And the Lord said unto Moses, Wherefore criest thou unto me? speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward:
But lift thou up thy rod, and stretch out thine hand over the sea, and divide it: and the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea.
As a great tidal wave of humanity the children of Israel gathered themselves together and moved toward the borders of Egypt. They numbered in the millions: 600,000 men plus women and children. An aura of joy and confidence shone from their faces. From bondage they had been delivered by the power of their God. They were bound for the promised land, the covenant inheritance of their fathers. Behind they left their cruel task masters, terror-stricken and silent. The dominion of Egypt over Israel was broken.
With the children of Israel there went a great, although silent testimony of the faith in which they went. They carried the bones of Joseph. It was he who had brought the children of Israel into Egypt to save them from the famine in Canaan; but always his testimony had been that to Canaan they must return. Even in his death he had assured them, “God will surely visit you; and ye shall carry up my bones away hence with you.” Over 400 years had passed, and still his bones remained waiting, a testimony of faith that Israel belonged in Canaan. Now finally the bones of Joseph were being carried to their final resting place.
From Rameses to Succoth the Israelites traveled and then on to Etham at the edge of the wilderness. It was as they made this journey that a marvelous reality did appear. Against the azure sky there loomed a great, white cloud stretched as a pillar from heaven to earth. As the people moved, the cloud went before them guiding them on the way. When darkness fell the cloud was transformed and began to glisten with the radiance of a heavenly light. In the cloud was Jehovah, or, more specifically, the Angel of Jehovah. Through it Jesus Christ functioned in His Old Dispensation form. The Shekinah, as it has come to be called, was to be the constant manifestation of Jehovah’s presence to the children of Israel throughout their wilderness journey. It was to be the source of continual blessings. Not only did it serve to guide Israel through the trackless wastes of the wilderness and provide them with light in the dark hours of the night, but it would serve as a shield to protect them from their enemies and a shade to shelter them from the burning rays of the desert sun. Before it the believing children of Israel would learn to know the blessedness of dwelling in the presence of their God. Only through the power of God in the cloud would Israel be able to endure the hardships of the journey in months and years to come.
It was after the departure from Etham that Jehovah commanded a very amazing thing. He commanded Moses to turn from the road leading to Canaan and travel to the south. At another time many of Israel might have objected to this move, but faith in Jehovah was high and without murmuring the people followed the guidance of the cloud. Little did the people realize the hardships that this would imply. The route on which they were being taken was long, and it led through hot and barren deserts. Months and years would pass in which they would find nothing on which to survive except the sustaining power of their God. Complete trust and confidence in Jehovah would be the only source of strength. That was exactly the divine wisdom of this way. Jehovah was not to be misled by the apparent enthusiasm of the moment. He knew the hearts of men and was able to discern the weaknesses of Israel. Only by passing through the hardships of the wilderness, could the children of God grow sufficiently in faith to inherit the promised land. Only by tasting of the barrenness of this earth and of their own strength, could they come to rely solely upon their God. The way of hardship was for them the way of grace.
Besides this there was also another reason why the Lord led Israel in the way He did. Yet one more judgment was to be brought upon the Egyptians. As Israel was starting on its journey, Egypt was just beginning to recover from the stunning effects of the last plague. Egypt had been humbled but it had not been brought to repentance. It had acknowledged the greatness of Jehovah God, but it had not come to conversion of heart. In fear Pharaoh had pleaded for a blessing, but he despised the very God of whom he asked it. No sooner did Pharaoh hear of the strange, southerly route that Israel followed, than he eagerly laid hold upon it as proof that the wisdom of Israel’s God was foolishness. Ignoring the humiliating defeats pf the past, his pride was only too ready to believe again that it could gain a final victory over Israel’s God. With arrogant glee Pharaoh concluded of this latest move, “They are entangled in the land, the wilderness hath shut them in. Why have we done this, that we have left Israel go from serving us?” With bitter enthusiasm Pharaoh prepared his chariots to follow after Israel, determined to justify himself of his greatest enemy. It was of the Lord. Finally and fatally He had hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Not Pharaoh but Jehovah was to be conclusively justified.
Only gradually did the implications of the route they were traveling dawn upon the children of Israel. At first they were perplexed, but this soon turned to dismay. As they proceeded there emerged on the left the shores of the Red Sea, and as they looked ahead, they saw the looming peaks of an impassable mountain range reaching out also to cut them off on the right. It was then that they turned their heads and saw to their astonishment the distant glint of sunlight on steel. Soon they were able to discern the chariots of Pharaoh coming upon them in hot pursuit. In a matter of moments all of the former enthusiasm had died. Conviction and confidence gave way to the same carnal reasoning that had tempted Pharaoh. Only the cloud of God’s presence continued to proceed steadily on the way, but the people were confused and troubled, refusing to follow. In a faithless prayer of complaint, they began to cry out unto the Lord, but the heavens remained unmoved and silent. Finally they turned to Moses laying upon him all of the blame. “Is not this the word that we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians? For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness.” Here it was suddenly manifested how strong Israel really was. On the tide of victory the people had counted themselves strong, exclaiming the praises of their God. But now in the face of difficulty where only faith could conquer, they revealed how weak they still were. They were willing to exchange the way of faith for the former bondage of sin. No wonder they could not go directly to Canaan. Israel had yet much to learn.
Even Moses had begun to waver. He had only one duty to perform, to lead the people on, following the cloud. Distracted by the complaints of the people, he had yielded and stopped. The cloud went on alone until it hovered over the sea. This was the way of salvation, a way impossible to the eyes of the flesh, a way that only the strongest faith could follow. But even Moses did not have that. Rather he turned to the people and said, “Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will shew to you to day: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever. The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace.” Words of faith? At certain times and in certain places they might have been. Moses was correct in that he looked to Jehovah for deliverance, but one thing he neglected, he forgot the guidance of the Lord in the cloud. The answer of God was a reprimand, “Wherefore criest thou unto me? speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward.” This was the way of salvation, to follow the guidance of the Lord even when it led into the very depths of the sea. The Lord would provide salvation for His people but only through the way that He had determined, not by bringing them along an easy road as the fleshly desires of Israel wanted, not by engaging the Egyptians in open battle as Moses had evidently expected, but by leading them through the depths of the sea. That way, we are told in the New Testament (I Cor. 10:1, 2) was a symbol of baptism in the blood of Jesus Christ. In the cloud was the Angel of Jehovah, Jesus Christ in His Old Testament form. Israel must follow the cloud in faith, and following it must pass under it even by passing through the depths of the sea, which sea was a symbol of death. The Gospel was being unfolded that the believing children of Israel might see and learn of the only way of salvation. Although in the shadow of Old Testament type, the chosen people of God had to learn the same truth that was later set forth by the apostle Paul when he said, “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection” (Rom. 6:3-5).
That Moses and the people might more clearly understand, God commanded Moses, “Lift thou up thy rod, and stretch out thine hand over the sea, and divide it: and the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea.” This Moses did and immediately there arose a strong east wind forcing back the waters of the sea and making the ground underneath dry. With walls of water on each side, a dry path was made through the bottom of the sea. Meanwhile the Angel of Jehovah in the cloud removed and went behind the camp of Israel dividing them from the armies of Egypt.
Night was falling as Israel began to pass through the depths of the sea. The enemy was close behind them, yet could not approach because the cloud was to the Egyptians an impassable wall of darkness. The sky grew dark above Israel but the very cloud which was darkness to the Egyptians was to them a glowing column of light shining behind and above them to guide their feet so that not one foot was made to stumble. There was humble wonderment in the hearts of the children of God as they made this amazing passage in their journey. They had marveled at the power of God as He had revealed Himself in Egypt, and now even more wonderful works than those they were experiencing. They had doubted the possibility of salvation as they stood by the shore of the sea, and now they knew how foolish they had been, for nothing could withstand the hand of the Lord. As Israel passed through the sea, they worshipped.
Through the hours of the night only the Egyptians were apprehensive. Did they perhaps hear through the darkness the sounds of Israel’s passage? Anxiously they sought to pierce the blackness with their eyes. Not until morning dawned and all of Israel had left the shore did God lift the cloud and allow them to see. In complete amazement they beheld the last of the Israelites passing between the waters. But God had hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not hesitate in his determination even at the sight of so evident a miracle. With reckless abandonment he led his army into the depths of the sea in pursuit of his enemy. It was when the last Israelite had reached the shore and the Egyptians were pursuing wildly through the depths of the sea that God commanded Moses again to stretch forth his hand. The wind subsided and slowly the waters began to settle again into their place. Before the eyes of all Israel the chariots were stopped, the horses were covered, all of the host of Pharaoh were devoured by the closing sea. Finally and forever Jehovah was justified of a nation that before His very presence had hardened its heart.