Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Passage of the Israelites through the Red Sea; Destruction of Pharaoh and His Army. - Exo 14:1, Exo 14:2. At Etham God commanded the Israelites to turn (שׁוּב) and encamp by the sea, before Pihachiroth, between Migdol and the sea, before Baalzephon, opposite to it. In Num 33:7, the march is described thus: on leaving Etham they turned up to (על) Pihachiroth, which is before (על־פּני( e in the front of) Baalzephon, and encamped before Migdol. The only one of these places that can be determined with any certainty is Pihachiroth, or Hachiroth (Num 33:8, pi being simply the Egyptian article), which name has undoubtedly been preserved in the Ajrud mentioned by Edrisi in the middle of the twelfth century. At present this is simply a fort, which a well 250 feet deep, the water of which is so bitter, however, that camels can hardly drink it. It stands on the pilgrim road from Kahira to Mecca, four hours' journey to the north-west of Suez (vid., Robinson, Pal. i. p. 65). A plain, nearly ten miles long and about as many broad, stretches from Ajrud to the sea to the west of Suez, and from the foot of Atkah to the arm of the sea on the north of Suez (Robinson, Pal. i. 65). This plain most probably served the Israelites as a place of encampment, so that they encamped before, i.e., to the east of, Ajrud towards the sea. The other places just also be sought in the neighbourhood of Hachiroth (Ajrud), though no traces of them have been discovered yet. Migdol cannot be the Migdol twelve Roman miles to the south of Pelusium, which formed the north-eastern boundary of Egypt (Eze 29:10), for according to Num 33:7, Israel encamped before Migdol; nor is it to be sought for in the hill and mountain-pass called Montala by Burckhardt, el Muntala by Robinson (pp. 63, 64), two hours' journey to the northwest of Ajrud, as Knobel supposes, for this hill lies too far to the west, and when looked at from the sea is almost behind Ajrud; so that the expression "encamping before Migdol" does not suit this situation, not to mention the fact that a tower (מגדּל) does not indicate a watch-tower (מצפּה). Migdol was probably to the south of Ajrud, on one of the heights of the Atkah, and near it, though more to the south-east, Baalzephon (locus Typhonis), which Michaelis and Forster suppose to be Heroopolis, whilst Knobel places it on the eastern shore, and others to the south of Hachiroth. If Israel therefore did not go straight into the desert from Etham, on the border of the desert, but went southwards into the plain of Suez, to the west of the head of the Red Sea, they were obliged to bend round, i.e., "to turn" from the road they had taken first. The distance from Etham to the place of encampment at Hachiroth must be at least a six hours' journey (a tolerable day's journey, therefore, for a whole nation), as the road from Suez to Ajrud takes four hours (Robinson, i. p. 66).
This turn in their route was not out of the way for the passage through the Red Sea; but apart from this, it was not only out of the way, but a very foolish way, according to human judgment. God commanded Moses to take this road, that He might be honoured upon Pharaoh, and show the Egyptians that He was Jehovah (cf. Exo 14:30, Exo 14:31). Pharaoh would say of the Israelites, They have lost their way; they are wandering about in confusion; the desert has shut them in, as in a prison upon which the door is shut (על סנר as in Job 12:14); and in his obduracy he would resolve to go after them with his army, and bring them under his sway again.
When it was announced that Israel had fled, "the heart of Pharaoh and his servants turned against the people," and they repented that they had let them go. When and whence the information came, we are not told. The common opinion, that it was brought after the Israelites changed their route, has no foundation in the text. For the change in Pharaoh's feelings towards the Israelites, and his regret that he had let them go, were caused not by their supposed mistake, but by their flight. Now the king and his servants regarded the exodus as a flight, as soon as they recovered from the panic caused by the death of the first-born, and began to consider the consequences of the permission given to the people to leave his service. This may have occurred as early as the second day after the exodus. In that case, Pharaoh would have had time to collect chariots and horsemen, and overtake the Israelites at Hachiroth, as they could easily perform the same journey in two days, or one day and a half, to which the Israelites had taken more than three. "He yoked his chariot (had it yoked, cf. Kg1 6:14), and took his people (i.e., his warriors) with him," viz., "six hundred chosen war chariots (Exo 14:7), and all the chariots of Egypt" (sc., that he could get together in the time), and "royal guards upon them all." שׁלשׁים, τριστάται, tristatae qui et terni statores vocantur, nomen est secundi gradus post regiam dignitatem (Jerome on Eze 23:23), not charioteers (see my Com. on Kg1 9:22). According to Exo 14:9, the army raised by Pharaoh consisted of chariot horses (רכב סוּס), riding horses (פּרשׁים, lit., runners, Kg1 5:6), and חיל, the men belonging to them. War chariots and cavalry were always the leading force of the Egyptians (cf. Isa 31:1; Isa 36:9). Three times (Exo 14:4, Exo 14:8, and Exo 14:17) it is stated that Jehovah hardened Pharaoh's heart, so that he pursued the Israelites, to show that God had decreed this hardening, to glorify Himself in the judgment and death of the proud king, who would not honour God, the Holy One, in his life. "And the children of Israel were going out with a high hand:" Exo 14:8. is a conditional clause in the sense of, "although they went out" (Ewald, 341). רמה יד, the high hand, is the high hand of Jehovah with the might which it displayed (Isa 26:11), not the armed hand of the Israelites. This is the meaning also in Num 33:3; it is different in Num 15:30. The very fact that Pharaoh did not discern the lifting up of Jehovah's hand in the exodus of Israel displayed the hardening of his heart. "Beside Pihachiroth:" see Exo 14:2.
When the Israelites saw the advancing army of the Egyptians, they were greatly alarmed; for their situation to human eyes was a very unfortunate one. Shut in on the east by the sea, on the south and west by high mountains, and with the army of the Egyptians behind them, destruction seemed inevitable, since they were neither outwardly armed nor inwardly prepared for a successful battle. Although they cried unto the Lord, they had no confidence in His help, notwithstanding all the previous manifestation so the fidelity of the true God; they therefore gave vent to the despair of their natural heart in complaints against Moses, who had brought them out of the servitude of Egypt to give them up to die in the desert. "Hast thou, because there were no graves at all (אין מבּלי, a double negation to give emphasis) in Egypt, fetched us to die in the desert?" Their further words in Exo 14:12 exaggerated the true state of the case from cowardly despair. For it was only when the oppression increased, after Moses' first interview with Pharaoh, that they complained of what Moses had done (Exo 5:21), whereas at first they accepted his proposals most thankfully (Exo 4:31), and even afterwards implicitly obeyed his directions.
Moses met their unbelief and fear with the energy of strong faith, and promised them such help from the Lord, that they would never see again the Egyptians, whom they had seen that day. ראיתם אשׁר does not mean ὅν τρόπον ἑωράκατε (lxx), quemadmodum vidistis (Ros., Kn.); but the sentence is inverted: "The Egyptians, whom ye have seen to-day, ye will never see again."
"Jehovah will fight for you (לכם, dat comm.), but you will be silent," i.e., keep quiet, and not complain any more (cf. Gen 34:5).
The words of Jehovah to Moses, "What criest thou to Me?" imply that Moses had appealed to God for help, or laid the complaints of the people before Him, and do not convey any reproof, but merely an admonition to resolute action. The people were to move forward, and Moses was to stretch out his hand with his staff over the sea and divide it, so that the people might go through the midst on dry ground. Exo 14:17 and Exo 14:18 repeat the promise in Exo 14:3, Exo 14:4. The command and promise were followed by immediate help (Exo 14:19-29). Whilst Moses divided the water with his staff, and thus prepared the way, the angel of God removed from before the Israelites, and placed himself behind them as a defence against the Egyptians, who were following them. "Upon his chariots, and upon his horsemen" (Exo 14:17), is in apposition to "all his host;" as Pharaoh's army consisted entirely of chariots and horsemen (cf. Exo 14:18).
"And it was the cloud and the darkness (sc., to the Egyptians), and lighted up the night (sc., to the Israelites)." Fuit nubes partim lucida et partim tenebricosa, ex una parte tenebricosa fuit Aegyptiis, ex altera lucida Israelitis (Jonathan). Although the article is striking in והחשׁך, the difficulty is not to be removed, as Ewald proposes, by substituting והחשׁך, "and as for the cloud, it caused darkness;" for in that case the grammar would require the imperfect with ו consec. This alteration of the text is also rendered suspicious from the fact that both Onkelos and the lxx read and render the word as a substantive.
When Moses stretched out his hand with the staff (Exo 14:16) over the sea, "Jehovah made the water go (flow away) by a strong east wind the whole night, and made the sea into dry (ground), and the water split itself" (i.e., divided by flowing northward and southward); "and the Israelites went in the midst of the sea (where the water had been driven away by the wind) in the dry, and the water was a wall (i.e., a protection formed by the damming up of the water) on the right and on the left." קדים, the east wind, which may apply either to the south-east or north-east, as the Hebrew has special terms for the four quarters only. Whether the wind blew directly from the east, or somewhat from the south-east or north-east, cannot be determined, as we do not know the exact spot where the passage was made. in any case, the division of the water in both directions could only have been effected by an east wind; and although even now the ebb is strengthened by a north-east wind, as Tischendorf says, and the flood is driven so much to the south by a strong north-west wind that the gulf can be ridden through, and even forded on foot, to the north of Suez (v. Schub. Reise ii. p. 269), and "as a rule the rise and fall of the water in the Arabian Gulf is nowhere so dependent upon the wind as it is at Suez" (Wellsted, Arab. ii. 41, 42), the drying of the sea as here described cannot be accounted for by an ebb strengthened by the east wind, because the water is all driven southwards in the ebb, and not sent in two opposite directions. Such a division could only be produced by a wind sent by God, and working with omnipotent force, in connection with which the natural phenomenon of the ebb may no doubt have exerted a subordinate influence.
(Note: But as the ebb at Suez leaves the shallow parts of the gulf so far dry, when a strong wind is blowing, that it is possible to cross over them, we may understand how the legend could have arisen among the Ichthyophagi of that neighbourhood (Diod. Sic. 3, 39) and even the inhabitants of Memphis (Euseb. praep. ev. 9, 27), that the Israelites took advantage of a strong ebb, and how modern writers like Clericus have tried to show that the passage through the sea may be so accounted for.)
The passage was effected in the night, through the whole of which the wind was blowing, and in the morning watch (between three and six o'clock, Exo 14:24) it was finished.
As to the possibility of a whole nation crossing with their flocks, Robinson concludes that this might have been accomplished within the period of an extraordinary ebb, which lasted three, or at the most four hours, and was strengthened by the influence of a miraculous wind. "As the Israelites," he observes, "numbered more than two millions of persons, besides flocks and herds, they would of course be able to pass but slowly. If the part left dry were broad enough to enable them to cross in a body one thousand abreast, which would require a space of more than half a mile in breadth (and is perhaps the largest supposition admissible), still the column would be more than two thousand persons in depth, and in all probability could not have extended less than two miles. It would then have occupied at least an hour in passing over its own length, or in entering the sea; and deducting this from the largest time intervening, before the Egyptians also have entered the sea, there will remain only time enough, under the circumstances, for the body of the Israelites to have passed, at the most, over a space of three or four miles." (Researches in Palestine, vol. i. p. 84.)
But as the dividing of the water cannot be accounted for by an extraordinary ebb, even though miraculously strengthened, we have no occasion to limit the time allowed for the crossing to the ordinary period of an ebb. If God sent the wind, which divided the water and laid the bottom dry, as soon as night set in, the crossing might have begun at nine o'clock in the evening, if not before, and lasted till four of five o'clock in the morning (see Exo 14:27). By this extension of the time we gain enough for the flocks, which Robinson has left out of his calculation. The Egyptians naturally followed close upon the Israelites, from whom they were only divided by the pillar of cloud and fire; and when the rear of the Israelites had reached the opposite shore, they were in the midst of the sea. And in the morning watch Jehovah cast a look upon them in the pillar of cloud and fire, and threw their army into confusion (Exo 14:24). The breadth of the gulf at the point in question cannot be precisely determined. At the narrowest point above Suez, it is only two-thirds of a mile in breadth, or, according to Niebuhr, 3450 feet; but it was probably broader formerly, and even now is so farther up, opposite to Tell Kolzum (Rob. i. pp. 84 and 70). The place where the Israelites crossed must have been broader, otherwise the Egyptian army, with more than six hundred chariots and many horsemen, could not have been in the sea and perished there when the water returned. - "And Jehovah looked at the army of the Egyptians in (with) the pillar of cloud and fire, and troubled it." This look of Jehovah is to be regarded as the appearance of fire suddenly bursting forth from the pillar of cloud that was turned towards the Egyptians, which threw the Egyptian army into alarm and confusion, and not as "a storm with thunder and lightning," as Josephus and even Rosenmller assume, on the ground of Psa 78:18-19, though without noticing the fact that the psalmist has merely given a poetical version of the event, and intends to show "how all the powers of nature entered the service of the majestic revelation of Jehovah, when He judged Egypt and set Israel free" (Delitzsch). The fiery look of Jehovah was a much more stupendous phenomenon than a storm; hence its effect was incomparably grander, viz., a state of confusion in which the wheels of the chariots were broken off from the axles, and the Egyptians were therefore impeded in their efforts to escape.
"And (Jehovah) made the wheels of his (the Egyptian's) chariots give way, and made, that he (the Egyptian) drove in difficulty." נהג ".ytlucif to drive a chariot (Sa2 6:3, cf. Kg2 9:20).
Then God directed Moses to stretch out his staff again over the sea, and the sea came back with the turning of the morning (when the morning turned, or approached) to its position (איתן perennitas, the lasting or permanent position), and the Egyptians were flying to meet it. "When the east wind which divided the sea ceased to blow, the sea from the north and south began to flow together on the western side;" whereupon, to judge from Exo 15:10, the wind began immediately to blow from the west, and drove the waves in the face of the flying Egyptians. "And thus Jehovah shook the Egyptians (i.e., plunged them into the greatest confusion) in the midst of the sea," so that Pharaoh's chariots and horsemen, to the very last man, were buried in the waves.
This miraculous deliverance of Israel from the power of Egypt, through the mighty hand of their God, produced so wholesome a fear of the Lord, that they believed in Jehovah, and His servant Moses.
"The great hand:" i.e., the might which Jehovah had displayed upon Egypt. In addition to the glory of God through the judgment upon Pharaoh (Exo 14:4, Exo 14:17), the guidance of Israel through the sea was also designed to establish Israel still more firmly in the fear of the Lord and in faith. But faith in the Lord was inseparably connected with faith in Moses as the servant of the Lord. Hence the miracle was wrought through the hand and staff of Moses. But this second design of the miraculous guidance of Israel did not exclude the first, viz., glory upon Pharaoh. From this manifestation of Jehovah's omnipotence, the Israelites were to discern not only the merciful Deliverer, but also the holy Judge of the ungodly, that they might grow in the fear of God, as well as in the faith which they had already shown, when, trusting in the omnipotence of Jehovah, they had gone, as though upon dry land (Heb 11:29), between the watery walls which might at any moment have overwhelmed them.