When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, the minds of Pharaoh and his officials were changed toward the people, and they said, “What have we done, letting Israel leave our service?” So he had his chariot made ready, and took his army with him; he took six hundred picked chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them. As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” But Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.” Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. At the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, “Let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.” Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers.” So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the Lord tossed the Egyptians into the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. (Exodus 14:5-7, 10-14, 21-29, NRSV)
This is an interesting story. Most of us have seen the movie, so we think of the image above of the water pushing back and becoming walls, because that is what the text says.
But what happened really and why is this story important to us as followers of Christ?
Well, the story tells us that Pharoh after the plaques let the Israelites go and after that, he thought, “What have I done, now we have no one to do our work.” So they went after the Israelites. And the Israelites were then trapped between a body of water and the approaching Egyptian army. And the Israelites whined to God and to Moses about graves in Egypt and having to die in the wilderness. But God heard them and told Moses to lift his staff and the waters would divide.
But is that actually where the Israelites crossed? And where on the Red Sea?
What if I told you that most scholars don’t think it was the Red Sea, but a different body of water? I remember in my class on this in seminary our professor telling us the Hebrew is Sea of Reeds. So it probably isn’t the Red Sea. And my bible software shows the route of the exodus going through what is now know as Great Bitters Lake.
And Great Bitters Lake is right here.
Or here is a picture of where it is located:
So why didn’t the Israelites go around the lake? Well, they were fleeing for their lives at this point because this huge army was coming up behind them, and they saw water in front of them, maybe for as far as they could see. So they panicked, as we often do.
And to get back to the question of why this is an important story for followers of Christ, beyond that it is part of the story that leads us to Jesus coming, it shows that God is always faithful. God led His people out of Egypt not to their death but to a land flowing with milk and honey. God upholds His promises and is faithful to His people.
Have faith that God will part the waters and help you walk on dry land. Even when it looks like all hope is lost, God will never leave you.