We left our study of Exodus at the point where the 10th plague (the death of every first born in each family and among cattle) was completed and both the Pharaoh and the people of Egypt urged the Israelites to leave. Their fear was that this killing of their people would continue until the nation was wiped out (Exodus 12:33). Having requested and received gifts of gold and silver from the Egyptians, the Israelites packed what few possessions they could carry and left hurriedly.
I. Departure From Egypt – Exodus 12:37-15:21
37Now the sons of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, aside from children. 38A mixed multitude also went up with them, along with flocks and herds, a very large number of livestock. 39They baked the dough which they had brought out of Egypt into cakes of unleavened bread. For it had not become leavened, since they were driven out of Egypt and could not delay, nor had they prepared any provisions for themselves. 40Now the time that the sons of Israel lived in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years. 41And at the end of four hundred and thirty years, to the very day, all the hosts of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt.
- Exodus 12:37-41
Moses describes the haste of their leaving and other preliminary details of their departure and journey – a journey to a place no one knew. There were 600,000 men with children, along with their wives. The total number of people may have numbered two million people. They had little time to prepare since on the evening before, they had celebrated the Passover meal and now were compelled to leave. We are also given the time they lived in Egypt (430 years) which explains how they grew from 70 people when they first settled (Genesis 46:27) and also confirms God's prediction to Abraham that his descendants would be enslaved for 400 years (Genesis 15:13).
When you think about it, the Jews were slaves in Egypt longer than the United States has been a sovereign nation.
A. The Tenth Plague Memorialized - Exodus 12:42-51
I mentioned in the previous chapter that the "birth event" of this new nation was the miraculous way their freedom was obtained. God gave them the observances (blood of a lamb on the doorframe) and special meal (Passover meal of lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs) that they would have to commemorate the night on which the Angel of Death passed over their homes but struck dead the firstborn in all of the Egyptian homes.
In this passage God gives Moses direct instructions as to the yearly observances of this meal in the future. We will see this scene – God directly instructing Moses repeatedly, throughout Exodus.
B. As far as the Passover Meal is Concerned:
No foreigners were to eat it unless they and their slaves were circumcised first. It was to be a family meal eaten at a home, not outdoors (not a public celebration) and no bone of the animal was to be broken (this looking all the way forward to Jesus' sacrifice on the cross where John says in His torture and death, not one of the Lord's bones were broken – John 19:36). It was to be eaten/celebrated each year and every Israelite was to participate, as well as those foreigners who were circumcised living among them – slave or free.
The passage ends by summarizing that the people obeyed these instructions and God began leading the people to freedom.
C. Consecration of the Firstborn – Exodus 13:1-16
The Passover meal to be celebrated on the 14th day of the first month according to their sacred calendar was the first element instituted to create from these people a distinct nation – they had their own calendar and a yearly feast commemorating the time of their formation as a nation by God Himself.
With time, God would add many more feasts, observances and laws that would eventually give these people a religion, a culture, a law and a purpose closely aligned with God's ultimate plan to send His Son incarnated as a Jewish man to complete the divine plan to save all of mankind. One of the observances was the consecration of the firstborn, which was closely associated with the meaning and purpose of the Passover meal.
1Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2"Sanctify to Me every firstborn, the first offspring of every womb among the sons of Israel, both of man and beast; it belongs to Me."
- Exodus 13:1-2
Moses introduces the practice of offering every firstborn (male vs. 15) and animal as holy unto God.
Before giving details connected with this consecration of the firstborn, God gives Moses another ordinance to commemorate in conjunction with the feast of the Passover and that is the feast of unleavened bread.
Once in the Promised Land, in the month of Abib (the first month of the religious calendar – later referred to as the month of Nisan – after Babylonian captivity) they were to observe the feast of unleavened bread where each year they would remove all forms of leaven from their homes and eat only unleavened bread.
I previously mentioned that before the 14th of the month (Abib) all leaven was removed, and on the 14th the Passover meal was eaten and then from the 14th – 21st was the week of unleavened bread where only this type of bread was to be eaten and no leaven was to be found in the land.
The week was capped with a day of celebration and worship on the 21st of the month. The purpose of this ordinance was to remember and teach each generation how God brought the nation out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. It was the answer to the question, "Where do our people come from and how did we get here?"
Once these instructions are given (and another feast added to the sacred calendar) God finishes giving Moses the details concerning the offering of the first-born male child and animal.
11"Now when the Lord brings you to the land of the Canaanite, as He swore to you and to your fathers, and gives it to you, 12you shall devote to the Lord the first offspring of every womb, and the first offspring of every beast that you own; the males belong to the Lord. 13But every first offspring of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, but if you do not redeem it, then you shall break its neck; and every firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem. 14And it shall be when your son asks you in time to come, saying, 'What is this?' then you shall say to him, 'With a powerful hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery. 15It came about, when Pharaoh was stubborn about letting us go, that the Lord killed every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of beast. Therefore, I sacrifice to the Lord the males, the first offspring of every womb, but every firstborn of my sons I redeem.' 16So it shall serve as a sign on your hand and as phylacteries on your forehead, for with a powerful hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt."
- Exodus 13:11-16
The command to "devote" or set aside and sacrifice to God every first-born male and first-born male animal is connected to the Passover. Since God spared every Jewish first-born male child and animal on Passover night, they now belong to Him.
In addition to the Passover meal and week of unleavened bread, God adds a third powerful reminder of the Jewish experience in being freed from Egyptian slavery – the death of every first born male child, and cattle in the land – which they were miraculously spared.
As a reminder of this they are to offer the first-born male animal in sacrifice and a sacrifice where no part of the animal is eaten by the one offering it (Numbers 18:17-18), which meant it was a complete offering with no use or value retained by the one sacrificing it. A first-born child was "redeemed" or bought back. The price for redeeming the child was 5 shekels of silver paid to the priest when the child was a month old.
If an animal was "unclean" and could not be sacrificed, such as a donkey (vs. 13), you could kill it by breaking its neck (offering in death without spilling blood) or substitute a lamb to sacrifice in its place. God gives the initial commands here for things they are to do once they arrive at the Promised Land but will add details and further instructions along the way.
As the people are poised to leave, God gives Moses three ordinances – Passover, Unleavened Bread, sacrifice of the first-born – for the people to keep once they arrive at the Promised Land. These will serve as teaching opportunities to remember who saved them, how they were saved and at what cost they were saved.
D. God Leads the People – Exodus 13:17-22
Once the instructions about ordinances are given, Moses describes their departure and how it was guided.
17Now when Pharaoh had let the people go, God did not lead them by the way of the land of the Philistines, even though it was near; for God said, "The people might change their minds when they see war, and return to Egypt." 18Hence God led the people around by the way of the wilderness to the Red Sea; and the sons of Israel went up in martial array from the land of Egypt. 19Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for he had made the sons of Israel solemnly swear, saying, "God will surely take care of you, and you shall carry my bones from here with you." 20Then they set out from Succoth and camped in Etham on the edge of the wilderness. 21The Lord was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. 22He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people.
- Exodus 13:17-22
The shortest route was the northern way following the Mediterranean coastline and down into the land of the Canaanites. This would have necessitated war with the people of that region, an armed conflict the Jews were not trained or equipped to fight. God, therefore, takes them on a longer, safer route, which will ultimately put them in danger from the Egyptians once again.
Notice that they secure Joseph's bones (Jacob's son who became leader in Egypt during the great famine). Moses remembers Joseph's request 400 years before, that he wanted his bones buried in the Promised Land, so the Jews exhume his mummified remains and take them along the journey. God's presence is actually seen as a cloud and a pillar of fire to guide their journey, whether they traveled by day or night.
II. Israel's Final Deliverance From Egypt – Exodus 14:1-15:21
Everything is set for the journey to the Promised Land, but Pharaoh, after recovering from the shock of losing his own first-born son and the death of many in his nation, realizes that he has allowed the freedom of at least 600,000 able-bodied slaves and the free labor they provided the state, reverts back to his normal, hard-hearted, and disbelieving self – and God allows him to embrace this stubborn refusal to accept that the God of the Jews is Lord with power over both the creation and mankind, and not himself.
Refusing to acknowledge what all the signs and wonders point to, the Pharaoh gathers the mighty Egyptian army and leaves to pursue, overtake, capture or kill the Jewish slaves, he now regrets that he has let go.
1Now the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2"Tell the sons of Israel to turn back and camp before Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea; you shall camp in front of Baal-zephon, opposite it, by the sea. 3For Pharaoh will say of the sons of Israel, 'They are wandering aimlessly in the land; the wilderness has shut them in.' 4Thus I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and he will chase after them; and I will be honored through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord." And they did so.
- Exodus 14:1-4
As He has done in the past, God tells Moses what he should do in positioning the people and what He was about to do (He does so in cryptic fashion, however). They started in the north seeking the shortest overland route, but God directs Moses to take the people south and camp right beside the Red Sea. He predicts that the Pharaoh will see this as a sign of confusion, that the people are lost and Moses is leading them aimlessly.
God assures Moses that all of this is done as part of His plan to prove once and for all who is the true and living God with power.
A. The Pharaoh Pursues Israel
5When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his servants had a change of heart toward the people, and they said, "What is this we have done, that we have let Israel go from serving us?" 6So he made his chariot ready and took his people with him; 7and he took six hundred select chariots, and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them. 8The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and he chased after the sons of Israel as the sons of Israel were going out boldly. 9Then the Egyptians chased after them with all the horses and chariots of Pharaoh, his horsemen and his army, and they overtook them camping by the sea, beside Pi-hahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon. 10As Pharaoh drew near, the sons of Israel looked, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they became very frightened; so the sons of Israel cried out to the Lord. 11Then they said to Moses, "Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you dealt with us in this way, bringing us out of Egypt? 12Is this not the word that we spoke to you in Egypt, saying, '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."
- Exodus 14:5-12
The king with the best of his army (chariots were the equivalent of modern-day tanks) which he led with 600 "select" chariots (3-man crew – driver/shield bearer/warrior), in addition to lessor equipped chariots and a company of foot soldiers. This lethal force caught up to the Israelites, who were now pinned in between the Egyptians and the sea. Here we witness a familiar scene as the people, facing danger, blame Moses for their predicament.
Their charge against him has three components – vs. 11-12
- You are reckless. Bringing us out here in the wilderness to die. We were in enough trouble in Egypt, you've made things worse by bringing us out here.
- We told you it wouldn't work. Why didn't you just leave us alone when we asked you?
- We were better off in Egypt. It was hard work, but at least we weren't lost in the wilderness with the army poised to attack us.
The Pharaoh has made his move, Moses has followed God's instructions and the people have voiced their fear – now it's time for God to act and He does so in a most spectacular way.
B. The Sea is Divided – Exodus 14:13-31
13But Moses said to the people, "Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the Lord which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever. 14The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent."
- Exodus 14:13-14
Moses believes the Lord and encourages the people more or less saying, "Stand back and watch what the Lord will do to your enemies." He's thinking that God will simply wipe them out using the Angel of Death or something since he doesn't see another option.
15Then the Lord said to Moses, "Why are you crying out to Me? Tell the sons of Israel to go forward. 16As for you, lift up your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, and the sons of Israel shall go through the midst of the sea on dry land. 17As for Me, behold, I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them; and I will be honored through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. 18Then the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord, when I am honored through Pharaoh, through his chariots and his horsemen."
- Exodus 14:15-18
God's plan for rescue is quite different, however. His rescue (parting the sea to have the Jews walk across on the dry riverbed) and destroying the Egyptian army did two things:
- Provided a dramatic, divine rescue. It was not of themselves, but God who acted in a miraculous way to save them.
- It was the final proof to the Egyptian people, as well as other nations, that the God of the Israelites was greater than, and more powerful than any of the gods of Egypt, including the Pharaoh/god, whose power was in his army.
The passage from verses 19-29 describes their crossing and the destruction of the Pharaoh and his military:
- The cloud and pillar moved behind the people to provide cover from the attacking army while they crossed – vs. 19-20.
- Moses raised his staff, and a wind parted the sea and allowed the people to cross on dry land – vs. 21-22.
- The Pharaoh and his army pursued them onto the divided seabed, but they became confused and frightened (probably realizing what they had foolishly rushed into) and tried to return to the safety of the shore, but their chariots were in disarray – vs. 23-25.
- The Lord commanded Moses to stretch out his staff once again, killing the Pharaoh and his army - vs. 26-29.
30Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31When Israel saw the great power which the Lord had used against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in His servant Moses.
- Exodus 14:30-31
This time all the people were together and witnessed for themselves the great miracle and rescue God performed on their behalf as the dead Egyptians wash up on the shore. The final verse says that they not only feared the Lord (who wouldn't after that display?) but they also believed in Him and Moses as their God-appointed leader.
C. The Song of Moses, Israel, and Miriam – Exodus 15:1-21
This song/poem was composed and sung to commemorate the rescue of the Israelites from the Egyptian army by the powerful hand of God. It was known in the Jewish liturgy as " Shirat Ha Yam," meaning, "the song of the sea," and was included in early morning Jewish synagogue services.
Scholars believe it may be "…the oldest piece of sustained poetry in the Hebrew Bible" (N.M. Sarna, Exodus, JPS Torah Commentary).
- It is a song of praise to God for who He is and what He has done repeating various works and characteristics.
- It also emphasizes the results of what He has done for Israel (brought to holy habitation) and other nations (made them afraid).
- It concludes with a summary statement (vs. 19) and a joyful response from Miriam (who is Moses' sister) and the women who are singing this song.
This joyful scene closes the episode and events of Israel's freedom from slavery, the observances God gives to commemorate the miracles performed to obtain that freedom along with a mighty act by God to rescue His people from sure death or a return to slavery – this celebrated in a joyful "song of the sea" that became embedded in daily Jewish worship when the synagogue system began during the Babylonian captivity some 700 years into the future.
The people are free and safe, ready to begin their journey to the Promised Land.
1. Leaders rarely get the credit, but always get the blame.
Notice how the people were so fast to blame Moses for their predicament when trapped between the army and the sea. You don't hear anyone praising him when the Jews were spared the plagues or thanking him for facing down the Pharaoh at the risk of his own life. My point here is that this phenomenon is common to all leaders. If you cannot deal with criticism, even unfair criticism, don't aspire to be a leader.
2. God often does the unexpected, so pray for his help and guidance, but don't tell Him how you want things done.
Moses was confident God could and would rescue the people – just burn up or wipe out the Egyptian army so they could move on. But God had His plan, which would require a show of faith from the Israelites – they had to walk between the wall of water first. In dividing the sea God rescued them, destroyed the elite Egyptian army, but also created faith in the hearts of the Israelites.
With this miracle God also established a spiritual precedent for every sinner who, in the future, would be rescued from the second death by expressing his faith in Jesus Christ as he passed through the waters of baptism on to the shores of forgiveness and salvation (Mark 16:16).
God is a multitasker – He does things that affect you now for the problem at hand, but also for things in the past and future – you do the praying, let Him do the answering in His way and in His time.