We’ve now reached the first major climax of the book of Exodus. The people who tried to drown the sons of God (Ex 1:22) will have their own sons drowned instead.
Observation of Exodus 13:17-14:31
Most repeated words: Egypt/Egyptian (28 times), Israel (19x), people (19), Lord (18), sea (18), Pharaoh (12), chariot (10), all (9), Moses (9), said (9), out (8).
- The terms Egypt and Egyptian take over the narrative in this chapter. Before this passage, “Egypt” occurred 94 times in Exodus. After this passage, it will occur only 20 more times.
- This chapter marks a major transition, for both the Israelites and those who read their story. “For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again” (Ex 14:13).
In this story, the drama moves forward through frequent changes of perspective:
- God’s perspective: Leading his people right where they must go (Ex 13:17-22).
- Moses’ perspective: Receiving a frightening message (Ex 14:1-4).
- Pharaoh’s perspective: Regretting the release and pursuing his slaves (Ex 14:5-9).
- Israelites’ perspective: Seeing and fearing their oppressors (Ex 14:10-14).
- Moses’ perspective: Receiving another frightening message (Ex 14:15-18).
- God’s Angel’s perspective: Separating God’s people from God’s enemies (Ex 14:19-20).
- Israelites’ perspective: Crossing on dry ground with oppressors pursuing (Ex 14:21-23).
- Yahweh’s perspective: Throwing Egypt into a panic before throwing them into the sea (Ex 14:24-28).
- Israelite’s perspective: Seeing their oppressors’ dead bodies, fearing Yahweh who made it happen, and believing Yahweh and Moses (Ex 14:29-31).
With italics, bold, and underlining, I highlighted the connections that strike me within the text. And a few implications stand out further:
- We see a pattern happen twice
- Yahweh tells Moses what he will do (and it doesn’t sound like fun).
- Egypt pursues God’s people.
- The Israelites see their oppressors and feel fear as a result.
- Roughly bracketing this pattern is God’s sovereign control over the situation:
- He led the Israelites right here on purpose.
- He throws the Egyptians into the sea.
- And almost right in the middle is the separation caused by the angel of God by means of the cloud and the darkness.
While the pattern isn’t perfect (not quite an ABCDEDCBA structure), it’s close enough to be noticeable.
Interpretation of Exodus 13:17-14:31
Some possible questions:
- How is this path to the Red Sea an avoidance of war (Ex 13:17), when they face Egypt’s army and soon will face war with Amalek (chapter 17)?
- Why would God harden Pharaoh’s heart to cause this terrible situation (Ex 14:4).
- Why is the concluding response fear and belief instead of joy and relief?
My answers (numbers correspond to the questions):
- Ex 14:14 clarifies that Israel will not have to fight Egypt; Yahweh will fight on their behalf. Though they see a terrible disaster befall Egypt, they do not have to wield the sword themselves. In addition, God’s purpose in Ex 13:17 is to prevent the Israelites from changing their minds and returning to Egypt. The Red Sea incident burns their last bridge and therefore guarantees they can never return this way again, even if war with Amalek frightens them.
- Again, the Lord wants to make sure the Israelites can never change their minds and return to slavery. So he must do two things: utterly eliminate the oppressors, and close the route at Israel’s back. Once they cross the Sea, and the waters return to their place behind them, they literally cannot turn around and go back.
- Now this answer demands a deeper question: Why would God even go through with all that? Why must he eliminate the oppressors and close off Israel’s escape route?
- The text’s best answer has to do with God getting all the glory (Ex 14:4, 17) when the Egyptians know he is Yahweh (Ex 14:4) and the Israelites see his mightiest act of salvation (Ex 14:30-31).
- In an earlier chapter, I mentioned that God is not bringing these people out of slavery into unconditional freedom. He’s bringing them out of slavery to a harsh master into slavery to a good and gracious master. Similarly, they have a vibrant fear of the powerful (Ex 14:10). God does not want to ease their fear; he wants to redirect it to the source of true power (Ex 14:31). In order to fear, they must believe he is who he’s said all along: the one who sees, hears, knows, and rescues.
Train of thought:
- The Lord takes his people exactly where they must go to learn to fear him.
- They experience their deepest fears and are completely unable to do anything about it.
- God rescues them in such a way as to make it clear that he is the one with all the power.
- They now fear and believe this God who uses his power to rescue.
Main point: The all-powerful God employs his power to separate and rescue his people so they might fear and believe him.
Connection to Christ: Jesus has all power. He used it to rescue his people through the cross. He will one day use it to wipe out his enemies. He inspires all with proper fear (Matt 10:28).
My Application of Exodus 13:17-14:31
I love it when God uses his power to ease my pain and suffering. I want him to remove discomfort. But I must trust he will often use his power to increase my discomfort so I will fear and trust him.
For example, we’ve faced some severe (and sensitive) parenting challenges this year. Circumstances are not what I would prefer for myself, my wife, or my children. But I can see how God has given us all greater fear and trust in him. And we have nothing to hope in but Jesus’ work on the cross on our behalf. When I have eyes to see this, I realize this is a better place for our family than to have all the pain simply removed.
Click here to see what I’m doing with this sample Bible study and why I’m doing it.