DIG: Why did God have the people backtrack from Migdol so soon after their departure? What was the strategy behind that? How does Pharaoh end up showing his true colors? How equipped are the Egyptians? The Israelites? How did that make the Israelites react?
REFLECT: We sometimes chide the Egyptians for not believing in the God of the Israelites even after all they had seen Him do. It seems incredible to us that they were so stubborn. Yet, how stubborn can we sometimes be, even after all we have seen God do in our lives? Has this been true for you? How so?
At the end of Chapter 13 we see the Israelites quickly fleeing from Egypt. They have reached the very edge of the wilderness and are about to enter it for their final escape from the land of death to go to the land of promise. They were carrying Joseph’s bones with them as a reminder that the promise of Genesis 50 had been fulfilled. But not only that, ADONAI was leading them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, His Shechinah Glory. The Hebrews had all the evidence they needed to believe that God was protecting them and that they would soon succeed in their escape from Egypt. However, how soon that assurance would be shattered!255
They were on the brink of escape when ADONAI said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites to turn back (that is northward toward Rameses, or the general direction that they had come) and encamp near Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the Sea of Reeds, directly opposite (or east of) Baal Zephon (14:1-2). Baal Zephon means Baal of the North, who was a Canaanite god. These cities are unknown to us today, but one Egyptian papyrus associates Baal Zephon with Tahpahnes (Jeremiah 2:16, 43:7-9, 44:1, 46:14; Ezekiel 30:18), a known site near Lake Menzaleh in the northeastern delta region, which was near the old city of Rameses; and another Egyptian writing of the thirteenth century also places a Sea of Reeds somewhere near Rameses.256 Today Lake Menzaleh is known as Bahra el Manzala. It is a fresh water lake and reeds only grow in fresh water. Its length is 45 miles and its width reaches 30 miles in some places. The Sea of Reeds, or yam sup, is a very general word that may be used of a lake, a sea (such as the Mediterranean), a river (such as the Nile), or some other body of water.257 Therefore, Lake Menzaleh is the most likely place for the Sea of Reeds, and the crossing probably took place near its southern end.258
Amenhotep II had his spies looking on the scene to see where the Israelites were going, and he expected them to move up the coastal route and through the land of the Philistines. But when the Jews doubled back, Pharaoh must have thought that Israel’s God was a poor general because He took them to a place where there was no retreat. Pharaoh thought that the Israelites were wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed in by the desert (14:3). Pharaoh concluded that he had the advantage and he decided to attack.
To add fuel to the fire, God said that He would harden Pharaoh’s heart, so that he would pursue the Hebrews for revenge. Why did the LORD do that? Because He wanted to gain glory for Himself through Pharaoh and all his army, so that the Egyptians will know that He is ADONAI (14:4a). God was not through with the king of Egypt.
So the Israelites turned back and were trapped with their backs to the Sea of Reeds (14:4b). But why did God do that? The answer is very clear. He wanted to show His power in the salvation of His people so that He would be greatly glorified. Escape seemed out of the question and Pharaoh smelled his revenge, but the LORD was still in control of the situation. It was He who exposed Israel to attack, and it was He who had hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Like a master chess player, God induced Pharaoh to move as a king into checkmate, and he didn’t even realize it.259
The scene now changes to the Egyptian palace. Pharaoh was probably informed immediately of the Israelites’ departure from Rameses on the fifteenth day of the month. But no doubt he did not react immediately because the Egyptians were burying their dead (Numbers 33:3-4) and because Moses had repeatedly referred to a three-day journey (3:18, 5:3, 8:27). But on the twenty-first of Nissan, the seventh day of the Passover, he realized the Israelites departure was not temporary. Therefore, Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds and pursued the fugitives.260 When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his officials (the very ones who urged Pharaoh to let the people go in 10:7) changed their minds about them and said: What have we done? We have let the Israelites go and have lost their services (14:5)! They began to realize the sudden economic disaster that the loss of the slaves would bring. Memories are very short, aren’t they?
So he had his chariot made ready and took his army with him. He took six hundred of the best chariots, along with all the other chariots of Egypt, with officers over all of them and pursued the fugitives (14:6-7). The word officers literally means third men. Usually each chariot carried two men, the charioteer and the warrior. Sometimes, however, there was a third man, who directed the two others. The strength of Pharaoh’s chariot force is seen in the fact that besides the usual pair of men, he had a third man in each chariot. Thus one might act as a charioteer, one as a warrior, and one as shield-bearer.261 According to the TaNaKh, six hundred was a standard military unit (Jud 18:11-17; 1 Sam 13:15, 14:2). ADONAI hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, so that he pursued the Israelites, who were marching out boldly (14:8). Things were progressing according to God’s plan.
The Egyptians – all Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, charioteers and troops – pursued the Israelites and overtook them as they camped by Lake Menzaleh near Pi Hahiroth, opposite of Baal Zephon (14:9). The rabbis teach that Baal Zephon was the only Egyptian idol that God did not destroy, and that Pharaoh was deluded enough to think that the Baal of the North could take on God. Satan is always lurking behind those who think they can take on God and win. He lied to the angels in heaven who rebelled and tried to take on God (Revelation 12:7-9). Before the Flood, he tried to take on God by having demon-possessed men marry women to produce a contaminated human race that could not be saved (Genesis 6:1-6). He tried to take on God in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13), and on the cross, where seven times he chided Christ through others to come down and save Himself (Matthew 27:40, 42, 44; Mark 15:20; Luke 23:35, 37, 39). Never giving up, he will even try to take on God during the Great Tribulation (see my commentary on Isaiah Kh – The Eight Stage Campaign of Armageddon). And even after the thousand year Millennial Kingdom, he will deceive the nations of the earth for the last time before being thrown into the lake of burning sulfur to be tormented for ever and ever (Revelation 20:7-10). None of these attempts work any better than charging through the Sea of Reeds did for Pharaoh. But it is amazing that humans, directed by Satan, continue to try to take on God.
As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them as a single, unified force. Contrary to God’s plan, the Israelites were expecting a carefree trip out of Egypt. The last thing they expected was to pause for a moment by Lake Menzaleh, and then turn around and see the Egyptians in hot pursuit.262 They were terrified and cried out to ADONAI (14:10). I suppose it is hard to put ourselves in their shoes. They had seen God do so much for them, and it is hard not to be very impatient with them. Didn’t they realize He had brought them that far and would see it through? Isn’t that smug and comfortable from our vantage point? And yet at the same time, it must have been terrifying to see the most powerful army in the world bearing down on them. They were unarmed and hardly ready for battle.
Then they sarcastically recalled what they had said to Moses earlier: Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? The great pyramids stood as monuments to the burial places of kings. And mummies were all over Egypt; it was the great burying ground.263 What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? During the year of the plagues, didn’t we say to you, ‘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 (14:11-12). Their response was more of a temper tantrum than a cry for help. At the first sign of trouble, they were willing to march straight back to Egypt, ignoring the mighty acts of God that had brought them out of it in the first place. With Pharaoh in hot pursuit, they did not give a second thought to the promises that the LORD had made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They still had not learned God’s purpose for bringing them out of Egypt was not merely to save them, but to save all mankind, past, present and future.264 It is sobering to realize that we have the same fallen nature within us also.
Moses’ response was threefold: First, he said: Do not be afraid. Moses was not saying, “There, there. Don’t worry. God will take care of you. You’ll see. Be calm.” Rather, this is a terse, impatient command on Moses’ part. In Hebrew, the last part of the verse is only two words, which are best translated as: Be quiet! Or even better: Shut up! This was not a word of comfort but an angry denouncement of Israel’s paper-thin faith.264 The only cure for fear is for our eyes to remain fixed on God. To be occupied with our circumstances and surroundings is fatal to our peace. Look at Peter when he tried to walk on the water to the Messiah. While he kept his eyes on God he was safe, but as soon as he became occupied with the winds and waves, he began to sink.265
Secondly, stand firm and you will see the deliverance, or salvation, ADONAI will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again (14:13). Moses ignored the murmurings of Israel and refused to go along with it. He was saying, “Hold your ground.” Moses was probably telling the Hebrews to choose between God and Amenhotep II. How long would they waver between the two? This is also our challenge. We need to remember that He will supply our every need (Philippians 4:19), make a way of escape from every temptation (First Corinthians 10:13), and do for us exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think.266
Lastly, ADONAI will fight for you; you need only to be still (Exodus 14:14, 15:3; Nehemiah 4:20; Psalm 25:1). What did the Israelites contribute to their salvation? Nothing. They were not called upon to prepare defenses or to organize to fight. They applied the blood to the doorframes of their houses and stood back (12:22). They were mere spectators and God would take care of the rest. It is the same for us. All attempts at self-help must end, and all activities of the flesh must stop. I know it is easy to say, but hard to do.
These are three things that you and I should still be doing today. First, we should not be afraid. It is with fear that Satan tries to get the upper hand in your life. Secondly, stand firm by putting on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand (Ephesians 6:13). And lastly, you need to understand the incredible news that God has for you today. God will fight for you; you need only to be still. Oh, the amazing comfort of it, and yet the amazing frustration of it. How often do we want to help? To draw our sword and get where the action is. Then God just has to unravel the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into.
Keeping a positive outlook on life is pretty hard when nothing much positive seems to be happening in your life. Let’s face it, when things are going bad, really bad, there’s nothing worse than a confrontation with an eternal optimist. That’s the last thing you need. At times like that you would much rather hear, “You poor thing,” than, “It could be worse!” Sure, it could be worse; it could always be worse. But, at the moment, you don’t need to be reminded of the fact that there is still more trouble that could be hidden somewhere and it is just a matter of time before it catches up with you. When you feel like that, you really would prefer some sympathy. Or, at the very least, if they don’t feel your pain, couldn’t they just pretend for a while!
Life isn’t fair and the fact that some people have more money, more power, more beauty, more – well, more of everything, is pretty good evidence of that. Sometimes you just want to sink down into the depths of the inequality and dwell in it, wallow in it and let it cover you like a blanket. If you can’t overcome it, then at least you can learn to live with it. If you can learn to live with your own inability or inadequacy, at least you have accomplished something of value in your life. Unfortunately, when we open the door to defeat, we open the door to negativism and bitterness. Then the value of life itself may become meaningless.
“One of the greatest evangelistic hymns of all time was written by a woman who knew the release and peace that comes from confessing one’s sins and failure to God. ‘Just As I Am,’ a hymn frequently sung at the close of evangelistic meetings, was written by Charlotte Elliott, who at one time had been very bitter with God about the circumstances in her life. Charlotte was an invalid from her youth and deeply resented the constraints her handicap placed on her life. In an emotional outburst on one occasion, she expressed those feelings to Dr. Cesar Malan, a minister visiting her home. He listened and was touched by her distress, but he insisted that her problem should not divert her attention from what she most needed to hear. He challenged her to turn her life over to God, to come to Him just as she was, with all her bitterness and anger.
She resented what seemed to be an almost callous attitude on his part, but God spoke to her through him, and she committed her life to the LORD. She let Him take the steering wheel of her life. Each year on the anniversary of that decision, Dr. Malan wrote Charlotte a letter, encouraging her to continue to be strong in her faith. But even as a believer, she had doubts and struggles. One particularly sore point was her inability to effectively go out and serve God. At times she almost resented her brother’s successful preaching and evangelistic ministry. She longed to be used of God herself, but she felt her health and physical condition prevented it. Then in 1836, on the fourteenth anniversary of her conversion, while she was alone in the evening, the forty-seven-year-old Charlotte Elliott wrote her spiritual autobiography in a poem that was later turned into a song recognizable at altar call at the end of Bill Graham’s crusades. There, in a prayer of confession, she poured out her feelings to God – feelings that countless other people have identified with in the generations that followed. The third stanza, perhaps more than the others, described her pilgrimage: Just as I am, though tossed about – With many a conflict, many a doubt, – Fightings and fears within, without, - O Lamb of God, I come! I come!
Many years later, when reflecting on the impact his sister made in penning this one hymn, the Reverend Henry Venn Elliott said, ‘In the course of a long ministry I hope I have been permitted to see some fruit of my labors, but I feel far more has been done by a single hymn of my sister’s, ‘Just As I Am’ (Ruth Tucker Sacred Stories).”
The Teaching Ministry of Jay Mack 2006-2017