Exodus 12:37 MEANING

Exodus 12:37

(37-41) The two principal statements of this passage are--(1) that the sojourn of the Israelites in Egypt lasted four hundred and thirty years; and (2) that at the time of the departure the number of the "men" (gebarim) was six hundred thousand. This latter statement is evidently a rough one, but it is confirmed, and even enlarged, by the more accurate estimate of Numbers 1, 2, which goes into particulars with respect to the several tribes, and makes the exact amount of the adult male population, exclusive of the Levites, to be 625,540 (Numbers 2:32). It would follow that the nation, at the time of its departure, was one of above two millions of souls.

Two difficulties are raised with respect to this estimate:--(1) Could the Israelites possibly have increased during their sojourn in Egypt from the "seventy souls" who went down with Jacob to two millions? (2) Is it conceivable that such a multitude, with their flocks and herds, could have quitted Egypt on one day, and marched in a body through the narrow wadys of the Sinaitic region to the plain in front of Sinai? Could even that plain have contained them? With regard to the first point, before it can be decided we must ascertain what are the exact data. What is to be taken as the original number of those who "went down into Egypt?" what as the duration of the sojourn? It has been already shown (see the comment on Exodus 1:5) that the descendants of Jacob who entered Egypt were probably a hundred and thirty-two rather than seventy; that they were accompanied by their wives and husbands; that they took with them also their "households," which were very numerous (see Note on Genesis 17:13); and that the entire number is fairly estimated at "several thousands." Let us then place it at 3,000.

The duration of the sojourn in Egypt, stated in the Hebrew text at 430 years, is reduced by the LXX. and Samaritan Versions to half the time: i.e., to 215 years. If we accept Mr. Malthus's statement, that in the absence of artificial checks population will double itself every twenty years, we shall find that 3,000 persons might, in the space of two centuries, increase to above 3,000,000; so that even the 215 years of the Greek and Samaritan Versions would admit of such a multiplication as that required. But as there is no sufficient reason for preferring the Versions to the Original, or the period of 215 to that of 430 years, we are entitled to regard the latter term as the real duration of the sojourn, in which case a doubling of the population every forty-five years would have produced the result indicated. Such a result under the circumstances, in the rich soil of Egypt, in the extensive territory granted to the Israelites, and with God's special blessing on the people, is in no way surprising.

The difficulty of handling so vast a body, and marching them from Goshen to the Red Sea, and from the Red Sea to Sinai, remains, and, no doubt, is considerable. But we must remember that as far as Marah the country was perfectly open, and allowed of any extension of the line of march on either flank. After this, the wadys were entered, and the real difficulties of the journey began. Probably the host spread itself out, and proceeded to the rendezvous in front of the Ras Sufsafeh by several routes, of which Moses traces only the one which he himself followed. The plain Er-Rahah, according to the calculations of the best engineers, would have contained the entire multitude; but it is unnecessary to suppose that all were at any one time present in it. The whole Sinaitic district was probably occupied by the flocks and herds, and the herdsmen who tended them. Many of the tents may have been pitched in the Wady-ed-Deir and the Seil Leja. All that the narrative requires is that the main body of the people should have been encamped in front of Sinai, have heard the Decalogue delivered, and consented to the covenant.

(37) From Rameses to Succoth.--The difference between the Raamses of Exodus 1:11 and the Rameses of this passage is merely one of "pointing;" nor is there the least ground for supposing that a different place is intended. Pi-Ramesu was the main capital of the kings of the nineteenth dynasty, having superseded Tanis, of which it was a suburb. (See Note on Exodus 1:11.) Succoth has been identified by Dr. Brugsch with an Egyptian town called Thukot; but it is probably a Semitic word, signifying "tents" or "booths." The district south-east of Tanis is one in which clusters of "booths" have been at all times common. Some one of these--situated, perhaps, near the modern Tel-Dafneh, fifteen miles south-east of Tanis--was the first halt of the Israelites.

Verses 37-39. - THE DEPARTURE. There are, no doubts, great difficulties in conceiving the departure on one day, from one place, of "six hundred thousand that were men, beside children." The difficulty is increased when we find (from Numbers 1:3-43) that by "men" is meant males above twenty years of age. The entire body of Israelites is thus raised from over half a million to over two millions. The whole narrative, however, supposes some such number; and it is accepted by the best critics, as Ewald, Kalisch, Kurtz, Canon Cook, and others. As these two millions must have lived dispersed over a considerable space, and there could have been no advantage in their all assembling at Rameses (Tunis), we are probably to suppose the main body with Moses and Aaron to have stared from that place, while the others, obeying orders previously given, started from all parts of Goshen, and converged upon Succoth, which was the first rendezvous. Each body of travellers was accompanied by its flocks and herds, and followed by a number of slaves, dependants, and sympathisers not of Hebrew birth (ver. 38), which still further enlarged their numbers. The extremely open character of the country, and the firmness of the soil at the time of year, would facilitate the journey. There was no marching along roads, which indeed did not exist. Each company could spread itself out at its pleasure, and go its own pace. All knew the point of meeting, and marched towards it, in converging lines, there being no obstacle to hinder them. Arrived in the vicinity of Succoth, they could bivouac without hurt, in that fine climate, in the open air. Verse 37. - From Rameses. It has been doubted whether this "Rameses" is the same place as the "Raamses" of Exodus 1:11. But the doubt scarcely seems to be reasonable. The two words differ only in the pointing. Brugsch has clearly shown that Rameses (Pa-Ramesu) was a town newly built in the reign of Rameses II., partly erected by himself, in the immediate vicinity of the old city of Tanis or Zoan. It was the favourite capital of both Rameses II. and Menephthah. (See Brugsch, Hist. of Egypt, vol. 2. pp. 96 and 128.) Succoth. The meaning of the word "Succoth" is "booths." Mr. Greville Chester tells us that "huts made of reeds" are common at the present day in the tract south-east of Tunis, and suggests that the Succoth here mentioned may have been at Salahiyeh, fifteen miles due south of Tunis. Tel-Defneh, at the same distance to the south-east, is perhaps a more probable site. Six hundred thousand. See the Introductory paragraph. At the time of the numbering recorded in Numbers 1, the males above twenty years of age were 625,550. Beside children. Rather, "beside families." The word used includes all the women, and the children under twenty.

12:37-42 The children of Israel set forward without delay. A mixed multitude went with them. Some, perhaps, willing to leave their country, laid waste by plagues; others, out of curiosity; perhaps a few out of love to them and their religion. But there were always those among the Israelites who were not Israelites. Thus there are still hypocrites in the church. This great event was 430 years from the promise made to Abraham: see Ga 3:17. So long the promise of a settlement was unfulfilled. But though God's promises are not performed quickly, they will be, in their season. This is that night of the Lord, that remarkable night, to be celebrated in all generations. The great things God does for his people, are to be not only a few days' wonder, but to be remembered throughout all ages; especially the work of our redemption by Christ. This first passover-night was a night of the Lord, much to be observed; but the last passover-night, in which Christ was betrayed and in which the first passover, with the rest of the Jewish ceremonies, was done away, was a night of the Lord, much more to be observed. Then a yoke, heavier than that of Egypt, was broken from off our necks, and a land, better than that of Canaan, set before us. It was a redemption to be celebrated in heaven, for ever and ever.And the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth,.... Rameses was a place in Goshen, or rather the land of Goshen, from whence the country was so called; See Gill on Genesis 47:11. The Targum of Jonathan takes it to be Pelusium, or Sin, now called Tinah, formerly the strength of Egypt, and which lay at the entrance of it, and says it was one hundred and thirty miles to Succoth; and Jarchi says one hundred and twenty. But the distance between these two places was not so great; for Succoth from Rameses it is computed was eight miles (f) only. The latter place is so called by anticipation; for it was now a desert, as Josephus (g) says, which he calls Latopolis, but had its name Succoth from the children of Israel pitching their tents there; for the word signifies tents or tabernacles. The number of the children of Israel when they came out of Egypt

were about six hundred thousand on foot, that were men, besides children; and which is confirmed by the account that Chaeremon (h) the Heathen gives, who makes the number of those drove out of Egypt, as he calls them, 250,000; and says that when they came to Pelusium, they found there 380,000 left there by Amenophis; which makes in all 630,000. And so Philo the Jew says (i), they were above 600,000, besides old men, children, and women, that could not easily be numbered; and the word "about" will admit of it, since it may be used not to diminish, but to increase the number; and it is certain that in the second year after they were come out of Egypt, their number was 600,550 without the Levites, who were not numbered; and they that were numbered were such as were twenty years old and upward, and able to go forth to war, Numbers 1:9 and such were those here, as Jarchi observes; so that if there were 600,000 men of twenty years old and upwards, able to bear arms, besides women, children, and old men, it may well be thought that in all there were no less than near two millions and a half; for, according to the ordinary proportion allowed in other nations of four to one between the number of the whole people in a nation, and those men fit to bear arms, that the number of the Israelites alone, of all ages and sexes which went out of Egypt along with Moses, will amount to 2,400,000 souls (j); which was a prodigious increase of seventy persons in little more than two hundred years, and a most marvellous thing it was, that in so large a number of persons there was not one feeble among them, Psalm 105:37.

(f) See Bunting's Travels, p. 81. (g) Ut supra, (antiqu. l. 2.) c. 15. sect. 1.((h) Apud Joseph. contr. Apion, l. 1. sect. 32. (i) De Vita Mosis, l. 1. p. 625. (j) Bp. of Clogher's Chronology of the Hebrew Bible, p. 271. See Judah Leon's Relation of Memorable Things, &c. p. 2.

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