Question: "Did the Israelites in the book of Exodus cross the Red Sea or the Reed Sea?"
Answer: The Hebrew word translated “red” in some 23 Old Testament verses dealing with the Exodus is the Hebrew word suph whose root is thought to be of Egyptian origin and meant a reed, especially the papyrus. So, while it is true that the Hebrew words yam suph can be translated “Sea of Reeds” or “Reed Sea,” the question that must be asked is, which is the best translation of the words to correctly convey the meaning of the Hebrew passages? Also, we must take into consideration whether these passages, most commonly translated “Red Sea,” are in fact referring to what today is known as the Red Sea or are they, as some liberal scholars assert, really referring to a marshy area by the Rea Sea or possibly some smaller, shallower lake nearby? This is crucial because, if it was not the Red Sea, then the Israelites could have crossed without God’s miraculous intervention of parting the sea and stopping the heavier Egyptian chariots. This is really the crux of the debate: did God miraculously intervene, as the Bible says He did, or was the crossing by the Israelites simply a natural event?
When we look at the many different passages in the Scripture where the term yam suph or “Red Sea” is used, it becomes very clear that it is correctly translated as “Red Sea” and is indeed referring to the large body of water commonly called the Red Sea or Gulf of Suez. The only way that one could look at these verses and believe they are speaking of some shallow lake or marshy area is if one has a preconceived bias towards that translation, ignoring not only the historical evidence but, more importantly, the scriptural context. The Scriptures give us a clear understanding that the body of water the Israelites crossed was a large and deep body of water, and the only one in that area fitting that description is the Red Sea.
One evidence that “Red Sea” is the correct translation and the correct body of water is found in the Greek Septuagint from 200 B.C. This is the earliest translation of the Hebrew Bible known, and the words yam suph are consistently translated with the Greek words eruthros thalassa or “Red Sea” (see Acts 7:36; Hebrews 11:29). Therefore, the historical evidence is that these words in the Bible do refer to the actual Red Sea and not some lesser body of water. Further evidence comes from the context of the passages themselves. First, the sea had to be deep enough to drown the Egyptian army and destroy their chariots. Those liberal scholars who want to say this is referring to some shallow, marshy area have to throw out the context of the passages or believe that a whole Egyptian army can be drowned in a couple of feet of water. Also, in 1 Kings 9:26 we see King Solomon building a fleet of ships on the shore of the Rea Sea in the land of Edom—hardly practical if the body of water known as the Red Sea is merely a marshy area or small shallow lake. Clearly, the body of water yam suph refers to can be none other than the Red Sea.
The context of the passages and the way the words yam suph have been translated throughout history make it clear that the Israelites did indeed cross the Red Sea, a 1,350-mile-long body of water extending from the Indian Ocean. In some places, the Red Sea is more than 7,200 feet deep and more than 100 miles wide. While the Israelites would have crossed the Red Sea in what is now known as the Gulf of Suez, this is the large body of water God supernaturally parted, and He used it to destroy the Egyptian army and allow the Israelites to pass safely through, just as the Scriptures describe.