15 The Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward. 16 Lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go through the sea on dry ground. 17 And I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they shall go in after them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, his chariots, and his horsemen. 18 And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.”
19 Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, 20 coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the cloud and the darkness. And it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night.
21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. 22 And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. 23 The Egyptians pursued and went in after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. 24 And in the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down on the Egyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic, 25 clogging their chariot wheels so that they drove heavily. And the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from before Israel, for the Lord fights for them against the Egyptians.”
26 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen.” 27 So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its normal course when the morning appeared. And as the Egyptians fled into it, the Lord threw the Egyptians into the midst of the sea. 28 The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained. 29 But the people of Israel walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.
30 Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31 Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses. – Exodus 14:15-31 ESV
The victory parade that Moses led out of Egypt had quickly turned into a nasty mob scene when the Israelites realized that Pharaoh and his army were bearing down on them. All hope of leaving Egypt had faded as soon as they caught sight of 600 chariots headed their way. Now all they could think about was certain death at the hands of their former captors.
“…it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” – Exodus 14:12 ESV
The people were in full-blown panic, and Moses put up an impressive show of confidence in the face of a very difficult situation. He encouraged the people to “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord” (Exodus 14:13 ESV). But he must have had reservations about exactly how God was going to get them out of this precarious situation. While the people screamed their questions at Moses, he must have issued a quick call for help to the Lord, because Yahweh responded to Moses with a question of His own.
“Why do you cry to me?” – Exodus 14:15 ESV
This inquiry was directed at Moses and was accompanied by a set of instructions that the beleaguered spokesman was to carry out. Rather than stand around waiting for God to do something, Moses was to get busy and do his part in bringing about the very salvation he had assured the Israelites was coming.
“Tell the people to get moving! Pick up your staff and raise your hand over the sea. Divide the water so the Israelites can walk through the middle of the sea on dry ground.” – Exodus 14:15-16 ESV
These instructions must have hit Moses like a brick to the forehead. While he and Aaron had been a part of some spectacular signs in Egypt, this was taking things to another level. God was demanding that Moses use his staff to divide the Red Sea so that the people could pass through it on dry ground. And all the while, the people continued to voice their disapproval of his leadership.
But before Moses could play his part in God’s divine drama of deliverance, the Egyptians had to be stopped. So, God had His guiding angel move to the rear of the Israelite camp, closest to the Egyptian forces. Then the pillar of cloud, the symbol of God’s presence, repositioned itself between the Israelites and their enemy.
Then the angel of God, who had been leading the people of Israel, moved to the rear of the camp. The pillar of cloud also moved from the front and stood behind them. The cloud settled between the Egyptian and Israelite camps. As darkness fell, the cloud turned to fire, lighting up the night. But the Egyptians and Israelites did not approach each other all night. – Exodus 14:19-20 NLT
At the sight of this cosmic apparition, the Egyptians were stopped in their tracks. They could see the Israelite camp but were afraid to advance against them. Their most recent encounters with the power of the Israelites’ God had left them reluctant to take any chances. So, as dusk turned to dark, the pillar of cloud transformed into a pillar of fire that lit up the night sky.
And as God held off the Egyptians, Moses “raised his hand over the sea, and the Lord opened up a path through the water with a strong east wind” (Exodus 14:21 NLT). Yahweh, the God of creation, sent a powerful wind that caused the waters of the sea to stand up like transparent walls, exposing the sea bed underneath. And this wind blew throughout the night, simultaneously holding back the walls of water and drying out the sea bed so that it would provide firm footing for the Israelites. Then at just the right moment, God ordered Moses to lead the people across.
So the people of Israel walked through the middle of the sea on dry ground, with walls of water on each side! – Exodus 14:22 NLT
Stunned by what they witnessed, but motivated by a strong desire to distance themselves from the Egyptians, the Israelites formed into ranks and began their journey across the perfectly dry sea floor. And while they made their way through this divine detour, the angel of God and the pillar of fire kept the Egyptians at bay. Pharoah and his soldiers could only stand back and watch in stupefied wonder as the Israelites escaped across this massive causeway that had suddenly appeared in the middle of the sea.
But when the last Israelite’s sandal had cleared the path and was standing firm on the eastern bank of the sea, the barrier provided by the angel and the pillar of fire was removed. And within minutes, Pharaoh ordered his troops to pursue the fleeing Israelites. But God was not yet done.
…just before dawn the Lord looked down on the Egyptian army from the pillar of fire and cloud, and he threw their forces into total confusion. – Exodus 14:24 NLT
As Pharoah’s troops entered the pathway the Israelites had just vacated, the Lord of Hosts got in on the action. Somehow, these seasoned charioteers became confused and unable to make their way to the other shore. Perhaps their horses became frightened by the sound of the wind and the sight of the walls of water standing up on either side of them. It seems that the dry sea bed was suddenly transformed into a muddy morass in which the chariot wheels became stuck. Before long the entire Egyptian force found itself logjammed between the walls of water. Sensing the hand of Yahweh, they cried out, “Let us flee from before Israel, for the Lord fights for them against the Egyptians” (Exodus 14:25 ESV).
But they never made it out. As the sun began to rise in the eastern sky, “Moses raised his hand over the sea, and the water rushed back into its usual place” (Exodus 14:27 NLT). Within minutes, every single Egyptian who had entered the pathway had been drowned by the sudden deluge as the walls of water collapsed.
And the Israelites, standing high and dry on the eastern shore, watched the whole thing take place right before their eyes. Not a single chariot made it across and the only Egyptians the Israelites saw on the eastern shore were lifeless and powerless to do them any harm. And Moses chronicles the impact this spectacular event had on the people of God.
When the people of Israel saw the mighty power that the Lord had unleashed against the Egyptians, they were filled with awe before him. They put their faith in the Lord and in his servant Moses. – Exodus 14:31 NLT
When the odds were stacked against them and all seemed lost, the Israelites were delivered by their all-powerful, promise-keeping God. He had stepped into their reality and provided a one-of-a-kind miracle. And as the water of the Red Sea slowly settled back into its normal state, it was as if God had closed a door behind His people. There would be no turning back. That pathway was closed forever and the only way left for them to go was forward. With the enemy defeated, the angel of the Lord and the pillar of cloud took their places at the head of the column once again, and the people set out for their final destination: the land of promise.
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.