Exodus 14-16

Good morning! It continues to be a pleasure to share these readings with you each day, and thank you for those who have time to share your reflections via comments. We’re a better learning community for all your participation! In today’s passage (Exodus 14-16), we see the final miraculous escape of the Hebrew people from Egyptian pursuers, and the beginning of an eventual forty years of wandering through wilderness before beginning to settle in the land of Canaan.

Pharaoh and his officials are serious gluttons for punishment. After sending the Hebrew slaves away after the slaughter of the firstborns, they nevertheless decide that Egypt was better with slaves than without. A full army chases after the Hebrews, causing the panicked refugees to second-guess Moses’ leadership. This will be a constant theme of upcoming chapters: the people encounter challenge and lose hope with melodramatic flair, Moses or another leader counsels them to have faith, and eventually God comes to the rescue (often lamenting the lack of faith among God’s people). Regarding the crossing of the sea itself, discussion abounds whether the Hebrews crossed the Red Sea, a shallower and marshy “Reed Sea”, or some other thing altogether. I wouldn’t spend too much time trying to map this onto existing geography, because the point of this story is essentially theological, summed up in 14:30-31—God saves even in times of certain death, and the people believe.

Chapter 15 records several poetic hymns of celebration, which sound much like the later psalms. They almost certainly were written in later times, since they reference the defeat of Edom, Moab and Canaan (which has not yet happened). Note the place of women here: Aaron’s sister Miriam is listed a prophet-leader in her own right, and the victory dancing of the women is recorded separate from that of Moses’ song. Later commentators on this passage have struggled mightily to square God’s destruction of the Egyptian forces with God’s creation of all the earth. The Talmud (ancient Jewish commentary on passages of Torah) suggests in one famous section that, “As the Egyptians started to drown in the Red Sea, the heavenly hosts began to sing praises, but God silenced the angels, saying, ‘The works of my hands are drowning in the sea, and you wish to sing praises?’” People of holistic, compassionate faith balance rightful joy at deliverance with grief that any of God’s creation suffers—even those who are the enemy.

The Hebrew refugees embark into the wilderness at the start of Exodus 16, and this chapter reinforces the earlier characterizations of God and people. Readers get the sense here of a God who will stop at nothing to provide for and protect the people—sending bread from heaven, and quails in abundance for meat! —but the people are forever ungrateful, doubting and challenging. This tries the divine patience (another recurring theme), and several times we hear that God tests the people for their ability to obey. It isn’t for nothing that these people are called “Israel”, after the ancestor who so stubbornly wrestled with God. Happy reading!

Read Exodus 14-16.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. Tomorrow’s passage is Exodus 17-20. Thanks for reading!

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