Exodus 14:19-31

This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on September 17, 2017.

For the sake of contextual integrity, let us backtrack the events that have taken place since Exodus 12:1-14. God has enacted the tenth and final plague on the land of Egypt, resulting in the death of every firstborn person and animal whose doorposts and lintel is not covered by the blood of the sacrificial lamb. Now the promise of God to set the captives free unfolds, as Pharaoh and the Egyptians urge the Israelites to go away and carry their plunder with them. Yet, while the Israelites are making their way from Rameses to Succoth, several critical practices are outlined primarily for Israel’s remembrance. Remember the ordinance of the Passover and its significance as on this day the LORD brought you up out of the land of Egypt (Exodus 12:43-13:2). Enact the Festival of Unleavened Bread continually as a remembrance of how the LORD demonstrated His strength in providing your deliverance (Exodus 13:3-10). Consecrate your first born as a reminder to your children that you are here today only by the grace and strength of the LORD who brought you up out of Egypt (Exodus 13:11-16). Finally, just in case the people were subject to convenient amnesia, Yahweh provides pillars of clouds and fire to represent His presence that rests with them and leads them along the way (Exodus 13:17-22).

Armed with a plethora of devices to stimulate the Israelites’ senses for relating to Yahweh, the LORD makes an executive decision to reveal another aspect of His glory in yet another unexpected way. God orders an abrupt U-turn of the Israelite camp back towards Pharaoh and relays the end goal of His plan to His servant, Moses. It is here where the Israelites and we begin to experience the tension of the text. Now the narrator outlines two divergent plans, Yahweh’s and Pharaoh’s, making it obvious that a cataclysmic showdown is inevitable. It’s not long before Israel’s brain cramp sets in signaled by a murmuring motif aimed at Moses and ultimately at God. Moses, displaying potentially a measure of growth and positive leadership, addresses the people’s actions of fear opposed to their hyperboles of the “good life” lived in Egypt. In response to the implicit prayers of Moses towards Yahweh, God recapitulates His plan for the Israelites and conveys to Moses that prayer time is over, now is the time for praxis (faith placed into action).

It’s here that we meet our text embedded with irony and contrasts, Exodus 14:19-31 (compare Psalm 78:13-14, 52-53; 106:7-12), as every move of the Egyptians, becomes subservient to Yahweh’s plan. God takes the lead in orchestrating a tactical adjustment of His presence in relation to Israel and the pursuing army of Pharaoh. Once again, Yahweh displays His perpetual Passover of “protection” by separating Israel from its foes, and in enigmatic fashion, the cloud serves as both darkness and light throughout the night. (Exodus 14:19-20). Via an announcement-fulfillment pattern, we witness the simultaneous two-pronged execution of the LORD’s plan. Moses plays out his role of obedience by stretching out his hand towards the Sea of Reeds (Exodus 14:21). Meanwhile, the LORD delivers a strong east wind to gather the waters in an organized fashion reminiscent of the creation (Genesis 1:2, 9) and Noah’s ark (Genesis 8:1). Now that God has demonstrated that the impossible is possible, as the Israelites cross the sea on dry ground, the fear of the Egyptians serves as a proxy for fear of the Israelites as witnessed in Exodus 14:10. From the voice of the Israelites’ enemies (Exodus 14:25), Moses’ earlier claims of Yahweh fighting on behalf of the people (Exodus 14:14) are substantiated. In Exodus 14:29, the miraculous delivery of Israel is contrasted with the devastating destruction of the Egyptians. Exodus 14:30-31 serve as an epilogue summarizing the aforementioned events echoing the refrain of the LORD’s glory being manifested through Israel’s deliverance. The end result, Israel fears Yahweh and reaffirms their faith in Him and Moses, His servant.

When preaching the text, themes of remembrance, faith, hope, deliverance, and judgment come to mind. While the subsequent chapter carries the tune of joyous praise and worship towards God, we know that this mountain top moment is only temporary. Eventually faith, absent a focus on remembrance, produces indifference for the Israelites. In response to the perpetual shortcomings of Israel’s faith journey cataloged in the Exodus, the New Testament interpretation of the Exodus tends to point to the role of Christ in fulfilling the promise of salvation (Acts 13:13-52; Matthew 2:15; 1 Corinthians 10). In his commentary on Exodus, Brevard S. Childs asserts the Exodus is also a warning for our contemporary culture as “[the church] now lives still in the desert somewhere between the Red Sea and the Jordan.” In our rearview mirror, there lies the deliverance from the bondage of Egypt, while before us remains the hope of our promised inheritance. What seas has God delivered us from and how are we passing this revelation of God’s glory on in our congregations and even more so to future generations? How do we, the Church, hold on to the manifestation of God’s glory from the past, while maintaining a contemporary relevance that echoes the past, present, and future aspects of God’s eternal existence?

In a day and time where many are seeking ways to live out their Christian faith in conjunction with being a catalyst for social change, perhaps Alison Phipps’ article, Exodus 14:19-31, provides consideration. Alison raises a tension between the actions of violence in Exodus 14:19-31 in relation to Jesus’ teachings on forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-22). In doing so, she lifts up Moses as a model for non-violent servant leadership that holds true to an active faith in God.



Arbra L. Bailey
National Director of African American Relations
Compassion International in Colorado Springs, Colorado




Tags:  The Red Sea, Sea of Reeds, Pharaoh, Moses, Remembrance, Deliverance




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