Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Exodus 14

By Joseph Benson


Verse 1-2
Exodus 14:1-2. The Lord spake — Or rather had spoken, before they came to Succoth, Exodus 12:37. For what was there briefly and generally expressed, is here more largely and particularly declared, together with the occasion of it, which was God’s command. Speak unto the children of Israel — They were got to the edge of the wilderness, Exodus 13:20, and one stage or two would have brought them to Horeb, the place appointed for their serving God; but, instead of going forward, they are ordered to turn short off on the right hand from Canaan, and to march toward the Red sea. When they were at Etham, there was no sea in their way to obstruct their passage; but God himself orders them into straits, which might give them an assurance, that when his purposes were served, he would bring them out of those straits. Before Pi-hahiroth — Or, the straits of Hiroth, two great mountains, between which they marched. Migdol and Baal-zephon were cities of Egypt, and probably garrisoned.

Verse 3-4
Exodus 14:3-4. Pharaoh will say they are entangled — He will presume that you are hemmed in between the rocks and the sea. I will harden Pharaoh’s heart — See note on Exodus 4:21; Exodus 7:13-14. The meaning is, that Pharaoh would take occasion, from the apparently distressed situation the Israelites were now in, enclosed with mountains, deserts, and Egyptian garrisons, to harden his heart. He would even be so desperate as to attempt to follow and bring them back again into their former state of bondage. I will be honoured upon Pharaoh — By the manifestation of my power and justice.

Verse 5
Exodus 14:5. It was told the king that the people fled — As they had been ordered by the Lord to turn a different way from that which led directly to mount Horeb, it is probable that, as soon as Pharaoh heard of it, he concluded they had no intention of going thither, but were escaping out of Egypt. He either forgot, or would not own, that they had departed with his consent; and therefore was willing it should be represented to him as a revolt from their allegiance. Why have we done this? — They, who never truly repented of their sins, now heartily repent of their only good action.

Verse 7
Exodus 14:7. Six hundred chosen chariots — The strength of ancient Egypt, which is a plain country, consisted in cavalry and military chariots. Indeed, it appears from sundry passages of Scripture, that the eastern nations in general, in the early ages of the world, made great use of armed chariots in war. Captains over every one of them — Or rather over all of them, distributing the command of them to his several captains.

Verse 8
Exodus 14:8. With a high hand — Boldly and resolutely. It seems the latter part of the verse had better be rendered, even the children of Israel, going away with a high hand, or, in other words, in spite of him.

Verse 9-10
Exodus 14:9-10. Chariots and horsemen — It seems he took no foot with him, because the king’s business required haste. The children of Israel cried out unto the Lord — Partly by petition, and partly by complaint and expostulation; probably, however, more from despair than trust in God, for they were sore afraid, and their fears were aggravated by the presence and outcries of their wives and children. They knew the strength of the enemy, and their own weakness; numerous indeed they were, but all foot, unarmed, undisciplined, dispirited by long servitude, and now pent up, so that they could not escape. On one hand was Pi-hahiroth, a range of craggy rocks unpassable; on the other hand were Migdol and Baal-zephon, forts upon the frontiers of Egypt; before them was the sea, behind them were the Egyptians; so that there was no way open for them but upward, and thence their deliverance came.

Verse 13-14
Exodus 14:13-14. Moses said, Fear ye not, stand still — Hebrew, make yourselves to stand. Let not your hearts fail, or sink, or stagger, through unbelief: but with quiet minds look up to God. The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace — Ye shall contribute nothing to the victory, neither by your words nor by your deeds. A remarkable instance this of the composure of Moses’s mind, and the sedateness of his temper, and how well he deserved the character given him Numbers 12:3, of being one of the meekest of men. He did not answer these fools according to their folly: he does not chide, but comforts them; and with an admirable presence of mind, not in the least disconcerted or disheartened, either by the approach of Pharaoh, or the tremblings of Israel, he stills their murmurings, calmly exhorting them to take heart and trust in God. It is our duty when we cannot get out of our troubles, yet to get above our fears, so that they may only serve to quicken our prayers and endeavours, but may not prevail to silence our faith and hope.

Verse 15
Exodus 14:15. Wherefore criest thou to me? — Moses, though he was assured of a good issue, yet did not neglect prayer. We read not of one word he said in prayer, but he lifted up his heart to God, and God well understood, and took notice of it. Moses’s silent prayer prevailed more with God than Israel’s loud outcries. But is God displeased with Moses for praying? No; he asks this question, Wherefore criest thou unto me? Wherefore shouldest thou press thy petition any further, when it is already granted? Moses has something else to do besides praying; he is to command the hosts of Israel. Speak to them that they go forward — Some think Moses had prayed not so much for their deliverance, he was assured of that, as for the pardon of their murmurings: and God’s ordering them to go forward was an intimation of the pardon. Moses bid them stand still and expect orders from God: and now orders are given. They thought they must have been directed either to the right hand or to the left; no, saith God, speak to them to go forward directly to the sea-side; as if there had lain a fleet of transport ships ready for them to embark in. Let the children of Israel go as far as they can upon dry ground, and then God will divide the sea. The same power could have congealed the waters for them to pass over, but infinite Wisdom chose rather to divide the waters for them to pass through, for that way of salvation is always pitched upon which is most humbling.

Verse 19
Exodus 14:19. The angel of God — Whose ministry was made use of in the pillar of cloud and fire, went from before the camp of Israel, where they did not now need a guide, (there was no danger of missing their way through the sea,) and came behind them, where now they needed a guard, the Egyptians being just ready to seize the hindmost of them. There it was of use to the Israelites, not only to protect them, but to light them through the sea; and at the same time it confounded the Egyptians, so that they lost sight of their prey just when they were ready to lay hands on it. The word and providence of God have a black and dark side toward sin and sinners, but a bright and pleasant side toward those that are Israelites indeed.

Verse 21-22
Exodus 14:21-22. And Moses stretched out his hand, &c. — We have here the history of that work of wonder which is so often mentioned both in the Old and New Testaments. An instance of God’s almighty power in dividing the sea, and opening a passage through the waters. It was a bay, or gulf, or arm of the sea, two or three leagues over. The God of nature has not tied himself to its laws, but when he pleases dispenseth with them, and then the fire doth not burn, nor the water flow. They went through the sea to the opposite shore; they walked upon dry land in the midst of the sea; and the pillar of cloud being their rearward, the waters were a wall to them on their right hand, and on their left — Moses and Aaron, it is likely, ventured first into this untrodden path, and then all Israel after them; and this march through the paths of the great waters would make their march afterward through the wilderness less formidable. This march through the sea was in the night, and not a moonshine night, for it was seven days after the full moon, so that they had no light but what they had from the pillar of fire. This made it the more awful; but where God leads us, he will light us; while we follow his conduct we shall not want his comforts.

Verse 23
Exodus 14:23. And the Egyptians went in after them into the midst of the sea — They thought, Why might they not venture where Israel did? They were more advantageously provided with chariots and horses, while the Israelites were on foot.

Verse 24
Exodus 14:24. The Lord — Called the angel before; looked unto the host of the Egyptians — He looked upon them in anger, Psalms 104:32. He visited them with marks of his displeasure, and troubled the Egyptians with terrible winds, lightnings, and thunders, Exodus 15:10; Psalms 77:18-19; also, with terror of mind. Through the pillar of fire and of the cloud — It seems not improbable but that, whereas the cloudy part of the pillar had been toward the Egyptians hitherto, it now turned the other side toward them, and confounded them with showing them their situation.

Verse 25
Exodus 14:25. They drave heavily — They had driven furiously, but they now found themselves embarrassed at every step; the way grew deep, their hearts grew sad, their wheels dropped off, and the axle-trees failed. They had been flying upon the back of Israel as the hawk on the dove; but now they cried, Let us flee from the face of Israel.

Verse 26
Exodus 14:26. And the Lord said unto Moses, Stretch out thy hand over the sea — And give a signal to the waters to close again, as before upon the word of command they had opened to the right and the left. He did so, and immediately the waters returned to their place, and overwhelmed all the host of the Egyptians. Pharaoh and his servants, that had hardened one another in sin, now fell together, and not one escaped. An ancient tradition saith, that Pharaoh’s magicians, Jannes and Jambres, perished with the rest. Now God got him honour upon Pharaoh, a rebel to God, and a slave to his own barbarous passions; perfectly lost to humanity, virtue, and all true honour; here he lies buried in the deep, a perpetual monument of divine justice: here he went down to the pit, though he was the terror of the mighty in the land of the living.

Verse 27
Exodus 14:27. The sea returned to its strength — Its force had, as it were, been checked and held back by the reins of the divine power; but now full scope is given to its impetuous rage. The expression implies that the sea returned not leisurely, as in ordinary tides, but rushed upon them precipitately.

Verse 30
Exodus 14:30. Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the sea-shore — Rather, Israel upon (or from) the sea-shore saw the Egyptians dead — That is, saw their dead bodies floating upon the waters. It is likely, however, that the bodies of many of them were cast on shore, and became food to the beasts and birds of prey that frequent the wilderness, which may be the meaning of Psalms 74:14; and that the Israelites had the benefit of the spoil, especially of their arms, which they wanted. The Egyptians were very curious in preserving the bodies of their great men; but here the utmost contempt is poured upon the grandees of Egypt: see how they lie, heaps upon heaps, as dung upon the face of the earth!

Verse 31
Exodus 14:31. The people feared the Lord — This great work, which the Lord had done upon the Egyptians, was a means of begetting in them, for the present at least, awful thoughts of God, and devout affections toward him. And they believed the Lord and his servant Moses — Now they were ashamed of their distrusts and murmurings; and in the mind they were in, they would never again despair of help from heaven, no, not in the greatest straits! They would never again quarrel with Moses, nor talk of returning to Egypt. How well were it for us if we were always in as good a frame as we are in sometimes!