Logistics of the Exodus
How did Moses organize the Israelites to cross the Red Sea?
Frank S. from the United States wrote in response to our article Change is not Evolution; and: Could so many Israelites have crossed the Red Sea? The email is reproduced in its entirety:
I’m also in doubt about this story, who told them to assemble at the midnight hour, and then what about all the wailing mothers who lost their children, did they have the time to give the Israelites all these gifts to take out into the desert, and how far is it they travelled, from Rames to the sea? And then they did detour to pick-up the coffin of Joseph, and what about the old men with the ox carts, how fast do they travel? To me, it’s just too amazing, and that they made it all the way to mount Sinai in 3 days, it’s too much!!!!
Comments from CMI’s Lita Sanders are interspersed below:
I’m also in doubt about this story, …
While there are some details in the story that might seem implausible on a surface reading I believe that we can have full confidence in the historicity of the Exodus account. Let me address your questions one by one:
… who told them to assemble at the midnight hour, …
It is likely that there was some sort of tribal hierarchy in Israel at even that time; since they preserved their genealogies, it isn’t implausible that there would also be some sort of hierarchy within tribes and clans. Perhaps Moses and Aaron gave the orders to the heads of the tribes and clans, who then were responsible for letting the people under them know. If the populace was contained within a fairly small area, it’s not implausible that everyone could be notified in time.
… and then what about all the wailing mothers who lost their children, did they have the time to give the Israelites all these gifts to take out into the desert, …
Here, I don’t think you’ve read the text carefully enough. Moses tells the Israelites to ask for silver and gold before the last plague (Exodus 11:2–3)—Scripture indicates that they were told to get out very soon after the death of the firstborn, so there probably wouldn’t have been time after. In 12:35–36, we’re told that they had already done it.
A couple of related arguments: As for the Egyptians being willing to give valuable items to the Israelites, keep in mind that this is after 9 plagues, which even the average person would know had something to do with the Israelites, so they would probably be inclined to do what the Israelites wanted. As for the ethics of the Israelites ‘stealing’ from the Egyptians, think of it as over 400 years of back payments for their work while in slavery.
… and how far is it they travelled, from Rames to the sea? And then they did detour to pick-up the coffin of Joseph, and what about the old men with the ox carts, how fast do they travel? To me, it’s just too amazing, and that they made it all the way to mount Sinai in 3 days, it’s too much!!!!
Indeed, all that with a multitude of that size would be too much to do to reach Sinai in three days. That’s not what Scripture said happened. Here’s the time information we’re given about the Exodus departure:
- They wandered around enough that by the time they got to the Red Sea, Pharaoh was having second thoughts (14:1–12). Admittedly, this may not have taken long.
- For three days after the crossing of the Red Sea (most likely the three days you’re thinking of), they wandered around in the Wilderness of Shur (15:22).
- They took an un-recorded amount of time to get to Elim, camped there for an unrecorded amount of time, and came to the Wilderness of Sin 1 month and 15 days after leaving Egypt (16:1).
- On the way to Sinai they were given manna for the first time, and they were on the way to Sinai long enough for there to be at least one Sabbath (16:13–30).
- They journeyed ‘by stages’ to Rephidim where they camped for an undisclosed amount of time (17:8).
- They didn’t actually come to Sinai before the third month after they left Egypt (19:1).
So the Bible’s account isn’t as implausible as you make it out to be.
Some are inclined to also appeal to supernatural organization and endurance to march for longer periods of time, etc. I don’t buy into those, because I believe that we should not appeal to supernatural events without evidence from Scripture that something supernatural took place. Therefore, it is legitimate to say that the Red Sea parting was a miraculous event that involved the direct influence of God, but since there is no indication of anything supernatural about the trek to Sinai, I would be very inclined to try to explain this without appealing to miracles, which I believe can be very plausibly done.
I hope this is helpful for you, and has given you more confidence in the historicity of the Bible’s record of the Exodus.
Creation Ministries International