THE PURSUIT BY PHARAOH AND THE PASSAGE OF THE RED SEA.
(2) Speak unto the children of Israel, that they turn.—The march of the Israelites had been hitherto almost due south-east. They had reached the edge of the desert (Exodus 13:20), near the head of the Bitter Lakes. If this direction had been maintained, their next day’s march would have taken them out of Egypt into the “wilderness of Etham”—a desolate tract, in which there was no water, and probably scarcely any herbage. The Bitter Lakes would have been upon their right hand, and, so far as the Egyptians were concerned, they would have been in safety. But at this point an express command was given them to “turn.” Kaiisch, Rosenmüller, and others understand this as a command to “return,” or “retrace their steps;” but this is clearly not what was intended, since their march was to bring them to “the sea,” which they had not reached previously. The question arises, What sea? Brugsch suggests the Mediterranean; but it is against this that the Mediterranean has not yet been mentioned in Exodus, and that, when mentioned, it is not as “the sea,” but as “the sea of the Philistines” (Exodus 23:31). “The sea” of this verse can scarcely be different from “the Red Sea” of Exodus 13:18, the only sea previously mentioned by the writer. To reach this sea it was necessary that they should deflect their course to the right, from south-east to south, so keeping within the limits of Egypt, and placing the Bitter Lakes on their left hand.
Pi-hahiroth . . . Migdol . . . Baal-zephon.—These places cannot be identified. They were Egyptian towns or villages of no importance, near the head of the Gulf of Suez, situated on its western shores. The names nearest to Pi-hahiroth in Egyptian geography are Pehir and Pehuret. Migdol would, in Egyptian, be Maktal; and there was an Egyptian town of that name near Pelusium, which, however, cannot be intended in this place. Baal-zephon was probably a Semitic settlement, which had received its name from some worshippers of the god Baal. Eastern Egypt contained many such settlements. The accumulation of names indicates an accurate acquaintance with Egyptian topography, such as no Israelite but one who had accompanied the expedition is likely to have possessed.
dynasty. Diodorus Siculus assigns to his Sesostris (probably Rameses II.) a force of 27,000 chariots; but this is, no doubt, an exaggeration. The largest number of chariots brought together on any one occasion that is sufficiently attested, is believed by the present writer to be 3,940, which were collected by various confederates against an Assyrian king (Ancient Monarchies, vol. ii, p. 103, Note). In 1 Samuel 13:5, 30,000 chariots are mentioned, no doubt by some numerical error. A force of 2,500 is said by Rameses II. to have been brought against him in his great Hittite campaign (Records of the Past, vol. ii., pp. 69, 71). Sheshonk I. (Shishak) invaded Judaea with 1,200 (2 Chronicles 12:3). The “six hundred chosen chariots” of the present passage are thus quite within the limits of probability. Most likely they constituted a division of the royal guard, and were thus always at the king’s disposal.
And all the chariots of Egypt.—The word “all” must not be pressed. The writer means “all that were available—that could be readily summoned.” These could only be the chariots of Lower Egypt—those stationed at Memphis, Heliopolis, Bubastis, Pithom, Sebennytus perhaps, and Pelusium. They would probably amount to several hundreds.
Captains over every one of them.—Rather, over the whole of them. These “captains” are again mentioned in Exodus 15:4. The word in the original—a derivative from the numeral three—is supposed to have meant, primarily, “persons occupying the third rank below the king.”
With an high hand—i.e., confidently, boldly, perhaps somewhat proudly, as having brought the Egyptians to entreat them to take their departure (Exodus 12:33).
And his horsemen.—It is questioned whether “horsemen” are really intended here, and suggested that the word used may apply to the “riders” in the chariots. But it certainly means “horsemen” in the later books of Scripture, and, indeed, is the only Hebrew word having exactly that signification. Though the Egyptians do not represent cavalry in any of their battle pieces, yet there is abundant testimony that they employed them. Diodorus Siculus gives his Sesostris 24,000 cavalry to 27,000 chariots (Book i. 54, § 4). Shishak invaded Judæa with 60,000 (2 Chronicles 12:3). Herodotus makes Amasis lead an army on horseback (ii. 162). The Egyptian monuments appear to make frequent mention of cavalry as forming a portion of the armed force. (Records of the Past, vol. ii., pp. 68, 70, 72, 83, &c, vol. iv., 41, 44, 45, &c.) It is suspected that some conventional rules of art prevented the representation of cavalry in the sculptures, which never show us an Egyptian, and but rarely a foreigner, on horseback.
And his army—i.e., his infantry. The host of this Pharaoh, like that of Shishak (2 Chronicles 12:3), consisted apparently of the three arms, cavalry infantry, and chariots.
The children of Israel cried out unto the Lord.—If Israel had been unduly timid—which we have shown not to have been the case—at any rate they knew where to make their appeal for succour. There is no help like that of Jehovah.
The Egyptians whom ye have seen . . . —Heb., As ye have seen the Egyptians to-day, ye shall see them no more for ever: i.e., never again shall ye see them in the pride of power, haughty, menacing, terrible. When next you behold them they will be stiff and lifeless—pale corpses strewing the Red Sea shore (see Exodus 14:30). The reference is to the present time only, not to the future relations of the two peoples.
The waters were divided.—The waters of the Bitter Lakes were for a time separated completely from those of the Red Sea. By gradual elevation and desiccation the channel over which the Israelites passed has probably now become dry land.
(23) All Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen.—The chariot and cavalry force alone entered the sea, not the infantry. (Comp, Exodus 14:28 and Exodus 15:1.) The point is of importance as connected with the question whether the Pharaoh himself perished. If all his force entered, he could not well have stayed behind; if only a portion, he might have elected to remain with the others. Menephthah, the probable Pharaoh of the Exodus, was apt to consult his own safety. (Records of the Past, vol. iv., pp. 44-45.)
There remained not so much as one of them.—The armour of an Egyptian warrior would make it impossible for him to escape by swimming from such a catastrophe. All who were caught by the tide would certainly be drowned. The question whether the Pharaon was drowned or no cannot be ruled by the expression here used, nor by any parallel one in the Psalms (Psalm 78:53; Psalm 106:11); it depends on more general considerations. In the first place, is it likely that if the Pharaoh had been killed there would have been no explicit mention of it? Would the point have remained one open to question? Secondly, if the Pharaoh had been killed, would the Egyptian annals have retained no trace of it? Must we not have had some account of a great king cut off in the flower of his age, after a reign of two, or at the most three, years? (Comp. Exodus 2:23; Exodus 4:19, &c.) But Menephthah, to whom all the indications point, reigned at least eight years. The latter part of his reign was inglorious, and he left the empire a prey to pretenders; but he was not suddenly cut off after reigning a year or two. Thirdly, was an Egyptian king sure to lead an attack, and place himself in the position of most peril? This has been asserted, and it is so far true, that most Egyptian kings, according to the records which they have left of themselves, so acted. But it happens that Menephthah records it of himself that on one great occasion, at any rate, he kept himself out of danger. His country was invaded by a vast army of Libyans and others from the northwest in the fifth year of his reign; the assailants menaced his chief cities, and the peril was great. Menephthah collected all his forces to meet the danger, but declined to lead them out in person, pretending that one of the Egyptian gods, Phthah, had forbidden him to quit Memphis (Brugsch, History of Egypt, vol. ii., p. 119). It is thus quite probable that he would remain with the reserve of footmen when the chariots and horsemen entered the bed of the sea.