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THE ISRAELITES AND THE RED SEA.
EVER surely, either before or since that date, did a multitude of people approach the Red Sea under such a strange conflict of feelings as did the Israelites, after they had been commanded by God to change their course. In most of the people at least one emotion mastered all others, and that was-terror. The death of the firstborn, the close of a fearful series of national visitations sent immediately by Jehovah, had smitten the Egyptians with con-sternation, and paralysed the energies even of the furious Pharaoh; and the people had, to appearance, a good chance of escaping successfully, and getting so far ahead that it would not be worth the effort on the part of their enslavers to pursue them in the hope of bringing them back; the tidings that the Egyptian monarch was on their track, a natural result of a proceeding on their part, which seemed to the Israelites totally uncalled for, and coming with a force, too, composed of chariots and horsemen-a much dreaded part of ancient military array, brought them to the verge of despair, mingled with rage. Not without a meaning was it that they uttered the allusion to the graves of Egypt (Exod. xiv. 11), for no land is more full of cemeteries and monuments of the dead. The idea of resistance never entered their minds, though in point of numbers the Israelites must have been greatly superior to the pursuing host, but they had, probably, few weapons, and the spirit of the people was broken by long ill-treatment.
Much difference of opinion exists as to where the memorable passage of the Israelites took place; I am inclined to think with those who believe that they crossed the sea at, or very near Suez. One source of difficulty arises from the fact that in the lapse of ages changes have taken place in the sea itself, and the land adjacent, and some who have investigated the subject, have done so with too close attention to present appearances. The command was that the people were to encamp before Pi-hahiroth, (perhaps "entrance to the caves "), which we will conclude was Aj'rud, a rising ground commanding the whole plain between that point and Suez, and distant from the latter about twelve miles. At this place, where in after years was a fortress, VOL. V., SECOND SERIES.
THE ISRAELITES AND THE RED SEA.
two roads branched off, one running towards the wilderness, the other towards the Sea and Migdol, supposed to be Bir Suweis, about two miles from Suez. Baal-zephon took its name from the chief deity, worshipped by the Phoenicians, who were settled in lower Egypt. At Moses' orders the host moved forward, until the head-quarters rested between Bir Suweis and the sea, opposite Baal-zephon. Even now, in the general alarm, the Israelites had not drawn into a compact body, and the multitude of between two or three millions was spread over a large extent of ground (Exod. xiv. 2).
Now, there is strong reason for believing that, at the period of the Exodus, the waters of the Red Sea extended to the bitter lakes, north of Kolsum or Suez;-at present a block is made there by accumulations of sand, which, however, do not rise higher than six feet above the level of the lakes. All in front of the Israelites was water, and well might their foe exclaim; "The wilderness hath shut them in; or, as it should rather be read-"The wilderness is closed to them". that is, they had got into a position where extrication appeared impossible.
Some commentators have hurled hard words at those who have ventured to think a passage across the sea was opened up by the operation of what we call "natural causes." I cannot see that the supposition dishonours God, since His power is displayed both in the natural and the supernatural, and we do not require an additional miracle in an instance when ordinary means could effect what God willed should occur. Granted, that did the passage take place in the deep sea near Wady Musa, some leagues south of Suez, nothing short of a miracle could have brought it about. But at Suez, the strong east wind (and that wind alone) could remove and hold back the waters, so that the Israelites would have not the slightest difficulty in crossing the channel. Then, as observed in a recently published Commentary, one result was that while the assemblage passed over, the waters served the purpose of an intrenchment and wall, they could not be attacked on either flank during the transit; to the north was the water covering the whole district, and south was the Red Sea. Kitto gives as his explanation of the Egyptians following in what might seem so perilous a track, that they had entered upon it in the darkness of the night without knowing where they were, being simply eager in the pursuit, and assured by obvious signs that the Israelites were before them. But it may have been that they were quite aware of what had occurred to enable the fugitives to cross, yet not recognising it as a
THE ISRAELITES IN THE WILDERNESS.
Divine interposition, believed that they also would be able to reach the opposite bank ere the waters poured back. At sunrise, however, presumably about six a.m. in April, there was an ominous change; the wind lulled, and the first effect was that the sand-banks became quicksands, and the chariot-wheels of the Egyptians were clogged (Exod. xiv. 25), and soon there was a rush-and the volume of water that had been held back poured upon the host, and none escaped. No doubt Pharaoh himself perished also, for he, like other ancient monarchs, would head the advanced guard. J. R. S. C.
CONDITION OF THE JEWS ON LEAVING EGYPT.
IT is a favourite speculation with some modern authors that the Jews were little better than savages at the time of the Exodus-knowing little, in fact, except the art of brick-making. But in Egypt they had a definite settlement in a fertile land, they had built themselves houses, as on the door-posts of these the paschal blood was to be sprinkled; and the majority of the people were probably acquainted with the pursuits of agriculture (see Deut. xi. 10). The readiness with which a section of the Jews undertook the work connected with the tabernacle shows that some of them had acquired knowledge of the arts in which the Egyptians had attained such renown. We must regard, therefore, the condition of slavery under the tyrannical Pharaoh as an exceptional one, which, though it left its influence, was not sufficient to rub out the habits which had grown up through some generations, and advanced the race beyond the nomadic state of the patriarchs.
THE ISRAELITES IN THE WILDERNESS.
"As we read, the detailed permission given to the people to eat every class of what may be called the game of the wilderness, the wild goat, the roe, the red deer, the antelope, and the chamois, a new aspect is suddenly presented to us of a large part of the life of the Israelites in the desert. It reveals them to us as a nation of hunters, it shows them to us clambering over the smooth rocks, scaling the rugged pinnacles, as the Arab hunters do at the present day, with bows and arrows instead of guns."From "The Speaker's Commentary.
DEFEAT OF AMALEK.
EXODUS xvii. 8-16.
HE Sinai peninsula was not wholly uninhabited when the hosts of Israel came up into it out of the sea. There was a tribe of Amalekites which had here its head-quarters, and seems to have led a life somewhat analogous to that of the Bedouins, who still inhabit the same region, except that the former appear to have paid some attention to agriculture, and did not perhaps live wholly in tents. There are traces of buildings and of ancient culture in Wady Feiran (Paran), one of the fertile valleys of the lower Sinai, through which lies the main approach to the upper region. These are ascribed, by local and ancient Arabian tradition, to the Amalekites; and without laying much, if any, stress on this, it must be admitted that the spot is well chosen for the abode of this people with reference to the history before us.
Hitherto, from all that appears in history, we might suppose the Israelites to be alone in the wilderness. But we now see that their proceedings were closely watched by dangerous eyes, which did not behold with indifference the sudden inroad of so vast a host into these formerly quiet solitudes. The great wealth with which they were laden, and their valuable possessions in flocks and herds, must have excited the eager cupidity of this people, if they were at all like the modern Arabs of the desert. They knew that numbers did not constitute strength; and the composition of this host must have rendered it obvious to them, that they were not likely to prove very formidable enemies in an encounter. One would think, however, that the recent miracles wrought by the hand of God in behalf of the Israelites, would have been likely to deter the Amalekites from any attempt to molest a people so protected and so favoured. From the examples we have seen in Egypt of the hardness of unbelief, we are not prepared to expect much from the forbearance of the Amalekites. And, in fact, they did attack the Israelites on their march to, or halt at, Rephidim. In Exodus it is simply written-"Then came Amalek and fought with Israel in Rephidim." But in Deuteronomy xxv. 17, 18, further particulars are given-“ Remember
what Amalek did unto thee by the way, when ye were come forth out of Egypt; how he met thee by the way, and smote the hindmost of thee, even all that were feeble behind thee, when thou wast faint and weary; and he feared not God." The last clause is emphatically added, because such an invasion of the chosen people, under these circumstances, was a virtual defiance of the power which had so lately destroyed the Egyptians. This, with the treacherous and unmanly character of the first assault, may account for the deep resentment which was afterwards expressed against this people, and for the doom of eventual destruction which went forth against them. Upon the whole, it would seem that there were two assaults—one upon the feeble rear when the host was on the march, the result of which encouraged the Amalekites to suppose themselves quite able to meet its full strength, and they therefore marched against Israel when encamped at Rephidim. Certainly, the fact that the rear of the Israelitish host was 66 smitten" might lead their antagonists to suppose that they were not invulnerable, nor so protected as to preclude the hope of conquest, and would thus encourage them to more daring proceedings.
When the Amalekites appeared in force, and manifested their intention to engage the Israelites, Moses, reserving to himself a more important post, directed Joshua-a young man personally attached to him, and who had probably already evinced the courage and conduct proper to a commander-to choose out a number of men from the general body, and give the enemy battle on the morrow. And what did Moses purpose to do himself?" I will stand on the top of the hill, with the rod of God in my hand." And so it was done. Joshua led forth his men to the field; and Moses mounted the hill accompanied by Aaron his brother, and by Hur who is supposed to have been his brother-in-law. Here Moses stood, and held up his hand on high, with the wonderworking rod therein. It was no doubt held up, in the first instance, as a kind of banner or signal, to be seen by the warring host below, and designed to operate as a continual incentive to their valour and prowess while engaged in the contest; and the sight of this symbol and instrument of the power which had worked so wondrously on their behalf, could not fail to nerve their arms with new vigour every time their eyes were turned towards it. Yet it needed but little reflection to assure them that, as is very manifest, there was no inherent virtue in the rod to produce this effect, and that it derived all its efficacy from the Divine appointment, as a visible symbol of that unseen succour and strength which God was pleased to minister to his militant