And the LORD spoke to Moses saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, to turn and camp before Pi Hakhirot, between Migdol and the sea, over against Baal-Zephon: camp by the sea before it. For Pharaoh will say of the children of Israel, ‘They are entangled in the land, the wilderness has shut them in.’ And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart so he will follow after them, and I shall be honored by Pharaoh and by his entire army, so the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD.” And they did so. Exodus 14:1-2, One New Man Bible
This is a military strategy, the I Am that I Am is situating Pharaoh, and his military, for their final defeat before their god Baal-Zephon. The gods (elohey) of Egypt had so far been disappointingly mute concerning the ten judgments sent upon them; and demonstrated nothing but impotence before the God of Israel. The I Am that I Am, not deterred by their impudence continued to command Pharaoh to set His servant, Israel, free to worship Him. Having no assistance coming from the sorcerers and the gods, Pharaoh reluctantly sent Israel away. After a few days, he learned of the Hebrews camping at Baal-Zephon, and he may have thought this was a good omen for him to force Israel to return as slaves. His hope was placed in their last idol, Baal-Zephon, and just maybe, this final stronghold would crush Israel; and they would have to return to Egypt as slaves.
Baal-Zephon means ‘lord of the north,’ or ‘north-lord,’ ‘master of the north.’ It was perhaps a looking post since Migdol is considered by some to have been a fortress. Scholars form different opinions concerning it, and the other opinion being it was a sanctuary. Baal is of Semitic origins and was associated with lord of the Mount Zaphon, and in Ugartic texts is identified with Hadad. Because of the mountain’s importance and location, it came to metonymously signify “north” in Hebrew, the name therefore sometimes given in translation as Lord of the North.
The Hyksos, who occupied Egypt for some time, associated Baal-Zephon with the Egyptian storm god, Set. He was the patron deity of Northern Egypt and believed to be responsible for fierce desert storms. According to ancient Egyptian mythology, Set murdered his brother and attempted to kill his nephew Horus. For this, Set was cast out into the lonely desert for eternity.
Rabbi Pesach Wolicki states: Set personified the powers of darkness, chaos, and the sea waters that resisted light and order. The prominent 19th-century Egyptologist Dr. Heinrich Brugsch, asserted that, from the standpoint of an Egyptian in Upper Egypt, the north was rightly considered to be the place of darkness, cold, mist, and rain, all of which were attributes of Set; and that the Hebrews called the region of darkness, or the winter hemisphere, Sephon, a name which appears to be connected beyond a doubt with Saphon, “North.”
As for Jewish sources, Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra (11th century) writes that Baal-zephon was believed to have the power to prevent slaves from escaping Egypt. In light of this, Baal-Zephon’s dominance was not in Egypt, but out in the desert. Rabbi Pesach Wolicki
Another author, Scott Lanser, stated Zephon was an idol, and lord over the sea. According to Wikipedia, he was equated with the Greek god Zeus in his form Zeus Kasios and later with Roman Jupiter Casius. Zeus, according to the Greeks, ruled as the king of the gods. Because Baal Zaphon was considered a protector of maritime trade, sanctuaries were constructed in his honor around the Mediterranean by his Canaanite and Phoenician devotees. Baal-Zephon thereby also became a placename, most notably a location mentioned in Exodus as the location where Israel miraculously crossed the Red Sea during their departure from Egypt.
The Targum Onkelos has for Exodus 14:
1 The Lord said to Moses as follows: 2 “Speak with the Israelites that they turn back and encamp before the opening of the [cavernous] rock (Pi Hakhirot) between Migdol and the sea, before Baal-Zephon; they should encamp before it, by the sea. 3 Pharoah will say about the Israelites, ‘They are mixed up in the land: the wilderness has closed in on them’. 4 Then I will strengthen the heart of Pharaoh. He will pursue them, and I will gain honor through Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.” And they did so. 5 When the king of Egypt was told that the people had left, the heart of Pharoah and his servants turned regarding the people. They said, “What is this we have done, that we sent out Israel from our service?” 6 He made his chariot ready and took his people with him. 7 He took six hundred of his choice chariots and the rest of the Egyptian chariots, and officers appointed over all of them
Pharaoh may have felt encouraged when he had learned Israel was encamped at Baal-Zephon. Surely, the storm god would not only confuse Israel, but also imprison them. God told Moses that Pharaoh would say the wilderness has closed in on them (sagar aleihem hamidbar), meaning the desert has trapped them.
Thinking that victory was in his favor, Pharaoh raced on with his military, 600 chariots; and 600 is the measure of men’s activities. In this scene, it is the full measure of Egypt (mankind) to war against God. This is a pattern throughout the Word. The nations rage against YHVH, and then they lose the war. Pharaoh depends on Baal-Zephon to trap Israel, but it is the God of Israel that traps Pharaoh.
Adjacent to Baal-Zephon is Pi Hakhirot. Pi is translated as “mouth,” or “opening.” Khirot is akin to chayrut, freedom, hence, we have “the opening to freedom.”
Israel is moving toward freedom to serve their God; the I Am that I Am. For Israel it looked bleak to have seen the Egyptian military in pursuit, but they are ascending spiritually. They had “gone down” into Egypt, but now they were “coming up,” toward the revelation of God at Mt. Sinai. God is proving Himself supreme before Israel, and Egypt; they both see the failure of Egypt’s gods.
Targum Onkelos has:
13 Moses said to the people. Have no fear. Stand and see the deliverance of the Lord which He will perform for you today. The Egyptians whom you see today, you will never see again. 14 The Lord will engage in battle for you. You be silent!
16 Now you, take your rod and lift up your hand over the sea and split it. The Israelites will go in the sea on dry ground. 17 And I, behold, I will strengthen the heart of the Egyptians so that they go in after them. I will be honored through Pharaoh and through his army, through his chariots and through his horsemen. 18 The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I am honored through Pharaoh, through his chariots and through his horsemen.
19 The angel of the Lord, who had been going before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them. The pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and settled behind them.20 It came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel. Thus there was the cloud and darkness for the Egyptians. But for Israel it was light the entire night.
21 Then Moses lifted up his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove back the sea with a strong east wind during the entire night. He made the sea into dry land. The waters were split. 22 The Israelites went into the sea into the dry land. The waters were walls for them on their right and on their left. 23 The Egyptians pursued and came in after them into the sea: all of Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots and his horsemen.
24 It happened that at the morning watch, the Lord looked upon the camp of the Egyptians, from the pillar of fire and the cloud, and confused the camp of the Egyptians. 25 He removed their chariot’s wheels. They drove them with difficulty. The Egyptians said, Let us flee before Israel, for this is the power of the Lord, who engages in battle for them in Egypt.
The confusion that Pharaoh thought Baal-Zephon would send on Israel, had instead, turned on their own heads. It was confusing to the Egyptians to have a cloud and darkness to separate them from the camp of Israel. Was not Baal-Zephon to have put darkness on Israel? All night their progress was impeded by the cloud and darkness. They were trapped. Nothing was working in their favor as they had imagined it would just a few days before. At daybreak it was not any better. The cloud and darkness was still causing confusion, and to make it worse, the wheels began rolling off their chariots.
Demoralized, they just wanted to surrender and go back to what was left of Egypt. Just ten plagues before, no help came from their gods; and they definitely did not bother to show up for this battle either. Egypt was left alone to die.
Just like God told Moses he would receive honor from Egypt, they said: Let us flee before Israel, for this is the power of the Lord, who engages in battle for them in Egypt.
26 Then the Lord said to Moses, Raise up your hand over the sea so that the water may return upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and upon their horsemen. 27 Moses raised up his hand over the sea. At daybreak the sea returned to its normal strength. The Egyptians fled from before it. But the Lord strangled the Egyptians in the sea. 28 The water returned. It covered the chariot and the horsemen: Pharaoh’s entire army that had followed them into the sea. Not one of them remained. 29 But the Israelites walked through the sea on dry land. The waters were walls for them on their right and on their left.
Baal-Zephon, the supposed king of the gods; master of chaos; lord of the storm, darkness, mist and rain; the one who imprisons people in the desert; the reputed protector of Egypt; this god forfeited, submitted, to the One more powerful. Egypt understood the I Am that I Am fought for Israel, and Baal-Zephon did not fight for them.
30 Thus the Lord delivered Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians. Israel saw the Egyptians dying on the sea shore. 31 Israel saw the strength of the great hand, what the Lord did with the Egyptians, The people feared before the Lord. They believed in the memra [word or wisdom] of the Lord and in the prophecy of Moses., His servant.
I Am that I Am is Sovereign over all principalities, powers, rulers of darkness, and spiritual wickedness in high places. He is God over all creation.
The earth is the Lord’s and all its fullness thereof; the world and those who dwell therein. Psalm 24, NKJV
Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the LORD his God, Who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them. Psalm 146:5-6, NKJV
The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ and He shall forever and ever. Revelation 11, NKJV