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Course on the Pentateuch – Exegesis of Exodus 14 – The Final text and its meaning for our Life

After having examined the composition of the text – i.e. after having recognized that in Exodus 14 there are two texts and that these stories belong to different thematic and theological horizons – we will now identify the work of who put together these two stories producing the story that today appears in our Bibles.

Although the text reflects two different conceptions about how the Red Sea allowed the Jews to cross on foot, the final text speaks about just of one – and not two – crossing of the sea. Therefore, whoever revised the text for the last time – a sort of editing – conceived it as a single story.

The three divine discourses divide the piece into three parts:

  1. the plan of YHWH is revealed (14:1-4a)
  2. again the plan of YHWH + the intervention on the sea (14:15-18)
  3. only one intervention on the sea (14:26)

V. 13 corresponds to vv. 30-31 where it is confirmed what Moses had said; while Moses’s prediction of 14 corresponds to v. 25. These simple observations allow us to recognize three parts of the story:

  1. vv. 1-14
  2. vv. 15-25
  3. vv. 26-31

Each part is linked to a particular place and time.

In the first, it must be evening because the Israelites prepare the camp near the sea; the second takes place at night (vv. 20-21) up to the morning vigil; the third takes place on the other side of the sea and begins on the early morning.

The final editing of the story shows well the two levels of the action: 1. God commands from behind the scenes; 2. Israel ignores the divine plan. Moses alone participates in divine knowledge.

Each scene culminates with a confession of faith:

  1. Moses affirms, when everything seems lost, his trust in YHWH (verses 13-14) – the night when Pharaoh seems to triumph.
  2. Then it is the Egyptians themselves who recognize the presence of God (v.25) – the morning vigil
  3. Then the Israelites also see and fear YHWH and his servant Moses (v.31) – the aurora

The different times indicate precise existential pattern. The night when everything seems lost and you are at a crossroads from which you will exit only by choosing a road; the morning vigil when the adversary is forced to surrender, when the choice made by you obliges those who opposed it to surrender their arms and recognize victory; the dawn of a new day, of a new life, of trust and joy for having followed the right path that leads to the shores of freedom. But now this freedom will be put to the test, because when you are free you can really choose what to do and who to continue to rely on, without the pressure of the enemies!

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Simone Venturini

Writer and Researcher at Vatican Secret Archives, Professor of Bible at Pontifical University of the Holy Cross od Rome

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