How long did the children of Israel have to wait at the edge of the Red Sea before crossing?

Sound like a meaningless Bible trivia question?

Until recently, I had never given thought to this part of God’s deliverance of Israel from Egyptian bondage. As it turns out, what may seem like an insignificant detail actually holds enormous meaning.

Exodus 15:21 describes the scene like this: Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.

Did you notice the Bible’s description of how long they waited at the shore? All night.

What took so long? The Bible points out that an “east wind” divided the waters and “made the sea dry land.” Keep in mind; the children of Israel were coming out of Egypt –west of the sea. That means they were on the west bank waiting on the east wind to move toward them, across the sea, as they waited. They could not go until the wind made it across and finished moving the waters aside –and the last inch to be affected was the water directly in front of them. That’s why it took all night.

Why is that significant? Because the Egyptian army was directly behind them in hot pursuit. By all accounts, there was no time to stand around and wait.

So, how did the children of Israel avoid capture while waiting on the wind all night?

Check out verse 19: Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel.

Amazing! The angel of God, who led them out of Egypt as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, moved from before them to behind them. Both the pillar of cloud and pillar of fire were now visible at the same time. The Bible explains that the pillar of cloud faced the Egyptian army while, back to back, the pillar of fire faced the children of Israel. What did that accomplish? It kept the Egyptians lost in the dark of night unable to see Israel on the other side of the cloud. At the same time, the pillar of fire gave the children of Israel light throughout the night so they could watch God mightily parting the Red Sea. The Bible explains it this way at the close of verse 19: And there was the cloud and the darkness. And it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night.

Just think of the implications:

  1. God personally protected His people. Instead of using a rupturing fault line or some other natural means to place a barrier between the Israel and their enemy, God’s presence intervened as the “angel of God.” What a foreshadowing of Christ taking on human flesh in order to intervene between us and the enemy –Satan.
  2. God was in perfect control of everything. The forces of nature were not the only elements under God’s control in this episode. Even time itself was shown subordinate to God’s power as He caused Israel to wait all night long. They could have stood there for days or weeks and still been protected since God was their strength and shield. Similarly, God’s impeccable sovereignty over time was manifest in sending Christ at “just the right time” (Romans 5:6) and in “not [being] slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (II Peter 3:9).
  3. God is glorified in every detail of history. While the length of time Israel waited on the Red Sea to part might otherwise seem like an insignificant detail, the Bible treats it as a moment for God to be glorified. In verse 13, just before all of this happened, Moses told the people, “Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today.” It would have been difficult to fully appreciate the miracle God would perform in delivering his people if they had been in a hurry. So God, through Moses, instructed the people to “stand firm” and watch. Then, He put on a supernatural display of power –all night long!

Maybe today, you have been waiting on God to deliver you from a specific burden. Or perhaps you have been praying for God to save a dear friend or bring a prodigal home. It might be that, like Paul, you have prayed for a thorn in your flesh to be removed.

If God has not granted your request, take a moment to remember the children of Israel’s long night in the desert. God personally protects His people. He is in perfect control of everything –including the amount of time you have waited in prayer.

One thing is for sure, God will give His children victory over their enemies just as he did for Israel. After all God’s people moved safely across the sea on dry land, He removed the barrier from the Egyptian army, allowing them to pursue. Then, at the right time, “Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward it, and the Lord swept them into the sea. The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen—the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived” (vs. 27-28).

In Christ, the victory is already ours. Whether God grants your personal requests in this life or in the life to come is up to Him. Either way, it just may be that His delay is to give you a wonderful view of His power and plenty of time to praise Him for it. To God be the glory!

But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
    they shall walk and not faint. –Isaiah 40:31