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—AUGUST 17.—EXODUS 14:19-31.—
"Before they call, I will answer."—Isaiah 65:24 .
THE Bible story of Israel's miraculous crossing of the Red Sea, which later overwhelmed the Egyptian army, has long been questioned by agnostics, who also question the large number ascribed to the Israelites—600,000 men, implying a total of 2,000,000 or more. However, the Bible finally is triumphing. Mistranslations and failure properly to interpret figures of speech were the basis of our misunderstandings.
Prof. Flinders Petrie calls attention to the fact that the Hebrew word alaf is used in the Scriptures sometimes to mean a thousand and at other times to signify a group, families, or tents, very much in the same way that we use the word regiment as signifying a group of a thousand men, yet often far less in number, especially after a battle. Thus understood, the record, "Judah 74,600," would read, "Judah, seventy-four families, or tents, with six hundred men in all"; "so they set forward, every one after their families, according to the house of their fathers."—Num. 2:34.
Thus reckoned, the entire hosts of the Israelites who left Egypt—men, women and children—might be estimated at about 30,000. Even this was a goodly host to be the descendants of Jacob in but little more than two centuries. That the Israelites were very prolific was evidenced by the Egyptian decree which sought to destroy their children, fearful that eventually they would outnumber the Egyptians.
A miracle is not necessarily a violation of a law of Nature. A wonder, an unusual occurrence, indicating an interposition of Divine Power in human affairs, would be a miracle, even though it conformed to natural laws. God rarely works miracles except where there is a necessity.
Three roads led out of Egypt in the direction of Palestine; but as a military wall extended from the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea to protect against invading armies, these roads had access into Egypt only through strong and guarded iron gates.
One of these roads led through the country of the Philistines, to pass through which so large a body of people would have been prohibited. The second road led through a sandy desert and would have been entirely unsuitable, furnishing no provender nor water. The third road was the one which the Israelites took, leading through the wild mountain regions of Sinai, where they found pasturage.
After the death of Egypt's first-borns and the beginning of Israel's Exodus, several days elapsed before they reached the Red Sea. Meantime, Pharaoh and his people had measurably received from their mourning. Pharaoh perceived that the Israelites, while given the opportunity of leaving Egypt, had wandered about as though undecided which road to take. He concluded that they would be weary of their new freedom and their travelling, and that it would be an easy matter to bring them back. The gates of the wall were ordered closed, and several hundred chariots and footmen were sent to pursue.
Meantime, the Israelites had passed between two mountain ranges, up against the northern arm of the Red Sea—the Gulf of Suez. Apparently the Israelites had gone into a pen, from which there was no escape. Divine providence arranged that a heavy pillar of cloud, or fog, hovered over the camp of the Egyptians, while there was a bright light in the camp of the Israelites. Thus the Egyptians were delayed, and the Israelites moved on until they came to the Sea, and beheld that they were hemmed in. Then they cried to the Lord and to Moses, discouraged, requesting to be permitted to return to Egyptian bondage. They favored a surrender on good terms rather than a conflict.
But the word of the Lord through Moses was that the people should be of good courage, and that soon they would see that Jehovah God would bring them deliverance from their troubles and from their enemies. Meantime, the wind had begun to blow from the north, and gradually the waters receded to the southward, uncovering a ledge and sand bar, upon which the Israelites crossed to the other side. The befogged Egyptians followed them, possibly without realizing that they were passing on land usually covered by water.
As they progressed into the moist sand, the Egyptians experienced fresh difficulties. Chariot wheels became clogged, horses went more slowly, then balked, wheels broke, etc., until the Egyptians began to reason the matter out and decided that, in the figurative language of that time, God had looked upon them with an evil eye out of the pillar of cloud. Possibly there was some manifestation, such as a lightning flash. They concluded to turn backward and give up the chase. Meantime, the direction of the wind had changed, and it was now coming from the south. Before they could extricate themselves, the water was upon them; they were in a quagmire, and were soon overwhelmed.
There is nothing in this account to stagger faith. The United States Government Reports show that the waters of Lake Erie have varied as much as fifteen feet at Toledo, by reason of the change of wind, and without any special hurricane. The thing that has staggered our faith in the past was the statement that the Sea constituted a wall on either side of the Israelites as they crossed over. But the word wall in its broadest sense merely signifies barricade. In the same sense we might say that the United States has the Atlantic Ocean as a protective wall on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other.
Thus we see that if the Bible is interpreted with a little common sense it is entirely reasonable. More and more Bible students are learning not only of its reasonableness, but also of its wealth of riches of knowledge and wisdom from on High.
The cloudy pillar, or mist, which gave light to the Israelites at night, but darkness to the Egyptians, is spoken of as being the Angel of the Lord, or as though the Angel of the Lord were in it. We are to bear in mind, however, the broad meaning of the word angel. It signifies messenger. In general, spirit beings are Jehovah's messengers in human affairs. Sometimes, however, human beings are His messengers, as for instance, the Apostle declares that all of God's consecrated people are God's ambassadors, ministers, servants.
But the word angel is Scripturally used in a still broader sense—as signifying the exercise of Divine Power in connection with human affairs. Thus St. Paul writes that God "maketh His angels spirits, and His ministers a flame of fire." (Heb. 1:7.) Thus, for instance, the messenger of the Lord smote the army of Sennacherib with death, as this lesson recounts that Pharaoh's army was smitten.
It matters little whether the Scriptures refer to the [R5278 : page 217] forces used as being the angel of the Lord, or whether they mean that the angel of the Lord had charge of and used the forces which operated. The effect would be the same in either case. God's Power would be equally manifested, whether directly through the elements of nature or through the intermediary of a spirit being, commanding the forces of nature in the name and power of Jehovah.
There are valuable lessons for the Christian in connection with the manifestations of Divine Power on behalf of typical Israel. These lessons suggest that the same God is no less willing and no less able to deliver the Spiritual Israelites from their bondage to sin and Satan, and is no less able to provide a way of escape, even through bloody seas of difficulties.
There is a lesson, also, for us in respect to the interpretation of God's Word. As we see it beginning more and more to open up unto us with clearness, simplicity, beauty, let it increase our faith in God and in the revelations which He has made through the Prophets of old, as well as through the words of Jesus and the inspired Apostles.
As God had already arranged Israel's affairs before they knew about their difficulties, and perceived that they were hemmed in on every side, so the same God foreknows all of our difficulties and has arrangements made for our relief and deliverance, and is merely waiting for us to appreciate the situation and to cry unto Him in faith. "Before they call, I will answer." Another thought is, sometimes we come to the very end of all human possibilities. Then, and not till then, should we apply the words of Moses to ourselves: "Stand still, and see the salvation of Jehovah."