Gleanings In Exodus
by A. W. Pink
19. Crossing the Red Sea
In this lesson we are to have for our consideration one of the most remarkable miracles recorded in the O.T., certainly the most remarkable in connection with the history of Israel. From this point onwards, whenever the servants of God would remind the people of the Lord’s power and greatness, reference is almost always made to what He wrought for them at the Red Sea. Eight hundred years afterwards the Lord says through Isaiah, "I am the Lord thy God, that divided the sea, whose waves roared; the Lord of hosts in His name" (Isa. 51:15). Nahum announced, "The Lord hath His way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of His feet. He rebuketh the sea, and maketh it dry" (Nah. 1:3, 4). When the Lord renewed His promise to Israel, He takes them back to this time and says, "According to the days of thy coming out of the Land of Egypt will I show unto him marvelous things" (Mich. 7:15 and cf. Joshua 24:6, 7: Nehemiah 9:9; Psalm 106:7, 8; Jeremiah 31:35, etc.). It was this notable event which made such a great impression upon the enemies of the Lord: "For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you, when ye came out of Egypt; and what ye did unto the two kings of the Amorites, that were on the other side Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom ye utterly destroyed, and as soon as we have heard these things, our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man because of you; for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath" (Josh. 2:10, 11).
The miracle of the Red Sea occupies a similar place in the O.T. scriptures as the resurrection of the Lord Jesus does in the New; it is appealed to as a standard of measurement, as the supreme demonstration of God’s power (cf. Ephesians 1:19, etc.). Little wonder, then, that each generation of infidels has directed special attacks against this miracle. But to the Christian, miracles occasion no difficulty. The great difference between faith and unbelief is that one brings in God, the other shuts Him out. With God all things are possible. Bring in God and supernatural displays of power are to be expected.
Before we consider the miracle of the parting of the Red Sea, we must first give a brief notice to what preceded it. Exodus 14 opens by telling us, "And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel that they turn and encamp before Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, over against Baal-zephon; before it shall ye encamp by the sea" (vv. 1, 2). In this word God commanded Israel to turn off from the route they were following, and encamp before the Red Sea. Many attempts have been made to ascertain the precise location, but after such a lapse of time and the changes incident upon the passing of the centuries It seems a futile effort. The third verse tells us all that it is necessary for us to know, and the information it supplies is far more accurate and reliable than any human geographies Israel were "shut in by the wilderness," and the Red Sea stretched before them. Thus Israel were so placed that there was no human way of escape. In the mountain fastnesses they might have had a chance; but surrounded by the wilderness, it was useless to flee before the cavalry and chariots of Egypt.
"Speak unto the children of Israel, that they turn and encamp before Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, over against Baal-zephon; before it shall ye encamp by the sea" (14:2). Here, as everywhere in Scripture, these names are full of meaning. They are in striking accord with what follows. "Pi-hahiroth" is rendered by Ritchie "Place of Liberty." Such indeed it proved to be, for it was here that Israel were finally delivered from those who had long held them in cruel bondage. "Migdol" signifies "a tower" or "fortress." Such did Jehovah demonstrate Himself to be unto His helpless and attacked people. Newberry gives "Lord of the North" as the meaning of "Baal-zephon," and in scripture the "north" is frequently associated with judgment (cf. Joshua 8:11, 13; Isaiah 14:31; Jeremiah 1:14, 4:6; 6:1 Ezekiel 1:4, etc.). It was as the Lord of Judgment that Jehovah was here seen at the Red Sea.
"For Pharaoh will say of the children of Israel, They are entangled in the land, the wilderness hath shut them in" (14:3). How this brings out the inveteracy of unbelief! How it demonstrates the folly of human reasoning! Granting that Israel were "entangled in the land," that they were "shut in" by the wilderness, that they were trapped before the Red Sea, did Pharaoh suppose that they would fall easy victims before his onslaught? What of Israel’s God? Had He not already shown Himself strong on their behalf? Had He not already shown Egypt that those who persecuted His covenant people "touched the apple of His eye" (Zech. 2:8)! What a fool man is? How he disregards every warning? How determined he is to destroy himself? So it was here with Pharaoh and his army. Notwithstanding the ten plagues which had swept his land, he now marches out against Jehovah’s redeemed to consume them in the wilderness.
"And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, that be shall follow after them; and I will be honored upon Pharaoh, and upon all his hosts; that the Egyptians may know that I am the Lord. And they did so" (14:4). Here was God’s reason for commanding Israel to "encamp by the sea." "Terrible as Egypt’s chastisements had been, something more was still needed to bumble her proud king and his arrogant subjects under the felt band of God, and to remove from Israel all further fear of molestation. There was one part of Egypt’s strength, their chief glory, which had so far escaped. Their triumphant army had not been touched. Moses is told that, when Pharaoh’s spies carried the tidings to him that the Israelites had gone down by the Egyptian shore, it would seem to the king that his hour for vengeance had come. A force advancing rapidly upon the rear of the Israelites would block their only way of escape, and so the helpless multitude would be at his mercy" (Urquhart).
"And it was told the king of Egypt that the people fled; and the heart of Pharaoh and of his servants was turned against the people, and then said, Why have we done this, that we have left Israel go from serving us? And he made ready his chariot, and took his people with him; and be took six hundred chosen chariots, and all the chariots of Egypt, and captains over every one of them. And the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and he pursued after the children of Israel ; and the children of Israel went out with an high hand. But the Egyptians pursued after them, all the horses and chariots of Pharaoh and his horsemen and his army, and overtook them encamping by the sea, beside Pi-hahiroth, before Baal-Zephon" (vv. 5-9). All happened as God had foretold. Pharaoh and his courtiers became suddenly alive to their folly in having permitted Israel to go, and now a splendid opportunity seems to be afforded them to retrieve their error. The army is summoned in hot haste, Pharaoh and his nobles arm and mount their chariots. The famous cavalry of Egypt sally forth with all their glory. Not only the king, but his servants also, the very ones who had entreated him to let Israel go (10:7), are urgent that Israel should he pursued and captured. The judgments of God being no more upon their land, and recollecting the great service the Hebrews had rendered them, the advantages of having them for slaves, and the loss sustained by parting with them, they are now anxious to recover them as speedily as possible.
"And when Pharaoh drew nigh, the children of Israel lifted up their eyes and behold the Egyptians marched after them; and they were sore afraid; and the children of Israel cried out Unto the Lord. And they said unto Moses, because there were no graves in Egypt hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness? Wherefore hast thou dealt with us, to carry us forth out of Egypt? Is not this the word that we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians? For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness" (vv. 10-12). This was a sore trial of faith, and sadly did Israel fail in the hour of testing. Alas! that this should so often be the case with us. After all God had done on their behalf in Egypt, they surely had good reason to trust in Him now. After such wondrous displays of Divine power, and after their own gracious deliverance from the Angel of Death, their present fear and despair were inexcusable. But how like ourselves! Our memories are so short. No matter how many times the Lord has delivered us in the past, no matter how signally His power has been exerted on our behalf, when some new trial comes upon us we forget God’s previous interventions, and are swallowed up by the greatness of our present emergency.
"And when Pharaoh drew nigh, the children of Israel lifted up their eyes, and, behold, the Egyptians marched after them. (v. 10). Their eyes were upon the Egyptians, and in consequence they were ‘sore afraid.’ It is always thus. The only cure for fear is for the eye to remain steadfastly fixed on the Lord. To be occupied with our circumstances and surroundings is fatal to our peace. It was so in the case of Peter as he started to walk on the waters to Christ. While he kept his gaze upon the Lord he was safe; but as soon as he became occupied with the winds and the waves, he began to sink.
"And they were sore afraid; and the children of Israel cried out unto the Lord" (v. 10). Had they prayed unto God in this their distress for help and assistance, protection and preservation, with a holy yet humble confidence in Him, their crying had been right and laudable; but it is clear from the next two verses that theirs was the cry of complaint and despair, rather than of faith and hope. It closely resembles the attitude and action of the disciples in the storm-tossed ship as they awoke the Master and said, "Carest Thou not that we perish?" How solemn it is to see that such unbelief, such despair, such murmuring, can proceed from the people of God! How the realization that we have the same evil hearts within us should humble us before Him.
"And they said unto Moses, Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness? wherefore hast thou dealt thus with us to carry us out of Egypt?" (v. 11). How absurd are the reasonings of unbelief! If death at the hands of the Egyptians was to be their lot, why had Jehovah delivered them from the land of bondage? The fact that He had led them out of Egypt was evidence enough that He was not going to allow them to fall before their enemies. Besides, the Lord had promised they should worship Him in Mount Horeb (3:12). How, then, could they now perish in the wilderness? But where faith is not in exercise, the promises of God bring no comfort and afford no stay to the heart.
Israel had been brought into their present predicament by God Himself. It was the Pillar of Cloud which had led them to where they were now encamped. Important truth for us to lay hold of. We must not expect the path of faith to be an easy and smooth one. Faith must be tested, tested severely. But, why? That we may learn the sufficiency of our God! That we may prove from experience that He is able to supply our every need (Phil. 4:19), make a way of escape from every temptation (1 Cor. 10:13), and do for us exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think.
"Is not this the word that we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone that we may serve the Egyptians? For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness" (v. 12). Behind the rage of Pharaoh and his hosts who were pursuing the Israelites, we are to see the enmity of Satan against those whom Divine grace has delivered from his toils. It is not until a sinner is saved that the spite of the Devil is directed against him who till recently was his captive. It is now that he goes forth as a roaring lion seeing to devour Christ’s lamb. Beautiful it is to see here the utter failure of the enemy’s efforts. Now that the Divine righteousness had been satisfied by the blood of the Lamb, it was solely a question between God and the Enemy. Israel had to do no fighting—God fought for them, and the enemy was utterly defeated. This is one of the outstanding lessons of Exodus 14—"If God be for us who can be against us?"
Vitally important it is for the believer to lay firm hold on this soul-sustaining truth. How often it occurs (exceptions must surely be few in number) that as soon as a sinner has fled to Christ for refuge, Satan it once lets fly his fiery darts. The young believer is tempted now as he never was in his unregenerate days; his mind is filled with evil thoughts and doubts, and he is terrified by the roaring of the "lion," until he wonders who is really going to gain possession of his soul—God or Satan. This was precisely the issue raised here at the Red Sea. It Looked as though Jehovah had deserted His people. It seemed as though they must fall victims to their powerful and merciless foes. But how deceptive are appearances? How quickly and how easily the Lord Almighty reversed the situation? The sequel shows us all Israel safe on the other side of the Red Sea, and all the Egyptians drowned therein! But how was this brought about? Of deep moment is every word that follows.
"And Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will show to you today; for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to-day, ye shall see them again no more forever" (v. 13). The first word was, "Fear not." The servant of God would quieten their hearts and set them in perfect peace before Him. "Fear not" is one of the great words recurring all through the Scriptures. "Fear not" was what God said to Abraham (Gen. 15:1). "Fear not, neither be thou dismayed" was His message to Joshua (8:1). "Fear not" was His command to Gideon (Judg. 16:23). "Fear not" was David’s counsel to Solomon (1 Chron. 28:20). This will be the word of the Jewish remnant in a day to come: "Be strong, fear not, behold, your God will come" (Isa. 35:4). "Fear not" was the angel’s counsel to Daniel (10:12). "Fear not little flock" is the Lord’s message to us (Luke 12:32). "I will fear no evil" said the Psalmist (23:4), "for Thou art with me." But how is this to be attained? How is the heart to be established in peace? Does not Isaiah 26:3 sum it all up—"Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed in Thee because He trusteth in Thee."
"Stand still" was the next word of Moses to Israel. All attempts at self-help must end. All activities of the flesh must cease. The workings of nature must be subdued. Here is the right attitude of faith in the presence of a trial—"stand still." This is impossible to flesh and blood. All who know, in any measure, the restlessness of the human heart under anticipated trial and difficulty, will be able to form some conception of what is involved in standing still. Nature must be doing something. It will rush hither and thither. It would feign have some hand in the matter. And although it may attempt to justify and sanctify its worthless doings, by bestowing upon them the imposing and popular title of "a legitimate use of means," yet are they the plain and positive fruits of unbelief, which always shut out God, and sees nought save every dark cloud of its own creation. Unbelief creates or magnifies difficulties, and then sets us about removing them by our own bustling and fruitless actions, which, in reality, do but raise a dust around us which prevents our seeing God’s salvation.
"Faith, on the contrary, raises the soul above the difficulty, straight to God Himself, and enables one to ‘stand still.’ We gain nothing by our restless and anxious efforts. We cannot make one hair white or black, nor add one cubit to our stature, What could Israel do at the Red Sea! Could they dry it up? Could they level the mountains? Could they annihilate the hosts of Egypt? Impossible! There they were, enclosed within an impenetrable wall of difficulties, in view of which nature could but tremble and feel its own impotency. But this was just the time for God to act. When unbelief is driven from the scene, then God can enter; and in order to get a proper view of His actings, we must ‘stand still.’ Every movement of nature is, so far as it goes, a positive hindrance to our perception and enjoyment of Divine interference on our behalf" (C.H.M.).
"And see the salvation of the Lord." It is surprising how many have, missed the point here. Most of the commentators regard this word as signifying that Israel were to remain passive until the waters of the Red Sea should be cleft asunder. But this is clearly erroneous. Hebrews 11:29 tells us that it was "by faith they passed through the Red Sea," and faith is the opposite of sight. The mistake arises from jumping to the conclusion that "see the salvation of the Lord" refers to physical sight. It was spiritual sight that Moses referred to, the exercising of the eyes of the heart. Faith is a looking not at the things which are seen, but a looking "at the things which are not seen" (2 Cor. 4:18)—strange paradox to the natural man! As we read in Hebrews 11:13, "These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off." And of Moses we read, "he endured as seeing Him who is invisible" (Heb. 11:13)—that is, seeing Him with the eyes of faith. To "see the salvation of the Lord" we must first "stand still"—all fleshly activity must cease. We have to be still if we would know that God is God (Ps. 46:10).
"For the Egyptians whom ye have seen to-day, ye shall see them again no more forever. The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace" (vv. 13, 14). Notice the repeated use of the future tense here: "He will show you . . .ye shall see them again no more . . . the Lord shall fight for you." How this confirms what we have just said. Jehovah’s "salvation" had first to be seen by the eye of faith before it would be seen with the eye of sense. That "salvation" must first be revealed to and received by "the hearing of faith." "Which He will show you to-day" was the ground of their faith. Striking are the closing words of verse 14: "and ye shall hold your peace," or, as some render it, "ye shall keep silence." Six hundred thousand men, besides women and children, were to remain motionless in the profound silence which befitted them in a scene where so unparalleled a drama was to be enacted, moving neither hand, foot, nor tongue! How well calculated was such an order to draw the trembling heart of Israel away from a fatal occupation with its own exigencies to faith in the Lord of hosts!
"And the Lord said unto Moses, Wherefore criest thou unto Me? Speak unto the children of Israel that they go forward" (v. 15). "Go forward" does not contradict, but complements the "stand still." This is ever the spiritual order. We are not ready to "go forward" until we have first "stood still" and seen the salvation of the Lord. Moreover, before the command was given to "Go forward" there was first the promise, "see the salvation of the Lord which He will show "you today." Faith must be based on the Divine promise, and obedience to the command must spring from the faith thus produced. Before we are ready to "go forward" faith must see that which is invisible, namely, the "salvation of the Lord." and this, before it is actually wrought for us. Thus "by faith Abraham went out, not knowing whither he went" (Heb. 11:8).
"But lift thou up thy rod and stretch out thine hand over the sea, and divide it: and the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea And Moses stretched out his hand aver the sea: and the Lord caused the sea to go hack by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground; and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand and on their left hand" (vv. 16-21, 22). The best commentary upon this is Hebrews 11:29: "By faith they passed through the Red Sea as by dry land." From this it is very clear that the waters of the Red Sea did not begin to divide until the feet of the Israelites came to their very brink, otherwise the" would have crossed by sight, and not "by faith." Equally clear is it that the sea was not divided throughout at once. As another has said, "It does not require faith to begin a journey when I can see all the way through; but to begin when I can merely see the first step, this is faith. The sea opened as Israel moved forward, so that every fresh step they needed to be cast upon God. Such was the path along which the redeemed of the Lord moved, under His own directing hand." So it was then; such is the true path of faith now. It is beautiful to observe another word in Hebrews 11:29—"The children of Israel walked upon dry land in the midst of the sea." They did not rush through at top speed. There was no confusion. With absolute confidence in the Lord they crossed in orderly procession.
"And the Egyptians pursued, and went in after them to the midst of the sea, even all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. And it came to pass, that in the morning watch the Lord looked unto the host of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and of the cloud, and troubled the host of the Egyptians, and took off their chariot wheels, that they drove them heavily: so that the Egyptians said, Let us flee from the face of Israel; for the Lord fighteth for them against the Egyptians. And the Lord said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand over the sea, that the waters may come again upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen. And Moses stretched forth his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to his strength when the morning appeared; and the Egyptians fled against it; and the Lord overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea. And the waters returned, and covered the chariots, and the horsemen, and all the host of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them; there remained not so much as one of them" (vv. 23-28). The practical lesson to be learned from this is very plain: Those who attempt to do without faith, what believers succeed to do by faith—those who seek to obtain by their own efforts, what believers obtain by faith—will assuredly fail. By faith, the believer obtains peace with God; but all of the unbeliever’s efforts to obtain peace by good works, are doomed to disappointment. Believers are sanctified by the truth (John 17:19); those who aim to arrive at holiness without believing are following a will o’ the wisp. In the little space that remains let us summarize some of the many lessons our passage sets forth.
Typically the crossing of the Red Sea speaks of Christ making a way through death for His people. "The Red Sea is the figure of death—the boundary-line of Satan’s power" (Ritchie). Note the words of God to Moses: "Lift thou up thy rod, and stretch out thine hand over the sea. and divide it; and the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea" (v. 16). Moses is plainly a type of Christ, the "rod" a symbol of His power and authority. The Red Sea completely destroyed the power of Pharaoh (Satan) over God’s people. Hebrews 2:14 gives us the antitype—"That through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the Devil." The effect of Moses lifting up his rod and stretching forth his hand is blessed to behold—"And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground; and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left" (v. 22). Not only had that which symbolized death no power over Israel, but it was now a defense to them! This very sea, which at first they so much feared, became the means of their deliverance from the Egyptians; and instead of proving their enemy became their friend. So if death overtakes the believer before the Lord’s return it only serves to bring him into the presence of Christ—"Whether Paul or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours"(1 Cor. 3:22). But deeply solemn is the other side of the picture: "By faith they passed through the Red Sea as by dry land: which the Egyptians assaying to do, were drowned," for the natural man to meet death in the power of human confidence is certain destruction.
"Evangelically the crossing of the Red Sea tells of the completeness of our salvation. It is the sequel to the Passover-night, and both are needed to give us a full view of what Christ has wrought for us. In Hebrews 9:27 we read, "It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment." For the believer this order is reversed, as it was with his Substitute. It was during the three awful hours of darkness, while He hung on the cross, that the Lord Jesus endured the "judgment" of God against our sins. Having passed through the fires of God’s wrath, He then "yielded up the spirit." So in our type. On the Passover-night, we see Israel sheltered by blood from the judgment of God—the avenging angel; here at the Red Sea, we behold them brought safely through the place of death. The order is reversed for the unbeliever. "After death the judgment" for him.
"Doctrinally the passage through the Red Sea sets forth the believer’s union with Christ in His death and resurrection. "I am crucified with Christ" (Gal. 2:20), refers to our judicial identification with our Substitute, not to experience. That Israel passed through the Red Sea, and emerged safely on the far side, tells of resurrection. So we read in Romans 6:5, "If we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection." And again, "When we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, and raised us up together" (Eph. 2:5, 6). Practically the deliverance of Israel from the Red Sea illustrates the absolute sufficiency of our God. The believer to-day may be hemmed in on every side. A Red Sea of trial and trouble may confront him. But let him remember that Israel’s God is his God. When His time comes, it will be an easy matter for Him to cleave a way through for you. Take comfort from His promise: "When thou passeth through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee" (Isa. 43:2). God can protect His people in the greatest difficulties and dangers and make a way of deliverance for them out of the most desperate situations.
Dispensationally the passing of Israel through the Red Sea foreshadows the yet suture deliverance and restoration of the Jews. The "sea" is a well known figure of the Gentiles (Ps. 65:7; Daniel 7:2; Revelation 17:15) Among the Gentiles the seed of Abraham have long been scattered, and to the eye of sense it has seemed that they would be utterly swallowed up. But marvelously has God preserved the Jews all through these many centuries. The "sea" has not consumed them. They still dwell as "a people apart" (Num. 23:9). and the time is coming when Jehovah will fulfill the promises made to their fathers (Ezek. 20:34; 37:21, etc.). When these promises are fulfilled our type will receive its final accomplishment. Israel shall be brought safely out of the "sea" of the Gentiles, into their own land.