Now the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Tell the sons of Israel to turn back and camp before Pihahiroth, between Migdol and the sea; you shall camp in front of Baalzephon, opposite it, by the sea. For Pharaoh will say of the sons of Israel, ‘They are wandering aimlessly in the land; the wilderness has shut them in.’ Thus I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will chase after them; and I will be honored through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.” And they did so.
As I write this, it is in the midst of great global debate as to whether or not there should be military strikes against Syria for their alleged (or ‘proven’ in the minds of some) use of chemical weapons on their people. Everyone is strategizing and the stakes are high. And then I read this portion of Scripture and note that God Himself is a great ‘strategist’. He actually tells the people of Israel through Moses to “turn back” and camp at a certain place. And He does it for a strategic purpose. This going forward and then turning back is to make it appear in the eyes of the enemy, that the Israelites are lost and confused. And as a result, Pharaoh’s heart will once again be ‘hardened’ and he will come after the Hebrews that he so reluctantly allowed to leave Egypt where they were serving him as slaves.
Pihahiroth is translated as a “place where sedge (a plant resembling grass) grows”. It was the third encampment of the Israelites after leaving Goshen in Egypt and the last one before crossing the Red Sea. It is between Migdol and the sea. The word “Migdol” was eventually translated “tower” but previously it meant, “abundance of hills”. It is the name of a town situated in the most northern parts of Egypt.
And specifically they were instructed to camp in front of Baalzephon. This is a town near the Red Sea. Its name literally means “lord of the north” or more loosely, “sacred to Typhon”. This was uncultivated country between the Nile and the Red Sea and thus usually thought to be the “abode of Typhon” the evil demon of the Egyptians. (Perhaps a fitting name for the location of where the Egyptians were about to be destroyed.)
So God pursues His strategy for a purpose. Pharaoh falls for it and we have the perfect setting for God to be honored in a way that will tell the Egyptians then, and the world for generations to come, that He indeed is the Lord.
God knew Pharaoh was focused on destroying Israel. So God arranges for Him to come after Israel by making Pharaoh think they were embarrassed and frustrated in their journey and thus would be easy prey. But God did this all for the purpose of destroying Pharaoh and bringing honor to the Lord. He shared this with Moses so he did not ask any questions when given this order. But could you imagine how the rank and file of the Hebrews felt about this instruction?
As for our part, we could well ask the question, “Why would God lead them into a trap like this?” Well, for starters, we would have definitely thought this was a trap. And from all the ‘natural’ geographic evidence before us, it should have been a trap. Except that we once again have fallen into our own ‘human’ trap as believers of often leaving “God out of the equation”. Not only was God not intending for His people to be trapped, but He wanted to show them that He is with them and can destroy their enemies, even the mighty armies of Pharaoh, including in an otherwise impossible circumstance.
And so, this portion of the text ends with the phrase, “And they did so.”
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