Schaff's Bible Dictionary
Definitions in Biblical History
What is the Exodus?
The history of the exodus of the Israelites from the land of bondage -- their wanderings through the dreary wilderness under the guidance of the Law of God, the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night, with many resting-places in delightful oases, and the constant services of the tabernacle, and their final entrance into the Promised Land.
The date, the geography, and the history of this "great turning-point in biblical history" will be considered.
1. Date. There is a difference of opinion among biblical scholars as to the name of the two kings who oppressed the Israelites and are mentioned in the book of Exodus under the generic name of Pharaoh.
(1) Some hold that Amosis or Aahmes I. was the Pharaoh of the Oppression, and that Thothmes or Tutmes II. was the Pharaoh of the Exodus, who perished in the Red Sea. The latter reigned about a century later, b.c. 1485. His reign is known to have been short and inglorious. But the difficulties in the way of this view are numerous.
(2) According to the other theory, now held by the majority of Egyptologists and biblical scholars, Rameses II., the Great -- the Sesostris of the Greeks -- was the Pharaoh who " knew not Joseph," Ex 1:11 (b.c. 1388 to 1325), and his son, Menephthah II., was the Pharaoh of the Exodus. Menephthah was the thirteenth son of Rameses, and began to rule probably b.c. 1325 or 1322. He marks a period of decline in which the conquests of his two great predecessors were gradually lost. Few monuments were erected in his reign, and even his father's tomb was left unfinished. This is just what we would expect after the catastrophe in the Red Sea. Herodotus tells us that the son of Sesostris (Rameses, whom he calls Pheron) undertook no warlike expeditions, and was smitten with blindness for 10 years because "he impiously hurled his spear into the overflowing waves of the river, which a sudden wind caused to rise to an extraordinary height." This reads like a confused reminiscence of the overthrow in the Red Sea. Taking this view, we may, with Lepsius and Ebers, set the Exodus in b.c. 1317, on the fifteenth day of the first month, Abib or Nisan, our April.
1. Geography. -- The Scripture data about the Exodus are as follows: The children of Israel proceeded from Rameses to Succoth, Ex 12:37; thence to Etham, "in the edge of the wilderness," Ex 13:20; here they were to "turn and encamp, before Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, over against Baal-zephon." Gen 14:2. With these notices must be compared the list of camping-stations which Moses gives. Num 33:2-10. When the Egyptians came upon the track of the Israelites they said, "They are entangled in the land; the wilderness is closed against them," Ex 14:3 -- i.e. "They cannot get out of Egypt; they must either return or cross the sea." Moses intended to go by the way of the wilderness, but when he turned southward, by divine command, he was shut in by the waters of the Red Sea, which then probably extended farther north, to the Bitter Lakes. We may thus identify the places mentioned in the itinerary. Rameses, the place of general rendezvous, is Zoan (Tanis). Succoth, which Ebers considers an Egyptian word (fields), must have been halfway between Rameses and Etham. Etham was probably Pithom (Pitum); Pi-hahiroth is Ajeudot Agrad, a fortress on the way from Etham to Suez; Migdol is Bir Sitweis, about 2 miles from Suez; Baal-zephon is perhaps identical with Mount Atakah. Baal was the chief deity of the Phoenicians, who had at a very early period a settlement in Lower Egypt. There are two prominent theories about the locality and mode of the miraculous passage of the Israelites through the Red Sea:
(1) The usual theory, which locates the passage several miles south of Suez, where the sea is about 10 miles broad. This theory fits in best with the literal meaning of the narrative, for in this case the waters must have been actually divided for several miles, and have stood like walls on either hand. But the difficulties the view raises are more numerous than those it solves. Could the host of Israel, encumbered as they were, have crossed in one night through such a channel? Would the Egyptians have followed them through the deep sea, and in view of such an amazing interposition of God? Could any wind have had such an effect upon so wide a sea? And if not, why is it mentioned at all as an agent? An accumulation of miracles is called for by this theory.
(2) The second theory puts the crossing at the head of the gulf, near or some distance north of Suez. In Moses's time the gulf may have extended as a reedy marsh as far as the Bitter Lakes. The crossing was made possible by a special providence and a miraculous adaptation of the laws of nature. The east, or rather north-east, wind drove off the waters from the small arm of the sea which runs up by Suez; this would leave the water on the more northern part of the arm, so that there would be waters on both sides to serve as an entrenchment. This would meet the Sketch-map of the Route of the Exodus. exigences of the narrative, Ex 14:22. But even in this case the passage of two millions of people, with all their cattle, was an astounding miracle. It has its counterpart in the crossing of the river Jordan at the end of the journey through the wilderness. For a third theory advocated by Brugsch Bey, and more recently by Prof. A. H. Sayce, see Red Sea.
3. History. -- The Exodus was the execution of a divine plan. God sent ten plagues upon the land in punishment. The last was the severest: the first-born in every house lay dead. But while the destroying angel went through the midst of Egypt the Israelites were gathered in their respective houses, ready at any moment to hear the command, "Go! begone!" their loins girded, their shoes on their feet, their staffs in their hands, eating hastily the lamb which they had roasted. Thus they observed the Passover. "Dimly we see and hear in the darkness and confusion of that night the stroke which at last broke the heart of the king and made him let Israel go." "And Pharaoh in the night, he and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where there was not one dead." Then followed in quick succession the midnight call of Pharaoh for Moses and Aaron, the command to depart, the urgent co-operation of the nation to hasten their departure, and the actual leaving of the house of bondage and start upon the momentous journey.
1. Practical Lesson. -- The history of the exodus of the Israelites from the land of bondage -- their wanderings through the dreary wilderness under the guidance of the Law of God, the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night, with many resting-places in delightful oases, and the constant services of the tabernacle, and their final entrance into the Promised Land -- has always been regarded as a most instructive type and illustration of the history of the Christian Church and of the individual believer, his deliverance from the bondage of sin, and his passage to the heavenly land of rest and peace.
Schaff, Philip, Dr. "Biblical Definition for 'exodus' in Schaffs Bible Dictionary". bible-history.com - Schaff'sCopyright Information
© Schaff's Bible Dictionary
Schaff's Bible Dictionary Home
Bible History Online Home
Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE)
Online Bible (KJV)
Naves Topical Bible
Smith's Bible Dictionary
Easton's Bible Dictionary
Schaff's Bible Dictionary
Fausset's Bible Dictionary
Matthew Henry Bible Commentary
Hitchcock's Bible Dictionary
Related Bible History