Unleashing Chaos on Chaos

YHWH dismantles his foe in three stages. Having toyed with Pharaoh in the first stage of the battle with the 3 sets of 3 plagues culminating with an unnatural darkness reminiscent of the pre-created state (See YHWH’s Strange and Terrible Weapons: The Plagues on Dec. 8, 2014), and winning the battle of the firstborns in the second stage of the battle (12:29-32), YHWH now leads forth His people as a great captain of war with a plan to destroy Egypt’s army, the best in the world (13:17-14:31). He does this by trickery and by engaging the powers of chaos against Egypt, the great symbol of moral and spiritual chaos.

We see that YHWH did not lead Israel in the most direct way to the Promised Land (13:17). The word “lead” (Heb. nāḥâ, but with the 3 mp suffix, nāḥām, “lead them”) in this context is military in nature, and is a pun on the verb pen-yinnāḥēm, “lest they change their minds,” when they face the Philistines in war (Heb. milḥāmâ – note the nḥam alliteration and assonance) at the border. YHWH’s low estimation of Israel’s warfare prowess is directly followed with the curious fact that this rabble of ex-slaves was armed (v. 18), which, of course, verges on the humorous in comparison with Pharaoh’s elite troops. It is YHWH’s intention to prepare a grand spectacle where Israel stands back, as if before a stage, to see YHWH destroy the mighty Egyptian army all by Himself (14:13-14).

YHWH sets this stage by leading them into the desert. The desert is not only the context of this battle (13:18, 14:3) but of the rest of the Pentateuch. As we have seen before, the desert motif is associated with the formless earth of the pre-created state, that which is inhospitable, the opposite of the Garden and its river of life. Immediately the question arises, “how shall this vast crowed survive even without an enemy at their heels?” The second primal element of chaos is the watery deep, here described as yam suf, the Red/Reed Sea. There are all sorts of speculation as to where or what body of water this refers to. For us, we assume with the narrative that this is a historical event that happened at a substantial body of water, wherever it may have been. However, we simply cannot miss the cosmic dimensions with which our text frames this battle. YHWH intentionally leads the people “toward the Red/Reed Sea” (13:18). The word “suf,” often translated “Reed,” sounds much like the word “sof” to the Hebrew ear, which means “end.” Following this clue, we see that YHWH is leading his people, as well as the Egyptians, to the very “end,” or “edge,” of the watery deep, which for Pharaoh’s army, means death. Finally, the third primal element of chaos, that of darkness, is instrumental in the fight as well, as we find in 14:20, right before the very end, where we see the angel of the Lord coming between Israel and Egypt with a “cloud and darkness.” YHWH therefore is engaging the three primal elements of chaos that we have seen at creation in his battle with Egypt, especially the watery deep (See Genesis 1:2, Primal Elements of Chaos and Primal Fears on April 30, 2013).

Pharaoh is tricked by the fact that Israel is now in a vulnerable situation, hemmed in by the desert and the sea (14:3). YHWH hardens his heart to go after them with his all of his chariots (14:6-9). The Israelites respond in fear (14:10ff.) in spite of the supernatural leading by the cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night. These moved in between the Israelites and the Egyptians to separate them that night. Moses stretches his hands over the sea, and YHWH responds by driving the sea back with a strong east “wind,” “dividing” the waters for them to cross over on “dry ground” (cf. Ex. 14:22,29 with Gen. 1:2, 6, 9, 10). Egypt’s army perishes in the watery deep (14:28).

The language and imagery intentionally connects this event with creation. What happened at the sea was not merely a historical event, but a cosmic event parallel to creation itself. By delivering Israel out of Egypt, YHWH was effecting a new creation; the very inception of human salvation, for all humanity will trace its salvation to this event. It is noteworthy that the text explicitly states as an outcome that even the Egyptians shall “know that I am YHWH” (14:18). To “know YHWH” is to enter into truth and thus salvation itself. After all, YHWH was not fighting an ethic war as if He hated Egyptians, but what Egypt as a nation represented; the world in conflict with YHWH. YHWH unleashes chaos on chaos!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: