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We have been studying the Book of Exodus. Today, I want to look at the most spectacular and dramatic miracle in the Bible. It is the greatest miracle of the OT. It is also a very familiar chapter. Every child in Sunday School knows this story.
People who have not even read the Bible know this story. There have been movies about it. To do a really good job with this chapter, you have to look at in in about four different ways. You have to look at it EXEGETICALLY. What does the text actually say?
You have to look at it DOCTRINALLY. What does this story tell us about God? You also have to look at this HISTORICALLY. Is this story is true. Did it actually happen or is it a myth? Is there any archaeological evidence that supports it? Finally, you have to look at it PRACTICALLY. How does this story affect us today?
This story says a lot about God. The parting of the Red Sea is one of the greatest displays of God’s power in all Scripture. Psalm 78:13 says, “He divided the sea and led them through; he made the water stand up like a wall” (NIV). The same God who created the world and made the stars is all-powerful. He can split an ocean. He can also hold water up like a wall and defy the law of gravity
What God did on that day when He defeated the most powerful army in the world at that time, made a big impact on people in the ancient world. It made a big impact on some unbelievers. It made a big impression on the biblical prostitute from Jericho named Rahab. When the two Hebrew spies came into the land, she had them and helped them escape. She could have turned them in. Why did she do this?
“Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof and said to them, I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt….When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below” (Joshua 2:8-10, 11)
Over and over again, the OT goes back to that event as an incredible demonstration of God’s power. This is a story that may challenge your view of God. It is comforting to some and disturbing to others. God not only delivers, guides and protects people in this section, He also judges other people.
It is a story that ends of up with a bunch of dead Egyptians floating in the water. Notice what the end of the chapter says, “That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore” (14:30 NIV)
C.H. Machintosh said, “The same waters that formed a wall for God’s redeemed formed a grave for Pharaoh”. Many have a distorted idea of God. They picture Him as a doting grandparent or a cosmic Santa Claus who gives out gifts. The Apostle Paul says, “Behold the GOODNESS and SEVERITY of God” (Romans 11:22).
Many people see the goodness and kindness of God but refuse to see the sternness of God. They see that God is a God of mercy and grace. They fail to see that He is also a God of judgment. Pharaoh drowned Hebrew baby boys and now his troops are being drowned.
The Hebrews experienced COMPLETE DELIVERANCE but the Egyptians experienced TOTAL DESTRUCTION. Exodus tells us that the armies went into the Red Sea after them and NOT ONE survived (14:28). This is a powerful story. What is the background to this story? There are several things going on here that we should picture.
A Mass Exodus
God’s people were in bondage. It was physical bondage. They were in slavery. It was oppressive. It had gone on for a long time. They did not do anything to get into it. We get into bondage because of our own sin. It traps us. Their bondage was not the result of sin. A new Pharaoh took over who knew not Joseph.
God delivered the Hebrew slaves from Egypt. “And on that very day the Lord brought the Israelites out of Egypt by their divisions.” (12:51 NIV) Exodus means “departure” or “going out”. It is similar to our word “exit”. They did not escape. They were rescued. They did not bring themselves out of slavery. God brought them out. We had to fight a war to end slavery. They just walked out of the country. Two million people exited the country with the help of a few plagues.
After leaving Sukkoth they camped at Etham on the edge of the desert. By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people. (13:20-22 NIV)
They did not have to find their own way to the Promise Land. God guided them. How did He guide them? They did not have a map. They did not have a compass or GPS. God guided them with a cloud and with fire.
This was a theophany. It was a visible appearance of God on earth. God is invisible but appeared to people in the OT and those appearances are called theophanies. He appeared to Moses as a fire and to the Israelites as a pillar of fire.
He also appeared as a cloud. This was not a rain cloud but a glory cloud. It was a Shekinah Glory cloud and He did this for forty years in the wilderness. The cloud and fire guided them all of the way into the Promised Land. The Hebrews did not have to wonder if God was with them. They could see that He was with them every day.
This is the first reference in the Bible to “the pillar of fire by day, and a pillar of cloud by night”. Fire represents HEAT (protection from cold weather) as well as LIGHT. The Cloud represents SHELTER (protection from hot weather in the desert) as well as GUIDANCE. They were in a dry desert that could be hot by day but cold by night. This cloud sheltered them from the heat and the cold.
God not only led His people, He led them in three ways. First, He led them CONTINUOUSLY. He led them all of the time (by day and by night). He led them twenty-four hours a day. Second, He led them PHYSICALLY (fire, cloud). This was not a leading on the inside but on the outside. This leading was not spiritual but physical.
Third, He led them OBJECTIVELY. This was not a subjective leading. They did not have to wonder what God’s will was. They did not have to argue and debate what they thought God’s will was. All they had to do was to look up in the sky. When the cloud moved, they moved. When the cloud stopped, they stopped and set up tent. We see this in the Book of Numbers.
Whenever the cloud lifted from above the tent, the Israelites set out; wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped. At the Lord’s command the Israelites set out, and at his command they encamped. As long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle, they remained in camp. 19 When the cloud remained over the tabernacle a long time, the Israelites obeyed the Lord’s order and did not set out. (Numbers 9:17-19)
Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out. (Numbers 9:22) God doesn’t do this today. If we were living in OT times and wanted to know who to marry, all we would have to do is to follow the cloud. If we wanted to know where to go to church, we just needed to follow the cloud and it would lead us to the right church. Wouldn’t it be great if every church that honored God had a glow over it? We do not have a cloud above us but we have the Holy Spirit inside us.
Travel Plan Changes
Exodus 13:20 says, “After leaving Sukkoth they camped at Etham on the edge of the desert.” They were going east to Midian, the very same way Moses went forty years earlier when he fled Egypt. They were following the trade route and were at the edge of the desert.
Then, God told them to change course to turn back and camp by the sea. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites to turn back and encamp near Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea. They are to encamp by the sea, directly opposite Baal Zephon.” (14:1-2 NIV) The quick way would be to continue going east but God told them to change direction and go south by the sea.
Pharaoh’s Change of Mind
Pharaoh will think, ‘The Israelites are wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed in by the desert.’ And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them. But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord. So the Israelites did this.” (14:2-3).
God predicted that that their travel plans would provoke Pharaoh to action. Did God cause Pharaoh to do sin? No. Pharaoh responded of his own free will. God did not force him to come after the Hebrews but he knew what Pharaoh’s response would be even before he had it and told Moses. God was absolutely right. Pharaoh had a change of heart.
Exodus 14:5 says, “When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds about them and said, “What have we done? We have let the Israelites go and have lost their services!” (NIV)
Pharaoh’s land has been totally devastated by ten plagues and now two million slaves have just left the country. That has to be hard on the Egyptian economy to have all of that free labor gone. Now Pharaoh finds out where the Hebrews are and he thought now was his chance to get them. They were weak. They were vulnerable. They were defenseless. They were unarmed. They were completely helpless.
Pharaoh thought that the God of Moses is a very bad general. He thought that they were trapped, so he went after them but the only one who ends up trapped is Pharaoh. Pharaoh planned to trap the Jews in the wilderness, so God used the same military tactic on him. He ends up being trapped by the waters of the Red Sea and drowned. The ones trapped were the Egyptians, not the Hebrews. Proverbs 26:27 says “whoever digs a pit will fall into it”.
Total Fear and Terror
Picture the scene. Two million slaves escape Egypt. They leave the country. They are rejoicing. They are cheering. They are celebrating. They are on top of the world. They think that their problems are over, just as many think their problems are over once they get saved. The Hebrews are no longer slaves.
They no longer have to listen to the Egyptians. They no longer have to expose themselves to abuse and oppression. Now they are on the road. They are traveling and God is with them. They have the pillar of fire and cloud. They are in the will of God. They are doing what God wants them to do. All is good.
Then, they hear a noise and look back and see a massive army on the horizon. The most powerful army on the planet is coming after them. This army had weapons of war. It had firepower. It had chariots. That is like having tanks today. This was a war machine.
They had the best technology of the day coming against them and these were not just any chariots. Exodus 14:7 says, “He took six hundred of the best chariots, along with all the other chariots of Egypt, with officers over all of them.” (NIV).
Pharaoh sent his best fighters against them. These are the Special Forces. They were well-trained and they were coming against the unarmed Hebrews and there were a lot of them, over a hundred thousand of them. How do we know that? The text mentions six hundred chariots but two men rode in each chariot: a driver and a soldier.
Salvation does not insulate you from problems. Jesus said, “In this world, you will have trouble.” They had problems, like we have today, and they were real problems, not illusions.
The Hebrews were terrified. This was a life or death situation. They started to panic. Mothers started clutching their children. They had absolutely nowhere to go. They have no way to escape. They are completely trapped. They were sitting ducks. They thought they were all going to die. They hadn’t seen the movie. They didn’t know what was going to happen. It looked like game over.
As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” (14:10-12)
They had three responses to this crisis. They responded in FEAR. They thought they were going to die. They responded in CRITICISM. They came after Moses. They blamed Moses. He led them right into a trap. They even used sarcasm. Slavery would have been better than death. They also responded in UNBELIEF. They believed that God miraculously delivered them from slavery in Egypt only to kill them in the desert.
The test of a good leader is how they respond to a crisis. Moses is the perfect leader here. He is facing all kinds of criticism and opposition. Notice his response. He did not deny that there was a problem. The danger they faced was real. He did not rebuke them for their unbelief. He did not get defensive like most people do when they are criticized. Instead, he encouraged them. He says four things to them.
Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” (14:13-14).
First, he tells them not to be afraid. We experience fear and anxiety over minor issues; Thru had a major problem. It was life and death and Moses told them “Do not be afraid. Trust God.” That is a lesson we need to learn.
Second, he said “stand still”. This does not mean that they were not go anywhere. Later, God told them to get moving. He told them to go forward and cross the Red Sea. It means “stand firm” (NIV, ESV). They did not need to panic in this situation. They could relax. God was in control of it, even though it did not look like it.
Third, he said “See the salvation of the Lord”. In other words, watch God work. Watch God do something totally amazing. Watch him do something you never dreamed or imagined. Moses said, “The Lord will fight for you.” That is why he had absolutely no fear of the Egyptians.
Finally he said, “The Egyptians you see today you will never see again.” He says, “Right now you are worried about these Egyptians. Today, will be the last day you see them.” All of your worries and fears will be gone very soon. That brings us to one of the greatest miracles in the Bible, the parting of the Red Sea.
Was This a Real Miracle?
We live in a day in which this is not seen as a miracle at all. Liberal scholars believe that this can all be explained scientifically. They have natural explanations for this. Many liberal churches would say the same thing. They will actually use the text.
Exodus 14 says that the Red Sea was parted because of a strong east wind (14:21). God could have parted the waters by himself but instead He used a strong east wind to do it and it did not happen right away. It took all night for this wind to blow on it before it was parted.
The problem is that this chapter does not make any sense apart from miracles. An ocean splits completely wide open, makes a path to walk on, and then comes back together again several hours later. When has that ever happened again? That is not a common occurrence.
Two walls of water were stacked sky high on both sides without a levy. This violates one of the basic properties of water. Water is a liquid. A solid stands up but a liquid does not. There is no possible way to read this without a miracle. In fact, this was not one miracle but many.
The Hebrews had a pillar of fire in the front leading the way. There are walls of water to the side of them being miraculously help up. Underneath they walked on dry ground. Behind them was a cloud and an angel that held the Egyptians back and protected them. They had a miracle in the front, on the side, underneath and behind them.
The proof that this whole event was miraculous was that it ONLY happened after Moses lifted his staff (the same staff that was used in the Ten Plagues) and stretched it over the Red Sea (14:16). Moses did this TWICE in Exodus 14. He lifted it once to divide the waters which delivered the Hebrews (14:21). He lifted it a second time to bring the waters back together which killed all of the Egyptians (14:27).
What about the wind? We know three things about this wind. First, it was a SUPERNATURAL WIND (not a natural wind). God sent it. Exodus 14:21 says, “the LORD caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all the night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided” (JPS Tanakah). This was something God did.
Second, it was a POWERFUL WIND. It blew on deep waters, not shallow waters. They were deep enough that when they collapsed, they drowned everyone.
Third, it was an EAST WIND. Wind direction is always the direction from which the wind comes. East wind means winds that come from the east and head west. What direction were the Hebrews traveling across the Red Sea? They were traveling east into Midian.
The east wind would have headed in their direction as they traveled. They were going eastward against a wind that was so strong it created a wall of water on both sides of them but it did not blow the people away. It moved the waters but did not blow the people away as they crossed the Red Sea.
Did This Event Really Happen?
It is a real miracle in Exodus. Did this really happen or is it just a great children’s bible story? Do we have any proof that it happened? Yes. This is just a children’s story. It is also real history. There is archaeological evidence that backs it up. Unfortunately, most people do not know anything about this evidence.
Most Christians do not know about it. I have heard many preachers on this passage say that no one knows where any of these events took place and the reason is that most people do not keep up with the latest finds of biblical archeology. We know where the Red Sea is located. We know where they crossed it. We also have evidence that Egyptian chariots perished in this sea.
The Jews left Goshen and were heading to Midian where Moses saw the burning bush. Midian is in Saudi Arabia today. We know where they started and where they ended up and we know the body of water between them. There is only one body of water between Egypt and Saudi Arabia. It is the Red Sea. Today it is called the Gulf of Aqaba. It is a branch of the Red Sea. Why would the Gulf of Aqaba be called the Red Sea? There are red coral below the surface and sometimes the water looks red when the tide is low.
Then we are told in the text that they changed directions (cf. 14:1). They went south. They went off the trade road. There is a dry river bed that is eighteen miles long with huge mountains on both sides and ends up at the Red Sea. There is a beach there. Today it is called Nuweiba Beach, which today is in Nuweiba, Egypt.
The beach at Nuweiba is 4.25 miles long by 2 miles wide. Egyptian chariot wheels dated to the time of Moses have been discovered by archaeologists at the bottom of the Red Sea. The chariot wheels come from the time of Moses. Ron Wyatt discovered a huge granite pillar there in 1978. It had fallen over.
At first, it did not seem to be that significant but, on the other side of the Red Sea, another granite pillar was discovered and this one was standing.
It is a three thousand year old pillar. It comes from the time of Solomon and even has his name on it. The Jews marked where the Res Sea crossing took place with pillars.
If you put all of this together, there is clear evidence for the Red Sea crossing. We even know where they crossed it. Next week, we will look at the effect that this miracle had on people.
Did Pharaoh Drown in the Red Sea?
Many Christians assume that Pharaoh died in the Red Sea. It is possible that he died in the Red Sea. Psalm 136:15 says “His love endures forever but swept Pharaoh and his army into the Red Sea” (NIV) but it is also possible that he did not.
There is no evidence from secular history that the Pharaoh drowned in the Red Sea. All of the possible Pharaohs at the time of the Exodus lived long after the Exodus. Exodus 14 does not explicitly say that Pharaoh died in the Red Sea. Exodus 14 says several things.
What about Psalm 136:15? Doesn’t that verse clearly teach that Pharaoh and his army were swept into the Red Sea? It could mean that Pharaoh died or it could be a figure of speech called a hendiadys. Hendiadys is when two words are joined by a conjunction to express one thought, not two. You say two things but really mean one (“law and order” or “rough and tough”). Pharaoh and his army could simply mean “Pharaoh’s army”.