Bible Commentaries

James Gray's Concise Bible Commentary

Exodus 14

Verses 1-21

HORSE AND RIDER THROWN

THROUGH THE RED SEA ( Exodus 14)

What was the command now given to Moses (Exodus 14:2)? From Etham, their present stopping place, the next step was of great importance. That town

was near the head of the Red Sea at the border of the wilderness of Arabia and the limit of the three days’ journey for which they had applied to Pharaoh. Would they remain there and offer their sacrifices as proposed, or continue their journey and endeavor to leave the country of the Egyptians altogether? The latter people were watching them with keen eyes, doubtless. What must have been the surprise of all when this command began to be obeyed. The natural way to leave the country was by the north and around the head of the Red Sea, but Pi-hahiroth was in a southeasterly direction and would entangle them in the land.

A study of the map will add to the interest of the lesson even though all the localities are not absolutely identified. It is clear, that in their new station the Israelites had the mountains on the west and south and the sea on the east. As Pharaoh would follow them from the northwest it would seem at first as though they must become his easy prey, being in a snare from which it was impossible to escape.

What, however, is the divine purpose in this movement (Exodus 14:3-4)?

How did the Hebrews behave in face of the new peril that now seemed to confront them (Exodus 14:10-12)? Note their fear, unbelief, injustice, selfishness, cowardice and ingratitude. How does Moses’ character shine in comparison (Exodus 14:13-14)? Note his meekness, forbearance, composure, faith.

How does Exodus 14:15 indicate that there is a time for all things, even prayer? How does Exodus 14:16 attest the authority of Moses before the people as an instrument of God? In what way do the next two verses illustrate that the providences of God have a two-fold aspect as between sinners and saints? By what method were the waters of the sea divided (Exodus 14:21)? Compare here Psalms 77:16-20. A strong northeast wind has always had much influence on the ebb of the tide in the Red Sea, but such an annual occurrence only drives out the old body of water further from the shore. It does not divide the waters, or make them ‘a wall’ on each side of the dry ground, or leave space for the passage of a large multitude, or happen precisely at the moment when escape from a foe makes it convenient for the leader of a people to wave over the water a rod of power. In other words, this was a supernatural event, a miracle of divine power.

Do you suppose the Egyptians really knew they were walking into the bed of the sea (Exodus 14:23)? May not the supernatural darkness of the pillar of cloud have kept them in ignorance of this? If so, what a fearful discovery they made subsequently!

No wonder that in view of the present and the past the Egyptians declared that the Lord fought for Israel.

Notice the closing phrase of Exodus 14:30 “Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the sea shore’ and compare Ezekiel 32:4 which speaks of the latter judgment on the same people, and Revelation 19:17-18 referring to that which shall fall upon the ungodly nations at the close of this age.

What effect had this awful judgment upon Israel?

THE SONG OF VICTORY (Exodus 15:1-21) Compare the circumstances of this chapter with Revelation 15:2-3 and see the likeness of the two events.

This is the most ancient of songs, whose poetical merits are of the first order, which we might suppose to be the case since it was given by divine inspiration.

A remarkable feature of the song is that almost all its verbs are in the future tense, carrying the implication that what happened on this occasion to God’s enemies would happen in like manner in all future time so far as utter discomfiture and signal perdition were concerned.

What is the prediction of Exodus 15:14-18? Compare Joshua 2:9-11 for an illustration of its fulfillment.

Who is once more introduced into the history at verse 20? Observe that the dancing mentioned was that of women alone, the method being to follow the leader, imitating her steps and if she sings to comprise the chorus. The song was probably sung alternately by the men and women ranged in two bands, Moses leading the one and Miriam the other; or possibly the men sung the song and women joined in the chorus of verse 21 after every period of five verses and at the end of the whole:

“Sing ye to the Lord, For He hath triumphed gloriously, The horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea.”

Observe the new name of God found in this song (Exodus 15:2), and note that it occurs for the first time after the signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, just as the other name occurred before these events. This leads to the supposition that Jehovah is the name of God on His prophetic side and Jab His name on His historic side. As the first denotes Him who is about to manifest His being, so the second denotes Him who has manifested His being.

QUESTIONS

1. Have you sought to identify Etham and Pi-hahiroth on the map?

2. Prove the miraculous nature of the event at the Red Sea.

3. How does it and its attendant circumstances bear on the literalness of later earthly judgments?

4. Has the song of victory prophetic value, and how?

5. What is the meaning of the name “Jah”?

THE TYPICAL ASPECT OF ISRAEL’S VICTORY

Paul speaking of the early history of Israel says: “Now these things happened unto them by way of example [or, as types], and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages are come” (1 Corinthians 10:11).

At the Red Sea the question is no longer one between the Israelites and God. That was the status represented in the Passover, but the question now is between Israel and her enemy. The question with God had been settled in the Passover, and forever settled. They had been redeemed from bondage and had come into a new relationship to God in which He was pledged to certain things on their behalf.

The question now raised was the old question of servitude to Pharaoh or of liberty. This question God Himself now takes up on their behalf, and they find Him with them in a more manifest way than they had ever found Him as yet. From the very moment of the Passover God was with them, but it is the experience at the Red Sea that makes them understand how truly He is with them.

Epistle to the Romans Compared

The situation suggests the doctrinal part of Romans, in the first eight chapters of the epistle. If we consider the first half of this part, that is, down to the middle of the 5th chapter, it sets before us the teaching concerning our redemption through the blood of Christ and what it effects for us. We see that through the righteousness of God which this redemption declares, there has been provided for us in Christ a place of assured shelter. We are justified by His blood, and this justification reaches on in its effects to the final judgment of the world. Judgment for us is rolled away forever! Our standing before God is now of grace, our hope is now of glory, and we are enabled to glory, even in tribulations because all things are working together for our good.

All this may be called the Passover truth, for like the Israelites we are now sheltered from judgment, feeding upon the Lamb, and equipped for our journey.

But at this point the truth in Romans 5:12 becomes operative. That is the question of the experience of the new life. “What then, shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace?” And finally, when the discovery of the hopeless evil and weakness of our old nature is made, we cry: “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from this body of death!”

Israel’s Bondage and the Christian’s Sin

Who can but think of Israel’s bondage in Egypt here, and of the divine method of deliverance? Did Israel’s bondage to Pharaoh cease on the night of the Passover? In one sense it did. There was a breaking of chains and a real start. God was now with them and could never allow His claim to them to be cancelled, for He had redeemed them to Himself. The enemy never could regain possession of His people. But when we pass from God’s point of view to that of the people themselves we find them losing their confidence and trembling again before their old tyrant in such fear that even the actual presence of God with them in the pillar of cloud could not remove. Shut up between the desert and the sea with Pharaoh in full pursuit, their cry is that of unbelieving despair. The controversy between them and their old enemy had to be taken up afresh by God in their behalf, and now to be ended forever. God interferes and fights for them, and they do nothing but stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.

It is so with the soul who has found shelter under the blood of Christ and seen the judgment of God removed from him. The question of deliverance from the law of sin is settled for him, but he does not always come at once into the realization of it. In other words the first teaching of holiness is this, that in me as a believer in Christ, that is, in my old nature, there is no good thing. In order to have strength, in other words, we must learn the lesson of thorough and continual weakness.

What the Red Sea Means

At first, when salvation is new and one has seen death turned into life through faith in a risen Savior, it may seem as if sin could no more put shackles on the soul. But as yet there is little knowledge of the old self, and full deliverance from it is not known until this has been realized, that is, until the Red Sea is reached and Egypt is left behind forever. How many have begun to follow God in the way of holiness until He has led them where they had to cry and cry again that they cannot do the things that they would! Progress seems impossible, and hence they would stop here and imagine they must after all serve Pharaoh with the best grace they can.

They are at peace with God through the blood of Christ, yet so far as the sin which is within them is concerned they expect no special deliverance: “With the mind they serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.” Such as these do not see that after all it is only the border of Egypt they have reached, and that where all progress seems to have stopped God is at hand to give them so great a deliverance from their enemy that their hearts shall sing aloud forever.

God Our Deliverer

Now look at the type again. Observe that God does not lead Israel up against Pharaoh. In other words, He does not strengthen their arm by His own to bring salvation to them, but rather they had to stand still and see His salvation. God does not call us to fight against the flesh and subdue it, nor does He point or lead in that direction at all. The sea divides, and a channel is made for His people to pass through. In other words, Christ’s death is for us so that we are dead in Him and are no longer in the flesh. His death has ended our history before God. In Him we have passed through death untouched, dry-shod, and are now beyond it.

There is a sense, of course, in which this is not a matter of attainment on our part, and yet there is another sense in which it is. It is ours already the moment we receive Christ, and yet we are to apprehend it as ours. All this was true of Israel on the night of the Passover, and yet it was a while after the Passover before they really came to know and enjoy its blessedness.

Faith is thus the principle of sanctification as it is of justification or the new nature. Faith is turning from myself to God and His Son Jesus Christ. By faith I pass through the sea to take my new position outside of my old nature altogether, and when I look back I find that my enemies are buried in the waters. Privileged to turn away from self, the conflict and the distress are over. In Christ is my place, in Him I find a satisfying object lifting me out of the old sphere of things in which the lust of the flesh finds what it seeks. In Him the new nature expands and develops and bears fruit. The fruit of the Spirit needs to be ripened in the Son. The least degree of occupation with Christ is glory. No wonder that they who know it should, like the Israelites, sing a song of victory!

Exodus 15:22-26 PROVISION IN THE WILD

As we have entered upon a new sphere of Israel’s history it may be well again to briefly call attention to the way in which archaeological data corroborate it. These data are already so numerous, and every decade is bringing so many more to the front, that one hardly knows what to quote.

The flight of the Hebrews is not mentioned on any of the monuments of Egypt but there is a reason for that, since this escape of slaves meant a defeat of Pharaoh’s purposes. Monarchs are not in the habit of recording their defeats. And, such migrations are not infrequent in lands of shepherds and nomads. The route of the Exodus, however, is now known beyond all reasonable doubt. The Pharaoh of the Exodus is thought to be Menephtah II, whose mummy has been discovered with those of Rameses II and Seti I, all of whom were connected with the history of the Hebrews in Egypt.

The real character of the Wilderness is now known as never before, and is described as a rolling plain dotted with ridges, low terraces and knolls, and containing sufficient shrubs and herbs to give pasturage to the camels of the Bedouin. Water courses, dry in summer, and called by the Arabs wadys, cross the plain and in some cases are as much as a mile wide. The traveler occasionally discovers charming spots like the Elim of this lesson.

All these things help us to understand how the Israelites found sustenance through the Wilderness during wandering.

HEALING AND REFRESHING IN THE WILDERNESS OF SHUR (Exodus 15:22-27)

By what general name was the section of the country known which is now entered (Exodus 15:22)? What is their first stopping place (Exodus 15:23)?

How was the people’s instability displayed at this crisis (Exodus 15:24)? How was the difficulty remedied (Exodus 15:25)? Someone may ask the difference between a statute and an ordinance as named inExodus 15:25. The first is a fixed decree, and the second an injunction accompanied with an intimation of the good and evil consequences of obedience and disobedience. When it is said that God “proved them” it means that this experience tested the qualities of their hearts and whether they had faith and patience or not.

The Lord Our Healer

What comforting words are these: “I am the Lord that healeth thee”! How shall they be taken? Do they mean that as He had healed the waters of Marah so would He heal them? Or have they a significance in the past tense, that is, had the bitter waters sickened them, and in healing the waters does the Lord mean that He had really healed them? In either case physical healing is referred to, and God declares Himself the healer.

But observe that the waters being the illustration, God uses means in healing. This is not to say that He never heals otherwise, but only that it is going too far to say that the use of means necessarily excludes the thought of God as the healer.

Nor should we omit another lesson, namely, the relation of sin and disease. If they hearkened unto God and did right, He would put none of these diseases on them. The converse therefore would be true, that either directly or indirectly God puts diseases upon men who disobey Him.

What location is next reached, and what distinguishes it (Exodus 15:27)? Elim is identified with a place now called Wady Ghurendel, a few miles from Marah, a place fringed with trees and shrubbery, forming a charming oasis. Here the people seem to have remained, judging by the next chapter, for the space of three weeks, resting and preparing themselves for the journey to follow.

BREAD FROM HEAVEN IN THE WILDERNESS OF SIN ( Exodus 16)

Where did they now come, and how long after leaving Egypt (Exodus 16:1)? The word Sin here is supposed to mean “clay,” although some give it the meaning “bush” or “thorn.”

What new ground of complaint arises (Exodus 16:2-3)? How does the Lord propose to meet it (Exodus 16:4-5)? Where did we find the word “prove” in this same connection before?

What warning is given the people in Exodus 16:7? What further intimation of God’s provision for their immediate need in Exodus 16:8? How is the warning realized in Exodus 16:10?

What was the provision in Exodus 16:13? It was natural for quails to be found in the region of Arabia at certain seasons of the year, but the miracle consisted in bringing them there at this particular time and in sufficient numbers for the supply of so many people, and also in announcing their arrival beforehand.

How is the deposit of the dew described (Exodus 16:14)? Did the people clearly know its nature? It would appear then that they simply gave it the first name which suggested itself, for there is a certain scanty product of nature called manna to which this seemed to bear a resemblance. Does Moses reject the name? How does he explain the nature and origin of the substance, however? The natural manna is gathered early in June, a month later than the present time, and in small quantities, but this supernatural manna was gathered every day, Sabbaths excepted, throughout the whole year, and in quantities sufficient for the main support of a nation and during a period of forty years.

How were the people to gather it (Exodus 16:16)? How was their covetousness in the matter curtailed (Exodus 16:18)? How was their pride leveled (Exodus 16:19)?

Had Moses revealed all the details to them at first (Exodus 16:22).? What provision is made for the Sabbath (Exodus 16:23-26)? What rebuke is necessary concerning this (Exodus 16:27-30)? What further description of the manna is given (Exodus 16:31)? What arrangement is made for a memorial of this miracle (Exodus 16:32-36)?

How does Hebrews 9:4 interpret the character of the vessel in which the omerful of manna was laid up? The phrase “before the Lord” is how explained in Exodus 16:34? And how is this in turn explained in the verse just referred to in Hebrews? Must not then the act of Aaron in Exodus 16:35 have been performed at a later time, although recorded here?

The Sabbath God’s Gift to Man

The Sabbath, according to Exodus 16:29, was a gift of God to man; how precious the thought! And think of Jesus’ comment upon it: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Man is doomed to labor in his fallen state, but how could his weariness have been endured without a periodical recurrence of relief from it? How much he needs this leisure for himself, and for fellowship with God and with his fellowmen!

It is interesting to know that the Israelite was at liberty to go abroad for any purpose accordant with the Sabbath (Leviticus 23:3; Acts 15:21), and that works of necessity or mercy that could not be put off until the next day were not regarded as a breach thereof (Matthew 12:1-13; Mark 2:23-28). There seems to have been no limit to the distance to be walked on the Sabbath beyond that of convenience, the Rabbinical rule of later times being an addition of man rather than a command of God.

What a happy world this would be if men would only obey God, and the land be permitted to keep her Sabbaths!

QUESTIONS

1. How does archaeology contribute to the interest of this lesson?

2. What three things about physical healing are here taught?

3. State the miraculous feature in the incident of the quails.

4. Do the same concerning the manna.

5. What have we learned about the Sabbath?

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Bibliographical Information
Gray, James. "Commentary on Exodus 14". The James Gray's Concise Bible Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jgc/exodus-14.html. 1897-1910.