Exodus 14: Hardening Pharaoh's Heart
by Dr. Robert D. Luginbill
Then the Israelites went through the sea while the waters were a
wall for them on the right and on the left.
the waters were a wall: The barrier of water forming on both sides of the
escape route is a wall of protection for the Israelites, but is a mass of pent up
disaster, just waiting to be unleashed, for the Egyptians. Note the poetic description of
the collected waters in Exodus 15:8: they are characterized as "piled up",
"standing up like a heap" and "curdled" or "thickened" in
the "heart of the sea".
And the Egyptians pursued and went in after them, all
Pharaoh's horse, both his chariots and his horsemen, into the midst of the sea.
And the Egyptians pursued: The pillar of cloud and fire, the visible
manifestation of the Angel of the Lord (a theophany of Christ; see above on verse
nineteen), has apparently followed the Israelites into the dry sea bed, making a pursuit
possible at this point. It is just before dawn by the time the Egyptians enter the sea
bed. The Israelites have been on the march all night, and having covered the ten to
fifteen mile passage, are by now close to coming safely through to the far side.
and went in after them: The Egyptians go in after them without apparent
hesitation in spite of the incredible miracle clearly visible before their eyes. The
hardening of heart which the Lord has allowed to occur makes it possible for them to
disregard the gross temerity of their course of action (see above on verse seventeen),
goaded on by their desire for carnage and plunder (see Ex.15:9).
into the midst of the sea: Note that Egyptians go into the sea
(Hebrew el-toch, while in verse 22 the Israelites go through it (Hebrew bethoch).
The language is ominously precise: the Israelites get all the way through, but the
Egyptians, while they into will never make it completely through.
And it came to pass during the morning watch, that the Lord looked
down on the camp of the Egyptians in a pillar of fire and cloud and threw the camp of the
Egyptians into confusion.
at the morning watch: In antiquity, the hours of darkness were commonly
divided into three "watches". As the time of year is mid to late spring, the
time of the last or "morning" watch would be roughly from two to six A.M. Day
has thus not yet dawned, but the morning watch, evidently underway for some time now, is
likely close to its end.
the Lord looked down on the camp of the Egyptians: During this morning watch,
the Lord, from the visible manifestation of His presence (the pillar of cloud and fire
which is still following the marching Israelites), observes that the Egyptian
"camp" is closing in (see on verse nineteen above for a "camp" being
potentially mobile in the Hebrew usage).
and threw the camp of the Egyptians into confusion: An intense, unearthly
dread now falls upon the Egyptians of the sort God often employs against the enemies of
Israel (compare Exodus 23:27: "I will send my terror ahead of you and throw into
confusion every nation you encounter. I will make all your enemies turn their backs and
run."; see also Zech.14:13: "On that day, men will be stricken by the Lord with
great panic."). Only after it is too late do the Egyptians now realize the folly of
their actions and the perilous nature of their situation.
And He made the wheels of [Pharaoh's] chariots swerve and so that
[the drivers] could only guide them with difficulty. Then the Egyptians said, "Let us
flee from before Israel for the Lord is fighting for them against the Egyptians."
And He made the wheels of [Pharaoh's] chariots swerve: The Lord causes the
chariots to behave erratically (He does not "make the wheels fall off" as some
translations would have it - then they could not be driven at all!). The Egyptians rightly
interpret this latest miracles as evidence that "the Lord" is responsible for
their chariots' strange behavior. They even use the Hebrew Yahweh to refer to
Him, indicating they realize all well Who it is that has come to Israel's assistance, the
same One who had wrought such awesome miracles against their country not long before. Just
previously they could not keep themselves from charging after Israel in their evil desire,
for God had hardened their heart, removing their normal, rational restraint, thus allowing
them to pursue what they desperately wanted. Now, they are unable to continue the pursuit
of their desires - to slaughter and plunder Israel, for God has placed an overwhelming
fear in their hearts. So it always is with the wicked who struggle and strive against God
and against His ways. For a moment, they may seem to prosper and triumph, but they are
only doing God's will despite themselves. When He wills it, they pursue; when He wills it,
they fall back; and when He wills it, they are utterly destroyed.
Then the Lord said to Moses, "Stretch your hand out over the
sea so that the waters might come back over the Egyptians, over their chariots and over
Stretch your hand out over the sea: The Israelites have all now safely exited
from the dried up sea bed. As Moses had been commanded to stretch out his hand over the
waters on the western shore, he now does the same from the eastern shore.
the Egyptians: The cavalry and chariots had apparently nearly caught up with
the Israelite rear guard when the Lord threw them into a panic. Now the Egyptians are in
the process of attempting to retreat back to their own side of the sea. They had nearly
reached the eastern side before being routed by the Lord, but now must retrace their
Moses stretched out his hand over the sea and at daybreak the sea
returned to its natural state of flow, and the Egyptians fled straight into it. Thus the
Lord shook the Egyptians off [their mounts] into the midst of the sea.
Moses stretched out his hand: While Moses performs the act mentioned here, God
actually accomplishes the miracle (see verses sixteen and twenty-one above). Once again,
He makes use of the intermediary the agency of wind to perform the miracle (Ex. 15:10).
at daybreak: The Egyptians will get an untrammeled view of the terrifying
sight as the waters crash towards them.
the sea returned to its natural state of flow: With the stretching out of
Moses' hand, the heaped up waters are released from their supernatural restraints and now
begin to behave under normal physical principles once more.
straight into it: The force of this somewhat ironic expression (Hebrew liqra'tho:
literally, "fleeing to meet it [the sea]") is not so much that the Egyptians are
"pointed at" the returning waters, for these are about to engulf them on all
sides, but rather that their flight will "meet" the surging waters, though they
had hoped to "meet" the safety of the far shore.
shook the Egyptians off [their mounts]: A difficult expression which the
ancient versions translate in a variety of ways. The literal meaning of the Hebrew na'
ar is "to shake off or out". As the Egyptians are on the point of being
engulfed by waters from above, they are literally shaken from their chariots and off of
their horses down into the raging waters.
Then the waters returned and covered the chariots and the cavalry.
Of the entire force of Pharaoh which had gone into the sea after them, there remained not
a single man.
Then the waters returned: Following the initially surge (the "flow"
of verse 28) the waters now return to their natural place, burying the Egyptian host
there remained not a single man: Did Pharaoh himself escape? There has long
been much debate about the identity of the Pharaoh of the Exodus. The most widely held
traditional view, namely, that Amunhotep II was the Pharaoh of the Exodus, may pose a
problem. According to Gispen, Amunhotep II's mummy was found in 1898.(1)
Yet this passage, along with Ps. 136:15, seems to indicate unequivocally that he perished
in the sea. Two possible solutions suggest themselves. First of all, many dead Egyptians
are said to have washed up on shore after the catastrophe (see verse 31), and Pharaoh's
corpse may have been one of them. Unquestionably, he would have been easily identifiable
by his regal attire. It is also possible that the regime might have seen fit for religious
and propaganda reasons to bury an imposter in Amunhotep II's place. And of course, given
the extreme difficulties of Egyptian chronology, we must agree with J. Wilson that the
Pharaoh of the Exodus "cannot be satisfactorily identified" in any case.(2)
But the Israelites had gone through the midst of the sea on the dry
ground while the waters were a wall for them on the right and on the left.
But the Israelites had gone through: The Hebrew disjunctive clause is
strongly adversative, marking a sharp contrast between the waters as a source of
protection for the Israelites, though a source of destruction for the Egyptians. The verb
is to be taken as past perfect: "had gone through". For him who truly trusts
God, even things that seem to threaten destruction can be a means of deliverance in His
Thus on that day the Lord delivered Israel from the power of the
Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the sea shore.
Thus on that day: We have in this sentence something very characteristic of
the Hebrew language: a general summation, or as Childs calls it, "epilogue",
placed at the end of an important section which the writer wishes to emphasize.(3) The entire process of Israel's miraculous deliverance
in chapter fourteen is here summed up at once before the writer returns to the historical
sequence of events. After the fact, when our trials and tribulations lie "dead on the
shore", it is relatively easy to appreciate God and His goodness in protecting and
delivering us. But how much better it is to be able to trust Him and His faithfulness
while we are yet in "the midst of the sea" with a furious host nipping at our
heals! We may be scared, we may be tempted to doubt, but we should remember the words of
Moses, and believe that once God has completed for His work of deliverance from our
difficulties, no matter how severe they may seem or be, we shall not see them "ever
again forever" (verse thirteen) except to catch a glimpse of them lying dead by the
shore of the sea.
Thus Israel saw the great and powerful deed which the Lord
accomplished against the Egyptians. And the people feared the Lord and they believed in
the Lord and in Moses, his servant.
the great and powerful deed which the Lord accomplished against the Egyptians:
The cream of Egyptian power, the best of their military machine, had been unable to harm
the hair on a single Israelite's head, and now lay smashed and submerged under the sea by
the true power and might of God. We who are presently in this world are apt to fear and
faint in our faith when confronted by a good deal less than one of the most awesome
military juggernauts in history bearing down upon us with no earthly thing to stop them.
the people feared the Lord and they believed in the Lord: Now, at last, the
Israelites believe. The Egyptians realized the truth too late, but Israel, by the grace of
God, has been delivered and now takes advantage of the opportunity to appreciate the
incredible goodness and mercy of the Lord in delivering them in spite of their failings.
How much better it would have been if they had believed and had faith all along. How much
better it is to trust God before, and during, as well as after the crisis has
past. To grow up in the Lord, we need to learn to have faith in Him at all times; to trust
Him wherever He may lead us, no matter if the situation seems grim from the human point of
view - our deliverance comes not from human beings but from the Lord God Almighty. We need
to learn to trust Him when our backs are to the impenetrable sea. We need to learn to
trust Him when we are struggling through the dry sea bed, the way of escape He has
promised us (1Cor.10:13), even though imminent destruction threatens us from the left and
from the right. Then, and only then, can we truly appreciate to the fullest His final
deliverance, when He sets us safe upon the further shore to view our worst fears slain,
and washed up upon the beach.
1. W. Gispen, The Bible Student's Commentary - Exodus
(Grand Rapids 1982) 145.
2. J. Wilson in The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible
(Nashville 1962) v.3, 774.
3. B. Childs, The Book of Exodus (Philadelphia: Westminster