Saturday, June 14, 2014

Exodus 14: Moses Parts the Red Sea

Scripture summary is in black
My comments and questions are in purple and numbered
Christian commentaries and my responses to those are in blue. Unless otherwise stated, these are from Guzik's commentary
(Note: I've changed my format a bit with this post, let me know if you like/dislike the changes)

Today's Podcast


The Israelites are enslaved by the Egyptians, so God tells Moses to go rescue them. Moses proves to Pharaoh that God is on his side, but God hardens his heart so he won't let the people free. Then God sends plague after plague upon the Egyptians so Pharaoh finally lets the Israelites go.

Crossing the Red Sea (v. 1-31)

God tells the Israelites to go to a particular spot and set up camp where they will be trapped by the sea. Then God will harden Pharaoh's heart to make him pursue the Israelites. Then God will "get glory over Pharaoh" and the Egyptians will know he is the lord. The king of Egypt was told that the Israelites had fled and his mind and the mind of his people was changed toward the people. They pursued the people of Israel as they had gone out defiantly.

1. Free Will: Once again, God has taken away Pharaoh's free will. He didn't simply make Pharaoh aware of the Israelite's apparent poor tactical position, he hardened his heart. 
Even after the horror of the death of the firstborn, the change in Pharaoh's heart was only temporary. He was quick to strike at Israel when he had the chance.
Wow, if Pharaoh was so quick to strike whenever he had the chance, then why did God have to harden his heart?

2. God's Motivation: The reason that God has done this is to "get glory over Pharaoh" and so "the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD". It really does appear that God is doing this just for his own ego, how does him getting glory help his people?

3. Do the Egyptians Know God is Powerful? God does this in part so that the Egyptians will know that God is the LORD. Why is this necessary? God just plagued the shit out of Egypt to convey this message. And the message was apparently received earlier when the people of Egypt insisted that the Israelites leave, have they forgotten the plagues already? It just doesn't make sense. 

i. This demonstrates how we are often quick to forget what God has done and what He has shown us. It is easy to quickly move from walking in the spirit to walking in the flesh. 
ii. Perhaps Pharaoh thought that the LORD had shot all His arrows and had no more "ammunition" against Egypt. After all, no more died after the plague of the firstborn; but God isn't short on resources. He had plenty of ammunition left.
ii doesn't make much sense to me, if Pharaoh thought that then he wouldn't have let them leave in the first place, right? i though, is exactly the kind of thing I remember hearing from church all the time. Seems like a good way to relate the story to our lives "don't be forgetful, don't fall into your old ways" etc. Seems good for that purpose I suppose, still though, for the story itself it doesn't make a lot of sense. Are you really going to forget so fast with so much death and destruction around you? 

4. Pharaoh and the King of Egypt: I was actually a bit confused on whether Pharaoh and the king are the same person. Verse 8 seems to suggest they are the same person. However, in verse 5 seems to suggest that the king is surprised that they Israelites have been set free even though in chapter 12 Pharaoh was the one who let them go in the first place. It's possibly a minor point, but the story doesn't really make sense if they are the same person. I wonder if this is a case of two different stories being merged into one. This would also explain why he has two different titles for no apparent reason.

5. Defiance: Verse 8 says that the people of Israel "were going out defiantly", but that makes no sense as they were told to leave Egypt. In fact, they were pushed out of Egypt so fast they weren't able to finish their bread, which is supposedly the origin of the unleavened bread at passover. Am I missing something here?

6. My Previous Christian Perspective: I often like to think about how I would justify things back when I was a Christian. I'm pretty sure that in this case I would have said that the Egyptians would chase the Israelites at some point in time no matter what God does. Therefore God is only manipulating the timetable of things rather than actually changing Pharaoh's ultimate actions. I'm fairly certain this would have satisfied me back then, but the problem is it is not supported by the text at all. If that's what God was doing why not say it? Instead he says he's doing it to get glory. I suppose it doesn't contradict the text, but if that was really the reason it seems like it should have been stated.When the Egyptians got near to the cornered Israelites they were very afraid and complained to Moses. They even said that they would rather have stayed in Egypt as slaves than to be killed out here. Moses said that God would fight for them and save them out here.

7. Should they be afraid? I've seen atheists complain about the reactions of the Israelite slaves in the past. "They have an all powerful God helping them, why would they be afraid?". And while that might play in a bit here, I can totally understand them being afraid anyway. Imagine yourself in the same situation, even if there is a really powerful being who can save you, are you sure he will? Hell, even if you were convinced that he was going to save you, it would still be scary seeing that army close in on you.

God complains that the people are crying to him. He tells the people to walk forward and for Moses to lift his staff in order to divide the sea so the Israelites can walk on dry ground there. God will then harden the hearts of the Egyptians to ensure that they will follow, then they will know that god is the LORD once he "gets glory" over them.

8. God's Attitude: I don't really understand why God is complaining about these people. He's put them in a very scary position with no apparent way out and they are asking him for help. He seems to be put off by it, like they should have known that Moses could part the sea for them. It kind of reminds me of the stereotypical douchebag IT guy from the 90s.
The children of Israel cried out to the LORD: This was a good thing to do. When we find ourselves in dangerous places with no easy escape, we must cry out to God, because God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1)
This I find interesting, he says that crying out to God was a good thing, and yet it seems to me that God is saying they shouldn't have done it. In verse 15 God says "Why do you cry out to me?" I was thinking perhaps I was reading too much into it, but then Guzik says
Their fear could be understood and their cry to the LORD made sense. Yet their words to Moses show a great lack of faith and loss of confidence in God.
So it's good to cry out to God, but you shouldn't need to if you have faith? I dunno, seems a bit mixed up to me. And one final comment along these lines
The children of Israel were not yet a week out of Egypt and they were already distorting the past, thinking that it was better for them in Egypt than it really was.
This just made me laugh. Yes, they were slaves in Egypt and the conditions were terrible. But they are comparing it to the fact that they think they're about to die. 

9. Free Will Again: Seriously, is there any part of this plan where God isn't manipulating the Egyptians to do what he needs them to do?

parting the red sea
parting the red sea (Photo credit: amboo who?)
The pillar of cloud moved to be between the Israelites and the Egyptians and the two groups stays separated throughout the night. Moses raised his staff and there was a strong east wind all night that made the sea part like walls so the men could walk on dry land. The Israelites went onto the path and the Egyptians followed. In the morning God looked down from the pillar of cloud and fire and threw the Egyptians into a panic by clogging the chariot wheels so they would be slow. God had Moses hold his staff toward the Egyptians and the water rushed over them, yet the Israelites still were able to walk on dry land, having walls of water on both sides of them.  The Israelites saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore, so they feared the LORD because of the great power he used against the Egyptians, and they believed Moses.

10. How Long Did This Take? It's funny, my mental picture of this story has the water turning into walls pretty much instantaneously, yet in the actual story it takes all night. I suppose it's from a smattering of popular culture references that my impression is wrong here.

11. Omniscience? I find it interesting that God was looking down from the pillar of cloud and fire. This appears to be describing a powerful being in a specific physical place rather than an omniscient God.

12. Fear: I find the very concept of being "god fearing" and odd, it certainly seems to fly in the face of an omnibenevolent God

13. Violence: Once again, we see extreme violence from God, he kills tons of Egyptians apparently to prove a point to his people.
An oppressed people are slow to believe they are free while their tyrant still lives. God wanted Israel to know that their oppressors were dead
I guess that is a decent explanation as to why God would go to these extremes. Really seems like a fucked up route to go though.

Verses of Note:


Exodus 14:31 The Israelites fear God, which seems to largely be the point of this story

"Israel saw the great power that the LORD used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses."

--Free Will--

Exodus 14:4,8,17 God takes away Pharaoh's free will again

"And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD." And they did so."

"And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued the people of Israel while the people of Israel were going out defiantly."

"And I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they shall go in after them..."

--God's Ego--

Exodus 14:4,18 God's motivation seems to be stroking his ego

"And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD." And they did so."

"And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen."


Exodus 14:27-30 God killed all of the Egyptians in this story (through Moses)

"the sea returned to its normal course when the morning appeared. And as the Egyptians fled into it, the LORD threw the Egyptians into the midst of the sea....and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore"


  1. I hear from some that "fear" in terms of God means "respect," but then I wonder if the original language of the text has a word for "respect" and a different word for "fear." I don't know.

    1. Hmm, that is interesting. On the surface it seems like it could be a reasonable explanation. In this story, the Israelites see God kill a bunch of people for their benefit. Fear and respect would fit the circumstances. In fact, I would almost think it needs to be both.

      Fear without respect doesn't make sense here, why would God want his people to simply fear him? and Respect without fear doesn't fit the story, given that God has committed mass murder in order to gain their respect.

      I'll try to keep this in mind next time "god fearing" comes up. I wonder if the same observations will hold up

    2. When I was growing up, we we're told that "fear" in the bible when describing God was in reference to being in "awe" of him. Now that I'm older with a different mindset, I'm not quite sure that the words are interchangeable and seems more like a substitution. God is kind of a monster in a lot of places in the Bible and I think I'd be in awe, but I'd also be much more afriad.

    3. That's interesting as well. I could see awe making sense, but similar to respect, it seems like it would have to be both things kinda wrapped up together.

  2. I've been thinking of the hardening of the heart quite a bit and why is pharaoh the villain? It's kind of like pushing your kid into the pool then having everyone get angry at them because they got their nice Sunday clothes wet. Then on top of that you go ahead and ground them.

  3. In regards to Guzik's reading of "God hardened Pharoah's" heart to "Pharaoh hardened his own heart", it's possible that he's work off an "allowance" idea. Usually cited is the Book of Job where although Satan is described as destroying Job after receiving permission from God ("he is in your hand"?) it is later stated that God destroyed Job. A similar logic might be at work here with God describing actively doing what is done to his permission only perhaps the cause here is God's prompting. I'm not entirely certain exactly what Guzik's logic is though it is likely predicated on holding to free-will, with Matthew Henry's more outright belief that God miraculously (?) hardened his heart being part of a Calvinistic non-libertarian-free-will Puritan?


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