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Today's Study

Exodus 14:21: What Happened to the Red Sea?

Did the Red Sea actually divide in two, leaving a path for the Israelites to cross over on dry land? Or did the Israelites cross over a tidal basin during low tide, assisted by the drying effect of a strong east wind?

The sea that the Israelites crossed is called the "Red" or "Reed Sea." The name probably comes from the Egyptian twf, hence Hebrew sup, meaning "reeds." These "reeds" appear as the same word that was used in Exodus 2:3, where Miriam hid among the "reeds" to see what would happen to her brother Moses in the small ark.

But there is no indication in the association of reeds with the place where the Israelites crossed that it was just a marshy set of wetlands or a tidal swamp. In fact, the name "Red" or "Reed" Sea is used in Deuteronomy 1:1 and 1 Kings 9:26 of the saltwater areas of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aqabah that surround the Sinai peninsula.

The actual crossing was either at the southern end of the Bitter Lakes or the northern end of the Red Sea rather than Lakes Ballah, Timsah, Menzaleh or even the radical suggestion that it was at the sandy strip of land that separates Lake Sirbonis from the Mediterranean Sea.

The fact that the waters formed a "wall" (Ex 14:22) on the right and the left and were piled up in a "heap" (Ex 15:8; Ps 78:13) surely gives the picture of a corridor formed by the rolling back of the waters that normally would be located there.

Some may object, of course, that Exodus 15 and Psalm 78 are poetic in form, and therefore the language may also be merely poetic. With that we can agree. But Exodus 14 is straight prose, and thus the attempt to explain its Exodus 14:22 with a "wall of water on their right and on their left" as a metaphor for God's protection and nothing more is unconvincing.

God used the secondary means of "a strong east wind" (Ex 14:21) blowing all night to accomplish what the poetic version in Exodus 15:8 called in poetry "the blast of [God's] nostrils" and the "breath" of his mouth (Ex 15:10).

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