Meditations in Exodus: 42. A Hasty Departure
Ex 12:40,41 Now the length of time the Israelite people lived in Egypt was 430 years. At the end of the 430 years, to the very day, all the LORD’s divisions left Egypt.
It is important to catch and hold on to the details of all that happened to Israel. Pharaoh has apparently capitulated and told them to leave. The Egyptian people have encouraged them to leave and have heaped them with goods to take with them. The slave people have eventually been paid for their years of servitude!
They are on their way: “The Israelites journeyed from Rameses to Succoth.” (v.37a) Rameses was one of the store cities the Hebrew slaves had helped to build (see Ex 1:12) and they obviously still lived in the vicinity. It is thought to be somewhere on the Nile delta (possibly to receive imports from the sea). Succoth is thought to be to the west of the Bitter Lakes near the eastern border of Egypt. As we had noted in a much earlier meditation the Egyptians had used the Hebrew slaves for mining in the south of the Sinai peninsular and so they were possibly kept in Goshen in the north of Egypt for easy access. What was once used to his benefit by Pharaoh, now works for the benefit of Israel as they look to make a quick escape from Egypt. (Yet, as we will see in a later study, that brought its problems!)
Who went? We are told that, “There were about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children.” (v.37b) When they had arrived in the land some four hundred years earlier there had been just some seventy or so of them (see Ex 1:5), “but the Israelites were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous, so that the land was filled with them.” (Ex 1:7) Adding women and children it is quite possible that they exceeded two million people departing the land.
But that is not all: “Many other people went up with them, as well as large droves of livestock, both flocks and herds.” (v.38) The ‘many other people’ have to be Egyptians who had had enough of Pharaoh and the ways of Egypt. As you follow the adventures of Israel you see that various non-Hebrews joined themselves to this people (e.g. Rahab and her family – Josh 6:25, and the Gibeonites – Josh 9:27) but not always without difficulties as we will see later on in their travels.
And then we are reminded yet again of the haste with which they go and the effects of it: “With the dough they had brought from Egypt, they baked cakes of unleavened bread. The dough was without yeast because they had been driven out of Egypt and did not have time to prepare food for themselves.” (v.39) It is a point made again and again, e.g. “This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the LORD’s Passover.” (Ex 12:11) The references to using no yeast (which would delay the making of the bread, waiting for the yeast to rise) come again and again – 12:15,17-20,34,39) The point is being made again and again – this is a hasty exodus and it is hasty because of the activity of God. So great and powerful was His work that Israel are almost being shot out of the land. It is a mighty work of God and it will be remembered every following year by the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
The facts of the case are then simply stated: “Now the length of time the Israelite people lived in Egypt was 430 years. At the end of the 430 years, to the very day, all the LORD’s divisions left Egypt.” (v.40,41) Centuries before the Lord had said to Abraham, “In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here.” (Gen 15:16). At that earlier time a “generation” was the age of a man when his first son (from the legal standpoint) was born, as in Abram’s case, 100 years (see Gen 21:5). ‘In’ the fourth generation means in the time in excess of 400. Here the chronicler details it very specifically as 430 years. God had said it and it is clear from the Lord’s conversation with Moses at the burning bush (Ex 3 & 4) that He knew exactly when He would be acting against this current Pharaoh (thought by many to be Ramses II).
It is summed up: “Because the LORD kept vigil that night to bring them out of Egypt, on this night all the Israelites are to keep vigil to honor the LORD for the generations to come.” (v.42) The Message version expresses this verse as, “God kept watch all night, watching over the Israelites as he brought them out of Egypt. Because God kept watch, all Israel for all generations will honour God by keeping watch this night—a watchnight.” Vigil – kept watch. A slight understatement of what happened in respect of the last plague but the Lord certainly was watching over Israel and protecting them. Thus future generations would hold the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread and would hold a ‘vigil’ to remember what had happened.
In these verses we are presented with very specific information. Some commentators have struggled with the numbers of Hebrews leaving and there a questions as to how the 430 years is calculated but the record is quite specific and has been put there for our information and to build our faith, and that is the all-important thing – this was a work of God. God decreed it hundreds of years before it happened. The Lord saw what the need would be with the passing of time. He saw how history would work out and spoke of that and then fulfilled it.
For us in our lives, be assured that God is Lord over all and knows everything there is to know about us and despite that (AND because of it) sent Jesus to die for us at the right time in history (Gal 4:4). He is not caught out by anything happening in your life and He is there for you in every circumstance. As with Israel here, our circumstances may not always work out as we expect – but the Lord KNOWS and is there for us! Be at peace and rejoice in that!