Red Sea

The Red Sea showing its northern terminations in the Gulf of Suez (left) and the Gulf of Aqabah (right) with the Sinai Peninsula in the middle. (Space Shuttle Photo, 1991) The Red Sea is one of the major bodies of water to feature in the history of Israel. It was the site where God rescued the children of Israel, bringing them decisively out of Egypt and simultaneously destroying the Pharaoh's army. Later, the crossing of the Red Sea would be looked back upon by Israelites as one of God's mightiest acts in their history, celebrating it in the Psalms. The Red Sea also functioned, at times, as a boundary for the kingdom of Israel, as one of the geographical limitations to the kingdom.

Selected passages mentioning the Red Sea

  • In the plagues of Egypt: Exodus 10:19
  • In the exodus from Egypt and Moses parting of the waters: Exodus 13:18, Exodus 15:4, Joshua 24:5-7, Psalm 136:12-14
  • In conjunction with the wilderness wanderings: Numbers 33:9-11, Judges 11:16
  • As a border for the land of Israel: Exodus 23:31-32
  • As the location of a ship building port for Solomon: 1 Kings 9:26-27
  • In the New Testament: Acts 7:36, Hebrews 11:29

A more extensive list may be found here.

Quotes

  • "The crossing of Israel . . . cannot be explained as a wading through a swamp. It required a mighty act of God, an act so significant both in scope and meaning that forever after in Israel's history it was the paradigm against which all of his redemptive and saving work was measured" (Eugene Merrill, Kingdom of Priests, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, 1987, p. 66)

  • "It is commonly suggested that the designation 'Red Sea' (yam sup) should be rendered 'Sea of Reeds'.? Supposedly then, the place at which Israel left Egypt was but a 'marshy'? area that was dried out by a temporary wind. This view is argued upon the supposition that the Hebrew term sup is related to an Egyptian word meaning 'reed'.? It is also possible, however, that sup may relate to the Hebrew term sop, which signifies 'end'? or 'conclusion'? (of the earth), and thus could refer simply to several connected bodies of water extending southward from Palestine and Arabia (Myers, Eerdmans Bible Dictionary, p. 876)

  • "In 1 Kings 9:26 sup refers to the Gulf of Aqabah, where Solomon's navy was kept. Professor Kenneth Kitchen believes that yam sup extended from the Egyptian delta north of Suez, along the line of the present Suez Canal to the Gulf of Suez and Aqabah—and even beyond that area (Douglas, pp. 1077-8). Wherever the exodus took place, it was at a point where the sea was deep enough to drown the entire Egyptian army." [1]

  • After Pi-hahiroth, the Hebrews passed through the midst of the sea into the wilderness of Sinai. The location of the crossing is a matter of great debate among modern historians. The body of water that Israel crossed is often referred to in the Scriptures as yam suph, which is often translated as “Sea of Reeds [or Papyrus]” because the term suph in the Old Testament refers to the reeds growing along the side of the Nile River (see Ex. 2:3). In addition, the word suph may be related to the Egyptian word that means “marsh plant.” Since papyrus does not grow along the Red Sea/Gulf of Suez, some histo- rians conclude that the yam suph must be one of the marshy lakes in the eastern delta region north of the Red Sea. Some historians make reference to the Egyptian text Papyrus Anastasis III, which mentions a “papyrus/marsh lake” not far from the city of Rameses, and conclude that this body ought to be identified with the yam suph of the exodus ac- count. This reconstruction appears to be the domi- nant one in modern biblical scholarship. Other historians are not convinced by those arguments; they believe that yam suph, in fact, does refer to the Red Sea/Gulf of Suez. They ar- gue that suph is not related to the Egyptian word for “marsh plant” but rather derives from a Semitic root that means “end.” Therefore, the Hebrew place-name for their crossing is literally “the sea of the end,” and this refers to the waters to the far south at the end of the land at the Red Sea. In ad- dition, every certain reference to yam suph in the Bible refers to the Red Sea or its northern exten- sions in the Gulfs of Aqaba and Suez (e.g., 1 Kings 9:26; Jer. 49:21). (ESV Bible Atlas, p. 87)

Holman Bible Atlas

The northern section of the Sinai consists of a sandy coastal plain averaging twenty miles in width. Near the coast, sand dunes, some towering over sixty feet high, create a striking contrast to the deep blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea.

> In the west the plain opens out in the Desert of al-Jifar, probably the ancient “wilderness of Shur” (Exod. 15:22). A series of lakes—Lake Timsah, Lake Balah, and the Bitter Lakes—mark the western boundary of Sinai with Egypt. Today, the Suez Canal links these lakes, forging a connection between the Gulf of Suez and the Mediterranean. These lakes figure into the discussion about the Yam Suph, or “Sea of Reeds,” scene of God’s deliverance by means of a strong east wind.
> Encamped at Pi-hahiroth, the Israelites found themselves caught between the sea before them and the pursuing Egyptians. In a great miracle, God parted the waters by sending a strong east wind, allowing the children of Israel to escape. Several passages call this body of water Yam Suph, sometimes translated “Red Sea” but more properly “Sea of Reeds” (Exod. 13:18; 15:4). Traditionally, the north end of the Gulf of Suez has been identified with the Yam Suph, but the head of the Gulf is located a considerable distance south of Succoth. Likely, the chariots of pharaoh would have overtaken the fleeing Israelites sooner than the time required to reach the Gulf of Suez. One of the lakes bordering Egypt and the Sinai (Lake Timsah or one of the Bitter Lakes) seems a more likely scene of this mighty act of God.

Brisco, T. V. (1998). Holman Bible atlas. Holman Reference (65,68). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

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