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How many came out of the exodus of Egypt

February 14th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

This has turned into a complicated study, and is definitely a work in progress. However I thought there is value in posting what I have so far, so here we go.

Exodus 12:37 And the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand on foot [that were] men, beside children.

600,000 men? If there were 600,000 men this would imply that each man had a wife and some children, thus the number can be closer to 3 million total people. There are a few arguments against this number, both from the secular community and the biblical.

Exodus: Saved for God’s Glory (Preaching the Word) explains that there are no impossibilities to to this large number.

The Israelites receive little mention in Egypt because they were only slaves there and because the manner of their departure was such a complete embarrassment to the Egyptians. Nor should we be surprised to not find much evidence for them in the Sinai. They were nomads after all, and their remains have been covered by 3,000 years of sand.

Also, there is a problem with 600,000 men being afraid of 600 Egyptian chariots. I think we can assume that a race enslaved by the Egyptians would have very few weapons on them at this stage. Also there are probably psychological reasons why 600,000 men were afraid of the Egyptians. Also, when dealing with the shear size of the travelers, they would have formed a long line (a few miles long) and if they were to camp they would have done it in that formation.

Where was Rameses and Succoth?

Taken from: Exodus (The New American Commentary)

“This verse asserts two things that made perfect sense to Moses’ original audience and to most Israelites thereafter but which offer difficulties for modern readers because of our lack of knowledge of the ancient scene. The first is that of the location of the places named, Rameses and Succoth. We really cannot determine where these cities were located, except that they were somewhere in northern Egypt, that Succoth was surely to the east of Rameses (since the Israelite started out going east before their later, special detour south), and that Rameses may have been some kind of Egyptian delta capital city.”

Here Douglas K. Stuart says that we can’t determine where these cities were located. Also, this made perfect sense to Moses’ original audience who would have a better understanding of the ancient scene.

The big question is, is 600,000 men really what the bible intended to mean?

Let us start to examine the debate surrounding this verses translation. The word in question is thousand, eleph in the ancient Hebrew.

Exodus (The New American Commentary) goes into some insightful detail on this word. I’ll just give a brief summary of all the different uses of the word eleph, but for more detail certainly look at Exodus (The New American Commentary).

eleph can be translated as a literal thousand:

Exd 18:21  But select capable men from all the people–men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain–and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.

Gen 20:16  And unto Sarah he said, Behold, I have given thy brother a thousand [pieces] of silver: behold, he [is] to thee a covering of the eyes, unto all that [are] with thee, and with all [other]: thus she was reproved.

or cattle:

Deu 7:13      And he will love thee, and bless thee, and multiply thee: he will also bless the fruit of thy womb, and the fruit of thy land, thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep, in the land which he sware unto thy fathers to give thee.

or clan(s):

Jos 22:14      And with him ten princes, of each chief house a prince throughout all the tribes of Israel; and each one [was] an head of the house of their fathers among the thousands of Israel.

or Divisions(s) Num 1:16, Family(ies) Josh 22:21, Ox(en) Isa 30:24, Tribe(s) Num 10:4

It seems fairly clear that the word eleph has a meaning more that of a herd or group, not a literal thousand.

Exodus (The New American Commentary) explains this point very well.

Israel’s army was organized by units of size that are called by words that were all or mostly all borrowed originally from other meanings. These are usually found translated into English in descending order, as the “tribe,” the “thousand,” (eleph), the “hundred”, the “fifty” and the “ten”.

Deut 1:15  So I took the chief of your tribes, wise men, and known, and made them heads over you, captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, and captains over fifties, and captains over tens, and officers among your tribes.

The question is, how big is an eleph? From a large district it might be twenty. A small village might produce just a handful.
So, in Exodus 12:37, 600 elephs would contain not more than 7,200 fighting men at an average of a dozen per eleph. Some of these fighters might not have a wife or children, some may have less or more children than others. We can make an assumption of 28,000 – 36,000.

Once we are comfortable with a number around 30,000 vs 3 million, another verse jumps out.

Exd 38:26      A bekah for every man, [that is], half a shekel, after the shekel of the sanctuary, for every one that went to be numbered, from twenty years old and upward, for six hundred thousand and three thousand and five hundred and fifty [men].

Exd 38:27      And of the hundred talents of silver were cast the sockets of the sanctuary, and the sockets of the vail; an hundred sockets of the hundred talents, a talent for a socket.

So here we have 100 talents of silver.

1 talent is 3,000 shekels.

1/2 shekel per person means 6,000 people per talent.

6,000 people * 100 talents = 600,00 people.

The math seems to match Exodus 12:37 and the 600,000 figure.

Exodus (The New American Commentary) offers this explanation:

Merely assuming that the amount of money collected has been exaggerated, as many have done, can hardly be regarded as the methodologically desirable solution. A more likely explanation might be found my starting with the assumption that the count given for shekels was based on the same sort of meaning for elep used in the case of counting the troops, and therefore the actual amount of silver was considerably lower than what a strict modern decimal system reading of the numbers would seem to suggest.

What I find odd is the exact number hundred in Exd 38:27. Could it really be 100, not 104, or 110, but exactly 100. To further investigate this I cracked open my The Companion Bible: Enlarged Type Edition
to see what Bullinger had to say. He has a note in the box in the upper left about the word hundred. It says to see appendix 10. Appendix 10 talks about the spiritual significance of numbers. He says

Numbers are used in Scripture, not merely as in Nature, with supernatural design, but with spiritual significance, which may be summarized as follows:

He then goes on to list the numbers. Here is what Bullinger says about the number 10.

Denotes Ordinal perfection. Another new first; after the ninth digit, when numeration commences anew.

Is it possible that Exd 38:27 doesn’t mean a literal 100, but there is spiritual significance to it?

My last stop was to see what the Septuagint (LXX) had to say about Exd 38:27. I believe this is mirrored in chapter 39 of LXX. In chatper 39 I did find any mention of a half shekel per person. Are we dealing with a copy error? Is LXX authoritative in this regard? My understanding is that the LXX was the text used by the early Christian Church.

I certainly don’t think that this undermines the Bible’s authenticity in anyway. Actually, I believe this is a clue to give us a better understanding.

There is definitely a mystery surrounding the number of people in Exodus. I believe there is something to be learned. The big question is, why does God hide things from us? Or maybe, why does God not reveal everything? I think this is all part of his plan.

Dan 12:4  But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, [even] to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased.

We should expect to learn and discover new things about Gods word as time passes, and I believe that this could be one of them. Also, God reveals things on his time. For example

Luke 18:34      And they understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken.

John 20:9 For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead.

How comes the 11 disciples sitting outside of the tomb waiting for Jesus to rise? They had no idea he was going to die because it was hidden from them. Who hid it? God hid it. Jesus mentioned his resurrection three times yet God hid the understanding from them.

Deu 29:29 The secret [things belong] unto the LORD our God: but those [things which are] revealed [belong] unto us and to our children for ever, that [we] may do all the words of this law.

God can keep things secret until he is ready to reveal it. Another example is Jesus and the parables. Why did he speak in parables?

Mat 13:11      He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.

Mat 13:12     For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.

Mat 13:13     Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.

So even Jesus was trying to keep things hidden! This is what Paul means when all of his revelations were kept secret. Even though it was kept in the old testament it was in such vague language that nobody could figure it out.

Here are my final thoughts on this.

Firstly, LXX doesn’t say that it’s a half shekel per man. Should LXX be the authority when it comes to Exodus? Our King James is translated from the masoretic texts, so being from different texts maybe the truth lies within LXX. Certainly more thought could be put into this.

Secondly, if the numbers in Exodus are exaggerated as the secular crowd believes, why would the exaggerate the numbers and have 600,000 foot soldiers afraid of 600 chariots? To me, that sound embarrassing and should fall within the criterion of embarrassment. Surely they would have said how they faced an army of 6 million chariots and the Israelites conquered them through the power of God.

Thirdly, even if 600,000 men is an accurate translation there are no impossibilities to this number.

With this said, I think this validates the authenticity of the masoretic texts. We simply had people copying (not changing) what they believed was the inspired word of God.

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