Exodus 14:22
And 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.
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(22) The waters were a wall unto them.—Any protection is in Scripture called “a wall,” or “a rampart” (1Samuel 25:16; Proverbs 18:11; Isaiah 26:1; Jeremiah 1:18; Nahum 3:8). In the present case, the waters protected Israel on either flank—the Red Sea upon the right, the Bitter Lakes upon the left. Poetical writers, as was natural, used language still more highly metaphorical (Psalm 78:13; Exodus 15:8), and spoke of the waters as “standing on an heap.” Hence, some moderns have gone so far as to maintain that on this occasion the water “gave up its nature, formed with its waves a strong wall, and instead of streaming like a fluid, congealed into a hard substance” (Kalisch). But this is to turn poetry into prose, and enslave oneself to a narrow literalism.

14:21-31 The dividing the Red sea was the terror of the Canaanites, Jos 2:9; the praise and triumph of the Israelites, Ps 114:3; 106:9; 136:13. It was a type of baptism, 1Co 10:1,2. Israel's passage through it was typical of the conversion of souls, Isa 11:15; and the Egyptians being drowned in it was typical of the final ruin of all unrepenting sinners. God showed his almighty power, by opening a passage through the waters, some miles over. God can bring his people through the greatest difficulties, and force a way where he does not find it. It was an instance of his wonderful favour to his Israel. They went through the sea, they walked upon dry land in the midst of the sea. This was done, in order to encourage God's people in all ages to trust him in the greatest straits. What cannot he do who did this? What will not he do for those that fear and love him, who did this for these murmuring, unbelieving Israelites? Then followed the just and righteous wrath of God upon his and his people's enemies. The ruin of sinners is brought on by their own rage and presumption. They might have let Israel alone, and would not; now they would flee from the face of Israel, and cannot. Men will not be convinced, till it is too late, that those who meddle with God's people, meddle to their own hurt. Moses was ordered to stretch out his hand over the sea; the waters returned, and overwhelmed all the host of the Egyptians. Pharaoh and his servants, who had hardened one another in sin, now fell together, not one escaped. The Israelites saw the Egyptians dead upon the sands. The sight very much affected them. While men see God's works, and feel the benefit, they fear him and trust in him. How well were it for us, if we were always in as good a frame as sometimes! Behold the end to which a Christian may look forward. His enemies rage, and are mighty; but while he holds fast by God, he shall pass the waves in safety guarded by that very power of his Saviour, which shall come down on every spiritual foe. The enemies of his soul whom he hath seen to-day, he shall see no more for ever.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. 22. the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea, &c.—It is highly probable that Moses, along with Aaron, first planted his footsteps on the untrodden sand, encouraging the people to follow him without fear of the treacherous walls; and when we take into account the multitudes that followed him, the immense number who through infancy and old age were incapable of hastening their movements, together with all the appurtenances of the camp, the strong and steadfast character of the leaders' faith was strikingly manifested (Jos 2:10; 4:23; Ps 66:6; 74:13; 106:9; 136:13; Isa 63:11-13; 1Co 10:1; Heb 11:29). This was about midnight, as may be gathered from Exodus 14:24.

The waters were a wall, both for height, and for their defence.

And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground,.... Some Jewish writers say (c), that the tribe of Judah went in first, and then the other tribes followed; but it is most likely, what Josephus says (d), that Moses first entered in, and then the Israelites, encouraged by his example, went in after him; and a very adventurous action it was, and nothing but strong faith in the almighty power and promise of God could have engaged them in it, to which the apostle ascribes it, Hebrews 11:29. It is the opinion of Aben Ezra, and some other Jewish writers, that the Israelites did not pass through the Red sea to the opposite shore, only went some way into it, and took a compass in a semicircle, and came out on the same shore again, and which has been espoused by some Christian writers; and chiefly because they were in the wilderness of Etham before, and from whence they went into it, and when they came out of it, it was still the wilderness of Etham they came into, and went three days' journey into it seeking water; see Exodus 13:20. Though it is possible the wilderness on the opposite shore might bear the same name, because of its likeness to it; and if it was the same wilderness that went round the Arabic gulf, or Red sea, and reached on to the other side of it, and so the wilderness of Etham lay on both sides, the difficulty is removed; for it seems most agreeable to the expressions of Scripture, that the Israelites passed through it from shore to shore. Others, in order to lessen the miracle, would have it that Moses, well knowing the country, and observing the tide, took the advantage of low water, and led the Israelites through it; and this story is told by the Egyptian priests of Memphis, as Artapanus (e) relates; but were the Egyptians less knowing of their country, and of the tide of the Red sea? and could Moses be sure of the exact time when they would come up to him, and the tide would serve him? Besides, the Egyptian priests at Heliopolis own the miracle, and relate it much as Moses has done; which must proceed from a conviction of the truth of it. And the above historian reports that the king (of Egypt) with a great army, and consecrated animals, pursued the Jews because of the substance they had borrowed of the Egyptians, which they took with them; but Moses being bid by a divine voice (or the voice of God, of Jehovah) to smite the sea with a rod, and hearkening to it, he touched the water with the rod, and so it divided, and his forces passed through a dry path, and the Egyptians attempting the same and pursuing, fire or lightning flashed out against them; and the sea shutting up the path again, partly by fire, and partly by the flow of the water, they all perished: and that this affair was miraculous, and could not be owing to any advantage taken from the tide, the following things have been observed; it is owned that the Red sea ebbs and flows like other seas that have a communication with the ocean, that is, the waters rise towards the shore during six hours, and having continued about a quarter of an hour at high water, ebb down again during another six hours; and it is observed by those who have examined it, that the greatest distance it falls from the place of high water is about three hundred yards; and that during the time of low water, one may safely travel it, as some have actually done; so that those three hundred paces, which the sea leaves uncovered during the time of low water, can continue so but for the space of half an hour at most; for during the first six hours, the sea retires only by degrees, and in less than half an hour it begins again to flow towards the shore. The most therefore that can be allowed, both of time and space of passable ground, in a moderate computation, is about two hundred paces, during six hours, or one hundred and fifty paces, during eight hours. Now it is further observed, that it is plain that a multitude consisting of upwards of two millions and a half of men, women, children, and slaves, encumbered besides with great quantities of cattle, household stuff, and the spoils of the Egyptians, could never perform such a march within so short a time; we may say within even double that space, though we should allow them also double the breadth of ground to do it on. This argument, it is added, will hold good against those who suppose they only coasted along some part of the sea, and those who maintain that they crossed the small arm or point of it which is toward the further end, near the isthmus of Suez; seeing that six or eight hours could not have sufficed for the passage of so immense a multitude, allow them what breadth of room you will; much less for Pharaoh to have entered it with his whole host (f): and for the confirmation of the Mosaic account of this affair, and as miraculous, may be observed the testimony of Diodorus Siculus, who reports (g) that it is a tradition among the Ichthyophagi, who inhabit near the Red sea, or Arabic gulf, which they have received from the report of their ancestors, and is still preserved with them, that upon a great recess of the sea, every place of the gulf became dry, the sea falling to the opposite parts, the bottom appeared green, and returning back with a mighty force, was restored to its place again; which can have reference to nothing else but to this transaction in the time of Moses. And Strabo (h) relates a very wonderful thing, and such as rarely happens, that on the shore between Tyre and Ptolemais, when they of Ptolemais had a battle with the Emperor Sarpedon at that place, and there being put to flight, a flow of the sea like an inundation covered those that fled, and some were carried into the sea and perished, and others were left dead in hollow places; after a reflux followed, and discovered and showed the bodies of those that lay among the dead fishes. Now learned men have observed (i), that what is here said of the sea of Tyre is to be understood of the Red sea, and that Sarpedon is not a proper name, but the same with , "Sarphadon", the prince of deliverance, or of the delivered, as Moses was:

and the waters were a wall to them on their right hand and on their left; some of the Jewish Rabbins from Exodus 15:8 have supposed that the waters were frozen as they were drove back by the east wind, and so stood up firm while the Israelites passed through, and then another wind thawed them, which brought them upon the Egyptians; but no doubt this was done by the wonderful interposition of divine power, and perhaps the ministry of angels was made use of, to detain and continue them in this position, until the end was answered. Adrichomius says (k), the breadth of the sea was six miles at the passage of the Israelites; but a late traveller (l) tells us, that the channel between Sdur (or Shur, on the opposite side) and Gibbel Gewoubee, and Attackah (which he supposes was the place of their passage), was nine or ten miles over. Thevenot says (m), that during the space of five days he kept along the coast of the Red sea, in going to Mount Sinai, he could not observe it to be anywhere above eight or nine miles over. A later traveller (n) tells us, that from the fountains of Moses may be plainly seen a wonderful aperture (Pihahiroth; see Exodus 14:2) in the mountains on the other side of the Red sea, through and from which the children of Israel entered into it, when Pharaoh and his host were drowned; which aperture is situated west-southwest from these fountains of Moses, and the breadth of the sea hereabouts, where the children of Israel passed it, is about four or five hours' journey. The Arabic geographer (o) calls the place Jethren, where Pharaoh and his host were drowned; and represents it as a dangerous place to sail in, and where many ships are lost, and that this rough place is about the space of six miles. A countryman (p) of ours, who had been in these parts, guesses that the breadth of the place (called by the Mahometans, Kilt el Pharown, the well or pit of Pharaoh) where the Israelites are said to pass through is about six or seven leagues; the difference between these writers may be accounted for by the different places where they suppose this passage was.

(c) Pirke Elizer, c. 42. (d) Antiqu. l. 2. c. 16. sect. 2.((e) Apud Euseb. Praepar. Evangel. l. 9. c. 27. p. 436. (f) Universal History, vol. 3. p. 392, 393. marg. (g) Bibliothec. l. 3. p. 174. (h) Geograph. l. 16. p. 521, 522. (i) Vid. Scheuchzer. Physic. Sacr. vol. 1. p. 167. (k) Theatrum Terrae, p. 123, 124. (l) Dr. Shaw's Travels, p. 314. Edit. 2.((m) Travels into the Levant, B. 2. ch. 33. p. 175. (n) A Journal from Grand Cairo, &c. in 1722. p. 13. Edit. 2.((o) Climat. 3. par. 3.((p) Pitts's Account of the Mahometans, p. 77.

And 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.
22. and the waters were a wall, &c.] ‘A very summary poetical and hyperbolical (Exodus 15:8) description of the occurrence, which can at most be pictured as the drying up of a shallow ford, on both sides of which the basin of the sea was much deeper, and remained filled with water’ (Di.).

Verse 22. - The waters were a wall - i.e., a protection, a defence. Pharaoh could not attack them on either flank, on account of the two bodies of water between which their march lay. He could only come at them by following after them. The metaphor has been by some understood literally, especially on account of the expression in Exodus 15:8 - "The floods stood upright as an heap;" and again that in Psalm 78:13 - "He made the waters to stand as an heap." But those phrases, occurring in poems, must be taken as poetical; and can scarcely have any weight in determining the meaning of "wall" here. We must ask ourselves - is there not an economy and a restraint in the exertion by God even of miraculous power? - is more used than is needed for the occasion? - and would not all that was needed at this time have been effected by such a division of the sea as we have supposed, without the fluid being converted into a solid, or having otherwise the laws of its being entirely altered. Kalisch's statement, that the word "wall" here is "not intended to convey the idea of protection, but only of hardness and solidity," seems to us the very reverse of the truth. Protection is at any rate the main idea, and any other is secondary and subordinate.

CHAPTER 14:23-31 Exodus 14:22When Moses stretched out his hand with the staff (Exodus 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, Exodus 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 Exodus 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 (Exodus 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 Psalm 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.

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