Many believe that a knee-deep, reedy marsh at the north end of the Red Sea was the site of their crossing. Some (such as James Moffatt) even go as far as to call this area the “Reed Sea,” claiming that “Red Sea” is a mistranslation. But by examining the Bible, we can prove that the Israelites did indeed cross the Red Sea.
I Kings 9:26 shows that King Solomon based a “navy of ships…on the shore of the Red Sea.” In this verse, the Hebrew for “Red Sea” is yam suph—which is the same name given to the Red Sea in Exodus 15, verses 4 and 22. Thus, the verses must be talking about the same body of water. Did Solomon store his navy on a marshy, shallow lake?
Reading further in I Kings 9 proves that this was not so. Solomon’s ships were manned by “shipmen who had knowledge of the sea” (v. 27)—men who had experience sailing the oceans. After their voyages, they returned with much gold—“four hundred and twenty talents” (v. 28), or 22 tons. Why would Solomon employ such highly trained men just to row across a shallow marsh for a few sacks of gold? The answer, of course, is that he would not. His ships were oceangoing vessels capable of hauling much cargo.
Exodus 14:21-22 offers even stronger evidence that crossing yam suph was not tantamount to wading in a small lake. Notice the description of what the Israelites witnessed: “Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea into dry land, and the waters were divided. So the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea on the dry ground, and the waters were a wall to them on their right hand and on their left” (NKJV; emphasis ours throughout). The setting is fairly clear when one reads these verses.
Also in Exodus 14, notice verses 28 and 30: “And the waters returned, and covered the chariots, and the horsemen, and all the host of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them; there remained not so much as one of them…Thus the Lord saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the sea shore.” Other verses (Ex. 15:4; Heb. 11:29; Deut. 11:4) also prove that the waters of the Red Sea swallowed up Pharaoh’s army, drowning all of them in the process. Surely, at least one of Egypt’s finest soldiers would have been able to swim ashore had he only been passing through a shallow marsh.
Let’s consider the song that Moses recorded after this miraculous escape: “Pharaoh’s chariots and his army He has cast into the sea; His chosen captains also are drowned in the Red Sea. The depths have covered them; they sank to the bottom like a stone. Your right hand, O Lord, has become glorious in power; Your right hand, O Lord, has dashed the enemy in pieces. And in the greatness of Your excellence You have overthrown those who rose against You; You sent forth your wrath which consumed them like stubble. And with the blast of Your nostrils the waters were gathered together; the floods stood upright like a heap; and the depths congealed in the heart of the sea” (Ex. 15:4-8, NKJV). The Psalmist also wrote of this event: “He rebuked the Red sea [yam suph] also, and it was dried up: so He led them through the depths, as through the wilderness” (Psa. 106:9).
The apostle Paul referred to the Israelites’ journey through the Red Sea as their baptism (I Cor. 10:1-2). The Bible plainly states that for true baptism, one must become totally immersed in water. When we understand that the waters were piled up all around them, and a cloud of vapor leading them, the children of Israel were indeed surrounded by water, making Paul’s reference a true one. Had they only been wading in knee-deep marshes, their baptism would have been invalid.
We can now see that yam suph—the Red Sea—was the body of water through which the Israelites passed—not some marshy, reed-filled lake. The crossing of the Red Sea is a tremendously inspiring miracle to which all Christians can look for meaning.