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THE DIRECTION OF THE JOURNEY CHANGED. Hitherto the march of the Israelites had been to the south-east. Another day's journey in this direction would have taken them beyond the limits of Egypt, into the desert region east of the Bitter Lakes, which was dry, treeless, and waterless. In this tract there would have been but scant nourishment for their flocks and herds, and absolutely no water for themselves, unless it had been obtained by miracle. God therefore changed the direction of their route from south-east to due south, and made them take a course by which they placed the Bitter Lakes on their left hand, and so remained within the limits of Egypt, in a district fairly well watered, but shut off from the wilderness by the Bitter Lakes and the northern prolongation of the Gulf of Suez, with which they were connected. This route suited the immediate convenience of the host; and, having no suspicion of any hostile movement on the part of the Egyptians, they—not unnaturally—made no objection to it. It had, however, the disadvantage, in case of a hostile movement, of shutting them in between their assailants on the one hand, and the sea upon the other; and this circumstance seems to have led Pharaoh to make his pursuit.
Speak unto the children of Israel that they turn. Kalisch translates "return"—i.e; "retrace their steps," and supposes that Etham lay far south of Pihahiroth, on the west coast of the Gulf of Suez. But the Hebrew word means either "turn back" or "turn aside," and is translated here ἀποστρέψαντες and not ἀναστρέψαντες by the LXX. Dr. Brugsch supposes that the turn made was to the north, and the "sea" reached the Mediterranean; but all other writers, regarding the sea spoken of as the Red Sea (compare Exodus 13:18), believe the divergence from the previous route to have been towards the south, and place Pihahiroth, Migdol, and Baal-Zephon in this quarter. Pihahiroth. The exact position is nnknown. Neither the Egyptian remains nor the writings of the Greeks or Romans present us with any similar geographic name. If Semitic, the word should mean "the entrance to the caves," but it is quite possible that it may be Egyptian. Migdol. There was undoubtedly a famous Migdol, or Maktal, on the eastern frontier of Egypt, which was a strong fortified post, and which is often mentioned. Hecataeus called it Magdolos. In the Itinerary of Antonine it is said to be twelve Roman miles from Pelusium. But this is too northern a position for the Migdol of the present passage; which must represent a "tower" or "fortified post" not very remote from the modern Suez. Over against Baal-Zephon. The accumulation of names, otherwise unknown to the sacred writers, is a strong indication of the familiarity possessed by the author of Exodus with the geography of the country. No late writer could have ventured on such local details. A name resembling "Baal-Zephon" is said to occur in the Egyptian monuments. Dr. Brugsch reads it as "Baal-Zapuna." He regards it as the designation of a Phoenician god, and compares "Baal-Zebub." Others have compared the "Zephon" with the Graeco-Egyptian form "Typhon," and have supposed "Baal-Zephon" to be equivalent to "Baal-Set" or "Baal. Sutech"—a personification of the principle of evil.
They are entangled in the land. Or "they are confused," "perplexed"—i.e. "they have lost their way." Pharaoh could not conceive that they would have taken the route to the west of the Bitter Lakes, which conducted to no tolerable territory, unless they were hopelessly at sea with respect to the geography of the country. In this "perplexity" of theirs he thought he saw his own opportunity. The wilderness hath shut them in. Pharaoh is thinking of his own "wilderness," the desert country between the Nile valley and the Red Sea. This desert, he says, "blocks their way, and shuts them in "—they cannot escape if he follows in their steps, for they will have the sea on one hand, the desert on the other, and in their front, while he himself presses upon their rear.
I will be honoured. See the comment on Exodus 9:16. That the Egyptians may know that I am the Lord. Compare above, Exodus 7:1-25.§
Exodus 14:1 Exodus 14:4
God's trials of His faithful ones.
All hitherto had gone well with the departing Israelites. The Egyptians indeed had "thrust them out"—had hurried their departure—had felt insecure till they were beyond the borders. But they had freely given of their treasures to speed the parting guests, and had in every way facilitated their setting forth. The multitude, vast as it was, had in no respect suffered as yet; it had proceeded in good military order (Exodus 13:18), had found abundant pasture for its flocks and herds, and was now on the very verge of the desert which alone separated it from Canaan. Egypt was behind them; freedom and safety were in front; no foe forbade their entrance into the vast expanse which met their gaze as they looked eastward, stretching away to the distant horizon' of hot haze, behind which lay the Promised Land. The question, how they were to support themselves in the desert had not perhaps occurred to them as yet. They had come out provisioned with bread for certain number of days, and probably with many sacks of grain laden upon their asses. If the spring rains had been heavy, as is likely to have been the case, since in Egypt there had been both rain and hail (Exodus 9:23-33), the desert itself would have been covered at this season with a thin coat of verdure and "thickly jewelled with bright and. fragrant flowers". The hearts of many were, no doubt, bounding at the thought of quite quitting Egypt at last, and entering on the absolute freedom of the illimitable desert. But at this point God interposed. "Speak unto the children of Israel that they turn, and encamp before Pihahiroth" Egypt is not yet to be quitted; they are still to skirt it—to remain among Egyptian cities—to turn away from Palestine—to interpose a sea between themselves and Asia—to pursue a route which leads into one of the most unproductive portions of the whole African continent. Sore must the trial have been to those who had knowledge of the localities—dark and inscrutable must have seemed the ways of Providence. What was the Almighty intending? How could Canaan ever be reached if they turned their backs on it? Whither was God taking them? Even apart from any pursuit by Pharaoh, the situation must have been perplexing in the extreme, and must have severely exercised the more thoughtful. What then must not the universal feeling have been, when it appeared that the monarch, informed of their movements, had started in pursuit? What but that they were God-forsaken or, worse, led by God himself into a trap from which there was no escape? Readily intelligible is the bitterness which showed itself in their address to 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?" And so God's people—his faithful and elect children—at all times and under all circumstances, are subject to severe trials. These come upon them either—
I. FOR THEIR MORAL IMPROVEMENT. "The trial of our faith worketh patience," and God wills that "patience should have her perfect work," that his saints may be "perfect and entire, wanting nothing" (James 1:3, James 1:4). "Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth." Difficulties, dangers, temptations, perplexities, disappointments, constitute a moral discipline which is to most men absolutely needful for the due training and elevation of their moral characters. By such trials the dross is purged away from them—the pure metal remains. Their love of God and trust in God are tested, and by being tested strengthened. "Tribulation worketh patience; and patience experience; and experience hope; and hope maketh not ashamed." The man who is perfect in each good word and work has in almost every case passed through a furnace of affliction to attain his perfection.
II. FOR THE GLORY OF GOD. God's glory is often shown forth in the sight of men most conspicuously by the trials of his faithful ones. In Israel's case this was brought about by miracle. But the rule holds good in the ordinary course of human affairs equally. What has so shown forth the glory of God in the past as the endurance of trials, insults, torments, death, by his martyrs? What even now so impresses men with the reality of religion, as suffering on account of the truth? Afflictions, crosses, disappointments, patiently borne, not only strengthen our own spirits, but are a witness for God in a world that for the most part disregards him, and. to a considerable extent "get him honour."
III. FROM THE NECESSITY OF THE CASE, BECAUSE GOD'S WAYS ARE NOT AS OUR WAYS. If the children of Israel could have foreseen that God would divide the Red Sea for them and lead them through it, the route southwards to the point of crossing would have been seen to be the fittest and best, securing as it did the continuance of water and of forage, and avoiding one of the worst parts of the wilderness. But it was impossible for them to surmise this; and hence their perplexity, alarm, and anger against Moses. In our ordinary trials it often happens that our inability to understand how we are being dealt with lies at the root of our sufferings. The disappointment which most vexes us may be a necessary preliminary to the success of which we have no thought. The "thorn in the flesh" may bring us to a higher moral condition than we should have reached without it. "God's ways are in the deep, and his paths in the great waters, and his footsteps are not known." He deals with us as he sees to be best, and we cannot see that so it is best. He has surprises in reserve for us, sometimes as little looked for as the division of the Red Sea by the Israelites. Hence, if in cases of this kind we would suffer less, we must trust God more; we must give ourselves wholly up to him, place ourselves in his hands, accept whatever he sends as assuredly, whether we can see it or not, what is fittest for us.
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
The command to encamp by the sea.
These verses introduce the narrative of what the Lord "did in the Red Sea" (Numbers 21:14), when his people "passed through … as by dry land; which the Egyptians, assaying to do, were drowned" (Hebrews 11:29). This crossing of the Red Sea was no after-thought. God had it in view when he turned aside the path of the children of Israel from the direct route, and ordered them to encamp before Pi-hahiroth, near the northern end of the gulf. His design in this event was to give a new and signal display of his Jehovah attributes, in the destruction of Pharaoh's host (Exodus 14:4), and in working a great salvation for his Church. By the events of the Red Sea, he would be shown to be at once a God of mercy and judgment (Isaiah 30:18); Supreme Ruler in heaven and in earth (Psalms 135:6); disposing events, great and small, according to his good pleasure, and for the glory of his name; making even the wrath of man instrumental to the accomplishment of his purposes (Psalms 76:10). Consider—
I. THE MYSTERIOUS TURN IN THE ROUTE. The command was to turn to the south, and encamp between Migdol and the sea, over against Baal-Zephon (Exodus 14:2). This route was—
1. Not necessarily an arbitrary one. We need not suppose that God brought the Israelites into this perplexity—shutting them up between the sea and the mountains, simply for the purpose of showing how easily he could again extricate them. The choice of routes was not great.
(1) The way of the Philistines was blocked (Exodus 13:17).
(2) The way by the north of the Red Sea—between it and the Bitter Lakes—probably did not then exist. The Red Sea seems at that time to have extended much further north than it does at present.
(3) To go round by the upper end of the Lakes would have been to take the host far out of its way, besides exposing it to the risk of collision with outlying tribes.
(4) The remaining alternative was to march southwards, and ford the Red Sea. The route was, nevertheless—
2. A mysterious and perplexing one. Pharaoh at once pronounced it a strategic blunder (Exodus 14:3). Supposing the intention to be to cross the Red Sea, no one could hazard a conjecture as to how this was to be accomplished. Ordinary fords were out of the question for so vast a multitude. Hemmed in by the mountains, with an impassable stretch of water in front, and no way of escape from an enemy bearing down upon them from behind, the Egyptian king mighty, well judge their, situation to be a hopeless, one. Yet how strangely like the straits of life into which God's people are sometimes led by following faithfully the guiding pillar of their duty; or into which, irrespective of their choice, God's providence sometimes brings them! Observe, further,
3. No hint was given of how the difficulty was to be solved. This is God's way. Thus does he test his people's faith, and form them to habits of obedience. He does not show them everything at once. Light is given for present duty, but for nothing beyond. Fain would we know, when difficulties crowd upon us, how our path is to be opened; but this God does not reveal. He would have us leave the future to him, and think only of the duty of the moment. Time enough, when the first command has been obeyed, to say what is to be done next. "We walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7).
II. GOD'S ENDS IN LEADING THEM BY THIS ROUTE. God had ends. He was not guiding the children of Israel blindly. His knowledge, his purpose, no less than his presence, go before his saints, as guiding pillars, to prepare places for them. God had a definite purpose, not only in leading the people by this route, but in planting them down at this particular spot—between Migdol and the sea. His ends embraced—
1. The humiliation of Pharaoh. That unhappy monarch was still hard in heart. He was torn with vain regrets at having let the people go. He had a disposition to pursue them. God would permit him to gratify that disposition. He would so arrange his providence as even to seem to invite him to do it. He would lure him into the snare he had prepared for him, and so would complete the judgment which the iniquity of Pharaoh and of his servants had moved him to visit upon Egypt. This was God's hardening of Pharaoh's heart (Exodus 14:4). Note
(1) If God is not honoured by men, he will be honoured upon them (Scott).
(2) Retributive providence frequently acts by snaring men through the evil of their own hearts. Situations are prepared for them in which they fall a prey to the evil principles or dispositions which, in spite of warnings and of their own better knowledge, they have persisted in cherishing. They wish for something, and the opportunity is presented to them of gratifying their wish. They harbour an evil disposition (say lust, or dishonesty), when suddenly they find themselves in a situation in which, like a wild beast leaping from its covert, their evil nature springs out upon them and devours them. It was in this way that God spread his net for Pharaoh, and brought upon him "swift destruction."
2. The education of Israel. The extremity of peril through which Israel was permitted to pass—coupled with the sudden and marvellous deliverance which so unexpectedly turned their "shadow of death into the morning" (Amos 5:8), filling their mouth with laughter and their tongue with singing (Psalms 126:1)—while their pursuers were overwhelmed in the Red Sea, was fitted to leave a profound and lasting impression on their minds. It taught them
(1) That all creatures and agencies are at God's disposal, and that his resources for the help of his Church, and for the discomfiture of his enemies, are absolutely unlimited. As said of Christ, "even the winds and the sea obey him" (Matthew 8:27).
(2) That the Lord knoweth, not only "how to deliver the godly out of temptations," but also how "to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished" (2 Peter 2:9). It was thus
(3) A rebuke to distrust, and a Powerful encouragement to faith.
3. The complete separation of Israel as a people to himself. Paul says—"all our fathers Were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and were baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea" (1 Corinthians 10:2). Connect this with the spiritual significance of baptism. Baptism, especially as administered by immersion, figures dying to sin, and rising again to righteousness (Romans 6:4). It is thus the analogue of the passage through the Red Sea, which was a symbolic death and resurrection of the hosts of Israel. By saving the people from the waves which engulfed their enemies, Jehovah had, as it were, purchased the nation a second time for himself, giving them "life from the, dead." The baptism of the sea was thus a sort of "outward and visible sign" of the final termination of the connection with Egypt. Its waters were thereafter "a silver streak" between the Israelites and the land of their former bondage, telling of a pursuer from whom their had been delivered, and of a new life on which they had entered.—J.O.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
Israel stricken with terror by reason of a deliverance not yet completed.
It is plain that the Israelites, going out of Egypt. in such circumstances as they did, must have gone out in a state of great exhilaration, almost beside themselves with joy at such a complete reversal of all their past experiences at the hands of Pharaoh. Moreover we are assured in Exodus 14:8 that they went out with a high hand. The power of God for the deliverance of Israel was manifested in great fulness. What he had done in the past, and especially in the recent past, if only well considered and kept in the mind, was sufficient to inspire trust, banish fear, and show the wisdom of most diligent obedience to every direction that he gave. Nevertheless in Exodus 14:10 we find this humiliating statement, "they were sore afraid"—sore afraid, so soon after deliverance, and such a deliverance! Whence could their danger have come, and what could have made them so quickly to forget their God? These are the matters we have now to consider.
I. CONSIDER WHAT THERE WAS TO EXPLAIN THE LOCAL POSITION WHICH PRODUCED THEIR FEAR. They were in an awkward and dangerous position from an ordinary point of view. That position cannot be more forciby indicated than in the words of Pharaoh himself. "They are entangled in the land, the wilderness hath shut them in." They were going into a cul-de-sac. Before them lay the sea; on either hand, as we imagine, rose high ground; it only needed that Pharaoh should come in at the rear and close them up altogether, then they would be compelled to surrender. How then had they come into this position? It was not through any ignorance or carelessness on the part of their leader. Any general leading an army into such a trap would have been deservedly put to death for gross incompetency. It was God who had brought them exactly here, and if the word "trap" is to be mentioned, it was a trap with regard to Pharaoh and not with regard to Israel. The God who had led the Israelites out with a high hand, led them on with the pillar of cloud, and led them into the very position which, if they themselves had been consulted, was the last they would have chosen. It was not the only way God could have taken them, but it was the way in which, most effectually, speedily, and impressively, he could deliver them from Pharaoh. For God, of course, well knew that the deliverance of his people was not accomplished, simply because they had got out of Egypt. The exodus had been a miracle in many ways, and not least in this, that it had. compelled Pharaoh and his servants to act in contradiction to all the most dominating elements of their character. Just as afterwards in dealing with the waters of the Red Sea, God made the force of the wind to overcome the force of gravity; so he had already by another east wind, in the shape of the death of the first-born, completely set aside for a night all the most settled habits of Egypt. These habits had stood up on the right hand and on the left, and made a broad and open way for Israel to go out of the land. But presently, immediately and according to the natural order, these habits resumed their former sway. What else was to be expected? It mattered not in what direction Israel took their flight. Pharaoh and his hosts, smarting with injured pride, panting for vengeance and recovery of lost treasure, would be after them. There was a void in Egypt because of the death of the first-born, but after all the mothers would feel that void the most. There was another void by reason of the loss of all these slaves, these useful labourers, these accumulators of Egyptian wealth, and this void, we may be sure, was more operative in the vexation it produced than the loss of the first-born. It is a humiliating truth, but men, as a rule, can more easily bear the loss of kindred, even one so dear as the first-born, than the loss of fortune. A failure in business is more discomposing and fretting than a dozen bereavements, considered simply as bereavements; and thus it is certain that Pharaoh and his generals were very speedily in council as to the best way of securing the fugitives. While so engaged, the news comes to them of the direction in which the Israelites had gone. This news was the very thing to decide Pharaoh and make his preparations large and overwhelming, especially when God came to harden his heart to a greater pitch of stubbornness than it yet had reached. Either recapture or destruction seemed now certain. Therefore, seeing Pharaoh was now bound by the very force of the passions raging in his heart and the hearts of his people to follow Israel, it was well as soon as possible, to remove all danger to Israel consequent on this line of action. No good purpose was to be served either towards Israel or towards Pharaoh himself, by allowing him for any length of time, to harass their rear. A catastrophe of the Red Sea magnitude had to come, and the sooner it now came, the better. Israel had dangers enough in front and within; from Amalekites, Amorites, Canaanites, and all the rest of their opponents; from their own character, their own depravity, blindness of heart, sensuality, and idolatrous disposition. God does not allow all possible dangers to come upon us at once. Do not let us be so occupied, with the dangers that are present and pressing as to forget those which he has utterly swept out of the way, overwhelmed in a Red Sea, whence they will emerge against us no more for ever.
II. CONSIDER WHAT THERE WAS TO EXCUSE AND EXPLAIN THE FEAR WHICH ISRAEL EXPRESSED. In itself this fear was indefensible. There was no ground for it in the nature of things. God had done nothing to produce fear; everything indeed, if only it could be rightly seen, to produce the contrary; everything to call forth the utmost reverence and obedience from every right-minded Israelite. He was now, even while the Israelites were entangled in the land, Jehovah as much as ever, the great I Am, leading Israel by a way which, though they knew it not, was the best way. But we must also look at things from Israel's point of view; we must really remember what God really remembers, that men are dust, and that even when they have the greatest reasons for confidence, those reasons get hidden up, or even presented in such forbidding aspects as to make them powerful in producing unbelief. Our great adversary, who can make evil appear good also makes good appear evil. Look then at what there was in the state of things, to excuse the Israelites in being sore afraid.
1. The magnitude of Pharaoh's preparations. In spite of all the crippling effects of the plague, he was able to muster a great array. Doubtless he had a big standing army, for chariots are not got ready at a moment's notice. We may infer that he was a man who always had on hand some scheme of ambition and aggrandisement, and because the Israelites had long dwelt in his land, they knew all about the skill, valour and crushing force of the charioteers. Whatever strength there might be in the natural resources of Egypt they knew it well. When the unknown Caanan had to be faced, they gave Moses no rest, till spies were despatched to report on the land; but they needed no report of Egypt. The military strength of Pharaoh was only too deeply impressed on every mind.
2. There was the exasperation of a great loss. The people not only knew the strength with which Pharaoh came, but the spirit in which he came. He had lost 600,000 men, with their flocks and herds, and all the choice spoils of Egypt, in the way of gold, silver and raiment. Then there was a further loss of population in the mixed multitude. There was everything to exasperate the despot, and not one thing to soothe his pride or lessen his calamities. If only he had failed in trying to get hold of a new possession, it would not have been so hard. But he had failed in keeping the old; he had gone through ten plagues, and yet lost his treasures after all. We may fear that only too many among the Israelites, had just that spirit of greed and grasping in their own hearts which would enable them to appreciate the spirit of Pharaoh's pursuit.
3. There was the degrading effect of the long oppression in which the Israelites had been kept. The spirit of the slave comes out in the way they talk. These are not imaginary words put in their lips; the very "touch of nature" is in them. These are the language and conduct that reveal a real experience. The present generation, and one knows not how many generations before, had been born in servitude. They had not only been in servitude, but they had felt and acknowledged the bitter misery of it. And now the servitude was ended in due course. Freedom was a necessity, a blessing, and a glory to Israel; but they could not be made fit for it all at once. Jehovah could show signs and wonders in many ways; he could by one blow slay the first-born of Egypt and let the oppressed go free; but it required an altogether different power and method to infuse into the liberated the spirit and courage of freemen.—Y.
HOMILIES BY J. URQUHART
Trial and Judgment.
I. GOD LEADS INTO TRIAL BUT ASSURES Or VICTORY.
1. The command to turn and. shut themselves in between the wilderness and the sea. God leads us where troubles will assail us. Jesus was driven of the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.
(1) It proves us, and reveals needs which otherwise we might not have suspected. Our weaknesses are manifested.
(2) It reveals God. Through experiences of help his glory brightens for us.
2. The circumstances of God's people are taken advantage of by their foes. Pharaoh imagined his time had now come. Earthly foes may strike at such a time; Satan surely will
3. The result will be God's triumph over the foe, not the foe's over us.
II. THE WICKED CANNOT BE SAVED BY JUDGMENTS.
1. Terrors are soon forgotten. Repression of evil is not conversion. So soon as the repressive force ceases, evil reasserts its sway.
2. Justice done through fear only is regretted, not rejoiced in, by the doer. "Why have we done this," etc.? "As the dog returneth to his vomit."
3. Past lessons are forgotten. Pharaoh might have asked what armies could do against the God of Israel; yet he assembles his forces, never dreaming that they are only marshalled for destruction. Those who have known only the discipline of terror have not found salvation. They have only heard a cry to flee and seek salvation. To linger upon the way is to allow evil to overtake them and lead them again into captivity.—U.
THE PURSUIT OF ISRAEL BY THE EGYPTIANS. A short respite from suffering was sufficient to enable Pharaoh to recover from his extreme alarm. No further deaths had followed on the destruction of the firstborn; and he might think no further danger was to be apprehended. The worst of Moses' threats had been accomplished- perhaps Jehovah had no more arrows in his quiver. At any rate, as he realised to himself what it would be to lose altogether the services of so vast a body of slaves, many of them highly skilled in different arts, he more and more regretted the permission which he had given. Under these circumstances intelligence was brought him of the change which the Israelites had made in their route, and the dangerous position into which they had Brought themselves. Upon this he resolved to start in pursuit, with such troops as he could hastily muster. As his chariots were six hundred, we may presume that his footmen were at least 100,000, all trained and disciplined soldiers, accustomed to warfare. The timid horde of escaped slaves, unused to war, though it might be five or six times as numerous as his host, was not likely to resist it. Pharaoh no doubt expected an unconditional surrender on the part of the Israelites, as soon as they saw his forces.
It was told the King of Egypt that the people fled. Pharaoh, when he let the Israelites go, must have felt tolerably certain that they would not voluntarily return. Formally, however, he had only consented to their going a three days' journey into the wilderness (Exodus 12:31). When, being at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness, they did not enter it, but marched southward to Pi-hahiroth, the Egyptians might naturally report that instead of sacrificing, they were flying—hasting forwards—placing as much distance as they could between themselves and the Egyptian headquarters. But this report alone would scarcely have moved Pharaoh to action. It was in the accompanying circumstances, in the particular line of route, that he thought to find his opportunity. The people "were entangled" (Exodus 14:3). They might be taken at a disadvantage, and might be reduced to choosing between starvation and a. return to Egypt. The heart of Pharaoh, and of his servants, was turned against the people. The reaction of feeling was not confined to Pharaoh. His subjects participated in it. The loss of such a large body of labourers would be generally felt as a severe blow to the prosperity of the nation. It would affect all classes. The poor labourers might be benefited; but the employers of labour are the influential classes, and they would be injured. So "Pharaoh's servants" were of one mind with their master, and they "turned against" the Israelites. Why have we done this? In the retrospect, the afflictions which they had suffered did not seem so very great. They at any rate had survived them, and were not perhaps even seriously impoverished. Royal favour will find a way of making up any losses which court minions have suffered, out of the general taxation of the country. But in prospect, the loss of 600,000 (more or less skilled) labourers appeared a terrible thing. The official class was quite ready to make a strenuous effort to avert the loss.
He made ready his chariot. The Egyptian monarchs, from the time of the eighteenth dynasty, always went out to war in a chariot. The chariots were, like the Greek and the Assyrian, open behind, and consisted of a semicircular standing-beard of wood, from which rose in a graceful curve the antyx or rim to the height of about two feet and a half above the standing-beard. The chariot had two wheels and a pole, and was drawn by two horses. It ordinarily contained two men only, the warrior and the charioteer.
Six hundred chosen chariots. Diodorus Siculus assigns to one Egyptian king a force of 27,000 chariots (1. 54, § 4), which however is probably beyond the truth. But the 1200 assigned to Shishak (2 Chronicles 12:3) may well be regarded as historical; and the great kings of the nineteenth dynasty would possess at least an equal number. The "six hundred chosen chariots" set in motion on this occasion probably constituted a division of the royal body-guard (Herod. 2.168). The remaining force would be collected from the neighbouring cities of Northern Egypt, as Memphis, Heliopolis, Bubastis, Pithom, and Pelusium. Captains over every one of them. Rather, "Captains over the whole of them." So the LXX. the Vulgate and SyriActs version. Some, however, understand "warriors in each of them ' (Gesenius, Bodiger, Kalisch).
The Children of Israel went out with a high hand—i.e; boldly and confidently, not as fugitives, but as men in the exercise of their just fights—perhaps with a certain amount of ostentation.
All the horses and chariots of Pharaoh Rather, "all the chariot horses." There is no "and" in the original. His horsemen. Rather "his riders," or "mounted men "—i.e; those who rode in the chariots. That the Egyptians had a powerful cavalry at a later date appears from 2 Chronicles 12:3; but the Hebrew text of Exodus, in remarkable accordance with the native monuments of the time, represents the army of this Pharaoh as composed of two descriptions of troops only—a chariot and an infantry force.. Overtook them. It is uncertain how long the Israelites remained encamped at Pi-hahiroth. They would wait so long as the pillar of the cloud did not move (Numbers 9:18-20). It must have taken Pharaoh a day to hear of their march from Etham, at least another day to collect his troops, and three or four days to effect the march from Tanis to Pi-hahiroth. The Jewish tradition that the Red Sea was crossed on the night of the 21st of Nisan (Abib) is therefore, conceivably, a true one.
The good resolutions of the worldly are short-lived.
By a long series of judgments, culminating in the destruction of all the first-born both of man and beast throughout his whole territory, Pharaoh had been brought down from his original hardness and pride, had acknowledged God's hand, and allowed the Israelites to take their departure. He had even besought them to ask that God would bestow upon him his blessing (Exodus 12:32). But a short time sufficed to change all his good resolutions. The more he reflected on it, the more grievous did it seem to him to lose the services of above half a million of industrious labourers. The further they became removed, the less terrible did God's judgments appear. He had lost one son; but probably he had many others; and time, as it passed, brought consolation. He had quailed before Moses; but now, in Moses' absence, he felt himself a king again, and could not bear to think that he had been made to yield. His state of mind was one ripe for revolt and reaction, when intelligence reached him which brought matters to a crisis. The report that he received seemed to show complete geographical ignorance on the part of the Hebrews, together with "a cessation of the special providence and guidance which their God had hitherto manifested in their favour" (Kalisch). Upon this his "heart was turned," he cast his former good resolutions to the winds, and made up his mind either to detain the Israelites or to destroy them (Exodus 15:9). In all this Pharaoh's conduct is but an example of the general law, that "the good resolutions of the worldly are short-lived." They arc so, because:—
I. THEY ARE NOT GROUNDED ON ANY WISH TO DO RIGHT, BUT ON VIEWS OF PRESENT EXPEDIENCY. The immediate effect of the tenth plague was an impression, common no doubt to Pharaoh with the other Egyptians, such as found vent in the words, "We be all dead men" (Exodus 12:33). They were intensely alarmed for their own safety. This and this alone produced the resolution to let Israel go. It was better to lose the services of even six hundred thousand labourers than to lose their own lives. Expediency was their rule and guide. But expediency changes—or at any rate men's views of it change. Were their lives really in danger? Had they not been over-hasty in assuming this? Or, if there had been danger, was it not now over? Might it not be really expedient to arrest the march of the Israelites, to detain them, and once more have them for slaves?
II. THEY ARE THE EFFECT OF IMPULSE RATHER THAN OF PRINCIPLE. Resolutions made upon principle can scarcely change, for they are grounded upon that which is the most fixed and settled thing in human nature. But resolutions based upon impulse are necessarily uncertain and unstable, for there is nothing so variable as impulse. All men have from time to time both good and bad impulses. Impulse exhausts itself from its very vehemence, and can never be counted on as a permanent force. It is here to-day, and gone to-morrow. No reliance can be placed upon it.
III. THEY ARE MADE MERELY BY A MAN TO HIMSELF, NOT MADE TO GOD. When the worldly man says, "I am resolved what to do," he means no more than this: "Under present circumstances, I have come to the conclusion that I will act in this or that way." He does not mean to bind himself, or, if he does, he soon finds that he cannot bind himself. There must be two parties to an obligation or engagement. If we wish our resolutions to be binding, and so lasting, we must make them solemnly, with prayer, in the sight of God, and to God. It is neglecting this which causes so many good resolutions to be broken, so many vows violated, so many pledges taken fruitlessly. Let men be sure, before they make a solemn resolution or a vow, that it is a right one to make, and then let them make the engagement, not to themselves only, or to their erring fellow-mortals, but to the Almighty.
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
"It was told the King of Egypt that the people fled," etc. Consider:—
I. THE MOTIVES OF THE PURSUIT. The motives were various.
1. Pharaoh had already repented of having let the people go (Exodus 14:5). Their departure was a sore humiliation to him. Wounded pride was aggravated by the sense of material loss. "As serfs and bondagers, the Israelites were invaluable, and to let them go was to annihilate the half of Egypt's industry" (Hamilton). Pharaoh and his servants, accordingly, were ready to adopt any plan which promised them revenge.
2. Pharaoh found an excuse for pursuit, in the allegation that the Israelites had "fled." Fugitives, in the ordinary sense of the expression, the Israelites were not. Pharaoh having to the last refused to let them go to hold the required feast in the wilderness, God had taken the matter into his own hands, and had given them their freedom. The only sense in which they were "fleeing" was, that, fearing treachery, they were making all the haste they could to get beyond Pharaoh's reach. They had left Egypt, unfettered by any stipulation to return. Return, indeed, after what had happened, was out of the question. When Pharaoh and his people thrust the Hebrews out from their midst (Exodus 11:8; Exodus 12:31-34), they neither desired nor expected to see their faces more. But now that the king had changed his mind, and wished them back again, it suited him to represent their withdrawal into the solitary regions by the Red Sea as a "flight"—a breach of good faith. God had forced him to relax his grasp, and while his hand was open, the nation had escaped, like a bird escaped from the snare of the fowler. As reasonably might the fowler complain that, the bird, thus escaped, does not voluntarily return to its old quarters.
3. The determining, motive of the pursuit was the news that Israel was "entangled in the land." This decided Pharaoh. Almost would it seem to him as if, by permitting the escaped people to make this huge blunder in their movements, their Deity designed to give them back to his hand, As Saul said of David—"God hath delivered him into mine hand, for he is shut up, by entering into a town that hath gates and bars" (1 Samuel 23:7).
II. ITS FORMIDABLE CHARACTER. Probably a pursuit of escaped slaves was never organised with greater chances of success.
1. The expedition was popular. "The heart of Pharaoh and of his servants was turned against the people" (Exodus 14:5). Court sentiment is not always a reliable index to the feelings of the commonalty; but it is probable that the movement to pursue Israel commanded a wide measure of popular support. The griefs and humiliations they had sustained would fill the Egyptians with hatred of the Israelitish name, and would make them willing co-partners in any scheme to inflict injury on the fugitives. They also, by this time, would be beginning to realise how great a loss, financially and industrially, they had sustained, by the withdrawal of so vast a body of labourers.
2. The whole available military force of Egypt was called into requisition. "All the horses and chariots of Pharaoh, and his horsemen, and his army" (Exodus 14:9). Pharaoh, at the head of this glorious cavalcade, amidst this sheen of weapons, must have felt himself a greater man, and would wonder anew how he could have been so befooled as to let his slaves depart. And little, truly, to all human appearance, would Israel, unpractised in the use of arms, be able to accomplish against this disciplined and splendidly-equipped host. Pharaoh doubtless thought he had the people this time securely in his grasp. It was no longer the unarmed Pharaoh of the palace that Moses had to deal with; but Pharaoh, at the head of the thousands of Egypt, with chariots, and horses, and men of war; and who was that God that would be able to deliver him out of his hand? Alas for Pharaoh, and his "pomp and circumstance of war!" It was soon to be seen what short work God can make on the earth of the proudest of his assailants, showing strength with his arm, and scattering the proud in the imagination of their hearts (Luke 1:51; cf. Isaiah 31:3).
3. The situation of the Israelites seemed to make them an easy prey. They were "entangled in the land" (Exodus 14:3). This was the mainstay of Pharaoh's hopes. Israel could do nothing to resist him. Penned up like sheep for the slaughter, they could neither fight nor flee. Success was certain.
III. ITS SPIRITUAL LESSON. It will readily be felt that in this pursuit of Israel by Pharaoh, we have an image—from the typical character of the history, an intended image—of a not uncommon experience of the Christian life.
1. We are liable to be pursued by the evil from which we thought we had escaped. Whoever thinks to find it otherwise will live to be disappointed. Conversion—even though one has been led into Christian liberty with "an high hand" (Exodus 14:8)—is not the end of spiritual conflicts. We do not escape from the power of evil without many an attempt being made on the part of the enemies of the soul to reassert their dominion ever us. We have a Pharaoh in the evil of our own hearts, who, after we have left his service, will not fail to pursue us. Another such Pharaoh we have in the world—old companions, etc. A third is the evil One himself, who lets no soul slip from his grasp, without many an attempt to recover it. This goes on to some extent throughout the whole life. Pharaoh's pursuit may be viewed as gathering up all these separate pursuits into a single picture.
2. This experience is usually most acute and perilous shortly after conversion. Naturally, after the first breaking of the soul with sin, there comes, at a little distance, a time of recoil and reaction. Passions formerly indulged, surge back upon the heart with something of the old fury. We thought we had got rid of them; but they return, pursuing us with a vehemence which reminds us of Pharaoh's chariots and horses, and fills us with dismay. Old habits, we thought we had broken with them for ever; but they are back again, struggling for the mastery. The world tries all its arts to regain its former hold. Temptations come in floods. This is the time which tests the reality of conversion, and practically decides whether God is to have us, or Satan. It is the old experience of Israel, entangled in the land, and pursued by Pharaoh: if we gain the victory, we shall probably see our enemies no more, or only in greatly weakened, in semi-ghostlike forms.
3. The destruction of Pharaoh's host is the pledge of similar victories to the Church and to the individual in like crises of their history. It involves the promise that what God did for Israel here, he will do for us also, if we rely upon his help, every time we are spiritually tempted. Beyond this, it pledges and foreshadows the ultimate and complete defeat of all the enemies of the Church, and of the individual soul—even to that "last enemy that shall be destroyed," which is death (1 Corinthians 15:26). The victory, like the pursuit, is gathered up typically into a single picture, though in actual spiritual history it is spread over lifetimes and ages. It must, however, be sorrowfully admitted that in individual cases, type and reality too often fall asunder. Who has not to mourn partial victories gained over him by the pursuing Pharaohs of the soul—victories ofttimes almost amounting to the dragging of us back to bondage? And what extensive victories have frequently been gained by evil over sections of the Church—victories which seem the very antithesis of this glorious Red Sea deliverance? These, however, are but ebbings in a tide, which on the whole is on the flow, and they do not touch the lesson of this incident. The pledge given in Pharaoh's destruction, God will not fail to fulfil to those who seek his aid; and as to the final victory, that is secure, beyond all power of man to prevent it.—J.O.
Jehovah hardening Pharaoh's heart. I. NOTICE THE EMPHASIS WITH WHICH THIS FACT IS STATED. The hardening of Pharaoh's heart is mentioned, not in one place only, but in many. If it were mentioned in one place only, it might be in some doubtful way, such as would excuse us for passing it over without much examination. But being mentioned so many times, we dare not leave it on one side as something, to lie in necessary obscurity, meanwhile consoling ourselves that the obscurity is unimportant. The statement meets us in the very midst of the way of Jehovah's judgments on Pharaoh, and we must meet it in return with a resolution to understand it as far as believers in Jehovah may be able to do. Notice, then, exactly, how often the statement is repeated. Jehovah says to Moses, or ever he leaves Midian, "I will harden Pharaoh's heart that he shall not let the people go" (Exodus 4:21). Again, just as Jehovah's dealings with Pharaoh were beginning, he says: "I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt" (Exodus 7:3). After the rod was changed to a serpent his heart was still hardened (Exodus 7:13). Nor was there yet any change after the waters were turned to blood (Exodus 7:22). He yielded a little when the frogs came, but as soon as they vanished and there was respite, he hardened his heart once more (Exodus 8:15). When the magicians confessed the finger of God in the gnats, his heart remained the same (Exodus 8:19). The flies were taken away, and "he hardened his heart at this time also, neither would he let the people go" (Exodus 8:32). In Exodus 9:12 we have an express statement that the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh. After the visitation of the hail there seems to have been a complete surrender; but as soon as it ceases the hardening returns (Exodus 9:35); and so the references continue down to the end (Exodus 10:1, Exodus 10:20, Exodus 10:27; Exodus 11:10; Exodus 14:4, Exodus 14:8, Exodus 14:17). Making these references, we are led to notice also the variety of expressions used. Sometimes it is simply said that Pharaoh's heart was hardened, sometimes that Pharaoh hardened it, sometimes that God hardened it; and once or twice the expression rises to the emphasis of the first person, and Jehovah himself says "I will harden Pharaoh's heart."
II. NOTICE THE CONSEQUENT OBLIGATION TO MAKE DEVOUT AND REVERENT INQUIRY INTO THIS MATTER.—There is no way to escape from the feeling that Jehovah did actually harden Pharaoh's heart. We must treat the hardening of his heart as a great fact just as Moses did the burning bush; not doubting at all that it did happen, but rather asking how and why it happened. We must turn aside and see this great sign, why Jehovah exercised such a fearful power over Pharaoh that the end of it was the destruction of his host in the waters of the Red Sea. It is a commonplace of speech to say that the expression here is one of the most difficult in all the Scriptures. It is also a commonplace of action to shake the head with what is meant for pious submission to an impenetrable mystery. But what if this be only an indolent and most censurable avoidance of earnest thought on the ways of God towards men? No one will pretend that the mystery of this expression is penetrable to all its depths; but so far as it is penetrable we are bound to explore. How are we really to know that a thing is unfathomable, until we make an attempt to fathom it? A devout Israelite, although excluded from the Holy of Holies, did not make that a reason for neglecting the temple altogether. Our duty then is to inquire what this hardening of the heart may be, in what sense it is reconcilable with the goodness and righteousness of God. One reason why this statement is put so prominently forward in one of the most prominent narratives of Scripture, and therefore one of the most prominent in all history, may be this, that we should be kept from wrong conclusions on man's agency as a responsible being; conclusions dishonouring to God and perilous to ourselves. Is it not a great deal gained if only this narrative sets people thinking, so as to deliver them from the snares of fatalism?
III. Whatever View we take of this statement must evidently be IN THE LIGHT OF ALL WE ARE PERMITTED TO KNOW CONCERNING THE CHARACTER OF JEHOVAH. In considering all difficult statements as to the Divine dealings, we must start with certain postulates as to the Divine character. Before we can say that God does a thing we must know that the thing done is not out Of harmony with the rest of his ascertained doings. There may be plenty of evidence as to the thing done, when there is very little evidence as to the doer. That the streams of Egypt were actually turned to blood was a thing that could be certified by the senses of every one who inspected those streams. But that God wrought this strange work could only be made sure by asking, first, what evidence there was of God's presence, and next, what consistency there was with his acknowledged dealings. It is only too plain that Pharaoh's heart was hardened, that he became ever more settled in his resolution to keep hold of Israel as long as he could. But when we are told that God hardened Pharaoh's heart, then we must at once bring to mind all that we have heard of God in the Scriptures. We must take back into our inspection of those distant times all we know of his character whom Jesus revealed; for the loving Father of our Saviour is the same with the great Jehovah. The same holy personality is at work in the God who so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have eternal life, as in the God who hardened Pharaoh's heart. We must not tolerate any conception of the hardening which contradicts the Divine character. Any view of this expression which does not harmonise with the revelation of God in the New Testament is therefore condemned. There is certainly no word in the Old Testament that more needs to be looked at in the light of the New than this. We must then dismiss from our minds any sort of notion that in hardening Pharaoh's heart, God dulled his moral sensibilities and made him proud, indifferent to pity and justice and the fulfilment of promises. God cannot put even the germs of these feelings into any human heart; much less can he increase them to such portentous magnitude as they attained in Pharaoh. We must start with the conviction and keep to it, that what God does is right, and that it is right not because he does it, but that he does it because it is right. It is not open for us first to fix our own interpretation of what may be meant by hardening the heart, and then call it an outrage on moral sense to say that God should do this. What if we have blundered in our interpretation?
IV. A right view of this statement must evidently also be taken IN THE LIGHT OF ALL THAT WE KNOW BY AN APPEAL TO HUMAN CONSCIOUSNESS. As no word God has ever spoken can contradict the facts of external nature, so neither can it contradict the facts of man's consciousness within. That which is true, independently of the teaching of Scripture, does not become less true, nor does it become false when Scripture begins to speak. Man is a free agent; he acts as one; he resents being treated otherwise by his fellow men. He is degraded and impoverished just in proportion as he sinks to a mere machine. His own decision is required every day, and he finds that wise decisions lead to profit, and foolish ones to loss. The law treats him as a free agent. Nay, more; what can be clearer than that God treated Pharaoh as a free agent? The plain statement that God hardened his heart is not more frequent than the equally plain statement that God demanded from him the liberation of Israel. If the one word is to be taken as simple verity, so is the other. If when God hardened Pharaoh's heart, he really did something in his nature; then also when he asked Pharaoh to liberate Israel, he asked something which he was at liberty to grant or refuse. Moses does not mock us with a mere trick of rhetoric in saying that God hardened Pharaoh's heart; neither did God mock Pharaoh with a useless appeal when he said, "Let my People go." Pharaoh knew well in his heart that it only needed his resolution and the whole of Israel could march forth at very short notice. He himself would have been amazed to hear that God had hardened his heart. True as it was, he would have denied it most strenuously and indignantly; and he would have denied it with justice, if it had been taken to mean the destruction of his own free agency.
V. We may now Perhaps consider the ground sufficiently cleared for a positive conjecture as to what is meant by God hardening Pharaoh's heart. It means, we take it, THAT HE WORKED A MIRACULOUS CHANGE IN ONE OF PHARAOH'S NATURAL FACULTIES. There are certain things in every human being we do not hold that being responsible for, e.g; sex, features, temperament, acuteness and activity in senses and intellect. Some persons have good vision, others poor, others are altogether blind. In a similar way, some are naturally of a tenacious, determined will. Whatever they have set their mind upon, they hold to, with bull-dog grip. Others again are easily swayed about. Now clearly just as there are natural differences in sight, or hearing, or intellect, so there must be natural differences in this will-faculty. A man may have it very strong; he may be one who if he sets high and worthy aims before him, will be called resolute, inflexible, tenacious, indomitable, loyal to conscience; whereas if his aims be low, selfish and entirely without ground in reason, he will be called obstinate, stubborn, self-willed in the fullest sense of that word; and is it not plain that God may take this power of volition, this will-energy, and do with it, as we know that Jesus in many of his miracles did with defective or absent faculties? To the blind, Jesus gave vision, and he who could thus call a non-existent faculty into existence, evidently could increase a faculty actually existing to any degree such as man might be able to possess. And was it not something of this kind that God did in hardening Pharaoh's heart? The term has come to have a dreadful meaning to us in connexion with Pharaoh, simply because of Pharaoh's career. But the very miracle which God wrought in Pharaoh's heart would have had good results, if only Pharaoh had been a different sort of man. Suppose the instance of a blind man who gets sight from Jesus. He goes into life again with a recovered faculty: and that life, with respect to its opportunities, is vastly larger than it was before. How will he use these opportunities? He may use them selfishly, and Christ's own blessing will thus become a curse; or he may use them as Christ would have him use them, to become his efficient and grateful servant. There is a moral certainty that some who had faith enough in Jesus to have impaired natural faculties put right were yet destitute of that faith which went on to spiritual salvation and spiritual service. It was one thing to believe in Christ for a temporal gain, quite another to believe in him for a spiritual one; and the one faith while meant to lead on to the other, would not always have that effect. It is but a fond imagination to suppose that it would. So Pharaoh, if he had been a humane, compassionate and righteous man, a king with a true king's feelings for his own people, would, through the very process of hardening his heart, have become a more efficient ruler. This is the way God helps men who are struggling with temptation, struggling towards truth and light, towards conquest over appetite, violent temper, evil habits. God does for them and in them exactly what he did in Pharaoh. What he did in Pharaoh happened to hasten him in the way where he was already disposed to go. If Pharaoh had been a blind man as well as a bad one, no one would have had any perplexity as to God's dealings in restoring his sight and giving it the greatest perfection sight can attain. If Pharaoh had used that restored vision for bad, cruel purposes, he would have been blamed, and not Jehovah, and exactly the same remark applies if we change the name of the faculty. God strengthens the faculty of will, but Pharaoh is responsible for a right use of the strengthened faculty as much as he was for the use of the weaker faculty before. God dealt with a part of his nature where he had no power to resist any more than a blind man would have power to resist, if God were to restore vision to him. It was not against the hardening that Pharaoh struggled, but against the delivering. The hardening worked in a way he was not conscious of, but the delivering was by an appeal to him, and that appeal he was by no means disposed to entertain. It was not an awakened conscience that compelled him to his successive yieldings; these were but as the partial taming of a wild beast. Paul said, "When I would do good, evil is present with me;" but Pharaoh was steadily disposed to do evil. His cry would rather have been, "When I think to get my own way, one of those terrible plagues comes in to relax my resolutions and confuse my plans."
VI. A certain amount of weight must also be allowed for PHARAOH'S TYPICAL POSITION AND CHARACTER. We must distinguish between what he was typically and what he was personally. Far be it from us to diminish his guilt or attempt to whitewash his memory. Doubtless he was a bad man, and a very bad man; but for typical purposes it was needful to represent him as not having one redeeming feature. His name is not linked even with one virtue amid a thousand crimes. He had to be set before the whole world and all ages as the enemy of God's people. He is the type of a permanent adversary far greater than himself. And just as the people of God, typically considered, appeared very much better than they actually were, so Pharaoh, typically considered, is described so as to appear worse. (e.g. in Numbers 23:21, it is said, "He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel.") We do no, Show all God's dealings with Pharaoh. They are hidden beneath the waters of the Red Sea, and it is no duty of ours to pass judgment on the defeated and baffled opponent. God calls us to the more practical business of going on with the livings struggling people.—Y.
THE TERROR OF ISRAEL AND THE COURAGE OF MOSES. It has been argued that the Israelites, if they were so numerous as stated (Exodus 12:37), must have been wretched cowards, if they were afraid to risk an engagement with such an army as that hastily levied one which Pharaoh had brought with him. But the difference between an army of trained soldiers, thoroughly equipped for war, with helmets, shields, breastplates, swords and spears, and an undisciplined multitude, unarmed for the most part, and wholly unaccustomed to warfare, is such, that the latter, whatever its numbers, may be excused if it does not feel able to cope with the former, and declines an engagement. Numbers, without military training and discipline, are of no avail—nay, are even a disadvantage, since the men impede one another. It is not necessary to suppose that the Israelites were debased in character by their long servitude to account for their panic on seeing the army of Pharaoh. They had good grounds for their fear. Humanly speaking, resistance would simply have led to their indiscriminate massacre. The alarm of the Hebrews, and even the reproaches with which they assail Moses, are thus quite natural under the circumstances. What is surprising is, the noble courage and confidence of Moses. Moses, though only vaguely informed, that God would "be honoured upon Pharaoh and all his host" (verse 4), is perfectly certain that all will go well—how the result will be achieved, he knows not; but he is sure that Israel will be delivered and Egypt discomfited; his people have no reason to fear—they have but to "stand still and see the salvation of God" (verse 13); "the Lord will fight for them;" they will have simply to "hold their peace" (verse 14).
They were sore afraid. Before the Israelites are taxed with cowardice, let it be considered—
1. That they were unarmed. Egypt was so settled a government that civilians generally went unarmed; and slaves, like the Hebrews, would scarcely have been allowed to possess any arms, if the case had been otherwise.
2. They had no military training. Whatever had been done to teach them order and arrangement in connection with their proposed journey, we may be sure there had been no drill or training in the use of arms, since this would have been regarded by the Egyptians as open rebellion.
3. They were quite unaccustomed to warfare. The Pharaohs main-rained large garrisons of Egyptian and mercenary troops in the frontier provinces, to resist the invasions to which they were liable. The Hebrews may have had occasionally to defend themselves against a hasty raid: but in real war they had stood aloof, and left the fighting to the regular Egyptian army. The children of Israel cried out unto the Lord. The appeal to Jehovah showed that, with all their weaknesses and imperfections, the Israelites were yet true at heart. They knew where alone help was to be obtained, and made their appeal accordingly. No cry is more sure of an answer than the despairing one—"Lord, save us; we perish."
And they said to Moses. It was not unnatural that, while flying to God as their only refuge, they should be angry with Moses. Moses, they would argue, ought to have known better than to have brought them into a situation of such peril. He, the leader, should have known the geography of the country—he, the courtier, should have known the temper of the court. It is always a satisfaction to men to vent their anger upon some one when they are in a difficulty. No graves in Egypt. Egypt, with a necropolis outside every city, was "a land of tombs;" surely they might have found graves there, instead of being led out to such a distance simply to die.
Is not this the word that we did tell thee? The reference was probably to that time of depression, after their burdens had been increased, and before the series of miracles began, when the Israelites had addressed reproaches to Moses and Aaron (Exodus 5:21), and refused to listen to words of encouragement (Exodus 6:9). It was not true that they had uniformly held the same language, and desired Moses and Aaron to cease their efforts. It had been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die. The spirit to prefer death to slavery, where they are the only alternatives, is not a common one; and we must not be surprised that a people which had grown up in servitude and had no traditions of national independence did not rise to the heroic height attained under other circumstances by Greeks, by Switzers. and by Poles. It would have been most extraordinary had they done so.
And Moses said … fear ye not. Moses knew that the pursuit of Israel by the host of the Egyptians was a part of the counsel of God, and was to tend in some way or other to the promotion of God's honour and glory (Exodus 14:4). He had sufficient faith to believe in a deliverance the nature of which it is not likely that he could anyway conjecture. Whether hail would fall from heaven and destroy them (Joshua 10:11); or the earth gape and swallow them up (Numbers 16:32); or the angel of death smite them all in the night (2 Kings 19:35); or any other strange form of destruction come upon them, he did not know; but he concluded from what had been revealed to him, that God was about to vindicate his own honour without the aid of man. Hence his words—Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord—which assigned to the Israelites a mere passive attitude of expectation. For the Egyptians, etc. The order of the words in the original favours the marginal rendering, which is to be adopted with one slight change. Translate—"For, as ye have seen the Egyptians to-day, ye shall see them again no more for ever," i.e; ye shall see them no more alive, vigorous and menacing, but still and lifeless upon the Red Sea shore (Exodus 14:30). There is no reference to any other Egyptians than those with Pharaoh in the camp, nor to any later relations between Egypt and the chosen people.
Ye shall hold your peace—i.e; "do nothing, remain at rest."
Divine trial a touchstone to distinguish faith from unfaithfulness.
The Israelites had almost as much ground as Moses to believe in God, and trust his providential care of them. They had seen the whole series of miracles which Moses had wrought. They had found themselves exempt from visitations which fell with the utmost severity on their near neighbours. They had heard from Moses God's positive promise to bring them into Canaan (Exodus 13:5, Exodus 13:11). Yet at the first appearance of danger they lost all heart, all hope. They turned upon Moses with reproaches, taxed him with having brought them out of Egypt against their will, and expressed a readiness to return, and resume their old service. Moses, on the other hand, remained firm—did not blench—though, like the people, he felt the need of crying to God for aid (Exodus 14:15), yet he did so in a different spirit from them—he with faith, they, in panic terror, without it; he, sure that God would somehow grant salvation, they expecting nothing less than almost immediate death. Thus the same trial which shows forth one man's faith and trust and confidence in God, reveals other men's want of faith. While things went smoothly, there was no apparent difference—an unprejudiced observer might have thought the people just as trustful as their leader—but it was not so; and God willed that the difference should be made apparent. God will have faith distinguished from unfaithfulness, and each recognised as what it really is.
I. FOR THE HONOUR OF HAS TRUE AND FAITHFUL SERVANTS, which he wills to have set forth in the eyes of men, out of the tender love he bears towards his people. Though they be at the best "unprofitable servants," he deigns to recognise merit in their service, and wishes them to be honoured and held in respect by others, assigning them this as a part of their reward.
II. FOR THE WARNING OF THE UNFAITHFUL ONES, who, unless a severe trial came, might remain self-deceived, imagining themselves to have true faith, though wholly lacking it.
III. FOR THE MERE RIGHT'S SAKE. Because he is a God of justice and of truth, abhorrent of pretence, semblance, make-believe; and always on the side of sincerity and openness. "There is nothing secret," he tells us, "that shall not be made manifest, nor hid that shall not be known" (Luke 8:17). And this revelation of the true character of men and actions, which his truthfulness makes an ultimate necessity, his providence works for here. His trials are touchstones, potent to detect shams, and to prove the faithfulness of the faithful
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
Consider on this section:—
I. THE CRITICAL SITUATION OF THE ISRAELITES.
1. Their position. "Encamping by the sea, beside Pi-hahiroth, before Baal Zephon" (Exodus 14:9). The first view of the sea would probably be attractive to them. Its breeze, after the tedious travel of the desert, would be deliciously refreshing. They would look with a child's wonder and delight on the novel spectacle it presented. They would crowd to the beach to watch its dancing, white-tipped waves, and curiously to listen to its soft, lapping ripple on the shore. Yet this sea, which is to-day their joy and plaything, will have become by the morrow their terror and despair—their impregnable prison barrier. The experience is not uncommon. How often does it happen that the very things which at first we are disposed to hail with delight, to welcome and rejoice in, prove afterwards our greatest causes of sorrow! The engagements we enter into, the friendships we form, the bargains we make, the society we are introduced to, etc.
2. The approach of the enemy. "The children of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold the Egyptians marched after them" (Exodus 14:10). The mountains are around, the sea is in front, and now—terrible situation!—the Egyptians are pursuing, and close at hand. On they come, in whirling chariots, in ranks upon ranks of footmen; the long lines are seen defiling in the distance, and Israel knows that in an hour or two more the avalanche will be upon them, sweeping all before it, burying them in destruction.
3. They were entirely unprepared. They had been resting and unbending, not preparing for battle. The attack took them by surprise. There was no possibility under the circumstances of presenting an effectual resistance to the enemy. But, indeed, had the circumstances been ever so favourable, these hordes of slaves, accustomed so long to crouch before the rod of the taskmaster, would scarcely have attempted it. How critical, how perilous, therefore, the entire situation! A picture this of those straits of life formerly referred to, in which having done our utmost, we can do no more, and no alternative remains but prayer, and quiet waiting upon God.
II. THEIR PANIC AND DESPAIR (Exodus 14:10-13). The appearance of the Egyptians naturally threw the Israelites into a state of the most acute terror. Remark:
1. Great allowance must be made for them. We do not read that, on this occasion, God dealt severely with them for the wild, ungrateful words they uttered. He made allowance.
(1) Their situation was really very serious. Placed in like circumstances, we would perhaps not have shown much more faith than they did.
(2) They were unused to the life of freedom. It takes time to teach those who have always been slaves to appreciate the blessings of the opposite condition. They carry their slave habits with them into the state of freedom. The Israelites had not as yet had much comfort in their emancipation. Their painful marches had probably been harder work than even the brick-making of Egypt. They could not as yet feel that it was better to be free, though enduring hardships in their freedom, than to be more comfortably situated and be slaves; Do we blame them? Then reflect how even Christians sometimes murmur and rebel at the self-denials, the sacrifices, the inconveniences, the persecutions, which their Christian freedom entails upon them. You complain, perhaps, that you have a harder time of it now, than even when you served the flesh. It may be true. But do not forget that the difference between your condition now and then, is all the difference between slavery and bondage, between salvation and a state of wrath.
2. Israel's behaviour was nevertheless very unworthy.
(1) It was faithless. They did not wait to ask or see what God, who had already done so much for them, was about to do now, but at once concluded that he would leave them to perish. It is, indeed, said that they "cried unto the Lord" (Exodus 14:10), but then, in the next breath, we read of them reproaching his servant and delegate (Exodus 14:11). They are faithless prayers that come from faithless hearts.
(2) It was ungrateful. How willing they had been to be led out of Egypt! yet now, at the first approach of danger, they turn on their leader, and taunt him for having given them their liberty. Was Moses to blame for the pursuit of Pharaoh? Or did he deserve to be thus requited for the noble stand he had taken on their behalf? Public servants have often much to endure from the fickle humour of the crowd.
(3) it was cowardly. It showed a servile and ignoble spirit even to breathe so base a regret as that they had not been suffered to continue in Egypt.
3. The contrast of their conduct with that of Moses. The bearing of Moses at this crisis was sublime in its calmness and trust. He does not return "railing for railing." No angry word escapes his lips in reply to the reproaches of the people. They murmur; he betakes himself to prayer (Exodus 14:15). They look to the visible chariots; he to the invisible power which is mightier than all. They seem bereft of reason, fearing immediate death; he is calm, undaunted, self-collected, and gives them the best of counsel. Ponder his words—"Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will shew to you today" (Exodus 14:13).
(1) The situation was one in which God alone could bring salvation. They could do nothing for themselves. The salvation must be God's from first to last.
(2) God would bring them this salvation. The fact that he had brought them into this strait was of itself a pledge that be would find them a way out of it. The believer, who finds himself in situations of difficulty, may cherish the same confidence.
(3) Their duty was to stand still, and see this salvation. So long as means of help are put within our reach, it is our duty to use them. When no such means exist, or when all available means have been exhausted, and still the shadow overhangs us, what remains but to wait patiently on the help of the Most High? "Stand still"—in trust, in prayer, in expectancy, in readiness to advance the instant the word is given. "Stand still"—as opposed to weak murmurings, to passionate regrets, to foolish rebellion against circumstances you cannot alter,—so shall you "see the salvation of the Lord." If nothing else will do, God will cleave a way for you through the waves, or better still, will enable you, like Peter, to walk on them (Matthew 14:29).
III. GOD'S COMMAND TO MOSES (Exodus 14:15-19).
1. The command came in answer to prayer. "Wherefore criest thou unto me" (Exodus 14:15). The words contain no reproach, but imply that prayer needed on the instant to be exchanged for action.
2. Moses was to speak to the people that they go forward. See below.
3. He was to stretch his rod over the sea, and divide the waters (Exodus 14:16). The confidence of Moses, that God would show a way of salvation, was thus justified by the result. The light was not given as early as the people might have wished, but it was given in time. God also announces to Moses his purpose of destroying the Egyptians (Exodus 14:17, Exodus 14:18).
IV. THE ADVANCE THROUGH THE SEA. On this notice—
1. The change in the position of the pillar of cloud and fire (Exodus 14:19, Exodus 14:20). Moving to the rear, it stood between the Israelites and their pursuers, turning a bright side to the former, and a dark side to the latter. (See below.) By this seasonable change in its position, it
(1) Illuminated the passage for the Israelites. The light would stream on in front.
(2) Made the way dark and perilous for the pursuers.
(3) Hid the pursuers from the pursued, and vice versa. This, besides being an additional defence to the Israelites, saved them from the terror which the sight of their pursuers would naturally awaken. It is related of a party of the Waldenses, that escaping by night from their cruel persecutors, their path lay through the rugged and perilous defiles of the Alps. At length the day broke, and under the light of the rising sun, they turned to survey the track along which they had trod. By a unanimous and irresistible impulse, they fell on their knees to thank God for their marvellous preservation. "Here, they had walked on the very verge of a tremendous precipice where a false step would have dashed them to atoms; there, they had skirted the banks of a mountain lake, whose black waters seem to indicate unfathomable depths," etc. But the dangers amidst which they had moved had been veiled by the impenetrable darkness. There are some things which it is better for us not to see. Learn
(1) That God adapts his manifestations of himself to his people's needs.
(2) That God's presence with his Church is an effectual bulwark against attack. He can hide his people from their pursuers. He can darken the path of the latter; can confound their wisdom, divide their counsels, perplex them in their courses, and obstruct their progress by providential obstacles.
(3) Spiritually, in times of temptation and trial, we may rely on being illuminated by God's truth, defended by God's power, and ultimately conducted to a place of safety.
2. The division of the waters (Exodus 14:21).
(1) It was accomplished by natural agencies, supernaturally directed. "The Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night." The recognition of natural agency in no wise detracts from the supernatural character of the transaction; nay, seeing that direct miracles are no longer to be looked for by the Church, it is even more helpful to faith to find that natural means were employed in this instance, than if the result had been wholly miraculous. It heightens our conceptions of what God can accomplish by means of the agencies of nature. Instance the defeat of the Spanish Armada
(2) It was unexpected and surprising. In considering the ways by which God might conceivably save them, the Israelites probably never dreamt of his opening a path through the sea. So, in those straits of life to which reference has been made, help usually arrives from unexpected quarters, in a way we had not thought of. "God's way is in the sea, and his path in the deep waters, and his footsteps are not known" (Psalms 77:19).
(3) It afforded the passage that was required. The march through the sea, certainly, would not be without its difficulties. The violent gale, the thunderings and lightnings (Psalms 77:18), the darkness, the boom of the distant waters, the lurid light of the fiery cloud, the uneven passage, the panic and confusion, the strangeness and fearfulness of the entire situation, would make it an experience never to be forgotten. But if the road was difficult, it was practicable. They could pass by it. God promises to make a way for us. He does not promise that the way wilt always be an easy one.
3. The safe transit (Exodus 14:22). The children of Israel got safely across. They were preserved in the very midst of the hostile element. Nay, the sea, which they had so much dreaded, became on either side a protecting wall to them. The same superintending Providence which secured, in the shipwreck of Paul, that "so it came to pass, that they escaped all safe to land" (Acts 27:44), doubtless brought about a like happy result in the case of the Israelites. Their deliverance became, in after days, the type of any great deliverance wrought by God for his saints. See the figure wrought out in Psalms 18:4-20.—J.O.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
Cruel words out of cowardly hearts.
There was much, as we have seen, to excuse the terror of Israel; but there is one thing not so easy to excuse, and that is the sarcastic, unjust spirit in which these terrified Israelites treat their visible leader. Formerly (Exodus 5:21) they had turned on him with bitter reproaches; but their conduct then was the effect of ignorance and hasty expectations, and their language, however strong, was simply the language of reproach. But now to reproach they add sarcasm; they speak so as to set Moses in a ridiculous as well as a painful position. We may suppose that when the question was asked, "Whatever can we have been brought here for?" some of the wits of Israel would reply, "There is no room in Egypt to bury us, and so we are brought to be buried here." Then this sharp speech, quickly flying from lip to lip, as clever things usually do, would in no long time become the well-nigh universal thought. We have then here to consider the evils of sarcastic speech. That such speech may do good sometimes, and sometimes be necessary, need not be denied. But inasmuch as the temptation is almost entirely the other way, we may dismiss as needless the work of considering what benefits there may be in sarcastic speech. The ills of sarcasm have so far outweighed the good, that we had better set ourselves earnestly to consider them. Is it not to be presumed that fewer such sayings would fall from our lips, if only we habitually considered all the ill effects that may flow from such a way of speaking?
I. CONSIDER THE PAIN INFLICTED BY SARCASTIC SPEECH. There may be a great deal of pain inflicted where no sense of pain is expressed. Moses does not here take any notice of this bitter, clever, far-echoing word about the graves; but thereby, he only gives another illustration of his characteristic natural meekness. He may have felt, and felt deeply, even though he did not speak. If, indeed, he reckoned nothing of these words, we should hardly think so well of him. To be what is called thick-skinned is not good, if it is meant thereby that one has no perception of the insolent, inconsiderate language of others. Lack of sensibility to pain means a corresponding lack of sensibility to pleasure. We can no more avoid feeling pain when a harsh word is spoken, than when we receive a cut or a blow. No doubt it is pleasant to say sharp, clever things; but the pleasure is a momentary one, an entirely selfish one; it will not bear thinking about; and it may inflict a durable pain. Sharp words may be like barbed arrows that not all the lapse of years can work out of the memory. Assuredly we must not shrink from inflicting pain, if duty, affection, and prudence point that way; but we had need to be very sure of the indications. To inflict bodily pain for our own pleasure is admittedly an unchristian thing; and yet what a monstrous inconsistency is revealed in the fact that persons who would not tread on a worm, are constantly found inflicting the intensest pain by the words they speak. Knock a man down, and you might do him less harm than by the few words that pass so lightly, easily, and pleasantly between your lips. Less harm is done by the fist than by the tongue.
II. CONSIDER THE INJUSTICE DONE BY IT. Sarcastic speeches never can be true speeches. If they were true, it would be no justification of them, but in the very nature of things they cannot be true. They must have about them, more or less, elements of the false and exaggerated. If a thing is to be sharp at all, there is an irresistible temptation to make it as sharp and striking as possible; and truth cannot but suffer in the process. Epigrams are always to be distrusted. How clearly the injustice of sharp sayings comes out in the illustration before us! The speech about these graves was a witty, clever one, but how unjust! As it happened, Moses was under no responsibility whatever for bringing the Israelites to this particular place. lie had not been left to use his own judgment and discretion, but was as much under the guidance of the cloudy pillar as all the rest. Hence from this illustration we receive a slight warning that we may not only be inflicting pain, Which is much, but injustice, which is a great deal more. You who would not steal the least fragment of a man's property, be equally careful to speak no word which may do hurt to his reputation. Speak that you may inflict no pain; speak also that you may do no injustice.
III. CONSIDER THE PERIL TO THE SPEAKER HIMSELF. Cleverness is a perilous, and not unfrequently a fatal gift. To be sharper than our neighbours may prove in the end a dangerous thing for our own interests. Some who are admired, courted, widely spoken about, for their powers of mimicry, find in the end that it might have been far more for their comfort and permanent well-being, if they had been of only commonplace abilities. To be admired is a poor satisfaction, mere dust and ashes, if it has to stand instead of being loved. Make fun of other people, seize without mercy on their weaknesses, their follies and their natural defects, and the chances are that you will find yourself exposed, in turn, to like treatment. Those who attack with sharp speeches are just the men who deserve—if they always got their deserts, and it were expedient to retaliate—equally sharp speeches in return. What about these Israelites here? Did they not by talking in this fashion show clearly what a mean, miserable company they were? They hurt themselves far more than they hurt Moses. There is hardly one who takes pride in what he calls his plain speaking, but might be pilloried himself, and greeted with sarcastic speeches as severe as any he had uttered, and probably more charged with truth. And the worst of all is, that in the end those habituated to evil-speaking may find themselves forsaken in their own great need. We need friends, and, if we would have them, we must show ourselves friendly. If we go through the world constantly replenishing our sarcastic quiver with arrows, and stretching the bow on every slight provocation, then we must expect people to give us a wide berth; and when at last we come to be stricken ourselves, it will be no matter of just complaint if we are left well-nigh alone.
IV. CONSIDER HOW MUCH GOOD IS THWARTED AND NEUTRALISED BY THIS WAY OF SPEAKING. We may flatter ourselves that there is good to be gained in making folly ridiculous, and so there may be; but it can only be when the speaker is one of great wisdom, goodness, and habitual elevation of life. Certainly we find in the Scriptures the language of solemn irony from God himself; but his words are above our criticism, and we are not at liberty to speak as he speaks. We are all upon the same level of sin, ignorance, and partial views, and must speak as remembering this level. To affect authority and superior station will be ruinous to all good effects from any remonstrance of ours. Whatever truth is revealed to us, and put upon our consciences to speak, must be spoken in love, in humility, and in the very best season we can find. If it is really our desire to win others to better, wiser and manlier courses, we had better not begin with sharp speeches. True it may be that the world is mostly made up of fools, and perhaps there is no occasion when we do more to prove our own place in the large company than when, in our contempt and impatience, we call other people fools. We are not then behaving as fishers of men. We are not then becoming all things to all men in order to save some. Many a Christian has had to sorrow for his imperfect control over the gift of intellectual quickness. Before his conversion, he used his gift of wit, repartee, and ludicrous conception with careless freedom and delight, not staying to consider whom he hurt, whom he hindered. Then when such a one submits at last to the true lord of the intellect, he finds it hard, in this matter in particular, to bring his thoughts into captivity to the obedience of Christ.
V. GOD'S PEOPLE MUST THEMSELVES PREPARE TO BE SARCASTICALLY AND BITTERLY SPOKEN OF. Only let each one of us consider his own temptation to say hard things, and then we shall cease to wonder that hard things are said of us. We cannot expect to receive from others, but as we give to them. Anyway we must be ready for hard things, ready in particular for hard speeches. Where Christ went, his people must go; and he went in a path where he was called a gluttonous man and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. If he was sneered at on the very Cross, it is babyish on our part to complain because the world sneers at us in the comparatively easy paths we have to tread. Our strength, our joy, and our serenity must not depend on the world's opinion. Moses was getting a hint even thus early that he must not expect consideration from his brethren, with respect to his feelings and difficulties. The joys of Moses were to be got from quite another direction, even from the assiduous tenderness of Jehovah himself.
VI. CULTIVATE A HABIT OF PITIFUL CONSIDERATION TOWARDS THE MEN OF SARCASTIC SPEECH. Remember that they are not happy men. How can a man be happy whose eye is for ever lighting on the blots and loathsome ulcers of human nature; who seems to have a morbid acuteness of vision with respect to them, but to become purblind when noble and Divinely-produced elements of character appear? Such a man is to be pitied with Christ's own gentle pity. Do not meet his sarcasm with sarcasm, but here emphatically return good for evil. Force him to see that there is a great deal more in the world, if only he will look for it, than duplicity, selfishness, and stupidity. Show him how to discern, even in the jostling and wrangling crowd, men who have in them the mind which was in Christ.—Y.
HOMILIES BY H.T. ROBJOHNS
The passage of the Red Sea.
"Fear ye not, stand still (firm), and see the salvation of God" (Exodus 14:13). Mark, by way of introduction, the critical character of this event, the greatest in Old Testament history. Lay solid foundations for sermonic treatment by describing first the scene, expounding the history, and then evolving the truths in the history.
I. THE SCENE. In the Gospels, the spiritual significance is almost independent of topography. Only two or three scenes (e.g; Jacob's well: the ridge whence Jesus saw from Olivet the city and wept over it), can be absolutely and certainly identified. But here sermon and story are inextricably blended with sea and shore. Note! twice change of direction:
(1) not by way of Philistia:
(2) not by caravan road, round by the mouth of the western arm of the Red Sea; but brought into a position of extreme danger, with the sea roaring between Israel and the freedom of the desert. The writer of this section of the commentary believes, that Israel encamped on what is now known as the plain of Suez, the sea reaching then much further north than now. Any detailed map will show—that there Israel would have the sea on the east, hills to north and south, an open valley to the west, along which the Egyptian forces would charge. Deepen the impression, that these two millions of people, some indeed armed, but not yet organised, with women, children, and the aged, were in a position utterly hopeless. It was a situation of despair—but that which is impossible with man is possible with God.
II. THE HISTORY. One of the objects should be to vivify and make very real to the hearers, the histories of the Old Testament, which sometimes seem so very far away from modern thought and life. With this intent, bring out clearly, by aid of exposition elsewhere, points like these:—probably seven days elapsed between the Passover and the song on the eastern shore of the sea, occupied thus:—
1. By Israel. On the 15th, to Succeth, fifteen miles; on the 16th, to Etham, fifteen miles; on the 17th, to the dangerous position by the sea; on the 18th, 19th, and 20th, encamped there, completing arrangements for the pilgrimage to Sinai and Palestine.
2. By Egypt. Every movement watched by the government; night of 15th, report from Succoth; of the 16th, from Etham; morning of the 17th, courier could carry in a few hours, over the thirty miles, intelligence that Israel had taken the wrong (?) road. Sudden determination of the king. Had three days to overtake. Called together six hundred picked chariots, other chariots, infantry, and led in person. On the afternoon of the 20th, the pickets of Israel saw far away the force coming over the sand ridges. Horror of the two millions. The splendid cities of tombs in Egypt rose to the memory. But here soon a sort of gigantic anticipation of Isandula. A cry against Moses, and unto Jehovah. The moral attitude of Moses mixed—cheer for the people—a fainting heart before God. His silent prayer. "The upward glancing of an eye." The word of assurance. "Forward." The movement of what must have been, in this instance, wall of cloud and fire, to give soft electric light to Israel and over the sea, to be darkness to Egypt, and to cover the greatest military movement in all history. The short time demanded perfect order. Then came the ploughshare of the east winch In the confusion and darkness, Egypt eagerly followed. The look out of the cloud, shot with thunderbolt—a lock which meant ruin. Sea rolls back from the rear of Egypt. Chariot clashes against chariot. Wheels lost. On the night of the 14th Israel became a nation. On the morning of the 21st the nation was free.
1. Neither first nor even second openings in life are always into the way God intends us to take. A common error to suppose that any opening is "providential." Not via Philistia: nor the caravan road to Sinai. God's object to develop moral thoughtfulness, and the scrutiny of apparent leading. E.g; Will this course imperil my principle, lead into temptation, and ruin my soul?
2. Seemingly hopeless entanglement may have great issues. Moral firmness developed: dependence upon God. Salvation complete, and anthem of victory.
3. The temper for crisis is that of calm confidence. No panic! Had there been panic, Israel had been food for Egyptian sabres! "Stand firm!" (see Hebrews) Apply this to state of religion; things social, political, at home and abroad; to affairs personal.
4. Confidence should express itself in prayer. Note the difference: the cry of Israel, and the evidently silent appeal of Moses.
5. Action must follow prayer. "Wherefore criest," etc; an intimation that prayer was already answered; and now Moses to the front, and every man to his post.
6. When God leads into danger, He will certainly see us safely through it. If wantonly and wilfully we go into danger, we may (through mercy) be delivered; if on Divine leading, we shall. E.g; going into some scene of vice, out of curiosity, or worse motive; on the other hand, at the request of a distant friend, to save a soul. Difference between presumption and courage.
7. Salvations of God are ever timely and complete.
8. After God's great salvation comes, the dumbness of amazement, and after the dumbness, song. "Jehovah shall fight for you, and ye shall be dumb." (Hebrews 14:31; 15:1; Revelation 15:2-4.)—R.
GOD'S ANSWER TO MOSES' PRAYER. To the faithful prayer of Moses, albeit pitched perhaps in too low a key, God made gracious answer. A "cry" had been unnecessary, since his word was already pledged to bring his people safe to Canaan, and to get himself honour upon Pharaoh in connection with the pursuit (Exodus 14:4). But, as the appeal has been made, he responds with a plain statement of what has now to be done:—
1. The Israelites are to make themselves ready for a forward movement (Exodus 14:15);
2. Moses is to stretch oat his rod over the Red Sea, and it will be divided;
3. The Israelites are then to make the passage on dry ground;
4. The Egyptians are to follow, and then honour is to be gotten upon them; and they are to know by the result that God is indeed Jehovah.
Exodus 14:15, Exodus 14:16
Wherefore criest thou to me? It is evident that Moses, while boldly encouraging the people, himself needed the support and consolation of prayer. The SyriActs translator shows us that he divined the fact aright, when he without authority intruded the words, "Moses then cried to Jehovah." The form of the Divine reply to his prayer seems to indicate a certain amount of reproach, as if Moses himself had become unduly anxious. Speak unto the children of Israel that they go forward. The Israelites were not to rest in their encampment, but to form in line of march, and descend to the very shore of the sea, and there hold themselves in readiness. Moses was to lift up his rod—the rod with which his other miracles had been wrought—and stretch out his hand over the sea, and then the drying up was to begin. Thus was most of the night passed.
I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians. Here, and here only, are the hearts of the Egyptians generally said to have been "hardened." Whatever meaning we attach to the expression, there will be no more difficulty in applying it to them than to Pharaoh. They had made themselves partakers in the monarch's guilt by mustering in hot haste when he summoned them, and had allowed themselves to revel in the anticipation of plunder and carnage (Exodus 15:9). Under such circumstances, the general laws which govern human nature would be quite sufficient to make their hearts grow hard. They shall follow them. Upon this act—rash, if the phenomenon had been a mere natural one—presumptuous and infatuated if the drying up were regarded as miraculous—depended altogether the destruction of the Egyptians. They had only to have "stood still" and allowed the escape, which a week previously they had done their best to encourage, in order to have remained safe and unhurt. It was their stupidity and blood-thirstiness which alone brought them into any danger. Upon his horsemen. Rather "his chariotmen." See the comment on Exodus 14:9.
The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord. All Egypt would learn the destruction of the host, and the circumstances under which it occurred, whose miraculous nature could not be concealed. And the consequence would be a wide recognition of the superior might of Jehovah, the God of Israel, over that of any of the Egyptian deities. More than this the Egyptians were not likely to admit under any circumstances.
The reward of faith.
God rewarded the faith and trust of Moses by a revelation of the manner of that deliverance which he so confidently expected. Hitherto the manner had been involved in mystery; and it is scarcely likely that any one had even conjectured it as a possible thing. There was no precedent for such an interference with the laws of nature; and the thought could scarcely occur to the imagination of any one. But, to reward his faithful servant, to quiet his anxiety, and give definiteness to his expectations of deliverance, God now plainly revealed the mode in which he would save his people. God is ever "a rewarder of them that diligently seek him," and especially rewards faith. The faith of Abraham, which made him trust God's promise to create of him a great nation, when as yet he had no child, obtained for him the gift of Canaan and the covenant of circumcision. The faith of Noah, who believed God's threat of a deluge, which all the rest of the world scorned, saved him and his family from perishing by water. The faith of Enoch, by which he "walked with God" though he could not see him—caused God to "take him." Faith brings us, to a certainty,—
1. The present blessing of an assured trust which nothing can imperil;
2. Quietness and confidence—the feeling that we may "stand still and see the salvation of God;"
3. Freedom from panic fears and unworthy apprehensions;
4. Cheerfulness and hopefulness—a conviction that God will give us what is best for us. Faith may also, by God's mercy, obtain for us further gifts in the future—blessings not naturally arising out of it, but added to it as rewards by God, and signs of his approval.
The faith of Moses was ultimately rewarded,
1. By success in the great object of his life—the liberation of his people and their safe-conduct through all the perils of the wilderness to the verge of Canaan;
2. By God's approval of him as "Moses, the servant of the Lord" (Deuteronomy 34:5); and
3. By the vision of Canaan from Pisgah.
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
Speak unto the children of Israel that they go forward!
I. FORWARD!—GOD'S CONSTANT INJUNCTION TO HIS CHURCH. The law of Christian life is advance. God never brings his Church or people into positions from which retreat is necessary, or in which advance is impossible. We may bring ourselves into false positions of this kind, but God never leads us into them. In proportion as we surrender ourselves to his guidance, we may depend on being conducted always "forward." There is no instance in the whole history of the Old or New Testament Church in which, while God's guidance was followed, retreat had to be made. Forward!
(1) In Christian attainments.
(2) In holy living.
(3) In labours for the advancement of Christ's kingdom.
(4) In missionary enterprise.
(5) In doing good to our fellow-men.
II. FORWARD!—IN CONTRAST WITH VAIN LAMENTATIONS, AND UNBECOMING EXPOSTULATIONS WITH PROVIDENCE. These do no good, but much harm. They betray an unbelieving spirit. ]f God brings us into situations of trial, the fact that it is he who brings us into them is of itself a pledge that with the trial, he will make also a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13). When the foe bears hard upon us, we should, instead of losing heart, rather feel that the time has come for getting everything in readiness for advance—the "great door and effectual" must be on the very point of opening.
III. FORWARD!—BY THE WAY WHICH GOD MAKES FOR US. At the same moment that he is saying—"Speak unto the children of Israel that they go forward," he is doubtless commissioning some Moses to stretch out his rod over the sea, to open up the way for us. God never says "Forward," without at the same time opening the way.
IV. FORWARD!—WITH GOOD HEART, STRONG HOPE, AND FIRM ASSURANCE OF BEING PROTECTED ON THE JOURNEY. Going forward at God's word, the Israelites were assured of God's protection. They were certain of reaching the further shore in safety. No fear of the waves rushing back, and burying them. Pharaoh pursued, but he was not permitted to capture them, and was himself overthrown. We may confront any perils, if duty calls, and God goes with us. Cf. Luther at Worms.—J.O.
HOMILIES BY J. URQUHART
Obedience necessary to salvation.
I. THE DUTY OF THOSE WHO ARE LEADERS AMONG THEIR BRETHREN IN TIMES OF TRIAL.
1. There is a time for action as well as prayer: "Wherefore criest thou unto me?"
(1) The time of the leader must not be spent in prayer only—there are arrangements to make and needs to meet. In times of difficulty God asks for obedience. A path of love, of forgiveness of injuries, of some service, lies right before us as our duty in that hour. True faith will walk in it. This too is an appeal to our Father as well as prayer.
(2) Unbelief may hide itself behind a form of devotion.
2. To speak to them that they go forward.
3. To do what God bids them in opening up their brethren's way. "Lift thou up thy rod." The lifting up of the rod seemed a vain thing, but it clove a path for Israel through the heart of the sea. Our service for our brethren in the day of their trouble may cleave a way for them. A people's progress may be hindered by a leader's indolence and selfishness.
II. GOD'S UNCEASING WORKING ON HIS PEOPLE'S BEHALF (Exodus 14:17, Exodus 14:18).
1. His mercy was veiled, but he was working still. The very pursuit of the foe was from him.
2. Egypt had still to receive one crowning lesson regarding Jehovah's might and unfailing guardianship of his people. When foes pursue, when sins rise up to recover their former sway, it is that God may destroy the one and judge the other.—U.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
God completes the deliverance of the Israelites from Pharaoh and removes their terror.
I. NOTE THE WAY IN WHICH MOSES MEETS THE COMPLAINTS OF THE ISRAELITES. They had addressed to him sarcastic, flippant, and in every way unworthy speeches. They were not so filled with fear, not so occupied with the troubles of their own hearts, but that they could find a malignant delight in striving to make him ridiculous. This mingling of feelings on their part, fear mingled with hate, makes the single-heartedness of his reply all the more manifest and beautiful. The time is not one for him to stand on his own dignity, or bandy sharp language with mean men, even were his character such as to incline him that way. There is but a step from the sublime to the ridiculous; in one sense he makes that step, and by his noble, impressive exhortation, he at once sweeps the ridiculous out of the path of the sublime. The subject of the grave surely is never a seemly one for jesting; and the jesting was unseemliest of all at this present hour. One almost sees these little, pert jokers retreating into the background before the great believer. They would not trouble him again for a while. It was not Israel that had come out of Egypt seeking for graves, but Pharaoh and his host. These murmurers did indeed find graves in the wilderness by and by; but it was for a subsequent transgression. It is part of the peculiar pathos of human life that no one can tell where he must die and be buried. So much then with respect to the meek and comely attitude—true attitude of a prophet of God—which Moses here assumed. He rises clear above the little men of the crowd, for God has taken him out, in particular, with a high hand, and now what shall the matter of his answer be? He does not turn towards God doubtfully. (Contrast his conduct here with his conduct in Exodus 5:22-23.) The peril is to the natural eye overwhelming, but it is not peril to him, for God has filled him with the spirit of faith. He himself, unfearing, can tell the people not to fear. He himself, calmly expectant that some great deliverance is on the way, can recommend, his face not belying his tongue, the same calm expectancy to the people. Let them stand still and wait, instead of rushing hither and thither, weakening themselves still more by their disorder. Moses, exactly comprehending that the position is one in which man can do nothing, and God must do everything, presses this view on his brethren. What is his personal dignity, his amour-propre, compared with the glorious view to be opened out to them? Here is a lesson then, when people speak to us out of little envies and personal grudges. Reply by directing them to great soul-filling truths. Lead, if you can, mean, grovelling souls to the mountain top. Give them the chance of seeing the wide inheritance of the saints; and if they cannot take it in, then the loss, and the responsibility of the loss, is theirs.
II. NOTE THE INSTRUCTIONS WHICH GOD GIVES TO MOSES, Exodus 14:15-18. These instructions, astounding as they must have seemed at the time, were, nevertheless, eminently practical. Those who bear the name of practical among men are those who keep well within what is reckoned possible by the ordinary judgment. Men of the Columbus type, such as great discoverers and great inventors, have to bear for long enough the name of being mere visionaries, day-dreamers, wasters of life. But God's practicality is to set his servants at once to things reckoned impossible. His directions are very simple: "Go forward." He waits till the people are indeed shut up on every hand, and then he says, "Go forward." They were to continue in the same direction, and that led onward to the sea. This was the appointed path to the mountain where they were to serve God. Yes; and if the path had been through the rocky steeps which enclosed them, God could have dissolved those steeps away. Or if it had been through Pharaoh's host, he could have smitten that host utterly, as he afterwards did Sennacherib's. Notice that in this command there is another proving of faith. First, with regard to Moses. For it will be observed that there is nothing to show that Moses knew anything of what would happen in the Red Sea, until God now made it known. Probably during the whole course of the plagues, the precise nature of each plague was revealed to Moses only just as it was approaching. And so here, in this new imprisonment, he was quietly waiting for light to come from God, well knowing that sufficient would be done to deliver Israel—that God had led his people into this entanglement, not without a perfectly definite purpose, and that the end of all would be the destruction of the Egyptians. But he knew not any more than the least child in Israel, until just beforehand, how all this was to be brought about. There was also a great proving of the faith of the people. God has a command for them, and it is one requiring great faith. Notice how appropriately it comes on, as the climax of past treatment. We have seen the Israelites sharing at first in the suffering of the Egyptian plagues. After a while, the district in which they reside is exempted from the plagues. Then when the first-born are smitten, the Israelites, by their obedience to Jehovah's instructions, escape the blow. And now at last their escape is to be completed by again obeying Jehovah's instructions, and equally in the obedience of a pure faith. But mark the most important advance and development of faith, which is here illustrated. Two quite different states of mind are brought out by slaying the passover lamb in faith, and by going towards and through the Red Sea in faith. To slay the passover lamb is to do a thing for which no reason is given but the command of God. But it is a thing which plainly can be done. It involves no peril; there is no appearance of impossibility about it; the only temptation is to think it useless, a superfluous reasonless form. On the other hand, it is perfectly plain that passage through the Red Sea will provide escape. The question is, can such a passage be gained, and therein the temptation lies—In slaying the passover lamb, the Israelites had to humble their intellects before Divine wisdom; in advancing to the Red Sea, they had to show the utmost confidence in Divine power. We must steadily believe that all God commands is useful and necessary; we must also steadily believe that all which is fit for him to do, he most assuredly can do. It is a matter deserving consideration that Jehovah should have given such a command, seeing the state of unbelief and carnality in which the Israelites evidently were. They had not spoken like men ready for such an awful miracle. But we can see certain things which made obedience easier. For one thing, God had shut them up to it. If they had been taken down to the Red Sea, with no Pharaoh behind, with no enclosing mountains on either hand, they might have rebelled. But circumstances lent a strong compulsive aid. We know not what we can do, what triumphs of faith we can achieve till God shuts us up to them. Then there was something also in the sight of the rod. God commanded Moses to exhibit something which had already been associated with wonderful deeds. Thus we see God making plain to Israel the way out of their peril, and so far all is definite. But this being told, the definite immediately shades away into the indefinite. The indefinite mark, but not therefore the uncertain. All is manifest and straightforward with regard to the Israelites; they are to be safe. But what about Pharaoh and his army? We remember Peter's question to Jesus concerning John (John 21:21). "Lord, what shall this man do?" So Moses might have questioned Jehovah—"Lord, what is to happen to Pharaoh?' Something on this matter Jehovah does say, just enough to preserve confidence, attention and expectation; but for the details Moses and Israel must wait a little longer. Meanwhile an inspiring hint is given of great judgment, great humiliation, and for Jehovah himself, great glory. Here the information stops; and here we again notice the eminent practicality of God's instructions. For the day's need and for our own need God gives us the amplest guidance; but what is to happen to our enemies, and exactly how they are to be removed he keeps within his own knowledge, as within his own power. The proper answer to all impious and curious pryings on our part is that which Jesus gave to Peter—"What is that to thee? follow thou me."
III. NOTE THE CONSEQUENT DEALINGS OF JEHOVAH IN DELIVERING ISRAEL AND DESTROYING THE EGYPTIANS.
1. The altered position of the cloudy pillar. The angel of God removed and went behind. By the angel of God is possibly meant the pillar itself. Just as the burning bush is described as a messenger of God (Exodus 3:2), so here there seems an indicating of the cloudy pillar as another messenger. Just at this moment it was not wanted for purposes of guidance. Indeed it would not have proved sufficient for these purposes. Jehovah had found it needful himself to intervene and signify by unmistakable words, the way in which he would have the people go. The cloudy pillar was enough for guidance only as long as the Israelites were in open and ordinary paths. But where it could not be used for guidance, it could be used for defence. God's messengers can easily change their use. The cloud, by changing its place, hindered Egypt, and thereby helped Israel. Nor did it help Israel in this way alone; the boon was a positive as much as a negative one. Surely this was a marvellous cloud, for it had in it darkness as well as light. Thus it served a double purpose. Hiding Israel from the Egyptian eyes, it proved the best of fortifications. But at the same time it shone upon the Israelites and gave them the benefits of day with the immunities of night. They could put everything in perfect order for the march, so as to take it the moment the way through the sea was ready. Imagine that miraculous light shining down on that miraculous path, even from end to end; just like a light shining down a street; and as it were pointing Israel onward, even though it stood behind them. Thus we are made to think of all the double aspect of the work of Jesus, how at the same time he confounds his enemies and guides and cheers his friends. Consider this especially in connection with his resurrection. On the one hand he abolished death; on the other he brought life and immortality to light.
2. The obedience of Moses and the Israelites to the Divine command. As we have noticed, all this had been well prepared for beforehand. Moses had been led up to it, and so had Israel; and therefore when the moment came, there was no hesitation. After what has been already said there is no need to dwell on this actual obedience. It is enough to note in passing, that God having duly arranged all conspiring causes, the effect followed as a matter of course. But now we come to the point of main interest in the closing section of this chapter, namely,
3. The conduct, treatment, and ultimate fate of the Egyptians. There is first, their infatuated advance. They go down in the path which Jehovah had made for Israel as if it was to remain a path for them. The Egyptians were too full of their purpose, too full of the spirit of vengeance and greed to notice their danger, even though it was a danger of the most obvious kind. They might have gone into certain positions where a miracle would have been required to put them in danger; but here the miracle is already wrought, and these enemies of Jehovah and Jehovah's people advance, as if the piled-up waters were thus to remain, their shape settled for ages to come, just like the shape of the solid hills around. The only thing to explain their conduct is the momentum that had been produced in their own breasts. It was with them just as it is with the runner when he has gained a certain speed. Suppose in his headlong career he comes to a chasm, stop he cannot. Either he must clear the chasm or fall into it. The next point to be noticed is God's treatment of them in their advance. The whole progress of affairs is exactly arranged so as to produce the deliverance of Israel and the destruction of Pharaoh. The very nearness of Pharaoh and his army to the Israelites, instead of proving ruin to them, only more effectually proves ruin to him. Some of the more timid among the Israelites might be tempted to say, "Oh! that the waters would return, immediately the last Israelite is ashore; let the great barrier be set between us and Pharaoh as soon as possible." But such a course would only have secured a present safety at the expense of a future one. Jehovah has a far better way of working than any which human panic can suggest. He lets the Egyptians go on until the whole army is in the midst of the sea, and then he who has truly proved himself a man of war opens the last decisive battle by making the chariots useless. Nay, not only were they useless; they seem to have become a hindrance and a terror. Jehovah neither hastens nor lingers; he smites at the right time, and therefore he smites effectually; and now we are called to listen to a resolution made too late. "Let us flee from the face of Israel." If only they had been wise in time, they would not have had to flee at all. What were they doing in the midst of the Red Sea? Nay more, what were they doing out of their own country? They had trifled and trifled with danger after danger, and now they had trifled beyond escape. It is no time to talk of flight when the door of the trap has fallen. The waters are on the point of returning; the ordinary course of nature is about to assert itself. Why should that course be interrupted one moment longer, simply to preserve a host of proud and dangerous men. The great lesson from Pharaoh's fall is to be wise in time. Flee from the wrath to come ] there is a possibility of that; but when the wrath has come, who then shall flee? (Revelation 6:16-17).
IV. NOTE THE IMPRESSION SAID TO HAVE BEEN PRODUCED ON THE MINDS OF THE ISRAELITES. Verse 31. More desirable words surely could not be spoken of any people than that they fear Jehovah and believe in him and his servants. The fear and the faith, however, must be of the right sort, arising out of a right state of the heart, and cleaving to God through all the vicissitudes of circumstance. Such unfortunately was not the fear and faith of these Israelites. We must have heart knowledge of God's character, and come to understand how necessary it is to pass through a shaking of the things that can be shaken in order that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. Then we shall fear as we ought to fear, and believe as we ought to believe. Y.
THE PASSAGE OF THE RED SEA. The Egyptians had arrived in the near neighbourhood of the Israelite camp, at the close of a long day's march, towards evening. Having ascertained that the fugitives were still, as they had expected them to be, shut in between the sea and the wilderness, they were content, and made no immediate attack, but encamped over against them. Hereupon, "the pillar of the cloud," which was at the time in front of the Israelite camp—probably near the point where God intended the passage of the sea to be effected "removed" from this position, and placed itself directly behind the Israelite encampment, between them and the Egyptians. This movement alone was calculated to alarm the latter, and prevent them from stirring till near daybreak; but, the better to secure their inaction, the pillar was made to overshadow them with a deep and preternatural darkness, so that it became almost impossible for them to advance. Meanwhile, on the side which was turned towards the Israelites, the pillar presented the appearance of a bright flame, lighting up the whole encampment, and rendering it as easy to make ready for the march as it would have been by day. Thus, the beasts were collected and laden the columns marshalled and prepared to proceed in a certain fixed order—and everything made ready for starting so soon as the bed of the sea should be sufficiently dry. Moses, about nightfall, descending to the water's edge, stretched forth his rod over the waves, and, an east wind at once springing up—accompanied perhaps by a strong ebb of the tide—the waters of the gulf were parted in the vicinity of the modern Suez, and a dry space left between the Bitter Lakes, which were then a prolongation of the Gulf, and the present sea-bed. The space may have been one of considerable width. The Israelites entering upon it, perhaps about midnight, accomplished the distance, which may not have exceeded a mile, with all their belongings, in the course of five or six hours, the pillar of the cloud withdrawing itself, as the last Israelites entered the sea-bed, and retiring after them like a rearguard. Thus protected, they made the transit in safety, and morning saw them encamped upon the shores of Asia.
The angel of God. The Divine Presence, which manifested itself in the pillar of the cloud, is called indifferently "the Lord" (Exodus 13:21; Exodus 14:24), and "the Angel of God"—just as the appearance to Moses in the burning bush is termed both "God" and "the angel of the Lord" (Exodus 3:2). Which went before—i.e.; "which ordinarily, and (so to speak) habitually preceded the camp" (Exodus 13:21; Psalms 78:14). And stood behind them. Took up a fixed station for the night, or the greater portion of it.
It was a cloud and darkness to them, but it gave light by night to these. Though there is nothing in the Hebrew correspondent to the expressions "to them," "to these," yet the meaning seems to have been rightly apprehended By our translators. (See the Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan, the SyriActs version, and among moderns, Knobel, Maurer, Rosenmuller, and Kalisch.)
Moses stretched out his hand. As commanded by God (Exodus 14:16). Compare the somewhat similar action of Elijah and Elisha, when they divided the Jordan (2 Kings 2:8, 2 Kings 2:14). The Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind. The LXX. translate "a strong south wind" (ἐν ἀνέμῳ νότῳ βιαίῳ); but the Hebrew kadim is certainly "east" rather than "south." It is not, however, "east" in the sense of due east, but would include all the range of the compass between N.E. and S.E. If we suppose the Bitter Lakes to have been joined to the Red Sea by a narrow and shallow channel, the action of a south-east wind, by driving the water of the Lakes northward, may have easily produced the effect described in the text. A simultaneous ebb of the lower gulf would have further facilitated the passage. The waters were divided. Water remained in the upper extremity of the Gulf, now the site of the Bitter Lakes, and also, of course, below Suez. The portion of the sea dried up lay probably between the present southern extremity of the Bitter Lakes and Suez. By the gradual elevation and desiccation of the region, it has passed into permanent dry land.
The waters were a wall—i.e; a protection, a defence. Pharaoh could not attack them on either flank, on account of the two bodies of water between which their march lay. He could only come at them by following after them. The metaphor has been by some understood literally, especially on account of the expression in Exodus 15:8—"The floods stood upright as an heap;" and again that in Psalms 78:13—"He made the waters to stand as an heap." But those phrases, occurring in poems, must be taken as poetical; and can scarcely have any weight in determining the meaning of "wall" here. We must ask ourselves—is there not an economy and a restraint in the exertion by God even of miraculous power?—is more used than is needed for the occasion?—and would not all that was needed at this time have been effected by such a division of the sea as we have supposed, without the fluid being converted into a solid, or having otherwise the laws of its being entirely altered. Kalisch's statement, that the word "wall" here is "not intended to convey the idea of protection, but only of hardness and solidity," seems to us the very reverse of the truth. Protection is at any rate the main idea, and any other is secondary and subordinate.
God protects his own, but in strange ways.
The passage of the Red Sea was the crowning miracle by which God effected the deliverance of his people from the bondage of Egypt; and all its circumstances were strange and worthy of notice.
I. THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD, WHICH HAD BEEN WONT TO LEAD THEM, REMOVED AND WENT BEHIND THEM. They had to enter the dark and slimy bed from which the sea had retired without the cheering sight of the Divine presence before their eyes beckoning them on. So there are occasions of trial in the life of every man, when God ,seems to withdraw his presence, to remove himself, to "go behind us," so that we cannot see him. Sometimes he withdraws himself in grief or in anger; but more often he does it in mercy. The temporary obscuration will advantage the soul under the circumstances. There is perhaps some secular work to be done which requires all its attention, like this passage, where every step had to be taken with care. Short separations are said to intensify affection; and the sense of the Divine presence is more valued after a withdrawal, like the sun's light after an eclipse.
II. THE PILLAR OF THE CLOUD, WHICH HAD BEEN WONT TO BE ALL SMOKE, OR ALL FIRE, WAS NOW BOTH AT ONCE. "It came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel; and it was a cloud and darkness to them, but it gave light by night to these." The eye sees that which it has within itself the power of seeing. To the godly the presence of God is a joy and a delight, a brightness and a radiance. To the ungodly it is an awful and alarming thing, a cloud which mars their enjoyment. When Jesus was on earth, there were those among the inhabitants of Palestine who "besought him to depart out of their coasts" (Matthew 8:34). The ungodly fear to look upon God. He is to them dark, mysterious, terrible. The sense of his presence paralyses them—they cannot stir till it is removed. But to the godly, it is "light in the darkness"—it illuminates mind and soul and spirit—it cheers and brightens the path of life—it irradiates even the obscurest gulf that we have to traverse. Let us bear in mind that when the Divine presence is removed from before our eyes, it is still in no case far from us. If at any time we do not see God, he at all times sees us. We have only to make an effort, and we can in a short time recover our perception of his presence.
III. BY MEANS OF A STRONG EAST WIND THE WATERS WERE DIVIDED, UPON MOSES STRETCHING OUT HIS HAND OVER THE SEA. We may note here,
1. The weakness of the instrument. The rod of Moses, stretched over the sea, or towards the sea, from some vantage-point on the shore—how small a thing was this! How incapable in itself of producing any important effect! Yet in the providence of God, it was made a link in the chain of causation by which was brought about one of the greatest events in the whole course of mundane history. Must we not conclude from this, that, when God appoints means, however weak and trivial they may be in themselves, they become at once by his appointment, matters of the highest consequence? Again we may note,
2. The employment of a natural agency, insufficient in itself to accomplish the end, yet having a natural tendency towards its accomplishment. God, the author of nature, uses nature as a help towards accomplishing his ends, even when the help is but small. Our Lord fed the 5000 and the 4000, by means of loaves and fishes already existing, though the material which they furnished could but have gone a short way. He anointed the blind man's eyes with spittle and clay, and bade him "go, wash in the pool of Siloam," using means which were to some extent reputed salutary, but which of themselves could never have restored sight. So with the east wind. We must not suppose that it divided the sea by its own natural force. God used it, as he used the spittle and the clay, and made it accomplish his purpose, not by its own force but by his own power. And so generally with the forces which seem to remove obstacles from the path of God's people in this life—they are potent through his agency, because he sets them to work, and works through them.
IV. THE SEA, ON WHICH PHARAOH COUNTED FOB THEIR DESTRUCTION, BECAME FIRST THEIR DEFENCE AND THEN THEIR AVENGER. "The waters were a wall unto them." But for the two bodies of water, on their right and on their left, Pharaoh's force might have outflanked the host of Israel, and fallen upon it on three sides, or even possibly have surrounded it. God can at any time turn dangers into safeguards. When persecutors threaten the Church, he can turn their swords against each other, and allow the Church to pass on its way in peace. When temptations assault the soul, he can give the soul such strength, that it conquers them and they become aids to its progress. And with equal ease can he make the peril which menaces his faithful ones fall, not upon them, but upon their adversaries. The furnace heated to consume the "three children" destroyed none but those bitter persecutors who had arrested them and cast them into the fire (Daniel 3:22). The lions of Darius the Mede devoured, not Daniel, but "those men that had accused Daniel" (Daniel 6:24). The Jews, who had sought to destroy the infant Church by prejudicing the Romans against Christ (John 19:12) and his apostles (Acts 24:1-9), were themselves within forty years of Christ's death, conquered and almost exterminated by these same Romans. The ungodly are ever "falling into their own nets together," while the godly man for whom the nets are set "escapes them."
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
Exodus 14:19, Exodus 14:20
Light to the friend, darkness to the foe.
We are told that as the Israelites were about to cross the Red Sea, the fiery-cloudy pillar changed its position, and came between them and the Egyptians. It was the self-same pillar, but it wore a very different aspect to friends and foes respectively. "It was," we read, "a cloud of darkness to them (the Egyptians), but it gave light to these (the camp of Israel)." We should notice that the same double aspect belongs to all God's manifestations of himself, in Law and Gospel, in matter and spirit, in the world, and in the Church.
I. GOD'S ATTRIBUTES have this double aspect. Not one of his attributes but has a bright side turned to the believer, and a dark side to the wicked. This is true even of such attributes as holiness and justice, from which the believer, as a sinner, might seem to have most to fear. "Faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). So God's omnipotence, which is hostile to the transgressor, is pledged to defend, bless, and save the saint (1 Peter 1:5; Jud 1 Peter 1:24). God's eternity, in like manner, is given to the believer for a dwelling-place (Deuteronomy 33:27; Psalms 90:1), but how terrible an aspect it has to the evil-doer! The dark side of love is wrath. "If God be for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31). But on the other hand, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Hebrews 10:31).
II. GOD'S LAWS have this double aspect.
1. Physical laws. The constitution of nature is favourable to virtue, hostile to vice (See Butler's Analogy).
2. Moral law, for this, while awarding life to the obedient, is a ministry of condemnation to the sinner.
3. Mental and spiritual laws. Take e.g. the law of habit. "The law of habit, which applies alike to all our physical, mental, and moral actions, must be regarded in its design as a truly benevolent one. But the law of habit, when the soul yields to sin, works death to the sinner:—like the pillar of cloud which made day to Israel, and was darkness to the Egyptians, so the law, which is bright to the well-doer, sheds night upon the path of the sinner, until he is plunged into the sea of death" (Theodore D. Woolsey).
III. GOD'S WORD has this double aspect. To the prayerful, believing, docile mind, it is a source of unfailing light. It is a lamp to the feet and a light to the path (Psalms 119:105). But to the proud, the unbelieving, and the presumptuous, it is only darkness. These can see nothing in it but difficulties, incredibilities, contradictions, moral monstrosities. It is full of stumbling-blocks. The more they read it, the more are they blinded by it. They read only to discover some new fault or error.
IV. GOD'S VERY GOSPEL has this double aspect. "The preaching of the Cross is to them that perish foolishness, but to us who are saved it is the power of God" (1 Corinthians 1:18-24). It repels the one class, and attracts the other. To the one, it is a savour of life; to the other, a savour of death (2 Corinthians 2:16).—J.O.
HOMILIES BY J. URQUHART
The goodness and severity of God.
I. WHAT GOD IS TO HIS OWN IN THE DAY OF TROUBLE.
1. He comes between them and their foes. God's presence is between us and our enemies, and they can do no more against us than his love permits.
2. He is light to them in the time of peril.
3. The waters are divided before them However much our way may seem hedged in, God's arm will open up a path for us.
4. The way was not only a path of escape, but one of perfect safety; the waters were a wall to them upon the right hand and the left.
II. WHAT GOD IS TO HIS PEOPLE'S FOES.
1. Their path is wrapped in darkness. They cannot lay hold of the weakest of those who but a moment before seemed wholly in their power. They are perplexed and baffled.
2. Daring to follow they are filled with horror by the revelation that their contest is with the mighty God: they are face to face not with the servant, but the master.
3. Their progress is arrested (25).
4. They in vain attempt to flee. Men may flee to God; they cannot flee from God.
5. They are overwhelmed with destruction.
III. THE RESULT OF THE CONFLICT (31).
1. The people are filled with holy awe. "They feared Jehovah. God's judgments deepen in his people's hearts the sense of his terribleness and majesty."
2. It strengthened their faith; they believed the Lord.
3. It produced a spirit of obedience: they "believed has servant Moses." They were baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea. The outcome of fear and trust must be full obedience to him who leads us into the promised rest—the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls.—U.
HOMILIES BY G.A. GOODHART
We walk by faith, not by sight.
The great mistake of most people is, that they trust too much to their own eyes. They will not take into consideration anything that lies beyond the field of sensible experiences. Now God and his eternity, though manifested in this field, are practically outside it; the spiritual eyesight is more reliable than the physical, because that which it sees is safer to rely upon. Natural sight shows us obstacles, spiritual sight shows us how they may be surmounted. Try to walk by the one and you must stand still; try to walk by the other and nothing can long keep you standing. Notice here:—
I. FAITH'S SECRET, The story illustrates this; it shows us:—
1. What the Israelites saw. Their position looked bad enough. Behind were the hosts of Pharaoh; before, the sea. They were shut in. Trusting only to their eyes they could hardly do other than despair (Exodus 14:10-13). Better to have been "let alone" in Egypt, than thus delivered, to be destroyed in the wilderness. A clear head, if the heart be faint, is not much help to any man.
2. What Moses saw. He was in the same position as the people whom he led, yet he could see more than they did. He looked not merely before and behind, he looked also up to God. Faith enabled him to ignore sight, and inspired him to encourage his sight-fascinated followers. Soon the word came which justified his faith, obstacles were nothing, let them wait the word of command and then "go forward." Often difficulties seem to surround us—no way of escape anywhere visible. Even so faith can sight the way, for faith can sight God who sees it. Stand still, wait his word; refuse to allow that for those who trust him any difficulties can be insurmountable. Faith would not be of much good were there no obstacles to test it. Faith is not of much good if it cannot learn to ignore obstacles.
II. FAITH'S SUCCESS. The path of faith not merely leads out of danger, it turns dangers into safeguards and transforms them into a protection for those who tread it. When the word came "Go forward," the waters no longer "shut in" the Israelites; instead:—
1. They protected them during their passage. The Egyptians could but follow, they could not circumvent. "The waters were a wall unto them" on either side; no wall could have been more impregnable.
2. They secured them against the fury of their pursuers. Israel once across, the waters returned, overwhelming the armies of the enemy. So too faith, facing the flood, found that waters which drowned the world upheld the ark and floated it in safety. So too faith, facing the waters of death, finds that though they overwhelm the unready they float the faithful into a safe harbour. So too with all difficulties, faced in faith, they are our best helpers. "The hand of the diligent' not only "maketh rich," it cleaves a way for him through the sea of difficulty, and leaves his pursuers, sloth, ignorance, all the deadly sins, overwhelmed and swallowed up behind him.
III. FAITH'S STRENGTH. HOW comes faith to do all this? It is not faith that does it, but the God in whom faith trusts. Nothing is impossible to faith, because nothing is impossible to God. The Egyptians are sure of their prey; the Israelites are sure of destruction; because, whilst reckoning with what sight sees, they fail to reckon with the unseen God. Moses is sure of safety because he is sure of God, and knows that he is more than a match for all the seeming tyranny of circumstances.
Application. How many people are shut in, faithless and discouraged before some sea of difficulty! "I cannot do this," "I cannot do that," and yet no progress is possible until I not merely can but do. "O ye of little faith, wherefore will ye doubt!" "I cannot;" no, but God can; and what he bids you do that he will strengthen you to do. Don't stand facing the difficulties, but face the God who is above them and beyond them. "Stand still and wait" until the word comes, but when the word does come, "Go forward" (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:9, 2 Corinthians 12:10).—G.
THE DESTRUCTION OF THE EGYPTIANS. As the rearguard of the Israelite host having entered the tract from which the waters had retired, proceeded along it, and left the western end of the isthmus vacant, the pillar of the cloud seems to have followed it up and withdrawn with it. The Egyptians immediately advanced. Notwithstanding the preternatural darkness, they had become aware, perhaps by means of their ears, of the movement that was taking place, and with early dawn they were under arms and pressing on the line of the Israelite retreat. They found the channel still dry, and hastily entering it with their chariot force, they hurried forward in pursuit. The first check which they received was wholly supernatural. "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" (Exodus 14:24). Details here are wanting; but less cannot be meant, than that some strange phenomena connected with the retiring "pillar" caused a panic and threw the ranks of the army into confusion. Then followed natural impediments. The Lord "took off," or "clogged" their chariot Wheels, and made them go heavily—i.e; the chariot wheels, not by miracle, but by the operation of God's natural laws, sank into the soft sand over which the Israelites had passed easily, having no wheeled vehicles, and the chariots were consequently dragged forward slowly and with difficulty. The double hindrance, from the confusion and the stoppage of the chariots, so discouraged the Egyptians, that after a time they resolved on beating a retreat (Exodus 14:25). They had set out on their return, when Moses, at God's instance, stretched forth his hand once mere over the sea, and the waters on both sides began at once to return. The Egyptians saw their danger, and "fled against" the advancing tide, racing against it, as it were, and seeking to reach the shore. But in vain. The waves came on rapidly, and (in the language of Exodus 14:28) there was not a man of all those who had entered the dry bed of the sea that was not overwhelmed and drowned in the waters. We should he wrong to press this language to the extreme letter. In graphic narrative the sacred writers uniformly employ universal expressions, where they mean to give the general fact or general result. The true meaning is, that the pursuit altogether failed. Not an Egyptian made his way alive across the strait. All that the Israelites ever saw afterwards of the army that they had so much dreaded (Exodus 14:10) was a ghastly mass of corpses thrown up by the tide on the Asiatic shore (Exodus 14:30).
All Pharaoh's horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. Here, as elsewhere, the word translated "horsemen" probably means the men who rode in the chariots. Observe that the Pharaoh himself is not said to have gone in. Menephthah was apt to avoid placing himself in a position of danger. Nor is any of the infantry said to have entered the bed of the sea.
In the morning watch. The "morning watch" of the Hebrews at this period of their history lasted from 2 a.m. to sunrise. Sunrise in Egypt, early in April, would take place about a quarter to six. The Lord looked unto the host of the Egyptians. The description in Psalms 77:17, Psalms 77:18, is generally regarded as belonging to this point in the narrative of the Exodus, and may be considered as the traditional exposition of it. "The clouds poured out water: the skies sent out a sound; thine arrows also went abroad; the voice of thy thunder was in the heavens; the lightning lightened the world; the earth trembled and shook." As Josephus says "Showers of rain came down from the sky, and dreadful thunders and lightning, with flashes of fire; thunderbolts also were darted upon them; nor was there anything, wont to be sent by God upon men as indications of his wrath, which did not happen upon this occasion" (Ant. Jude 1:2Jude 1:2.16, § 3). And troubled the host. Or "disturbed the host," i.e.," threw it into confusion.(συνετάραξε, LXX.).
And took off their chariot wheels. The Sept. has "clogged the axles of their chariots;" but this is from a reading not at present found in the Hebrew MSS. Most modern commentators, however, prefer the reading, which gives a good sense; whereas the existing text is unintelligible. As Kalisch observes, "if the wheels of the chariots had been broken off, the chariots would not have moved at all." That they drove them heavily. The marginal rendering, "and made them go heavily," is preferable. The wheels no doubt sank into the sand up to the axles, and were with difficulty extricated, again to sink a few yards further on. Progress was thus greatly retarded. So that the Egyptians said, "Let us flee." Literally, "And Egypt said, 'I will flee.'" The Lord fighteth for them. Compare the promise of Moses (Exodus 14:14). The Egyptians were convinced, by the various obstacles which they encountered, that Jehovah was lending his people active aid, and miraculously obstructing their advance. If this were so, it was of no use to persevere, and accordingly they began their retreat.
Exodus 14:26, Exodus 14:27
And the Lord said. God here interposed a new difficulty. Moses was instructed to stretch out his rod once more, and undo his former work. At the appointed sign, the east wind ceased to blow, and the waters of the Bitter Lakes, no longer driven to the north-west by its force, flowed back with something of a reflux, while at the same time, the tide having turned, the Red Sea waves came rushing on at unwonted speed. In vain the Egyptians fled. They were met by the advancing floods, which poured in on either side, overwhelming and covering up all those who had entered on the dangerous path.
The chariots and the horsemen, and all the host of Pharaoh. Rather "The chariots, and the chariot men of all the host of Pharaoh." So Knobel correctly. Kalisch thinks—"We are not permitted to suppose that only the Egyptian chariots pursued the Israelites into the sea, while the infantry remained behind, so that the former alone were devoured by the waves." But even he admits that "both in this and in the following chapter, and in most other parts generally, the destruction of the chariots (chariot force?) and its warriors is chiefly alluded to, so that this particular stress would perhaps justify that conclusion." What is clear is, that no force but the chariot force is said to have entered the bed of the sea in pursuit of Israel. There remained not so much as one of them. On the proper understanding of this statement, see the introductory paragraph to the chapter.
Walked. Rather, "had walked." The waters were a wall. Rather, "had been a wall." For the meaning of the expression, see note on Exodus 14:22.
Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the sea-shore. Josephus says (Ant. Jud. Exodus 2:16, § 6), that, after the passage of the sea by the Israelites, a west wind set in, which (assisted by the current) drove the bodies of the drowned Egyptians to the eastern side of the gulf, where many of them were cast up upon the shore. In this way Moses, according to him, obtained weapons and armour for a considerable number of Israelites.
And Israel saw that great work. The "work" was, at the least,
(1) the (almost) entire destruction of that arm of the service—the chariot force-on which the Egyptian kings mainly relied for success in all their wars; and
(2) the defeat and disgrace of the Egyptian king himself, in an expedition for which he was alone responsible, involving permanent discredit to his military capacity, and naturally tending to shake his authority over his subjects. It secured the Israelites from further persecution, mainly by the reminiscences which it left behind, but partly also by removing them to a distance from the natural course of Egyptian warlike or commercial movement. Though Egypt had mining establishments in the Sinaitic peninsula, at Wady-Magharah and Sarabit-el-Khadim, yet as these were avoided by the Israelites on their way to Sinai, and never afterwards approached, there naturally was no collision between them and the Pharaonic garrisons at those sites. Still more remote were they during their wanderings from the Egyptian military route, which proceeded along the coast from Pelusium to Gaza, and then ran northwards through the Shephelah. Thus the Passage of the Red Sea brought one phase in the life of the people to an end, and was the commencement of another. It separated them from Egypt until the time came when their king would hold communication with its monarch on equal terms (1 Kings 3:1). It secured their independence, and raised them at once into a nation. It further caused them to exchange the artificial life of a bureaucratical and convention-loving community for the open space and untrammelled freedom of the desert. It thus rejuvenated and reinvigorated the race, and enabled them to enter on that career of conquest which culminated in the Kingdom—may we not say the Empire?—of David. some writers have supposed that the blow to the Egyptian power was greater than here represented. They believe the entire warrior caste or class to have taken part in the expedition, and to have been destroyed in the Red Sea Thus they describe the calamity as "the total annihilation of the whole military force of the Egyptians" (Kalisch). They also believe the Pharaoh to have perished with his host. To the present writer it seems that the former opinion is contrary both to the text of Scripture, and to the after course of Egyptian history, for it is agreed on all hands that Egypt continued nearly as powerful as before, while the latter he regards as at least exceedingly doubtful. Psalms 86:15, is quoted as asserting it; but it appears to him
(1) that "overthrow" is not necessarily "death;" and
(2) that "Pharaoh and his host" may be put for "Pharaoh's host" by hendiadys. The absence of any prophecy that God would take the Pharaoh's life, and the entire silence of Moses on the subject in Psalms 14:1-7. and 15. seems to be scarcely explicable on any other theory than that he escaped, not having accompanied his chariot force in its rash pursuit of the Israelites.
God's dealings with the wicked and impenitent.
If the passage of Israel through the Red Sea shows conspicuously God's protection of his people in the time of trouble, the overthrow of the Egyptians indicates, at least as conspicuously, his execution of wrath upon the wicked.
I. First of all, IT IS NOTICEABLE HOW HIS EYE UPON THEIR HEARTS, LOOKING INTO THEM THROUGH THE CLOUD AND DARKNESS WHEREIN THEY ARE ENVELOPED, TROUBLES THEM. Bad men cannot bear God's eye upon their hearts. It sees through all veils, penetrates all disguises, detects all subterfuges. The bad man is a riddle, even to himself, and would feign continue an enigma, impenetrable, mysterious. But the searching eye of God turned full upon him, so illuminates every dark corner and unexplored cranny of his nature, that all becomes only too patent and clear. "All things are naked and open unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do." Under that steadfast gaze the mystery melts away, like a summer fog, and the bad man sees himself revealed, without disguise as a very ordinary and commonplace offender.
II. IT IS WORTHY OF OBSERVATION THAT HE OFTEN CLOGS THEIR CHARIOT WHEELS, AND MAKES THEM TO GO HEAVILY. The enterprises which the wicked undertake are continually interfered with. God will not let them have the success which their framers anticipate, and which for their cleverness and ingenuity they may be said to deserve. He "clogs the wheels" of their various designs, and makes them drag heavily. One miscarriage follows another. This enterprise will not advance at all; that, by dint of great exertion, moves but slowly. It is as though the chariot wheels sank into quicksands. It is not often that they wake up to the conviction that "the Lord fighteth against the Egyptians;" though this may happen sometimes. Then perhaps they repent them of their vain attempt, and would feign retreat from it. But it is TOO LATE.
III. IT IS MOST NOTICEABLE HOW AT LAST GOD'S JUDGMENTS COME IN WITH AN OVERWHELMING FLOOD, WHICH THERE IS NO ESCAPING. "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." Upon the ungodly God at the last rains down "snares, fire and brimstone, storm and tempest—this is their portion to drink." "Sudden destruction comes upon them unawares." Now it is in financial ruin, now in utter failure of health, now in complete prostration of the spirit, and an intolerable sense of remorse and despair that the judgment descends—blow follows blow, failure succeeds to failure, all the old refuges and supports prove unavailing—angry floods pour in on every side—there is no reaching the shore—all is tossing surf, slippery rock, and entangling sea-weed—not a hand is stretched out to save. So they go down to the pit—the devouring waves swallow them up—the water-floods go up over their heads—they disappear, and their place knows them no more. The wages of sin is death; and the end of sin is death. The ultimate end of impenitent sin is eternal death. Let men, while there is time, turn away from sin, give up their wicked enterprises, retrace their steps—taking warning from the awful Red Sea calamity, and the terrible destruction there wrought.
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
The overthrow of the Egyptians.
"The Egyptians pursued, and went in after them to the midst of the sea," etc. On this observe:—
I. THE INFATUATION OF THE PURSUERS (Exodus 14:23). We do not speak of the lessons they had already received as to the folly of contending with Jehovah. The plagues were past. The memory of them had been cast behind their backs. What we do wonder at is, that when the Egyptians reached the shore, and saw there what they did see, they were not deterred from proceeding further. What did they see?
1. They saw the sea divided. They could hardly mistake this for a merely natural phenomenon. The place where the Israelites crossed may have been, under special conditions, and to a limited extent, fordable. But it is safe to say that the division now effected was one the like of which had never been heard of before, and such as, occurring at this particular juncture, ought to have convinced the Egyptians that it was a result of God's special Providence, and intended for the protection of the Israelites. Special interpositions, on behalf of the Church, ought to arrest the attention of her enemies.
2. They saw the cloud that went with Israel move to the rear, obviously with the design of intercepting their pursuit (Exodus 14:19, Exodus 14:20). This, with the ominous darkness which enveloped them, was a second circumstance which ought to have warned them that Jehovah was fighting for his people.
3. There was the danger, which could not but present itself to them, of being overwhelmed by the returning sea. In whatever way the division of the waters was conceived Of, whether as a natural phenomenon, or as a fact of supernatural origin, it was plainly a perilous experiment to attempt the pursuit. Viewing it as the result of an ebb-tide, aided by a strong east wind, there was the risk of being caught by the returning tide; or if the wind abated, or changed its direction, of being immediately submerged. In the other case there was the danger, almost the certainty, of the supernatural power which restrained the waters permitting them to flow back on the pursuers. What infatuation, then, possessed the Egyptians, prompting them to enter the sea?
(1) A false sense of honour. Having engaged in the pursuit, it would be deemed a point of honour not to desist from it, so long as the faintest chance of success remained. They had gone too far to retreat now at the water's edge.
(2) Rage. Fury and disappointment would possess them, as, in the very hour of their fancied triumph, they saw their prey thus elude them. Was Pharaoh and his mighty host to be thus mocked and set at nought—thus suddenly reined up and baffled? What would Egypt think of her warriors, if, setting out on such an expedition, they returned humiliated and empty-handed? At all hazards Israel must be pursued.
(3) There was the chance of getting through. The distance was short; the way lay open; if Israel had got across, so might the Egyptians. On this chance, in the spirit of the gambler, they would stake everything. What havoc have these same motives—a false sense of honour (cf. Matthew 14:9), a spirit of uncalculating rage, the headstrong gambling disposition,—played in the history of the world! Together, or apart, they account for much of its infatuation. See specially in this conduct of Pharaoh, a picture of the infatuation to which the enemies of Christ's Church have so frequently been given over, and which will linger among them till the end. Compare e.g. the Apocalyptic gathering of the antichristian powers, to do battle with the Lamb (Revelation 16:14-17; Revelation 19:11-21).
II. THE RECEPTION WHICH THEY RECEIVED FROM GOD.
1. In "the morning watch," and when the Egyptians were in "the midst of the sea," God looked forth upon them from the pillar of cloud (Exodus 14:23). The expression is a pregnant one. The look was a "fire-look"—some fire-appearance of a startling kind which issued from the cloud, and shed terror over the pursuers. It was accompanied with thunderings and lightnings (Psalms 77:18, Psalms 77:19). God's looks are potent. When God "looked" on Israel (Exodus 2:25), it meant that he was about to bring salvation to them. When he "locked" on the Egyptians, it was the prelude to their destruction. Through that pillar glares forth an eye which sends a separate dismay into each Egyptian heast and all is felt to be lost. We find two imitations of this in modern poetry—one by Coleridge, in his 'Ode on the Departing Year,' where he prays God to—
"Open his eye of fire from some uncertain cloud,"
and another (by Southey) in the 'Curse of Kehama,' where, after the 'Man Almighty,' holding his Amreeta Cup, had exclaimed—
"Now, Seeva, look to thine abode!"
it is added, when the cup is drunk—
"Then Seeva open'd on the accursed one
His eye of anger—upon him alone
The wrath beam fell He shudders, but too late."
2. God troubled their hosts (Exodus 14:24, Exodus 14:25). There is meant by this some supernatural exertion of power. It was not due to natural causes alone that the chariot wheels were "taken off," and that they drave heavily. It was God who, by his heavy hand upon them, was thus obstructing their progress. The invisible powers were fighting against the Egyptians, as "the stars in their courses fought against Sisera" (Judges 5:20). Those are sure to drive heavily, who drive in the face of God's inhibition, and under his ban.
3. God brought the sea back upon them (Exodus 14:26). Swiftly, fatally, at the stretching forth of Moses' rod, the sea returned in its strength, and utterly overwhelmed them. And such, in its main outline, is the reception which Jehovah must give to all his enemies. His wrath already rests upon them. His fiery look will one day scare them. Even now they are troubled and impeded by it, and by the resistance which he opposes to their plans. Finally, he will overwhelm them in the sea of his wrath. He will visit them with "everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power" (1 Thessalonians 1:9). Hence—
III. THEIR COMPLETE DESTRUCTION (Exodus 14:27, Exodus 14:28). They perished suddenly, miserably, and all together. Type of the overthrow of God's enemies in the end (2 Thessalonians 2:8; Revelation 16:16, Revelation 16:17; Revelation 19:17-21; Revelation 20:9). The blow was a crushing one to Egypt, It filled up the measure of her punishment for the evil she had done to Israel. After the death of the first-born, there could remain nothing to Pharaoh and his servants, in the event of their still hardening themselves, but "a certain fearful looking for of judgment, and fiery indignation" (Hebrews 10:27). Does some one say, what a waste of human life—how unlike a God of mercy! Rather, surely, how striking a testimony to the reality of retribution—how sure a token of the righteous doom which in the end will infallibly overtake every obdurate transgressor! God will not permit sinners always to defy him. His wrath and power are resistless. The "ungodly and sinner" must expect to feel the weight of them (1 Peter 17, 18).
IV. RESULT (Exodus 14:30, Exodus 14:31).
1. Israel was saved.
2. The Egyptian dead were found strewn upon the shore. This—
(1) A memorial of God's vengeance.
(2) An awful satire on so-called human greatness.
(3) A pledge of security to Israel.
3. The people were filled with gratitude and fear. They "believed the Lord." The wonder is that after so marvellous a deliverance they could ever again doubt him.—J.O.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Exodus 14". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany