17.And it came to pass when Pharaoh.Moses here assigns the reason why God did not immediately lead His people by the more direct way into the land of Canaan, which would have been just as easy to Him, but preferred to bring them round through the desert, by a long and difficult and dangerous journey; viz., lest, if perhaps they had met with enemies to contend against, a ready means of return would have encouraged them to go back into Egypt. We know how great was the supineness and cowardice of this people, as soon as any difficulty presented itself; and how quick they were to revolt from the divine government, as often as a heavier burden than they liked was imposed upon them. We know how often they repented of having followed God as their leader, and thus were prepared to throw away by their ingratitude the grace offered to them. When, therefore, they were powerless in the use of arms, and were altogether without experience of military tactics, with what courage would they have engaged with an enemy, if any should have advanced against them within a few days of their coming out? Assuredly they would not have borne up against a single assault, but would have been willing rather to submit themselves to the Egyptians, with humble supplications for forgiveness. Lest, then, any desire of return should steal over their hearts, God was willing to set up a barrier behind them in the difficulty of the journey. Besides, if in their departure from Egypt they had immediately encountered the inhabitants of the land of Canaan in war, greater troubles would have awaited them; for the Egyptians would by no means let them alone, but., being aided by the subsidies and forces of so many peoples, would have endeavored to avenge themselves, and, having entered into alliances on every side, would have hemmed in the unhappy Israelites. Wherefore, God provided excellently for them, by leading them through inaccessible paths, and by their very weariness shutting the door against their ever desiring to return into Egypt; while afterwards He gradually restored their’ confidence, before they came to fight, and had to sustain the attacks of their enemies. I admit, indeed, that God might have otherwise obviated all these evils; but since He is often wont to deal with His people on human principles, He chose to adopt the method which was most suited to their infirmity. Moses now commends this His admirable design, in order that we may know that nothing was omitted by Him which was for the safety and advantage of His people. For this “God said,” which he mentions, refers to His providence; as much as to say, that the easier and more ordinary passage was not undesignedly rejected, but that because God knew it to be more expedient, He thus advisedly obviated the temptation.
Exo 13:17 And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go,…. Gave them leave to depart out of Egypt, and even urged them to be gone in haste upon the death of his firstborn:
that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; the land of the Philistines was the Pentapolis, or five cities of Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron, and Gath, which lay between Egypt and Canaan; and their way through it to Canaan, out of Egypt, was the nearest they could go; and was, as Aben Ezra says, about ten days’ journey; but Philo the Jew says it was but three days’ journey; and it seems, by the sons of Jacob going to and fro for corn, that it was no very long journey:
for God said: within himself, or he declared the following reason of so doing to Moses:
lest peradventure the people repent: which is said not as ignorant or doubtful, but, as Aben Ezra says, after the manner of men:
when they see war: the Philistines coming out against them to hinder their passage through their country; they being a warlike people, bold and courageous, and the Israelites, through their long servitude, of a mean, timorous, and cowardly disposition; and indeed as yet unarmed, and so very unfit to engage in war, and therefore would at once be intimidated:
and they return to Egypt; judging it more eligible to continue in their former bondage, than to fall a prey into the hands of such fierce and cruel enemies. This is the only reason mentioned for not leading them this way; but there were other secret reasons for it, which afterwards opened in Providence, as the doing that wonderful work for them, leading them through the Red sea as on dry land, and the destruction of Pharaoh and his host in it; and by being brought into a wilderness, a solitude, they would be in the fittest place to receive and attend to the body of laws given them, and where they were formed into a commonwealth and church state, previous to their entrance into, and possession of, the land of Canaan; and here also they were humbled, tried and proved, and had such instances of the power and goodness of God to them, as were sufficient to attach them to his service, and lay them under the greatest obligation to him, as well as would be of use to strengthen their faith and hope in him in future times of difficulty and distress.
God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, etc. – Had the Israelites been obliged to commence their journey to the promised land by a military campaign, there is little room to doubt that they would have been discouraged, have rebelled against Moses and Aaron, and have returned back to Egypt. Their long slavery had so degraded their minds that they were incapable of any great or noble exertions; and it is only on the ground of this mental degradation, the infallible consequence of slavery, that we can account for their many dastardly acts, murmurings, and repinings after their escape from Egypt. The reader is requested to bear this in mind, as it will serve to elucidate several circumstances in the ensuing history. Besides, the Israelites were in all probability unarmed, and totally unequipped for battle, encumbered with their flocks, and certain culinary utensils. which they were obliged to carry with them in the wilderness to provide them with bread, etc.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near, etc. — The shortest and most direct route from Egypt to Palestine was the usual caravan road that leads by Belbeis, El-Arish, to Ascalon and Gaza. The Philistines, who then possessed the latter, would have been sure to dispute their passage, for between them and the Israelites there was a hereditary feud (1Ch_7:21, 1Ch_7:22); and so early a commencement of hostilities would have discouraged or dismayed the unwarlike band which Moses led. Their faith was to be exercised and strengthened, and from the commencement of their travels we observe the same careful proportion of burdens and trials to their character and state, as the gracious Lord shows to His people still in that spiritual journey of which the former was typical.
18.The children of Israel went up harnessed.The word חמשים, chemishim, is derived from “Five,” from whence some have explained it, that they were furnished with five kinds of arms, but this is too absurd. The Hebrews, because they could conjecture nothing better or more probable, almost with one consent would understand it, that they were armed under the fifth rib. But whence were there so many military corselets ready for the Israelites? But I reject so forced and improbable a meaning, and doubt not that the word is one of number; as though Moses had said, that they went out in ranks of five; because, if each individual in so great a multitude had tried to advance, they would have been in each other’s way. I have therefore thought fit to translate it “dispositi,” (in ranks.) The idea of the Greeks about “the fifth generation,” is very foreign to the present narrative. But in the sense I have given it, there is nothing obscure or doubtful; for it readily appears that God’s favor is celebrated also in this particular, because He led forth His people in order. For, although they came out confusedly and hastily, still He restrained there, as it were, under His banner, and in companies, lest any disturbance should occur.
Exo 13:18 But God led the people about,…. Instead of their going to the west, or northwest, towards Gaza, &c. and the Mediterranean sea, the Lord going before them in a pillar of cloud and fire, as after related, directed them to turn off to the right, between the east and south, to the southeast:
through the way of the wilderness of the Red sea: the wilderness of Etham, by the Red sea:
and the children of Israel went up harnessed out of the land of Egypt or “girt” (m) about the loins under the fifth rib; not with armour, as some (n) understand it, for it is not likely that they could, or that Pharaoh would suffer them to be furnished with armour, but their garments were girt about them, and so fit for travelling; or they went up “by fives” (o), as it may be rendered, either by five in a rank, or rather in five bodies or squadrons, and so marched out, not in a disorderly and confused way, but in great order and regularity. The latter is much more reasonable to suppose, for five in a rank is too small a number for an army of 600,000 men to march in; since allowing the ranks to be but three feet asunder, and a mile to consist of about two thousand yards, the front and rear of the army would be sixty miles distant from each other (p).
(m) חמשים “accincti”, Fagninus, Vatablus, Cartwright; so Onkelos, Aben Ezra. (n) Kimchi & Pen Melech. (o) “Quintati”, Montanus: “quini”, Piscater, Rivet. (p) See the Bishop of Clogher’s Chronology of the Hebrew Bible, p. 272.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red Sea, etc. — This wondrous expanse of water is a gulf of the Indian ocean. It was called in Hebrew “the weedy sea,” from the forest of marine plants with which it abounds. But the name of the Red Sea is not so easily traced. Some think it was given from its contiguity to the countries of Edom (“red”); others derive it from its coral rocks; while a third class ascribe the origin of the name to an extremely red appearance of the water in some parts, caused by a numberless multitude of very small mollusca. This sea, at its northern extremity, separates into two smaller inlets – the eastern called anciently the Elanitic gulf, now the gulf of Akaba; and the western the Heroopolite gulf, now the gulf of Suez, which, there can be no doubt, extended much more to the north anciently than it does now. It was toward the latter the Israelites marched.
went up harnessed — that is, girded, equipped for a long journey. (See Psa_105:37). The Margin renders it “five in a rank,” meaning obviously five large divisions, under five presiding officers, according to the usages of all caravans; and a spectacle of such a mighty and motley multitude must have presented an imposing appearance, and its orderly progress could have been effected only by the superintending influence of God.
Exo 13:18 There were many reasons why God led them through the way of the wilderness of the red sea. The Egyptians were to be drowned in the Red – sea, the Israelites were to be humbled, and proved in the wilderness. Deu_8:2. God had given it to Moses for a sign, Exo_3:12, ye shall serve God in this mountain. They had again and again told Pharaoh that they must go three days journey into the wilderness to do sacrifice, and therefore it was requisite they should march that way, else they had justly been exclaimed against as dissemblers. Before they entered the lifts with their enemies, matters must be settled between them and their God; laws must be given, ordinances instituted, covenants sealed; and for the doing of this it was necessary they should retire into the solitudes of a wilderness, the only closet for such a crowd; the high road would be no proper place for these transactions. The reason why God did not lead them the nearest way, which would have brought them in a few days to the land of the Philistines, was because they were not yet fit for war, much less for war with the Philistines. Their spirits were broke with slavery; the Philistines were formidable enemies; it was convenient they should begin with the Amalekites, and be prepared for the wars of Canaan, by experiencing the difficulties of the wilderness. God is said to bring Israel out of Egypt as the eagle brings up her young ones, Deu_32:11, teaching them by degrees to fly. They went up harnessed – They went up by five in a rank, so some; in five squadrons, so others. They marched like an army with banners, which added much to strength and honour.
Exo 14:9 But the Egyptians pursued after them,…. When they thought nothing of it, and had no fears about it:
all the horses and chariots of Pharaoh, and his horsemen, and his army; by the latter Aben Ezra understands the foot, as distinguished from the cavalry, the horses and horsemen; and perhaps these, as before observed, might be carried in the chariots for quicker dispatch:
and overtook them encamping by the sea, beside Pihahiroth, before Baalzephon; where they had pitched their camp by divine appointment, Exo_14:2.
Exo 14:9 Chariots and horsemen – It should seem he took no foot with him, because the king’s business required haste.
10.And when Pharaoh drew nigh.Moses implies that the alarm was greater from its suddenness, because no messenger had preceded, so that a very short time indeed was given them for preparation. There was, then, just ground for fear even in the bravest hearts, unless there had been something very extraordinary about them. But they sinned doubly; because both the hope of divine assistance had abandoned their hearts together with the recollection of God’s mercies; and they advanced to such an extent of ingratitude as to revolt insolently against God and Moses. Although there is an appearance of two contrary facts being here reported, viz., that they cried out unto the Lord, and mutinied against His minister; yet we may easily gather that this cry neither arose from faith nor from serious and! well-ordered affections, but that it was extorted by a confused impulse; since the natural sense impels all men, in their adversity, promiscuously to offer their prayers to God, although they neither embrace His mercy nor rely on His power. Thus David, in Psa_107:0, says that all the distressed have recourse to God when any trouble oppresses them; because God, by the leadings of nature and by secret instinct, draws them to Him in their danger, in order that the most careless and most profane may be rendered more inexcusable. Yet in this way do they not render due honor to God, although by the utterance of their mouths they ask for safety from Him. It is, then, little to be wondered at, that the Israelites being reduced to such sore anxiety should have offered prayers and vows accompanied with God’s name; especially since He had recently manifested Himself to them in so many miracles, and they always had in sight the cloud, or the pillar of fire. But their insane cries against Moses were plain proof that, as in amazement, they had thoughtlessly hastened to call upon the name of God. For the exposition is unreasonable which some give, that certain of them piously prayed to God, whilst others of the multitude wickedly mutinied against Moses; because these two statements are made in conjunction, and cannot be referred to different persons.
Exo 14:10 And when Pharaoh drew nigh,…. Or “caused to draw nigh”; that is, his army, brought it very near to the camp of the Israelites:
the children of Israel lifted up their eyes, and, behold, the Egyptians marched after them; in great numbers, with full speed, threatening them with utter destruction:
and they were sore afraid; being an unarmed people, though numerous, and so unable to defend themselves against armed and disciplined troops; and besides, through their long time of slavery their spirits were broken, and were a mean, abject, dispirited people; and especially were so on the sight of the Egyptians, whom they had so many years looked upon and served as their lords and masters:
and the children of Israel cried out unto the Lord: had they prayed unto him in this their distress for help and assistance, protection and preservation, with an holy and humble confidence in him for it, they had acted a right and laudable part; but their crying out to him seems to be only an outcry of the troubles they were in, and rather the effect of despair than of faith and hope; and was by way of complaint and lamentation of their miserable condition and circumstances, as appears by what follows, which shows what temper of mind they were in.
The children of Israel cried out unto the Lord – Had their prayer been accompanied with faith, we should not have found them in the next verses murmuring against Moses, or rather against the Lord, through whose goodness they were now brought from under that bondage from which they had often cried for deliverance. Calmet thinks that the most pious and judicious cried unto God, while the unthinking and irreligious murmured against Moses.
Exo 14:10 They were sore afraid – 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 upwards, and thence their deliverance came
11.Because there were no graves.This is the more proper sense; for the double negative is put for a single one. It is a bitter and biting taunt; for, not contented with preferring the graves of Egypt to the death which they feared, they scoffingly inquire how he could have thought of bringing them into the wilderness, as if the land of Egypt was not large enough to bury them in. But God had openly and clearly proved Himself to be the leader of their departing; and, again, it was basely insensible of them to forget that they were not long since like dead men, and had been miraculously brought out of the grave. Their madness is wilder still, when they daringly call to remembrance the impious blasphemies which should have been a matter of shame and detestation to themselves. For how sad was their ingratitude in rejecting the proffered favor of deliverance, and in shutting the door against the advances of God, in order that they might rot in their misery! True, that God had pardoned this great depravity; but it was their part unceasingly to mourn, and to be as it were overwhelmed with shame, that their crime might be blotted out before God’s judgment-seat. But now, as if God and Moses were accountable to them, they boastfully and petulantly reproach them for not believing them, when they would have prudently prevented the evil. Hence are we taught how far men’s passions will carry them, when fear has extinguished their hopes, and they wait not patiently for God’s aid.
Exo 14:11 And they said unto Moses,…. The Targum of Jonathan is,”the ungodly of that generation said unto Moses;”but it seems rather to be understood of the body of the people in general, and is not to be limited to some particular persons of the worse characters among them:
because there were no graves in Egypt; as if there had been none, when there were so many; the Egyptians being more solicitous about their graves than their houses, as Diodorus Siculus reports; thus upbraiding Moses in a sarcastic way for what he had done:
hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness? that so there might be room and graves enough to bury them in, for nothing but death was before their eyes:
wherefore hast thou dealt thus with us, to carry us forth out of Egypt? which was very ungrateful and disingenuous.
Let us alone – This is a gross exaggeration, yet not without a semblance of truth: for although the Israelites welcomed the message of Moses at first, they gave way completely at the first serious trial. See the reference in the margin. The whole passage foreshadows the conduct of the people in the wilderness.
13.And Moses said unto the people.Although with his characteristic kindness Moses courteously exhorts them to be of good hope, yet it is not probable that he passed over in silence those wicked cries with which he saw that God was atrociously assailed. I conceive, then, that he discharged the duty of a faithful teacher by freely chastising their insolence, which was intolerable; and since he spoke under the inspiration of the preventing Spirit of God, there is no doubt but that God himself severely reproved their blasphemies, lest, by indulgence, they should grow worse. But Moses omits the reproof, and only shows that God’s loving-kindness went beyond the execrable impiety of the people, giving them consolation to assuage their grief and to calm their troubled hearts. Moreover, by bidding them not to fear, and “to stand still and see the salvation of the Lord,” he implies that, as long as fear has possession of our minds, they are blinded, and confounded in their stupidity so as not to receive the help of God. By the expression, “stand still,” he means “keep quiet;” as much as to say, that there was no occasion for any one to move a finger, because God alone would preserve them, though they were quiet and unmoved; and this he confirms in the next verse, where God promises to conquer for them whilst they hold their peace. But, in my opinion, it is not that he exhorts them to be quiet; but intimates that in God alone there would be strength enough to prevail, although they might be torpid like men entranced.: Now the Israelites, when, though preserved by God’s hand, they reject as much as possible His proffered grace, are an example to us how many repeated salvations are necessary for us, in order that God may bring us to perfect salvation; because, by our ingratitude, we nullify whatever He has given us, and thus should willfully perish, if God did not correct our apathy by the power of His Spirit.
Exo 14:13 Moses answered not these fools according to their folly: Instead of chiding he comforts them, and with an admirable pretence of mind, not disheartened either by the threatenings of Egypt, or the tremblings of Israel, stills their murmuring, Fear ye not, 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. Stand still, and think not to save yourselves either by fighting or flying; wait God’s orders, and observe them; Compose yourselves, by an entire confidence in God, into a peaceful prospect of the great salvation God is now about to work for you. Hold your peace, you need not so much as give a shout against the enemy: the work shall be done without any concurrence of yours. In times of great difficulty, it is our wisdom to keep our spirits calm, quiet, and sedate, for then we are in the best frame both to do our own work, and to consider the work of God.
15.And the Lord said I have used the praeter-pluperfect tense for the sake of avoiding ambiguity; for the reason is here given why Moses so confidently reproved the hesitation of the people, and promised that they should be safe under the present help of God; viz., because he had already been assured by divine revelation that God was willing to aid His people, and had in readiness a new means for their preservation. For he could not have been the proclaimer and witness of their safety if he had not received the promise. Therefore he relieves his confidence from the imputation of rashness, since he advanced nothing which he had not already heard from the mouth of God himself. These words, “Wherefore criest thou unto me?” some interpreters extend to the whole people, whose representative Moses was; but this sense is too far-fetched, and I have recently observed, that the prayers of the people were by no means directed to God. I doubt not., therefore, that the holy man had prayed apart in the insurrection of the people. Nor is this pious duty disapproved of in the passage; but rather shows that he had not spent his labor in vain, nor poured forth his words into the air. The sense, then, is, “Weary not yourself by crying any more; the event will prove that you are heard. Lift up your rod, then, whereby you may divide the sea, so that the children of Israel may go dry shod through the midst of it.” This passage shows that they are guilty of rashness who promise anything either to themselves or others, as to particular blessings, without the special testimony of God.
Exo 14:15 And the Lord said unto Moses, wherefore criest thou unto me?…. The Targum of Jonathan is,”why standest thou and prayest before me?”and no doubt this crying is to be understood of prayer, of mental prayer, of secret ejaculations put up by Moses to the Lord without a voice, for no mention is made of any: this shows, that though Moses most firmly believed that God would work salvation for them, yet he did not neglect the use of means, prayer to God for it; nor was the Lord displeased with him on that account, only he had other work for him to do, and he had no need to pray any longer, God had heard him, and would save him and his people:
speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward; a little further, as Aben Ezra observes, until they were come to the sea shore, near to which they now were; and thither they were to move in an orderly composed manner, as unconcerned and fearless of their enemies.
Wherefore criest thou unto me? – We hear not one word of Moses’ praying, and yet here the Lord asks him why he cries unto him? From which we may learn that the heart of Moses was deeply engaged with God, though it is probable he did not articulate one word; but the language of sighs, tears, and desires is equally intelligible to God with that of words. This consideration should be a strong encouragement to every feeble, discouraged mind: Thou canst not pray, but thou canst weep; if even tears are denied thee, (for there may be deep and genuine repentance, where the distress is so great as to stop up those channels of relief), then thou canst sigh; and God, whose Spirit has thus convinced thee of sin, righteousness, and judgment, knows thy unutterable groanings, and reads the inexpressible wish of thy burdened soul, a wish of which himself is the author, and which he has breathed into thy heart with the purpose to satisfy it.
Exo 14:15 Wherefore criest thou unto 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. Moses’s silent prayer prevailed more with God, than Israel’s loud out – cries. But is God displeased with Moses for praying? No, he asks this question, Wherefore criest thou unto me? Wherefore shouldst thou press thy petition any farther, 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.
Lift thou up thy rod – Neither Moses nor his rod could be any effective instrument in a work which could be accomplished only by the omnipotence of God; but it was necessary that he should appear in it, in order that he might have credit in the sight of the Israelites, and that they might see that God had chosen him to be the instrument of their deliverance.
17.I will harden. God once more affirms, for the greater exaltation of His own power, that He will harden the Egyptians, so that, as if devoted to destruction, they may cast themselves into the midst of the sea; which they certainly would never have done, unless He had guided their hearts by his secret influence; because it could not have escaped them that a passage for the Israelites was opened by His special gift, from whence they might gather that the elements were at war with them. Therefore they would never have dared to enter the sea, which they saw to be armed against them, unless they had been blinded by God. Whence it appears how unworthy is the imagination of those who pretend that there was but a bare permission here, where God would make His power conspicuous. It would have been enough that after the Israelites had passed over to the opposite shore the sea should have returned to its place and prevented the Egyptians from following; but God was willing, by a double miracle, to consult for the security of His people for a long’ time to come. And this, indeed, came to pass; for the flower of the whole nation being destroyed, the Egyptians were unable to recruit their army; especially when the heir to the throne had already been slain, and the king himself was now taken away. On this account it is said, that the Egyptians should know that the God of Israel was the Lord; because in this last act they found that the power of rebellion was altogether taken from them.
Exo 14:17 And I, behold, I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians,…. That they shall have no sense of danger, and be fearless of it, incautious and thoughtless, hurried on with wrath and fury, malice and revenge:
and they shall follow them; the Israelites into the sea, supposing it to be as safe for the one as the other:
and I will get me honour upon Pharaoh, and upon all his host, upon his chariots, and upon his horsemen: by the utter destruction of them, in just retaliation for the many innocent infants that had been drowned by them in the river Nile.
Shall know that I am the Lord – Pharaoh had just recovered from the consternation and confusion with which the late plagues had overwhelmed him, and now he is emboldened to pursue after Israel; and God is determined to make his overthrow so signal by such an exertion of omnipotence, that he shall get himself honor by this miraculous act, and that the Egyptians shall know, i.e., acknowledge, that he is Jehovah, the omnipotent, self-existing, eternal God.
31.And Israel saw.After he has said that the Israelites saw the dead bodies spread upon the seashore, he now adds that in this spectacle God’s hand, i.e., His power, appeared, because there was no difficulty in distinguishing between God’s wrath and His fatherly love, in preserving so miraculously an unwarlike multitude, and in destroying in the depths of the sea an army formidable on every account. Moses, therefore, does not unreasonably conclude here that the Divine power was conspicuous in the deliverance of the people. He afterwards adds, that, not without their profit, did the Israelites see God’s hand; because they feared Him, and believed Him, and His servant Moses. “Fear” is here used for that reverence which kept the people in the way of duty, for they were not only affected by dread, but also attracted to devote themselves to God, whose goodness they had so sweetly and delightfully experienced. But although this pious feeling was not durable, at any rate with the greater number of them, it is still probable that it rooted itself in some few of them, because some seed ever remained, nor was the recollection of this blessing entirely destroyed. By the word “believed,” I think that the principal part of fear is marked, and I understand it to be added expositively, as if it were said, “that they reverenced God, and testified this by faithfully embracing His doctrine and obediently submitting themselves to Moses.” I understand it that they were all generally thus affected, because the recognition of God’s hand bowed them to obedience, that they should be more tractable and docile, and more inclined to follow God. But this ardor soon passed away from the greater number of them, as (hypocrites) are wont to be only influenced by what is visible and present; although I hold to what I have just said, that, in some small number, the fear of God, which they had once conceived from a sense of His grace, still abode in rigor. Meanwhile, let us learn from this passage that God is never truly and duly worshipped without faith, because incredulity betrays gross contempt of Him; and although hypocrites boast of their heaping all kinds of honor upon God, still they inflict the greatest insult upon Him, by refusing to believe His revelations. But Moses, who had been chosen God’s minister for governing the people, is not unreasonably here united with Him, for although God’s majesty manifested itself by conspicuous signs, still Moses was the mediator, out of whose mouth God willed that His words should be heard, so that the holy man could not be despised without God’s own authority being rejected. A profitable doctrine is gathered from hence, that whenever God propounds His word to us by men, those who faithfully deliver His commands must be as much attended to as if He himself openly descended from heaven. This recommendation of the ministry ought to be more than sufficient to refute their folly, who set at naught the outward preaching of the word. Let us, then, hold fast this principle, that only those obey God who receive the prophets sent from Him, because it is not lawful to put asunder what He has joined together. Christ has more clearly expressed this in the words, — “He that heareth you, heareth me; and he that despiseth you, despiseth me.” (Mat_10:40.)
The people feared the Lord – They were convinced by the interference of Jehovah that his power was unlimited, and that he could do whatsoever he pleased, both in the way of judgment and in the way of mercy.
And believed the Lord, and his servant Moses – They now clearly discerned that God had fulfilled all his promises; and that not one thing had failed of all the good which he had spoken concerning Israel. And they believed his servant Moses – they had now the fullest proof that he was Divinely appointed to work all these miracles, and to bring them out of Egypt into the promised land.
Thus God got himself honor upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians, and credit in the sight of Israel. After this overthrow of their king and his host, the Egyptians interrupted them no more in the journeyings, convinced of the omnipotence of their Protector: and how strange, that after such displays of the justice and mercy of Jehovah, the Israelites should ever have been deficient in faith, or have given place to murmuring!
1. The events recorded in this chapter are truly astonishing; and they strongly mark what God can do, and what he will do, both against his enemies and in behalf of his followers. In vain are all the forces of Egypt united to destroy the Israelites: at the breath of God’s mouth they perish; and his feeble, discouraged, unarmed followers take the prey! With such a history before their eyes, is it not strange that sinners should run on frowardly in the path of transgression; and that those who are redeemed from the world, should ever doubt of the all-sufficiency and goodness of their God! Had we not already known the sequel of the Israelitish history, we should have been led to conclude that this people would have gone on their way rejoicing, trusting in God with their whole heart, and never leaning to their own understanding; but alas! we find that as soon as any new difficulty occurred, they murmured against God and their leaders, despised the pleasant land, and gave no credence to his word.
2. Their case is not a solitary one: most of those who are called Christians are not more remarkable for faith and patience. Every reverse will necessarily pain and discompose the people who are seeking their portion in this life. And it is a sure mark of a worldly mind, when we trust the God of Providence and grace no farther than we see the operations of his hand in our immediate supply; and murmur and repine when the hand of his bounty seems closed, and the influences of his Spirit restrained, though our unthankful and unholy carriage has been the cause of this change. Those alone who humble themselves under the mighty hand of God, shall be lifted up in due season. Reader, thou canst never be deceived in trusting thy all, the concerns of thy body and soul, to Him who divided the sea, saved the Hebrews, and destroyed the Egyptians.