Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Sea of Reeds

TL;DR: Perhaps Israel only crossed a marsh at low tide. . . nah, couldn't be.

The Hebrew word used in the Bible to identify the Red Sea is the same word used of the bulrushes (cuwph)  when Moses' mother placed his basket in the Nile in Exodus 2:3. Exodus 2:5 again uses the same word for bulrushes when Pharaoh's daughter drew the basket from the river.

Exodus 2:3, 5 (NASB) But when she could hide him no longer, she got him a wicker basket and covered it over with tar and pitch. Then she put the child into it and set it among the reeds (cuwph)  by the bank of the Nile. . . The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the Nile, with her maidens walking alongside the Nile; and she saw the basket among the reeds (cuwph)  and sent her maid, and she brought it to her.

This same word is later used similarly in Isaiah's prophecy against Egypt.

Isaiah 19:6 (NASB) The canals will emit a stench,The streams of Egypt will thin out and dry up; The reeds and rushes (cuwph) will rot away. 
And yet again in Jonah 2:5 to describe seaweed.
Jonah 2:5 (NASB) “Water encompassed me to the point of death. 
The great deep engulfed me, Weeds (cuwph) were wrapped around my head. 
Does this provide an opportunity to downplay the Red Sea crossing described in Exodus 14? Could the crossing have simply been a trek across a marsh in the Nile River delta system, say at low tide or low river stage? The Sea of Reeds is mentioned as a geographical feature in other passages as well. First Kings 9:26 -28 (paralleled in 2 Chronicles 8:12) describes King Solomon building a merchant fleet on the Sea of Reeds.

1 Kings 9:26-28 (NASB) King Solomon also built a fleet of ships in Ezion-geber, which is near Eloth on the shore of the Red (cuwph) Sea, in the land of Edom. And Hiram sent his servants with the fleet, sailors who knew the sea, along with the servants of Solomon. They went to Ophir and took four hundred and twenty talents of gold from there, and brought it to King Solomon. 
These verses contain two important details that preclude the possibility that the Sea of Reeds is simply a marsh. First, the Sea of Reeds is a navigable body of water. Not only was a fleet built there, but ships were able to sail to Ophir, excluding the possibility that it is a land-locked lake.

Second, we learn that the Sea of Reeds has shores in Edom. Among those locations listed in Exodus 14 which chronicle the journey of Israel to the Red Sea, none of them are definitively known today. However, the location of Edom is fairly well defined in scripture relative to other well-known locations. We know that Edom was on the border of Judah which is in the south of the Promise land.

Numbers 34:3 Then your south quarter shall be from the wilderness of Zin along by the coast of Edom, and your south border shall be the outmost coast of the salt sea eastward: 
Joshua 15:1 This then was the lot of the tribe of the children of Judah by their families; even to the border of Edom the wilderness of Zin southward was the uttermost part of the south coast.
Joshua 15:21 And the uttermost cities of the tribe of the children of Judah toward the coast of Edom southward were Kabzeel, and Eder, and Jagur,
The Bible also tells us that Edom bordered on Moab, as King Jehosaphat, king of Judah, opted to invade Moab via Edom.

2 Kings 3:7, 8 And he went and sent to Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, saying, The king of Moab hath rebelled against me: wilt thou go with me against Moab to battle? And he said, I will go up: I am as thou art, my people as thy people, and my horses as thy horses. And he said, Which way shall we go up? And he answered, The way through the wilderness of Edom.
Moab is clearly defined several times as being located on the side of the Jordan river across from Jericho. 

Numbers 22:1 And the children of Israel set forward, and pitched in the plains of Moab on this side Jordan by Jericho

Numbers 26:63 These are they that were numbered by Moses and Eleazar the priest, who numbered the children of Israel in the plains of Moab by Jordan near Jericho.

Numbers 26:63 These are they that were numbered by Moses and Eleazar the priest, who numbered the children of Israel in the plains of Moab by Jordan near Jericho.

Numbers 26:3 And Moses and Eleazar the priest spake with them in the plains of Moab by Jordan near Jericho, saying,

Numbers 31:12 And they brought the captives, and the prey, and the spoil, unto Moses, and Eleazar the priest, and unto the congregation of the children of Israel, unto the camp at the plains of Moab, which are by Jordan near Jericho.

Numbers 33:48 And they departed from the mountains of Abarim, and pitched in the plains of Moab by Jordan near Jericho. 
There are two seas that can be seen in the vicinity of both Egypt and Canaan. One is the Red Sea and the other the Mediterranean Sea. The Mediterranean Sea is called the "sea of the Philistines" in Exodus 23:31
Exodus 23:31 And I will set thy bounds from the Red sea even unto the sea of the Philistines, and from the desert unto the river: for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand; and thou shalt drive them out before thee.
God did not have Israel pass through the land of the Philistines eliminating the Mediterranean Sea as the "Reed Sea."
Exodus 13:17, 18 And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt: But God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red sea: and the children of Israel went up harnessed out of the land of Egypt.
Drawing these pieces together, we know that Moab is to the east of Canaan and Edom is to the south of Canaan while bordering Moab and having a coast on the "Sea of Reeds." We know that the Philistines border both the land of Canaan and the Mediterranean Sea which is eliminated because they did not pass through that territory on the way to the promise land. This leaves the Red Sea as the only navigable body of water that would border both Egypt and Edom.

Because the body of water is navigable, not land-locked, and having coasts along both Edom and Egypt, the "Reed Sea" then is best understood as the what we know today as the Red Sea. This means that that, no, the Bible does not support the idea that the crossing was simply a Nile delta marsh at low tide or river stage as Israel left Egypt.

 Items for further investigation:

·     Where was the actual crossing of the Red Sea?

1 comment:

  1. If we're to ponder that they may have crossed a low-tide area, then Pharaoh's army would have supposedly drowned in a high-tide area? The Lord can surely use nature according to His will but how would the event have been seen as a miracle if it looked like a natural, possibly aiding the Hebrews due to the ignorance of the Egyptians who were known as an intelligent people? How do secular historians explain it or is there anyone like Josephus who's actually tried to explain it without citing the event as a miracle?