We have here,
I. Direction given to Israel’s leader.
1. What he must do himself. He must, for the present, leave off praying, and apply himself to his business (Exod. 14:15): Wherefore cryest thou unto me? Moses, though he was assured of a good issue to the present distress, yet did not neglect prayer. We read not of one word he said in prayer, but he lifted up to God his heart, the language of which God well understood and took notice of. Moses’s silent prayers of faith prevailed more with God than Israel’s loud outcries of fear, Exod. 14:10. Note, (1.) Praying, if of the right kind, is crying to God, which denotes it to be the language both of a natural and of an importunate desire. (2.) To quicken his diligence. Moses had something else to do besides praying; he was to command the hosts of Israel, and it was now requisite that he should be at his post. Every thing is beautiful in its season.
2. What he must order Israel to do. Speak to them, that they go forward. Some think that Moses had prayed, not so much for their deliverance (he was assured of that) as for the pardon of heir murmurings, and that God’s ordering them to go forward was an intimation of the pardon. There is no going forward with any comfort but in the sense of our reconciliation to God. Moses had bidden them stand still, and expect orders from God; and now orders are given. They thought they must have been directed either to the right hand or to the left. “No,” says God, “speak to them to go forward, directly to the sea-side;” as if there had lain a fleet of transport-ships ready for them to embark in. Note, When we are in the way of our duty, though we met with difficulties, we must go forward, and not stand in mute astonishment; we must mind present work and then leave the even to God, use means and trust him with the issue.
3. What he might expect God to do. Let the children of Israel go as far as they can upon dry ground, and then God will divide the sea, and open a passage for them through it, Exod. 14:16-18. God designs, not only to deliver the Israelites, but to destroy the Egyptians; and the plan of his counsels is accordingly. (1.) He will show favour to Israel; the waters shall be divided for them to pass through, Exod. 14:16. The same power could have congealed the waters for them to pass over; but Infinite Wisdom chose rather to divide the waters for them to pass through; for that way of salvation is always pitched upon which is most humbling. Thus it is said, with reference to this (Isa. 63:13, 14), He led them through the deep, as a beast goes down into the valley, and thus made himself a glorious name. (2.) He will get him honour upon Pharaoh. If the due rent of honour be not paid to the great landlord, by and from whom we have and hold our beings and comforts, he will distrain for it, and recover it. God will be a loser by no man. In order to this, it is threatened: I, behold I, will harden Pharaoh’s heart, Exod. 14:17. The manner of expression is observable: I, behold I, will do it. “I, that may do it;” so it is the language of his sovereignty. We may not contribute to the hardening of any man’s heart, nor withhold any thing that we can do towards the softening of it; but God’s grace is his own, he hath mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will be hardeneth. “I, that can do it;” so it is the language of his power; none but the Almighty can make the heart soft (Job 23:16), nor can any other being make it hard. “I, that will do it;” for it is the language of his justice; it is a righteous thing with God to put those under the impressions of his wrath who have long resisted the influences of his grace. It is spoken in a way of triumph over this obstinate and presumptuous rebel: “I even I, will take an effectual course to humble him; he shall break that would not bend.” It is an expression like that (Isa. 1:24), Ah, I will ease me of my adversaries.
II. A guard set upon Israel’s camp where it now lay most exposed, which was in the rear, Exod. 14:19, 20. The angel of God, whose ministry was made use of in the pillar of cloud and fire, went from before the camp of Israel, where they did not now need a guide (there was no danger of missing their way through the sea, nor needed they any other word of command than to go forward), and it came behind them, where now they needed a guard (the Egyptians being just ready to seize the hindmost of them), and so was a wall of partition between them. There it was of use to the Israelites, not only to protect them, but to light them through the sea, and, at the same time, it confounded the Egyptians, so that they lost sight of their prey just when they were ready to lay hands on it. The word and providence of God have a black and dark side towards sin and sinners, but a bright and pleasant side towards those that are Israelites indeed. That which is a savour of life unto life to some is a savour of death unto death to others. This was not the first time that he who in the beginning divided between light and darkness (Gen. 1:4), and still forms both (Isa. 45:7), had, at the same time, allotted darkness to the Egyptians and light to the Israelites, a specimen of the endless distinction which will be made between the inheritance of the saints in light and that utter darkness which for ever will be the portion of hypocrites. God will separate between the precious and the vile.