Exodus 14: Hardening Pharaoh's Heart
no graves in Egypt: The use of word meaning "graves" here, is more than a litter ironic. First, because Egypt, the land of the Pyramids, is renowned for its tombs. Secondly, this "rebellious generation" did in fact later die in the desert as discipline for their contrariness, and, according to scripture, had their bones "scattered in the wilderness" for their unbelief and lack of faith in God and His promises (Heb.3:17; 1Cor.10:5; Num.15:32,33).
in the desert: Here the people impugn Moses' judgment and motives at the time of their initial departure. As we have seen previously, they are not even actually yet in "the desert" proper, but are nevertheless quick to attribute to Moses' the intention of taking them their to die (see verse three above). In blaming Moses, they are really only demonstrating their own failure of faith in the Lord.
What in the world: Note that not only is the behavior of the
Israelites at this point similar to the Egyptians (in ignoring God and the role He will
play in this confrontation), but at this point they even use the same phraseology. The
Hebrew mah-z`oth, "what in the world" is exactly what the Egyptians had
asked themselves in verse five! But at least the Egyptians were blamimg themselves for the
problem. The Israelites here blame Moses, God's appointed, and, by implication, God
Himself for the predicament in which they now find themselve.
Do not be afraid! Fully realizing that the people have made these groundless charges against him purely out of fear, Moses cuts right to the quick of the matter and addresses the root of the problem: the Israelites need to control their fear by re-focusing their faith on the Lord, and Moses tells them so.
Take your positions: The translation of the Hebrew verb yatsabh by the phrase "take your positions" is well supported elsewhere in scripture.(1) The nation of Israel encamped and on the march of necessity functioned as an army (cf. Num.2), and we can easily see in Moses' command here a "warning order" necessary for this large host to receive before any large scale and coordinated movement of the Israelites could occur. Note that Moses has apparently not been told how the Lord has planned to deliver Israel and defeat the Egyptians, but Moses is nevertheless completely confident that He will do so, and makes the necessary preparations so as to be ready when the deliverance arrives (whatever it may be, the Israelites will be ready to move).
We can certainly learn a lesson from this. We believers we call upon the Lord often to help us in our trials and tribulations, and to deliver us from our personal predicaments. But how often do we take the steps that we must necessarily take even before our prayers our answered? Stepping out in faith and acting before we have actually seen the deliverance of the Lord, we proclaim our belief in Him and in His faithfulness. By refusing to act until we first see a sign that He will answer our prayers, we only demonstrate how little we really trust Him.
Moses' command for the people to muster has another, practical side, of which everyone in a position of leadership should take note. By giving the people something positive to do, he helps them take their minds off the fearsome development they have been observing, and allows them to participate in his genuine, faith-based solution. It is perhaps largely as a result of this opportunity to get back on the right track that later do fall back into a more compliant mode and obey the commands which follow in this chapter. After all, the writer of Hebrews tell us that they crossed the Red Sea "by faith" (Heb.11:29).
watch the deliverance of the Lord which He will accomplish for you today: Ultimately the Israelites will, of course, be saved - not through the actions commanded by Moses, but because the Lord will deliver them Himself. Moses commands them to watch and understand that it is God who is protecting them.
For the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will not see ever again forever: Literally, "you will not see them again anymore unto eternity." Moses deliberately puts this in the most emphatic possible way, demonstrating his absolute faith that, in spite of how hopeless things seem to be, God will "stand in the gap" and save them from annihilation.
When we really do "walk by faith, not sight" (2Cor.5:7), when faith really does give us "assurance of things we can't see" (Heb.11:1), then we too can, like Moses, face seemingly hopeless situations in total confidence that God will not let us down, but will instead come to our rescue, though we cannot see the precise means, nor know the exact time.
[A]t this time Israel was not ready to fight. Fresh from slavery in Egypt, they were lacking in both weapons and will power. Therefore, God says, in this instance, that He will fight for them.(2)
but you must keep quiet: The disjunctive clause in Hebrew yields a strong adversative sense. The contrast between the Lord's action and the people's silence is a wonderful picture of the biblical concept of grace, where we merely trust, while God does the work.
One can compare the situation to a similar one in John 6:67-69. In that New Testament passage, as the faithless depart, our Lord asks the twelve whether or not they wish to go too. The purpose in asking the question is not sarcastic, but rather designed to demonstrate, by the offering of a bad alternative which faithless men have already accepted, the true faith of the twelve. This is shown by Peter's answer:
"Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God .
Giving Moses a chance to identify with and accept the people's cry of unbelief serves to demonstrate Moses' true faith which stands in stark contrast to the faithlessness of the people. They have already grasped at a bad alternative to trusting God and have instead cried out in fear. The Lord's question to Moses is more an acknowledgment of his faith than a true question, just as it was to the twelve in Jn. 6:67. Moses remains silent and faithful, showing that he, at least, has passed this test of faith.
Tell the Israelites to move out! The Lord proceeds to issue the orders that will bring about the deliverance of His people, Israel. Because of Moses trusted God and exercised both faith and responsible leadership in preparing the people for action, they are now ready to follow this order and so take advantage of God's miracle.
stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it: Moses probably lifted the staff high over his head with one hand (symbolizing thus the power of God) and stretched the other out over the sea (symbolizing the application of that power). This is unquestionably meant to be a supernatural act of unprecedented proportions (such as leading the Egyptian chariots through a swamp could never be). Most people would have a difficult time keeping a level head while mediating such awesome divine power, but scripture tells us that Moses was the most humble man on earth (Num.12:3).
so that the Israelites may go through the midst of the sea on the dry ground: The meaning is clearly that they should march through the place the sea had occupied with the waters divided on either side. No naturalistic interpretation of the event can be reconciled with what this text actually says. God meant it to be an undeniable miracle of the highest order.
both through his chariots and his horsemen: i.e., his entire force (see on verse seven above). No one will escape.
because of my glorification through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen: There comes a time when everyone recognizes the glory of God and gives glory to God, a time when "every knee shall bow" (Is.45:23; Rom.14:11). The hardest heart sees, if only at the very last, that the Lord is the Lord after all. How terrible to come to this realization only after life has passed by. But whether in by life of a man (for the believer) or by the death of a man (for the unbeliever) God will be glorified in all that He does.
1. BDB, op.cit. 426b.
2. M. Neal, "Crossing the Red Sea," Biblical Viewpoint 62 (1978) 31.