And when Pharaoh drew near, the children of Israel lifted up their eyes, and, behold, the Egyptians marched after them…
Consider on this section: -
I. THE CRITICAL SITUATION OF THE ISRAELITES.
1. Their position. "Encamping by the sea, beside Pi-hahiroth, before Baal Zephon" (ver. 9). The first view of the sea would probably be attractive to them. Its breeze, after the tedious travel of the desert, would be deliciously refreshing. They would look with a child's wonder and delight on the novel spectacle it presented. They would crowd to the beach to watch its dancing, white-tipped waves, and curiously to listen to its soft, lapping ripple on the shore. Yet this sea, which is to-day their joy and plaything, will have become by the morrow their terror and despair - their impregnable prison barrier. The experience is not uncommon. How often does it happen that the very things which at first we are disposed to hail with delight, to welcome and rejoice in, prove afterwards our greatest causes of sorrow! The engagements we enter into, the friendships we form, the bargains we make, the society we are introduced to, etc.
2. The approach of the enemy. "The children of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold the Egyptians marched after them" (ver. 10). The mountains are around, the sea is in front, and now - terrible situation! - the Egyptians are pursuing, and close at hand. On they come, in whirling chariots, in ranks upon ranks of footmen; the long lines are seen defiling in the distance, and Israel knows that in an hour or two more the avalanche will be upon them, sweeping all before it, burying them in destruction.
3. They were entirely unprepared. They had been resting and unbending, not preparing for battle. The attack took them by surprise. There was no possibility under the circumstances of presenting an effectual resistance to the enemy. But, indeed, had the circumstances been ever so favourable, these hordes of slaves, accustomed so long to crouch before the rod of the taskmaster, would scarcely have attempted it. How critical, how perilous, therefore, the entire situation! A picture this of those straits of life formerly referred to, in which having done our utmost, we can do no more, and no alternative remains but prayer, and quiet waiting upon God.
II. THEIR PANIC AND DESPAIR (vers. 10-13). The appearance of the Egyptians naturally threw the Israelites into a state of the most acute terror. Remark:
1. Great allowance must be made for them. We do not read that, on this occasion, God dealt severely with them for the wild, ungrateful words they uttered. He made allowance.
(1) Their situation was really very serious. Placed in like circumstances, we would perhaps not have shown much more faith than they did.
(2) They were unused to the life of freedom. It takes time to teach those who have always been slaves to appreciate the blessings of the opposite condition. They carry their slave habits with them into the state of freedom. The Israelites had not as yet had much comfort in their emancipation. Their painful marches had probably been harder work than even the brick-making of Egypt. They could not as yet feel that it was better to be free, though enduring hardships in their freedom, than to be more comfortably situated and be slaves; Do we blame them? Then reflect how even Christians sometimes murmur and rebel at the self-denials, the sacrifices, the inconveniences, the persecutions, which their Christian freedom entails upon them. You complain, perhaps, that you have a harder time of it now, than even when you served the flesh. It may be true. But do not forget that the difference between your condition now and then, is all the difference between slavery and bondage, between salvation and a state of wrath.
2. Israel's behaviour was nevertheless very unworthy.
(1) It was faithless. They did not wait to ask or see what God, who had already done so much for them, was about to do now, but at once concluded that he would leave them to perish. It is, indeed, said that they "cried unto the Lord" (ver. 10), but then, in the next breath, we read of them reproaching his servant and delegate (ver. 11). They are faithless prayers that come from faithless hearts.
(2) It was ungrateful. How willing they had been to be led out of Egypt! yet now, at the first approach of danger, they turn on their leader, and taunt him for having given them their liberty. Was Moses to blame for the pursuit of Pharaoh? Or did he deserve to be thus requited for the noble stand he had taken on their behalf? Public servants have often much to endure from the fickle humour of the crowd.
(3) it was cowardly. It showed a servile and ignoble spirit even to breathe so base a regret as that they had not been suffered to continue in Egypt.
3. The contrast of their conduct with that of Moses. The bearing of Moses at this crisis was sublime in its calmness and trust. He does not return "railing for railing." No angry word escapes his lips in reply to the reproaches of the people. They murmur; he betakes himself to prayer (ver. 15). They look to the visible chariots; he to the invisible power which is mightier than all. They seem bereft of reason, fearing immediate death; he is calm, undaunted, self-collected, and gives them the best of counsel. Ponder his words - "Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will shew to you today" (ver. 13).
(1) The situation was one in which God alone could bring salvation. They could do nothing for themselves. The salvation must be God's from first to last.
(2) God would bring them this salvation. The fact that he had brought them into this strait was of itself a pledge that be would find them a way out of it. The believer, who finds himself in situations of difficulty, may cherish the same confidence.
(3) Their duty was to stand still, and see this salvation. So long as means of help are put within our reach, it is our duty to use them. When no such means exist, or when all available means have been exhausted, and still the shadow overhangs us, what remains but to wait patiently on the help of the Most High? "Stand still" - in trust, in prayer, in expectancy, in readiness to advance the instant the word is given. "Stand still" - as opposed to weak murmurings, to passionate regrets, to foolish rebellion against circumstances you cannot alter, - so shall you "see the salvation of the Lord." If nothing else will do, God will cleave a way for you through the waves, or better still, will enable you, like Peter, to walk on them (Matthew 14:29).
III. GOD'S COMMAND TO MOSES (vers. 15-19).
1. The command came in answer to prayer. "Wherefore criest thou unto me" (ver. 15). The words contain no reproach, but imply that prayer needed on the instant to be exchanged for action.
2. Moses was to speak to the people that they go forward. See below.
3. He was to stretch his rod over the sea, and divide the waters (ver. 16). The confidence of Moses, that God would show a way of salvation, was thus justified by the result. The light was not given as early as the people might have wished, but it was given in time. God also announces to Moses his purpose of destroying the Egyptians (vers. 17, 18).
IV. THE ADVANCE THROUGH THE SEA. On this notice -
1. The change in the position of the pillar of cloud and fire (vers. 19, 20). Moving to the rear, it stood between the Israelites and their pursuers, turning a bright side to the former, and a dark side to the latter. (See below.) By this seasonable change in its position, it
(1) Illuminated the passage for the Israelites. The light would stream on in front.
(2) Made the way dark and perilous for the pursuers.
(3) Hid the pursuers from the pursued, and vice versa. This, besides being an additional defence to the Israelites, saved them from the terror which the sight of their pursuers would naturally awaken. It is related of a party of the Waldenses, that escaping by night from their cruel persecutors, their path lay through the rugged and perilous defiles of the Alps. At length the day broke, and under the light of the rising sun, they turned to survey the track along which they had trod. By a unanimous and irresistible impulse, they fell on their knees to thank God for their marvellous preservation. "Here, they had walked on the very verge of a tremendous precipice where a false step would have dashed them to atoms; there, they had skirted the banks of a mountain lake, whose black waters seem to indicate unfathomable depths," etc. But the dangers amidst which they had moved had been veiled by the impenetrable darkness. There are some things which it is better for us not to see. Learn
(1) That God adapts his manifestations of himself to his people's needs.
(2) That God's presence with his Church is an effectual bulwark against attack. He can hide his people from their pursuers. He can darken the path of the latter; can confound their wisdom, divide their counsels, perplex them in their courses, and obstruct their progress by providential obstacles.
(3) Spiritually, in times of temptation and trial, we may rely on being illuminated by God's truth, defended by God's power, and ultimately conducted to a place of safety.
2. The division of the waters (ver. 21).
(1) It was accomplished by natural agencies, supernaturally directed. "The Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night." The recognition of natural agency in no wise detracts from the supernatural character of the transaction; nay, seeing that direct miracles are no longer to be looked for by the Church, it is even more helpful to faith to find that natural means were employed in this instance, than if the result had been wholly miraculous. It heightens our conceptions of what God can accomplish by means of the agencies of nature. Instance the defeat of the Spanish Armada
(2) It was unexpected and surprising. In considering the ways by which God might conceivably save them, the Israelites probably never dreamt of his opening a path through the sea. So, in those straits of life to which reference has been made, help usually arrives from unexpected quarters, in a way we had not thought of. "God's way is in the sea, and his path in the deep waters, and his footsteps are not known" (Psalm 77:19).
(3) It afforded the passage that was required. The march through the sea, certainly, would not be without its difficulties. The violent gale, the thunderings and lightnings (Psalm 77:18), the darkness, the boom of the distant waters, the lurid light of the fiery cloud, the uneven passage, the panic and confusion, the strangeness and fearfulness of the entire situation, would make it an experience never to be forgotten. But if the road was difficult, it was practicable. They could pass by it. God promises to make a way for us. He does not promise that the way wilt always be an easy one.
3. The safe transit (ver. 22). The children of Israel got safely across. They were preserved in the very midst of the hostile element. Nay, the sea, which they had so much dreaded, became on either side a protecting wall to them. The same superintending Providence which secured, in the shipwreck of Paul, that "so it came to pass, that they escaped all safe to land" (Acts 27:44), doubtless brought about a like happy result in the case of the Israelites. Their deliverance became, in after days, the type of any great deliverance wrought by God for his saints. See the figure wrought out in Psalm 18:4-20. - J.O.
Parallel VersesKJV: And 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.