The parting of the Red Sea is the greatest of the Old Testament miracles. It’s the equivalent to the resurrection of Jesus Christ in the New Testament.
All through the Old Testament, you find this miracle being referred to in order to encourage folks who lived hundreds of years later (cf. Joshua 24:6, 7; Nehemiah 9:9; Psalm 106:7, 8; Jeremiah 31:35, etc.).
Here’s the situation so far: The Israelites have travelled to the Red Sea and have stopped by it’s edge. The Egyptian army (with a lot of light, fast chariots) have closed in on the Israelites, so that they are trapped between the sea and the Egyptians. Moses has told the people to stand still, and wait for the Lord to fight before them.
Exodus 14:15 And the LORD said unto Moses, Wherefore criest thou unto me? speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward:
Exodus 14:16 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.
Exodus 14:17 And I, behold, I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they shall follow them: and I will get me honour upon Pharaoh, and upon all his host, upon his chariots, and upon his horsemen.
Exodus 14:18 And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gotten me honour upon Pharaoh, upon his chariots, and upon his horsemen.
The Lord reassures Moses by giving him a glimpse of the plan:
1) He will part the sea so that the Israelites will be able to go through it on dry ground.
2) He will hardened the hearts of the Egyptians so that they follow the Israelites.
3) The purpose for all this is to bring the Lord “honour upon Pharaoh.”
I) THE RED SEA IS PARTED
Exodus 14:19 And the angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of the cloud went from before their face, and stood behind them:
Exodus 14:20 And it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel; and it was a cloud and darkness to them, but it gave light by night to these: so that the one came not near the other all the night.
1) The Protective Pillar
Here the “pillar of the cloud” is also called “the angel of God.” In Exodus 13:21 and 14:24 it is referred to as “the Lord.” It is a theophany, an appearance of God on the earth.
The cloud brought “darkness” to the Egyptian side and “light” to the Israelite side all through the “night.” This would have been psychologically damaging to the Egyptians, and it would have comforted the Israelites (think of it as the world’s biggest nightlight!). It also helped the Israelites as they prepared to, and did, cross the Red Sea on dry ground.
2) The Strong East Wind
Exodus 14:21 And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.
Exodus 14:22 And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground: and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left.
God sent a “strong east wind” all through the night to blow back the sea. God, in his miracles, often uses a natural element to accomplish the miracle. We saw an example of God using wind when he brought in the locusts to Egypt (Exodus 10:13) and then again when he removed the locusts (Exodus 10:19).
Other cases of using a natural element in miracles would be Jesus putting mud on a blind man’s eyes (John 9) or his feeding of the five thousand with five loaves and two fishes (Matthew 14:15ff).
Why would God want to use a natural element in his miracles?
I think that the main answer has to do with faith. Are you going to accept this as a miracle or as a natural event? The feeding of the five thousand has been often interpreted as a “sharing” illustration by Jesus—that is, he didn’t make any new food, other people were simply inspired to share.
The parting of the Red Sea has been explained as a strong wind drying a marshy area, or a muddy area, so that the Israelites could pass.
Some scholars even contend that the “Red Sea” should actually translated the “Reed Sea,” a shallow body of water in Northern Egypt. But this doesn’t fit with the rest of the account here, as you’ll see.
We ought not be surprised when God uses a natural element in miracles today. He might use a doctor or a new technique to heal someone, but the credit still belongs to him alone.
Back to the miracle of the Red Sea, it’s obvious that the water here was not a muddy area or even a shallow marsh—the text says that “the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left.”
There have been numerous explanations of how the Red Sea could have been “parted” by natural means, but they all fail to explain how there could have been a wall of water on the left and on the right.
Folks, a strong wind could not have done that on it’s own, just as the mud Jesus put on the blind man’s eyes could not have healed him alone.
Why did God use the wind? Perhaps so, that we today, can have our faith tested. Are we going to believe what the Bible says here, simply and plainly. Or are we going to try and find naturalistic ways to explain another miracle of God away?
Our faith should rest in the Lord.
Donald Bridge tells the story of a liberal minister preaching in an old, Bible-believing, African-American church. At a certain point in his sermon the minister referred to the crossing of the Red Sea.
“Praise the Lord,” someone shouted. “Takin’ all them children through the deep waters. What a mighty miracle!”
However, the minister did not happen to believe in miracles. So he said, rather condescendingly, “It was not a miracle. They were in marsh-land, the tide was ebbing, and the children of Israel picked their way across in six inches of water.”
“Praise the Lord!” the man shouted again. “Drownin’ all them Egyptians in six inches of water. What a mighty miracle!”
Let your faith be tenacious in the face of those who want to follow man’s wisdom down the dead end road of natural explanations for the supernatural power of God.
II) THE EGYPTIANS ARE DROWNED
1) God Finishes The Egyptian Army
Exodus 14:23 And the Egyptians pursued, and went in after them to the midst of the sea, even all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen.
Exodus 14:24 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,
Exodus 14:25 And took off their chariot wheels, that they drave them heavily: so that the Egyptians said, Let us flee from the face of Israel; for the LORD fighteth for them against the Egyptians.
It seems that the Israelites were already all across. The Egyptians had been blocked by the pillar of cloud all night—perhaps they thought it to be a strange fog. Now the Lord allowed them to see: a pathway through the sea! The Egyptians pursued the Israelites.
God still was fighting for the Israelites. Now he “troubled” the Egyptians, which is to say that he brought confusion and panic into their ranks, by causing problems with the chariot wheels.
Whether the wheels fell off because of a rocky terrain at the bottom of the sea or that a silty bottom bogged down the thin wheels, or that God had simply “popped” their wheels off like a child does to their toys, we aren’t told.
At any rate, the Egyptians had determined that they should “flee from the face of Israel; for the LORD fighteth for them.” They had been defeated psychologically. But God was not finished:
Exodus 14:26 And the LORD said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand over the sea, that the waters may come again upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen.
Exodus 14:27 And Moses stretched forth his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to his strength when the morning appeared; and the Egyptians fled against it; and the LORD overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea.
Exodus 14:28 And the waters returned, and covered the chariots, and the horsemen, and all the host of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them; there remained not so much as one of them.
The Egyptians, in the process of fleeing, weren’t able to make it back across the sea. God had Moses raise his hand (probably with his staff) over the sea and then God let the waters go back (presumably by stopping the wind).
Here again the text does not allow the water to be shallow, because the Egyptian army was completely drowned in the flood of water that rushed back in.
Could some of them have swam back? I’ve read that ancient people tended not to be swimmers, and if the crossing was several miles wide, there would have been no way to escape.
2) Did The Egyptians Erase The Embarrassment?
We aren’t told if Pharaoh died with his army or if he survived (perhaps by staying behind), but what do you think him or his successor would have done at this point? What do you think any Egyptian would have done after this crushing defeat?
Here’s what I think happened—just a guess, but I think it’s a good guess based on Pharaoh’s hard-hearted character: I think Pharaoh went home even more angry than ever. I don’t think he repented. In his rage he ordered every trace of the Israelites destroyed from Egypt. And I think the population would have readily complied.
If there had been identifying marks on documents—they destroyed them. Pottery with Hebrew letters—they destroyed them. I think that there was purge, one that was, in a human sinful sense, what we sometimes do to try and forget the pain we’ve endured. This is, of course, entirely possible because there is no evidence of Israel ever being in Egypt.
III) THE LORD IS GLORIFIED
Exodus 14:29 But the children of Israel walked upon dry land in the midst of the sea; and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left.
Exodus 14:30 Thus the LORD saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the sea shore.
Exodus 14:31 And Israel saw that great work which the LORD did upon the Egyptians: and the people feared the LORD, and believed the LORD, and his servant Moses.
Why did the Lord part the Red Sea? Surely, there could have been another way. He parted the Red Sea to display his own glory.
His glorious justice was displayed in that he drowned the very ones who drowned the babies of Israel in the Nile. What better justice than the kind that is repaid in kind?
His glory was (and still is today) displayed in that he saved his people by taking them through the Red Sea. How many times has the account been repeated since that day?
The whole point of this narrative is to show that God can be trusted to save his people, if his people trust him. That’s exactly what the Bible says Israel did:
29 By faith they passed through the Red sea as by dry land: which the Egyptians assaying to do were drowned. (Hebrews 11:29)
God’s glory is greatest when people turn to him in faith.
A preacher might say that you need to trust God in your trials and he’ll pull you through like he pulled Israel through the Red Sea. That sounds good, but it misses the point and also God may have other plans than to bring you through the trial.
The Red Sea narrative does encourage us to trust God, even in trials—but more importantly it teaches us about salvation. Jesus came to the Red Sea of Death and entered in…three days later he came out. Our Red Sea experience is not to found in the trials of life, although we may have similar experiences happen to us. No, our Red Sea is to found in Christ.
Are you still standing on the shore of salvation? Follow Jesus through by placing your faith in him. Death is the Red Sea we all must cross and the only way to not be drowned for all eternity is to follow Christ in faith.
 Philip Graham Ryken and R. Kent Hughes, Exodus: Saved for God’s Glory (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005), 395–396.