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Victory at Sea: Prose and Poetry in Exodus 14-15


The narrative account of the crossing of the sea forms the dramatic telling of events after leaving Succoth (13:20-22). The story falls into three observable units each introduced by the phrase "Then the Lord said to Moses" (14:1, 15, 26). The first main section contains three subsections. The opening subsection (A) be- gins with the Lord's instruction to Moses and company by the sea and a divine assurance that God would use the occasion to gain glory over Pharaoh (14:1-4). A short narrative (B) follows, relating how the pursuing Egyptians, who had a change of heart with re- gard to letting the Hebrews go (vv. 5-9), overtook them at the sea, (C) causing great consternation in the Israelite camp (vv. 10-14)- Subsections A and B are framed by the mention of Pi Hahiroth (vv. 2, 9) and are stitched together with the revelation that Yahweh would harden Pharaoh's heart so that the Egyptians would pursue the Israelites (vv. 4, 8). Subsection C features a dialogue between the people and Moses (vv. 10-14) that reveals the people's frame of mind.

The second main section again begins with the Lord's instruc- tions to Moses, this time with regard to enabling the Israelites to pass through the sea. Once again God assured Moses that He would gain glory over Pharaoh, for the pursuing Egyptians would follow the Israelites into the sea, where the pursuers would perish (vv. 15-18). The account continues in a narrative that carries the story forward toward its climax.

Having sent His angel to take up a position between the two groups of peoples resulting in pitch darkness over the Egyptian camp while light remained for the Israelites (vv. 19-20), the Lord sent such a strong wind that the waters of the sea were divided and the ground made perfectly dry. Therefore the Israelites "went through the midst of the sea on the dry land, and the waters were like a wall to them on their right hand and on their left" (v. 22). The Egyptians pursued the Israelites into the water, only to find that divine intervention caused their chariot wheels to come off. This time the Egyptians were struck with panic (vv. 23-25).

The third main section brings the account to its dramatic de- nouement. Yet a third time Yahweh gave instructions to Moses. As he had been commanded previously (v. 16), Moses was now to stretch out his hand over the sea and the waters would come back to inundate the pursuing Egyptians (v. 26). When Moses had done

significance for the dating and historicity of the Exodus account have occasioned an extensive amount of discussion. For helpful recent discussions see Hoffmeier, Israel in Egypt, 164-98; and John D. Currid, Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997), 121-41.

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