Was Pharaoh deceived? Or did he deceive himself? G-d led the Children of Israel in a roundabout way to the Sea of Reeds, so that they would not have to be confronted by the Philistines, when passing by their territory. Otherwise, they might have fled back to Egypt at the prospect of war. Having escaped the frying pan, they ostensibly entered into the fire. For H’Shem had a strategy in mind, in order to bring about the demise of Pharaoh, and his army who had pursued the Israelites into the wilderness. In order to lay a trap for Pharaoh, H’Shem brought B’nei Yisrael to a gorge at the edge of the sea. As Pharaoh’s army closed in on them, the Children of Israel began to panic. Yet, Moshe said to them, “Do not fear, stand still, and see the salvation of the L-RD, which He will show to you today” (Exodus 14:13, Israeli Bible).
As for Pharaoh, he apparently thought that Israel was indeed trapped at the Sea of Reeds, as if one of his own gods, whose idol stood there as a towering giant near the gorge, were somehow powerful enough to bring Israel like prey into the hands of Pharaoh, so that he could retrieve what he and his people still considered to be “their slaves.” His perception, based in his trust in the deities that he worshipped, contributed to his deception. For there is only one Master of the Universe, Who has prominence over the affairs of mankind. Pharaoh’s shortsightedness prevented him from seeing the situation in any other way, than what appealed to his sense of self, pride, and intransigence.
Additionally, Pharaoh had been shown the sovereignty of the Almighty’s hand, Who proved Himself to be more powerful than the Egyptian gods. Yet, he remained recalcitrant, unable to perceive reality through any other lens, other than his own. And, he suffered greatly for this myopia, inasmuch that he himself was doomed to be drowned in the Sea of Reeds, along with his army. Why were the Egyptians as well, unable to see the truth that was set before their very eyes? Trying to explain away the plagues, and even the splitting of the sea, as natural phenomena, instead of the hand of G-d, they remained stuck in their myopic vision, unaware of the false nature of their gods, and the limited reality of their worldview.
“Go and see the works of G-d, awesome in His deeds toward mankind. He turned the sea into dry land.” – Psalms 66:5-6, The Complete Jewish Tanach, chabad.org