us, fine, for we shall soon be with him. If we cry and suffer, that is also fine, for since we have no one in heaven but him, it is better to pour out our hearts to him with grief than to live one second without him.
Moses’ Powerful Call: Stand Still and See God’s Salvation
Praise God for Moses. “By faith, he led them through the Red Sea.” He kept his head with God’s truth, and his heart with God’s faithfulness. Stand still, he shouted above the din of murmuring, the whirl of the cloudy pillar, and the low rumbling of chariots. What a scene it was! All those millions hemmed in against the sea, being pushed in by chariots, and all around them a storm cloud that had we seen it must have taken our very breath away. Stand still! When there is nothing but danger before and behind, when temptations surround on either side, be still. Stop running around wildly! There may be no help from below, but there is ample help from above. See the salvation of the Lord, the covenant keeping God. Are we not often told this! Where is our faith? Has science driven it out of us? Technology? Entertainment? Or is it that we simply do not take into account how much the flesh would prefer to remain enslaved to the world rather than to launch out upon the waters of faith?
But that is where God is; he sits as King above the floods. Like Peter, sometimes we must get out of the more comfortable boat and walk on the stormy waves to Jesus. If we will stand still and wait upon him in faith, if we will trust him when the storms are blowing, if we will wait upon him so save us, he will. If we will stand and call upon him when temptations besiege us, he will save us. He hems us in for this very reason, even as he did Israel. I am your Savior; there is none else. Problems small or great, our personal needs or crises involving the whole church at one time, he says to us, “I am your salvation. Look to me and be saved. Stand still and stop trusting yourselves. Call upon me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver you” (Ps. 50:15). Let us have more of Moses’ “stand still and see,” and less of our fearful scurrying and worry and complaining, and we shall see God do greater works of deliverance, judgment, and provision for us.
God’s Salvation: Through the Water that Drowns the Foe (vv. 15-31)
15 And the LORD said to Moses, "Why do you cry to Me? Tell the children of Israel to go forward. 6 "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. 17 "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. 18 "Then the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gained honor for Myself over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen." 19 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. 20 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. 21 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. 22 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. 23 And the Egyptians pursued and went after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh's horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. 24 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. 25 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." 26 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." 27 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. 28 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. 29 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. 30 So the LORD saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31 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.
I Will Be Honored (vv. 15-18)
How easily we forget that God made all things; nothing exists anywhere in the universe except by his creative will and power. He does not need us, is self-sufficient and perfectly contented in himself. It is his right and our life to give him glory. Satan wants us to forget this A of the ABC’s, for he hates this truth. It means that he can never be God and never be happy or successful in his rebellion. The Lord, however, expects us to glorify him, and therefore to find our life and joy in him. He also expects us to trust his power and faithfulness. He asked Moses, “Why are you crying to me? Move forward.” Moses had told the people that God would fight for them (v. 14). But move forward where? Lift up your rod, Moses, and I will part the waters. I will further harden Pharaoh’s heart so that he will follow you into his grave, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord – as they get stuck in the mud, as they watch the walls of water collapse, as they sputter and sink and drown. O yes, they will know that I fight for my people and against them. Their consciences will give one last scream before they are silenced in hell forever. I will be glorified.
Moses’ hair must have stood on end. A more unnerving, beautiful, and sobering command is hard to imagine. I am going to deliver you. I have led you here. You are not hemmed in or even mildly threatened by what you see. This is my salvation program, and part of it is your salvation. The other part is judgment upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Uniting both is that I will be glorified. We are not to imagine that God needs our glorifying of him. Rather, we are simply to understand that God does all that he does toward his creatures to glorify his name, to reveal his greatness, wisdom, power, and goodness, and then to evoke praise and adoration from us so that we might know him as our life – that we may know he is the Lord in love and mercy, even as his enemies know he is the Lord in wrath and judgment. If we could only get in our hearts this God-centeredness of life, then we should be at peace. We would not seek our happiness in this life, its possessions, pleasures, and people, but in him.
And finding it in him, we should then use the world without abusing it, love others as they reflect God and give occasion to serve and praise him. Moses learned these lessons, and what we say of God led him to desire above all: “Lord, show me your glory.” The children of Israel never learned it. Their unbelieving and complaining ways never stopped, for they never learned to trust the God who made and does all things for himself. The glory that saved them at the Red Sea then killed them in the wilderness. God will be glorified, in life and death, in salvation and in judgment. If he was glorified then, how much more glorified is he in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ? For the Red Sea our Savior crossed was the wrath and curse of God against us for our sins. He led our true exodus from the world of sin, defeated the enemy, and triumphantly ascended to the right hand of his Father. Our adoration must be boundless, our praise constant, our joyful obedience the living sacrifice we offer to him for so great a salvation.
The Angel of God Behind and the Pillar Before (vv. 19-20)
Such a God would be utterly beyond our capacity to know or love, except that he condescends to make himself known to us. Here, his Angel is mentioned. He is most certainly the Son of God before he took upon himself our flesh, but already functioning as the Word of the covenant, the Mediator of the covenant, the Angel of God’s presence. He was the rock that Rock that followed them through the wilderness, the water they drank (1 Cor. 10:1-4). He had been in front of them, which makes explicit that the cloudy pillar was a pledge of his personal presence. He was their guide and shepherd even then. As Pharaoh’s armies approached, he moved to the rear. There would be no getting through him to his people. There would be only death. Although this is related without elaboration and almost in passing, we are taught to see that in all our troubles that our Savior is behind and before, always leading and protecting. The children of Israel complained and feared because they were senseless to his presence and power.
Let this never be said of us. We know less of him than we might because we love and obey him with little passion and consistency (John 14:21). We do not call upon him as if he really exists, as if when praying we are caught up by faith into the very throne room of God, with the resurrected Lord of glory standing there, holding the keys of life and death and hell. Knowing and seeing him by faith banishes fear and sadness. We cry, but we are never hopeless if we have him as our hope. We struggle, but we never fight alone, for he is the Angel of God’s presence, who through the indwelling Spirit never departs, always protects, teaches, sanctifies, guides, and strengthens. What the children of Israel enjoyed at the Red Sea is ours daily to enjoy, part of the unsearchable riches of Christ secured to us through the blood of the everlasting covenant of grace. Let us sing and rejoice. Let us expect God to be faithful. Let us call upon him as his believing people, children and weak, but also redeemed and hopeful in his great faithfulness. He will fight for us.
Pharaoh’s Watery Grave (vv. 21-29)
Moses obeyed God. Always faith does the impossible because it trusts the promises of him for whom nothing is too hard (Gen. 18:14; Matt. 19:26; Heb. 11:32-37). God told Moses to stretch out his staff; Moses obeyed, and a strong wind began blowing, continuing through the night. The Lord might have instantly parted the seas, but he used means. No ordinary wind can drive such a wedge between deep waters so that the ground beneath is firm and solid. The means God uses to accomplish his will are occasions to stand in awe of him, for without him, they would do nothing. We ought to think of this the next time we see a plant springing up from dirt! The Israelites moved forward. It would have required a wide path and most of the next day and night to move so many people and animals through the watery path. Israel was baptized in that sea, into Christ and his covenant, not by a deadly immersion in its depths but by the type of that blood that sprinkles and cleanses from all sin (1 Cor. 10:2).
The hand of grace and power that redeemed his people now turned upon the Egyptians with a vengeance. The Angel of God rejoined the people, thus allowing the Egyptians to follow, likely at twilight the next day. The light from the fiery pillar also guided Pharaoh to his death. God looked through the fire and cloud, and began troubling him and his armies. Their chariot wheels came off; they felt that God was fighting against them. First light appeared on the horizon. God told Moses to stretch out his staff over the waters. The sea returned to its full depth. The Egyptians had turned around, but it was too late. The waters crashed upon them. Horse and rider were overthrown in the sea. No Egyptian survived, including Pharaoh, for given his hardness of heart, his god-complex, and his wrath, he must have been the first to follow after Israel. As the waters crashed over him and the convulsions of a drowning man came over him, God got his glory over the enemy. Whatever Pharaoh’s last thoughts were before standing before God and being sent to hell, the only thought that matters is that God was glorified and known by judging his enemies.
These Bodies for the Birds, and Israel Fears the Lord (vv. 30-31)
But Israel passed through on dry ground; not one of God’s people was lost. He saved Israel that day. With morning light, they saw the bodies of the Egyptians washed up on the shore. No embalming for these proud foes. The birds would feast. All that Egypt worshipped – Pharaoh, statism, even Amon-Ra and first light – God humbled and exposed it as nothing but an idolatrous fraud. The same has been true again and again throughout history. All that seemed immovable, God moved it. All that appeared destined to last forever was soon destroyed and is now an archaeological dig. No weapon formed against God, no pride of man, no false gods can stand before him. He is longsuffering. In our short lifespans we may see God’s enemies prosper. Four centuries God was patient with the Canaanites, for whom Israel would now come as the hand of God’s wrath, and with the Egyptians, even as they tormented God’s people. He works on his own time table, and many ask in unbelief and even ridicule, “Where is the promise of his coming?” Faith sees life differently. These things are recorded and now universally available so that all men in all places, high and low, can learn to tremble before God, confess and kneel before his Son, and yield their lives to be governed by him. Remember Pharaoh – so arrogant, so wealthy and strong, so revered – washed up on the shore of human folly and drowned by the hand of God.
And thus, all who build upon any other foundation than Jesus Christ, who live by any other word than his, must be washed away by the storms of life, God’s testing and judging hand (Matt. 7:24-27; 1 Cor. 3:11). It may not be today or tomorrow. God often allows his enemies to have their good things in this life (Ps. 7:14; Luke 16:25), thus showing his goodness and longsuffering, as well as giving them space for repentance. But the day of reckoning is coming. God will always, always deliver his people. It does not matter how besieged the church is, how blind and unbelieving she is, even as we see here. God does not save us because we are worth saving but because he keeps his promises. And when he is ready to reform and revive, to sift his house with judgment, to break our chains of fear and worldliness and oppression, the strongest enemy becomes like a child flailing in the ocean, trying to fight against the tides of his wrath. “Thus, let all your enemies perish, O Lord! But let those who love him be like the sun when it comes out in full strength” (Judges 5:31). Let us fall before his Angel, our Lord Jesus Christ, praise him for delivering us from sin and Satan, ask him to break our love for this world, quench our fears, and establish our hearts in faith. For he goes before us and stands guard behind us. We need only stand still, trust him, and move forward in obedience to his word. He will take care of the rest.
Profiting from the Word and Searching Our Hearts
1. What does God’s leading of Israel into danger teach us about his ways? About the challenge we shall sometimes find it to trust him?
2. What does God’s glorifying himself by destroying the Egyptians teach us about him? Why do we need this lesson?
3. Why did Israel prefer Egypt and slavery to God and freedom?
4. How can we forsake a complaining spirit? What are some silent ways we complain?
5. How do we “stand still and see the Lord’s salvation?”
6. Explain the Lord’s strange command in verse 15.
7. Why do we hesitate to adore God for his judgments against his enemies?
8. Is God’s glory the center, the goal, of your life?
9. Is Christ’s guidance in your life real to you? Are you conscious, deliberate about yielding to him, seeking his direction, and waiting upon him to guide you? How do you know he is guiding you, and that you are not simply following your feelings?
10. How can we enjoy his presence and guidance with greater joy and satisfaction – and objectivity? See John 14:21-23.