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PASSAGE OF THE RED SEA.
BY THE REV. J. P. DUBBIN, D.D.
The Jews are the most remarkable people in the world, whether we consider their miraculous and prophetic history, or their personal qualities and political influences. Their miraculous and prophetic history, suggested by the engraving in the fore part of this number, demands our attention at present. They are the descendants of Shem, through Abraham the Chaldean. It was with Abraham their privileges and peculiarities commenced. From him they derive their high distinctions, and their patent of nobility, reaching back nearly four thousand years, and putting to shame the most ancient and honourable genealogies claimed by other men. With respect to them all European or even Asiatic noblemen are but parvenus. Yet, notwithstanding the halo of splendour which was thrown around their early history, they were not raised above the accidents and influences which belong to our common humanity. These must be considered as modified and directed by the divine interpositions in their favour. Thus, their history will appear a perfectly natural result, flowing from the conditions of the case.
The country granted to them as a patrimony through their great ancestor, Abraham, lay along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean, and was subject to drought. And as they were a pastoral people, when the rain failed, their flocks were liable to perish for want of grass. At such a time whither would they naturally look for food for themselves, and fodder for their cattle? The nature of the several countries, and the history of the nations around the Mediterranean answer, to Egypt, whose fertile valley never drinks of the rains of heaven, but is watered by the annual overflowings of the Nile. The northeast corner of Egypt, which lay adjacent to the pasture-grounds of the Israelites, had been occupied for a long time by a foreign people, whose sovereigns are known in history as the shepherd kings, and who had ruled the land of the Nile with a rod of iron. A mighty rising of the native population resulted in the expulsion of these foreign shepherds, or Pales, as they were called in the language of the East; and retreating around the southeast corner of the Mediterranean,
they settled upon its coast. The district which they occupied was called Palestine, or the shepherd-land ; and they were known in Sacred History as the Palestines, or Philistines. Their new settlement was not very far distant from the eastern side of the delta of the Nile, from which they had retreated; and as there was no natural barrier of mountain or river to prevent their return, the Egyptians were afraid to occupy the rich and beautiful country they had vacated. It therefore was uninhabited, and was thus prepared by a Divine Providence for the reception of the family of Jacob, which emigrated to Egypt upon the invitation and under the patronage of Joseph. This is the "land of Goshen." Here, insulated from all other people by a desert on the east and south, the sea on the north, and the Nile on the west, the family of Jacob developed itself into the Jewish commonwealth. Each of the twelve patriarchal families grew into a numerous tribe, and it was not long before the powerful and wealthy community felt the necessity of various officers, in order to secure peace, safety, and prosperity. Here were formed the political elements of the Jewish state. For several generations the Israelites were regarded with kindly feelings by the rulers of Egypt; partly because of the recollections of the great benefits Joseph, one of their ancestors, had secured to the land; partly because they formed a barrier against invasion from the east; and partly because they were not sufficiently wealthy or powerful to excite the avarice or fears of the native inhabitants.
But Egypt suffered the common vicissitude of nations. There was a change in the dynasty —a new family came to the throne. "There arose another king who knew not Joseph." He did not acknowledge the great benefits which, under former reigns, the land had experienced from the administration of this eminent Israelitish minister. Besides, the cupidity and fears of the people were awakened by the vast multiplication of these isolated sojourners in the land of Goshen. Their fears appear to have been real; and hence the rigorous measures adopted to prevent their increase, and gradually reduce their number. The Egyptians said, "If war arise, these foreigners will join with the invading foes. Not far distant to the east of them are the powerful Pales, or Philistines, whose ancestors long enjoyed the fatness of this land. These Hebrews are from the same country, and are Pales or shepherds also. Should the Philistines again invade Egypt, they will enter it through the land of Goshen, where the Hebrews will join them, and we shall be brought into bondage. Our safety is to be found in being beforehand with them. We must reduce their number by rigorous treatment, and bring them into the severest servitude." So reasoned the Egyptians, and thus commenced the bondage of Israel. The motives would seem to palliate the adoption of the policy of the Egyptians; but by the manner of carrying it out, the mingling of avarice and ambition with their fears, their policy became execrable. Their fears gradually gave way to their avarice and ambition, and they continued to enslave the Hebrews from a corrupt and guilty love of ease and wealth.
The religious element in every community is the most influential and permanent. It may vary in the manner of its manifestations, both with respect to doctrine and forms; but amid all the variations of its expressions among men, its essential element, divine worship and obedience, is recognised and respected, in civilized or in savage society. Hence, a plea founded upon religious obligation is always respected when it is believed to be sincere. Moses, the Jewish patriot, undertook to deliver his countrymen from their bondage. He applied to the king of Egypt for permission to go three days' journey into the wilderness to the east of the Nile, in order to worship the God of the Hebrews according to the rites and ceremonies He himself had prescribed. This request was received by Pharaoh and his ministers as tyrants and oppressors always receive the humble petitions of the oppressed. They said, "The people are idle, and hence are restless, and the proper answer to their requests is an increase of toil." The cry of the oppressed rose higher into heaven and became louder in the ears of Jehovah, and He determined to bring them forth with a "mighty hand and an outstretched arm." That the deliverance might be glorious, and the terrible vengeance which was to be executed on Egypt might be discerned, a series of plagues were brought upon the land by the divine power given to Moses and Aaron. And yet these plagues were so brought as to be in accordance, to some extent, with the natural phenomena of the country, and with the wonders of that peculiar magic which was practised by the native sorcerers. But each successive plague increased in difliculty of production
and in intensity; surpassing the skill of the magicians, and causing the heart of the king to yield reluctantly, and little by little, to the demands of Moses. There is not, in the whole compass of human history, a series of transactions more natural and truthful than those which occurred in the protracted contest between Pharaoh and his ministers and magicians on the one part, and Moses and Aaron on the other. The essential feature in the contest, wherein lies its whole truth and power, is the gradual yielding of Pharaoh to the steadily advancing demands of Moses and Aaron. At last the crisis came. The king had been forced to yield everything but an unconditional departure with wives, children, servants, and flocks; when Moses advanced his demands still further, and required an absolute and unconditional leave to depart. Upon this the indignant monarch ordered him to fly, and see his face no more, declaring that in the day that he came into his presence he should die. Then flashed the eyes of the Hebrew patriot with joy; and his mighty soul gave utteranoe to these portentous words:— "Thou hast spoken well, I will see thy face no more."
The fate of Egypt and the triumph of Israel now hastened apace. There remained one more plague of which the Egyptians had no notice until it was upon them. Several days had elapsed since Moses departed from the presence of Pharaoh; and all seemed quiet. But within the dwellings of Israel the Passover was preparing. Each family was cherishing a lamb without spot and blemish as a sacrifice when the evening of the fourteenth day of the month should close in and veil the land in darkness. On that evening the blood of the lamb was carefully received in a basin and sprinkled on the door-posts of each family residence; and the flesh was roasted in the presence of the family standing around, and girded for travel. As the magic hour of midnight approached, and while they were in the midst of their paschal feast, a wail was heard arising from every dwelling in the land where the blood of the paschal lamb appeared not on the door. The destroying angel was abroad with commission to smite the first-born in every house not signed and protected by the paschal blood. But, in the quaint yet significant language of the Bible, "No dog even moved his tongue (or barked) against any of the children of Israel." The victory was won: the heart of the haughty Egyptian was broken: he and his people flew to the head-quarters of Moses and Aaron, and said, "Rise up, and get you forth from among my people, both ye and the children of Israel; and go worship the Lord as ye have said. And take your flocks and your herds as ye have said, and be gone; and bless me also."
The Hebrews, according to the instruction of Moses had kept within their dwellings until the destroying angel had passed. Now they poured forth from the Desert on the east, to the Nile on the west, and hurried forward in long lines, converging upon the head of the Red Sea, intending to pass round it. But the Lord directed Moses to turn to the right, and pass through the mountains, and encamp several miles below the head of the sea, on its western shore. The narrow mountain valley through which they approached the sea is still called, in the language of the country, Tiah bent Israel, or the way of the children of Israel. At the mouth of this valley where it spreads out on the sea-shore, hemmed in on either side by inaccessible mountains, the host of Israel halted to rest, and to adjust their goods and furniture for their future travel in that perilous wilderness, whose black slaggy mountains loomed up to their view on the other side of the sea. (See engraving.) They seem not to have thought of being pursued by Pharaoh. They felt secure under the guidance and protection of God, whose presence was among them in the form of a luminous cloud. But they were suddenly awakened from their dream of security by the banners of Egypt flashing in the rays of the setting sun. Their hearts failed them for fear, and they cried to Moses for help, at the same time reproaching him for having led them out of Egypt to die by the sword. As their cry rose to heaven, "the angel of the Lord (the Lord Jesus), which went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of the cloud went from before their face and stood behind them: and it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel: and it was a cloud and darkness to those, but it gave light by night to these; so that the one came not near the other all the night." Thus were the Egyptians stayed, and Israel protected. But they could not remain long in that sterile and inhospitable place. They must escape. But this was impossible, except through the sea. The extreme crisis had come;—the hour for manifesting the divine indignation and power was at hand. But this manifestation, like all divine manifestations for the special benefit of man, was to be made through the symbol of human agency. And the Lord said unto Moses, "Lift thou up thy rod, and stretch out thy hand over the sea, and divide it, and the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea. And Moses stretched out his hand, and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong cast wind all
that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground; and the waters were a wall unto them on the right hand and on the left." (Exod. xiv.)
Let us pause a moment and look into that miraculous canal, whose lofty and overhanging walls of water stand congealed by the divine power; let us contemplate the vast host of Israel hastening through it, guided by the mysterious light that gleams from the luminous side of the divine cloud which stands behind them at the western entrance of the wonderful sea-chasm. The rear-guard of the astonished host is coming up out of the midst of the waters, and silently deploying to the right and left on the eastern banks of the sea, as the divine cloud closes up the passage behind them. Silence reigns on the eastern shore throughout the hosts of Israel, for the magnitude and miracle of their deliverance, and the awful and glorious presence of God in the cloud of fire represses every heart. Suddenly, as the day dawns, they hear coming from the midst of the sea where they had passed, cries of distress. For "in the morning watch the Lord looked unto the host of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and of the cloud, and troubled the host of the Egyptians, and took off their chariot wheels, that they drew them heavily: so that the Egyptians said, Let us flee from the face of Israel, for the Lord fighteth for them against the Egyptians." See, in the dawn of the morning, the divine cloud parts in the midst; through the fiery opening Moses advances boldly to the water, and stretching out his hand over the sea, at the command of Jehovah, the sea returns to his strength, and the Egyptians are overthrown. "Thus the Lord saved Israel that day out of the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw them dead upon the seashore."
As the sun rose over the mountains of the great and terrible wilderness, making manifest the greatness of their deliverance, and the destruction of their enemies, the profound silence which had reigned on the eastern shore was broken by strains of inspired and triumphing music . The oldest and the finest epic poem in the world burst spontaneously from the hearts of the Hebrews. In it Moses narrates the glorious acts of Jehovah, while sometimes the men, and sometimes the women answer in chorus. The song concludes with one grand chorus by all. The following is the translation and arrangement of this fine epie, by the celebrated Hebrew scholar, Dr. Kennicot. The original may be found in the fifteenth chapter of Exodus. The scene is about fifteen