Exo 14:5 And it was told the king of the Egyptians that the people was fled: and the heart of Pharaoh and of his servants was changed with regard to the people, and they said: What meant we to do, that we let Israel go from serving us?
the heart of Pharaoh and his servants was changed. Pharaoh decides to withdraw his permission for the Israelites to leave (see Ex 12:31-32). Here we again see the fickleness of Pharaoh and his servants, as we have previously (Ex 8:1-11; Ex 8:16-28; Ex 9:22-35; Ex 10:16-20).
What meant we to do, that we let Israel go from serving us? Picks up a key word in Exodus, עבד (‛âbad), which can mean work, service, slavery, affliction, worship. In a previous post, commenting on Exodus 1:14 I noted the following: work and service to Pharaoh’s designs were forced upon the people. Various forms of the Hebrew word עבד (‛âbad) are used here, denoting work and service. This forced work for Pharaoh and Egypt is to be seen in contrast to the work of service (i.e., worship) of God (Exodus 3:12, 7:16, 9:1, 9:13, 10:3, 10:24-26). In these latter passages various forms of the word עבד (‛âbad) are also used. Having finally allowed the Israelites to go and worship their God, the Pharaoh and his “servants” repentant, and want them back serving them.
Exo 14:6 So he made ready his chariot, and took all his people with him.
All his people. As the next verse makes clear, this is a reference to his entire army, not to all his subjects.
Exo 14:7 And he took six hundred chosen chariots, and all the chariots that were in Egypt: and the captains of the whole army.
Six hundred chosen chariots. The best he had. They were the most likely to make first contact with the fleeing Israelites. Besides these top-of-the-line vehicles he also took all of the chariots that were in Egypt, perhaps indicating his desperation to get the fleeing people back. The entire force of anti-God have mobilized, an image that would become very important in latter Jewish writings such as Esther, where a massive persecution of Jews arises, and in Judith, a story which portrays individuals and peoples-enemies of Israel-from different time periods of Israelite history as allied together to exterminate the people.
Exo 14:8 And the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and he pursued the children of Israel; but they were gone forth in a mighty hand.
The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh. There are 20 references to Pharaoh’s hard heart in Exodus 4-14, employing 3 different verbs. In some instances the hardening is attributed to God, in others to Pharaoh. Concerning this seeming inconsistency regarding the source of Pharaoh’s hard heart Walther Eichrodt writes: The remarkable thing, however, is that this never led to a flat determinism, depriving Man of the responsibility for his actions. At all times the capacity for self-determination is insistently retained. The whole ethical exhortation of the prophets is based on the conviction that decision is placed in the hands of men. But the Law too … rests on this presupposition. The fundamental postulate of moral freedom is thus found in equal force alongside the religious conviction of God’s effective action in all things; and no attempt is made to create a harmonizing adjustment between them. It is testimony to the compelling power of the Old Testament experience of God that it was able to affirm both realities at once, and to endure the tension between them, without discounting anything of their unconditional validity (Walther Eichrodt, 1961–1967: Theology of the Old Testament, Vol. 2:178–79. Philadelphia: Westminster.). For more on the subject of Pharaoh’s hard heart one can profitably consult Protestant scholar Victor P Hamilton’s HANDBOOK ON THE PENTATEUCH, pages 161-167.
They were gone forth in a mighty hand. The hand of God. The statement recalls several earlier passages, most notably Ex 7:3-5~He shall harden his heart…and I will lay my hand upon Egypt, and will bring forth my army and my people, the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt….and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, who have stretched forth my hand upon Egypt, and have brought forth the children of Israel out of the midst of them.
Exo 14:9 And when the Egyptians followed the steps of them who were gone before, they found them encamped at the sea side: all Pharaoh’s horse and chariots and the whole army were in Phihahiroth, before Beelsephon.
They found them encamped at the seaside. With the sea in front of them and Pharaoh’s army behind, they are in a tight and dangerous predicament, humanly speaking.
All Pharaoh’s horse and chariot and the whole army. Like verse 7, verse 9 emphasizes the size and might of Pharaoh’s army, but these references are ominously separated by verse 8, which speaks of God’s mighty hand directing his fleeing people.
Exo 14:10 And when Pharaoh drew near, the children of Israel lifting up their eyes, saw the Egyptians behind them: and they feared exceedingly, and cried to the Lord.
Exo 14:11 And they said to Moses: Perhaps there were no graves in Egypt, therefore thou hast brought us to die in the wilderness: why wouldst thou do this, to lead us out of Egypt?
Exo 14:12 Is not this the word that we spoke to thee in Egypt, saying: Depart from us, that we may serve the Egyptians? for it was much better to serve them, than to die in the wilderness.
And when Pharaoh drew near, the children of Israel…saw the Egyptians behind them, and they feared exceedingly, and cried to the Lord. The drawing near of Pharaoh has made the people forget that God has been leading them on their way, a point emphasized at the end of the previous chapter (Ex 13:17-22). As far as they are concerned, the only one who has been leading them is Moses and so they put this question to him (verse 11): Perhaps there were no graves in Egypt, therefore thou hast brought us to die in the wilderness: why wouldst thou do this, to lead us out of Egypt? They then fudge the truth of what had originally transpired (verse 12). Originally the people had been open to the mission of Moses: And Aaron spoke all the words which the Lord had said to Moses: and he wrought the signs before the people. And the people believed. And they heard that the Lord had visited the children of Israel, and that he had looked upon their affliction: and falling down they adored (Ex 4:30-31). Only latter, when Pharaoh increased his oppression did the people complain (Ex 5:21). As Pharaoh was fickle in regard to repentance, the people of God are here portrayed as fickle in regard to trust.
Exo 14:13 And Moses said to the people: Fear not: stand, and see the great wonders of the Lord, which he will do this day; for the Egyptians, whom you see now, you shall see no more for ever.
Exo 14:14 The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.
Fear not: stand. Moses appeals for trust.
The Lord will fight for you. In Exodus 13:17-22 the people were described as armed, and in 13:20 as an encampment (military term). God was portrayed as a general leading his army. Here he is portrayed as a warrior who will fight on their behalf. God as a warrior who fights for his people is a major motif of the Exodus traditions (see Ex 14:25; Ex 15:3; Deut 1:30; Deut 3:22;Josh 23:3). All of this should be seen in relation to verse 8 above, where Pharaoh’s military pursuit of Israel is juxtaposed with God’s mighty hand.
Exo 14:15 And the Lord said to Moses: Why criest thou to me? Speak to the children of Israel to go forward.
Exo 14:16 But lift thou up thy rod, and stretch forth thy hand over the sea, and divide it: that the children of Israel may go through the midst of the sea on dry ground.
And the Lord said to Moses: Why criest thou to me? Moses has apparently been interceding on behalf of the people, or, he brought before the Lord the complaint of the people and the question is directed to them through Moses.
Speak to the children of Israel. He is told by God to order the people forward (contrasting Moses’ word “stand” in verse 14). This contrast is a reminder that it is ultimately God, and not Moses, who is leading the people (recall the comments on verses 10-12) The rod through which God had worked so many powerful wonders will yet work another, dividing the sea so that the people may walk to its other side on dry ground.
But lift up thy rod, and stretch forth thy hand. The term used here for “lift up thy rod” is the same word translated earlier as God’s “mighty (i.e., uplifted) hand” (verse 8). Behind the hand of Moses that uplifted the rod is the might hand of God. Another reminder of what the people have forgotten in their accusations against Moses in verses 11-12.
Exo 14:17 And I will harden the heart of the Egyptians to pursue you: and I will be glorified in Pharaoh, and in all his host, and in his chariots and in his horsemen.
Exo 14:18 And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I shall be glorified in Pharaoh, and in his chariots, and in his horsemen.
God will go to war against all Pharaoh’s hosts (military personnel). Pharaoh’s chariots and horsemen are singled out, recalling verses 7 and 9 (see comments above).