“Keep on toward the east!” Pharaoh shouted from the floor of the Red Sea. “The Israelites are just ahead! We can overcome them within the hour!” That was one of the last sentences Pharaoh uttered.
While the Egyptians were struggling in the slippery mud, the last parts of the Israelite columns were coming up out of the gulf of the Red Sea. A mounted messenger was sent ahead with the information that all the people had reached the east shore of the gulf. As soon as Moses had received the news, God spoke to him, telling him to stretch his hands and shepherd’s rod out toward the sea so that the parted waters would merge. Moses halted the movement of the people, and went to the shore to obey God’s instructions (Ex. 14:26).
At that same time, in the deepest part of the Red Sea gulf, thousands of frantic Egyptian soldiers struggled through the knee-deep mud to get back to the west back of the gulf. Chariots were left behind. Riderless horses floundered helplessly in the mire. Yelling in terror, the Egyptians crawled and pawed over one another in their wild efforts to get back to the west beach. From his royal chariot Pharaoh tried to keep on issuing orders for his men to pursue the Israelites. But no one heeded his commands. The king of Egypt became furious, screeching orders at the top of his voice. It was impossible to be heard above the tumult. And even if the soldiers could have heard their commander, they wouldn’t have obeyed.
It was then that God allowed the divided waters to flow together. Imagine, if you can, two invisible walls three or four hundred feet high holding water that deep. Think what would happen if these invisible walls, hundreds of feet apart, were suddenly snatched away to let two bodies of water rush together.
The lofty waters thundered together with such force and fury and sound that the entire Egyptian army was crushed to death as instantly as a stream from a fire hose would drown mosquitoes (v. 27).
This was the abrupt end of the man who had planned to wipe out the people God had chosen for a special task in His plan for things to come. This was sudden death for thousands who had a part in Pharaoh’s efforts to enslave or destroy the Israelites. Probably that Egyptian king was born for the very purpose of troubling the Israelites. God used him for a purpose, even permitting the king to be more stubborn than usual. Nevertheless, Pharaoh himself chose to get revenge on the Israelites by his own free will. As a result, not one of the pursuing Egyptians escaped the awesome destruction by two bodies of water smashing together like the jaws of a gigantic vise (v. 28).
The Israelites, moving slowly to the south along the east side of the Red Sea gulf, had been startled to see the water suddenly recede from the shore and move northward like the current of a swift river.
Suddenly there had been a thunderous roar. A long, frothy curtain of water had spewed skyward all along the area where the Israelites had walked through the Red Sea. By that time they had moved too far away to see that this up shooting sheet of water hurled men, horses and chariots high into the air where the two parts of the sea water collided.
The astonished Israelites had no idea that their pursuers were being crushed and drowned by that massive clash of waters. But the sea became so turbulent that soon great waves started crashing up on shore. Up from those waves came objects that caused many of the Israelites to turn aside and hurry to the beaches to see what the waves had washed onto land.
“Bodies!” some of the foremost to the beach exclaimed. “Bodies of people!” “Egyptian soldiers!”
That was the remark that fell from the lips of many astonished Israelites (v. 30). Not until then did the Israelites begin to realize that the Egyptian army had been right behind them as they passed through the Red Sea, and that Pharaoh’s fighting force had been caught in the tremendous collision of the parts of the sea that had been divided.
Realizing at last what had happened, the Israelites were greatly impressed by this miracle God had provided for their protection, and a great feeling of thankfulness welled up in most of them (v. 31).
Corpses weren’t all that the waves brought up. Thousands of dead horses soon littered the shore. Even heavy chariots were thrust up on the beaches. When the people examined the chariots they found that many of them contained knives, swords and shields. They took all these things, along with spears and other weapons washed in from the sea. Inasmuch as most of the Israelites had left Egypt with very few necessities, here was their opportunity to also obtain clothes, leather harnesses, tools and numerous other items lost by the destroyed Egyptian army. Thus the Israelites were supplied, through the drowning of the Egyptian army, with many of the things they needed for their trip to come – a trip that was to last much, much longer than they imagined.
Because of their huge numbers and because they were spread out over so much territory, not all of the Israelites were close enough to the sea to witness the huge waves and what the churning waters washed ashore. Word quickly spread to all the people. When the news reached Moses, he wasn’t surprised. Because of his close connection with God, he knew what to expect. His main concern was to give thanks to the One who had kept the Israelites safe.
Moses sent word for all the Israelites to assemble as closely together as possible for the purpose of thanking their Creator for completely freeing them from the Egyptians.
Back in those days, as well as now, there were people who had great ability to produce beautiful music, and others who could write well-chosen words to go with the music. Such talented ones, inspired by God’s mighty deeds, quickly produced a wonderful song for the Israelites to sing. Probably Moses was among those who hastily created this song. You will remember that he was raised by an Egyptian princess, and was well-trained in culture.
Millions of people gathered together over hundreds of acres to sing praise to God or to listen to the singing. The song was started by Moses. He sang a few words, then hesitated while those around him repeated the words and tune. Moses then sang a few more words and the people again repeated while their leader hesitated. This went on until the whole song had been sung in praise to God for the wonderful things He had done for the Israelites.
It might seem impossible that such a vast host of people, scattered over many miles, could successfully sing together. Probably not all of the Israelites sang. Those thousands closest to Moses raised their voices in such tremendous volume that the crowds far beyond them were able to hear and appreciate the song. Possibly the most distant parts of the crowd repeated the words and music they had heard from those nearest Moses, so that the music swelled up from different areas of the crowd at different times without confusion.
In any event, it was probably the greatest and loudest mass display of gratitude ever to come from man to God (Ex. 15:1-19).
Strong male voices, accompanied by horns, flutes and other wind and string instruments, were joined by the voices of women and the rhythmic beat of their tambourines. Miriam, a sister of Aaron, led the Israelite women in a graceful dance. This woman had long before been chosen to lead and instruct the women in many things. Now she directed the female dancing in a way that was pleasing to God (vs. 20-21).
Later, in preparing to travel on, the Israelites watered their animals from the full wells in that area. They also filled their gourds and leather water bottles with the precious liquid that was so scarce in the arid regions into which they would travel.
The people now moved on to the south, following the cloud and gradually edging away from the east shore of the Red Sea gulf. This led them into a region where there was mile upon mile of sand dunes. All day long they slipped and skidded through the shifting sands. It was a hot day. They consumed a great part of the water they had brought, but this didn’t concern most of them because they believed that water would be available at a place they would reach at the end of the day.
But when darkness came on and it was necessary to camp, there were no signs of wells, springs or streams.
Next day, traveling in the heat of the desert, the water supply dwindled swiftly. The people used up most of what they were carrying, and there was little or none for their animals. By nightfall there was no sign of water. Again they camped on the warm sands of the desert, then started out into a third hot day without enough water for themselves or their animals. Many of them began to doubt that they could get through the day on what little water was left (v. 22). Somehow a rumor became started that by sundown they would reach a place where there was plenty of water. This bolstered the hopes of the worried Israelites. Late that afternoon their hopes began to be realized. The first columns of the caravan arrived at a place called Marah. Palm trees and other lush vegetation indicated that water must be present.
The first men to enter the green area were overjoyed to see quite a large pool of clear, sparkling water. In the middle of the pool it gushed out of the ground in a cool, splashing geyser. Men rushed to the pool to fall face down and gulp the cooling, life-giving liquid. But their joy was cut short. They spewed the water out of their mouths and struggled to their feet.
“It’s bitter!” someone shouted. “We can’t drink this!” “Perhaps it’s poisonous,” someone else remarked as he continued spitting.
Regardless of the remarks of the first tasters, Israelites by the thousands milled around the place where the water gushed from the ground. But all who tasted agreed that it was far too bitter for people or animals to swallow (v. 23).
Having become accustomed to the unusually fine flavor of the water of the Nile, the Israelites began to bitterly complain that they would die of thirst unless better water could quickly be found.
“Moses has led us into this hopeless and miserable situation,” was the comment that began to come from many Israelites. This ill feeling against Moses blossomed out to such an extent that Moses’ officers reluctantly reported it to him. Moses was disappointed and discouraged that millions of people blamed him for the fact that the water at Marah was bitter (v. 24).
Realizing that something had to be done at once, Moses called on God for help. “There is a tree growing just outside your tent,” God told Moses. “Cut it down and throw it into the pool where the water gushes out of the ground.”
Moses obeyed. People who were gathered around the water hole thought it very strange that their leader should walk up and toss a small tree into the pool. This strange act must have caused some to lose even more faith in Moses as a leader.
Meanwhile, hordes of people continued pressing in to taste the water that was causing such dissatisfaction. All of them, annoyed at the taste of the water, spit it out in disgust.
However, after Moses threw the tree into the pool, the water tasters began to change their attitudes.
“I do not find this water bitter,” remarked one who had just arrived. “Why are people complaining that it doesn’t taste good?”
From that moment on the complaints against the water were wiped out by the happy remarks of thousands upon thousands who arrived to obtain water, Hordes of people and their flocks began an almost endless movement up to the pool which had suddenly and miraculously given out water that wasn’t bitter (v. 25).
It quickly became plain to the Israelites that God had performed another miracle by causing the water at Marah to become sweet and pleasant to drink.
This was another test for Moses, who once again had to rely entirely on God for help during a trying time. God spoke to Moses, telling him to tell the people that if they would carefully obey their Creator, he would keep them free of the many diseases that He had brought on the Egyptians.
“I am your healer,” God said, “Keep my commandments and I will keep you healthy” (v. 26).
Since that time, only a very small part of this world’s inhabitants have observed God’s laws. But those who have done so have been able to claim that promise God made to the Israelites. God has protected and healed multitudes of such faithful people.
Today, in all this world, commandment-keeping people number only in the thousands, whereas there are many, many millions of so-called Christians. Those relative few who keep God’s laws still are claiming that ancient promise, and are enjoying the miracles of protection and healing from a merciful and loving Creator.
Within only a few years from now, however, millions upon millions of people will turn to keeping God’s laws. When they do, good heath, prosperity and happiness will rapidly spread throughout the Earth.
Refreshed with water and rest, the Israelites later set out southward. Still in desert land, many of them wondered how soon they would reach fresh water again. They journeyed many miles through the hot, arid land. Then, to their relief, they arrived at a place called Elim, where there was even more green vegetation than there was at Marah (v. 27).
They camped for several days at Elim. Strange as it may seem, there were twelve wells there – one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel. Furthermore, there were just seventy palm trees – the exact number of Israelites elders. After leaving Elim, the people continued southward over a vast desert area. By then it was about a month since they had left the Nile region, and their food was beginning to run low (Ex. 16:1). Even though sheep, goats and cattle could have been slaughtered for food, the Israelites began to complain that Moses and Aaron had brought them into the desert to starve.
This feeling against their leaders became so strong that soon Moses heard about it from some of his officers (v. 2). “Bring some of these complainers to me,” Moses told his officers.
A few men who claimed they were spokesmen for the people were brought before Moses and Aaron and some of the elders.
“Why are the people saying that we have brought them out into the desert to starve?” Moses asked them.
“There is no more food,” one of the spokesmen muttered bitterly. “The grain we brought from Egypt is almost gone. So is our oil. We will soon have nothing with which to make bread!”
“Why not use some of your flocks for food?” Moses asked. “If we eat up our animals, how shall we start our livestock ranches where we are going?” queried another spokesman in a sarcastic tone.
“Our people are unhappy,” another spoke up. “We feel that it would have been better to die along with the Egyptians than to wander around out in the desert and run out of food” (v. 3).
“That’s right!” one of the spokesmen answered. “We worked hard back there. But we had plenty to eat. The Egyptians gave us all the meat we wanted. We had enough bread and other good things, too. Out here, all we have to look forward to is day after day of marching in the hot desert, only to die under the scorching sun when our food is completely gone.”
Moses was again disappointed and discouraged, just as he had been several times before when the Israelites had become upset and unreasonable.
“I told you before that God will protect and take care of us.” Moses told the spokesmen from the Israelites. “He hasn’t failed us and he won’t fail us. Go tell that to the people. And tell them to stop complaining against their Creator, who is giving them life from day to day!”
Moses took the matter to God at once, asking Him for help in handling the unruly and unreasonable Israelites. As usual, God acted to aid his servant Moses.
“I have heard the people complaining,” God told Moses. “To remind them that I am mindful of their needs, I shall give them flesh in the evening, and in the morning bread from heaven will come down for them. I want them to learn to be obedient and to depend on Me for help. Therefore from morning to morning, through a miracle, I shall give them what they require to keep alive. Each day they must gather only what they need of this special bread for that day. On the sixth day of the week, the day before my holy Sabbath, they must gather twice as much. Then they may grind it for meal, bake it or cook it for eating the next day” (Ex. 16:4-5).
God gave Moses other instructions for keeping the people under control. Moses passed these things on to Aaron, who spoke to thousands upon thousands of persons who had been told to gather together to hear messages that had come from God (v. 6-9).
“Either you have already forgotten the great things God has done for us,” Aaron said to the crowds, “or you seem to think that your Creator’s power is quite limited. You have been blaming Moses and your elders and me for bringing you here, and for the many miseries that exist mainly in your imaginations. Very soon you will see something that will remind you that our loving powerful God is the real leader of this journey from Egypt. Instead of complaining, you should be thankful for the kindness, mercy and patience He has shown toward all of us.”
Even as Aaron spoke, shouts of excitement welled up from the crowd. People began pointing to that mysterious cloud that had guided them. It was off to the southeast, hanging over the desert (v. 10).
One might think that the very presence of that cloud, changing to fire at night, was enough to keep the people in awe of God. But most of the Israelites had become spiritually dulled from years of servitude and slipping away from the truth of things that were important. They were filled with awe when they walked across the bottom of the Red Sea – but not for long. They were wide-eyed with wonderment when they first saw the guiding cloud which became a pillar of fire. But after a month of seeing it, it became as common to them as the sun or the moon. What impressed the Israelites most were the material things that gave them relief from their strong physical needs and desires. Other things didn’t matter much to them.
Once again, however, they were filled with awe when they gazed up at the cloud. Its vapors were moving and tumbling in a peculiar, rhythmic fashion. Here and there an opening appeared in the cloud, releasing dazzling beams of light in all colors.
While over two million people gazed in astonishment, the shape of the cloud kept changing, and with each change there was some other beautiful display of light. At times the cloud glittered as though it were a pulsating mountain of diamonds. Then it would turn into moving ribbons of brilliant color, cascading masses of dazzling sparks or swirling flashes of multi-colored flame!
To most of the Israelites this was nothing more than an amazing display of God’s power. Hearts beat faster in awe and excitement. But it wasn’t until the cloud became a glowing mass bright as the sun that the people became startled and afraid. Many of them drew back in fear, shrinking from the blinding light. A loud, booming crash like that of intense thunder, roared out of the cloud. Many of the people shuddered in alarm when this deafening clap of noise occurred. It lasted for many seconds, and it sounded like the bass voice of a tremendous giant muttering words of warning the people couldn’t quite understand. Gradually, then, the rumble and the light faded away, and there again was the cloud floating peacefully over the desert.
The awed throng was silent. Probably there wasn’t to be found even one person among the millions, right then, who had the slightest desire to complain about anything.
Be watching for the next installment of The Story of the Bible. Follow the Israelites on their journey to the Promised Land.