Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, May 19th, 2024
We are taking food to Ukrainians still living near the front lines. You can help by getting your church involved.
Click to donate today!

Bible Encyclopedias

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature

Search for…
Prev Entry
Next Entry
Exodus Book of
Resource Toolbox
Additional Links

Exo´dus. The intention of Jehovah to deliver the Israelites from Egyptian bondage was made known to Moses from the burning bush at Mount Horeb, while he kept the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law. Under the divine direction Moses, in conjunction with Aaron, assembled the elders of the nation, and acquainted them with the gracious design of Heaven. After this they had an interview with Pharaoh, and requested permission for the people to go, in order to hold a feast unto God in the wilderness. The result was, not only refusal, but the doubling of all the burdens which the Israelites had previously had to bear. Moses hereupon, suffering reproach from his people, consults Jehovah, who assures him that he would compel Pharaoh 'to drive them out of his land.' 'I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm and with great judgments' ( to ). Then ensue a series of miracles, commonly called the plagues of Egypt (Exodus 6-12) [PLAGUE]. At last, overcome by the calamities sent upon him, Pharaoh yielded all that was demanded, saying, 'Rise up, and get you forth from among my people, both ye and the children of Israel; and go serve the Lord as ye have said; also take your flocks and your herds, and be gone.' Thus driven out, the Israelites, to the number of about 600,000 adults, besides children, left the land, attended by a mixed multitude, with their flocks and herds, even very much cattle (, sq.). Being 'thrust out' of the country, they had not time to prepare for themselves suitable provisions, and therefore they baked unleavened cakes of the dough which they brought forth out of Egypt.

On the night of the self-same day which terminated a period of 430 years, during which they had been in Egypt, were they led forth from Rameses, or Goshen [GOSHEN]. They are not said to have crossed the river Nile, whence we may infer that Goshen lay on the eastern side of the river. Their first station was at Succoth (). The nearest way into the Land of Promise was through the land of the Philistines. This route would have required them to keep on in a north-east direction. It pleased their divine conductor, however, not to take this path, lest, being opposed by the Philistines, the Israelites should turn back at the sight of war into Egypt. If, then, Philistia was to be avoided, the course would lie nearly direct east, or south-east. Pursuing this route, 'the armies' come to Etham, their next station, 'in the edge of the wilderness' (, sq.). Here they encamped. Dispatch, however, was desirable. They journey day and night, not without divine guidance, for 'the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night.' This special guidance could not well have been meant merely to show the way through the desert; for it can hardly be supposed that in so great a multitude no persons knew the road over a country lying near to that in which they and their ancestors had dwelt, and which did not extend more than some forty miles across. The divine guides were doubtless intended to conduct the Israelites in that way and to that spot where the hand of God would be most signally displayed in their rescue and in the destruction of Pharaoh. 'I will be honored upon Pharaoh and upon all his host, that the Egyptians may know that I am the Lord.' For this purpose Moses is directed of God to 'speak unto the children of Israel that they turn and encamp before Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, over against Baal-zephon; before it shall ye encamp by the sea; and they did so' (). We have already seen reason to think that the direction of the Israelites was to the east or south-east; this turning must have been in the latter direction, else they would have been carried down towards the land of the Philistines, which they were to avoid. Let the word 'turn' be marked; it is a strong term, and seems to imply that the line of the march was bent considerably towards the south, or the interior of the land. The children of Israel then are now encamped before Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, also 'by the sea.' Their position was such that they were 'entangled in the land, the wilderness had shut them in.'

A new scene is now laid open. News is carried to Pharaoh which leads him to see that the reason assigned (namely, a sacrifice in the wilderness) is but a pretext; that the Israelites had really fled from his yoke; and also that, through some (to him) unaccountable error, they had gone towards the south-east, had reached the sea, and were hemmed in on all sides. He summons his troops and sets out in pursuit—'all the horses and chariots of Pharaoh, and his horsemen and his army;' and he 'overtook them encamping by the sea, beside Pi-hahiroth, before Baal-zephon' (). The Israelites see their pursuing enemy approach, and are alarmed. Moses assures them of divine aid. A promise was given as of God that the Israelites should go on dry ground through the midst of the sea; and that the Egyptians, attempting the same path, should be destroyed: 'and I will get Me honor upon Pharaoh and all his host, upon his chariots and his horsemen' (). Here a very extraordinary event takes place: 'The angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of the cloud went from before their face and stood behind them; and it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel; and it was a cloud and darkness to them, but it gave light by night to these; so that the one came not near the other all the night' (). Then comes the division of the waters, which we give in the words of the sacred historian: 'And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground; and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand and on their left. And the Egyptians pursued and went in after them to the midst of the sea, even all Pharaoh's horses, his chariots, and his horsemen.' Delays are now occasioned to the Egyptians; their chariot-wheels are supernaturally taken off, so that 'in the morning-watch they drave them heavily.' The Egyptians are troubled; they urge each other to fly from the face of Israel. 'Then Moses stretched forth his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to his strength when the morning appeared; and the Egyptians fled against it; and the Lord overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea. And the waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen and all the host of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them; there remained not as much as one of them. But the children of Israel walked upon dry land in the midst of the sea, and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand and on their left. And Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the sea-shore; and the people feared the Lord, and believed the Lord and his servant Moses' ().

Such is the bearing and import of the sacred narrative. If any intelligent reader, knowing nothing of the theories of learned men, were to peruse the account given in Exodus with a map before him, he would, we doubt not, be led to conclude that the route of the Israelites lay towards the south-east, up the Red Sea, and that the spot where they crossed was at a place encircled by mountains on the side of the desert, and fronted by deep and impassable waters; he would equally conclude that the writer in Exodus intended to represent the rescue as from first to last the work of God. Had the Israelites been at a place which was fordable under any natural influences, Pharaoh's undertaking was absurd. He knew that they were entangled—mountain behind and on either hand, while the deep sea was before them. Therefore he felt sure of his prey, and set out in pursuit. Nothing but the divine interposition foiled and punished him, at the same time redeeming the Israelites. And this view, which the unlearned but intelligent reader would be led to take, involves, in fact, all that is important in the case. But a dislike of the miraculous has had an influence, and erudition has tried to fix the precise spot: whence have arisen views and theories which are more or less discordant with the Scripture, or are concerned with comparative trifles. So far as aversion to miracle has had an influence in the hypotheses which have been given, all we shall remark is, that in a case which is so evidently represented as the sphere of miracle, there is but one alternative—they who do not admit the miracle must reject the narrative; and far better would it be to do so frankly than to construct hypotheses which are for the most part, if not altogether, purely arbitrary. A narrative obviously miraculous (in the intention of the writer) can be explained satisfactorily on no rationalistic principles: this is not to expound but to 'wrest' the Scriptures; a position which, in our opinion, has been fully established, in relation to the Gospels, against the whole of the rationalistic school of interpretation.

The account now given must, as being derived immediately from the Scripture, be in the main correct. If the authority is denied, this can be done effectually by no other means than by disproving in general the authority of the books whence it is derived; and it may with truth be affirmed, that no view opposed to that given can possess greater claims on our credit, while any mere skeptical opinion must rest on its own intrinsic probability, contested, so far as it opposes the Scripture, by scriptural authority.

When, however, we descend from generals to particulars, and attempt to ascertain precise localities and determine details, diversity of opinion may easily arise, and varying degrees of probability only are likely to attend the investigation. For instance, the immediate spot which Moses proposed to reach was, we know, on the Red Sea; but the precise line which he took depended of course on the place whence he set out. With difference of opinion as to the spot where the Hebrews had their rendezvous, there cannot be agreement as to the route they followed.

The position of Goshen, where the Israelites were settled, we shall endeavor to fix in another article. It is enough here to say, that it was on the eastern side of the Nile, probably in the province of Esh-Shurkiyeh. Rameses was the place of rendezvous. The direct route thence to the Red Sea was along the valley of the ancient canal. By this way the distance was about thirty-five miles. From the vicinity of Cairo, however, there runs a range of hills eastward to the Red Sea, the western extremity of which, not far from Cairo, is named Jebel Mokattem; the eastern extremity is termed Jebel-Attaka, which, with its promontory Ras Attaka, runs into the Red Sea. Between the two extremes, somewhere about the middle of the range, is an opening which affords a road for caravans. Two routes offered themselves here. Supposing that the actual starting-point lay nearer Cairo, the Israelites might strike in from the north of the range of hills, at the opening just mentioned, and pursue the ordinary caravan road which leads from Cairo to Suez; or they might go southward from Mokattem, through the Wady el Tih, that is, the Valley of Wandering, through which also a road, though less used, runs to Suez. According to Niebuhr, they took the first; according to ancient tradition, they took the last. Sicard found traces of the Israelites in the valley. He held Rameses to be the starting-point, and Rameses he placed about six miles from ancient Cairo, where Bezatin is now found. Here is a capacious sandy plain, on which Sicard thinks the Israelites assembled on the morning when they began their journey. In this vicinity a plain is still found, which the Arabs call the Jews' Cemetery, and where, from an indefinite period, the Jews have buried their dead. In the Mokattem chain is a hill, a part of which is called Mejanat Musa, 'Moses' Station.' On another hill in the vicinity ruins are found, which the Arabs name Meravad Musa, 'Moses' Delight.' Thus several things seem to carry the mind back to the time of the Hebrew legislator. Through the valley which leads from Bezatin (the Valley of Wandering) to the Red Sea, Sicard traveled in three days. He reckons the length to be twenty-six hours, which, if we give two miles to each hour, would make the distance fifty-two miles. The valley running pretty much in a plain surface would afford a convenient passage to the mixed bands of Israelites. About eighteen miles from Bezatin you meet with Gendelhy, a plain with a fountain. The name signifies a military station, and in this Sicard finds the Succoth (tents) of Exodus, the first station of Moses. The haste with which they left (were driven out) would enable them to reach this place at nightfall of their first day's march. Sicard places their second station, Etham, in the plain Ramliyeh, eighteen miles from Gendelhy and sixteen from the sea. From this plain is a pass, four miles in length, so narrow that not more than twenty men can go abreast. To avoid this, which would have caused dangerous delay, the order was given to turn (). Etham is said () to be on the edge of the wilderness. Jablonski says the word means terminus maris, the termination or boundary of the sea. Now, in the plain where Sicard fixes Etham (not to be confounded with the Eastern Etham, through which afterwards the Israelites traveled three days (), is the spot where the waters divide which run to the Nile and to the Gulf of Suez, and Etham is therefore truly the boundary of the sea. Here the Israelites received command to turn and encamp () before Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, over against Baal-zephon. Pi-hahiroth (the mouth of the hiding-places) Sicard identifies with Thuarek (small caves), which is the name still given to three or four salt springs of the plain Baideah, on the south side of mount Attaka, which last Sicard identifies with Baal-zephon, and which is the northern boundary of the plain Baideah, while Kuiabeh (Migdol) is its southern limit. The pass which leads to Suez, between Attaka and the sea, is very narrow, and could be easily stopped by the Egyptians. In this plain of Baideah, Pharaoh had the Israelites hemmed in on all sides. This then, according to all appearance, is the spot where the passage through the sea was effected. Such is the judgment of Sicard and of Raumer. It cannot be denied that this route satisfies all the conditions of the case. Equally does the spot correspond with the miraculous narrative furnished by holy writ.

It is no small corroboration of the view now given from Sicard and Raumer, that in substance it has the support of Josephus, of whose account we shall, from its importance, give an abridgment. The Hebrews, he says (Antiq. ii. 15), took their journey by Latopolis, where Babylon was built afterwards when Cambyses laid Egypt waste. As they went in haste, on the third day they came to a place called Baal-zephon, on the Red Sea. Moses led them this way in order that the Egyptians might be punished should they venture in pursuit, and also because the Hebrews had a quarrel with the Philistines. When the Egyptians had overtaken the Hebrews they prepared to fight them, and by their multitude drove them into a narrow place; for the number that went in pursuit was 600 chariots, 50,000 horsemen, and 200,000 infantry, all armed. They also seized the passages, shutting the Hebrews up between inaccessible precipices and the sea; for there was on each side a ridge of mountains that terminated at the sea, which were impassable, and obstructed their flight. Moses, however, prayed to God, and smote the sea with his rod, when the waters parted, and gave the Israelites free passage. The Egyptians at first supposed them distracted; but when they saw the Israelites proceed in safety, they followed. As soon as the entire Egyptian army was in the channel the sea closed, and the pursuers perished amid torrents of rain and the most terrific thunder and lightning.

The opposition to the scriptural account has been of two kinds. Some writers (Wolfenb. Fragm. p. 64, sq.) have at once declared the whole fabulous; a course which appears to have been taken as early as the time of Josephus (Antiq. ii. 16, 5). Others have striven to explain the facts by the aid of mere natural causes; for which see Winer, Handwörterbuch, in Meer Rothes. A third mode of explanation is pursued by those who do not deny miracles as such, and yet, with no small inconsistency, seek to reduce this particular miracle to the smallest dimensions. Writers who see in the deliverance of the Hebrews the hand of God and the fulfillment of the divine purposes, follow the account in Scripture implicitly, placing the passage at Ras Attaka, at the termination of the Valley of Wandering; others, who go on rationalistic principles, find the sea here too wide and too deep for their purpose, and endeavor to fix the passage a little to the south or the north of Suez. In answer to this opinion, we shall content ourselves with quoting the testimony of one or two travelers who have visited and carefully examined the spot.

The following are the remarks of Mr. Blumhardt, who passed through Suez (October, 1835), in his missionary visit to Abyssinia. 'The Red Sea at Suez is exceedingly narrow, and in my opinion it cannot be that the Israelites here experienced the power and love of God in their passage through the Red Sea. The breadth of the sea is at present scarcely a quarter of an hour by Suez. Now if this be the part which they crossed, how is it possible that all the army of Pharaoh, with his chariots, could have been drowned? I am rather inclined to believe that 'the Israelites experienced that wonderful deliverance about thirty miles lower down. This opinion is also strengthened by most of the Eastern churches, and the Arabs, who believe that the Israelites reached the opposite shore at a place called Gebel Pharaon, which on that account has received this name. If we accept this opinion, it agrees very well with the Scripture.' Still more important is the evidence of Dr. Olin (Travels in the East, New York, 1843). He agrees with Robinson in fixing Etham 'on the border of the wilderness which stretches along the eastern shore of the arm of the sea which runs up above Suez.' At this point he says the Hebrews were commanded to turn. They turned directly southward and marched to an exposed position, hemmed in completely by the sea, the desert, and Mount Attaka. A false confidence was thus excited in Pharaoh, and the deliverance was made the more signal and the more impressive alike to the Israelites and to Egypt. Admitting the possibility that the sea at Suez may have been wider and deeper than it is now, Olin remarks, 'it must still have been very difficult, if not impossible, for the army of Israel, encumbered with infants and aged people, as well as with flocks, to pass over (near Suez) in face of their enemies.' Besides, the peculiarities of the place must have had a tendency to disguise the character and impair the effect of the miracle. The passage made at the intervention of Moses was kept open all night. The Egyptians followed the Hebrews to the midst of the sea, when the sea engulfed them. 'The entire night seems to have been consumed in the passage. It is hardly credible that so much time should have been consumed in crossing near Suez, to accomplish which one or two hours would have been sufficient.' 'Nor is it conceivable that the large army of the Egyptians should have been at once within the banks of so narrow a channel. The more advanced troops would have reached the opposite shore before the rear had entered the sea; and yet we know that all Pharaoh's chariots and horsemen followed to the midst of the sea, and, together with all the host that came in after them, were covered with the returning waves' (i. 348). Preferring the position at Ras Attaka, Olin states that the gulf is here ten or twelve miles wide. 'The valley expands into a considerable plain, bounded by lofty precipitous mountains on the right and left, and by the sea in front, and is sufficiently ample to accommodate the vast number of human beings who composed the two armies.' 'An east wind would act almost directly across the gulf. It would be unable to cooperate with an ebb tide in removing the waters—no objection certainly if we admit the exercise of God's miraculous agency;' but a very great impediment in the way of any rationalistic hypothesis. 'The channel is wide enough to allow of the movements described by Moses, and the time, which embraced an entire night, was sufficient for the convenient march of a large army over such a distance.' 'The opinion which fixes the point of transit in the valley or wady south of Mount Attaka derives confirmation from the names still attached to the principal objects in this locality. Jebel Attaka means in the language of the Arabs “The Mount of Deliverance.” Badeah or Bedeah, the name this part of the valley, means “the Miraculous,” while Wady el Tih means “the Valley of Wanderings.” Pi-hahiroth, where Moses was commanded to encamp, is rendered by scholars “the mouth of Hahiroth,” which answers well to the deep gorge south of Attaka, but not at all to the broad plain about Suez.'

Other parts of the line of march pursued by the Israelites will be found treated of under the heads Manna Sinai Wandering.





Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Exodus'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature". https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​kbe/​e/exodus.html.
Ads FreeProfile