We have here the history of that work of wonder which is so often mentioned both in the Old and New Testament, the dividing of the Red Sea before th 3b1a e children of Israel. It was the terror of the Canaanites (Josh. 2:9, 10), the praise and triumph of the Israelites, Ps. 114:3; Ps. 106:9; 136:13, 14. It was a type of baptism, 1 Cor. 10:1, 2. Israel’s passage through it was typical of the conversion of souls (Isa. 11:15), and the Egyptians’ perdition in it was typical of the final ruin of all impenitent sinners, Rev. 20:14. Here we have,
I. An instance of God’s almighty power in the kingdom of nature, in dividing the sea, and opening a passage through the waters. It was a bay, or gulf, or arm of the sea, two or three leagues over, which was divided, Exod. 14:21. The instituted sign made use of was Moses’s stretching out his hand over it, to signify that it was done in answer to his prayer, for the confirmation of his mission, and in favour to the people whom he led. The natural sign was a strong east wind, signifying that it was done by the power of God, whom the winds and the seas obey. If there be any passage in the book of Job which has reference to the miracles wrought for Israel’s deliverance out of Egypt, it is that in Job 26:12; He divideth the sea with his power, and by his understanding he smileth through Rahab (so the word is), that is, Egypt. Note, God can bring his people through the greatest difficulties, and force a way where he does not find it. The God of nature has not tied himself to its laws, but, when he pleases, dispenses with them, and then the fire does not burn, nor the water flow.
II. An instance of his wonderful favour to his Israel. They went through the sea to the opposite shore, for I cannot suppose, with some, that they fetched a compass, and came out again on the same side, Exod. 14:22. They walked upon dry land in the midst of the sea, Exod. 14:29. And the pillar of cloud, that glory of the Lord, being their rearward (Isa. 58:8), that the Egyptians might not charge them in the flank, the waters were a wall to them (it is twice mentioned) on their right hand and on their left. Moses and Aaron, it is probable, ventured first into this untrodden path, and then all Israel after them; and this march through the paths of the great waters would make their march afterwards, through the wilderness, less formidable. Those who had followed God through the sea needed not to fear following him whithersoever he led them. This march through the sea was in the night, and not a moon-shiny night, for it was seven days after the full moon, so that they had no light but what they had from the pillar of cloud and fire. This made it the more awful; but where God leads us he will light us; while we follow his conduct, we shall not want his comforts.
This was done, and recorded, in order to encourage God’s people in all ages to trust in him in the greatest straits. What cannot he do who did this? What will not he do for those hat fear and love him who did this for these murmuring unbelieving Israel is, who yet were beloved for their fathers’ sake, and for the sake of a remnant among them? We find the saints, long afterwards, making themselves sharers in the triumphs of this march (Ps. 66:6): They went through the flood on foot; there did we rejoice in him: and see how this work of wonder is improved, Ps. 77:11, 16, 19.
III. An instance of his just and righteous wrath upon his and his people’s enemies, the Egyptians. Observe here, 1. How they were infatuated. In the heat of their pursuit, they went after the Israelites into the midst of the sea, Exod. 14:23. “Why,” thought they, “may not we venture where Israel did?” Once or twice the magicians of Egypt had done what Moses did, with their enchantments; Pharaoh remembered this, but forgot how they were nonplussed at last. They were more advantageously provided with chariots and horses, while the Israelites were on foot. Pharaoh had said, I know not the Lord; and by this it appeared he did not, else he would not have ventured thus. None so bold as those that are blind. Rage against Israel made them thus daring and inconsiderate: they had long hardened their own hearts; and now God hardened them to their ruin, and hid from their eyes the things that belonged to their peace and safety. Surely in vain is the net spread in the sight of any bird (Prov. 1:17); yet so blind where the Egyptians that they hastened to the snare, Prov. 7:23. Note, The ruin of sinners is brought on by their own presumption, which hurries them headlong into the pit. They are self-destroyers. 2. How they were troubled and perplexed, Exod. 14:24, 25. For some hours they marched through the divided waters as safely and triumphantly as Israel did, not doubting but, that, in a little time, they should gain their point. But, in the morning watch, the Lord looked upon the host of the Egyptians, and troubled them. Something or other they saw or heard from the pillar of cloud and fire which put them into great consternation, and gave them an apprehension of their ruin before it was brought upon them. Now it appeared that the triumphing of the wicked is short, and that God has ways to frighten sinners into despair, before he plunges them into destruction. He cuts off the spirit of princes, and is terrible to the kings of the earth. (1.) They had hectored and boasted as if the day were their own; but now they were troubled and dismayed, struck with a panic-fear. (2.) They had driven furiously; but now they drove heavily, and found themselves plugged and embarrassed at every step; the way grew deep, their hearts grew sad, their wheels dropped off, and the axle-trees failed. Thus can God check the violence of those that are in pursuit of his people. (3.) They had been flying upon the back of Israel, as the hawk upon the trembling dove; but now they cried, Let us flee from the face of Israel, which had become to them like a torch of fire in a sheaf, Zech. 12:6. Israel has now, all of a sudden, become as much a terror to them as they had been to Israel. They might have let Israel alone and would not; now they would flee from the face of Israel and cannot. Men will not be convinced, till it is too late, that those who meddle with God’s people meddle to their own hurt; when the Lord shall come with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgment, the mighty men will in vain seek to shelter themselves under rocks and mountains from the face of Israel and Israel’s King, Rev. 6:15. Compare with this story, Job 27:20 3. How they were all drowned. As soon as ever the children of Israel had got safely to the shore, Moses was ordered to stretch out his hand over the sea, and thereby give a signal to the waters to close again, as before, upon he word of command, they had opened to the right and the left, Exod. 14:29. He did so, and immediately the waters returned to their place, and overwhelmed all the host of the Egyptians, Exod. 14:27, 28. Pharaoh and his servants, who had hardened one another in sin, now fell together, and not one escaped. An ancient tradition says that Pharaoh’s magicians, Jannes and Jambres, perished with the rest, as Balaam with the Midianites whom he had seduced, Num. 31:8. And now, (1.) God avenged upon the Egyptians the blood of the firstborn whom they had drowned: and the principal is repaid with interest, it is recompensed double, full-grown Egyptians for newborn Israelites; thus the Lord is righteous, and precious is his people’s blood in his sight, Ps. 72:14. (2.) God reckoned with Pharaoh for all his proud and insolent conduct towards Moses his ambassador. Mocking the messengers of the Lord, and playing the fool with them, bring ruin without remedy. Now God got him honour upon Pharaoh, looking upon that proud man, and abasing him, Job 40:12. Come and see the desolations he made, and write it, not in water, but with an iron pen in the rock for ever. Here lies that bloody tyrant who bade defiance to his Maker, to his demands, threatenings, and judgments; a rebel to God, and a slave to his own barbarous passions; perfectly lost to humanity, virtue, and all true honour; here he lies, buried in the deep, a perpetual monument of divine justice. Here he went down to the pit, though he was the terror of the mighty in the land of the living. This is Pharaoh and all his multitude, Ezek. 31:18.
IV. Here is the notice which the Israelites took of this wonderful work which God wrought for them, and the good impressions which it made upon them for the present.
1. They saw the Egyptians dead upon the sands, Exod. 14:30. Providence so ordered it that the next tide threw up the dead bodies, (1.) For the greater disgrace of the Egyptians. Now the beasts and birds of prey were called to eat the flesh of the captains and mighty men, Rev. 19:17, 18. The Egyptians were very nice and curious in embalming and preserving the bodies of their great men, but here the utmost contempt is poured upon all the grandees of Egypt; see how they lie, heaps upon heaps, as dung upon the face of the earth. (2.) For the greater triumph of the Israelites, and to affect them the more with their deliverance; for the eye affects the heart. See Isa. 66:24; They shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me. Probably they stripped the slain and, having borrowed jewels of their neighbours before, which (the Egyptians having by this hostile pursuit of them broken their faith with them) henceforward they were not under any obligation to restore, they now got arms from them, which, some think, they were not before provided with. Thus, when God broke the heads of Leviathan in pieces, he gave him to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness, Ps. 74:14.
2. The sight of this great work greatly affected them, and now they feared the Lord, and believed the Lord, and his servant Moses, Exod. 14:31. Now they were ashamed of their distrusts and murmurings, and, in the good mind they were in, they would never again despair of help from Heaven, no, not in the greatest straits; they would never again quarrel with Moses, nor talk of returning to Egypt. They were now baptized unto Moses in the sea, 1 Cor. 10:2. This great work which God wrought for them by the ministry of Moses bound them effectually to follow his directions, under God. This confirmed their faith in the promises that were yet to be fulfilled; and, being brought thus triumphantly out of Egypt, they did not doubt that they should be in Canaan shortly, having such a God to trust to, and such a mediator between them and him. O that there had been such a heart in them as now there seemed to be! Sensible mercies, when they are fresh, make sensible impressions; but with many these impressions soon wear off: while they see God’s works, and feel the benefit of them, they fear him and trust in him; but they soon forget his works, and then they slight him. How well were it for us if we were always in as good a frame as we are in sometimes!