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The book of Exodus tells about the oppression of the Israelites in Egypt (1:8-22), and Moses’ early life (chapter 2). Then follows the burning bush episode where Yahweh told Moses that Yahweh has heard the cry of the Israelites and has decided to deliver them—and that Yahweh has chosen Moses to confront Pharaoh and to bring the Israelites out of Egypt (3:1-12). Pharaoh refused to let the people go, so Yahweh brought ten plagues on Egypt (chapters 7-12).
Following the death of the Egyptian firstborn (the tenth plague), Pharaoh told Moses and Aaron to take the people of Israel and leave Egypt (12:31-32). As the people prepared to leave (12:33-40 – 13:2), Yahweh gave Moses instructions for Passover (12:43-51)—and Moses instructed the people concerning the Feast of Unleavened Bread (13:3-10) and the consecration of the firstborn (13:11-16). Then the people departed from Egypt, led by pillars of cloud and fire (13:17-22).
But then Yahweh hardened pharaoh’s heart, and pharaoh led an army of “six hundred chariots chosen chariots, and all the chariots of Egypt” (14:7) to pursue the Israelites. “The Egyptians pursued after them: all the horses and chariots of Pharaoh, his horsemen, and his army; and overtook them encamping by the sea, beside Pihahiroth, before Baal Zephon” (14:9).
EXODUS 14:10-14. YAHWEH WILL FIGHT FOR YOU
10When Pharaoh drew near, the children of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them; and they were very afraid. The children of Israel cried out to Yahweh. 11They said to Moses, “Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you treated us this way, to bring us out of Egypt? 12Isn’t this the word that we spoke to you in Egypt, saying, ‘Leave us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians?’ For it were better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness.”
13Moses said to the people, “Don’t be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of Yahweh, which he will work for you today: for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you shall never see them again.14Yahweh will fight for you, and you shall be still.”
While these verses are not in the lectionary reading for Proper 19A (Ordinary Time 24A), they are nevertheless key to understanding the reading.
The Israelites have seen miracle after miracle, and have plenty of evidence to convince them that Yahweh is for them so it matters not that Egypt is against them. However, as soon as they see the dust of Pharaoh’s chariots, they immediately assume the worst—that Pharaoh’s army will slay them and leave them to rot in this God-forsaken wilderness. They cry out to Yahweh in fear rather than in faith (v. 10). They lash out at Moses, whom they perceive as the architect of the coming disaster (v. 11a).
“Why have you treated us this way, to bring us out of Egypt? Isn’t this the word that we spoke to you in Egypt, saying, ‘Leave us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians?’ For it were better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness'” (vv. 11b-12). While we have no record of this incident, it is likely that some Israelites, fearful of the Egyptians, resisted Moses’ leadership once he started talking about an exodus from Egypt. They could have marshaled excellent arguments: How can we mount a successful rebellion when we have no military equipment or training and Pharaoh commands one of the world’s finest armies? How will you feed hundreds of thousands of people in a wilderness better suited to small flocks of sheep? Where will we get water? Where do you plan to take us, and what will we do when we get there?
Those questions will make sense to anyone who has planned an event involving large numbers of people. The logistical challenges of the Exodus constitute a nightmare, but logistics are just the tip of the iceberg. The greater threat is the likelihood of unarmed Israel being attacked by the Egyptian army.
“Moses said to the people, ‘Don’t be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of Yahweh, which he will work for you today: for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you shall never see them again. Yahweh will fight for you, and you shall be still'” (vv. 13-14). Moses makes no attempt to claim that the Israelites can, on their own, withstand an attack by the Egyptians. If he were to make such a claim, he would lose all credibility. The Israelites are no match for the Egyptians. Everyone knows that.
But Moses shifts the focus away from the disparity between Israel and Egypt. That disparity makes no difference, because the Israelites have something better than military prowess. They have Yahweh on their side and can count on Yahweh to deliver them. They need not raise a hand or pick up a weapon. Yahweh will do their fighting for them.
EXODUS 14:15-18. THE EGYPTIANS SHALL KNOW THAT I AM YAHWEH
15Yahweh said to Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Speak to the children of Israel, that they go forward.16Lift up your rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea, and divide it: and the children of Israel shall go into the midst of the sea on dry ground. 17 I, behold, I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they shall go in after them: and I will get myself honor over Pharaoh, and over all his armies, over his chariots, and over his horsemen. 18The Egyptians shall know that I am Yahweh, when I have gotten myself honor over Pharaoh, over his chariots, and over his horsemen.”
“Yahweh said to Moses, ‘Why do you cry to me?'” (v. 15a). It was the Israelites, not Moses, who cried out to the Lord (v. 10), but Yahweh addresses his question to Moses as the people’s leader. The Israelites cried out because they assumed that Pharaoh’s army, already advancing on them, would soon attack them, defeat them, and enslave them once again. Yahweh’s question is intended as a rebuke, not to Moses, but to Israel.
But the Israelites are about to learn a lesson. As someone has said, “When God is all you have, you will find that God is all you need.” Or, as Paul put it, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31b).
“Speak to the children of Israel, that they go forward” (v. 15b). The sea has not yet parted, nor has Yahweh yet revealed that it will be parted. There is not yet any path forward, and Pharaoh’s army is swift approaching from their rear. There is nowhere for the Israelites to go. They are trapped, and there is no way out—no exit—no hope.
But Yahweh tells them to “go forward”—to pack their belongings and prepare to move. But where can they go? Yahweh will soon reveal that, but first they must move forward in faith—believing in Yahweh—believing that Yahweh will save them, even though. They must ignore what their eyes are seeing, and begin seeing with the eyes of faith. As the author of Hebrew will later say, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, proof of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Yahweh is calling the Israelites to believe that Yahweh will save them—and to demonstrate that belief by moving forward even though no pathway yet exists.
“Lift up your rod” (v. 16a). A staff is a long stick that can be used to support its user or to ward off an attacker. A staff with a hooked end makes it possible for a shepherd to hook a sheep by the neck and pull it to safety. A staff is a simple instrument—far less sophisticated than a well-designed plow. However, in the hands of a good shepherd, it is a symbol of leadership—even a symbol of salvation.
When Yahweh first called Moses, Moses asked, “But, behold, they will not believe me.” Yahweh called attention to the staff in Moses’ hand, and then said, “Throw it on the ground.” When Moses did so, his staff became a snake. Then Yahweh said, “Stretch out your hand, and take it by the tail.” When Moses did so, the snake became a staff. This was a sign “That they may believe that Yahweh, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you” (4:5).
Moses gave several reasons why Yahweh should choose someone else to lead Israel, but Yahweh rejected all of them. Yahweh then said, “You shall take this rod in your hand, with which you shall do the signs” (4:17).
So Moses and Aaron, acting at Yahweh’s command, used the staff to accomplish Yahweh’s purposes. Aaron, in the presence of Pharaoh, threw his staff to the ground, and it became a snake (7:10-12)—and struck the Nile to turn its water into blood (7:17-20)—and stretched out his hand and staff over the waters of Egypt to bring forth a plague of frogs (8:5-7)—and a plague of gnats (8:16-17). Moses stretched out his hand and staff to bring about a plague of hail (9:23)—and a plague of locusts (10:13).
“and stretch out your hand over the sea, and divide it: and the children of Israel shall go into the midst of the sea on dry ground” (v. 16b). Staff in hand, Moses is to stretch out his hand to divide the sea to create an avenue of escape for Israel. Not only will the sea be divided, but the pathway through the sea will be dry ground—easily passable—no mud or muck.
“I, behold, I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they shall go in after them” (v. 17a). Earlier, Yahweh hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that “he will not let the people go” (4:21). This hardening of Pharaoh’s heart was to give Yahweh opportunity to “multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt” (7:3). Note, however, that Exodus 8:15 says that Pharaoh hardened his own heart.
Now Yahweh hardens the hearts of the Egyptians so they will ignore the danger posed by the dammed up waters and follow the Israelites into the sea.
This poses a problem. Did Yahweh override Pharaoh’s free will? If so, does this compromise Yahweh’s reputation for being a just and righteous God—a God of steadfast loving-kindness. In his epistle to the Romans, Paul addresses this:
“What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? May it never be! For he said to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I caused you to be raised up, that I might show in you my power, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then, he has mercy on whom he desires, and he hardens whom he desires. You will say then to me, “Why does he still find fault? For who withstands his will?” But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed ask him who formed it, “Why did you make me like this?” Or hasn’t the potter a right over the clay, from the same lump to make one part a vessel for honor, and another for dishonor? What if God, willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath made for destruction, and that he might make known the riches of his glory on vessels of mercy, which he prepared beforehand for glory, us, whom he also called, not from the Jews only, but also from the Gentiles?” (Romans 9:14-24)
Paul is saying that God is sovereign over his creation, and can do whatever he wants with his creation. We have no right to question God’s actions. God raised up Pharaoh for the purpose of demonstrating God’s power (Romans 9:17)—and God accomplished his purpose by destroying Pharaoh’s army (and perhaps Pharaoh himself).
This is much the same message that we hear in the book of Job. Job lost everything, and his friends, believing that suffering is the consequence of sin, accused Job of sin. Job defended his innocence. Then Elihu rebuked Job’s friends (Job 32) and Job (Job 33), proclaimed God’s justice (Job 34), condemned self-righteousness (Job 35), exalted God’s goodness, and proclaimed God’s majesty (Job 36-37). Then Yahweh answered Job out of the whirlwind (Job 38ff.). The answer that Job heard was basically, “Who are you to question, God?”
I must confess that I am uncomfortable both with the message of Job and the statement that Yahweh hardened Pharaoh’s heart to cause him to do something foolish. However, I found the following statement helpful:
“The means by which God hardens a man
is not necessarily by any extraordinary intervention on His part;
it may be by the ordinary experiences of life,
operating through the principles and character of human nature,
which are of His appointment.”
(Driver, quoted in Cole’s exegesis of Exodus 4:21-23)
I find that helpful, because it suggests that the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart and the destruction of Pharaoh’s army came about as the result of Pharaoh’s hubris (excessive pride) that grew out of Pharaoh’s exalted position and power, which were gifts from God. It was, then, this hubris rather than some sort of direct intervention on Yahweh’s part that sank (literally) Pharaoh and his army.
“and I will get myself honor over Pharaoh, and over all his armies, over his chariots, and over his horsemen” (v. 17b). Yahweh’s glory is the purpose to be served by the destruction of Pharaoh’s army. As noted above, Paul cites this in Romans 9:17.
“The Egyptians shall know that I am Yahweh, when I have gotten myself honor over Pharaoh, over his chariots, and over his horsemen” (v. 18). Yahweh has provided ample evidence to the Egyptians that he is God. The ten plagues proved that, but Pharaoh’s hubris has made it impossible for him to acknowledge it. Now Yahweh will provide one more lesson—a final lesson—to drive home the point.
EXODUS 14:19-20. THE ANGEL OF GOD AND THE PILLAR OF CLOUD
19The angel(Hebrew: mal∙ak) of God(Hebrew: elohim), who went before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from before them, and stood behind them. 20 It came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel; and there was the cloud and the darkness, yet gave it light by night: and the one didn’t come near the other all the night.
“The angel (mal∙ak) of God (elohim), who went before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from before them, and stood behind them” (v. 19). A mal∙ak is an angel or messenger. The word translated “God” in this verse is not YHWH (Yahweh) but elohim, a more generic word that is sometimes used for Yahweh, but is also used for other gods (Exodus 12:12; Joshua 24:15; Judges 6:10; 10:6).
Yahweh has been going in front of the people of Israel “by day in a pillar of cloud, to lead them on their way, and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light, that they might go by day and by night” (Exodus 13:21). The pillar of cloud, then, is not just an ordinary cloud, but is the visible symbol of God’s presence in the midst of these people. It “attests to, but veils, the presence of the glory of God (Exod 40:34-38)” (Johnstone, “Pillar of Cloud and Fire” in Sakenfeld, The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible: D-H, Vol. 2, page 530).
The angel and cloud, which have been going before the Israelites to guide them, now shift behind them to protect them. Until now, the pillar of cloud was the manifestation of God’s presence during the day and the pillar of fire was the manifestation of God’s presence during the night. Now, however, the cloud persists through the night.
Waldemar Janzen sees the angel and cloud, not as separate entities, but as two ways of expressing God’s presence. Stuart agrees that “the angel of God and the pillar were the same thing: God’s manifestation of himself in the visible presence of the Israelites.” However, mal∙ak (Hebrew) and angelos(Greek) usually refer to part of the created order rather than to the Creator. Angels are messengers of God, sent by God to convey a particular message or to perform a particular task. I prefer to think of the cloud as the visible presence of God and the angel as the messenger who accompanies God and acts on God’s behalf.
“It came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel; and there was the cloud and the darkness, yet gave it light by night: and the one didn’t come near the other all the night” (v. 20). The positioning of the cloud between the Israelites and the Egyptian army accomplishes several things.
• First, it obscures the visibility so that the Israelites can no longer see the Egyptians. This is significant, because it was the sight of the Egyptians advancing on them that caused the Israelites to be afraid (v. 10).
• Second, it obscures visibility for the Egyptian army, which cannot see where they are going or where the Israelites have gone.
• Third, it testifies to the Israelites that God is taking an active role in Israel’s defense.
• Fourth, although the Egyptians have been slow to acknowledge this, the cloud is a sign that God is for Israel and against Egypt on this particular day.
“yet gave it light by night: and the one didn’t come near the other all the night” (v. 20b). This part of the verse is difficult to understand. The most likely explanation is that this cloud, which until now has been benign, is lighting the sky with lightning bolts—light intended not to light the Egyptians’ pathway but to warn them of God’s displeasure.
EXODUS 14:21-25. YAHWEH CAUSED THE SEA TO GO BACK
21Moses stretched out his hand over the sea(Hebrew: yam), and Yahweh caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all the night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. 22The children of Israel went into the midst of the sea on the dry ground, and the waters were a wall(Hebrew:homath) to them on their right hand, and on their left. 23The Egyptians pursued, and went in after them into the midst of the sea: all of Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. 24It happened in the morning watch, that Yahweh looked out on the Egyptian army through the pillar of fire and of cloud, and confused the Egyptian army. 25He took off their chariot wheels, and they drove them heavily; so that the Egyptians said, “Let’s flee from the face of Israel, for Yahweh fights for them against the Egyptians!”
“Moses stretched out his hand over the sea (yam), and Yahweh caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all the night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided” (v. 21). Ayam is a sea, whether a saltwater sea, such as the Mediterranean or Dead Seas, or a freshwater sea such as the Sea of Galilee. In either case, yam indicates a substantial body of water—deep water. Some scholars have suggested that this sea was a shallow, marshy area rather than a deep sea. But by trying to explain supernatural phenomena as the product of natural causes, they do the scriptures a disservice. This yam is not a marsh. It is a sea.
Moses, staff in hand (see v. 16), stretches out his hand over the sea. It is not Moses, however, who drives the sea back and divides it, but Yahweh. However, Yahweh does not act until Moses does. It is the Lord who saves, but the Lord requires Moses’ to obey before bringing about the salvation of these people.
“a strong east wind” (v. 21). In this part of the world, east winds blow from the desert. They are hot, dry, and can be destructive—often reaching 60 miles per hour (100 km/hr). People today call them a siroccowind. People who live in areas where sirocco winds are common quickly learn to hate them, because their heat and dust make people miserable and often cause health problems. Also, dust and sand driven by the sirocco winds can strip the paint from buildings and cars and ruin glass windows.
But this “strong east wind” spells salvation for the Israelites. It is a destructive force only for the Egyptians. It is one more sign that they are opposing God’s will.
“The children of Israel went into the midst of the sea on the dry ground, and the waters were a wall (homath) to them on their right hand, and on their left” (v. 22). The Israelites require no invitation. They know that the Egyptian army is close behind. Now that they are able to see an open pathway to their front, they move quickly to escape.
The pathway before them is “dry ground.” In most cases, the ground below a sea will be sandy in some places but muddy in others. These people encounter no mud to stop their progress. Their pathway is solid.
“a wall” (homath). A homath is a substantial wall. This word is used most frequently in scripture to refer to a city’s walls—large walls intended to protect citizens from enemy soldiers or marauding thieves. The use of this word here reinforces the meaning of “sea” (yam) as a substantial body of deep water.
“The Egyptians pursued, and went in after them into the midst of the sea: all of Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen” (v. 23). Nor do the Egyptians require an invitation. As an army in pursuit is wont to do, the Egyptians plunge ahead even though even a quick assessment would counsel caution. It could be that the cloud is obscuring their vision to the point that they fail to see the danger.
But the Egyptians are acting on Pharaoh’s orders. If they plunge ahead, they risk disaster in the sea. However, if they fail to plunge ahead, they can count on Pharaoh citing them for cowardice—a capital offense. As the old saying goes, these soldiers are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.
“It happened in the morning watch, that Yahweh looked out on the Egyptian army through the pillar of fire and of cloud, and confused the Egyptian army” (v. 24). The morning watch would be “the last of three watches, from 2 a.m. to dawn, about 6 a.m. This, the darkest hour before the dawn, was traditionally the time for attack, when men’s spirits are at their lowest” (Cole).
Until now, we have read only of a cloud separating the Israelites and the Egyptians. Now, however, we read again of a “pillar of fire and of cloud.” Even before the walls of water begin to fall, Yahweh looks down and inspires panic in the Egyptian soldiers. Some scholars have suggested that this might involve a thunderstorm. It would not be difficult to imagine brave men panicking in the midst of a storm at sea. Even in a boat, a storm at sea can be terrifying. Caught between these walls of water, it would be even more so.
“He took off their chariot wheels, and they drove them heavily” (v. 25a). Perhaps Yahweh turned the dry ground into mud—or perhaps the chariot wheels just mired down where people could pass easily on foot. In any event, the Egyptian chariots quickly become a liability in this sea of mud.
Mud is one of the curses with which soldiers often find themselves accursed. As a chaplain in Vietnam, I visited Camp J.J. Carroll on Thanksgiving Day 1969. We took Thanksgiving dinner to the soldiers and tried to wish them a happy Thanksgiving. What we found, though, was a sea of knee-deep mud. It took enormous effort to move even ten feet—and no wheeled vehicle could move at all. That tiny taste of the mud-curse made me appreciate the enormous difficulty of trying to move military forces through mud.
When Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in June, 1941, his soldiers made good progress until October rains turned the unpaved roads to mud. The Germans were highly mechanized (although they still used horses extensively—just as Pharaoh’s army did), and the mud brought their armored vehicles and logistical support nearly to a halt, giving Soviet forces time to re-organize. A bitter winter followed, with cold causing many German casualties. That was followed by the spring thaw, where mud continued to impede the Germans. The war continued for another three terrible years, but most historians consider that fall-winter-spring of 1941-42 to be the turning point of the war—the time that converted Hitler’s prospects from victory to defeat.
“so that the Egyptians said, ‘Let’s flee from the face of Israel, for Yahweh fights for them against the Egyptians!'” (v. 25b). The Egyptian soldiers have seen sign after sign (plagues, the cloud, the walls of water, and the mired chariot wheels) that God is the power behind the Exodus—and that God fully intends to save the Israelites. However, it is difficult for soldiers to admit that they are fighting a losing battle. They fear letting down their fellow soldiers, and they also fear disgracing themselves. However, the mired chariots are the final straw for these Egyptian soldiers. They now acknowledge what has concerned them for some time—that they are fighting, not flesh and blood, but God. Their cause is therefore hopeless, and their lives are in terrible danger.
EXODUS 14:26-29. THE WATERS RETURNED, AND COVERED THE CHARIOTS
26Yahweh said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the waters may come again on the Egyptians, on their chariots, and on their horsemen.” 27Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its strength when the morning appeared; and the Egyptians fled against it. Yahweh overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea. 28The waters returned, and covered the chariots and the horsemen, even all Pharaoh’s army that went in after them into the sea. There remained not so much as one of them. 29But the children of Israel 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.
“Yahweh said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the waters may come again on the Egyptians, on their chariots, and on their horsemen'” (v. 26). Verses 26-29 are a companion piece to verses 21-25. In those earlier verses, Moses stretched out his hand over the sea to set in motion a series of events that enabled the Israelites to escape—while, at the same time, setting a trap for the Egyptian soldiers. In verse 26, Moses once again stretches out his hand over the sea, and this time sets in motion a series of events that will destroy the Egyptian army.
“Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its strength when the morning appeared; and the Egyptians fled against it. Yahweh overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea” (v. 27). It is not clear whether the Israelites have completed their journey to the far shore. If not, Yahweh continues to protect them (see v. 29) while trapping the Egyptian soldiers. A soldier’s boots and armor, an advantage in battle, become deadly weights in deep water.
“The waters returned, and covered the chariots and the horsemen, even all Pharaoh’s army that went in after them into the sea. There remained not so much as one of them” (v. 28). This verse confirms the fate of the Egyptian soldiers. They all died in the turbulent waters, and their equipment was lost as well. If these soldiers comprised a significant part of the Egyptian army, Egypt has been transformed into a nearly defenseless nation.
“But the children of Israel 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” (v. 29). While the Israelites were walking on the pathway through the sea, the waters formed walls on the right and on their left. This verse makes it sound as if they were still crossing the sea as the Egyptians were being drowned at the other side, but it does not specifically say that. This verse is not intended to convey the sequence of events, but the fact that Yahweh was the force behind the salvation of the Israelites and the destruction of the Egyptians.
EXODUS 14:30-31. THUS YAHWEH SAVED ISRAEL THAT DAY
30Thus Yahweh saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31Israel saw the great work which Yahweh did to the Egyptians, and the people feared Yahweh; and they believed in Yahweh, and in his servant Moses.
“Thus Yahweh saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians” (v. 30a). A literal translation of this verse would be “That day the Lord saved Israel from the hand (Hebrew: yadh) of the Egyptians.” In Hebrew scripture, the word “hand” often signifies power or dominion, and that is the case here.
We should also note some of the previous uses of the word “hand” in this book:
• At the burning bush, Yahweh said, “I know that the king of Egypt won’t give you permission to go, no, not by a mighty hand. I will reach out my hand and strike Egypt with all my wonders which I will do in its midst, and after that he will let you go” (3:19-20).
• When Yahweh was ready to set the Exodus in motion, he said to Moses, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh, for by a strong hand he shall let them go, and by a strong hand he shall drive them out of his land” (6:1).
• When the Egyptian army threatened to overtake the Israelites, Yahweh told Moses, “Lift up your rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea, and divide it: and the children of Israel shall go into the midst of the sea on dry ground” (14:16).
• Then Yahweh told Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the waters may come again on the Egyptians, on their chariots, and on their horsemen” (14:26). When Moses stretched out his hand, Yahweh saved the Israelites and destroyed the Egyptians.
Now we hear that Yahweh has saved Israel from the hand—the power, the dominion—of the Egyptians. Yahweh’s hand is mighty, as is the hand of Yahweh’s servant, Moses. The hand of the Egyptians, once so powerful, lies defeated at the bottom of the sea.
“and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore” (v. 30b). It is possible that the Israelites were far enough in front of the Egyptians that they did not see the waters trap the Egyptian soldiers. However, the bodies of the Egyptians, washed up on shore, bear mute testimony to their fate.
“Israel saw the great work which Yahweh did to the Egyptians, and the people feared Yahweh; and they believed in Yahweh, and in his servant Moses” (v. 31). This verse makes four points.
• First, it was Yahweh who did a great work against the Egyptians. The power and the initiative came, not from Moses—and certainly not from the rest of the Israelites—but from Yahweh. What happened on this day was a mighty demonstration of Yahweh’s power.
• Second, the Israelites witnessed what Yahweh did to the Egyptians. They saw how Yahweh made a pathway through the sea for the Israelites, and they also saw how Yahweh turned that pathway of salvation into a pathway of death for the Egyptians.
• Third, the events that they witnessed have inspired the Israelites to faith in Yahweh. They both fear Yahweh and believe in him.
• Fourth, these events also brought about faith in Moses. The Israelites fear Yahweh and believe in him, but they also fear Moses, Yahweh’s servant, and believe in him.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Anderson, Gary A., in Van Harn, Roger (ed.), The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Text. The First Readings: The Old Testament and Acts (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001)
Bruckner, James K. New International Biblical Commentary: Exodus (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2008)
Brueggemann, Walter, The New Interpreter’s Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Vol. 1 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994)
Childs, Brevard S., The Old Testament Library: Exodus (Louisville: The Westminster Press, 1974)
Cole, R. Alan, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Exodus, Vol. 2 (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973)
Craghan, John F., Collegeville Bible Commentary: The Book of Exodus (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1985)
Dunham, Maxie D., The Preacher’s Commentary: Exodus (Dallas: Word, Inc., 1987)
Durham, John I., Word Biblical Commentary: Exodus, Vol. 3 (Dallas, Word Books, 1987)
Fretheim, Terence E., Interpretation Commentary: Exodus (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1973)
Janzen, J. Gerald, Westminster Bible Companion: Exodus (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997)
Janzen, Waldemar, Believers Church Bible Commentaries: Exodus (Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald Press, 1987)
Newsome, James D. in Brueggemann, Walter; Cousar, Charles B.; Gaventa, Beverly R.; and Newsome, James D., Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV—Year A (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995)
Rawlinson, George, The Pulpit Commentary: Genesis-Exodus, Vol. 1 (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, no date given)
Stuart, Douglas K., The New American Commentary: Exodus, Vol. 2 (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2006)
Tucker, Gene M. in Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holladay, Carl R.; Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year, A (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1992)
Copyright 2010, Richard Niell Donovan