Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Birth of a Nation (Exodus 13 - 16)

Here’s a recap. I started a Bible study on the Book of Exodus back during Lent. Of course, covering the entire book of Exodus was a much bigger job than I anticipated. I intented to write a new Bible study post every week. After Lent was over, I was grew tired of the project and gave it a rest. I had pretty much decided to just drop it until I noticed how many hits that those posts were getting and I realized that people must be hungry for this type of material. So I am going to begin again and attempt to finish the study of Exodus. I will probably be much less ambitious and I anticipate a new Bible study post about once a month. At that rate it will take forever to finish, but so what?

Here’s a recap of prior posts in the series: Exodus Chapter 1 and 2; The Call of Moses (Exodus 3 - 6); The River of Blood (Exodus Chapter 7); The Finger of God (Exodus Chapter 8); When the Gods Were Silent (Exodus 9 - 10); An Ordinance Forever (Exodus 11 - 12).

PRAYER BEFORE STUDYING SCRIPTURE: Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created and You shall renew the face of the earth.


Exodus Chapter 13 begins with God’s command to consecrate all of the firstborn to Him. “The LORD said to Moses, ‘Consecrate to me all the firstborn; whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine.” (Exodus 13: 1-2). Professor Davis comments: “The consecration of the firstborn was closely associated with the events of the Passover and was to serve as a reminder of God’s mercy to His people.” (Davis, Moses and the Gods of Egypt, p. 161). The Navarre Bible Commentary stresses that Jesus was the firstborn son dedicated to God: “This law, which is an acknowledgment that children are a gift from God and belong to him, stayed in place virtually unchanged up to the time of the New Testament. Jesus himself submitted to it in a profound act of humility.” (Navarre Bible, Volume I: Pentateuch, p. 294).

In verses 3 through 16, Moses gives the people liturgical instructions about how the Feast of Unleavened Bread is to be celebrated. Professor Davis comments “The feast of unleavened bread was not only designed to bring back the memory of that great deliverance, but to remind them of the possibilities of future blessing.” (Davis, p. 163). The Navarre Bible Commentary quotes paragraph 1363 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “This is how Israel understands its liberation from Egypt: every time Passover is celebrated the Exodus events are mad present to the memory of believers so that they may conform their lives to them” (Navarre Pentateuch p. 295).

Verses 9 and 16 command “And it shall be to you as a sign on your hand and as memorial between your eyes, that the law of the LORD may be in your mouth; for with a strong hand the LORD has brought you out of Egypt.” (Exodus 13: 9), and “It shall be as a mark on your hand or frontlets between your eyes; for by a strong hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt.” (Exodus 13: 16). This is the origin of the Jewish practice of wearing tephillin which Orthodox Jews still maintain. As Professor Davis explains:

“The precise meaning of the term “token” . . . and its implications in daily practice have been the subject of some speculation. Upon the basis of this verse and Deuteronomy 6:8 and 11:18 the Jews have concluded that this means the wearing of literal pouches which they have designated tephillin, a term explained to mean prayers. The Greek designation was phylakterion (Matt. 23:5) from which the English word “phylactery” has been derived. The phylactery consisted of small pouches made from the skin of ceremonially clean animals, sewed to leather bands by which they were strapped to the forehead between and immediately above the eyes and to the left arms of males who had reached the age of thirteen. Inside the small pouches were strips of parchment on which were written certain passages from the Law (viz. Exod. 13:2-10; Deut. 6:4-9; 11: 13-21). These passages were placed in one of the four compartments of the head phylactery. The arm phylactery had but one pocket yet contained the same four passages written on one piece of skin. It was generally tied to the inside of the left arm a little above the elbow so that the Scripture passages might be close to the heart.

. . . This practice is still perpetuated today by orthodox Jews and phylacteries are worn by the pious during the daily morning prayer and by some devout men all day long. . . . In Jesus’ day men would make the phylacteries more conspicuous by broadening the bands, which practice was severely criticized by Christ in Matthew 23:5.” (Davis, p. 162 - 163).


When the children of Israel left Egypt God led them on a round about way in order to avoid contact with the Philistines. “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, ‘Lest the people repent when they see war, and return to Egypt.’ But God led the people round by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea.” (Exodus 13: 17- 18). The Bible notes that Moses took the remains of Joseph with him. “And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him; for Joseph had solemnly sworn the people of Israel, saying, ‘God will visit you; then you must carry my bones with you from here.’ (Exodus 13: 19). The New Jerome Bible Commentary notes: “In Gen. 50: 22 - 26, Joseph made his brothers swear that they would take his bones with them when God ‘will visit you.’ The transfer of the bones is a sign that ‘the visitation’ has taken place.” (New Jerome Bible Commentary, p. 49).

“And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night; the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.” Exodus 13: 21-22). God appeared as smoke by day and as fire by night. (Davis, p. 167).


The exact location where Israel encamped and crossed over from Egypt into Sinai has been endlessly debated. Professor Davis notes: “The exact identity of the Red Sea (Heb. yam sup - “sea of reeds”) has been the subject of very lively debate. . . . The place of encampment is listed in verse 2 as Pi-hahiroth, ‘between Migdol and the sea, over against Baa-zephon. . . .’ The exact location of these sites is at present uncertain.” (Davis, p. 167).

In any event, when the people find out that Pharaoh’s army is behind them with chariots and coming up fast, they panic. Moses, however, remains calm and firm and tells the people that if they will only have faith the LORD will deliver them.

“When Pharoah drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them; and they were in great fear. And the people of Israel cried out to the LORD; and they said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to 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 I the wilderness.” And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work 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 be still.” (Exodus 14: 10 - 14).

Professor Davis comments “The reaction of the Hebrews is quite typical of those whose spiritual perspectives are those which are conditioned by the present alone. Without a historical consciousness of what God has done and a deep rooted faith in what God will do, one is easily moved by the emotion of a given situation. The shallow responses of the Hebrews should be a warning to all of those who put their emphasis on the present.” (Davis, p. 169).

The Navarre Bible Commentary quotes the Church Father Origen: “You too, if you distance yourself from the Egyptians and flee far from the power of demons, will see what great helps will be provided to you each day and what great protection is available to you. All that is asked of you is that you stand firm in the faith and do not let yourself be terrified by either the Egyptian cavalry or the noise of their chariots.” (Navarre Pentateuch, p. 300).


“Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. The Egyptians pursued, and went in after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharoah’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. And in the morning watch the LORD in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down upon the host of the Egyptians, and discomfited the host of the Egyptians, clogging their chariot wheels so that they drove heavily; and the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from before Israel; for the LORD fights for them against the Egyptians.”

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen.” So Moses stretched forth his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its wonted flow when the morning appeared; and the Egyptians fled into it, and the LORD routed the Egyptians in the midst of the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen and all the host of Pharoah that had followed them into the sea; not so much as one of them remained. But the people of Israel walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.

Thus the LORD saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the seashore. And Israel saw the great work which the LORD did against the Egyptians, and the people feared the LORD; and they believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses.” (Exodus
14: 21 - 31).

The Navarre Bible Commentary notes that Saint Paul viewed the crossing of the Red Sea as pre-figuring the sacrament of Christian Baptism: “St. Paul sees in the passage of the sea a figure of Christian Baptism. Baptism marks the start of salvation, and the start also of a persevering effort on the Christian’s part to respond to it. (cf. 1 Cor. 10: 1-5).” (Navarre, p. 299).

Professor Davis comments: “From the days of Josephus onward there have been critics who have denied the very historicity of this event explaining it as simply mythology. . . .
Professor Angelos Galanopoulos of Athens University is quoted as ascribing both the pollution of the Nile River and the crossing of the Israelites through the sea, to a violent volcanic eruption which occurred somewhere in the thirteenth century B.C. According to Galanopoulos, this volcanic explosion set off air waves 350 times more powerful than those of a hydrogen bomb and devastated not only the presumed continent of Atlantis, but provided associated catastrophic events such as the plagues and the separation of the Red Sea. . . . A very popular view is that the Israelites crossed in a generally shallow and marshy district which could easily have been cleared of water and laid dry by the normal action of a strong wind. The difficulty with this viewpoint is that if this were merely shallow water, it is difficult to see how the Egyptians could have been drowned.”
(Davis, p. 171 - 172).

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Commonwealth, provides a possible naturalistic explanation: “. . . the events that took place could be described as follows: The Israelites had arrived at the Reed Sea at a point at which it was shallow. Possibly there was a ridge in the sea bed, normally covered by water, but occasionally - when, for example, a fierce east wind blows - exposed. This is how Cambridge University physicist Colin Humphreys puts it in his “The Miracles of Exodus”:

‘Wind tides are well known to oceanographers. For example, a strong wind blowing along Lake Erie, one of the Great Lakes, has produced water elevation differences of as much as sixteen feet between Toledo, Ohio, on the west, an Buffalo, New York, on the east . . . There are reports that Napoleon was almost killed by a ‘sudden high tide’ while he was crossing shallow water near the head of the Gulf of Suez.’

In the case of the wind that exposed the ridge in the bed of the sea, the consequences were dramatic. Suddenly the Israelites, traveling on foot, had an immense advantage over the Egyptian chariots that were pursuing them. Their wheels became stuck in the mud. The charioteers made ferocious efforts to free them, only to find that they quickly became mired again. The Egyptian army could neither advance nor retreat. So intent were they on the trapped wheels, and so reluctant were they to abandon their prized war machines, the chariots, that they failed to notice that the wind had dropped and the water was returning. By the time they realized what was happening, they were trapped. The ridge was now covered with sea water in either direction, and the island of dry land in the middle was shrinking by the minute.. The mightiest army of the ancient world was defeated, and its warriors drowned, not by a superior army, not by human opposition at all, but by their own folly in being so focused on capturing the Israelites that they ignored the fact that they were driving into mud where their chariots could not go.”
(Sacks, Covenant & Conversation: A Weekly Reading of the Jewish Bible: Exodus: The Book of Redemption, p. 105).

The New Jerome Bible Commentary says that the account which we have is drawn from two different sources, identified as “J,” or Yahwist source, and “P” or the Priestly source:
“The battle is conceived by each source differently. According to P, Moses divided the sea by the rod and Israel walked through on dry land, the waters being a wall to their right and left. When Israel go to the other side, Moses raised his hand and the walls of water crashed in on the Egyptian army, wiping them out. According to J, Yahweh the storm-god drove back the sea long enough for Israel to cross in the night and then the sea returned to its wonted flow in the morning.” (New Jerome Bible Commentary, p. 49 - 50).

Being a fundamentalist, Professor Davis warns of the dire consequences of not believing that all of these events literally occurred just as they are recounted in scripture: “It would be well to observe at this point that not all scholars are agreed on the historical reality of the Red Sea crossing. There have been numerous attempts over the years to account for the origin of the story without having to resort to a literal event. . . . Such assertions, however, miss the point of prophetic admonition. If these historical events never occurred, there are no real theological or spiritual applications to be made. . . . if Christ did not literally and historically rise from the dead, we have no theology! Faith, as presented in Scripture, is predicated upon historical realities.”

Rabbi Sacks makes this comment on the nature of miracles: “. . . a miracle is not necessarily something that suspends natural law. It is, rather, an event for which there may be a natural explanation, but which - happening when, where and how it did - evokes wonder, such that even the most hardened sceptic senses that God has intervened in history.” (Sacks p. 106).

After safely crossing over the sea and reaching safety and having witnessed the defeat of the Pharaoh’s army at the hands of the LORD, Moses and the people of Israel sing a great hymn of victory. This victory anthem, Exodus 15: 1 - 21, will be discussed in the next post in this series.

Professor Davis sums up well the theological implications of the deliverance of the people from Egypt: “The story of the Red Sea crossing is a reminder to every believer that God is fully capable of completing His purposes and plans for those who have committed themselves to Him.” (Davis p. 182).

PRAYER AFTER STUDYING SCRIPTURE: O God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment