God had softened Pharaoh’s heart after the final plague and the Israelites were let go. They plundered the Egyptians and walked to freedom, guided by the Lord day and night. Recall the reasoning for the cycle of the plagues and the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart…it was so that God could show His power and omnipotence to the nation of Israel, the nation of Egypt, and the surrounding nations by proxy. Well, despite all He had done, God was planning one final blow to the pride of the Egyptians.
In chapter 13, God directed the Israelites to travel not by the way of the Philistines, but He sent them by the way of the wilderness. Purposely He did this so that they would not be discouraged by the warring nations along the more popular route. But God had another plan in mind. Early in this chapter, we see how God directed the nation so that they would be in view of Pharaoh. God then hardens Pharaoh’s heart again, so that Pharaoh laments letting them go, and he gives chase: ““Why have we done this, that we have let Israel go from serving us?” … And the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued the children of Israel; and the children of Israel went out with boldness.” God, the master orchestrator, has given the Israelites what they need to find their way, and He has prepared the stage for one more miracle that will amaze and leave no doubt over whose god holds true power.
But the Israelites would not remain bold for long. Upon seeing Pharaoh and all his amassed army with horses and chariots, they cry out to Moses, jumping to the conclusion that they will all be captured and killed. They say, “For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness.” With the benefit of hindsight, we might look at a comment like this and wonder why they would not expect to be saved from Pharaoh – after all, God had brought them this far; would He really bring them out of Egypt only to so soon be captured? Whatever they should have thought, or however strong their faith should have been, fear overwhelms the Israelites as they see Pharaoh’s great warring resources brought to bear on them.
But Moses believes. Moses, much closer to God, many times being spoken to by God, believes the promise that he will never see Pharaoh again. Moses does not yet know how they will be saved, but he tells them, “Do not be afraid. Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today.” God is well ahead of Moses and tells Him to direct the people forward and Moses is to lift up his rod, stretch out his hand, and divide the sea. God describes His purpose: He will direct Israel over the dry ground where the sea had been, then the army of Pharaoh will follow. When they follow and see how He has made this path, a chain of events will be set into motion that will allow for the Egyptians to be finally and totally convinced of the power of the one true God. Before this great event, God separates the Israelites from the Egyptians using the pillars of cloud and fire. This is for their safety.
Verse 21 describes how Moses stretched out his hand and a strong east wind made the sea into dry land. As an aside, a little-discussed fact in the text says that the strong east wind blew all that night to separate the waters, so any notions we might have of an instantaneous separation can more than likely be set aside.
After the Israelites go onto the dry land, the Egyptian army follows. Through the course of their journey, the Israelites ultimately reach the other side of the sea boundary without incident. But as the Egyptian army crosses, the Lord hinders their progress with inept chariot wheels. The army loses heart and they plan to flee because it is obvious that God is fighting for the Israelites and against them. But it is too late for the Egyptian army to flee and escape the fate waiting for them.
As God directs Moses to stretch out his hand again, the next morning revealed the sea that had “returned to its full depth.” This is how the Lord obliterated the army of the Egyptians once and for all, and Israel saw the proof – Egyptians dead on the seashore.
The result of it all was that Israel saw this great miracle and they feared and believed the Lord, as well as Moses. The 29th verse of this chapter is pointed at us, the readers, to drive the point home of what really happened here. As fantastic or unbelievable as it sounds, “…the children of Israel had walked on dry land in the midst of the sea, and the waters were a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.”
Don’t you wish you could have been there?! Of course the most useful lesson here is that of the sovereignty of God. Make no mistake, with powers such as this, He lives and He reigns. In these Old Testament times, He favors whom He chooses and woe to the unbeliever. When we see how God essentially force-fed His power to a nation of unwilling pagans, we can really come to appreciate the manner in which He chooses to approach us in the modern age: with love, mercy, grace, and the sacrifice of His Son. What a God we have and what a blessing it is to be a child of God in the present age!