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

Exodus 12:37. About six hundred thousand men — The word means strong and able men fit for wars, besides women and children, which we cannot suppose to make less than twelve hundred thousand more. What a vast increase was this to arise from seventy souls, in little more than two hundred years!

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.Rameses - See Exodus 1:11 note. Rameses was evidently the place of general rendezvous, well adapted for that purpose as the principal city of Goshen. The Israelites were probably settled in considerable numbers in and about it. Pharaoh with his army and court were at that time near the frontier, and Rameses, where a large garrison was kept, was probably the place where the last interview with Moses occurred. The first part of the journey appears to have followed the course of the ancient canal. The site of Succoth cannot be exactly determined, but it lay about halfway between Rameses and Etham Exodus 13:20. The name Succoth (i. e. "tents" or "booths" in Hebrew), may have been given by the Israelites, but the same, or a similar word, occurs in Egyptian in connection with the district.

600,000 - This includes all the males who could march. The total number of the Israelites should therefore be calculated from the males above twelve or fourteen, and would therefore amount to somewhat more than two millions. This is not an excessive population for Goshen, nor does it exceed a reasonable estimate of the increase of the Israelites, including their numerous dependants.

37. The children of Israel journeyed from Rameses—now generally identified with the ancient Heroopolis, and fixed at the modern Abu-Keisheid. This position agrees with the statement that the scene of the miraculous judgments against Pharaoh was "in the field of Zoan" [Ps 78:12, 43]. And it is probable that, in expectation of their departure, which the king on one pretext or another delayed, the Israelites had been assembled there as a general rendezvous. In journeying from Rameses to Palestine, there was a choice of two routes—the one along the shores of the Mediterranean to El-Arish, the other more circuitous round the head of the Red Sea and the desert of Sinai. The latter Moses was directed to take (Ex 13:17).

to Succoth—that is, booths, probably nothing more than a place of temporary encampment. The Hebrew word signifies a covering or shelter formed by the boughs of trees; and hence, in memory of this lodgment, the Israelites kept the feast of tabernacles yearly in this manner.

six hundred thousand … men—It appears from Nu 1:3 that the enumeration is of men above twenty years of age. Assuming, what is now ascertained by statistical tables, that the number of males above that age is as nearly as possible the half of the total number of males, the whole male population of Israel, on this computation, would amount to 1,200,000; and adding an equal number for women and children, the aggregate number of Israelites who left Egypt would be 2,400,000.

Succoth; a place so called, either because there the Israelites first lodged in booths or tents, whereas before they dwelt in houses; or because there God first spread his cloud of fire over them for a covering. Psalm 105:39.

Six hundred thousand, to wit, grown and strong men, and fit for war, among whom there was none feeble or sick, Psalm 105:37. Thus the heathen writer Chaeremon, mentioned by Josephus, speaking of this matter, reckons up first two hundred and fifty thousand, and then three hundred and eighty thousand more.

That were men: the Hebrew word properly signifies strong and able men, fit to go on foot in battle-array; so decrepit or weak old men are not comprehended in this number.

Beside children, and women, whose presence and assistance is necessary to them. See Exodus 10:24. Some say the Hebrew word taph signifies their households or families, which consist principally of women and children.

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.

And the children of Israel journeyed from {q} Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand on foot that were men, beside children.

(q) Which was a city in Goshen; Ge 47:11.

37. journeyed] lit. plucked up (viz. tent-pegs), a metaphor from breaking up camp. So regularly, as Exodus 13:20, Exodus 16:1, &c.

Ra‘meses] Very possibly (p. 4) Tell er-Reṭâbeh, 10 m. W. of Succoth.

Succoth] No doubt the Eg. Thke, with the determinative of a foreign place, prob. (Griffith) a foreign name, the sing. of Succoth, ‘Booths,’ and to be read Thukke. Thukke is often mentioned in inscriptions found at Tell el-Maskhuta (= Pithom: see on Exodus 1:11); and seems to have been both a name of Pithom itself, the capital of the nome (so in these inscriptions, and in the geographical lists), and also to have denoted the region surrounding Pithom (so in the Anastasi papyri, dating from Dyn. 19., in which it has moreover the determinative of a borderland inhabited by foreigners): see Naville, Pithom, ed. 4, pp. 6, 7b; cf. W. Max Müller, EB. ii. 1436, and s.v. Pithom. Indeed Dillm. (on Exodus 14:2) had already, before Naville’s discoveries, pointed out that this was the situation required for Succoth.

six hundred thousand] The same number is given in Numbers 11:21 (also J). If it stood alone, it might be understood as a round number, current traditionally, for a very high figure: but P commits himself to details, giving the numbers of the various tribes, the whole number being, at the first census in the wilderness (Numbers 1:46), 603, 550 males above 20 years old, besides 22,000 Levites above one month old, or 8580 between 30 and 50 years old (Numbers 3:39; Numbers 4:48). 600,000 men implies a total, including women and children, of at least 2,000,000 souls. These numbers are incredible: they are not consistent either with the limits of Goshen,1[132] or (as has been most recently shewn by Petrie, Researches in Sinai, 1907, pp. 206–8) with the number that could be maintained in the Sinaitic Peninsula (similarly Di. Numbers, p. 6)2[133]: the details given by P are, moreover, inconsistent and impossible in themselves (see G.B. Gray, Numbers, pp. 12–15). The figures do not come to us from eye-witnesses; and tradition, in the course of years, greatly exaggerated the numbers of the Israelites at the Exodus.

[132] So Sayce, EHH. 212.

[133] Petrie’s own solution of the difficulty (that ’eleph in the lists in Numbers has been understood wrongly in the sense of ‘thousand’ instead of in that of ‘family’) is improbable in itself (’eleph itself meaning ‘clan’ rather than ‘family,’ and even in that sense being very rare, and never occurring in statistical lists), besides leaving many passages unexplained. See also McNeile, p. 75; and Numbers (Camb. Bible), p. 7f.

children] Heb. ṭaph, lit. those taking short, tripping steps, here including women, as Exodus 10:10; Exodus 10:24 al.

37–42. The departure from Egypt.

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. Exodus 12:37Departure of the children of Israel out of Egypt. - The starting-point was Ramses, from which they proceeded to Succoth (Exodus 12:37), thence to Etham at the end of the desert (Exodus 13:20), and from that by a curve to Hachiroth, opposite to the Red Sea, from which point they passed through the sea (Exodus 14:2, Exodus 14:21.). Now, if we take these words simply as they stand, Israel touched the border of the desert of Arabia by the second day, and on the third day reached the plain of Suez and the Red Sea. But they could not possibly have gone so far, if Ramses stood upon the site of the modern Belbeis. For though the distance from Belbeis to Suez by the direct road past "Rejm el Khail is only a little more than 15 geographical miles, and a caravan with camels could make the journey in two days, this would be quite impossible for a whole nation travelling with wives, children, cattle, and baggage. Such a procession could never have reached Etham, on the border of the desert, on their second day's march, and then on the third day, by a circuitous course "of about a day's march in extent," have arrived at the plain of Suez between Ajiruud and the sea. This is admitted by Kurtz, who therefore follows v. Raumer in making a distinction between a stage and a day's journey, on the ground that מסּע signifies the station or place of encampment, and not a day's journey. But the word neither means station nor place of encampment. It is derived from נסע to tear out (sc., the pegs of the tent), hence to take down the tent; and denotes removal from the place of encampment, and the subsequent march (cf. Numbers 33:1). Such a march might indeed embrace more than a day's journey; but whenever the Israelites travelled more than a day before pitching their tents, it is expressly mentioned (cf. Numbers 10:33, and Numbers 33:8, with Exodus 15:22). These passages show very clearly that the stages from Ramses to Succoth, thence to Etham, and then again to Hachiroth, were a day's march each. The only question is, whether they only rested for one night at each of these places. The circumstances under which the Israelites took their departure favour the supposition, that they would get out of the Egyptian territory as quickly as possible, and rest no longer than was absolutely necessary; but the gathering of the whole nation, which was not collected together in one spot, as in a camp, at the time of their departure, and still more the confusion, and interruptions of various kinds, that would inevitably attend the migration of a whole nation, render it probable that they rested longer than one night at each of the places named. This would explain most simply, how Pharaoh was able to overtake them with his army at Hachiroth. But whatever our views on this point may be, so much is certain, that Israel could not have reached the plain of Suez in a three days' march from Belbeis with the circuitous route by Etham, and therefore that their starting-point cannot have been Belbeis, but must have been in the neighbourhood of Heropolis; and there are other things that favour this conclusion. There is, first, the circumstance that Pharaoh sent for Moses the very same night after the slaying of the first-born, and told him to depart. Now the Pentateuch does not mention Pharaoh's place of abode, but according to Psalm 78:12 it was Zoan, i.e., Tanis, on the eastern bank of the Tanitic arm of the Nile. Abu Keishib (or Heroopolis) is only half as far from Tanis as Belbeis, and the possibility of Moses appearing before the king and returning to his own people between midnight and the morning is perfectly conceivable, on the supposition that Moses was not in Heroopolis itself, but was staying in a more northerly place, with the expectation that Pharaoh would send a message to him, or send for him, after the final blow. Again, Abu Keishib was on the way to Gaza; so that the Israelites might take the road towards the country of the Philistines, and then, as this was not the road they were to take, turn round at God's command by the road to the desert (Exodus 13:17-18). Lastly, Etham could be reached in two days from the starting-point named.

(Note: The different views as to the march of the Israelites from Raemses to their passage through the sea, are to be found in the Studien und Kritiken, 1850, pp. 328ff., and in Kurtz, ii. pp. 361ff.)

On the situation of Succoth and Etham, see Exodus 13:20.

The Israelites departed, "about 600,000 on foot that were men." רגלי (as in Numbers 11:21, the infantry of an army) is added, because they went out as an army (Exodus 12:41), and none are numbered but those who could bear arms, from 20 years old and upwards; and הגּברים because of מטּף לבד, "beside the little ones," which follows. טף is used here in its broader sense, as in Genesis 47:12; Numbers 32:16, Numbers 32:24, and applies to the entire family, including the wife and children, who did not travel on foot, but on beasts of burden and in carriages (Genesis 31:17). The number given is an approximative one. The numbering at Sinai gave 603,550 males of 20 years old and upwards (Numbers 1:46), and 22,000 male Levites of a month old and upwards (Numbers 3:39). Now if we add the wives and children, the total number of the people may have been about two million souls. The multiplication of the seventy souls, who went down with Jacob to Egypt, into this vast multitude, is not so disproportionate to the 430 years of their sojourn there, as to render it at all necessary to assume that the numbers given included not only the descendants of the seventy souls who went down with Jacob, but also those of "several thousand man-servants and maid-servants" who accompanied them. For, apart from the fact, that we are not warranted in concluding, that because Abraham had 318 fighting servants, the twelve sons of Jacob had several thousand, and took them with them into Egypt; even if the servants had been received into the religious fellowship of Israel by circumcision, they cannot have reckoned among the 600,000 who went out, for the simple reason that they are not included in the seventy souls who went down to Egypt; and in Exodus 1:5 the number of those who came out is placed in unmistakeable connection with the number of those who went in. If we deduct from the 70 souls the patriarch Jacob, his 12 sons, Dinah, Asher's daughter Zerah, the three sons of Levi, the four grandsons of Judah and Benjamin, and those grandsons of Jacob who probably died without leaving any male posterity, since their descendants are not mentioned among the families of Israel, there remain 41 grandsons of Jacob who founded families, in addition to the Levites. Now, if we follow 1 Chronicles 7:20., where ten or eleven generations are mentioned between Ephraim and Joshua, and reckon 40 years as a generation, the tenth generation of the 41 grandsons of Jacob would be born about the year 400 of the sojourn in Egypt, and therefore be over 20 years of age at the time of the exodus. Let us assume, that on an average there were three sons and three daughters to every married couple in the first six of these generations, two sons and two daughters in the last four, and we shall find, that in the tenth generation there would be 478,224 sons about the 400th year of the sojourn in Egypt, who would therefore be above 20 years of age at the time of the exodus, whilst 125,326 men of the ninth generation would be still living, so that there would be 478,224 + 125,326, or 603,550 men coming out of Egypt, who were more than 20 years old. But though our calculation is based upon no more than the ordinary number of births, a special blessing from God is to be discerned not only in this fruitfulness, which we suppose to have been uninterrupted, but still more in the fact, that the presumed number of children continued alive, and begot the same number of children themselves; and the divine grace was peculiarly manifest in the fact, that neither pestilence nor other evils, nor even the measures adopted by the Pharaohs for the suppression of Israel, could diminish their numbers or restrain their increase. If the question be asked, how the land of Goshen could sustain so large a number, especially as the Israelites were not the only inhabitants, but lived along with Egyptians there, it is a sufficient reply, that according to both ancient and modern testimony (cf. Robinson, Pal. i. p. 78), this is the most fertile province in all Egypt, and that we are not so well acquainted with the extent of the territory inhabited by the Israelites, as to be able to estimate the amount of its produce.

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