1 - 2 The People Must Set up Camp by the Sea
1 Now the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Tell the sons of Israel to turn back and camp before Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea; you shall camp in front of Baal-zephon, opposite it, by the sea.
The LORD’s command to set up their camp by the sea seems a foolish command. That is how the people get stuck. They have the sea in front of them and Pharaoh behind them. But what for the mind seems foolishness is the right way for faith (Heb 11:29).
3 - 4 Pharaoh’s Reaction Foretold
3 For Pharaoh will say of the sons of Israel, ‘They are wandering aimlessly in the land; the wilderness has shut them in.’ 4 Thus I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will chase after them; and I will be honored through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD.” And they did so.
God gives the explanation for His command. He knows what Pharaoh will think. Next, He will let Pharaoh react as He wills. Pharaoh will, willy-nilly, become an instrument through which He will glorify Himself.
5 - 9 Pharaoh Starts the Chase
5 When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his servants had a change of heart toward the people, and they said, “What is this we have done, that we have let Israel go from serving us?” 6 So he made his chariot ready and took his people with him; 7 and he took six hundred select chariots, and all the [other] chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them. 8 The LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and he chased after the sons of Israel as the sons of Israel were going out boldly. 9 Then the Egyptians chased after them [with] all the horses [and] chariots of Pharaoh, his horsemen and his army, and they overtook them camping by the sea, beside Pi-hahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon.
Pharaoh receives the message that the people have left. He himself has given permission for it, but apparently as in an intoxication, a haze, without any real awareness of the content of his words. He has been forced to act by the circumstances, without inner conviction of God’s omnipotence. He never had the intention to really let them go. When he hears the message, it is as if he wakes up. He wondered in amazement how they were able to allow Israel to depart “from serving us”.
As the LORD has foretold, it also happens. Pharaoh comes back to his promise (cf. Jer 34:10-11). Blind as to the power of God, he starts the chase. Blinded by his own interests, Pharaoh uses his army against God’s people, something he has never done before. He deploys his very best troops. On the one hand it is Pharaoh’s own will, on the other hand he cannot do anything else because God has hardened his heart. The latter is the result of his stubborn own will, his unwillingness to bow before God.
The anger of Pharaoh is great and his speed to figure out the people as well. He only uses chariots, not footmen, because that goes too slowly. Pharaoh overtakes them at the place where the people have set up their camp according to God’s will. He seems to have succeeded in his aim. The fate of the people seems sealed. Similarly, satan does not intend to release anyone without a fight from his power. He will do his utmost to keep his victims in his power or to get them back again into it.
10 - 12 The Fear of the People
10 As Pharaoh drew near, the sons of Israel looked, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they became very frightened; so the sons of Israel cried out to the LORD. 11 Then they said to Moses, “Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you dealt with us in this way, bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Is this not the word that we spoke to you in Egypt, saying, ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.”
Pharaoh did not take account of God and someone who counts outside of God always counts wrong. It is not only Pharaoh who is the object of God’s actions. With the chase by Pharaoh God also has in mind education for His people.
The people react in panic fear. They see no way out. There is no such thing for the eye, neither around them nor within themselves. Before faith there is a way out, after all upwards (2Cor 4:8). They call to the LORD, but not in true faith. They blame Moses. In their fear they come to statements that do not testify of faith, but of unbelief.
Forgotten are all the wonders and signs which the LORD hath done in Egypt. They only see the circumstances. They do not remember what the LORD has already done for them. As soon as freedom creates difficulties, they long to return to slavery. But God knows how to use their need to give them new teaching in the way of faith.
The language they use in their fear is the language of someone who has sheltered behind the blood of the Lamb, but who has no peace in his conscience regarding the power of the enemy. Someone can be a believer, but still constantly wrestle with the power of sin. As a result, such a believer becomes unhappy and miserable. This can take such strong forms that he yearns for a life in the world. There he did not know the misery.
In Romans 7 we find the New Testament counterpart of the situation in which the people find themselves here. There we hear someone speak who is born again, but does not yet know the full salvation. That this person has been born again is shown by the fact that he enjoys “the law of God in the inner man” (Rom 7:22). Such a thing can never be said of an unbeliever. The same person experiences that, although born again, he feels increasingly miserable because he fails so badly in doing good. Instead, he always does evil. Finally, he exclaims it in despair: “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death (Rom 7:24)?
13 - 14 Moses Encourages the People
13 But Moses said to the people, “Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the LORD which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever. 14 The LORD will fight for you while you keep silent.”
Calm and with conviction Moses gives the appropriate answer to the complaint of the people. Although he does not know how the matter will proceed, he says to them that they can trust that they will see the salvation of the LORD. They don’t have to do anything themselves. The LORD will fight for them. They will see the results of His work. This will free them from their fear and make them able to move on in joy.
The person from Romans 7 can, after the exclamation “wretched man that I am!”, say “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom 7:25). After many times “I” – we hear this word about forty times in Romans 7 –, he is now at the point where he no longer sees on himself, but on what God has done through Jesus Christ. That is true liberation or freedom. Christ not only died for sins, the deeds, He also died for sin as power. His blood cleanses from sins, His death frees from the power of sin. A picture of that is what the people will learn as a lesson at the Red Sea.
15 - 18 What the LORD Will Do
15 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to Me? Tell the sons of Israel to go forward. 16 As for you, lift up your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, and the sons of Israel shall go through the midst of the sea on dry land. 17 As for Me, behold, I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them; and I will be honored through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. 18 Then the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD, when I am honored through Pharaoh, through his chariots and his horsemen.”
The LORD asks Moses why he calls to Him. That is not necessary, is it? The people don’t have to be afraid of the enemy, do they? After all, he has brought them out. Will He not then guide them further? Yet in His grace He meets the cries of His people and says what to do. They must continue in faith as if there were no sea. The LORD sends Moses, as a picture of the Lord Jesus, before them. Moses must prepare the way with his strength of which his staff is a symbol.
The Lord Jesus died for us. He bore the judgment for us. By this we can, hidden in Him, pass through death. We died with Him, and so death is deprived of His power for us. This is why we died to sin, so that sin no longer has control over us (Rom 6:5-12).
Sin came into the world through man’s disobedience. The power of sin is broken by the obedience of one Man, Jesus Christ. In the three hours of darkness on the cross He is made sin. At this lowest point of suffering His glorification of God is also the greatest. God is glorified in respect of sin by acting with it in this way. God did not want sin. Now that sin has come, He uses sin for His glorification.
19 - 20 The LORD Protects His People
19 The angel of God, who had been going before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them. 20 So it came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel; and there was the cloud along with the darkness, yet it gave light at night. Thus the one did not come near the other all night.
The Angel of God takes a different place. He always takes that place for the benefit of His people which is needed at that moment. He changes from Leader to Guard. He who is their vanguard is also their rearguard: “And your righteousness will go before you; the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard” (Isa 58:8b). While God judges the enemies of His people, He protects His people with His glory. What is for His people for protection means the judgment for His enemies.
These two sides are also in the gospel: “For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life” (2Cor 2:15-16a).
21 - 22 The Path Through the Sea
21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD swept the sea [back] by a strong east wind all night and turned the sea into dry land, so the waters were divided. 22 The sons of Israel went through the midst of the sea on the dry land, and the waters [were like] a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.
By the power of God there is a path through the sea (Job 26:12) and “by faith they passed through the Red Sea as though [they were passing] through dry land” (Heb 11:29a; Psa 66:6). We see God’s almighty power in nature. He splits the waters. He does so by means of “a strong east wind”. The elements of nature are under His authority and obey Him in what He commands them.
In the end time, when the people in the great tribulation will undergo the same trial of faith, they will also experience the same salvation: “But now, thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you. “For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isa 43:1-3a).
23 - 28 Pharaoh’s Army Perishes
23 Then the Egyptians took up the pursuit, and all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots and his horsemen went in after them into the midst of the sea. 24 At the morning watch, the LORD looked down on the army of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and cloud and brought the army of the Egyptians into confusion. 25 He caused their chariot wheels to swerve, and He made them drive with difficulty; so the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from Israel, for the LORD is fighting for them against the Egyptians.” 26 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may come back over the Egyptians, over their chariots and their horsemen.” 27 So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its normal state at daybreak, while the Egyptians were fleeing right into it; then the LORD overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea. 28 The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen, even Pharaoh’s entire army that had gone into the sea after them; not even one of them remained.
Salvation is not only a separation between the people and the enemy, but also the complete judgment of the whole army of Pharaoh. The LORD looks down upon the whole scene (verse 24). He notes everything, He is in charge. He lets Pharaoh go to the middle of the sea. Then He confuses the Egyptian army and causes the wheels of the chariots to swerve. Natural explanations can be sought, but here we see that the LORD works it out. That gives reason to remember Him and His wonders, as Asaph does (Psa 77:12,17,20-21).
At first it seems as if Pharaoh can go the same way as the people. He also goes into the Red Sea. It seems as if God is with Pharaoh and against His people. But what salvation means to Israel is what the judgment means to Pharaoh: “By faith they passed through the Red Sea as though [they were passing] through dry land; and the Egyptians, when they attempted it, were drowned” (Heb 11:29). And that judgment is complete, just as salvation is complete. There is not one enemy left. Not one member of the people dies.
So it is with the work of the Lord Jesus on the cross. There it also seems as if God is against Him and cooperates with His enemies. However, the resurrection makes it clear on which side God stands. This is only possible by understanding and accepting faith. In the judgment that the Lord Jesus bore on the cross, the victory over satan is concluded. The resurrection of the Lord Jesus is proof that the victory over sin, satan, death and the world is complete. In His victory the victory of His people is included.
29 - 31 Israel Believes in the LORD and in Moses
29 But the sons of Israel walked on dry land through the midst of the sea, and the waters [were like] a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. 30 Thus the LORD saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31 When Israel saw the great power which the LORD had used against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in His servant Moses.
The people reach the dry land. The man who in Romans 7 sinks, as it were, into the marsh, gets firm ground under his feet, which he expresses in faith by agreeing with the truth: “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1). This is also what the believer expresses when he is baptized. In going through the Red Sea we see a picture of the baptism. Just as the Israelites join Moses by going through the sea (1Cor 10:1-2), so the believer joins a dead Christ by baptism (Rom 6:3-4a).
Israel sees the dead bodies (cf. Isa 66:24). They see the proof of the complete liberation of the power of the enemy. His dominion has been destroyed. They have been impressed by the power of the enemy, they have been terrified of it; now they have been impressed by the power of God. Israel recognizes the mighty deed of the LORD.
They are filled with respect for Him and for Moses, His servant. If we have understood to be made free from the power of sin, it will fill us with awe and admiration for God and for His Son through Whom God has accomplished this. The result is that we will sing and honor Him, as we see it in the next chapter.