Camp of the Habiru near Pi-Hahiroth – 1st Watch (1800 hrs.)
With the wind picking up Yehoshua couldn’t hear distinctly the words of the tribal elders as they stood about grumbling and doing nothing, but he didn’t need to. They were doing nothing because that is what Mosheh had told them to do– just stop–do not unload and do not set up camp. But the grumbling was more than boredom. Fear was rising with the hot desert wind.
Yehoshua continued his quick-step to the wagon at the head of the column–which was stopped just beside the lapping water of the saltmarsh–and the group of young servants gathered around the elderly Mosheh.
"Wise One," Yehoshua said, "the elders know what the scouts have reported, and they see the dust to the west. The Son of Ra approaches!"
"Ah, Yehoshua! You have a strong back as well–help these boys move my tent, a few of these other tents, and the signal brazier to the other side of the camp and set it all up. Quickly now! I want it all done before dark. Then make a big display of changing the wood in the brazier from green to dry, and removing the cover… oh, and give the shofars a few extra blasts."
"Are you turning the camp around, Wise One?! Do you mean to face him? The elders will think you are preparing for battle!"
"I would not barter a fig to learn what the elders will think. They will understand when they are able and when they need to. Tonight I care only what the Son of Ra thinks… Now do as you’re told. I’ll be along shortly to see how you are getting on."
Yehoshua directed the young men on the spacing of the tents. He walked a few paces westward so that he could take in the view of the signal brazier as darkness fell. Flames rose as dry wood was piled within it.
"Stack more wood!" he ordered. "Mosheh wants it kept bright until at least the third watch!"
As he headed back into the camp, he almost walked right into the old one himself.
"Having trouble with your eyes, Yehoshua?" As his sight slowly adjusted, he could make out that the old man was grinning.
"Why yes! Please pardon me, Wise One…. I was just out there in the dark checking the perimeter, and… that fire… so bright… I couldn’t see beyond it back into the camp to save myself!"
"Well then. How far do you suppose the vanguard of the Son of Ra can see into the camp?"
Yehoshua had to lean into the old man as he spoke in order to hear him – the hot wind from the southeast was picking up speed and had begun to whistle and moan.
"They will see nothing of our camp!" A light was beginning to dawn in his mind. "And they will hear nothing as well… I can barely hear you!"
"And what will they think?"
"They will suppose we have made camp facing them and will either attack or prepare to receive their attack at first light…. But… But… We can’t possibly do that out in the open here! Within an hour they will have both our flanks and crush us against the saltmarsh!"
"We will talk more about that shortly. Why didn’t the moon give you light?"
"What moon? There is none."
"Come with me back to the other side of the camp, and learn what no moon and a strong desert wind can do to water, especially in spring."
As they walked back through the camp, the old man gave orders as they went.
"Everyone–and I mean EVERYONE, every man, woman and child–is to load as much upon their backs as they can… Get all the wagons and livestock into the middle… Divide the strongest men into three groups… I want one group out front, one alongside these wagons to push and lift them if you have to, and one group to the rear… Women and children are to help with the wagons…"
"Heading towards THAT?!" an elder asked, pointing to the saltmarsh, which now looked dark and angry with that desert wind blowing across it.
"Precisely." The old man answered, not bothering to elaborate further, and not caring if he was heard over the wind. As they reached the shore of the saltmarsh, the old man stopped Yehoshua with a tug on his sleeve.
"This is where my wagon was when we stopped,…" he said, pointing to the tracks. "Notice anything?"
"The edge of the water– it’s thirty feet away now!"
Saltmarsh between Pi-Hahiroth and Baal-Zephon – 2nd Watch (2100 hrs.)
Small torches were carried by only a select few. Most everyone else followed closely behind the man in front of him, as the desperate crossing of the saltmarsh proceeded.
"TIME! TIME! Time is our enemy now. Come on!! MOVE!!!"
Mosheh said, as he splashed up and down the first columns of moving men. They waded through murky water up to their thighs, and were now almost at the dry land on the far side.
"Yehoshua! Get back there and keep them from getting strung out! Those wagons and animals have got to be at least half way across when the tide is lowest, or we’ll lose most of them! This wind won’t do all the work for us!"
Mosheh was the only elder with something to say now. Everyone else could see, without being told, what they were doing and why. The panicked bleating of the animals and the crying of frightened children could at times be heard over the wind, urging all of them onward.
Remains of the camp at Pi-Hahiroth – 3rd Watch (2400 hrs.)
Yehoshua stood by the remaining tents Mosheh had ordered moved to the rear of their camp. He knew that these, along with the brazier, had to be the last to go. Mosheh was across the marsh, directing the traffic as it came up to the high ground on the other side. He had sent Yehoshua, along with half dozen men, back to get the last of the camp packed – especially that brazier – and across the marsh a half hour before dawn. As it had been since they started out, the smoke of the brazier, as placed by order of Mosheh, would lead them by day, as would its fire by night, since they rested only during the heat of the afternoon.
As Yehoshua stood staring into the darkness beyond, it occurred to him that the brazier flame made him as blind to the goings-on in the enemy camp as the Son of Ra’s forces were to the activities of the Habiru. Were they resting peacefully in their tents, awaiting the adventure the dawn would bring, or were they fully assembled – just a few paces out there – lines of fast-moving chariots with their drivers and archers; behind them serried ranks of spearmen with their shields, and behind them a thousand light infantry with their bronze sickle swords freshly sharpened and at the ready? If they knew, or if they found out what was happening here… If they attacked before dawn… Before all of the Habiru get across the salt marsh and reform their ranks in the rocks and hills where the enemy couldn’t maneuver… They would catch them all strung out and cut them down like wheat harvesters in summer. All the men and boys of fighting age will be killed; the women and children bound over for the slave market…
He tried to drive these thoughts from his mind, but they were only replaced by impatience. He struggled within himself not to give the order to pack and go NOW.
Finally, the morning star appeared with the faintest of light to the east. Yehoshua gave the order. The brazier fire was doused, and it, along with what remained of the camp, was packed up, and hauled upon their backs across the saltmarsh to Baal-Zephon.
Baal-Zephon – end of the 4th Watch (0600 hrs.)
Climbing to the top of a rock promontory, Yehoshua arrived just in time for the latest dispute to break out between the elders and Mosheh, who were gathered there with the old one.
"Southeast?! That way lies nothing but wilderness! There’s no water out there!" an elder complained.
"We will reach water in two days. Do any of you now question my knowledge of the water hereabouts, after last night?"
"Why not go north?" another offered. "I can see the green of that land even in this pre-dawn light!"
"Do you remember why we turned off the road in the first place? The Son of Ra would have pinned us between his army and his garrison at Migdol… That’s Migdol you are looking at! So while you all argue about this, they might just be closing in on us from the north, and if we don’t get moving, you’ll be right about the water too…"
The eastern sky brightened. No matter how many times he’d seen it, Yehoshua was always amazed by the beauty and rapidity of a desert sunrise, but as the light spread across the saltmarsh back toward Pi-Hariroth all discussion among the elders abruptly ceased. The revealed scene made jaws drop and eyes stare wide.
On the opposite high ground were ranks of both heavy and light infantry so long and so thick that neither their flanks nor their rear were visible. From the shore to about half way across the saltmarsh, hundreds of chariots were stuck, their drivers frantically moving the horses back and forth as other men put their mud-spattered shoulders to the wheels, trying to rock them out of the mire. The yelling became more high-pitched as the east wind had lifted and spring tide was returning with a vengeance.
"They’ll drown before they give up on those chariots!" Yehoshua hated those men out there and all they stood for, but this was not something he would enjoy watching.
"Yes, and the Son of Ra will watch them drown before he will give up those chariots, for they are worth more to him than the lives of those men." Mosheh answered.
Yehoshua turned to look at the old one, whose eyes seemed to absorb all that was before them, but with no more reaction than the rocks they all rested upon. "How could a man — just one man — arrange such a terrible destiny for those arrayed against him?" he thought.
"See how the Mosheh, the Son of the Water, has called upon his mother to defeat the Son of Ra!"
Yehoshua startled even himself with his declaration, but cheers and shouts of acclamation rose up from the elders. The old one shook his head, and tugged upon Yehoshua’s robe to bring him down from the rocks and out of earshot of the elders.
"Listen to me… One day you will command the army of our God, and you must understand His nature. Do you think I had all this set out in my mind when we left Goshen? How was I to know that some of the men would get greedy when we hit the storehouses of Quantir and Pithom, and pick every villager clean? Do they think they can eat and drink gold and silver where we are going? Was I prepared when word of that plunder got back to the Son of Ra, and he called out his host to fall upon us? NO!"
"Wise one, I –"
"The night the scouts brought back news of his pursuit– I went out alone into the desert. Do you remember?"
"I went to my knees and prayed as I have never prayed in my life, with tears streaming down my face. I begged our God for some answers… Do you know what I got?"
"No, Wise One."
"Silence… nothing but the quiet and dark of a moonless desert night. Then, as I began to understand that my answer was in the silence and darkness, I heard off to the southeast the beginning of the chamishim– the wind that can blow during all the fifty days of spring– the wind that was my friend during those long years I lived in the wilderness. Our God brought together in my mind the memories of that wind, the darkness of a desert night, the tides of the saltmarsh at the new moon…"
"And so you planned our escape!"
The amazement the old man was attempting to subdue in Yehoshua seemed to get only stronger. The old one took both of Yehoshua’s shoulders in his hands and looked him straight in the eye.
"I want you to proclaim the name of our God."
"There will come a time when the men of our tribes will say it only with fear and trembling, but I want you to say it again, LOUDER."
"Yes! HE IS! Much more than that, HE IS WHAT IT MEANS TO BE! Do you understand?
"I’m not sure I–"
"And his greatest gift to us is discernment… To hear when even silence speaks… To predict a tide… a wind… or the way an animal – or even a man of a certain character – will act. To govern yourself, so that you may be proven fit to govern others… If you are willing to open your eyes, to unstop your ears, to empty yourself of yourself, HE will speak to you."
"Wise One, I do not think the gods of the Son of Ra speak to him like that."
"No, indeed they do not."
Exodus 14:19-21 (KJV)
And the angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of the cloud went from before their face, and stood behind them: And it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel; and it was a cloud and darkness to them, but it gave light by night to these: so that the one came not near the other all night. And 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 dry land, and the waters were divided.
Notes on names:
"Habiru" is a name used by some ancient sources to describe loose associations of border tribes often used as mercenaries by the great powers of the time. Some authorities today speculate that the Hebrews may have been Habiru living in the Egyptian border land of Goshen. the Bible does make clear the Hebrews were an armed camp during the Exodus.
"Mosheh" is the formal Hebrew name for Moses, and is said to mean "drawn from the water," from the story of Pharaoh’s daughter finding him floating in a basket in the Nile.
"Yehoshua" is the formal Hebrew name for Joshua (and Jesus) and means "To God cry out to be saved."

"Son of Ra" is Ra’Moses in Egyptian, i.e. Rameses (the Great).
This story is dedicated to the memory of the Rev. Dr. George Alexander Barrow (1882-1976) the author’s grandfather, and his first teacher of matters scriptural…