Exodus 14 Study Notes
14:1-2 The Lord led the Israelites to where they could be trapped between the sea and the Egyptian army. The name Pi-hahiroth may mean “mouth of the canal.” The remnants of an ancient canal have been found east of Wadi Tumilat, a route into the Sinai Peninsula. Migdol means “tower” or “watchtower.” Baal-zephon, “Lord of the North,” incorporates the name of a Canaanite god important to seafarers.
14:3 Pharaoh’s assumption that the Israelites were lost grew from his low opinion of them and their God (5:2,8; 10:10). He was not counting on the Lord’s planning or the fiery and cloudy pillars that gave evidence of his presence.
14:4 The Hebrew word translated glory (related to the idea of being heavy) is related to one of the words describing Pharaoh’s “hardened” heart (8:15,32; 9:7,34; 10:1). The Lord would receive glory from Pharaoh’s refusal to give glory.
14:5 The Israelites’ actions appeared to evidence fear, which fit the Egyptian opinion of them better than the triumph described in v. 8. The word translated fled indicates they had cleared out entirely, as did Moses after killing the Egyptian (2:15, in contrast with the word used in 4:3 and 14:25,27 for escaping immediate peril). It is typically used of people who were emigrating in order to escape the reach of a powerful person (Gn 16:6,8; 31:21-22; 1Sm 19:12,18; 21:10; 27:4; 1Kg 11:17,23,40). The Egyptians began to focus on their loss—we have released Israel from serving us—plus the change in the situation of the Israelites. The Egyptian magicians had failed, but to this point the Egyptian army had not had an opportunity to act. With the Israelites wandering around and seemingly trapped (v. 3), certainly some servants, livestock, and wealth could be recovered or destroyed (15:9).
14:6-7 To people on foot, chariots and horses would have seemed as terrifying as armored tanks (see v. 10 and note there). Egypt took pride in its chariots, portraying them in art meant to display Egyptian power.
14:8 Going out defiantly gives a glimpse into the Israelites’ frame of mind (Nm 33:3). Having been urged to leave Egypt, they had received valuables to take with them, and they were gladly going; they had no reason to look over their shoulders in fear.
14:10 Verses 5-9 provided a panoramic perspective. The perspective switches here to that of the Israelites, using a word that older translations render “and behold,” which Hebrew authors could use to make a rapid switch in perspective and give readers a momentary share in the experience of someone in the story. When the Egyptian army suddenly appeared, the Israelites’ eyes became wide with terror: there were the Egyptians!
14:11-12 Egypt had been preoccupied for centuries with death, mummification, and the building of elaborate graves, some of which the Israelites themselves may have been forced to help construct. Terror turned Israelite elation and triumph into sarcasm and accusation. They considered Moses responsible for their impending doom, and themselves helpless victims. Their assessment gave no thought to any third option besides death or servitude in Egypt. By not considering the Lord’s involvement, the Israelites resembled faithless Pharaoh.
14:13-14 The command Don’t be afraid, given as a word from the Lord to his people or an affirmation of confidence before battle, has many parallels (Nm 21:34; Dt 1:21,29; 3:2,22; Jos 8:1; 10:8,25; 2Ch 20:15,17; 32:7; Neh 4:14). Moses gave no defense of himself but focused instead on what the Lord would accomplish. The words salvation (here and Ex 15:2; Hb yeshu‘ah) and “saved” (14:30) mark the instructions for the encounter with Egyptian forces, its summary, and its celebration. The “save” word group in Hebrew (the root yasha‘) was applied in a variety of situations, often military ones, so that salvation took the form of victory (Dt 20:1-4; Jdg 10:12-14; 2Kg 19:32-35; Ps 3) or rescue (Ex 2:17). An earlier pharaoh was afraid that the Israelites might fight against Egypt (1:10), but something greater happened—the Lord fought for Israel and against Egypt (14:14,25).
14:15-18 The Lord informs Moses and all Israel how he is going to deliver them from this impossible situation. The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord occurs here for the third time (Ex 7:5; 14:4).
14:19-20 The angel of God and the pillar of cloud may have looked familiar to Moses, for he saw the angel and the fire when God commissioned him to return to Egypt (3:2; Nm 20:16; Dt 31:15). Besides showing the way to go, day or night, the pillar of cloud prevented a clash between the Egyptian and Israelite forces.
14:21-28 Parallels exist between the plague of locusts and the overthrow of the Egyptians: Moses’s outstretched hand (cp. v. 21; 10:12), the east wind (cp. v. 21; 10:13), morning initiation (v. 24; 10:13), use of the Hebrew words translated “sent” (10:13) and drive (v. 25), drowning in the sea (vv. 27-28; 10:19), and the observation that not even one of them survived (cp. v. 28; 10:19). It was no more difficult for the Lord to defeat Pharaoh and his army than to dispense with a horde of insects.
14:22 The waters like a wall on both sides forced the Egyptians to follow straight ahead and protected the Israelites from a flanking attack.
14:24-25 The night hours were divided into three “watches”: the first watch (Lm 2:19) being the beginning of the night, perhaps roughly 6:00-10:00 p.m., the second watch (Jdg 7:19) being the middle of the night, perhaps about 10:00 p.m.-2:00 a.m., and the morning watch or end of the night, roughly 2:00-6:00 a.m. The Lord observed the Egyptians from his superior vantage point (cp. Dt 26:15; Ps 14:2; 53:2; 85:11; 102:19). With his accurate reconnaissance, God threw the Egyptians into confusion. This is a weapon he used on a number of occasions (23:27; Jos 10:10; 1Sm 5:9,11; 7:10; cp. 2Kg 7:6-7). Now the Lord, rather than the Israelites whom an earlier Egyptian king had feared (Ex 1:10), was the one who fought against Egypt, and the Egyptians themselves announced the fact.
14:29-31 These verses summarize the completeness of the Lord’s victory by using many terms that the speakers have used earlier, mostly in the near context. Instead of dying (vv. 11-12), the Israelites saw the Egyptians dead . . . The Lord saved Israel from the power [lit “hand”] of the Egyptians (cp. 3:8; 18:10; Dt 7:8; 2Kg 17:7). The assertion that Israel saw the great power [lit “hand”] that the Lord used continues the theme of the Lord’s action as an exercise of his hand (Ex 3:20; 7:4-5; 9:3,15; 13:3,9,14,16) in contest with the hand of Pharaoh and the Egyptians, and it uses the verb that Moses used in 14:13 (cp. vv. 5,11). The people feared the Lord, and this is what Pharaoh had failed to do (1:17,21; 9:20-21,30). The mention of Moses as the Lord’s servant gives a subtle reminder that an alternative to serving Egypt was available to the Israelites (cp. v. 12). It accords Moses the highest of titles in the hierarchy of the Lord’s society and is the one by which Moses was called many times (Nm 12:7-8; Dt 34:5; Jos 1:1,7,13,15; cp. Gn 26:24; 2Sm 3:18; Is 41:8; Rm 1:1; Rv 19:10).