Chapter 14

Submitted by admin on Thu, 2020-07-30 17:23.

Posted in | printer-friendly version »

YHWH, probably through his representative angel, instructed Moses to tell the people to “turn back” from where they were then situated (evidently at Etham [13:20]) and encamp in front of (literally, “before the face”) of Pihahiroth “between Migdol and the sea.” The new location is also described as “by the sea” and in front of (literally, “before the face”) of Baal-zephon “over against it.” None of the place names can be positively identified with known sites. In the Septuagint, there is no reference to Pihahiroth. It says that they were to encamp “before [or opposite] the settlement between Magdolos [Migdol] and between the sea, opposite Beelsepphon [Baal-zephon].” “Before them,” the people were to encamp “by the sea.” The reference to “before them” could mean that they were to encamp opposite the named locations. Both the Hebrew text and the Septuagint agree that the new camping place was near the sea. (14:1, 2)

Josephus, in his Antiquities (II, xv, 3) wrote that there was a mountain ridge on either side of the location and that both of the mountain ridges “terminated at the sea” and “were impassable by reason of their roughness.” One view that this description and the biblical narrative support links the place of encampment to the vicinity of Mount Ataka. The mountain is located at the beginning of the Gulf of Suez and overlooks the western bank of this arm of the Red Sea.

YHWH had the Israelites turn back to a new place of encampment because it would cause Pharaoh to draw the wrong conclusion about them. Pharaoh would think that the people were trapped. Through this circumstance, YHWH hardened Pharaoh’s heart, allowing him stubbornly to resist YHWH’s purpose to bring the Israelites into the land of Canaan as his liberated people. When Pharaoh chose to act defiantly, YHWH purposed to gain glory or honor for himself through him and his military host. This would force the Egyptians to “know” or to recognize the God of Israel as YHWH, the One whose will could never be successfully resisted. (14:3, 4)

Upon coming to know that the Israelites had fled, Pharaoh and his servants regretted that they had let them depart. This had left them without a large number of enslaved laborers for their agricultural operations and building projects. Therefore, Pharaoh determined to capture the Israelites and bring them back to Egypt. He readied his chariot and, with his military force, began his pursuit. The military force included 600 choice chariots and numerous other chariots (literally, “all the other chariots of Egypt” [“all the cavalry of the Egyptians” (LXX)]). All of the chariots were manned. The Hebrew word referring to persons in the chariot may literally be translated “third men.” Ancient Egyptian depictions of chariots, however, show only two warriors positioned on a chariot. Therefore, the designation may simply be understood to apply to officers or commanders. (14:5-7)

With a “hardened heart” or a defiant attitude that YHWH had permitted him to develop, Pharaoh went forth against the Israelites who had, “with uplifted hand” (boldly, defiantly, or victoriously like men with raised arms, poised to strike), left Egypt. Pharaoh, with his entire army that included horses, chariots, and horsemen, caught up with the Israelites at Pihahiroth in front of (literally, “before the face of”) Baal-zephon. (14:8, 9) Josephus (Antiquities, II, xv, 3) commented regarding Pharaoh’s pursuit. Pharaoh reasoned that the Israelites had “no pretense to pray to God against them,” as they had been permitted to leave Egypt (the implication being that all the conditions of the word of YHWH directed to him had been met). He and the warriors with him thought that the Israelites should be “easily overcome,” for they “had no armor” and would have been weary from their journey. “Now when the Egyptians had overtaken the Hebrews, they prepared to fight them, and by their multitude they drove them into a narrow place; for the number that pursued after them was 600 chariots, with 50,000 horsemen, and 200,000 footmen, all armed. They also seized on the passages by which they imagined the Hebrews might flee, shutting them up between inaccessible precipices and the sea.”

Upon seeing the Egyptian warriors pursuing them, the Israelites gave way to fear and cried out to YHWH. They also became angry at Moses, telling him, “Is it because no graves exist in Egypt that you brought us to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us by leading us out of Egypt? Is not this the word we spoke to you in Egypt, saying, Leave us alone and let us serve the Egyptians? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” Moses encouraged the people not to be afraid but to wait for YHWH to act, assuring them that the Egyptians they then saw they would never see again. “YHWH will fight for you, and you only have to be quiet” or remain calm without having to do anything to defend yourselves. (14:10-14)

In his Antiquities (II, xv, 4), Josephus added details that are not in the Exodus account. He wrote that the Hebrews “expected a universal destruction, unless they delivered themselves up to the Egyptians. So they laid the blame on Moses and forgot all the signs that had been wrought by God for the recovery of their freedom.” … In their incredulity, they began to throw stones at Moses “while he encouraged them and promised them deliverance.” They resolved to “deliver themselves up to the Egyptians. So there was sorrow and lamentation among the women and children, who had nothing but destruction before their eyes, while they were encompassed by mountains, the sea, and their enemies, and discerned no way of fleeing from them.”

Apparently Moses also cried out to YHWH, and the response was, “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the sons [or people] of Israel to set out” or break camp. Through his representative angel, YHWH directed Moses to stretch out his hand (the arm of the hand in which he would be holding his rod) over the sea , thereby causing the sea to divide and making it possible for the Israelites to pass through the opened sea on dry ground. YHWH would then “harden the heart of the Egyptians” or permit them to become stubbornly defiant and to pursue the Israelites. By the action he would take, YHWH purposed to get “glory through Pharaoh and all his host, his chariots and his horsemen.” The Egyptians would be forced to “know” or recognize YHWH as the God without equal at the time he gained “glory through Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen” or by means of what he would do to them in an impressive manner. (14:15-18)

God’s angel had accompanied the Israelites after they left Egypt, going before them. Apparently the angel was closely associated with the pillar or column of cloud, for both he and the cloud moved from in front of the Israelites to a position in their rear. The pillar of cloud blocked the view of the Egyptian warriors, left them in darkness, and prevented them from nearing the Israelites, who had light. With the rod in his hand, Moses stretched out his arm over the sea. During that night, YHWH (his representative angel) caused the sea to divide with a strong east wind (south wind [LXX]) and dried the pathway through the opened sea. The Israelites entered the dry pathway, and the waters of the sea formed a wall on their right and left sides. (14:19-22)

Thereafter the Egyptian military force followed the Israelites in the passage through the opened sea. During the morning watch (from around 2:00 a.m. through about 6:00 a.m.), YHWH, through his representative angel, looked down from the pillar or column of cloud and fire and threw the Egyptian host into confusion or panic. He caused the wheels of their chariots to become clogged (literally, he turned the wheels), making it difficult for the charioteers to drive onward. Recognizing that it must have been YHWH who was fighting for the Israelites, the Egyptian warriors determined to flee from before them. This, however, became impossible. (14:23-25)

When Moses, at divine direction, stretched out his hand (the arm of the hand that held his rod) over the sea, the water of the sea flowed back over the passageway and drowned the Egyptians. Not a single one of the Egyptian warriors remained alive. Whereas the Egyptian military force perished, the Israelites, between a wall of water on either side of them, crossed to the other side of the sea on dry ground. They thereafter saw the dead Egyptians on the seashore. The “great work” that YHWH did at that time against the Egyptians filled the Israelites with a wholesome fear. They believed in YHWH (in him as the God who had rescued them from the Egyptians) and in Moses as YHWH’s servant. (14:26-31)

Commenting on the events at that time, Josephus (Antiquities III, xvi, 3) wrote: “The Egyptians were not aware that they were going into a road made for the Hebrews, and not for others; that this road was made for the deliverance of those in danger but not for those who were earnest to make use of it for the others’ destruction. As soon, therefore, as the whole Egyptian army was within it, the sea flowed to its own place and came down with a torrent raised by storms of wind and encompassed the Egyptians. Showers of rain also came down from the sky, and dreadful thunders and lightning, with flashes of fire. Thunderbolts also darted upon them. … A dark and dismal night oppressed them. And thus did all these men perish, so that there was not one man left to be a messenger of this calamity to the rest of the Egyptians.”