We are studying the stages of Israel's journey across the wilderness. They left the district of Rameses in Egypt and traveled first to Sukkoth. "The Israelites left Rameses and camped at Sukkoth." (Numbers 33:5) At the time Israel camped in Sukkoth, the Bible tells us, "There were about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children. Many other people went up with them, and also large droves of livestock, both flocks and herds." (Exodus 12:37-38) There were 600,000 adult Israelite males in this group able to walk under their own steam, so altogether there were far more males than 600,000 since this number doesn't include males under twenty or males who were elderly or disabled and had to ride a donkey or be pulled in a cart. The men who were able to walk under their own steam and carry a weapon were traveling armed, according to the Bible, but that doesn't mean they were trained for battle yet. They were willing to fight to keep their freedom from slavery, but the Lord knew they could be easily discouraged if they were met by fierce opponents, so we see in our next segment that the Lord had them avoid passing through a particular region when they came out of Egypt.
After leaving Sukkoth the Lord did not lead Israel through the country of the Philistines because He knew they would become discouraged when opposed by those warlike people, so He took them by a desert road toward the Red Sea and the Israelites camped next at Etham on the edge of the desert. (See Exodus 13:17-18, 20) This corresponds to the list we are studying, for Moses tells us, "They left Sukkoth and camped at Etham, on the edge of the desert." (Numbers 33:6) It was at Etham that we were first told the Lord went ahead of Israel in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. (Exodus 13:21-22) While the desert stretched out before them, vast and with no signposts to guide them, the Lord Himself was their guide day and night. At no time were the people unable to see the visible sign of His presence, for the Bible says, "Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people." (Exodus 13:22)
"They left Etham, turned back to Pi Hahiroth, and passed through the sea into the desert, and when they had traveled for three days in the Desert of Etham, they camped at Marah." (Numbers 33:8) The Lord deliberately positioned Israel, as the saying goes, "between the devil and the deep blue sea" at Pi Hahiroth. He instructed Moses to have the people camp "near Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea". (Exodus 14:2a) This sea is the Red Sea, and the Lord caused Israel to camp there because He wanted to make Pharaoh believe that Israel backtracked in this area because they were lost and confused in the desert. The Lord knew Pharaoh would decide to go after them, saying to his officials, "What have we done? We have let the Israelites go and have lost their services!" (Exodus 14:5b) The Lord also knew He was not going to allow Israel to be taken back. His purpose in allowing Israel to appear to be trapped between the Egyptian army and the Red Sea was to, in His words, "Gain glory for Myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord." (Exodus 14:4)
The Lord showed Pharaoh who was boss at the Red Sea. The fame of the Lord spread far and wide, throughout Egypt and beyond. At the very least, there must have been tribes who dared not lift a finger against Israel after hearing about the power of her God. In the best scenario, scores of people perhaps cast aside their idols and placed their faith in the living God. What temporarily looked like it was going to be a disaster actually turned out to be an opportunity for the Israelites to grow their faith in the Lord, for other peoples and tribes to hear about and place their faith in the Lord, and for the Lord to discourage some of Israel's enemies from pursuing her or engaging her in battle.
Moses mentions the Red Sea miracle so casually in verse 8 of our text today. He merely says the Israelites "passed through the sea". I don't think he's downplaying what the Lord did at the Red Sea. I think instead that he doesn't go into detail here, or break into song about it as he did in Exodus 15, because the story is so well known and so highly revered that he needs not add any details to it in verse 8. Most of the generation who witnessed the parting of the Red Sea has died out now, but the story has been told and retold time and time again. There's nothing Moses can add to it to make it more glorious than it was. As soon as he says they "passed through the sea" I think all the people pictured the scene in their minds as best they could (without having witnessed it themselves) and thought gratefully about the great power and mercy of the Lord and said in their hearts, "Amen! Glory to God!"
Think back over your life and the times when the Lord came through in a mighty way. Think about the times when there didn't appear to be a way forward---times when you couldn't imagine things working out but then they suddenly did. Just a simple word or two, or just a fleeting image in your mind, can bring those miraculous breakthroughs back to you in stunning detail in your thoughts. I think that's what happens when Moses simply says Israel "passed through the sea". These four words brought a whole world of scenery alive in everyone's minds. These four words brought forth thankful thoughts and words of praise. I don't think Moses is downplaying the Red Sea miracle at all; I think his short statement about the Red Sea miracle was all that was needed to bring joy to hearts and praise to lips.
We've all had some "Red Sea moments" in our lives. I'm going through one right now, where it feels like a wall of water is in front of me and the enemy army is behind me. I don't know when or how the Lord is going to make a way through. I just know that He can and He will. He didn't leave Israel stranded in the desert or allow her enemies to capture her and take her back to slavery. He's not going to let these things happen to me or to you either.