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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
1And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
2Speak unto the children of Israel, that they turn and encamp before Pihahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, over against Baalzephon: before it shall ye encamp by the sea.
That they turn - i. e. away from the wilderness, and go southwards, to the west of the Bitter Lakes, which completely separated them from the desert.
Pi-hahiroth - The place is generally identified with Ajrud, a fortress with a very large well of good water, situated at the foot of an elevation commanding the plain which extends to Suez, at a distance of four leagues. The journey from Etham might occupy two, or even three days.
Migdol - A tower, or fort, the "Maktal" of Egyptian monuments; it is probably to be identified with Bir Suweis, about two miles from Suez.
Baal-zephon - The name under which the Phoenicians, who had a settlement in Lower Egypt at a very ancient period, worshipped their chief Deity. There can be no doubt it was near Kolsum, or Suez. From the text it is clear that the encampment of the Israelites extended over the plain from Pi-hahiroth: their headquarters being between Bir Suweis and the sea opposite to Baal-Zephon. At Ajrud the road branches off in two directions, one leading to the wilderness by a tract, now dry, but in the time of Moses probably impassable (see next note); the other leading to Suez, which was doubtless followed by the Israelites.
3For Pharaoh will say of the children of Israel, They are entangled in the land, the wilderness hath shut them in.
They are entangled ... - The original intention of Moses was to go toward Palestine by the wilderness: when that purpose was changed by God's direction and they moved southwards, Pharaoh, on receiving information, was of course aware that they were completely shut in, since the waters of the Red Sea then extended to the Bitter Lakes. It is known that the Red Sea at some remote period extended considerably further toward the north than it does at present. In the time of Moses the water north of Kolsum joined the Bitter Lakes, though at present the constant accumulation of sand has covered the intervening space to the extent of 8000 to 10,000 yards.
4And 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.
5And 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?
The people fled - This was a natural inference from the change of direction, which indicated a determination to escape from Egypt. Up to the time when that information reached Pharaoh both he and his people understood that the Israelites would return after keeping a festival in the district adjoining Etham. From Etham the intelligence would be forwarded by the commander of the garrison to Rameses in less than a day, and the cavalry, a highly-disciplined force, would be ready for immediate departure.
6And he made ready his chariot, and took his people with him:
7And he took six hundred chosen chariots, and all the chariots of Egypt, and captains over every one of them.
Six hundred chosen chariots - The Egyptian army comprised large numbers of chariots, each drawn by two horses, with two men, one bearing the shield and driving, the other fully armed. The horses were thoroughbred, renowned for strength and spirit. Chariots are first represented on the monuments of the 18th dynasty. By "all the chariots of Egypt" we are to understand all that were stationed in Lower Egypt, most of them probably at Rameses and other frontier garrisons near the headquarters of Pharaoh.
Captains - The word שׁלישׁ shâlı̂ysh, literally "third or thirtieth," may represent an Egyptian title. The king had about him a council of thirty, each of whom bore a title, Mapu, a "thirty man." The word occurs frequently in the Books of Kings. David seems to have organized the Shalishim as a distinct corps (see 2 Samuel 23:8 Hebrew), retaining the old name, and adopting the Egyptian system.
8And 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.
9But 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 Pihahiroth, before Baalzephon.
And his horsemen - See Exodus 14:5.
10And 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.
11And 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?
No graves in Egypt - This bitter taunt was probably suggested by the vast extent of cemeteries in Egypt, which might not improperly be called the land of tombs.
12Is 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.
Let us alone - This is a gross exaggeration, yet not without a semblance of truth: for although the Israelites welcomed the message of Moses at first, they gave way completely at the first serious trial. See the reference in the margin. The whole passage foreshadows the conduct of the people in the wilderness.
13And 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.
For the Egyptians whom ... - The true sense is, ye shall never see the Egyptians in the same way, under the same circumstances.
14The LORD shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace.
15And the LORD said unto Moses, Wherefore criest thou unto me? speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward:
Wherefore criest thou unto me? - Moses does not speak of his intercession, and we only know of it from this answer to his prayer.
16But 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.
17And 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.
18And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gotten me honour upon Pharaoh, upon his chariots, and upon his horsemen.
19And 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:
The angel of God - Compare the margin reference, and see Exodus 3:2.
20And 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.
21And 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.
A strong east wind - The agency by which the object effected was natural (compare Exodus 15:8 note): and the conditions of the narrative are satisfied by the hypothesis, that the passage took place near Suez.
The waters were divided - i. e. there was a complete separation between the water of the gulf and the water to the north of Kolsum.
22And 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.
Were a wall unto them - Compare Nahum 3:8. The waters served the purpose of an intrenchment and wall; the people could not be attacked on either flank during the transit; to the north was the water covering the whole district; to the south was the Red Sea.
23And the Egyptians pursued, and went in after them to the midst of the sea, even all Pharaoh's horses, his chariots, and his horsemen.
24And 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,
In the morning watch - At sunrise, a little before 6 a.m.in April.
Troubled - By a sudden panic.
25And 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.
26And 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.
That the waters may come - A sudden cessation of the wind, possibly coinciding with a spring tide (it was full moon) would immediately convert the low flat sand-banks first into a quicksand, and then into a mass of waters, in a time far less than would suffice for the escape of a single chariot, or horseman loaded with heavy corslet.
27And 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.
Overthrew the Egyptians - Better as in the margin, The Lord shook them off, hurled them from their chariots into the sea.
28And 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.
Not so much as one of them - Escape would be impossible Exodus 14:26. Pharaoh's destruction, independent of the distinct statement of the Psalmist, Psalm 136:15, was in fact inevitable. The station of the king was in the vanguard: on every monument the Pharaoh is represented as the leader of the army. The death of the Pharaoh, and the entire loss of the chariotry and cavalry accounts for the undisturbed retreat of the Israelites through a district then subject to Egypt and easily accessible to their forces. If, as appears probable, Tothmosis II was the Pharaoh, the first recorded expedition into the Peninsula took place 17 years after his death; and 22 years elapsed before any measures were taken to recover the lost ascendancy of Egypt in Syria. So complete, so marvelous was the deliverance: thus the Israelites were "baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea" 1 Corinthians 10:2. When they left Baal-Zephon they were separated finally from the idolatry of Egypt: when they passed the Red Sea their independence of its power was sealed; their life as a nation then began, a life inseparable henceforth from belief in Yahweh and His servant Moses, only to be merged in the higher life revealed by His Son.
29But 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.
30Thus the LORD saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the sea shore.
31And 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.