Sunday, November 10, 2019
Lesson: Exodus 13:17-14:9; Time of Action: 1445 or 1446 B.C.; Place of Action: Near the Red Sea
Golden Text: “And the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued after the children of Israel: and the children of Israel went out with an high hand. But the Egyptians pursued after them, all the horses and chariots of Pharaoh, and his horsemen, and his army, and overtook them encamping by the sea, beside Pihahiroth, before Baalzephon” (Exodus 14:8-9).
I. INTRODUCTION. In this week’s lesson we find Israel newly freed from slavery in Egypt. The plagues had taken their toll, the Passover had been held, and the people had been literally expelled from the land; still they had much to learn about trusting the Lord. This study reveals how God’s wise leadership gave His people proper portions of both security and danger so that they would learn to trust Him more fully.
II. BACKGROUND FOR THE LESSON. The children of Israel had been freed from Egyptian slavery and made a stop in Succoth. Moses reminded the people of how long they had been in slavery, how God delivered them and that they were to remember the night it all happened whenever they celebrated the Passover that God instituted the same night they left Egypt (see Exodus 12:37-42). Then the Lord gave Moses further instructions concerning the Passover (see Exodus 12:43-51). In chapter 13, the Lord told Moses to tell the children of Israel that going forward, they were to set aside the firstborn of both man and animals unto Him (see Exodus 13:1-2). The Lord also instituted the Feast of Unleavened Bread and told the people how it was to be observed and remembered (see Exodus 13:3-16). This is where our lesson begins.
III. GOD’S TRUSTWORTHY DIRECTION (Exodus 13:17-22
A. A means of divine encouragement (Exodus 13:17-18).
1. (vs. 17). Our first verse says “And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt…” At this point in Israel’s journey toward the land of Canaan, they had briefly stopped in Succoth (see Exodus 12:37). Now as they departed from Succoth, we are told that “God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near.” The phrase “although that was near” means that “the way of the land of the Philistines” was a shorter route to Canaan than the way the Lord would take them. The Lord could have directed Israel to travel the relative short caravan route through the “land of the Philistines” from Egypt to Canaan. But God said that He sent them through the shorter route “Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt…” In other words, the people might “repent” or change their minds when they see that there will be war and want to return to Egypt. Knowing His people, God knew that as soon as they faced any difficulty, they would wish they were back in Egypt (see Exodus 14:10-12; 16:3). The “Philistines” already lived in southern Canaan in the days of Abraham and Isaac (see Genesis 20:26), and occupied the coastal plain in Canaan. They were a war-like people who would later dominate Israel during the days of the judges, but would eventually be subdued by David (see II Samuel 5:17-25; I Chronicles 14:8-17). The Lord knew that it was quite possible that “the Philistines” would declare war on the Israelites if they entered their territory. At the time of the Exodus, the Israelites were not prepared to do battle with “the Philistines,” so God graciously directed them by a different, yet longer route.
2. (vs. 18). This verse says “But God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red sea: and the children of Israel went up harnessed out of the land of Egypt.” Instead of directing His people to the shortest route to Canaan, “God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red sea.” Instead of heading due east that would go through the land of the Philistines, under God’s direction they turned southeastward into the “wilderness of the Red sea” in the Sinai Peninsula. As they traveled southeastward, we are told that “the children of Israel went up harnessed out of the land of Egypt.” The word “harnessed” literally means “organized by fives” and is a military formation. With such a large number of people, it’s quite likely that they “went up” or traveled five to a rank or in five squadrons like an army. However, “harnessed” is sometimes taken to mean “fully armed,” but the text just stated that God didn’t want the Israelites to experience war lest they would return to Egypt. So it seems best to interpret “harnessed” to mean fully prepared or equipped for their journey (see Exodus 12:35-36).
B. An indication of divine faithfulness (Exodus 13:19). This verse says “And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him: for he had straitly sworn the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you; and ye shall carry up my bones away hence with you.” As the Israelites traveled, Moses “took the bones of Joseph with him.” Since “Joseph” had lived so long among the Egyptians, when he was buried he was embalmed and wrapped in cloths (see Genesis 50:26). So, the phrase “the bones of Joseph” was an expression that refers to his mummified body. Eventually, it would be taken to Canaan and buried in Shechem during the days of Joshua (see Joshua 24:32). The reason they took Joseph’s bones with them was because some 400 years earlier, Joseph “had straitly sworn the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you; and ye shall carry up my bones away hence with you.” Joseph never considered Egypt to be his home, and before he died he exacted an oath from his relatives that they would take his bones and bury them in Canaan when they returned (see Genesis 50:24-25). Joseph’s desire to be buried in the Promise Land was proof of his own faith in God’s promise that the land would belong to Jacob’s descendants according to the covenant promise God made to Abraham (see Genesis 12: 7; 13:14-17; 15:13-21). “Joseph” believed that God would lead Israel back to Canaan, just as He had promised (see Genesis 15:13-16; Hebrews 11:22). Now God’s promise was being kept. “Moses” made sure that the oath or promise that Joseph’s relatives made to him was fulfilled.
C. A manifestation of divine presence (Exodus 13:20-22).
1. (vs. 20). This verse says “And they took their journey from Succoth, and encamped in Etham, in the edge of the wilderness.” As God’s people continued “their journey from Succoth” which was their first stop (see Exodus 12:37), they continued going to the southeast and “encamped in Etham, in the edge of the wilderness.” Today, the location of both “Succoth” and “Etham” are uncertain, but since they are here said to be “in the edge of the wilderness,” they must have been on the extreme eastern border of Egypt. They were close to the place where Israel eventually would cross the sea and plunge into the wilderness of Sinai (see Number Exodus 14:1-2; 33:6-8).
2. (vs. 21). This verse says “And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night…” During this journey, the Lord gave gracious evidence of His presence, for we are told that “the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way.” As they traveled during the “day,” they would be led by “a pillar of a cloud.” At “night” the “pillar of a cloud” appeared or became “a pillar of fire, to give them light.” Both the “pillar of a cloud” and the “pillar of fire” were designed “to lead them the way”… to go by day and night…” This means that the “cloud” and the “fire” made it possible for the Israelites to travel both during the daytime and the nighttime. There were not two separate pillars; there was only one that appeared as a “cloud” during the day and “fire” at night (see Exodus 40:38). Undoubtedly, the “fire” that symbolized God’s presence was constantly enclosed in the “cloud” and could only be seen in the darkness of night. The major purpose of the “fiery cloud,” was “to lead them the way.” They were able to move ahead by day and night. When God wished to have the people camp for some time, the “cloud” remained stationary, hovering above them always in their sight. When it was time to move, the “cloud” was taken up and went before them (see Exodus 40:34:38; Numbers 9:15-22). Note: The “cloud” also served other functions for Israel. It was a shield of protection, moving to the rear of the encampment to separate them from the pursuing Egyptians (see Exodus 14:19-20). It also appeared over the tabernacle door whenever God spoke to Moses (see Exodus 33:9-11; Psalms 99:6-7). The “cloud” was a visible manifestation of God’s glory and presence. In the Scriptures the “cloud” is called the “angel of God” (see Exodus 14:19) and “the glory of the Lord” (see Exodus 40:34). Although it is not in the Scriptures, the “cloud” has also been called the Shekinah-glory, taken from the Hebrew word that means “to dwell.” The presence of the “cloud” was a clear demonstration that God was constantly with His people and personally guiding them. The presence of the “cloud” would remove any doubts that the Israelites may have had as to who was leading them on this journey. It was the Lord God of Israel!
3. (vs. 22). This verse says “He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people.” Regardless of how God used “the cloud” on Israel’s journeys, it was always with them to show His presence. This is verified by the words written here that “He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people.” It would appear from Scripture that the divine Person who occupied “the cloud” was “the Angel of the Lord,” (a Christophany) the preincarnate Christ (see Exodus 14:19; 23:20-23). This is consistent with Jesus’ promise to be with His people in every age, including both our own (see Matthew 28:20) and the future millennial kingdom (see Isaiah 4:5; Zechariah 2:5, 10). Note: In the Old Testament “the angel of the Lord” was a preincarnate appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ. We know this to be true because “the angel of the Lord” appeared in the burning bush to Moses in Exodus 3:2, but in Exodus 3:4, it is God who called Moses from the bush. Also in Judges 6:12, “the angel of the Lord” appeared to Gideon, but verse 14 tells us that this person was the Lord Himself. There were many of these appearances of Christ in the Old Testament (see Genesis 16:6-11; chapter 18; Exodus 3:1-12; Numbers 22:22-35; Joshua 5:13-15; Judges 2:1-5; 13:3-22). Whenever this angel appears, He always speaks as only God can, saying “I will do this or I will do that.” No mere angel can speak as God; they can only say what God directs them to speak. So this was a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ, who is God (see John 10:30).
IV. GOD’S TRUSTWORTHY PLAN (Exodus 14:1-9)
A. God’s instructions to Moses (Exodus 14:1-2).
1. (vs. 1). This verse says “And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying…” As we read often in the Exodus account, here we are told again that “the Lord spake unto Moses, saying…” What the Lord said to Moses is revealed in the following verses.
2. (vs. 2). This verse says “Speak unto the children of Israel, that they turn and encamp before Pihahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, over against Baalzephon: before it shall ye encamp by the sea.” As the people prepared to depart from Etham (see verse 20), the Lord told Moses to “Speak unto the children of Israel, that they turn and encamp before Pihahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, over against Baalzephon.” It’s interesting that while the Israelites were at Etham they were on the edge of the wilderness in the direction of Mount Horeb (or Sinai), the place that God had appointed for them to serve Him (see Exodus 3:1, 12, 18; 5:3). But instead of going forward, they are ordered to turn westward and “encamp before Pihahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, over against Baalzephon.” They were to make camp at “Pihahiroth” which is said here to be between “Migdol and the sea.” The “sea” here refers to the Red Sea. Once there, the people are to make camp “over against” or opposite “Baalzephon.” The locations of the places mentioned here are uncertain to us today, but of course they would have been known to travelers during that time. Once they reached their position opposite “Baalzephon,” the people were to “encamp by the sea.” When the Israelites made camp “by the sea,” they would be facing west toward Egypt with the Red Sea behind them. The Lord purposely selected this location because it gave the people no way of escape once the Egyptian army arrived. This looked like a tactical mistake on Israel’s part and of course on God’s part since He was doing the leading. But things are not always what they look like. The Lord had a plan that He revealed to Moses in the next couple of verses.
B. The reason for God’s instructions (Exodus 14:3-4).
1. (vs. 3). This verse says “For Pharaoh will say of the children of Israel, They are entangled in the land, the wilderness hath shut them in.” Now the Lord reveals His plan. He was well aware that the Egyptians were still watching the Israelites and that “Pharaoh” would be told where they were. So the Lord said to Moses “For Pharaoh will say of the children of Israel, They are entangled in the land, the wilderness hath shut them in.” The phrase “entangled in the land” has the idea of “being trapped.” The Lord was telling Moses that when “Pharaoh” received word of the Israelites’ location, he would conclude that they were trapped and “the wilderness hath shut them in” making them an easy prey for the Egyptians. The truth is that God had led His people to this location to bait “Pharaoh” into thinking that they had lost their way in the wilderness and were hopelessly confused.
2. (vs. 4). This verse says “And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, that he shall follow after them; and I will be honoured upon Pharaoh, and upon all his host; that the Egyptians may know that I am the Lord. And they did so.” The Lord continued to reveal His plan to Moses. He said “And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, that he shall follow after them.” As He had done many times before when dealing with Pharaoh (see Exodus 7:3, 13; 10:20, 27; 11:10), God said that He would “harden Pharaoh’s heart” so that he would come after the Israelites. Got also gave Moses His reason for wanting Pharaoh to come after His people. He said “and I will be honoured upon Pharaoh, and upon all his host; that the Egyptians may know that I am the Lord.” God was deliberately giving His people’s enemies an overwhelming advantage for the purpose of showing His own supreme power. This was all God’s plan to gain great honor and glory over Pharaoh and all his “host” or armies, so that the Egyptians shall know and acknowledge without any doubt that He is “the Lord.” If the ten plagues God brought upon Egypt and Pharaoh including the killing of the firstborn sons didn’t cause the Egyptians to acknowledge that the God of Israel was greater than any of the gods of Egypt, “the Lord” had one more action up His sleeves that would change all of that.
C. Pharaoh changes his mind (Exodus 14:5). This verse says “And it was told the king of Egypt that the people fled: and the heart of Pharaoh and of his servants was turned against the people, and they said, Why have we done this, that we have let Israel go from serving us?” Just as the Lord had said (see verse 3), Pharaoh received word “that the people fled.” The term “fled” correctly describes the Israelites’ departure from Egypt since after the tenth plague the Egyptians couldn’t wait for them to leave for they were “thrust” out of Egypt (see Exodus 11:1; 12:33, 39). At this point, “the heart of Pharaoh and of his servants was turned against the people, and they said, Why have we done this, that we have let Israel go from serving us?” The fact that the Egyptians “turned against” the Israelites seems to indicate that for some reason they felt that Israel’s departure somehow represented a revolt from their allegiance to Egypt. But they departed with Pharaoh’s consent (see Exodus 12:31). Apparently, the Egyptians quickly forgot the suffering brought on by the plagues. They said among themselves “Why have we done this, that we have let Israel go from serving us?” It vexed and angered the Egyptians that the Hebrews had their liberty, and that they had lost the profit from their hard labor, and the pleasure of chastising them. For sure, it is not a good thing, and maybe even absurd for people to repent or change their minds about their good deeds, their justice and their charity, and return to their old ways (see Jeremiah 34:10-11). Note: It’s easy to imagine the rage Pharaoh was now in, roaring like a lion disappointed by his prey. His proud heart had swelled with indignation, and he longed to be revenged. And he acts as if all the plagues had never happened. It seems that he has forgotten the sorrowful funerals of his firstborn and the firstborn of all the Egyptians, and can think of nothing but making Israel feel his resentments. But what is really insane is that he also thinks he can be hard on God too, for how could he have hoped to conquer a people who were so dear to the Lord? God gave him up to these passions of his own heart, and therefore hardened it.
D. Pharaoh prepares for war (Exodus 14:6-7).
1. (vs. 6). This verse says “And he made ready his chariot, and took his people with him…” After regretting his decision to let the Hebrews go, and being livid about it, Pharaoh “made ready his chariot, and took his people with him…” No doubt Pharaoh felt that Moses had made a fool of him, so it wasn’t enough for him to simply send his troops after the Israelites; he “made ready” or prepared “his (own) chariot, and took his people with him…” The word “people” here refers to Pharaoh’s army.
2. (vs. 7). This verse says “And he took six hundred chosen chariots, and all the chariots of Egypt, and captains over every one of them.” In addition to going after Israel himself, Pharaoh also “took six hundred chosen chariots, and all the chariots of Egypt, and captains over every one of them.” The king of Egypt was so serious about overtaking the Israelites that he gathered “six hundred chosen chariots” or his best “chariots.” These were taken along with “all the chariots of Egypt.” Undoubtedly, Pharaoh took his entire military force with “captains over every one of them.” The “captains” were well-trained officers who led all the “chariots.” With all of these, Pharaoh set out to pursue his insubordinate former slaves. We are not told exactly what he planned to do with them once he caught up with them. However, I don’t think we would be wrong to assume that he wanted to punish them for their departure, even though he allowed it. In addition, he would force them to return to their bondage in Egypt.
E. Pharaoh’s determined pursuit of the Israelites (Exodus 14:8-9).
1. (vs. 8). This verse says “And the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued after the children of Israel: and the children of Israel went out with an high hand.” In verse 4, God told Moses that He would harden Pharaoh’s heart which would make him come after them. Here, we see that God’s prophecy was fulfilled, for we are told that “the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued after the children of Israel.” The “king of Egypt” was determined to regain what he had lost. Based on the plagues that the Lord had brought upon Egypt, it would have been in Pharaoh’s best interest to let God’s people alone. But he was a proud man (see Proverbs 16:18), and he didn’t want to seem weak to neighboring nations by allowing all his slave labor to slip through his fingers. The last part of this verse appears to be a summary statement about the way the Hebrews left Egypt. It says “and the children of Israel went out with an high hand.” The phrase “with an high hand” speaks of a confident boldness. The Israelites left Egypt boldly and confidently for they had taken much of the wealth of Egypt with them (see Exodus 3:21-22; 12:35-36). Note: There are some who take the phrase “with an high hand” to suggest that Israel left Egypt with a sense of sinful pride. I suppose that it is possible that they somehow believed their accomplished deliverance was the result of their own strategies and schemes. However, there is nothing in our text or elsewhere in the Scriptures that would lead someone to that conclusion. It is more likely that “with an high hand” refers to confident boldness the Israelites showed as they received favor from the Egyptians when they left (see Exodus 12:36; Numbers 33:3). However, it would be even more likely that “with an high hand” is a reference to God’s deliverance of the Israelites from bondage (see Acts 13:17).
2. (vs. 9). Our final verse says “But the Egyptians pursued after them, all the horses and chariots of Pharaoh, and his horsemen, and his army, and overtook them encamping by the sea, beside Pihahiroth, before Baalzephon.” Even though the Israelites left Egypt with confidence and boldness, “the Egyptians pursued after them, all the horses and chariots of Pharaoh, and his horsemen, and his army.” Nothing was going to stand in the way of the Egyptians’ attempt to recapture the Israelites. “Pharaoh” and his army of “horses and chariots” went after the Israelites and “overtook them encamping by the sea, beside Pihahiroth, before Baalzephon.” The very place that God had led His people to (see verse 20) is the place where the Egyptians found them. The Red Sea was behind them and the Egyptian army was approaching to overtake them. Note: In reality, this was all part of God’s plan to draw out the Egyptian army and trap them. Pharaoh ordered his chariot forces to pursue God’s people. This is a great lesson on God’s leading; while His leading might not always be clear or make sense, we can still trust that what He does is always for our best (see Romans 8:28). Most of us already know the rest of the story. Pharaoh lost his army, and his soldiers lost their lives (see Exodus 14:10-31). Maybe it would be wise for us to learn a lesson from Pharaoh. When we make a decision that results in our loss, let’s count the cost before going back on our word. The king of Egypt pursued the Israelites to overtake and recover everything. Instead, he lost everything. This is just one story that confirms that the Lord is no joke!
V. Conclusion. This week’s lesson has presented more than a historical record; it presented truths about God and His purposes. The Lord moves people and history as He pleases to accomplish His purposes, and He gives us the ability to learn from it. But the truth is, we only see events and people’s actions. We don’t always see that God is using certain events and actions as He did in this lesson to accomplish His purposes. As we walk by faith, we can trust that God will always be with us to accomplish His wonderful purposes through us and for us. He does this even when we can’t see that He is doing it.
***The Sunday School Lesson, Union Gospel Press Curriculum; The Bible Expositor and Illuminator***
Bible Studies are led every Wednesday through the Spring and Fall months at 7:oop.m.