Now the sons of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, aside from children. A mixed multitude also went up with them, along with flocks and herds, a very large number of livestock. They baked the dough which they had brought out of Egypt into cakes of unleavened bread. For it had not become leavened, since they were driven out of Egypt and could not delay, nor had they prepared any provisions for themselves.
In this portion of the chapter under consideration, we are provided with considerable factual data – some which gives rise to more questions. Based on what we have in Genesis 47:11 and in Strong’s Lexicon, we know that Rameses (Ramses) was indeed a city in lower Egypt built by Hebrew slaves; probably in Goshen. Succoth was, according to Genesis 33:17 the place where Jacob had travelled to after he was reunited with Esau. There, Jacob built a house and settled his livestock. According to Strong’s Lexicon this was east of the Jordan and the first stopping place for the Israelites when they left Egypt. The experts differ on how far the Hebrews could have travelled on their journey each day. If we accept the Word as written, this first stop was about 25 miles from Goshen, or at least the Rameses part of Goshen. Was this possible in one day? Yes, but difficult to comprehend since they were not trained walkers. One alternative was this was not done in one day and nothing in Scripture stipulates it was. Another is that we are not exactly sure of where Succoth was located (and there are varying opinions on that as well).
The next fact of interest that we need to grapple with is the numbers of those leaving Egypt. Our text says “about 600,000 men on foot, aside from children”. I think we can safely assume that almost everybody departed on foot. That means we are not talking about 600,000 men on foot and an unknown number riding. One assumes that some who were disabled were carried or rode on animals or in carts of some sort, but for the most part – they all walked. But we note there is no direct mention of “women” – only men and children. So did the women not go? They very much did, but in keeping with the culture and times, Moses chooses not to identify them specifically. The assumption is that for a certain amount of men, there are a certain amount of women, on average. On the other hand, some commentators believe the word “men” was used in a generic sense to imply “adults” and included women. I personally prefer the former explanation, but I could be wrong. Does it matter? The fact is that anywhere between one million and two million (or perhaps higher) human beings, Children of Israel, left Egypt on that date. Robert Jamieson says the following on this verse: “It appears from Numbers 1:3 [which we hope to come to much later in our own study] 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.” And based on that thinking, even that upper number may actually be low.
We are also told “in addition (or ‘also’) a mixed multitude went up (out of Egypt) with them. So, who were these people? Matthew Henry writes about them, “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.” And then Henry adds this stinger, “Thus there are still hypocrites in the church.” Ouch, but true.
The Pulpit Commentary says this: “Kalisch [another commentator] supposes that these strangers were native Egyptians, anxious to escape the tyranny of the kings. Canon Cook [still another] suggests that they were ‘remains of the old Semitic population’ of the Eastern provinces. Perhaps it is more probable that they consisted of fugitives from other subject races (as the Shartana) oppressed by the Pharaohs.” Some went because of inter-marriages that had taken place and they did not want to part with their loved ones. Others saw that God was favoring the Hebrews and thus it was best to be with them than stay in desolate Egypt. Robert Jamieson whom we have relied on before calls them “a great rabble” – “slaves, persons in the lowest grades of society, partly natives and partly foreigners, bound close to them as companions in misery, and gladly availing themselves of the opportunity to escape in the crowd.” This all reminds me of the traveling group in the Canterbury Tales. Could anything good come from, or to, this kind of crowd?
And let us not forget all the livestock – every flock, every herd, every animal. Can you imagine either what the length of this exodus sight was or how wide it was in order to accommodate all those who wanted to escape for Egypt?
Regardless of how long or hard they had traveled; two things were bound to happen. First they were going to get hungry. Second the unleavened dough they had taken with them when rushing out of Egypt was eventually going to ferment. And the question arises as to whether or not they felt they were still in that “first week” of the memorial talked about in Exodus 12:14 or was this only to be celebrated “once they arrived in the land” which the Lord would give them (Exodus 12:25). Interesting. In any case, it was felt that they needed to bake with the unleavened bread and thus had to do it quickly – probably over coals in the wilderness as no ovens were available. In essence this was the first “Passover night” meal celebrating their freedom from bondage.
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