“The Deep Covers Them”


I. Pharaoh is not through with his hardness of heart and arrogant pride – 14:1-9

A. God told the Israelites where to camp, so that Pharaoh would be enticed to go after them. They were instructed to camp between Migdol and the sea. If someone pursued, they were sure to be hemmed in.

B. The Lord told Moses that Pharaoh would receive intelligence of where they were, realize that they were vulnerable, and renew his desire for dominance over them and to retain them as his slaves. Verses 3, 5. When Pharaoh asked, “Why have we done this, that we have let Israel go from serving us?” he betrayed a short memory and an inveterate spirit of rebellion. His delusions would be so extreme that they were suicidal. He and all of Egypt had just lost their first-born because of his attempt to match power and will with the God of Israel. Now, does he think it will be different?

C. The Lord would use this occasion to harden Pharaoh’s heart yet again in order to give one more display of his power in the saving of his people. Verses 4, 8.

D. Pharaoh armed himself with the most impressive display of worldly might to pursue, overtake, and recapture these slaves. He made ready his chariots, six hundred “choice chariots” [probably specially equipped and engineered with specially trained drivers], and the other chariots that were part of his arsenal. Verses 6, 7.

E. The Egyptians overtook the Israelites where they were camped.


II. The People are not through with their distrustful complaining – 14:10-12

A. The sight of the pursuing Egyptians struck fear into these wandering Jews. Their fearful slave mentality had not left them but they immediately assumed that they were at the mercy of Pharaoh, not servants of the gracious, merciful, delivering Jehovah. They “cried out to the Lord,” but it does not seem to be the cry of trust, but of despair as if he had delivered them only to destroy them. Verse 10

B. Immediately after crying to the Lord, they rail against Moses, the one that the Lord had appointed to this task of delivery. Their skill at irony is both amusing and tragic. “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt you have taken us to die in the wilderness?” They had just been delivered from death in Egypt by the events of the Passover. Their memory was at least as short as that of Pharaoh. Both he and they assumed that the matter was concluded: Pharaoh wins.

C. Now they involved Moses in an “I-told-you-so” accusation (12).

  1. They had remonstrated against him when they were subjected to make bricks without straw (5:20, 21). Imagine! They said Moses made them “odious in Pharaoh’s sight.” Already they were odious in his sight and he would treat them as suited his evil whim. They were precious in the sight of Yahweh for his own Name’s sake, yet they allowed temporary discomfort to drive them to a preference of Pharaoh over the covenantal lovingkindness of the Lord.
  2. Between that confrontation over bricks and this, ten miraculous manifestations of power had been displayed. Each indicated perfect control over all things of nature as well as superiority over all the gods of Egypt (12:12). Yahweh did them in pursuit of an invincible determination to maintain his covenant promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (12:48; Genesis 17:7-13).
  3. Their short-sighted mentality, however, was to maintain the pitiful amount of earthly comforts they had, though in slavery, rather than be the covenant people of God. We see how hard it is to lift one’s eyes beyond the options of the moment and present comfort to consider the call of eternity and unchanging glory. May God forgive us, and remind us of the sinful irrationality, when we so prefer the world over the difficult path of pure devotion to Christ.


III. God is not yet through with gaining glory to himself over the worldly pretensions of Pharaoh! — 4:13-28

A. Moses assured the people of the saving purpose of God – 13, 14.

  1. In God’s kindness to his people, he recognizes their fearfulness and gives through Moses the words of settling, “Do not fear.”
  2. Even as they had done nothing to produce their release from Egypt, so they must simply “stand by.” Their part in this great victory over such formidable military aggression was to “keep silent.”
  3. They were to “see the salvation of the Lord which he will accomplish for you today.” They had not brought themselves out of Egypt, so they would not destroy this foe posing a seemingly invincible threat. As in spiritual salvation, the people are “without strength” (Romans 5:6) and must see that “Jesus paid it all.”

B. God gave instructions to Moses – Verses 15-18

  1. They were to go forward. It was for the purpose of this very conflict that God designed their initial sojourn to end in an inescapable place. Now, rather than stand still and commit themselves to the intentions of the Egyptians, God commanded them to go forward and put themselves solely in the hands of God’s power and covenant intentions. When David was given options of punishment for having proudly and wrongly taken a census, he responded, “Please let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercies are great; but do not let me fall into the hand of man” (2 Samuel 24:14).
  2. Moses was to lift his staff and stretch out his hand. A part of the command was “stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it.” Moses had no power to divide the sea, but God would do it at Moses’s audacious obedience. We see in this a striking demonstration of the mysterious co-action of divine power in human discipleship. “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12, 13).
  3. God, even as he empowered the action of Moses in dividing the sea, so he would harden Pharaoh once again. No unfairness exists in God’s dealing with this world; all is done either in justice or in mercy. If in justice, as in the case of Pharaoh, none can or will find any ground to impute unfairness or oppressive partiality with God. If in mercy, none can object to God’s wisdom in manifesting kindness, gentleness, and lovingkindness in certain cases to undeserving sinners. The distinction between Pharaoh and Moses, Egypt and Israel stands as an irrefutable witness to God’s unchallenged prerogative to glorify his name in the manner most suiting to his wisdom, by unvarnished justice in one instance and by the infinite descent of mercy on the other. God proclaims that in this event he is “honored through Pharaoh, through his chariots and his horsemen” (14:18).

C. The Angel of God takes action – Verses 19, 20

  1. In order to confuse the Egyptians and bring about an immediate halt to their advance, the guiding fire and cloud of God’s majesty stationed himself between the two companies giving impenetrable darkness to the one and light to the other.
  2. These images of light and darkness become a biblical model of remaining in sin on the one hand and receiving the blessings of salvation on the other.
  • “The People who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined” (Isaiah 9:2).
  • “To give light to those who sin in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79).
  • “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (John 1:4, 5).
  • “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God” (John 3:19-21).
  • “For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
  • “This is the message which we have heard from him and declare to you, that God is light and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:5-7).

D. Into the sea they all go – Verses 21-25

  1. By a demonstration of his immediate control of all the forces of nature, the Lord caused the sea to part creating a grand canyon with water walls, while a wind blew through the resultant path in the sea to make for a dry journey to the other side. The nation of Israel went through.
  2. When the Lord moved the great pillar and allowed the Egyptians to see this divinely engineered over-dry-ground railroad, they went in boastful, but fatal, pursuit of the escaping slaves—horses and chariots and trained soldiers against frightened, pedestrian families.
  3. Having successfully baited the trap with their own forgetful arrogance and propensity to spontaneous violence, the Lord looked down on the pursuers and set them to panic. Their engines of war began to swerve, they found the newly dried river-bed to be virtually unnavigable. They sensed failure and, worse than that, the eerie conviction that the Lord of the plagues was also the Lord of the Sea and they, his enemies, were ensconced in the midst of his domain. They had plenty of time to panic, feel fright in the very depths of their rebellious souls, and know that they were in the hands of the Lord who had no intention of mercy toward them. This was a conviction that would not depart with death but would only be set with unwavering intensity when their last breath was smothered by the returning billows of the sea.

E. Over the Egyptians the sea returned – Verses 26-28

  1. God could have parted the sea and returned it to its original depth and flow without Moses stretched-out hand (21,26, 27), but he wanted Israel to know that Moses was his chosen instrument of deliverance. Rebellion against him was to be rebellion against the purpose of God. On several occasions yet future, this would be demonstrated with graphic and fatal certainty.
  2. As the sea returned to its flow and depth, not one of the pursuing Egyptians was spared (28). Again we see the reality of the divine distinction: “The Lord overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea; . . . the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians” (27, 30).


IV. Consent in the face of undeniable evidence – Verses 29-31

A. They crossed on dry land with the river standing as walls on either side. This they had seen with their eyes, and probably heard with their ears. Their own sensed bore witness that the deliverance had happened in spite of their hesitation, complaining, and despair. This was not the result of their hand or planning or deftness of strategy; One above them had done this, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

B. The powerful Egyptians with the six hundred chariots were dead on the seashore. In Israel’s escape, they looked upon the foes of flesh and blood demolished. The evidence lay before them on the shore. Mightier foes than these, foes that are not flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12), continually assault and threaten to re-enslave the believer, but we have been given weapons of warfare to bring down those enemies too.

C. When Israel saw, they feared and believed. For many of these, the fear and belief was of a saving, spiritual quality. For many it was but the temporary conclusion made by the impact of undeniable sensory, palpable evidence. Their heart remained unchanged, however, and soon they resorted to complaining, rebellion and disobedience (1 Corinthians 10:1-5).

D. Though the witnesses that God has provided of the truth of his gospel carry converting certainty, finally only the internal witness of the Spirit makes the saving change necessary for true repentance and faith. (John 5:31-40; 6:61-65; 1 John 5:9-13). The resistance of the unregenerate heart is not only to what it perceives as the suicide of rationality in believing the revealed worldview of the Bible, but to the consequent moral texture and absolute equity of divine law and judgment (Romans 1:18, 19; 2:1-3).


Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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