Dr. Richard S. Hess

Old Testament Questions from the desk of Dr. Richard S. Hess

How could so many Israelites live in the Exodus generation?

Exodus 13:27 tells us that 600,000+ warriors for Israel left Egypt at the time of the Exodus. This would be larger than the Egyptian army (making Israel’s enslavement difficult to understand) and it would equate to millions of men, women, and children.

Further, Numbers 3:43 records that there were 22,273 firstborn in Israel during the wilderness period. This would equate to an average of 27 children for each mother, who would become warriors. It does not consider the additional number of women and others who were born. How can these numbers be reconciled?

The word for “1,000” is ’eleph in Hebrew.  This word does not always mean “thousand.” It can refer to a military unit such as a squad.  This is how I prefer to see it in the exodus contexts.  In fact, ’eleph often carries the sense of a squad in such military contexts. Thus 600,000 should be six hundred squads which would number a few thousand (and remember this includes those who joined Israel when they left Egypt but were not originally Israelite).

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