Why can't I read the phrase ויולך יהוה את־הים in Exodus 14:21 as "And God walked in the Sea"?

ויט משה את־ידו על־הים ויולך יהוה את־הים ברוח קדים עזה כל־הלילה וישם את־הים לחרבה ויבקעו המים׃ Exodus 14:21

  • A reminder that you are expected to ask detailed questions that explain what you understand about the passage and what prompts the question. In this case, what makes you think that might be a valid translation of the passage? What makes you think you can't read it that way?
    – curiousdannii
    Oct 2 at 4:26

3 Answers 3


The Hebrew phrase in Ex 14:21, ויולך יהוה את־הים ברוח cannot be translated, "And God walked on the sea", for several reasons:

  1. "God" does not exist in the text - it is YHWH = Jehovah, the LORD.
  2. The operative verb here is וַיּ֣וֹלֶךְ which a hiphil consecutive imperfect (ie, showing causation in an active voice), meaning it says that the sea was caused to move back by the LORD; or more correctly, the LORD caused the sea to go/move [back] .... If one wishes to be very literal, it could be translated:

And the LORD caused the sea to walk [back] ...

  1. The next part of the verse gives the causative means by which the LORD caused the sea to walk [back], namely, "a strong east wind". That is, the LORD did NOT walk in the sea by means of a strong east wind; rather, it was the sea that was caused to walk back by means of strong east wind.

The grammar here is quite unambiguous.


The entire clause from Exodus 14:21 (everying after the waw until the next waw) is וַיֹּ֣ולֶךְ יְהוָ֣ה׀ אֶת־הַ֠יָּם בְּר֨וּחַ קָדִ֤ים עַזָּה֙ כָּל־הַלַּ֔יְלָה

הלךְ is the word for walk, but it also has the meaning go. The hiphil gives it the meaning cause to go.

הלךְ ... hif: ... —1. to bring ... —2. to take (with oneself) something ... —3. to cause to move: ... to make the sea flow back Ex 14:21; ... —4. to lead, escort -- Koehler, L., Baumgartner, W., Richardson, M. E. J., & Stamm, J. J. (1994–2000). In The Hebrew and Aramaic lexicon of the Old Testament (electronic ed., pp. 248–249). E.J. Brill.

The clause has the normal Hebrew word order of verb subject object. "And the LORD caused the sea to move."

אֶת is the sign of the direct object, not a preposition. The prepositional phrase is בְּר֨וּחַ קָדִ֤ים עַזָּה֙ showing instrumental agency, "by a strong east wind." The duration was כָּל־הַלַּ֔יְלָה "all night."

That is miraculous since a person could not stand up and would be picked up and carrying away by such a strong wind. Thus, the wind only acted on the sea, not on the people.


“To walk in [something/somewhere]” requires the binyan Kal/Paʿal conjugation of the verb הָלַךְ (halakh) followed by the preposition בּ (“in”).

For example,

Genesis 24:65

“Who is this man walking in the field to meet us?”
מִֽי־הָאִישׁ הַלָּזֶה הַהֹלֵךְ בַּשָּׂדֶה לִקְרָאתֵנוּ

Joshua 5:6

The children of Israel walked in the wilderness...
הָלְכוּ בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵל בַּמִּדְבָּר

On the other hand, וַיּוֹלֶךְ (vayyolekh) is conjugated in binyan Hifʿil and lacks the following preposition בּ. Being the causative of binyan Kal/Paʿal (“to go”), it has the sense of “to cause to go [away]”.

Ecclesiastes 10:20

Even in your thoughts, do not curse the king, nor in your bedroom curse the rich, for a bird of the air will carry (יוֹלִיךְ) your voice, or some winged creature tell the matter.
English Standard Version, ©2016

The idea here is that a bird will carry (i.e., take away) your thoughts or words and declare them to others, so be mindful of what you think or say, even in secret.

Zechariah 5:10

Then I said to the angel who talked with me, “Where are they taking (מוֹלִכוֹת) the basket?”
English Standard Version, ©2016

The angels were taking the basket away.

In Exodus 14:21, Yahveh is causing the sea to go away, causing dry land to appear in the midst of the sea, to enable to the Israelites to pass through to dry land. The context supports this translation:

  • Moses would stretch his hand over the sea and divide it (Exo. 14:16)
  • The Israelites would come on dry ground in the midst of the sea (Exo. 14:16)
  • Yahveh made the sea dry (Exo. 14:21)
  • The waters were divided (Exo. 14:21)
  • The waters were a wall on the left and right of the Israelites (Exo. 14:22)

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