Dear Question Box Editor:
Will you please comment on these questions?
1. Did Pharaoh die in the Red Sea?
2. Is Exodus 15:19 proof that he did die?
3. Does Exodus 14:28 seem to say that those who went into the Sea died, but some of the Egyptians stayed on land? “All the host of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them, there remained not so much as one of them.”
An Iowa Reader
We appreciate your question. The Standard Bearer is always eager to hear from its readers.
Your main concern is, Did Pharaoh drown in the Red Sea at the time of the exodus, or did he not?
Most commentators and some historians simply assume that he did drown, without burdening themselves with the question of who this Pharaoh might be, the date of his reign, etc. Other historians and commentators, among whom is Dr. W. H. Gispen in his commentary on the book of Exodus (Korte Verklaring der Heilige Schrift), maintain that king Pharaoh did not drown at that time.
They base this on the following:
1) At the time when God sent Moses to Egypt to deliver His people Thurmose III was king. (1501-1447 B.C.) His successor was Amenophis II (1447-142 1 B.C.), during whose reign the exodus is supposed to have taken place, approximately 1445 B.C. It is interesting to note that these dates have been changed by later findings, so that Thutmose II is said to have reigned from 1482 to 1450 B.C. and Amenophis II from 1450 to 1424 B.C. And the exodus is reckoned at 1447. It is further maintained that the mummies of both of these kings have been found.
2) In Exodus 14:27, 15:4, and Deut. 11:4 the drowning of Pharaoh’s army is mentioned, but no mention is made of Pharaoh. Pharaoh may have led the army up to the sea, and then sent the army on ahead, while he stayed behind.
3) The only reference to the perishing of Pharaoh in the sea, according to this contention is found inPsalm 136:15, where we read, “But overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea: for His mercy endureth forever.” This is regarded either as poetic license, or is ascribed to the fact that the poet had not been properly informed.
On the other hand, we certainly cannot question the infallible inspiration of Psalm 136:15. That must stand.
In fact, it is in the light of this clear testimony of Scripture that we must understand the account of the crossing of the Red Sea as we have it in Exodus 14. We note,
1) That Exodus 14:8-10, 13 leaves the impression that Pharaoh led his army of charioteers and horsemen, which ‘followed after him. Verse 10 states, “And when Pharaoh drew nigh. . . .”
2) There is no mention made of the fact that Pharaoh withdrew to allow his army to pass through the sea before him. Verse 16 does tell us, “And I (Jehovah) will get me honour upon Pharaoh, and upon his host, upon his chariots and his horsemen.” In the light of that verse the passage you refer to (Exodus 14:28), “all the host of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them, there remained not as much as one of them,” must mean that Pharaoh and his entire host perished in the sea.
3) Moreover, as you point out, Exodus 15:19 states, “For the horse of Pharaoh went in with his chariots and with his horsemen into the sea, and the Lord brought again the waters of the sea upon them.” This is a synecdoche; it certainly cannot mean the horse without the rider. We can also refer to Psalm 73:53, and to Psalm 106:11, the latter declaring, “And the waters covered their enemies, there was not one left.”
Those interested in chronologies will wonder how this harmonizes with the dates of the reigns of Thutmose III and Amenophis II. We realize, of course, that these dates are a bit flexible, and that there is not perfect agreement about these dates. It seems possible that Thutmose III is the king referred to in Exodus 2:23, who died about the time when Moses was called in Midian to return to Egypt to deliver God’s people. In that case, there must have been a Pharaoh who reigned for a short time, that is, who reigned during the ten plagues and the departure, only to drown in the Red Sea. In that case Amenophis II was his successor. In any case, chronology must be brought in harmony with Scripture, not Scripture with the findings of men. We must always bow before the Scriptural “It is written.”