(1) The Lord said to Moses:
(2) Tell the Israelites to turn back and encamp before Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, before Baal-zephon; you shall encamp facing it, by the sea.
(3) Pharaoh will say of the Israelites, “They are astray in the land; the wilderness has closed in on them.”
(4) Then I will stiffen Pharaoh’s heart and he will pursue them, that I may gain glory through Pharaoh and all his host; and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord. And they did so.
(2) Tell the Israelites to turn back: Had they just gone straight, the Israelites could have left Egypt and reached their destination entirely by land without ever crossing the sea. But because the Exodus would not have been complete without Pharaoh’s death, the Jews had to “turn back” – to return and collect Pharaoh, as it were, in order to see him drowned.
And encamp before Pi-ha-hiroth: Literally, “the mouth of freedom.” That is, a location from which they could get access to a “slavery-free zone.”
Before Baal-zephon; you shall encamp facing it, by the sea: Baal-tzephon, means “Lord of the North.” A deity of the Canaanites, it was so-named because their territory was located to the north of Egypt. The Egyptians erected this deity on the Egyptian border, along the road leading to Canaan.
The Jews now find themselves, both geographically and psychologically, on the boundary between Egypt and the road leading to Canaan. It is here that they must finally define the relationship that they will have with Pharaoh and Egypt henceforth.
(3) Pharaoh will say of the Israelites, “They are astray in the land; the wilderness has closed in on them”: Pharaoh will reason that the Jews are stranded near the sea, because “the wilderness has closed in on them” (that is, they have lost their way), and because “they are astray in the land” – they have no idea why they left Egypt and where they are headed. This gives Pharaoh and the Egyptians hope that the Jews will agree to return to Egypt, to be once again under Egyptian control.
(4) Then I will stiffen Pharaoh’s heart and he will pursue them, that I may gain glory through Pharaoh and all his host: The Almighty now displays His true greatness. This is necessary for educating mankind, and first and foremost in this instance – to educate the Egyptians.
And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord: We have already noted two main reasons that God deemed it necessary for the Egyptians to “know that I am the Lord.”
First, it was necessary not only to remove the Jews from Egypt, but “to remove Egypt from Jews” – to free the Jews from their worship of Egypt, and to destroy the Egyptian value system in the eyes of the Egyptians themselves, after which, as the natural consequence, it would be destroyed in the eyes of the Jews as well.
Second, it was necessary to intimidate the Egyptians to such an extent that they would not interfere with Israel’s conquest of Canaan, and for several hundred years into the future would make no effort to intervene in what would be happening there. This afforded the Jewish people conditions conducive to gradually building their own state, and for the Torah to become the Tanakh, a necessary step for the subsequent spiritual development of all of humanity.