Why Did God Kill the Retreating Egyptian Army?

In old westerns, it’s a classic bad guy move, to shoot someone else in the back. And in human warfare, for instance, the international community has agreed that prisoners should have certain rights. While these right are unquestionably violated from time to time, at least these rights exist and for the most part are followed, even in times of great distress. Outside of Prisoner of War camps in which soldiers are abused, or highly controversial properties like Guantanamo Bay, where over 90% inhabitants are not convicted of a crime, or the nightmare of prisons like Abu Ghraib, these laws of basic human rights have inspired us to show some respect a captured enemy, just as we would expect the enemy to treat one of our captured soldiers with some respect.

So as we look at Exodus 14, we might wonder why God chooses to smite the Egyptians while they are retreating from their pursuit of Moses and the Israelities. First, God took off their chariot wheels, that they drave them heavily: so that the Egyptians said, Let us flee from the face of Israel; for the LORD fighteth for them against the Egyptians.

Then the LORD said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand over the sea, that the waters may come again upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen. Moses does so, and Pharoah and his army are covered by the sea until not a single one among them remains.

Some might raise an eyebrow at this killing them in retreat, presumably sending them to hell, instead of letting them retreat and live back in their native land.

But who knows what God may have had in mind. Perhaps he foresaw that the Egyptian retreat was merely a temporary, tactical one, and that their pursuit of Moses and his people would never come to an end. After all, despite all of the plagues and famine that, according to these pages of the Old Testament, God handed down upon the Egyptian lands, Pharoah’s heart always remained hardened against the Israelites. Thou shalt not kill was certainly not a commandment from heaven in their eyes, and they lived by the sword and died by it, so to speak.

Just like our interpretation of Lot can be clouded my misunderstanding, it can also be argued that our interpretation of events like this can be clouded at first glance. It could very well be that the Egyptians retreated because they sensed death approaching, not because they were repenting of their pursuit of Moses and his people.

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