The Word Made Fresh
1The LORD spoke to Moses and said, 2“Tell the Israelites to turn back to Pi-hahiroth and camp between Migdol and the sea, across from Baal-zephon. 3Pharaoh will think you are wandering around aimlessly in the wilderness. 4I will make him change his mind, and he will come in pursuit, and I will gain their respect when I defeat Pharaoh and his army. The Egyptians will know that I am the LORD.” So, the Israelites changed course.
5When the king of Egypt was told about their movements he and his officers said, “The Israelites were our servants. Why did we allow them to leave?” 6So, Pharaoh had his chariot brought out and gathered his troops. 7He took charge of six hundred chariots, and placed officers over the others as well. 8The LORD made him stubborn, and he chased after the Israelites, who were daring to leave. 9The Egyptians pursued them with all of Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, all of his chariot drivers and soldiers, and they caught up with them at Pi-hahiroth, across the sea from Baal-zephon.
10The Israelites saw the Egyptians coming and cried out in fear. 11“Why did you bring us out here to die, Moses?” they complained. “Weren’t there enough graves in Egypt? 12Didn’t we tell you to leave us alone? It would be better to serve the Egyptians than to die out here in the desert!”
13“Don’t be afraid,” said Moses. “Be brave, and you’ll see how the LORD will fight for you today. This is the last time you’ll see those Egyptians! 14Just sit tight. The LORD will do all the fighting for you.”
15The LORD told Moses, “Don’t complain to me. Tell the Israelites to head out. 16All you have to do is lift your staff and raise it over the sea, and it will be divided so that the people can walk into the sea on dry ground. 17And I will make all the Egyptians hard-hearted, and they will follow you in and that is how I will defeat Pharaoh and his whole army, chariots, and drivers. 18Then the Egyptians will know, really know, that I am the LORD!”
19Then the angel of the LORD who had been in front of the Israelite host moved behind them with the cloudbank, 20so that it was between them and the Egyptians. The cloudbank stayed in place until darkness came, and it lit up the night, and the Egyptians could not come near the Israelites.
21Then Moses raised his hand over the sea, and the LORD made a strong east wind blow all night so that the sea was pushed back, and dry ground appeared. 22The Israelites walked on dry ground into the sea with water walled up on their right and on their left. 23The Egyptian charioteers pursued them into the sea. 24As the sun was rising, the LORD looked down at the Egyptians from the cloud bank and threw them into confusion. 25He made their chariot wheels begin to clog and turn with difficulty, and the Egyptians ordered a retreat. “The LORD is fighting for them against us!” they said.
26Then the LORD said to Moses, “Raise your hand over the sea, and the water will come back over the Egyptians.” 27Moses raised his hand over the sea again, and as day began to break the sea began to return to its normal level. As the Egyptians fled, the LORD threw them into the sea. 28The water rose until the chariots and drivers, Pharaoh’s entire army, were drowned. 29but the Israelites walked across the sea on dry ground while the water piled up on either side of them.
30And that is how the LORD rescued Israel that day from the Egyptians. They could see the Egyptians dead on the beach 31and they feared the LORD and put their faith in the LORD, and in the LORD’s servant, Moses.
1-4: But the LORD is not finished with Pharaoh quite yet. Now God tells Moses to turn back and camp by the sea to give God time to harden Pharaoh’s heart so that he will once again change his mind and pursue them. Then God will defeat them, and the Egyptians will know who is really in charge of things.
5-9: Pharaoh changes his mind and saddles up and overtakes the Israelites camped by the sea.
10-14: The Israelites are understandably terrified when they see the Egyptian army approaching. They complain to Moses, but Moses reassures them that the LORD will fight for them. Just keep your cool, he says.
15-18: The LORD tells Moses to stop crying out and tell the people to advance. Moses is told to stretch out his staff over the sea and make it divide so that the people can cross on dry ground. The Egyptians will follow, God says, and God will be victorious. This doesn’t sound like a great plan unless, of course, you have a lot of faith.
19-20: Now the pillar of cloud and fire moves into a position between the Israelites and the Egyptians to protect the Israelite retreat. (That pretty much eliminates the volcanic eruption hypothesis.)
21-25: Now comes the defining moment. Moses gestures with his staff. Nothing happens immediately, but a strong wind begins to blow from the east (the same wind, I suppose, that brought the locusts and blew the dust that became gnats and scattered the ashes that caused the plague of boils). Next morning, a pathway appears that allows the people to walk through the sea to the other side. The Egyptians pursue them, but their chariot wheels begin to clog and, perhaps fearing the tide is about to return, they begin to panic. Israel’s God, they conclude, is fighting against them, and Israel’s God has proven to be not a God with whom one would want to trifle.
26-29: The LORD tells Moses to raise his staff again, and this time the water begins to close in on the Egyptians. The entire Egyptian army is drowned, but the Israelites escape to the other side, walking on dry ground.
30-31: The Israelites see that the Egyptian army has been defeated, and, at least for the moment, fear God and trust Moses. But you know how people are. Pretty soon it will be, “But, what have you done for us lately?”
Most of us will never see the kind of astonishing things God did to bring the Israelites out of Egypt; but of course, most of us will never be in the kind of situation Israel was in when they dwelt in Egypt. We still can take away from this story the assurance of God’s protective presence through every stage of our lives.