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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 14

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 1-4

2. Israel’s passage through the Red Sea ch. 14

Scholars have not been able to locate definitely the sites referred to in Exodus 14:2.

"An Egyptian papyrus associates Baal Zephon with Tahpahnes . . . a known site near Lake Menzaleh in the northeastern delta region." [Note: Youngblood, p. 75.]

However, it seems that the crossing took place farther south in view of the implication that it took the Israelites no less and no more than three days to reach Marah (Exodus 15:22-23). The evidence for the location of Marah seems a bit stronger.

"Yahweh’s first intention was to give the appearance that Israel, fearful of the main road, then fearful of the wilderness, was starting first one way and then another, not knowing where to turn and so a ready prey for recapture or destruction. Yahweh’s second intention was to lure the Egyptians into a trap, first by making Pharaoh’s mind obstinate once again, and then by defeating Pharaoh and his forces, who were certain to come down in vengeance upon an apparently helpless and muddled Israel." [Note: Durham, p. 187.]

The Hebrew phrase yam sup that Moses used to describe the body of water through which the Israelites passed miraculously means "Red Sea," not "Reed Sea."

"If there is anything that sophisticated students of the Bible know, it is that yam sup, although traditionally translated Red Sea, really means Reed Sea, and that it was in fact the Reed Sea that the Israelites crossed on their way out of Egypt.

"Well it doesn’t and it wasn’t and they’re wrong!" [Note: Batto, p. 57.]

In the article quoted above, the writer explained that the word sup did not originate in the Egyptian language but in Hebrew. Many scholars have claimed it came from an Egyptian root word meaning "reed." He showed that it came from a Hebrew root word meaning "end." Yam is also a Hebrew word that means "sea." The yam sup is then the sea at the end. The ancients used the name yam sup to describe the body of water that lay beyond the farthest lands known to them. It meant the sea at the end of the world. It clearly refers to the Red Sea often in the Old Testament (Exodus 15:4; Numbers 21:4; Numbers 33:8; Joshua 2:10; Joshua 4:23; 1 Kings 9:26; Jeremiah 49:21; et al.). The Greeks later used the same term, translated into Greek, to refer to the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean. The translation of yam sup as Reed Sea is evidently both inaccurate and misleading. It implies that the Israelites simply crossed some shallow marsh when they left Egypt. Such an interpretation lacks support in the inspired record of Israel’s Exodus. [Note: For a summary of views on the site of crossing, see Davis, pp. 168-71, or Hyatt, pp. 156-61.]

"The Hebrew word sup, which corresponds closely to the Egyptian tjuf (’papyrus’), refers to the reeds along the bank of the Nile in Exodus 2:3 and to the seaweed in the Mediterranean in Jonah 2:5 [Habakkuk 2:6]. Since there are a series of lakes with abundant supplies of reeds and papyrus north of the Red Sea (the Gulf of Suez)-such as Lake Manzaleh and Lake Timsah-it is felt that one of these may have been the ’Reed Sea’ crossed by the Israelites." [Note: Wolf, p. 140. See also The New Bible Dictionary, 1962, s.v. "Red Sea," by Kenneth A. Kitchen.]

Moses recorded that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart three times in this chapter (Exodus 14:4; Exodus 14:8; Exodus 14:17).

Verses 5-14

This is the first of Israel’s many complaints against Moses and Yahweh that Moses recorded in Scripture. It is the first of ten that culminated in God’s judgment of them at Kadesh Barnea (Exodus 14:11; Numbers 14:22-23).

"This is the first example in the Old Testament of what some scholars call ’holy war’ or ’Yahweh war.’ That is, this war was undertaken by the Lord in defense of His own reputation, promises, and self-interest (Exodus 14:10-14; see also, for example, Exodus 15:3; Deuteronomy 1:30; Deuteronomy 3:22; Deuteronomy 20:4). It is to be distinguished from ’ordinary’ war that Israel might undertake on her own (Numbers 14:39-45)." [Note: Merrill, in The Old . . ., p. 54.]

Verses 15-25

The strong east wind that God sent (Exodus 14:21) recalls the wind from God that swept over the face of the primeval waters in creation (Genesis 1:2). The cloud became a source of light to the fleeing Israelites but darkness to the pursuing Egyptians (Exodus 14:19-20).

"Thus the double nature of the glory of God in salvation and judgment, which later appears so frequently in Scripture, could not have been more graphically depicted." [Note: Kaiser, "Exodus," p. 389.]

The angel switched from guiding to guarding the Israelites. The strong east wind was another miracle like those that produced the plagues (Exodus 14:21; cf. Psalms 77:16-19).

The two million Israelites could have passed through the sea in the time the text says if they crossed in a wide column, perhaps a half-mile wide (Exodus 14:22). Some interpreters take the wall of water literally and others interpret it figuratively.

"The metaphor [water like a wall] is no more to be taken literally than when Ezra 9:9 says that God has given him a ’wall’ (the same word) in Israel. It is a poetic metaphor to explain why the Egyptian chariots could not sweep in to right and left, and cut Israel off; they had to cross by the same ford, directly behind the Israelites." [Note: Cole, p. 121. Cf. Cassuto, pp. 167-69.]

Nevertheless nothing in the text precludes a literal wall of water. [Note: Davis, pp. 163-68, listed several ways of understanding what happened.] This seems to be the normal meaning of the text.

The text does not say that Pharaoh personally perished in the Red Sea (cf. Exodus 14:8; Exodus 14:10; Exodus 14:28; Psalms 106:7-12; Psalms 136:13-15). [Note: Cole, p. 120. Cf. Jack Finegan, Let My People Go, p. 87; and Oliver Blosser, "Did the Pharaoh of the Exodus Drown in the Red Sea?" It’s About Time, (July 1987):11.]

Verses 26-31

This miraculous deliverance produced fear (reverential trust) in Yahweh among the Israelites (Exodus 14:31). Their confidence in Moses as well as in God revived (cf. Exodus 14:10-12).

". . . whenever confidence in Moses increases, as here and at Sinai, it is because of an action of Yahweh." [Note: Durham, p. 197.]

"In view of the importance of the concept of faith and trust in God for the writer of the Pentateuch, we should take a long look at these verses. Just as Abraham believed God and was counted righteous (Genesis 15:6), so the Israelites, under the leadership of Moses, also believed God. It seems reasonable that the writer would have us conclude here in the wilderness the people of God were living a righteous life of faith, like Abraham. As they headed toward Sinai, their trust was in the God of Abraham who had done great deeds for them. It is only natural, and certainly in line with the argument of the book, that they would break out into a song of praise in the next chapter. On the negative side, however, we should not lose sight of the fact that these same people would forget only too quickly the great work of God, make a golden calf (Psalms 106:11-13), and thus forsake the God about whom they were now singing." [Note: Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., p. 270.]

"Here [Exodus 14:31] the title of ’servant’ is given to Moses. This is the highest title a mortal can have in the OT-the ’servant of Yahweh.’ It signifies more than a believer; it describes the individual as acting on behalf of God. For example, when Moses stretched out his hand, God used it as his own (Isaiah 63:12). Moses was God’s personal representative." [Note: The NET Bible note on 14:31.]

Many critics who have sought to explain away God’s supernatural deliverance of Israel have attacked this story. They have tried by various explanations to account for what happened in natural terms exclusively. It is obvious from this chapter, however, that regardless of where the crossing took place enough water was present to drown the army of Egyptians that pursued Israel (Exodus 14:28). Immediately after this deliverance, the Israelites regarded their salvation as supernatural (Exodus 15:1-21), and they continued to do so for generations (e.g., Psalms 106:7-8). The people of Canaan heard about and believed in this miraculous deliverance, and it terrified them (Joshua 2:9-10; Joshua 9:9). The critic’s problem may be moral rather than intellectual. Some of the critics do not want to deal with the implications of there being supernatural phenomena so they try to explain them away. The text clearly presents a supernatural deliverance and even states that God acted as He did to prove His supernatural power (Exodus 14:4; Exodus 14:18).

"From the start of the exodus, it becomes clear, Yahweh has orchestrated the entire sequence." [Note: Durham, p. 198.]

The Lord finished the Israelites’ liberation when He destroyed the Egyptian army. The Israelites’ slavery ended when they left Egypt, but they began to experience true freedom after they crossed the Red Sea. The ten plagues had broken Pharaoh’s hold on the Israelites, but the Red Sea deliverance removed them from his reach forever. God redeemed Israel on the Passover night, but He liberated Israel from slavery finally at the Red Sea. [Note: See William D. Ramey, "The Great Escape (Exodus 14)," Exegesis and Exposition 1:1 (Fall 1986):33-42.] In Christian experience these two works of God, redemption and liberation, occur at the same time; they are two aspects of salvation.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Exodus 14". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/exodus-14.html. 2012.
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