Page images
PDF
EPUB

though it is altogether incomprehensible, on any human principles of action, how Moses could have entertained such a project as that of conducting the Israelites out of Egypt without previously well considering whither he would lead them.”

18. The Red sea.”—We have already explained what relates to this name of the Arabian Gulf; and this seems the proper place to state a few particulars concerning the gulf itself. It occupies à basin, in general deep and rocky, and extends about 1160 miles in length, from north to south, with a mean breadth which may be stated at 120 miles. Throughout this great extent it does not receive the waters of a single river. The western coast is of a bolder character, and has a greater depth of water than the eastern. The gulf abounds in sunken rocks, sand-banks, and small islands, together with numerous coral-reefs, which in some places rise above the water to the height of ten fathoms. The bottom is covered abundantly with the same substance, as well as with marine plants, which in calm weather give that appearance of submarine forests and verdant meadows to which the sea probably owes its Hebrew name of Yam Suph (see note on chap. ii. 3), as well as its present Arab name of Bahr Souf. Burckhardt observes, that the coral is red in the inlet of Akaba, and white in that of Suez. The remarkably beautiful appearance which this sea exhibits has attracted notice in all ages; and among its other characteristics, the far more than ordinary phosphorescence of its waters has been mentioned with peculiar admiration. The width of the gulf contracts towards its extremities, and at its mouth is considerably narrower than in any other part. The strait of Bab-el-Mandeb is there formed, and does not exceed fourteen miles in breadth; beside which it is divided, at the distance of three miles from the Arabian shore, by the island of Perim. The high land of Africa and the peak of Azab give a remarkably bold appearance to the shore in this part. At its northern extremity the Red Sea separates into two minor gulfs or inlets, which inclose between them the peninsula of Sinai. The easternmost of these is that of Akaba or Ailah, called by the Greeks and Romans Ælanites; this is only about half the extent of the other, and is rendered very dangerous by shoals and coral-reefs. The westernmost gulf is called the gulf of Suez, anciently, Heeropolites: the ancient and modern names of both inlets being from towns that formerly did, or do now, stand at their extremities. It is the latter, the western gulf, which was crossed by the Hebrews. It is about 160 miles in length, with a mean breadth of about thirty miles, narrowing very much at its northern extremity. The mean depth of its water is from nine to fourteen fathoms, with a sandy bottom; and it is of much safer navigation than the other. There are many indications which place it beyond a doubt that the Arabian Gulf was formerly much more extensive and deeper than at present. One of the most certain proofs of this is, that cities, which were formerly mentioned as sea-ports, are now considerably inland. This is particularly the case in the Gulf of Suez, where the shore is unusually low. That the sea formerly extended more northward than an present, there is much reason to conclude, not only from the marine appearances of the now dry soil, but from this fact, among others, that Kolsoum, which was formerly a port, is now three-quarters of a mile inlan:). There is certainly nothing in the appearance of the soil about the isthmus of Suez to discountenance the hypothesis that the Red Sea was formerly no other than a strait uniting the Mediterranean with the Indian Ocean ; and that the isthmus which is now interposed between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean was formed by drifts of sand from the adjoining deserts. This, however, is an hypothesis : but there is nothing hypothetical in the statement that the gulf once extended more to the north than at present; and this fact is of importance, because it enables us to see that nothing less than a miraculous interposition of the Divine Power could have enabled the Israelites to cross the bay even at the highest of the points which has been selected by those who perhaps were influenced by the wish to diminish the force of the miracle, or to account for it on natural principles.

20. Etham.”—It is impossible to determine further concerning this station than that it was somewhere at or near the northern extremity of the Gulf of Suez, because we find that the next move is to turn, and encamp on the western coast of the gulf. Every thing, as to the site of Etham, therefore depends on the limit at which the waters then terminated. It is commonly placed at Adjeroud, the third stage of the pilgrim caravan, where there is a poor village with a copious well of bitter water, and an ancient fortress garrisoned by Egyptian troops. But if, with Lord Valentia, we conclude that the inlet then extended to the salt marsh, between twenty and thirty miles more to the north than at present, Etham must correspondingly have been considerably more northward than the present Adjeroud. The fact is, that the absence of determinate points, with the changes of name and the alterations which have taken place in the gulf itself, concur so much to perplex the settlement of particular points in this part of the journey, that we do not feel authorised to speak so positively as most writers have done in favour of their own particular views. We do not feel that we have any very decided opinion as to any of the stations previous to the passage of the Red Sea, or concerning the point at which that passage took place, for the whole matter seems to us intimately connected with the question as to the extent to which the gulf encroached, at this early period, on what is now the isthmus of Suez. It is right to observe, that those who differ as to the situation of Rameses and Succoth concur in placing Etham near Adjeroud. (See the note on verse 17.)

Ío estimate the importance of the move from this place, let it be recollected that the petition of the Israelites was to go “ three days' journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices.” Now then, the Israelites having arrived at Etham, somewhere near the Gulf of Suez, are three days' journey from the Nile, and on the edge of the wilderness—that is, in or near the spot which, according to the terms of their application, was to form the limit of their journey. This being understood, it is easy to perceive that whatever move they made from Etham would be regarded as a decisive indication of their ulterior intentions. The move from Etham was in fact the crisis of the undertaking, and was obviously so regarded by Pharaoh, who had granted three days' journey ; but who no sooner heard of a further movement than he commenced the pursuit. It is strange that writers should have deprived the text of the benefit of this illustration by placing Rameses to the north of the Gulf of Suez, in order to shorten the stages; or else, retaining Rameses near the Nile, by concluding that, encumbered as the Israelites were with flocks, herds, women, and children, they performed three days' journey in one.

Being arrived at Etham, there seemed but three alternatires. Two of them have already been considered in the note to verse 17; and the other was to perform their sacrifices and return to Egypt. We may regard the route that was taken from the Nile, along the southern margin of the isthmus of Suez, which is the common road to Arabia, instead of taking the northern road, which seems to have always formed the route towards Palestine, as indicating an original intention for the desert, as explained in the text and note to which we have just referred. This course was also calculated to obviate any suspicion which Pharaoh might have entertained of their ultimate intention, because it was into the desert that they had required permission to go. The king of Egypt, who obviously kept a keen watch upon their proceedings, appears to have held himself in readiness to act according to the intention which the Israelites at the end of the three days' journey should indicate. Thus, every way, the march from Etham, whatever direction it took, was to have been regarded as the first decisive indication of the final intention of the Hebrew leader. And what was this decisive move? It was neither to return to Egypt; to proceed round the head of the gulf into the peninsula of Sinai; nor to strike off in a north-easterly direction towards Palestine—which were the only alternatives that seemed open to theni. But it was to take the step, most unaccountable on any human principle of action, of turning down southward, so as to “ entangle” and “shut themselves in” between the mountains and the western shore of the Gulf of Suez-a direction which left them no other way of pursuing their journey (unless they turned back again) or of retreating, than by that miraculous passage through the Red Sea, which actually took place. It may safely be affirmed, that neither Moses nor any other human being would have taken so strange a step as this, acting on his own conclusions. Niebuhr does not think the Israelites could be so infatuated as to suffer themselves to be brought into such a disadvantageons situation, or be led blindfold by Moses to their apparent destruction : "One only need travel with a caravan," he observes, " which meets with the least obstacle, such as a small torrent, to be convinced that the Orientals do not let themselves be led, like fools, by their Caravan Bashi,” or leader of the caravan. He thence infers that they actually did not go into this disadvantageous situation, and uses it as an argument against fixing the passage lower down than Suez. To our minds, however, the wonder which people naturally enough feel on this point, is the most convincing evidence, not only that Moses acted under the divine direction, but that the Israelites believed that he did so. They certainly were not a people whom it was easy to lead, or who placed in their great leader the confidence to which he was fairly entitled ; and if the commands of HIM whose wonders they had lately witnessed in Egypt had not been quite clear to them, they would assuredly have murmured and rebelled on this, as they did on other occasions. But the order was so explicit, and the pillar of cloud so distinctly marked the course they were to take, that they even saw it to be their wisdom to follow the divine indication. But the question recurs, why bring them down this way, and make the passage of the Red Sea necessary, when they might so much more easily have got into the peninsula of Sinai by going round the gulf—why go out of their way to bring them into a situation of difficulty? The answer is given in verses 3 and 4. It was to give Pharaoh an additional inducement to follow them to his own destruction, by his knowledge of the advantage which their position would give him in an attack upon them. The overthrow of the Egyptian host was therefore the contemplated result of this movement; and by this overthrow not only did the Egyptians receive their complete and final punishment, but the immediate security and future success of the Israelites were greatly ass sted by it: for we learn from many passages of Scripture, that the neighbouring tribes and nations were too much alarmed and intimidated by this stupendous event to think of any hostile encounter (the instance of the Amalekites excepted). The rumour of this and the other miracles in Egypt contributed much to facilitate the conquest of Canaan, by filling the minds of the inhabitants with apprehensions which they might not otherwise have entertained. This, in the next generation, is forcibly expressed by a woman at Jericho to the Hebrew spies : “ As soon as we had heard these things our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man.” (Josh. ii. 10, 11; See also, 1 Sam. iv. 8; vi. 6; and Hab. iii. 7). Whatever Pharaoh himself may have thought of the apparent infatuation of the Israelites in this extraordinary march, there was no mistaking the intention of Hight which it indicated, and accordingly the news is conveyed to him as of that import, on which the prospect of finally losing the useful services of his late bondmen determined Pharaoh to pursue them.

[graphic][merged small]
[graphic][merged small]

CHAPTER XIV.

done this, that we have let Israel go from 1 God instructeth the Israelites in their journey.

serving us? 5 Pharaoh pursueth after them. 10 The Israelites

6 And he made ready his chariot, and murmur. 13 Moses comforteth them. 15 God took his people with him : instructeth Moses. 19 The cloud removeth behind 7 And he took six hundred chosen chathe camp. 21 The Israelites pass through the riots, and all the chariots of Egypt, and Red sea, 23 which drowneth the Egyptians.

captains over every one of them. And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, 8 And the LORD hardened the heart

2 Speak unto the children of Israel, that of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he purthey turn and encamp before 'Pi-hahiroth, sued after the children of Israel: and the between Migdol and the sea, over against children of Israel went out with an high Baal-zephon: before it shall ye encamp by hand. the sea.

9 But the 'Egyptians pursued after them, 3 For Pharaoh will say of the children of all the horses and chariots of Pharaoh, and Israel, They are entangled in the land, the his horsemen, and his army, and overwilderness hath shut them in.

took them encamping by the sea, beside 4 And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, Pi-hahiroth, before Baal-zephon. that he shall follow after them; and I will 10 | And when Pharaoh drew nigh, the be honoured upon Pharaoh, and upon all children of Israel lifted up their eyes, and, his host ; that the Egyptians may know that behold, the Egyptians marched after them; I am the LORD. And they did so.

and they were sore afraid : and the children 5 | And it was told the king of Egypt of Israel cried out unto the LORD. that the people fled: and the heart of Pha- 11 And they said unto Moses, Because raoh and of his servants was turned against there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou the people, and they said, Why have we taken us away to die in the wilderness?

i Num. 33.7.

2 Josh. 24. 6.

1 Mac, 4. 9.

7

wherefore hast thou dealt thus with us, to 22 And the children of Israel went into carry us forth out of Egypt?

the midst of the sea upon the dry ground: 12 %Is not this the word that we did tell and the waters were a wall unto them on thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that their right hand, and on their left. we may serve the Egyptians ? For it had 23 | And the Egyptians pursued, and been better for us to serve the Egyptians, went in after them to the midst of the sea, than that we should die in the wilderness. even all Pharaoh's horses, his chariots, and

13 9 And Moses said unto the people, his horsemen. Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salva- 24 And it came to pass, that in the morntion of the LORD, which he will shew to you ing watch the Lord looked unto the host of to day: ‘for the Egyptians whom ye have the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and seen to day, ye shall see them again no of the cloud, and troubled the host of the more for ever.

Egyptians. 14 The Lord shall fight for you, and ye 25 And took off their chariot wheels, shall hold your peace.

" that they drave them heavily: so that the 15 And the LORD said unto Moses, Egyptians said, Let us flee from the face of Wherefore criest thou unto me? speak unto Israel; for the LORD fighteth for them the children of Israel, that they go forward : against the Egyptians.

16 But lift thou up thy rod, and stretch 26 And the LORD said unto Moses, out thine hand over the sea, and divide it: Stretch out thine hand over the sea, that and the children of Israel shall go on dry the waters may come again upon the Egypground through the midst of the sea. tians, upon their chariots, and upon their

17 And I, behold, I will harden the horsemen. hearts of the Egyptians, and they shall

27 And Moses stretched forth his hand follow them: and I will get me honour upon over the sea, and the sea returned to his Pharaoh, and upon all his host, upon his strength when the morning appeared; and chariots, and upon his horsemen.

the Egyptians fled against it; and the 18 And the Egyptians shall know that I LORD * overthrew the Egyptians in the am the LORD, when I have gotten me ho- midst of the sea. nour upon Pharaoh, upon his chariots, and 28 And the waters returned, and covered upon his horsemen.

the chariots, and the horsemen, and all the 19 q And the angel of God, which went host of Pharaoh that came into the sea before the camp of Israel, removed and went after them; there remained not so much as behind them; and the pillar of the cloud 'one of them. went from before their face, and stood be- 29 But the children of Israel walked

upon hind them :

dry land in the midst of the sea; and the 20 And it came between the camp of the waters were a wall unto them on their right the of ; hand, and on

it gave light by night to these : so that the out of the hand of the Egyptians; and one came not near the other all the night. Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the 21 And Moses stretched out his hand

sea shore. over the sea; and the LORD caused the sea 31 And Israel saw that great 10 work to go back by a strong east wind all that which the Lord did

which the Lord did upon the Egyptians : night, and made the sea dry land, and the and the people feared the LORD, and bewaters were 5 divided.

lieved the LORD, and his servant Moses. 3 Chap. 6. 9. * Or, for whercas you hare seen the Egyptians to-day, &c.

7 Or, and made them to go heavily. Verse 2. “ Turn and enramp before Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, over against Baal-zephon.”—There is not a more minute specification of locality in the Bible than that which the text affords ; and one is led to think that it was thus carefully pointed out, in order to render it manifest that the passage could not there be effected by less than a miracle ; or, in other words, to preclude those attempts to account for it on natural grounds which have actually resulted from the memory of the spot thus distinctly denoted being now lost. Not one of the names now exists. It perhaps throws some light on the passage to read the word Pi-ha-hiroth not as a proper name, but as a descriptive epithet. Hiroth means a valley, a confined pass, or a defile among mountains ; pi signifies “ mouth," or "entrance ;” ha is merely the definite article the, or of the: so that we may read the word Pi-hahiroth, as "the entrance of the valley or pass.” It would thus denote, as we may take it, the pass or strip of land along the western shore of the gulf, between the mountains which skirt the sea, and the sea itself. It is certain that they crossed from the western to the eastern shore ; and as this valley between the mountains and the sea commences nearly at the extremity of the gulf, the Hebrews must have encamped along its “mouth” or entrance, if the sea were nearly then as it is now; and there they would have been

168

3

5 Josh. 4. 23. Psal. 114. 3. 8 Heb. shook f. 9 Psal. 106. 11.

6 Psal. 78. 13. 1 Cor. 10. 1. Heb. 11. 29. 10 Heb. hand.

[graphic][merged small]

effectually "shut in ” between the mountains, the desert, and the sea. The same result arises if we read Pi-hahiroth as a proper name, and apply it to the mountains which confine the valley at its entrance, the present name of which, Addagi, “ Deliverance," may be supposed to commemorate the passage of the Red Sea, and therefore to have superseded some previous name. This opinion is the more probable, because the flanks of the Hebrew host would have been exposed to the Egyptians whilst marching into the sea, if we place the point of passage any where above this valley, in which the mountains protected the right flank, and the sea the left. Here their rear only would be exposed, and accordingly we read only of their rear being protected by the pillar of cloud, which implies that their flanks needed no protection. We also think that it has not been sufficiently considered that an encampment consisting of about two millions of people must have covered a vast extent of ground; and wherever they encamped so as to face the sea, their camp must have stretched along the shore for the extent of several miles, particularly if they were hemmed in between the sea and the mountains as we would conjecture; and if then—when thus stretched out in one extensive line from north to south along the western shore of the gulf—the southern part of the body commenced the move into the dried passage in the sea, it necessarily follows that the point of passage must have been many miles below the termination of the inlet. This argument is conclusive to our minds that, consistently with their encampment along the sea coast, they must have passed many miles to the south of the end of the gulf, wherever the gulf then ended ; and even if it terminated much more to the south than at present, we are still disposed to consider this position of the camp as the most probable, because most consistent with the shutting in,” the “ entangling,” and the other circumstances, which imply that, when the Egyptian host took them in the rear, their only way to escape was through the sea. As we allow that the extensive line of the Hebrew host may have had its northern part little if at all below the end of the gulf, it may be asked why we make the southern instead of the northern part of the body first enter the sea, since the gulf is more shallow and narrow in the north. The answer is, that it is evident the van in this miraculous passage was led by that part of the body most distant from the Egyptian army; and as Pharaoh, before he set out, was aware of their position, and prepared to take advantage of it, he must in common sense have come upon the north or north-western part of the body, in order to hem them in between the sea, the mountains, and the wilderness; for if he had, as some suppose, approached them on the south through the valley of Badea, he would have left open their retreat northward from their unfavourable position, and so have wilfully given up the advantage which it seemed to offer. To this argument for the passage being a good way below the termination of the Gulf of Suez, we may add the common one, that, had it been otherwise, it would more naturally have occurred to the Egyptians to ride round and intercept the Israelites as they came out of the sea than to pursue them into the sea itself. And besides this, at the point where the passage did take place, the sea must have been broad enough for the rear of the Egyptian army to have entered before the van had emerged, because it is said that not one escaped ; and moreover, to enable the vast Hebrew host to pass in part of a night, the opening must have been so wide that there could have been no water on the left hand at all, as we are assured there was, unless the passage was effected at a good distance below the gulf.

Aiter all this, we are not at all prepared to indicate any particular locality as that at which the passage took place, because we do not know how far the gulf formerly reached to the north. Let us then mention the different opinions. Lord Valentia carries it more to the north than any other writer-considerably to the north of Suez, but he does so on

« PreviousContinue »