The Red Sea crossing
Updated: Apr 9
The carnal mind of man tries to take the place of the knowledge of God (Gen 3:1-7, Rom 8, 1Cor 1-2). One of the ways this is manifested is in those who rather than deny the existence of God and that the Bible is His word, they seek to minimize, rationalize with carnal understanding, and find earthly, material explanations. There are many examples of this. They minimize the seriousness and consequences of sin and the magnitude of God’s miracles including that He came in the flesh and died for our sins (Jn 1:1-14, Jn 14:7-11, 2Cor 5:19, Col 2:8-12, 1Tim 3:16). They try to turn the Bible into a book written by man about God instead of the direct revelation of God. There have been new and increased efforts at this in the last 200 years.
One example of trying to find earthly, material explanations for God’s miracles is their interpretation of the Red Sea crossing. One of the fundamental principles of Bible study is the plain reading principle. It states that unless there is an apparent reason in the text that shows otherwise, we should interpret the text as it is written. Passages such as in Daniel and Revelation are clearly written symbolically and are to be read that way. However, the Bible is not a secret code book that requires a cipher to understand. It is written plainly and meant to be understood by those who are sincerely seeking truth. There have always been twisters of the word of God, but that actually substantiates it because it warns us repeatedly of that. A plain reading of Exodus 13-15 gives us a specific account of a large-scale miracle of God, but there are attempts to reinterpret it to mean something else. Some say it was a small-scale miracle, and some say it was not a miracle at all. Secular archeologists deny that there is any evidence it happened at all, and they seek to interpret all evidence to suit their worldview just like they do with evolution. One technique many of them use is to dismiss the Bible as evidence. There is external evidence, but that only serves to substantiate the Bible. The Bible validates itself (Heb 6:16-18). There is no source equal to or higher than God. So this discussion will be limited to an examination of the internal evidence in the Bible, and whether is says there was a large-scale miracle or not.
One area of the account that is debated is where the Red Sea crossing took place. The account in Exodus gives us the following information about that:
1. When Israel left Egypt, they did not go the way of the land of the Philistines toward
southwest Canaan (Ex 13:17).
2. They went through the way of the wilderness of the Red sea (Ex 13:18).
3. They went from Succoth, and encamped in Etham (Ex 13:20). Gesesnius says Etham was:
“on the borders of Egypt and the Arabian desert, from which the neighboring part of the
desert as far as Marah received its name”.
4. They were to “turn and encamp before Pihahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, over
against Baalzephon: before it shall ye encamp by the sea (Ex 14:2)”.
a. Gesenius on Migdol: “situated in the most northern part of the boundaries of Egypt”
b. Gesenius on Baalzephon: “near the Red Sea…in the uncultivated places between the Nile
and the Red Sea”
5. The Egyptians said of the location that “they are entangled in the land, the wilderness hath
shut them in (Ex 14:3)”.
6. They were “encamping by the sea, beside Pihahiroth, before Baalzephon (Ex 14:9)”. There
were over 600,000 men over 20 (Ex 12:37, Ex 38:26). There needed to be space for 2-6
Another area of debate is whether there was a large or small-scale miracle. The small miracle theory says the location was in the far northeast area of Egypt. The word “red” should be translated “reed” which would seem to indicate a small, shallow body of water. Some theorize Israel could have crossed on a natural underwater land bridge. They say the water would have been lower at the time of year Israel crossed. Some say the census was misinterpreted and means 6,000 and not 600,000.
The big miracle interpretation says the crossing took place further south or on the other side of Arabia. Which version fits the text of the Bible better?
1. Only a big miracle fits the text and the meaning of the event.
2. Only a big miracle fits the context of the miracles in Egypt and the Exodus (Ex 7-12).
3. The crossing was a testimony to Israel, Egypt, Canaan, and the whole world from that day
to this (Ex 14:4, Num 21:14, Josh 2:9-11).
4. Why would the most powerful army in the world be afraid of 6,000 unarmed, untrained,
5.This is not just a Red Sea crossing issue. It is a worldview issue. Either God is “big”, sin is
“big”, salvation is “big”, the Bible is basically literal; or they are small and not literal.
Let us examine the evidence from Exodus 14-15:
1. “The wilderness hath shut them in (Ex 14:3)”. A wide open, flat lowland of marshes with
reeds does not fit this.
2. “Divide it: and the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea
(Ex 14:16)”. The sea was divided. They went through on dry ground, not a wet, muddy
lake bottom. There was no time for the sea floor to dry out. The entire nation went
through the midst of the sea.
3. “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 (Ex
14:21).” It happened in a short time (one night) at a very specific and directed time by a
wind that came right then. Again, the sea was divided and they walked on dry land.
4. “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 (Ex 14:22 & 29).” Again, an
entire nation walked through the midst of the Sea on dry ground. The waters were a wall
on both sides.
5. “Stretch out thine hand over the sea, that the waters may come again upon the Egyptians,
upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen (Ex 14:26-27).” The waters returned at a
specific moment that day by specific divine direction.
6. The Egyptian army had six hundred chosen chariots, and all the chariots of Egypt (Ex
14:7). They all entered the Red Sea (Ex 14:23 & 26). God took off their chariot wheels (Ex
14:25). The LORD overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea (Ex 14:27). Strong’s
Concordance says overthrew means: “to tumble about:—shake (off, out, self), overthrow,
toss up and down”. Gesenius says of Exodus 14:27: “and the Lord shook out the Egyptians
into the midst of the sea”. The Brown-Driver-Briggs Lexicon says overthrew means to
shake, stir up; in Arabic - boil, be in violent commotion, be very angry. It says Exodus
14:27 means “shook off the Egyptian into the sea”.
7. “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 (Ex 14:28). If the water was enough to cover and drown all (there remained not one)
of the soldiers, horses and chariots, it was a “big” miracle. Men and horses can swim.
8. Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the sea shore (Ex 14:30).
9. Israel saw that great work which the LORD did (Ex 14:31). The Hebrew word gadol is
translated great here. It is translated as great (397x), high (22x), greater (19x), loud (9x),
greatest (9x), elder (8x), great man (8x), mighty (7x), eldest (6x), miscellaneous (44x).
Strong says it means great (in any sense); hence, older; also insolent:— aloud, elder(-est),
exceeding(-ly), far, (man of) great (man, matter, thing,-er,-ness), high, long, loud, mighty,
more, much, noble, proud thing, × sore, (×) very. Gesenius says it is used to describe
magnitude and extent, number and multitude, violence, and importance.
10. Exodus 15 has an eyewitness account of what happened including the following
A. The horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea (vs 1)
B. Pharaoh's chariots and his host hath he cast into the sea: his chosen captains also are
drowned in the Red sea
C. With the blast of thy nostrils the waters were gathered together, the floods stood
Upright as an heap, and the depths were congealed in the heart of the sea (vs 8). The
Hebrew word kapa is translated congealed. Strong says it means to shrink, i.e. thicken
(as unracked wine, curdled milk, clouded sky, frozen water):—congeal, curdle, dark,
settle. Gesenius says on Exodus 15:8: to curdle, to coagulate as milk, poet. of the water
of the sea, speaking of a literal miracle. TheBrown-Driver-Briggs Lexicon says on Ex
15:8: the deeps were condensed, became firm walls
D. The sea covered them: they sank as lead in the mighty waters (vs 10)
E. The earth swallowed them (vs 12) (earth can mean more than just the dirt – land
territory, area, country, region)
F. For the horse of Pharaoh went in with his chariots and with his horsemen into the sea,
and the LORD brought again the waters of the sea upon them; but the children of Israel
went on dry land in the midst of the sea.
The account of the crossing of the Jordan River later is highly relevant to understanding the Red Sea crossing (Josh 3:14-17, Josh 4:15-24). It was the time of year when Jordan floods. As soon as the priests’ feet went into the water. It was exact timing, like at the Red Sea. The waters stood and rose up in a heap for miles like the Red Sea stood up. The location was right by Jericho. The priests stood on dry ground and the people crossed over on dry ground like at the
Red Sea. As soon as the people were passed over on dry ground and the priests came out the waters returned like at the Red Sea. The Jordan is a river of flowing water, not a lake or sea. The Jordan crossing was also to be a testimony to Israel and all the nations like the Red Sea crossing (Josh 4:21-5:1). If we read the Biblical account of the Red Sea crossing as it is written, and look at it in the context of the other passages in the Bible that speak of it, only a “big” miracle fits. This supports a “big” worldview of God, the Bible, sin, and salvation.
There is also debate on when the Red Sea crossing took place. This is an attempt to reconcile some archeologists’ timeline of Egypt which seeks to move all the above events to 200 years later. In the Bible we have the genealogies of Genesis 5 & 11 which give a specific timeline of many generations. This points toward a timeline of about 1450 BC. We also have a definitive verse which says, “And it came to pass in the four hundred and eightieth year after the children of Israel were come out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon's reign over Israel, in the month Zif, which is the second month, that he began to build the house of the LORD. (1Ki
6:1). This places the Exodus and the Red Sea crossing at about 1450 BC. The book of Judges has enough information to learn that more than 395 years elapsed between the first judge after Joshua who was named Othniel and the last judge who was Samuel. David lived at the same time as Samuel and his son was Solomon. This fits with the timeline given in 1Kings 6:1. There is an excellent series which examines both the large vs. small scale issue and the timeline issue. It is called “Patterns of Evidence” by Timothy Mahoney.