Exodus 15:5, 12 and 19:4 do not describe the Exodus as it actually physically happened. For example, Ex. 15:5 states that Pharaoh's chariots and his men "sank into the bottom as a stone." Ex. 14:23 states that they pursued Israel on the dry ground. That was the bottom of the sea which was exposed when Moses parted the sea. The following morning God troubled the Egyptians, and in fear they stopped following Israel and started to return to Egypt. At that point, God told Moses to stretch out his hand, and the water of the Red Sea returned to its place, covering the Egyptian host. The Egyptians did not sink but were already at the bottom of the sea when the waters returned. Another example is Ex. 15:12. That verse states that the earth itself was involved, but the entire account in Exodus 14 mentions only water. Finally, Ex. 19:4 tells us that the Israelites were carried by God on eagle wings, while the actual account does not mention that.
One easy way of thinking about the difference is that Exodus 15 and 19 are not meant to be taken physically, as they are written, but as poetic descriptions of the Exodus. In this way, the emphasis would be the awfulness of the Egyptians' destruction and the tender care of God for His people in their distress.
Another way of thinking about the descriptions in Exodus 15 and 19 is to emphasize their literal character. We could ask, "Is there any way that these descriptions could be true just as they are presented?" Could the details of Ex. 15:5, 12 and 19:4 be an accurate account of what really happened?" As it turns out, the answer is, "Yes." The literal description in these verses can be talking about what happened in the Exodus. Of course, we would then have to be looking at things the way God does. In other words, more was happening during the Exodus incident than was or could be described in physical terms. The point is that the literal facts in Exodus 15 and 19 are a spiritual description of what acually happened.
Exodus 15:1, 2 sets the context of Chapter 15 and hints that God will now give a spiritual description of the Exodus. Verse one emphasizes that what happened was a personal triumph of God; what happened was God's work. Many physical things are the work of God. One thing that is exclusively God's work is found in verse 2, "salvation." The Exodus is telling us what happened to the Egyptians and Israelites in terms of salvation.
In spiritual terms, Ex. 15:5 tells us that the enemies of God and His people sank into the bottom of "the depths." This is a description of hell. The "depths" was Jonah's experience in the fish (Jonah 2:5); and according to Jesus, this described His own experience in payment for our sins in hell. The word "depths" also describes hell in Matt. 18:6. Therefore, when the Egyptians were covered with water, they died as unbelievers and were destined for hell. God is telling us that Moses might have seen the Egyptians die physically, but God helps us see that they went to hell. That is the same thing Ex. 15:12 teaches. Not only does the literal description of these verses tell us what happened to the Egyptians spiritually, but also these verses tell us what will happen to all unbelievers of any age. In other words, what spiritually happened to the Egyptians was but an application of the greater principle: the wages of sin is death.
Exodus 19:4 gives us the other side of the picture. As a nation, the Israelites were saved, to the last man, woman, and child, from the physical assault of the Egyptians. In a way, the whole nation was also saved by God as a representative in the Old Testament of His church. God has a program for the visible, organized church in the world, even though in the deepest sense of the term "salvation," every individual in the organized church is not saved from sin. The term "eagle" in Ex. 19:4 does not mean that all were saved. The Bible sometimes uses the term "eagle" to refer to God's dealing with His people as a group, either in tender care (Deut. 32) or in judgment (Ezra 17:3,22). While for His purposes God cared for the nation as a whole, most of the nation was unsaved. Therefore, when the whole nation of Israel passed on dry ground to the other side of the Red Sea, they were being cared for by God as a nation. God is telling us that Moses and his people might have experienced a physical journey across a dry sea bottom, but God helps us see that God was caring for them as a complete congregation. Not only does Ex. 19:4 tell us what happened to the Israelites as a nation, but also that God deals with His church throughout the history of the world. What was spiritually happening to the Israelites as a whole in their Exodus experience is one application of a bigger principle: Just as God builds His corporate church despite the opposition of the nations of the world, so God will build His spiritual church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.
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