5 When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, the mind of Pharaoh and his servants was changed toward the people, and they said, “What is this we have done, that we have let Israel go from serving us?” 6 So he made ready his chariot and took his army with him, 7 and took six hundred chosen chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them. 8 And the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued the people of Israel while the people of Israel were going out defiantly. 9 The Egyptians pursued them, all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and his horsemen and his army, and overtook them encamped at the sea, by Pi-hahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon.
10 When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly. And the people of Israel cried out to the Lord. 11 They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” 13 And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” – Exodus 14:5-14 ESV
At some point, it dawned on Pharaoh that the Israelites had no intentions of returning from their 3-day trek into the wilderness. Verse 5 states that “word reached the king of Egypt that the Israelites had fled.” The Hebrew word translated as “fled” is בָּרַח (bāraḥ), which carries the idea of running away. It seems likely that Pharoah had sent spies to keep an eye on the Israelites and to ensure that they kept their end of the bargain and returned after worshiping their God in the wilderness. Instead, Pharaoh was informed that the Israelites were attempting to make a break for it but had become lost and confused in the process.
Upon receiving the news of the somewhat circuitous route the Israelites had taken, Pharaoh concluded that they had become lost. He immediately regretted his previous decision to allow them to leave and was determined to do everything in his power to get them back.
So Pharaoh harnessed his chariot and called up his troops. He took with him 600 of Egypt’s best chariots, along with the rest of the chariots of Egypt, each with its commander. – Exodus 14:6-7 NLT
Twice, Moses emphasizes that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Once again, this is meant to emphasize God’s sovereignty over all that was taking place. But it does not absolve Pharaoh of guilt in the matter. He was not being forced to do what he did. This arrogant king was being motivated by the wickedness of his own heart but all according to the divine plan of God.
The very fact that God had ordered Moses to have the Israelites begin their journey out of Egypt headed in one direction and then had them reverse their course, is a clear indication that God had something else He had planned to do. He was not yet done humiliating Pharaoh and was about to enact one more irrefutable demonstration of His superior power and authority.
God had told Moses in advance exactly what He was going to do and why.
“…once again I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will chase after you. I have planned this in order to display my glory through Pharaoh and his whole army. After this the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord!” – Exodus 14:4 NLT
The Lord of Hosts(Jehovah Sabaoth) was about to do battle with the elite troops of Egypt. One of the most powerful and feared armies in the world was going to find itself going up against God Almighty.
As the Israelites sat in their makeshift camp along the shore of the Red Sea, waiting for directions from Moses, they were unaware that Pharaoh and his troops were headed their way. And Pharaoh was motivated by what he believed to be was a blatant display of arrogance on the part of the Israelites.
…he chased after the people of Israel, who had left with fists raised in defiance. – Exodus 14:8 NLT
He had been given time to reconsider his earlier decision and came to the conclusion that the Israelites needed a healthy serving of humble pie. So, mounted in his royal chariot, Pharaoh led his crack troops in hasty pursuit of a fleeing mob of confused and defenseless Israelites. But the Israelites weren’t running; they were sitting quietly by the shores of the Red Sea awaiting instructions from Moses. The pillar of cloud, a manifestation of God’s presence, still hovered nearby, and they had been instructed not to break camp until the cloud began to move. By all indications, they were right where God wanted them to be.
But, in time, the Israelites heard the sound of the approaching army and could see the large sandstorm stirred up by the horses’ hooves and the chariot wheels. And as the Israelites watched in horror, the 600 chariots of the Egyptian army came into view, barrelling toward them with unbridled abandon. And the hearts of the Israelites sank in despair.
Almost as if in unison, the people cried out to God for help. Others directed their fear and anger at Moses, shouting, “Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness? Weren’t there enough graves for us in Egypt? What have you done to us? Why did you make us leave Egypt?” (Exodus 14:11 NLT). These questions, among others, poured out in a torrent of rage and abject terror as the people considered their doomed fate. They began to hurl accusations against Moses and Aaron, questioning their leadership an demeaning the failed nature of their strategy. From their perspective, Moses and Aaron had blown it. Their promise of deliverance had turned into a guarantee of certain destruction. And the Israelites began to regret having ever left Egypt in the first place.
“It’s better to be a slave in Egypt than a corpse in the wilderness!” – Exodus 14:12 NLT
As far as they could tell, listening to Moses and Aaron had been a huge mistake. And as they vented their frustration, fears, and anger at these two elderly men, the Israelites failed to notice that the pillar of cloud had never stirred or left their sight. It remained right where it had been all along, signifying that God was still with them.
But Moses must have seen the cloud and gained renewed confidence. He withstood the verbal onslaught and responded with a powerful call to faith.
“Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” – Exodus 14:13-14 ESV
While the eyes of the Israelites were fixated on the 600 chariots headed their way, Moses must have fixed his sight on the pillar of cloud, remembering the words of the Lord.
“I have planned this in order to display my glory through Pharaoh and his whole army.” – Exodus 14:4 NLT
Moses gave the people three simple instructions.
Fear not – he encouraged them to cease fearing because he knew that uncontrolled fear can turn to flight. If they ran, they were as good as dead. They could not outrun chariots.
Stand firm – rather then run, they were to stand their ground because God had them right where He wanted them. He had led them to this very spot, and it would be on this ground that they would see the deliverance of God.
See the salvation of the Lord – whether they realized it or not, they had ringside seats to what would be the greatest show on earth. Moses was inviting them to stand back and watch their God perform a miracle of epic proportions. When they thought all was lost and their lives were in the balance, God was ready to provide them with salvation.
The army bearing down on them looked formidable. The fate awaiting them appeared to be unavoidable. Though they greatly out numbered the Egyptians, they were no match for chariots, swords, and spears. Yet, God wanted them to trust Him. The army they feared would soon be gone. The deadly outcome they expected would not be forthcoming. All because Jehovah Sabaoth was on their side and He was about to display His omnipotence on their behalf.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.