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The Exodus and The Wanderings in the Wilderness
The Passover And Its Ordinances - The Children Of Israel Leave Egypt - Their First
Resting-Place The Pillar Of Cloud And Of Fire - Pursuit Of Pharaoh Passage Through The Red
Sea - Destruction Of Pharaoh And His Host - The Song "On The Other Side."
EVERY ordinance had been given to Israel about the Paschal feast,* and observed by
them. On the tenth day of the month, Abib (the month of ears, so called, because in it the
ears of wheat first appear), or, as it was afterwards called, Nisan, (Esther 3:7; Nehemiah
2:1) the "Passover" sacrifice was chosen by each household.
* Later Jewish ordinances distinguish between the so-called "Egyptian
Passover" - that is as it was enjoined for the first night of its celebration - and
the "Permanent Passover," as it was to be observed by Israel after their
possession of the Land of Promise. The sacrificial lamb was to be offered "between
the evenings" (Exodus 12:6, marginal rendering), that is, according to Jewish
tradition, from the time the sun begins to decline to that of its full setting, say,
between 3 and 6 o'clock P.M.
This was four days before the "Passover" actually took place - most probably
in remembrance of the prediction to Abraham, (Genesis 15:16) that "in the fourth
generation" the children of Israel should come again to the land of Canaan. The
sacrifice might be a lamb or a kid of goats,* but it must be "without blemish, a male
of the first year." Each lamb or kid should be just sufficient for the sacrificial
meal of a company, so that if a family were too small, it should join with another.**
The sacrifice was offered "between the evenings" by each head of the
company, the blood caught in a basin, and some of it "struck" "on the two
side-posts and the upper door-post of the houses" by means of "a branch of
hyssop." The latter is not the hyssop with which we are familiar, but most probably
the caper, which grows abundantly in Egypt, in the desert of Sinai, and in Palestine. In
ancient times this plant was regarded as possessing cleansing properties. The direction,
to sprinkle the entrance, meant that the blood was to be applied to the house itself, that
is, to make atonement for it, and in a sense to convert it into an altar. Seeing this
blood, Jehovah, when He passed through to smite the Egyptians, would "pass over the
door," so that it would "not be granted*** the destroyer to come in"
unto their dwellings. (Exodus 12:23) Thus the term "Passover," or Pascha,
literally expresses the meaning and object of the ordinance.
* The Hebrew word means either of the two. See Exodus 12:5; Deuteronomy 16:2.
** Later Jewish ordinances fixed the number of a company at a
minimum of ten, and a maximum of twenty, persons.
*** Such is the literal rendering.
While all around the destroyer laid waste every Egyptian household, each company within
the blood-sprinkled houses of Israel was engaged in the sacrificial meal. This consisted
of the Paschal lamb, and "unleavened bread with," or rather "upon, bitter
herbs," as if in that solemn hour of judgment and deliverance they were to have set
before them as their proper meal the symbol of all the bitterness of Egypt, and upon it
the sacrificial lamb and unleavened bread to sweeten and to make of it a festive supper.
For everything here was full of deepest meaning. The sacrificial lamb, whose sprinkled
blood protected Israel, pointed to Him whose precious blood is the only safety of God's
people; the hyssop (as in the cleansing of the leper, and of those polluted by death, and
in Psalm 51:7) was the symbol of purification; and the unleavened bread that "of
sincerity and truth," in the removal of the "old leaven" which, as the
symbol of corruption, pointed to "the leaven of malice and wickedness." (1
Corinthians 5:7, 8) More than that, the spiritual teaching extended even to details. The
lamb was to be "roast," neither eaten "raw," or rather not properly
cooked (as in the haste of leaving), nor yet "sodden with water" - the latter
because nothing of it was to pass into the water, nor the water to mingle with it, the
lamb and the lamb alone being the food of the sacrificial company. For a similar reason it
was to be roasted and served up whole - complete, without break or division, not a bone of
it being broken, (Exodus 12:46) just as not even a bone was broken of Him who died for us
on the cross. (John 19:33, 36) And this undividedness of the Lamb pointed not only to the
entire surrender of the Lord Jesus, but also to our undivided union and communion in and
with Him. (1 Corinthians 10:17) So also none of this lamb was to be kept for another meal,
but that which had not been used must be burnt. Lastly, those who gathered around this
meal were not only all Israelites, but must all profess their faith in the coming
deliverance; since they were to sit down to it with loins girded, with shoes on their feet
and a staff in their hand, as it were, awaiting the signal of their redemption, and in
readiness for departing from Egypt.
A nobler spectacle of a people's faith can scarcely be conceived than when, on
receiving these ordinances, "the people bowed the head and worshipped" (12:27).*
Any attempt at description either of Israel's attitude or of the scenes witnessed
when the Lord, passing through the land "about midnight," smote each firstborn
from the only son of Pharaoh to the child of the maidservant and the captive, and even the
firstborn of beasts, would only weaken the impression of the majestic silence of
Scripture. Such things cannot be described - at least otherwise than by comparison with
what is yet to follow. Suffice then, that it was a fit emblem of another
"midnight," when the cry shall be heard: "Behold, the Bridegroom
cometh." (Matthew 25:6) In that midnight hour did Jehovah execute "judgment
against all the gods of Egypt," (Exodus 12:12) showing, as Calvin rightly remarks,
how vain and false had been the worship of those who were now so powerless to help. That
was also the night of Israel's birth as a nation "of their creation and adoption as
the people of God." (Isaiah 43:15) Hence the very order of the year was now changed.
The month of the Passover(Abib) became henceforth the first of the year.** The
Paschal supper was made a perpetual institution, with such new rules as to its future
observance as would suit the people when settled in the land;*** and its observance
was to be followed by a "feast of unleavened bread," lasting for seven days,
when all leaven should be purged out of their households.#*
* Not only in faith but in thanksgiving.
** The later Jews had a twofold computation of the year, - the
ecclesiastical year, which began with the month, Abib, or Nisan, and by which all the
festivals were arranged; and the civil year, which began in autumn, in the seventh month
of the sacred year. In Egypt the year properly began with the summer equinox, when the
Nile commenced to rise.
*** The arrangement of Exodus 12, should be noted, vers. 1-14
contain the Divine directions to Moses for the observance of the first Passover; vers.
15-20 give instructions for the future celebration of the feast, enjoined later (ver. 17),
but inserted here in their connection with the history; in vers. 21-27 Moses communicates
the will of God to the people; while ver. 28 records the obedience of Israel.
#* The Exodus brought Israel into a new life, Hence, all that was
of the old, and sustained it, must be put away (1 Corinthians 5:8). To have eaten of
leaven would have been to deny, as it were, this great fact. The feast of unleavened
bread, which followed the Passover night, lasted seven days, both as commemorative of the
creation of Israel and because the number seven is that of the covenant.
Finally, the fact that God had so set Israel apart in the Paschal night and redeemed
them to Himself, was perpetuated in the injunction to "sanctify" unto the Lord
"all the firstborn both of man and of beast." (Exodus 13:1-7) When at last this
"stroke" descended upon Egypt, Pharaoh hastily called for Moses and Aaron. In
that night of terror he dismissed the people unconditionally, only asking that, instead of
the curse, a "blessing" might be left behind (12:32).
"And the Egyptians were urgent upon the people that they might send them out of
the land in haste, for they said, We be all dead men." Ere the morning had broken,
the children of Israel were on their march from Rameses, around which most of them had
probably been congregated. Their "army" consisted in round numbers* of
"600,000 on foot - men, beside children" (12:37), or, as we may compute it, with
women and children, about two millions.
* "About 600,000 on foot" (comp. Numbers 1:46; 3:39). "On
foot," an expression used of an army; for Israel went out not as fugitives, but as an
army in triumph.
This represents a by no means incredible increase during the four hundred and thirty
years that had elapsed since their settlement in Egypt,* even irrespective of the fact
that, as Abraham had had three hundred and eighteen "trained servants born in his own
73 house," (Genesis 14:14) and therefore afterwards circumcised (Genesis 17:13), whom
he could arm against the invaders of Sodom, so the sons of Jacob must have brought many
with them who were afterwards incorporated in the nation.
* Calculations have again and again been made to show the reasonableness of
these numbers; and the question may indeed be considered as settled. Nor must we forget
that a special blessing attached to Israel, in fulfillment of the promise, Genesis 46:3.
With these two millions of Israelites also went up a mixed multitude of varied descent,
drawn in the wake of God's people by the signs and wonders so lately witnessed - just as a
mixed crowd still follows after every great spiritual movement, a source of hindrance
rather than of help to it, (Numbers 11:4) ever continuing strangers, and at most only fit
to act as "hewers of wood and drawers of water." (Deuteronomy 29:11) But a
precious legacy of faith did Israel bear, when they took with them out of Egypt the bones
of Joseph, (Exodus 13:19) which all those centuries had waited for the fulfillment of
God's promise. As Calvin aptly writes: "In all those times of adversity the people
could never have forgotten the promised redemption. For if, in their communings, the oath
which Joseph had made their fathers swear had not been remembered, Moses could in no wise
have been aware of it." Such a sight had never been witnessed in the land of Egypt as
when the nation, so delivered, halted for their first night-quarters at Succoth, or,
"booths." The locality of this and the following station, Etham, cannot be
exactly ascertained; nor is this the place to discuss such questions. Succoth may have
been fixed upon as the general rendezvous of the people, while at Etham they had reached
"the edge of the wilderness," which divides Egypt from Palestine. The straight
road would have brought them shortly into the land of the Philistines, face to face with a
warlike race, against which even Egypt could often scarcely stand. Of course they would
have contested the advance of Israel. To such test God in His mercy would not expose a
people so unprepared for it, as was Israel at that time. Accordingly, they were directed
to "turn" southward, and march to "Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the
sea," where they were to encamp.
Two events, as we understand it, marked Etham, the second stage of their journey. It
was apparently here, at the edge of the wilderness, (Exodus 13:21) that Jehovah first
"went before" His people "by day in a pillar of cloud, to lead them the
way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light, to go by day and night,"
that is, to enable them at all times to march onward. In Exodus 13:17, 18, we read that
"God (Elohim) led the people," but now Jehovah, as it were, took command (ver.
21),* and, by a sensible sign of His Presence, ensured their safety. This pillar was at
the same time one "of fire and of the cloud" (14:24), "of light" and
"of cloud and darkness" (ver. 20). Ordinarily, by day only the cloud was
visible, but by night the fire, which the cloud had enwrapped, shone out. (Numbers 9:15,
16) In this cloud Jehovah was visibly present in the "Angel" of the covenant;
(Exodus 14:19) there the glory of Jehovah appeared (16:10; 40:34; Numbers 16:42); thence
He spoke to Moses and to Israel; and this was the Shechinah, or visible Presence, which
afterwards rested upon the Most Holy Place. And this pledge and symbol of His visible
Presence appears once more in the description of the last days, only then "upon every
dwelling-place of Mount Zion." (Isaiah 4:5)
* The expression is the more noteworthy, as, both on a monument and in one of
the ancient Egyptian documents, the general is compared to "a flame in the
darkness," "streaming in advance of his soldiers."
Secondly, it was probably from Etham, as they turned southwards, that tidings were
carried to Pharaoh, which made him hope that Israel had, by this sudden backward movement,
"entangled" themselves as in a net, and would fall a ready prey to his trained
army. (Exodus 14:2-4) Perhaps now also, for the first time, he realized that the people
had "fled" (ver. 5) -not merely gone for a few days to offer sacrifice, as they
might have done, close by Etham, but left entirely and forever. The sacred text does not
necessarily imply that from Etham to Pi-hahiroth there was only one day's march. Indeed,
opinions as to the exact locality of each of the stages to the Red Sea* are still divided,
though the general route is sufficiently ascertained. While Israel thus pursued their
journey, Pharaoh quickly gathered his army, the principal strength of which lay in its
"six hundred chosen chariots." Each of these was drawn by two fiery, trained
horses, and contained two warriors, one bearing the shield and driving, the other fully
armed. A most formidable array it would have been under any circumstances; much more so to
an untrained multitude, encumbered with women and children, and dispirited by centuries of
slavery to those very Egyptians, the flower of whose army they now saw before them.
* In the Hebrew it is called" the sea of reeds," but in the Greek
translation of the LXX, and in the New Testament, "the Red Sea." The name is
differently derived either from the red coral in its waters, or from Edom, which means
"red " - as it were, the sea of the red men, or Edomites.
It must have been as the rays of the setting sun were glinting upon the war chariots,
that the Israelites first descried the approach of Pharaoh's army. It followed in their
track, and came approaching them from the north. There was no escape in that direction.
Eastward was the sea; to the west and south rose mountains. Flight was impossible; defense
seemed madness. Once more the faith of Israel signally failed, and they broke into
murmuring against Moses. But the Lord was faithful. What now took place was not only to be
the final act of sovereign deliverance by God's arm alone, nor yet merely to serve ever
afterwards as a memorial by which Israel's faith might be upheld, but also to teach, by
the judgments upon Egypt, that Jehovah was a righteous and holy Judge.
There are times when even prayer seems unbelief, and only to go forward in calm
assurance is duty. "Wherefore criest thou unto Me? Speak unto the children of Israel
that they go forward." Yet this forward movement was to be made only after Moses had
stretched the rod of God over the sea, and the Angel of the Lord gone behind the host,
casting the light of the pillar upon Israel's path, while, with the darkness of the cloud,
he kept Egypt apart from them. Then blew the "strong east wind all that night,"
as never it had swept across those water before.* They divided, and formed on each
side a wall, between which Israel passed dry-shod.
* Revelation 15:2, 3. The following extract from Palmer's Desert of the Exodus
(vol. 1. p. 37) may be interesting: "A strong wind blowing from the east, at the
moment of the setting in of the ebb-tide, might so drive back the waters that towards the
sea they would be some feet higher than on the shore side. Such a phenomenon is frequently
observed in lakes and inland seas; and if there were, as there would very probably be, at
the head of the gulf, any inequality in the bed of the sea, or any chain of sand-banks
dividing the upper part of the gulf into two basins, that portion might be blown dry, and
a path very soon left with water on either side. As the parting of the sea was caused by
an east wind, the sudden veering of this wind to the opposite quarter at the moment of the
return tide would bring the waters back with unusual rapidity. This seems to have been
actually the case, for we find that the waters returned, not with a sudden rush,
overwhelming the Egyptians at once, but gradually, and at first, as we might expect,
saturating the sand, so that 'it took off their chariot-wheels that they drave them
heavily.' In the hurricane and darkness of the night this would naturally cause such a
panic and confusion as to seriously retard them in their passage; but, in the meantime,
the waters were too surely advancing upon them, and when morning broke, Israel saw the
Egyptians dead upon the sea-shore? The verse last quoted seems to show conclusively that
the wind did veer round to the west, for otherwise, with the east wind still blowing, the
corpses of Pharaoh and his host would have been driven away from the Israelites, and
thrown upon the opposite shore." Parallel instances are referred to by Dean Stanley
(Sinai and Palestine, P. 34), notably that of the bed of the river Rhone being blown dry
by a strong northwest wind.
When the host of Egypt reached the seashore, night had probably fallen, and the
Israelites were far advanced on the dry bed of the sea. Their position would be seen by
the fire from the cloud which threw its light upon the advancing multitude. To follow
where they had dared to go, seemed dictated by military honor, and victory within easy
reach. Yet, read in the light of what was to follow, it sounds like Divine irony that
"the Egyptians pursued and went in after them in the midst of the sea." And so
the long night passed. The gray morning light was breaking on the other side of the
waters, when a fiercer sun than that about to rise on the horizon east its glare upon the
Egyptians. "Jehovah looked unto" them "through the pillar of fire and of
the cloud, and troubled the host of the Egyptians." It was the fire of His Divine
Presence, bursting suddenly through the pillar of the cloud, which threw them into
confusion and panic. The wheels of their chariots became clogged, the sand beneath them
seemed to soften under the fiery glow, and they drave heavily. With that light from the
fiery cloud, the conviction flashed upon them that it was Jehovah who fought for Israel
and against them. They essayed immediate flight. But already Moses had, at God's command,
once more stretched his hand over the sea. In that morning watch, the wind veered round;
the waters returned, and Pharaoh, with the flower of his host, sank, buried beneath the
waves. Thus, in the language of Scripture,
"Jehovah shook off * the Egyptians in the midst of the sea." (Exodus 14:27)
* So literally, as in the margin. Exodus 14:27.
Incidental confirmations of this grand event are not wanting. Throughout the Old
Testament, it is constantly appealed to, and forms, so to speak, the foundation on which
God rests His claim upon His people. Local tradition also has preserved its memory. Nor
has anything yet been urged to shake our faith in the narrative. Although the exact spot
of the passage through the Red Sea is matter of discussion, yet all are agreed that it
must have taken place near Suez, and that the conditions are such as to make it quite
possible for the host of Israel to have safely crossed during that night. Moreover, it is
a curious fact, illustrating the history of Pharaoh's overthrow, that, according to
Egyptian documents, seventeen years elapsed after the death of Thothmes II (whom we regard
as the Pharaoh of this narrative) before any Egyptian expedition was undertaken into the
Peninsula of Sinai, and twenty-two years before any attempt was made to recover the power
over Syria which Egypt seems to have lost. And thus, also, it was that Israel could safely
pursue their march through the wilderness, which had hitherto been subject to the
But Moses and the children of Israel sang on the other side of the sea a song of
thanksgiving and triumph, which, repeated every Sabbath in the Temple,* when the
drink-offering of the festive sacrifice was poured out, reminded Israel that to all time
the kingdom was surrounded by the hostile powers of this world; that there must always be
a contest between them; and that Jehovah would always Himself interpose to destroy His
enemies and to deliver His people. Thus that great event is really not solitary, nor yet
its hymn without an echo. For all times it has been a prophecy, a comfort, and a song of
anticipated sure victory to the Church. And so at the last, they who stand on the
"sea of glass mingled with fire," who have "gotten the victory," and
have "the harps of God," "sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and
the song of the Lamb."
* Tradition informs us that the "Song of Moses" was sung in sections
(one for each Sabbath) in the Temple, at the close of the Sabbath-morning service. The
Song of Moses consists of three stanzas (Exodus 15:2-5, 6-10, and 11-18), of which the
first two show the power of Jehovah in the destruction of His enemies, while the third
gives thanks for the result, in the calling of Israel to be the kingdom of God, and their
possession of the promised inheritance.
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