The Timing of the Plagues
Here we shall consider the actual time span of the Plagues. We can’t absolutely nail this calendar to the wall but there is evidence which gives us hints by which we can draw some conclusions.
First the last plague is clearly identified as occurring in the month of Abib, (Exodus 13:40) and the Passover was on the fourteenth day of that month. (Exodus 12:6) the month of Abib overlapped the end of March and the first part of April. This would make the end of Abib about the end of March.
For agricultural reasons the plague of hail occurred about mid-January. The plague of locusts that devoured the wheat would have been four to eight weeks later. This would have been between mid-February and mid-March. It had to be early enough in that period to allow for the plague of darkness to intervene between this and the plague of death.
The only other plague that gives us any indication of time is the first one, when the water of the Nile was transformed. This was the time when the annual flood was expected, as seems likely, this would have been sometime between June and October. Occurring when the snows melted in the highlands of Ethiopia, the more likely time would have been at the beginning of this period.
If this is correct the overall time of the plagues would have stretched from June of one year to the end of March in the next. The first plague could have been a little later but could hardly have been any earlier. The period of the plagues would have been ten months at the most and possibly a little bit less.
The plagues accomplished their purpose. Both Israel and Egypt had learned the sovereign power of God. Israel was delivered from the slavery they had drifted into, but only by the redemptive act of God. As free men, Israel no longer had to depend on a faith which had been passed on by their fathers. They had been given a historical experience with the living God. It was to this experience that they always looked back. It was to this experience that the prophets always called them back when they strayed away in the future.
Crises That Cripple Faith
Exodus 14:1 to 18:27
The night of death should have been the end of Egypt’s involvement with the Israelites. It would have seemed to be the ultimate event of God’s deliverance of Israel from Egyptian slavery; but it was not the end. The final, climactic deliverance took place at the sea. In typical human reactions Israel constantly forgot the oppressions of Egypt, only to remember the security Egypt had given.
When Israel marched out of Egypt they were filled with hope. But it was not long before their hope was replaced with despair. Between the night of the final plague and the day they arrived at Sinai, they were faced by a series of crises that crippled their faith and undermined their hope.
The Israelites were not only led away from the coastal highway; (Exodus 13:17) they were next told to “turn back” from the natural caravan routes into the Sinai Peninsula. It was apparent that God was planning to lead them along a less used path to Sinai. Pi-ha-hi’roth is a typical Egyptian name referring to a place of meadows, a town in a grassy region, presumably near Goshen. Migdol means watchtower and probably referred to some border fortress. Several towns with such names are known. Ba’al-zephon means “Baal of the north,” a reference to a town dedicated to the Canaanite god Baal.
The reason given for this change was an enticement to Pharaoh. This wandering as they march forth would have made the king think that they were lost in the wilderness. This apparent helplessness and hopelessness of Israel would serve to make God’s final victory even more magnificent.
We can be sure that Pharaoh’s scouts were keeping watch on the Israelites and their progress. No king can afford to have a large group of people wandering around in or near his land without his being constantly aware of it. Israel’s seemingly helplessness and their nearness was to great a temptation for Pharaoh. Pharaoh decided to pursue them in order to bring them back. Pharaoh had yet to learn that his real adversary was Yahweh and not Israel. Israel was weak but God was not.
The purpose of this whole ordeal was that God should be glorified by His mighty act, once and for all; Israel should experience the sovereign, redemptive power of God. Every act in this divine act of redemption had been for the purpose of serving as a witness to God. It was the intended result that everyone involved should experience God. That they would know the redemptive nature of God was the ultimate purpose. Men were to learn who God is by what He did.
The opening verse can be misleading, “When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled.” Pharaoh had not only given the Israelites permission to go he had ordered them to go. With the reports of their progress, or lack of it, coming back to him, he had become to realize they had really left. The Israelites were gone for good and with them a major source of cheap labor. As the economic consequences of their departure began to sink home, both Pharaoh and his people regretted their action of releasing the Hebrews from slavery.
The seeming apparent wandering of the Israelites provided an opportunity for Pharaoh and he decided to pursue them. Pharaoh’s intention was not to fight them, as he would have done with an invading army. His intent was to recapture them. Pharaoh’s actions were more of a police action seeking escaped prisoners than a military action. Pharaoh made ready his own chariot and took his people with him. Pharaoh did not take a slow moving army with him that would not be effective in rounding up fleeing slaves. He took fast moving chariots that could overtake and round up the slaves on the edge of the wilderness.
Pharaoh took his choicest chariots, which were the best for the desert pursuit he anticipated. They would be able to move quickly without problems of supply. If Pharaoh had taken a major army, it would have taken more planning and sacrificed speed in movement. So Pharaoh took his best chariots and best chariot crews, as he intended for nothing to slow him down.
Pharaoh went out “He chased after the sons of Israel as the sons of Israel were going out boldly.” Israel going out boldly may refer to the attitude of the Hebrews but it may also refer to the fact they able to go because of God’s bold acts. The Israelites were delivered by the sovereign power of God.
Israel had departed Egypt for a number of days but their slowness and frequent change of direction has prevented them from getting out of Egyptian territory. Pharaoh moved quickly and overtook them where they were camped at Pi-ha-hi’roth.
With Pharaoh’s chariots in sight of the Israelites the stage was set for the final confrontation. Still Pharaoh had not realized that he was not confronting Israel but Israel’s God. This failure was to be Pharaoh’s downfall.
When the Israelites saw the Egyptians coming, their faith collapsed. Panic gripped their minds and hearts. “The sons of Israel cried out to the LORD.” This was not so much a prayer for deliverance as a cry of blame. As is typical, they quickly turned from crying out to the Lord and turned to crying out to Moses. We can see our own actions in that of Israel’s. When everything was going well, Moses was a great man. But when trouble came, they placed the blame on him and wished that he had left them alone.
The Israelite people went on to imply that they never had any desire to be free from slavery in Egypt. But we find no record that they ever said to Moses: “Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians.” Now that they are faced with this new crisis, this was certainly what they had wished they had said. Seeing Pharaoh’s chariots drawing near, they totally caved in. It never dawned on them that Pharaoh had not come to kill them but to recapture them.
The Hebrew’s collapsing faith made Moses’ great statement of faith more emphatic. In the face of their terror, Moses cried out to them, “Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the LORD.” The Salvation that Moses was speaking about was that in the sense of military victory. The biblical concept of salvation moves forward from this early meaning to the latter one of spiritual deliverance from sin and death. Moses was confidant in his statement that God was going to win a mighty victory over Pharaoh and that after this; Egypt would no longer be a problem to Israel. Moses’ faith was based upon his past experience with God and upon God’s recent revelation.
On the other hand Moses may have been showing the he has the same problem that we have. That it is easier to proclaim our faith than it is to actually practice it. We have no record of what Moses said to God after his proclamation of faith but we do know God’s response. “Why are you crying out to Me?” this may imply that Moses was wanting to know what God was planning to do. Apparently Moses may have thought that God was allowing the Egyptians to draw a bit too close.
God gave Moses a startling response. “Tell the sons of Israel to go forward.” Forward was into the sea. To the Israelite nation that would seem impossible. But God gave Moses further instruction. “As for you, lift up your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, and the sons of Israel shall go through the midst of the sea on dry land.” The image is that of cutting a channel through something hard. What a miracle that was going to be!
God gave Moses a twofold promise. Israel should cross the sea. Not even a major body of water can stand before the power of God in leading to the land of His promise. However, after Israel crossed the Egyptians would follow; and in the process God would receive “glory” from the event. In this text the word for glory means to be made heavy or to become significant. The mighty act of God would make Him significant over all the gods Egypt served and who were expected to grant victory over the arms of Egypt. Further, as a result of this mighty act, the Egyptians were to have fully experienced the sovereignty of Yahweh, the God of Israel.
The Red Sea
The children of Israel lived in the Nile delta area or the land of Ramesses, and first encamped at the northern end of the Gulf of Suez or Succoth at the beginning of the Exodus. This was the first point where they went into the camping mode. Then they traveled through the wilderness of the Red Sea, or what we call today the Sinai Peninsula, and encountered the Gulf of Aqaba. (I Kings 9:26 calls this the Red Sea.)
When traveling through “the wilderness of the Red Sea” Ex.13:18, escaping Pharaoh’s army, God told Moses to turn south, so they headed through a wadi or canyon area that is called the Wadi Watir which led to the sea. The Bible in Ex. 14:3 says, “They are entangled in the land, the wilderness hath shut them in.”
When arriving at the beach, the children of Israel felt trapped, as they could not turn back, nor head north because at the northern end of the beach was a three story, Egyptian military fortress which is still standing today undergoing restoration. Additionally there were mountains obstructing their escape. To the south the mountains came down to the sea, as mentioned by Josephus, “For there was [on each side] a [ridge of] mountains that terminated at the sea, which were impassable by reason of their roughness, and obstructed their flight” Antiquities of the Jews, Bk. 2, 15-3. You can see the mountains at the beach today. The people were about to turn against Moses because he had led them to an area where they were trapped and would surely die, or so they thought.
God caused a strong east wind to blow the waters back so the people could walk ten miles through the Red Sea to safety in Arabia. The crossing path is about a quarter to a half mile wide and is on a gradual slope down to the bottom of the Red Sea and then up to the Saudi beach. On either side of this path are the depths of the Red Sea, the Eilat Deep and the Aragonese Deep, each 3000 and 5000 feet deep respectively.
The Bible said all the chariots of Egypt and 600 choice chariots, or gold veneered models, were in the army pursuing God’s people. It is speculated there were 20,000 chariots destroyed that day. There are numerous chariot wheels, plus human and horse bones at the crossing site.
http://www.arkdiscovery.com/red_sea_crossing.htm The Red Sea Crossing Site Found by Ron Wyatt
The Egyptian forces drew near and for all purposes they had the Israelites pinned against the sea. To any observer it would be obvious that Israel’s situation was hopeless. Such a conclusion would have failed to consider God. “The angel of God, who had been going before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them.” The Egyptians and the Israelites were separated by the angel of God. The pillar of cloud not only gave guidance to the people of Israel but also protection. From Egypt’s perspective the cloud only served to delay their certain victory. For Israel it served to give time for Moses to obey God and to allow for the separation of the water.
“Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD swept the sea back by a strong east wind all night and turned the sea into dry land, so the waters were divided.” Of course God could have done this without Moses’ outstretched hand. The point of using Moses was to let the Israelites know that this was no freak of nature but a direct act of God. Wind is a normal occurrence but a wind of such strength to force the parting of the waters happened at the right place and at the right time.
Once the Hebrews had crossed Moses was again commanded to stretch out his hand. The wind of God apparently stopped blowing and the waters rushed back into the void and swept over the Egyptian forces that had pursued the Israelites into the sea bed. The God of Israel had defeated the gods of Egypt.
Click this link to advance to Exodus Chapter 15