Bible Stories for Grownups -
Moses Parts the Red Sea
Exodus 14:4-12, Moses Parts the Red Sea
Exodus 14:13-15:4, Pharaoh's Heart
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Exodus 14:4-12, Moses Parts the Red Sea (9/14/2009)
Children don't seem to have a problem with paintings of gigantic walls of water on each side of Moses and the children of Israel. Adults – especially modern Western adults – are inclined to say, "Um, excuse me? Is this the same Red Sea that is 3300 feet deep in the center?" You may relax, because the answer is "no."
The Hebrew name for the body of water that Moses parted is yam suph
, which means sea of reeds
or sea of rushes
. There's nothing "red" about it in Hebrew. Twenty-six OT verses refer to this incident, and none of them have the word "red" in Hebrew. Both my Hebrew dictionary and my analytical concordance say that yam suph
refers to the northernmost arms of the Red Sea, the Gulf of Suez and the Gulf of Akaba. Reeds and rushes – probably mostly papyrus – grow in these northern arms where the water is shallow.
The "red" comes into the English translations through the Greek translation of the OT and the two verses in the New Testament that refer to the crossing of the "Red Sea." These 28 verses in Greek use the word eruthros
, which apparently means red
I gather that "Red Sea" is the ancient Greek name for these shallow northern arms of what we now call the "Red Sea." One of my reference books says eruthros
refers to the color of the reeds, so I looked at some photos of papyrus on the web, and I suppose I could be convinced that the bases of the plants are sort of reddish. As near as I can tell, eruthros
is not used in the Bible except in any context other than this particular incident.
The point is, the ancient Greeks had a body of shallow water that they called the "Red Sea." We have a body of deep water that we call the "Red Sea." They are not exactly the same body of water, however. You may find the "Red Sea" in Exodus 10:19, 13:18, 15:4, 15:22, and 23:31, for starters, but not in today's reading.
Exodus 14:13-15:4, Pharaoh's Heart (9/15/2009)
The other thing that concerns many people when they read about the escape of the children of Israel from Egypt is the hardening of Pharoah's heart
. Today I'm just going to give you the highlights of the longer answer answer that you can read by following the link.
Foremost, in modern English, "hard-hearted" means "cruel." So if you read the story with that in mind, naturally you think that God made Pharoah cruel and then punished him for being cruel, which would indeed be unfair. However, that's not what the phrase means in Hebrew, for two reasons. The Hebrew word translated harden
in this passage is frequently translated as strengthen
. It does mean harden,
but in the sense of hardening a wall by reinforcing it. In addition, the word for heart
does mean heart
, but the Hebrews thought you thought with your heart. (It's possible that after being around the Egyptians for so long, they thought the brain was just some goop that took up space. It's not clear what, if anything, the Hebrews thought you did with your brain.) So.
"Harden Pharoah's heart" means "strengthen Pharoah's mind." He is hard-headed
, not hard-hearted
. God made one of his own prophets, Ezekiel, "hard" (Ezekiel 3:7-9).
Second, if you read carefully in a good, modern translation, you notice that prior to the plagues, God predicts
a couple of times that he will harden Pharoah's heart, but he doesn't do
it until after the fifth plague! Before that time, Pharoah hardens his own heart. (Admittedly, this is somewhat difficult to see in the King James. Have I mentioned lately that you need to get yourself a good, modern translation and read it for yourself?) After that, Pharoah continues to harden his own heart after some plagues, and after other plagues, God lends his support for what Pharoah really wants to do, which is to keep the children of Israel – a valuable and unpaid work force – from leaving Egypt. He strengthens Pharoah's mind.
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