The Story of Patriarchs and Prophets
by Ellen G. White
Chapter 25: The Exodus
Israel went into the midst of the sea upon dry ground,
while the waters stood like a wall upon each side.
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With their loins girt, with sandaled feet, and staff in
hand, the people of Israel had stood, hushed, awed, yet
expectant, awaiting the royal mandate that should bid them go
forth. Before the morning broke, they were on their way. During
the plagues, as the manifestation of God's power had kindled
faith in the hearts of the bondmen and had struck terror to their
oppressors, the Israelites had gradually assembled themselves in
Goshen; and notwithstanding the suddenness of their flight, some
provision had already been made for the necessary organization
and control of the moving multitudes, they being divided into
companies, under appointed leaders.
And they went out, "about six hundred thousand on foot that
were men, beside children. And a mixed multitude went up
also with them." In this multitude were not only those who were
actuated by faith in the God of Israel, but also a far greater
number who desired only to escape from the plagues, or who followed
in the wake of the moving multitudes merely from excitement
and curiosity. This class were ever a hindrance and a snare to
The people took also with them "flocks, and herds, even very
much cattle." These were the property of the Israelites, who had
never sold their possessions to the king, as had the Egyptians.
Jacob and his sons had brought their flocks and herds with them
to Egypt, where they had greatly increased. Before leaving Egypt,
the people, by the direction of Moses, claimed a recompense for
their unpaid labor; and the Egyptians were too eager to be freed
from their presence to refuse them. The bondmen went forth
laden with the spoil of their oppressors.
That day completed the history revealed to Abraham in
prophetic vision centuries before: "Thy seed shall be a stranger in a
land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict
them four hundred years; and also that nation, whom they shall [p. 282] serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with
great substance." Genesis 15:13, 14. [* See Appendix, Note 3.] The four
hundred years had been fulfilled. "And it came to pass the selfsame day,
that the Lord did bring the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt by
their armies." In their departure from Egypt the Israelites bore
with them a precious legacy, in the bones of Joseph, which had
so long awaited the fulfillment of God's promise, and which,
during the dark years of bondage, had been a reminder of Israel's
Instead of pursuing the direct route to Canaan, which lay
through the country of the Philistines, the Lord directed their
course southward, toward the shores of the Red Sea. "For God
said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war,
and they return to Egypt." Had they attempted to pass through
Philistia, their progress would have been opposed; for the Philistines,
regarding them as slaves escaping from their masters, would
not have hesitated to make war upon them. The Israelites were
poorly prepared for an encounter with that powerful and warlike
people. They had little knowledge of God and little faith in Him,
and they would have become terrified and disheartened. They
were unarmed and unaccustomed to war, their spirits were
depressed by long bondage, and they were encumbered with women
and children, flocks and herds. In leading them by the way of
the Red Sea, the Lord revealed Himself as a God of compassion
as well as of judgment.
"And they took their journey from Succoth, and encamped in
Etham, in the edge of the wilderness. And the Lord went before
them by day in a pillar of cloud, to lead them the way; and by
night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and
night. He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the
pillar of fire by night, from before the people." Says the psalmist,
"He spread a cloud for a covering; and fire to give light in the
night." Psalm 105:39. See also I Corinthians 10:1, 2. The standard
of their invisible Leader was ever with them. By day the cloud
directed their journeyings or spread as a canopy above the host.
It served as a protection from the burning heat, and by its
coolness and moisture afforded grateful refreshment in the parched,
thirsty desert. By night it became a pillar of fire, illuminating
their encampment and constantly assuring them of the divine
presence. [p. 283]
In one of the most beautiful and comforting passages of Isaiah's
prophecy, reference is made to the pillar of cloud and of fire
to represent God's care for His people in the great final struggle
with the powers of evil: "The Lord will create upon every dwelling
place of Mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and
smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night: for
above all the glory shall be a covering. And there shall be a
tabernacle for a shadow in the daytime from the heat, and for
a place of refuge, and for a covert from storm and from rain."
Isaiah 4:5, 6, margin.
Across a dreary, desertlike expanse they journeyed. Already
they began to wonder whither their course would lead; they were
becoming weary with the toilsome way, and in some hearts began
to arise a fear of pursuit by the Egyptians. But the cloud went
forward, and they followed. And now the Lord directed Moses
to turn aside into a rocky defile, and encamp beside the sea.
It was revealed to him that Pharaoh would pursue them, but
that God would be honored in their deliverance.
In Egypt the report was spread that the children of Israel,
instead of tarrying to worship in the desert, were pressing on
toward the Red Sea. Pharaoh's counselors declared to the king
that their bondmen had fled, never to return. The people
deplored their folly in attributing the death of the first-born to the
power of God. Their great men, recovering from their fears,
accounted for the plagues as the result of natural causes. "Why
have we done this, that we have let Israel go from serving us?"
was the bitter cry.
Pharaoh collected his forces, "six hundred chosen chariots,
and all the chariots of Egypt," horsemen, captains, and foot
soldiers. The king himself, attended by the great men of his realm,
headed the attacking army. To secure the favor of the gods, and
thus ensure the success of their undertaking, the priests also
accompanied them. The king was resolved to intimidate the Israelites
by a grand display of his power. The Egyptians feared lest
their forced submission to the God of Israel should subject them
to the derision of other nations; but if they should now go
forth with a great show of power and bring back the fugitives,
they would redeem their glory, as well as recover the services of
The Hebrews were encamped beside the sea, whose waters [p. 284] presented a seemingly impassable barrier before them, while on
the south a rugged mountain obstructed their further progress.
Suddenly they beheld in the distance the flashing armor and
moving chariots betokening the advance guard of a great army.
As the force drew nearer, the hosts of Egypt were seen in full
pursuit. Terror filled the hearts of Israel. Some cried unto the
Lord, but far the greater part hastened to Moses with their
complaints: "Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken
us away to die in the wilderness? wherefore hast thou dealt thus
with us, to carry us forth out of Egypt? Is not this the word that
we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve
the Egyptians? For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians,
than that we should die in the wilderness."
Moses was greatly troubled that his people should manifest
so little faith in God, notwithstanding they had repeatedly
witnessed the manifestation of His power in their behalf. How could
they charge upon him the dangers and difficulties of their situation,
when he had followed the express command of God? True,
there was no possibility of deliverance unless God Himself should
interpose for their release; but having been brought into this
position in obedience to the divine direction, Moses felt no fear
of the consequences. His calm and assuring reply to the people
was, "Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord,
which He will show to you today: for the Egyptians whom ye
have seen today, ye shall see them again no more forever. The
Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace."
It was not an easy thing to hold the hosts of Israel in waiting
before the Lord. Lacking discipline and self-control, they
became violent and unreasonable. They expected speedily to fall
into the hands of their oppressors, and their wailings and
lamentations were loud and deep. The wonderful pillar of cloud had
been followed as the signal of God to go forward; but now they
questioned among themselves if it might not foreshadow some
great calamity; for had it not led them on the wrong side of the
mountain, into an impassable way? Thus the angel of God
appeared to their deluded minds as the harbinger of disaster.
But now, as the Egyptian host approached them, expecting
to make them an easy prey, the cloudy column rose majestically
into the heavens, passed over the Israelites, and descended
between them and the armies of Egypt. A wall of darkness [p. 287] interposed between the pursued and their pursuers. The Egyptians
could no longer discern the camp of the Hebrews, and were
forced to halt. But as the darkness of night deepened, the wall
of cloud became a great light to the Hebrews, flooding the entire
encampment with the radiance of day.
Then hope returned to the hearts of Israel. And Moses lifted
up his voice unto the Lord. "And the Lord said unto Moses,
Wherefore criest thou unto Me? speak unto the children of Israel,
that they go forward. But lift thou up thy rod, and stretch out
thine hand over the sea, and divide it: and the children of Israel
shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea."
The psalmist, describing the passage of the sea by Israel,
sang, "Thy way was in the sea, and Thy paths in the great waters,
and Thy footsteps were not known. Thou leddest Thy people like
a flock, by the hand of Moses and Aaron." Psalm 77:19, 20, R.V.
As Moses stretched out his rod the waters parted, and Israel went
into the midst of the sea, upon dry ground, while the waters
stood like a wall upon each side. The light from God's pillar
of fire shone upon the foam-capped billows, and lighted the road
that was cut like a mighty furrow through the waters of the sea,
and was lost in the obscurity of the farther shore.
"The Egyptians pursued, and went in after them to the midst
of the sea, even all Pharaoh's horses, his chariots, and his horsemen.
And it came to pass, that in the morning watch the Lord
looked unto the host of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire
and of the cloud, and troubled the host of the Egyptians." The
mysterious cloud changed to a pillar of fire before their astonished
eyes. The thunders pealed and the lightnings flashed. "The clouds
poured out water; the skies sent out a sound: Thine arrows also
went abroad. The voice of Thy thunder was in the whirlwind;
the lightning lightened the world: the earth trembled and shook."
Psalm 77:17, 18, R.V.
The Egyptians were seized with confusion and dismay. Amid
the wrath of the elements, in which they heard the voice of an
angry God, they endeavored to retrace their steps and flee to the
shore they had quitted. But Moses stretched out his rod, and the
piled-up waters, hissing, roaring, and eager for their prey, rushed
together and swallowed the Egyptian army in their black depths.
As morning broke it revealed to the multitudes of Israel all
that remained of their mighty foes—the mail-clad bodies cast [p. 288] upon the shore. From the most terrible peril, one night had
brought complete deliverance. That vast, helpless throng—bondmen
unused to battle, women, children, and cattle, with the sea
before them, and the mighty armies of Egypt pressing behind—had
seen their path opened through the waters and their enemies
overwhelmed in the moment of expected triumph. Jehovah alone
had brought them deliverance, and to Him their hearts were
turned in gratitude and faith. Their emotion found utterance
in songs of praise. The Spirit of God rested upon Moses, and
he led the people in a triumphant anthem of thanksgiving, the
earliest and one of the most sublime that are known to man.
"I will sing unto Jehovah, for He hath triumphed gloriously;|
The horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea.
The Lord is my strength and my song,
And He is become my salvation:
This is my God, and I will praise Him;
My father's God, and I will exalt Him.
The Lord is a man of war:
Jehovah is His name.
Pharaoh's chariots and his host hath He cast into the sea:
And his chosen captains are sunk in the Red Sea.
The deeps cover them:
They went down into the depths like a stone.
Thy right hand, O Lord, is glorious in power,
Thy right hand, O Lord, dasheth in pieces the enemy. . . .
Who is like unto Thee, O Lord, among the gods?
Who is like Thee, glorious in holiness,
Fearful in praises, doing wonders? . . .
Thou in Thy mercy hast led the people which Thou has redeemed:
Thou hast guided them in Thy strength to Thy holy habitation.
The peoples have heard, they tremble. . . .
Terror and dread falleth upon them;
By the greatness of Thine arm they are as still as a stone;
Till Thy people pass over, O Lord,
Till the people pass over which Thou hast purchased.
Thou shalt bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of
The place, O Lord, which Thou hast made for Thee to dwell in."
|Exodus 15:1-16, R.V.|
Like the voice of the great deep, rose from the vast hosts of
Israel that sublime ascription. It was taken up by the women of
Israel, Miriam, the sister of Moses, leading the way, as they went [p. 289] forth with timbrel and dance. Far over desert and sea rang the
joyous refrain, and the mountains re-echoed the words of their
praise—"Sing ye to Jehovah, for He hath triumphed gloriously."
This song and the great deliverance which it commemorates,
made an impression never to be effaced from the memory of the
Hebrew people. From age to age it was echoed by the prophets
and singers of Israel, testifying that Jehovah is the strength and
deliverance of those who trust in Him. That song does not
belong to the Jewish people alone. It points forward to the destruction
of all the foes of righteousness and the final victory of the
Israel of God. The prophet of Patmos beholds the white-robed
multitude that have "gotten the victory," standing on the "sea
of glass mingled with fire," having "the harps of God. And they
sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the
Lamb." Revelation 15:2,3.
"Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy name give
glory, for Thy mercy, and for Thy truth's sake." Psalm 115:1.
Such was the spirit that pervaded Israel's song of deliverance,
and it is the spirit that should dwell in the hearts of all who love
and fear God, In freeing out souls from the bondage of sin, God
has wrought for us a deliverance greater than that of the
Hebrews at the Red Sea. Like the Hebrew host, we should praise the
Lord with heart and soul and voice for His "wonderful works to
the children of men." Those who dwell upon God's great mercies,
and are not unmindful of His lesser gifts, will put on the girdle
of gladness and make melody in their hearts to the Lord. The
daily blessings that we receive from the hand of God, and above
all else the death of Jesus to bring happiness and heaven within
our reach, should be a theme for constant gratitude. What
compassion, what matchless love, has God shown to us, lost sinners,
in connecting us with Himself, to be to Him a peculiar treasure!
What a sacrifice has been made by our Redeemer, that we may
be called children of God! We should praise God for the blessed
hope held out before us in the great plan of redemption, we
should praise Him for the heavenly inheritance and for His rich
promises; praise Him that Jesus lives to intercede for us.
"Whoso offereth praise," says the Creator, "glorifieth Me."
Psalm 50:23. All the inhabitants of heaven unite in praising God.
Let us learn the song of the angels now, that we may sing it when
we join their shining ranks. Let us say with the psalmist, "While [p. 290] I live will I praise the Lord: I will sing praises unto my God
while I have any being." "Let the people praise Thee, O God;
let all the people praise Thee." Psalms 146:2; 67:5.
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God in His providence brought the Hebrews into the mountain
fastnesses before the sea, that He might manifest His power
in their deliverance and signally humble the pride of their
oppressors. He might have saved them in any other way, but He
chose this method in order to test their faith and strengthen their
trust in Him. The people were weary and terrified, yet if they had
held back when Moses bade them advance, God would never
have opened the path for them. It was "by faith" that "they
passed through the Red Sea as by dry land." Hebrews 11:29. In
marching down to the very water, they showed that they believed
the word of God as spoken by Moses. They did all that was in
their power to do, and then the Mighty One of Israel divided the
sea to make a path for their feet.
The great lesson here taught is for all time. Often the Christian
life is beset by dangers, and duty seems hard to perform. The
imagination pictures impending ruin before and bondage or death
behind. Yet the voice of God speaks clearly, "Go forward." We
should obey this command, even though our eyes cannot penetrate
the darkness, and we feel the cold waves about our feet. The
obstacles that hinder our progress will never disappear before a
halting, doubting spirit. Those who defer obedience till every
shadow of uncertainty disappears and there remains no risk of
failure or defeat, will never obey at all. Unbelief whispers, "Let
us wait till the obstructions are removed, and we can see our way
clearly;" but faith courageously urges an advance, hoping all
things, believing all things.
The cloud that was a wall of darkness to the Egyptians was to
the Hebrews a great flood of light, illuminating the whole camp,
and shedding brightness upon the path before them. So the dealings
of Providence bring to the unbelieving, darkness and despair,
while to the trusting soul they are full of light and peace. The
path where God leads the way may lie through the desert or the
sea, but it is a safe path.
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"From the Red Sea to Sinai"