Moses parts the Red Sea - Artist Unknown

When Pharaoh let the Israelites go, God did not send them to the Promised Land through Philistine country, even though the route was shorter. God thought, “If they face war against the Philistines, they may change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led the Israelites through the desert toward the Red Sea. The Israelites left Egypt, ready for battle.

Moses took Joseph’s body with him because he had asked the Israelites to swear they would carry his bones from Egypt when God came to their rescue.

After leaving Sukkoth, they camped at Etham on the edge of the desert. To guide them on their way, God went before them in a pillar of cloud by day and by a pillar of fire by night to give them light so they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud nor the pillar of fire left its place in front of the people.

Moses Crossing The Red Sea - by Raphael (1483-1520)

Then God 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. Pharoah will think the Israelites are wandering around in confusion, hemmed in by the desert. And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart and he will pursue them. But I will gain glory through Pharaoh and his army and the Egyptians will know that I am Lord.”

When the king of Egypt was told that the Israelites had fled, Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds and said, “What have we done? We have let the Israelites go and lost their services!”

So Pharaoh had his chariot made ready and took his army with him. He took 600 of his best chariots along with all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them.

The Egyptians overtook the Israelites as they camped by the sea near Pi-Hahiroth. As Pharaoh and his army approached, the Israelites looked up and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to God. 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!”

Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see deliverance from the Lord. The Egyptians you see today, you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you only need to be still.”

Then God said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can move through the sea on dry ground. I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after you. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and his army, through his chariots, and his horsemen. The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.”

Then the angel of God, who had been travelling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud moved from in front to behind them, coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night, the cloud brought darkness to one side and light to the other side, so neither went near the other all night long.

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground with a wall of water on both sides of them. The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea. During the last watch of the night, the Lord looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion. He jammed the wheels of their chariots so that they had difficulty moving.

The Crossing of the Red Sea by Frans Francken II and Ambrosius Francken II

And the Egyptians said, “Let’s get away from the Israelites! The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt!”

Then God said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen.”

Moses stretched out his hand over the sea and at daybreak, the sea want back into place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward it and the Lord swept them into the sea. The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen – the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived.

But the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground with a wall of water on their right and on their left. That day God saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians and the Israelites saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. When the Israelites saw the mighty hand of God displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses, his servant.

What the story means to us today

We must let God pave the way for us.

The story of Moses parting the Red Sea is a magnificent example of God’s power. The Israelites question their decision to follow God’s will after leaving Egypt to seek the Promised Land. But God uses Egypt as a means to promote his glory before the Israelites (and to solidify Moses’ standing amongst the Israelites). God uses his overwhelming strength and control over the forces of nature to stop the Egyptian army. The Israelites need only do three things (1) discard all fear, (2) stand firm, and (3) be still.

In the end, all Israel had to do was be brave, maintain their resolve, and trust in God.

The path God leads us down may not always be the shortest nor the easiest path available. But God knows what is best for us, whether we agree or not, and fights for us every day, whether we know it or not. All we must do is “be still” and trust in God.

Additional thoughts and considerations

God guides Egypt’s actions in order to promote his glory

It’s important to recognize that the events did not transpire by chance. It was not by chance that Moses took the route he travelled. Nor was it chance that Pharaoh chose to pursue the Israelites. As God plainly noted, he led the events from the beginning to conclusion.

Crossing the Red Sea - Artist Unknown

Why did Egypt regret letting the Israelites go?

The verses do not specifically reveal why the Egyptians regretted letting the Israelites go. But given their status as slaves, it’s appropriate to presume the loss of laborers struck an economic blow that gravely damaged the Egyptian economy.

Did the Israelites really want to serve the Egyptians?

When the Israelites see the approaching Egyptian army, they tell Moses, “Isn’t this what we told you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone so that we can serve the Egyptians because it is better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!’”

Their statement is surprising because we have not seen this complaint in the verses until now. Did the Israelites really want to stay and serve the Egyptians? Likely not. One can only imagine what they felt. To look to the horizon to see a massive swath of dust indicative of an approaching army must have been terrifying. The Israelites knew who was coming and presumed their doom was imminent. Thus their moment of terror likely prompted this statement which was of course, neither logical, nor true.

The steps God took to separate the waters of the Red Sea

A clear series of events occurred prior to, during, and after the separation of the Red Sea. The events can be distilled into four parts.

First, the angel of God moved behind Israel’s army, separating them from the Egyptian army. The pillar of cloud also moved behind them. This slowed the progress of the Egyptian pursuit.

Pharaoh's army engulfed by the Red Sea, painting by Frederick Arthur Bridgman (1900)

Next, Moses stretched his hand over the sea. God drove the sea back with an east wind and turned it into dry land. The Israelites passed through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on both sides.

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During the last watch of the night, God looked down from the pillar of cloud and fire and confused the Egyptian army, who had chosen to pursue the Israelites. God jammed the wheels of the Egyptian chariots and the Egyptian army roils in fear.

Finally, Moses again stretches out his hand over the sea. At daybreak, the waters returned to the sea. The Egyptians fled toward the sea and God swept them into the waters. The Israelites later witnessed the bodies of the Egyptian soldiers lying dead on the shore.

Could the separation of the Red Sea waters have been a natural event?

Although the verses mention an east wind, the event was undoubtably supernatural. You simply cannot condense the parting of the Red Sea into a natural phenomenon. No known wind can separate the waters as described in Exodus. The path that was separated was likely a half-mile or so wide to allow the number of Israelites to pass through during the night. Plus, the water was deep enough to form a wall when separated and to cover the Egyptian army when they attempted to pursue the Israelites.

No matter how you look at it, the “parting of the Red Sea” was certainly not a natural phenomenon. Any attempt to attribute it as such must go to great lengths to twist the verses to fit the narrative.

What was the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire that led the Israelites?

A pillar of cloud led the Israelites by day. During the night, God led them via a pillar of fire. Some propose the pillars could refer to a scouting party carrying a torch that scouted ahead for safety and direction and led the main body according to God’s wishes. Or possibly the fire and smoke came from the priests’ altar. However, Moses hints that both were supernatural events.

The Crossing of the Red Sea by Nicolas Poussin (1633–34)

A supernatural event seems probable given the cloud/fire’s movement behind the Israelites to separate them from the Egyptian army. We will later see the cloud descend on Moses’ sacred tent when he enters it. And in Numbers 12:5, the cloud rises up again to execute judgement.

Moses may have been describing a vision of God similar to the one at Sinai – a fiery light enveloped in a dark cloud that stretched from sky to ground. But Moses does not describe the pillar of cloud nor the pillar of fire as manmade constructs and thus, we should not attempt to interpret them as such.

Did Pharaoh survive the event or did he drown in the Red Sea?

It is common to presume Pharaoh and the army were swept away by the waters and perished. However, the verses do not exactly state that. In fact, a careful reading reveals Pharaoh likely survived the event.

Moses does not state that Pharaoh perished but rather, the “army of Pharaoh” died. Furthermore, it’s possible that not even the entire Egyptian army drowned in the waters. Moses is careful to note that the horsemen that died were those who “followed the Israelites into the sea”.

Still, at the very least, we must assume that all who participated in the direct chase were killed. As the verses tell us, not one of them survived.

The science and history behind the story

The escape routes that were available to the Israelites fleeing the Egyptians

There are at least three escape routes the Israelites could have taken to reach the Promised Land. The shortest route to the Promised Land would have been northeast from the Egyptian delta along the Mediterranean coast and through the lands of the Philistines. But God did not send the Israelites on this route.

The Israelites could have travelled easterly across Negev to Beersheba, but this would have bypassed Mount Sinai which is a critical location in Moses’ story (it is the mountain where Moses received the Ten Commandments from God).

Finally, there’s a route southeast toward the bottom of the Sinai Peninsula. This is the route God sent the Israelites on. It would take them to the Promised Land while providing a “doorway” that could be opened for the Israelites to pass through and closed to stop the Egyptians’ pursuit.

Who did God want the Israelites to avoid when travelling through the desert?

Moses tells us that even though the Northeasterly path was shorter, God “did not lead Israel on the road through the Philistine country” for fear a war would erupt and Israel may change their mind and return to Egypt. But who were the Philistines?

Cross of the Red Sea led by Moses - Artist Unknown

The term Philistines may refer to generic “other nations” and not a specific group. But it is generally believed the term refers to a group of people, likely migrants, inhabiting the plains between Gezer and Gaza. They are variously believed to be descendants of Ham and cousins of the old inhabitants of Babylonia.

Where did the Israelites set up camp?

Moses tells us that “after leaving Sukkoth, they camped at Etham on the edge of the desert”. Later, God tells Moses to “turn back” from the location and camp near Pi Hahiroth. The exact location of Etham is not yet known. It may be around the region of Atuma, a desert area near Lake Timsah. It is mentioned again in Numbers 33:6 as a desert location.

Where did the Israelites cross the Red Sea?

Numbers 33:1 summarizes the Israelites movement and provides additional clues to the Israelites travel. From the accounts in Exodus and Numbers, it appears the Israelites had not travelled long before crossing the Red Sea which means the distance covered before reaching the crossing point would be limited.

The Israelites journey began in Goshen, possibly near or at Avaris (modern day Tell el-Daba) about 60 miles northeast of Cairo. They were told to “camp before Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea; by the sea before Baal Zephon opposite it”. Recently discovered Egyptian manuscripts mention Pi Hahiroth (which is believed to mean “mouth of the canal”) but do not clarify its precise location. Migdol means “the tower” but its location is also unknown. The name Baal Zephon means “Lord of the North” but as with the others, its location is unclear.

If we presume the crossing occurred on the 25th day and the group travelled at a rate of about 3 miles per day, the location could have been somewhere near the Gulf of Suez, a gulf at the northern end of the Red Sea. If they travelled at a faster rate, they could have made it to the main body of the Red Sea.

The original Hebrew for “red sea” means “sea of reeds” which some think may hint the location is a sea with reeds in it. The Red Sea in Moses’ day may have included northern areas above the Sinai Peninsula including the Gulf of Suez and the Gulf of Aqaba, areas that do have seas with reeds in them.

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The Crossing of the Red Sea Fresco by Cosimo Rosselli and Domenico Ghirlandaio

The location of the crossing could have been one of the large lakes in the area. Some of the ancient lakes were destroyed during the construction of the Suez Canal in 1869. Lake Manzaleh is located in the northeast corner of the Nile delta along the Mediterranean coast. It is about 30 miles long by 18 miles wide and about 5-feet deep. Lake Ballah is about 30 miles south of Lake Manzaleh. It was drained during the construction of the Suez Canal. Lake Timsah is another large lake in the area. It lies just south of Lake Ballah. Bitter Lakes (Small Bitter Lake and Great Bitter Lake) are located even further south. All would have an abundance of reeds and are somewhat connected to the Red Sea by the Gulf of Suez.

However, the Bible is clear that the waters were not shallow. They were deep enough to form a wall on both sides of the Israelites to pass through. The Gulf of Suez, a gulf on the northern end of the Red Sea, has depts of 130 to 230 feet deep. It is far enough south that the waters of the Red Sea would have prohibited eastward travel, leaving only westward movement which would have forced them deeper into Egypt. Thus Pharaoh would have, as the verses tell us, believed the Israelites were lost and trapped. Although we have no definitive location for the Red Sea crossing, the Gulf of Suez is a good possibility.

The Egyptian chariots

The Egyptian chariots were a force to be reckoned with in ancient times. They were used mainly as a vehicle for archers. The verses tell us there were 600 “elite” chariots and an unnamed number of lessor chariots. All of the chariots “had officers on them”. Ancient artwork shows Egyptian chariots carrying a two-man crew – a driver and an officer.

Notes on Biblical translation

The Israelites left Egypt “ready for battle”

The phrase “ready for battle” is rare. Its meaning is not clear. It may mean “in a battle array” or “prepared to fight”. Some translations render the word “armed with weapons”.

The “morning watch”

Moses tells us that “in the morning watch, God looked down on the Egyptian army through the pillar of fire and cloud and threw them into a panic”. In ancient Israel, nighttime hours were divided into three 4-hour watches. The morning watch would have been between 2:00 AM and 6:00 AM.

The ”Red Sea”

The words used to specify “sea” (i.e. yam sup) in this story can also be translated to “sea of reeds”. However, the Old Testament always uses the word to refer to the Red Sea in the land of Ophir. In 1 Kings 9:26 we find Solomon building a fleet of ships that sailed on the Red Sea. The New Testament also translates the word as “Red Sea”. Thus the translation “sea of reeds” it likely not appropriate here either.

Crossing of the Red Sea - by Agnolo di Cosimo (Bronzino)

Bible Text

NIV

17 When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” 18 So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of Egypt ready for battle.

19 Moses took the bones of Joseph with him because Joseph had made the Israelites swear an oath. He had said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up with you from this place.”

20 After leaving Sukkoth they camped at Etham on the edge of the desert. 21 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. 22 Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.

14 Then the LORD said to Moses, 2 “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. 3 Pharaoh will think, ‘The Israelites are wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed in by the desert.’ 4 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.

5 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!” 6 So he had his chariot made ready and took his army with him. 7 He took six hundred of the best chariots, along with all the other chariots of Egypt, with officers over all of them. 8 The LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, so that he pursued the Israelites, who were marching out boldly. 9 The Egyptians—all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, horsemen and troops—pursued the Israelites and overtook them as they camped by the sea near Pi Hahiroth, opposite Baal Zephon.

10 As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the LORD. 11 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? 12 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!”

13 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. 14 The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

15 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. 16 Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. 17 I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. 18 The Egyptians will know that I am the LORD when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen.”

19 Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, 20 coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long.

21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the LORD drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, 22 and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.

23 The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea. 24 During the last watch of the night the LORD looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion. 25 He jammed the wheels of their chariots so that they had difficulty driving. And the Egyptians said, “Let’s get away from the Israelites! The LORD is fighting for them against Egypt.”

26 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen.” 27 Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward it, and the LORD swept them into the sea. 28 The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen—the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived.

29 But the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. 30 That day the LORD saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. 31 And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the LORD displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.

The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.

The NET Bible

13:17  When Pharaoh released the people, God did not lead them by the way to the land of the Philistines, although that was nearby, for God said, “Lest the people change their minds and return to Egypt when they experience war.” 13:18 So God brought the people around by the way of the desert to the Red Sea, and the Israelites went up from the land of Egypt prepared for battle.

13:19 Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for Joseph had made the Israelites solemnly swear, “God will surely attend to you, and you will carry my bones up from this place with you.”

13:20 They journeyed from Sukkoth and camped in Etham, on the edge of the desert. 13:21 Now the LORD was going before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them in the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel day or night. 13:22 He did not remove the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night from before the people.

14:1  The LORD spoke to Moses: 14:2 “Tell the Israelites that they must turn and camp before Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea; you are to camp by the sea before Baal Zephon opposite it. 14:3 Pharaoh will think regarding the Israelites, ‘They are wandering around confused in the land—the desert has closed in on them.’ 14:4 I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will chase after them. I will gain honor because of Pharaoh and because of all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD.” So this is what they did.

14:5 When it was reported to the king of Egypt that the people had fled, the heart of Pharaoh and his servants was turned against the people, and the king and his servants said, “What in the world have we done? For we have released the people of Israel from serving us!” 14:6 Then he prepared his chariots and took his army with him. 14:7 He took six hundred select chariots, and all the rest of the chariots of Egypt, and officers on all of them.

14:8 But the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he chased after the Israelites. Now the Israelites were going out defiantly. 14:9 The Egyptians chased after them, and all the horses and chariots of Pharaoh and his horsemen and his army overtook them camping by the sea, beside Pi-hahiroth, before Baal-Zephon. 14:10 When Pharaoh got closer, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians marching after them, and they were terrified. The Israelites cried out to the LORD, 14:11 and they said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the desert? What in the world have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? 14:12 Isn’t this what we told you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone so that we can serve the Egyptians, because it is better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!’ ”

14:13 Moses said to the people, “Do not fear! Stand firm and see the salvation of the LORD that he will provide for you today; for the Egyptians that you see today you will never, ever see again. 14:14 The LORD will fight for you, and you can be still.”

14:15 The LORD said to Moses, “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. 14:16 And as for you, lift up your staff and extend your hand toward the sea and divide it, so that the Israelites may go through the middle of the sea on dry ground. 14:17 And as for me, I am going to harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will come after them, that I may be honored because of Pharaoh and his army and his chariots and his horsemen. 14:18 And the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD when I have gained my honor because of Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.”

14:19 The angel of God, who was going before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them. 14:20 It came between the Egyptian camp and the Israelite camp; it was a dark cloud and it lit up the night so that one camp did not come near the other the whole night. 14:21 Moses stretched out his hand toward the sea, and the LORD drove the sea apart by a strong east wind all that night, and he made the sea into dry land, and the water was divided. 14:22 So the Israelites went through the middle of the sea on dry ground, the water forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.

14:23 The Egyptians chased them and followed them into the middle of the sea—all the horses of Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen. 14:24 In the morning watch the LORD looked down on the Egyptian army through the pillar of fire and cloud, and he threw the Egyptian army into a panic. 14:25 He jammed the wheels of their chariots so that they had difficulty driving, and the Egyptians said, “Let’s flee from Israel, for the LORD fights for them against Egypt!”

14:26 The LORD said to Moses, “Extend your hand toward the sea, so that the waters may flow back on the Egyptians, on their chariots, and on their horsemen!” 14:27 So Moses extended his hand toward the sea, and the sea returned to its normal state when the sun began to rise. Now the Egyptians were fleeing before it, but the LORD overthrew the Egyptians in the middle of the sea. 14:28 The water returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen and all the army of Pharaoh that was coming after the Israelites into the sea—not so much as one of them survived! 14:29 But the Israelites walked on dry ground in the middle of the sea, the water forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. 14:30 So the LORD saved Israel on that day from the power of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the shore of the sea. 14:31 When Israel saw the great power that the LORD had exercised over the Egyptians, they feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses.

Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006. Print.

New King James Version

17 Then it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, “Lest perhaps the people change their minds when they see war, and return to Egypt.” 18 So God led the people around by way of the wilderness of the Red Sea. And the children of Israel went up in orderly ranks out of the land of Egypt.

19 And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for he had placed the children of Israel under solemn oath, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here with you.”

20 So they took their journey from Succoth and camped in Etham at the edge of the wilderness. 21 And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so as to go by day and night. 22 He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day or the pillar of fire by night from before the people.

14 Now the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 2 “Speak to the children of Israel, that they turn and camp before Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, opposite Baal Zephon; you shall camp before it by the sea. 3 For Pharaoh will say of the children of Israel, ‘They are bewildered by the land; the wilderness has closed them in.’ 4 Then I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, so that he will pursue them; and I will gain honor over Pharaoh and over all his army, that the Egyptians may know that I am the LORD.” And they did so.

5 Now it was told the king of Egypt that the people had fled, and the heart of Pharaoh and his servants was turned against the people; and they said, “Why have we done this, that we have let Israel go from serving us?” 6 So he made ready his chariot and took his people with him. 7 Also, he took six hundred choice chariots, and all the chariots of Egypt with captains over every one of them. 8 And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued the children of Israel; and the children of Israel went out with boldness. 9 So the Egyptians pursued them, all the horses and chariots of Pharaoh, his horsemen and his army, and overtook them camping by the sea beside Pi Hahiroth, before Baal Zephon.

10 And when Pharaoh drew near, the children of Israel lifted their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians marched after them. So they were very afraid, and the children of Israel cried out to the LORD. 11 Then they said to Moses, “Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you so dealt with us, to bring us up out of Egypt? 12 Is this not the word that we told you in Egypt, saying, ‘Let us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness.”

13 And Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever. 14 The LORD will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.”

15 And the LORD said to Moses, “Why do you cry to Me? Tell the children of Israel to go forward. 16 But lift up your rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it. And the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea. 17 And I indeed will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they shall follow them. So I will gain honor over Pharaoh and over all his army, his chariots, and his horsemen. 18 Then the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gained honor for Myself over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.”

19 And the Angel of God, who went before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud went from before them and stood behind them. 20 So it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel. Thus it was a cloud and darkness to the one, and it gave light by night to the other, so that the one did not come near the other all that night.

21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea into dry land, and the waters were divided. 22 So the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea on the dry ground, and the waters were a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. 23 And the Egyptians pursued and went after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen.

24 Now it came to pass, in the morning watch, that the LORD looked down upon the army of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and cloud, and He troubled the army of the Egyptians. 25 And He took off their chariot wheels, so that they drove them with difficulty; and the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from the face of Israel, for the LORD fights for them against the Egyptians.”

26 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the waters may come back upon the Egyptians, on their chariots, and on their horsemen.” 27 And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and when the morning appeared, the sea returned to its full depth, while the Egyptians were fleeing into it. So the LORD overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea. 28 Then the waters returned and covered the chariots, the horsemen, and all the army of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them. Not so much as one of them remained. 29 But the children of Israel had walked on dry land in the midst of the sea, and the waters were a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.

30 So the LORD saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31 Thus Israel saw the great work which the LORD had done in Egypt; so the people feared the LORD, and believed the LORD and His servant Moses.

The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.

The Message

    17 It so happened that after Pharaoh released the people, God didn’t lead them by the road through the land of the Philistines, which was the shortest route, for God thought, “If the people encounter war, they’ll change their minds and go back to Egypt.”

      18 So God led the people on the wilderness road, looping around to the Red Sea. The Israelites left Egypt in military formation.

      19 Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for Joseph had made the Israelites solemnly swear to do it, saying, “God will surely hold you accountable, so make sure you bring my bones from here with you.”

      20–22 They moved on from Succoth and then camped at Etham at the edge of the wilderness. GOD went ahead of them in a Pillar of Cloud during the day to guide them on the way, and at night in a Pillar of Fire to give them light; thus they could travel both day and night. The Pillar of Cloud by day and the Pillar of Fire by night never left the people.

      1–2 14 GOD spoke to Moses: “Tell the Israelites to turn around and make camp at Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea. Camp on the shore of the sea opposite Baal Zephon.

      3–4 “Pharaoh will think, ‘The Israelites are lost; they’re confused. The wilderness has closed in on them.’ Then I’ll make Pharaoh’s heart stubborn again and he’ll chase after them. And I’ll use Pharaoh and his army to put my Glory on display. Then the Egyptians will realize that I am GOD.”

      And that’s what happened.

      5–7 When the king of Egypt was told that the people were gone, he and his servants changed their minds. They said, “What have we done, letting Israel, our slave labor, go free?” So he had his chariots harnessed up and got his army together. He took six hundred of his best chariots, with the rest of the Egyptian chariots and their drivers coming along.

      8–9 GOD made Pharaoh king of Egypt stubborn, determined to chase the Israelites as they walked out on him without even looking back. The Egyptians gave chase and caught up with them where they had made camp by the sea—all Pharaoh’s horse-drawn chariots and their riders, all his foot soldiers there at Pi Hahiroth opposite Baal Zephon.

      10–12 As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up and saw them—Egyptians! Coming at them!

      They were totally afraid. They cried out in terror to GOD. They told Moses, “Weren’t the cemeteries large enough in Egypt so that you had to take us out here in the wilderness to die? What have you done to us, taking us out of Egypt? Back in Egypt didn’t we tell you this would happen? Didn’t we tell you, ‘Leave us alone here in Egypt—we’re better off as slaves in Egypt than as corpses in the wilderness.’ ”

      13 Moses spoke to the people: “Don’t be afraid. Stand firm and watch GOD do his work of salvation for you today. Take a good look at the Egyptians today for you’re never going to see them again.

           14 GOD will fight the battle for you.

             And you? You keep your mouths shut!”

      15–16 GOD said to Moses: “Why cry out to me? Speak to the Israelites. Order them to get moving. Hold your staff high and stretch your hand out over the sea: Split the sea! The Israelites will walk through the sea on dry ground.

      17–18 “Meanwhile I’ll make sure the Egyptians keep up their stubborn chase—I’ll use Pharaoh and his entire army, his chariots and horsemen, to put my Glory on display so that the Egyptians will realize that I am GOD.”

      19–20 The angel of GOD that had been leading the camp of Israel now shifted and got behind them. And the Pillar of Cloud that had been in front also shifted to the rear. The Cloud was now between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel. The Cloud enshrouded one camp in darkness and flooded the other with light. The two camps didn’t come near each other all night.

      21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea and GOD, with a terrific east wind all night long, made the sea go back. He made the sea dry ground. The seawaters split.

      22–25 The Israelites walked through the sea on dry ground with the waters a wall to the right and to the left. The Egyptians came after them in full pursuit, every horse and chariot and driver of Pharaoh racing into the middle of the sea. It was now the morning watch. GOD looked down from the Pillar of Fire and Cloud on the Egyptian army and threw them into a panic. He clogged the wheels of their chariots; they were stuck in the mud.

      The Egyptians said, “Run from Israel! GOD is fighting on their side and against Egypt!”

      26 GOD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea and the waters will come back over the Egyptians, over their chariots, over their horsemen.”

      27–28 Moses stretched his hand out over the sea: As the day broke and the Egyptians were running, the sea returned to its place as before. GOD dumped the Egyptians in the middle of the sea. The waters returned, drowning the chariots and riders of Pharaoh’s army that had chased after Israel into the sea. Not one of them survived.

      29–31 But the Israelites walked right through the middle of the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall to the right and to the left. GOD delivered Israel that day from the oppression of the Egyptians. And Israel looked at the Egyptian dead, washed up on the shore of the sea, and realized the tremendous power that GOD brought against the Egyptians. The people were in reverent awe before GOD and trusted in GOD and his servant Moses.

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.

King James Version

17 And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt: 18 But God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red sea: and the children of Israel went up harnessed out of the land of Egypt. 19 And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him: for he had straitly sworn the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you; and ye shall carry up my bones away hence with you. 20 And they took their journey from Succoth, and encamped in Etham, in the edge of the wilderness. 21 And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night: 22 He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people.

14 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, 2 Speak unto the children of Israel, that they turn and encamp before Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, over against Baal-zephon: before it shall ye encamp by the sea. 3 For Pharaoh will say of the children of Israel, They are entangled in the land, the wilderness hath shut them in. 4 And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, that he shall follow after them; and I will be honoured upon Pharaoh, and upon all his host; that the Egyptians may know that I am the LORD. And they did so. 5 And it was told the king of Egypt that the people fled: and the heart of Pharaoh and of his servants was turned against the people, and they said, Why have we done this, that we have let Israel go from serving us? 6 And he made ready his chariot, and took his people with him: 7 And he took six hundred chosen chariots, and all the chariots of Egypt, and captains over every one of them. 8 And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued after the children of Israel: and the children of Israel went out with an high hand. 9 But the Egyptians pursued after them, all the horses and chariots of Pharaoh, and his horsemen, and his army, and overtook them encamping by the sea, beside Pi-hahiroth, before Baal-zephon.

10 And when Pharaoh drew nigh, the children of Israel lifted up their eyes, and, behold, the Egyptians marched after them; and they were sore afraid: and the children of Israel cried out unto the LORD. 11 And they said unto 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, to carry us forth out of Egypt? 12 Is not this the word that we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians? For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness. 13 And Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will shew to you to day: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever. 14 The LORD shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace. 15 And the LORD said unto Moses, Wherefore criest thou unto me? speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward: 16 But lift thou up thy rod, and stretch out thine hand over the sea, and divide it: and the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea. 17 And I, behold, I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they shall follow them: and I will get me honour upon Pharaoh, and upon all his host, upon his chariots, and upon his horsemen. 18 And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gotten me honour upon Pharaoh, upon his chariots, and upon his horsemen. 19 And the angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of the cloud went from before their face, and stood behind them: 20 And 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: so that the one came not near the other all the night.

21 And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. 22 And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground: and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left. 23 And the Egyptians pursued, and went in after them to the midst of the sea, even all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. 24 And it came to pass, that in the morning watch 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, 25 And took off their chariot wheels, that they drave them heavily: so that the Egyptians said, Let us flee from the face of Israel; for the LORD fighteth for them against the Egyptians. 26 And the LORD said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand over the sea, that the waters may come again upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen. 27 And Moses stretched forth his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to his strength when the morning appeared; and the Egyptians fled against it; and the LORD overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea. 28 And the waters returned, and covered the chariots, and the horsemen, and all the host of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them; there remained not so much as one of them. 29 But the children of Israel walked upon dry land in the midst of the sea; and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left. 30 Thus the LORD saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the sea shore. 31 And Israel saw that great work which the LORD did upon the Egyptians: and the people feared the LORD, and believed the LORD, and his servant Moses.

The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.

Sources: NIV, The Message, The NET Bible, King James Version, NET Bible Notes, Faithlife Study Bible, The Apologetics Study Bible, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary, The Bible Reader’s Companion, Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Holman Concise Bible Commentary, The Bible Exposition Commentary, The Teacher’s Bible Commentary, The Teacher’s Commentary, The Bible Guide, Word Studies in the New Testament, Holman Bible Handbook, Calvin Commentaries, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines, The New Manner and Customs of the Bible, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Bible Dictionary, Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Harper’s Bible Dictionary, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, The Archaeological Encyclopedia, Biblical Archaeology Review, The New Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Analytical Lexicon, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database
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