33 The Egyptians were urgent with the people to send them out of the land in haste. For they said, “We shall all be dead.” 34 So the people took their dough before it was leavened, their kneading bowls being bound up in their cloaks on their shoulders. 35 The people of Israel had also done as Moses told them, for they had asked the Egyptians for silver and gold jewelry and for clothing. 36 And the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. Thus they plundered the Egyptians.
37 And the people of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children. 38 A mixed multitude also went up with them, and very much livestock, both flocks and herds. 39 And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough that they had brought out of Egypt, for it was not leavened, because they were thrust out of Egypt and could not wait, nor had they prepared any provisions for themselves.
40 The time that the people of Israel lived in Egypt was 430 years. 41 At the end of 430 years, on that very day, all the hosts of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt. 42 It was a night of watching by the Lord, to bring them out of the land of Egypt; so this same night is a night of watching kept to the Lord by all the people of Israel throughout their generations. – Exodus 12:33-42 ESV
Everything was happening according to God’s meticulous and well-timed plan. Every plague had come at just the right moment bringing with it the exact measure of God’s judgment upon the people of Egypt. Their cumulative effect finally brought Pharaoh to his knees when the final plague brought death to his doorstep. Having lost his firstborn son, Pharaoh hastily agreed to all the Israelites to temporarily leave the borders of Egypt to worship their all-powerful and death-delivering God. He was taking no more chances. This battle with Israel’s God had gotten personal and he had been on the losing end. So, he acquiesced and gave his permission for Moses to take the Israelites on their three-day journey into the wilderness to worship their God.
And his decision was met with the full approval of his citizens because they had also suffered great loss during the final plague. Moses states that “there was not a house where someone was not dead” (Exodus 12:30 ESV). This was a national disaster of epic proportions. With the dead bodies of their loved ones still lying in their homes, the Egyptians begged the Israelites to leave, lest there be more casualties in this battle of the wills between Pharaoh and Yahweh.
And the Israelites, having followed God’s instructions, were prepared to leave at a moment’s notice.
The Israelites took their bread dough before yeast was added. They wrapped their kneading boards in their cloaks and carried them on their shoulders. – Exodus 12:34 ESV
The night before, God had instituted the Passover meal, instructing His people to prepare the unblemished lamb and to consume it “with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord‘s Passover” (Exodus 12:11 ESV). Now, the meal having been eaten, and the blood of the lamb having been sprinkled on the doorways of their homes, the Israelites celebrated while the Egyptians mourned. The firstborns were alive and well in Goshen. The death angel had “passed over” their homes. Now, they were prepared to leave. So, they grabbed their kneading bowls and the unleavened dough they had prepared in advance, and they got ready to leave Egypt. But there was one last thing they had to do.
God had told Moses that the day would come when the people would be able to ask their Egyptian overlords for a handout and they would receive it.
“I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go. And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and when you go, you shall not go empty, but each woman shall ask of her neighbor, and any woman who lives in her house, for silver and gold jewelry, and for clothing. You shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians.” – Exodus 3:19-22 ESV
What makes this prophecy so compelling is that its fulfillment came after the Egyptians had suffered the catastrophic losses of their loved ones. Even as the Egyptians were reeling from the devastating consequences of the last plague, they still were willing to turn over their valuables to the Israelites. In another demonstration of God’s sovereign will, the Israelites “asked the Egyptians for clothing and articles of silver and gold” (Exodus 12:35 NLT).
After all that had happened to them, it seems that the Egyptians would have been in no mood to play along with this seemingly ill-timed and ludicrous request. But Moses matter-of-factly states, “The Lord caused the Egyptians to look favorably on the Israelites, and they gave the Israelites whatever they asked for. So they stripped the Egyptians of their wealth!” (Exodus 12:36 NLT). It was all part of His divine plan.
Moses then states that the number of Israelites who prepared to leave Egypt was “about 600,000 men, plus all the women and children.” (Exodus 12:37 NLT). Scholars have long attempted to calculate the total number of Israelites who exited Egypt on that fateful day. Assuming that many of the 600,000 men were married with children, some have speculated that the total number of Israelites was well over 1 million. And if you add in the “rabble of non-Israelites” (Exodus 12:38 NLT) who went with them, the number could have been as high as 2 million. But when considering the logistical problems associated with a group of this size, many scholars have tried to come up with ways to arrive at a much lower and more reasonable number.
For many, the idea of one to two million Israelites trying to navigate their way from Egypt to Canaan is not only improbable but simply impossible. How would Moses feed so many people? Imagine how long it would take for that many people to pass through the Red Sea when Moses parted its waters. Because of the difficulty posed in trying to reconcile such a staggering number of people, many scholars have come up with novel ways to determine a more manageable and believable interpretation of this passage. But, this entire story has been full of improbable and impossible scenarios that defy explanation.
When Jacob had begun his journey from Canaan to Egypt in order to escape the famine and reunite with his long-lost son, Joseph, God visited him at Beersheba and gave him the following promise:
“I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation.” – Genesis 46:3 ESV
More than 400 years later, Jacob’s descendants were preparing to leave Egypt and they had greatly increased in number, just as God had promised. In fact, the book of Exodus opened with the statement, “the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them” (Exodus 1:7 ESV).
And their fruitfulness had gotten the attention of the Pharaoh. He couldn’t help but notice that this motley group of 70 Hebrews who had entered the land four centuries earlier, had greatly increased in number; to the degree that he was forced to admit, “the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us” (Exodus 1:9 ESV).
While we may balk at the idea of 1 million or more Israelites marching out of Egypt under the direction of Moses, it is readily apparent that God had done something miraculous with His chosen people. He had greatly blessed them and fulfilled His original promise to Abraham: “I will make of you a great nation” (Genesis 12:2 ESV).
And now, this mighty host was making its grand exit from the land of Egypt. Moses puts it this way:
At the end of 430 years, on that very day, all the hosts of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt. – Exodus 12:41 ESV
This raises a second point of contention among many commentators and biblical scholars. Just exactly how long were the Israelites in Egypt? Was it 400 years or 430 years? Some believe that the Bible contradicts itself in regard to this matter.
Centuries earlier, God had told Abraham that his descendants would find themselves living in a foreign land for a period of 400 years.
“Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years.” – Genesis 15:13 ESV
But Moses clearly indicates that the people left Egypt after 430 years. In fact, he states that their exit took place “on that very day” (Exodus 12:41 ESV). This 430-year period is probably calculated from the day that Jacob and the 70 members of his family first entered Egypt.
All the persons belonging to Jacob who came into Egypt, who were his own descendants, not including Jacob’s sons’ wives, were sixty-six persons in all. And the sons of Joseph, who were born to him in Egypt, were two. All the persons of the house of Jacob who came into Egypt were seventy. – Genesis 46:26-27 NLT
The rag-tag group that entered the land was only 70 in number, but 430 years later, when they left, they had grown into a great host. In the book of Acts, Luke records that God eventually delivered this great host into the land of Canaan, some 450 years after Jacob and his small clan had first arrived.
And after destroying seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance. All this took about 450 years. – Acts 13:19 ESV
His calculation would seem to include the 40-plus years the Israelites spent wandering in the wilderness. But however the calculations are made, whether dealing with the number of Israelites or the total number of years they spent in Egypt, it is clear that God performed a great miracle for His chosen people. More than four centuries earlier, Joseph had told his brothers, “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors” (Genesis 45:7 ESV). Now, those “many survivors” were lined up with their kneading bowls, unleavened dough, gold, and silver, ready to begin the long journey to the land of promise.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.