14.6. Pharaoh Pursues the Israelites (14:5-9)

 (5) When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his courtiers had a change of heart about the people and said, “What is this we have done, releasing Israel from our service?”

(6) He ordered his chariot and took his men with him;

(7) he took six hundred of his picked chariots, and the rest of the chariots of Egypt, with officers in all of them.

(8) The Lord stiffened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he gave chase to the Israelites. As the Israelites were departing defiantly, boldly,

(9) the Egyptians gave chase to them, and all the chariot horses of Pharaoh, his horsemen, and his warriors overtook them encamped by the sea, near Pi-hahiroth, before Baal-zephon.

(5) When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled: Only a few days earlier the Egyptians had driven the Jews out of Egypt by force. But now they see the situation as “the people had fled.”

Pharaoh and his courtiers had a change of heart about the people and said, “What is this we have done, releasing Israel from our service?”: The Egyptians have already forgotten the plagues, including the death of their firstborns. All they can think about now is the economic opportunities they have forfeited.

(6) He ordered his chariot and took his men with him: Literally, “He harnessed his chariot and took his people with him.” The Midrash understands these words literally. Pharaoh harnesses his own chariot and in this manner he “takes his people with him” – he raises the Egyptians’ morale. Although the death of the firstborns was a very severe blow to the Egyptians, Pharaoh, by demonstrating his own preparedness for war, was able to mobilize them. Once again, we see that Pharaoh is a truly outstanding leader.

(7) He took six hundred of his picked chariots, and the rest of the chariots of Egypt: This shows that Egypt still has plenty of horses – that not all of them died in the plagues (see 9:6).

with officers in all of them: The Torah here uses the rather obscure word shalish, which grammatically is very close to shalosh, “three.” Perhaps there were three men on each chariot, or each chariot was harnessed to a troika of three horses. Or the word might simply mean “infantry.”

(8) The Lord stiffened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he gave chase to the Israelites: The previous plagues might have taught Pharaoh not to mess with the Jews. But now God stiffened Pharaoh’s heart once again, and Pharaoh could not rein himself in.

As the Israelites were departing defiantly, boldly: Overtly, hiding nothing, thus luring Pharaoh on.

(9) The Egyptians gave chase to them, and all the chariot horses of Pharaoh, his horsemen, and his warriors overtook them encamped by the sea, near Pi-hahiroth, before Baal-zephon: The showdown with Pharaoh occurs between Pi-hahiroth and Baal-zephon, on the boundary between the liberation from Egypt and the road leading to the Land of Canaan.

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Bible Dynamics, VOL. 2. EXODUS Copyright © by Orot Yerushalaim / P. Polonsky / English translation of the Torah by the Jewish Publication Society, New JPS Translation, 1985. With sincere gratitude for the permission to use. All Rights Reserved.

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