When you read this text, think about the other parts of the Bible talk about the story of the Israelites passing through the Red Sea. If you start looking around the Bible, you’ll find numerous examples.
The one that most stood out to me was the apostle Paul’s description in 1 Corinthians of what happened to the Israelites in this story: “For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:1-4).
Paul takes this story and puts Jesus Christ squarely in the middle of it. The passage through the Red Sea is linked to baptism.
At least one ancient commentator, a man named Ambrose, saw some symbolism here: The people of Israel followed the pillar of light, which was symbolic of Christ, the light of the world. And as the people followed the pillar of light into the sea, they were followed by the pillar of cloud, symbolic of the sanctifying presence of the Holy Spirit.
The symbolism is rich. Some modern Christians don’t like to break the story down in ways like this. They say it is kind of fanciful, and oftentimes I don’t disagree. But I think this particular reading is valuable because it does provide us a biblical picture of baptism.
Read Romans 6:1-4. We enter into a kind of death in baptism – like the Hebrews entering the Red Sea. But, like in 1 Corinthians 10, we “pass through” the sea of death by following Christ. And the Holy Spirit then enters our life and sanctifies us.
This fits pretty well with what apostle Peter said at Pentecost, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Peter linked baptism to the reception of the Holy Spirit.
I point this out to you to encourage you to read attentively, especially as we enter into this section of Exodus, which contains some very valuable pointers to Christ.