It has been told as a tale for children, through effects-heavy Hollywood movies, and from the pulpit on Sundays. Yet amid wild speculation, “artistic license,” and outright lies, most everyone misses a central theme of the second book of the Bible.
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Arms outstretched, a bearded Moses stands before a parted Red Sea, wooden staff in hand. Sandal-wearing Israelites make their way through a path between the walls of water. An angry Egyptian army follows closely behind.
To most, such a scene quickly comes to mind when they think of the Exodus story. Retellings typically begin with the first chapter of the biblical book that bears that name—around the time when the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt and God heard their cries. From there, Moses is born and reared in pharaoh’s palace, he kills an Egyptian and flees, God speaks to him from a burning bush, he returns to Egypt, pharaoh refuses to let Israel go, there are 10 plagues, Israel comes out of the country, they cross a parted Red Sea, and receive the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai.
This is all told and retold with varying degrees of detail.
But does it matter if the Exodus story actually happened as it appears in the Old Testament?
Two of America’s Founding Fathers did not think so. Still, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson had such an affinity for the story that they both submitted Exodus-themed proposals for the official seal of the United States. Franklin’s was a detailed depiction of Moses at a parted Red Sea. (Congress later settled on the eagle seal still in use today.)
While both of these highly intelligent men believed the Bible contained many good life principles, they did not literally believe everything it said. According to Smithsonian Magazine, Jefferson even reconstructed his own version of the gospels, which cut out anything he deemed “contrary to reason.” Mostly, he removed miraculous events. Certainly, the supernatural events of the Exodus would have also fallen into this category.
Yet an oppressed people escaping a tyrannical pharaoh—with God on their side—certainly fit well with the sentiments of the American Revolution.
But again, does it matter whether every detail of the story of God delivering the Israelites is accurate?
The Jewish Encyclopedia also says, “No.” The publication states: “That the events narrated in Exodus cannot be historical in all their details has been generally conceded. The numbers [of Israelites who left Egypt] are certainly fanciful: 600,000 men would represent a total of at least two million souls…and how so vast an unorganized host could have crossed the Red Sea in one night are questions that have not been explained…”
Despite this commonly held belief, practicing Jews still diligently recount this event during their annual Passover Seder meals. The story has rich cultural meaning regardless of its historical accuracy.
Likewise, many professing Christians feel there is no harm if much of the second book of the Bible is allegory. Similar to a non-literal reading of the Creation account, Exodus is seen as an embellished story from which important lessons can be gleaned.
Even the irreligious find the tale captivating, and they certainly do not believe it occurred. Consider: an atheist filmmaker took on the story for a December 2014 mega-budget motion picture. If you only have so many movies you can make in your lifetime, choosing to make one based on Moses when you do not believe in God is quite a statement.
Ask yourself: Does it matter if God really caused 10 literal plagues—including a deadly hailstorm and debilitating darkness—to decimate Egypt? Does it matter if God spoke through a burning bush? If Moses’ staff turned into a serpent and back again? If the Nile River turned to blood when Moses’ brother Aaron struck it with a staff? If all the firstborn of Egypt died in the 10th and final plague? If God parted the Red Sea and the Israelites passed through on dry land?
Regardless of religious preference, it appears everyone can still gain meaning and lessons from God’s Word—even if events did not occur as written—so does it really matter if every word is accurate?
The plain-truth answer to this question is something with which every Bible reader must come to grips.
Stop and think what it means if parts of the Exodus story were merely allegorical or poetic. How could you know what was true or false? Where would you draw the line?
Few would question that the Ten Commandments are the building blocks of Judaism and Christianity. To most, these are safely in the “true” category. Yet did Moses literally receive them on the top of Mount Sinai? Did God write them with His own finger as it says in Exodus 31? Were there actual stone tablets? Or were some or all of these details added later?
The only answer is that if some of the Bible is not literal and true, then what should be taken at face value is open for conjecture. Anyone can decide what each verse means. Any reader could pick and choose what to believe.
If this were reality, it would say a lot about the character of God Himself.
Many believe that Jewish scribes embellished the Old Testament over the years. They also think that details were changed because of the limitations of oral tradition—something like a multi-millennia version of the children’s game “telephone.” According to them, the number of Israelites leaving Egypt grew over the years from some “reasonable” number to roughly 2.5 million as mentioned in Exodus 12:37. They assert that artistic flourishes were added in each telling and retelling.
Where was God during this time? Did He let His Word get perverted and changed over the centuries?
Think. If God could not preserve the Bible’s roughly three-quarters of a million words—He definitely could not part the Red Sea or perform any of the many other wonders Exodus purports.
This is hardly the image of an all-powerful Being.
Even stranger, it would mean God allowed his servants to boast about Him for events that are nothing more than poetic flair.
Psalm 77 speaks about Israel leaving Egypt and escaping pharaoh’s army by going through a parted Red Sea: “You are the God that does wonders: You have declared Your strength among the people…The voice of Your thunder was in the heaven: the lightnings lightened the world: the earth trembled and shook. Your way is in the sea, and Your path in the great waters…You led Your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron” (vs. 14-20).
This passage calls the Creator “the God that does wonders.” It does not say “the God of poetic and fanciful wonders”!
Verse 12 states: “I will meditate also of all Your work, and talk of Your doings.” What kind of God would allow a psalmist—and all those who read the Bible afterward—to waste his time thinking about God’s made up doings?
Now consider that King David, the prophet Jeremiah, the deacon Stephen, and the apostle Paul all believed in the literal story of Moses. Did God allow these great servants to remain confused?
More important, was Jesus Christ confused?
A pre-incarnate Christ was present in the burning bush. Surely, He would have known what occurred.
Put this all together. The pick-and-choose approach to the Bible is ludicrous! It makes God out to be a helpless weakling. It also means some of His greatest servants were confused (at best) or liars (at worst). Either you believe and apply all of Scripture, or it is utterly foolish to base your life upon it.
Yet God would never want you to believe His Word if you could not know with absolute certainty that it came from Him. Unknown to almost all, you can prove this book was divinely inspired and preserved.
Such proof is key to fully understanding the Exodus account.
God puts forth a challenge to all skeptics in the book of Isaiah. It is quoted from the Moffatt translation of the Bible: “Now, the Eternal cries, bring your case forward…state your proofs. Let us hear what happened in the past, that we may ponder it, or show Me what is yet to be, that we may watch how it turns out; yes, let us hear what is coming, that we may be sure you are gods; come, do something or other that we may marvel at the sight!—why, you are things of naught, you can do nothing at all!” (Isa. 41:21-24).
The God of the Bible knows that no human being can predict the future and then make it come to pass. Yet He has done this repeatedly throughout history. One-third of the Bible is prophecy, which can be likened to history written in advance. God says He will do something and then He makes it happen.
In order to prove the Bible’s validity, one must place fulfilled prophecy next to the record of history. Such proofs are found throughout God’s Word. David C. Pack, Real Truth editor-in-chief, brings forth a number of these towering examples in his booklet Bible Authority...Can It Be Proven?
When Bible readers understand that they can simply read and believe the Exodus account, the story becomes sweeping in scope and importance. It shows that the Creator is the one true God and that He is an all-powerful Being capable of mighty wonders.
In addition, by reading slowly and putting together all of the Bible verses on the story of the Israelites coming out of Egypt—from both the Old Testament and New—powerful lessons emerge about how God works with mankind and the incredible stubbornness of human nature.
First, the true beginning of the Exodus story is not in Exodus chapter 1. Rather, it is in the first book of the Bible in Genesis 15. God promised—prophesied—that He would give the land of Canaan to the patriarch Abraham’s descendants after 400 years of sojourning (they lived in tents) as well as being strangers and then slaves in Egypt. After four centuries, God said He would bring them “out with great substance” and return them “hither” to Canaan. At that time, they would inherit the Promised Land (vs. 15-16).
The record of the Bible shows this played out to the letter. God said it would happen and it did. By carefully following the ages of the patriarchs, as well as key verses showing that time had passed, the period from Abraham’s death at age 175 (Gen. 25:7) until Joshua divided up the Promised Land for the Israelites (Josh. 14) was exactly 400 years.
The intricacies of how God accomplished this are astonishing!
After Abraham was buried, his son Isaac continued as a stranger in the land of Canaan. His son Jacob (who was later renamed Israel) did the same for most of his life until his son Joseph invited him to live in Egypt.
Joseph was second in command in Egypt when Israel and his family of 70 came to live there (Ex. 1:5). Notice Genesis 41: “Pharaoh said unto Joseph, See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt” (vs. 41). Due to this prominent position, the Israelites were given some of the choicest land in the nation and they “increased abundantly” (Ex. 1:7). The Hebrew peoples were not in slavery at this time. Contrary to common belief, Israel was only in slavery for 150 years at most before the Exodus, not 400 years as is commonly stated. (The bondage also did not last 430 years. This period, mentioned in Exodus 12:40-41, encompasses the time from Abraham’s circumcision until the day Israel left Egypt.)
After Joseph died, a new pharaoh came to power that feared the Israelites were growing too prosperous (vs. 8-9). In order to suppress them, Egypt’s king “set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens” (vs. 11). This may have been Ahmose I.
Note that naming these different pharaohs is incredibly difficult due to the inconsistences and incompleteness of ancient Egyptian records. Using I Kings 6:1, which states that the fourth year of King Solomon’s reign was 480 years after Israel left Egypt, one can speculate that these pharaohs were part of the 17th dynasty. Scholars place the fourth year of Solomon’s reign at approximately 964 BC, which puts the Exodus at around 1443 BC. According to the most widely accepted dates, this would exclude Ramses II—often used in movies about the event—as being the pharaoh alive in Moses’ time.
Years later, another pharaoh (perhaps Thutmose I) rose to power. He ordered all male Hebrew babies to be drowned in the river.
Moses was born at this time. Instead of being killed, however, God had big plans for the child.
First-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus recorded in The Antiquities of the Jews that the pharaoh’s murderous directive was in response to an Egyptian prophecy “that about this time there would a child be born to the Israelites, who, if he were reared, would bring the Egyptian dominion low, and would raise the Israelites; that he would excel all men in virtue, and obtain a glory that would be remembered through all ages.”
Josephus also mentions that Moses’ father had a dream in which God said his son would be divinely protected and grow up to deliver Israel from bondage. Additional Jewish traditions mention that Moses’ sister Miriam (called a prophetess in Exodus 15:20) foretold something similar.
While these ideas are not included in God’s Word, some or all of them do seem to fit as a motivation for pharaoh to take such drastic measures. It is similar to the account in Matthew 2, where King Herod wanted to kill all the baby boys because he felt threatened by a coming “King of the Jews.”
Moses’ parents disregarded pharaoh’s decree. Hebrews 11:23 states “they were not afraid of the king’s commandment” and at a certain point put Moses in a small vessel made of reeds and placed him in the river. He was found and adopted by pharaoh’s daughter and raised in the palace (after having been weaned by his real mother).
In essence, Moses was raised as a prince of Egypt. Acts 7 explains: “Pharaoh’s daughter took him up, and nourished him for her own son. And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds” (vs. 21-22).
Josephus recorded that Moses grew into a skilled military leader who used ingenious tactics to help the Egyptians defeat the Ethiopians.
This prominent upbringing meant that Moses was fully capable of ruling a nation. God was miraculously providing a uniquely trained leader to bring the Israelites out of Egypt.
Yet at 40 years old (vs. 23), Moses became enraged by how some of his kinsmen were being treated: “And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens: and he spied an Egyptian smiting a Hebrew, one of his brethren. And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he slew the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand” (Ex. 2:11-12).
Acts 7 indicates that Moses was ready to lead his brethren at this time, but they did not want him to do so: “…for [Moses] supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them: but they understood not” (vs. 24-25).
Put simply, Moses thought they would realize God was using him to deliver them from bondage.
Exodus 2:14 shows that the Hebrew slaves rejected his leadership, saying, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us?”
Soon, pharaoh found out about the murder and Moses fled: “Now when Pharaoh heard this thing, he sought to slay Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh, and dwelt in the land of Midian: and he sat down by a well” (vs. 15).
The Israelites were not yet ready to leave Egypt. They would require much greater events to capture their attention and bring them out.
Moses spent the next 40 years (Acts 7:30) in Midian, which was east of Egypt. He became a shepherd and married a woman named Zipporah, with whom he had a son. Apparently, he had given up any thoughts of ever returning to lead his brethren.
How did God ultimately recapture his focus? Miraculous signs.
While the 80-year-old Moses was tending flocks on Mount Sinai, he came across a bush that burned with fire but was not consumed. God spoke from this flaming plant: “And the Lord said, I have surely seen the affliction of My people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows; and I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey…” (Ex. 3:6-8).
Even after seeing the miracle of the burning bush, Moses remained hesitant: “Moses said unto God, Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (vs. 11).
In verse 14, God called Himself “I am that I am”—the Living God. He assured Moses that He would “smite Egypt with all My wonders which I will do in the midst thereof: and after that he will let you go” (vs. 20).
Yet Moses still needed convincing: “Moses answered and said, But, behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice: for they will say, The Lord has not appeared unto you.”
Realize that Moses was a flesh-and-blood human being and far from perfect. It was not until many years later that he grew into the meekest—most humble and teachable—man on Earth (Num. 12:3).
God gave Moses power to do three miraculous signs: transform his staff into a live snake, make his hand leprous and turn it back to health again, and convert water into blood. These were to capture the attention of the Israelites and Egyptians, and prove that he was backed by the living God.
Even so, Moses claimed that he was not an eloquent speaker and was “slow of speech” (Ex. 4:10). Some take this to mean he had a speech impediment such as stuttering. But recall that Acts 7 showed Moses was “mighty in words.” The original Hebrew coupled with Moses’ personality instead indicates that he was harsh when he spoke—perhaps not choosing his words wisely—rather than diplomatic. Another possibility is that he was severely lacking in confidence after 40 years as a shepherd.
The idea that Moses was incapable of public speaking was refuted by God, but Moses still tried to get out of the task. Exodus 4:13 states: “But he said, ‘Oh, my Lord, send, I pray, some other person’” (Revised Standard Version).
God was rightfully angry with this response—He had just shown Moses multiple miracles!—and decided instead to make his brother Aaron into the spokesman. Verses 27-28 show that God directed Aaron to come to Mount Sinai and his brother filled him in on the plan.
(In verse 19, God told Moses it was safe to return to Egypt because “all the men are dead which sought your life.” Despite this, many speculate that Moses grew up with, and was bitter rivals with, the pharaoh ruling at the time of the Exodus. This verse indicates otherwise.)
When Moses and his family traveled to Egypt, they gathered up the Hebrew elders. Aaron relayed what God had directed Moses to do and they showed the signs (vs. 29-30).
Verse 31 records their reaction: “And the people believed: and when they heard that the Lord had visited the children of Israel, and that He had looked upon their affliction, then they bowed their heads and worshipped.”
But this initial excitement did not last long.
Moses told pharaoh (perhaps Amenhotep II) to allow the Israelites to go into the wilderness to worship God for three days. Egypt’s king responded by increasing the workload of the Hebrew slaves. This crushed their spirits, and—even after seeing the miracles—they were still not ready to wholly rely on God’s divine intervention.
The Israelite leaders questioned Moses and Aaron, which caused Moses to question God: “And they [the leaders] said to them, ‘The Lord look upon you and judge, because you have made us offensive in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.’
“Then Moses turned again to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord, why have You done evil to this people? Why did You ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done evil to this people, and You have not delivered Your people at all’” (Ex. 5:21-22, Revised Standard Version).
Chapters 6-7 show that both Israel and pharaoh continued to reject God’s authority. Because of this, He began a series of 10 plagues. Interestingly, the first few plagues affected Egyptians and Israelites alike. This was done so that both peoples would yield to Him.
First, the Nile was turned to blood: “And the fish that was in the river died; and the river stank, and the Egyptians could not drink of the water of the river; and there was blood throughout all the land of Egypt” (7:21).
Even so, “Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, neither did he hearken unto them; as the Lord had said” (vs. 22).
Then came the plague of frogs. The creatures swarmed the whole nation, including where the Israelites lived. Having thousands upon thousands of slimy amphibians constantly underfoot, both indoors and out, would have been bad enough—but imagine trying to sleep at night with them chirping, bellowing and clicking!
Soon, the Egyptian king wanted it to stop: “Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron, and said, Entreat the Lord, that He may take away the frogs from me, and from my people; and I will let the people go, that they may do sacrifice unto the Lord” (8:8).
But pharaoh quickly changed his mind once the frogs died: “…when Pharaoh saw that there was respite, he hardened his heart, and hearkened not unto them; as the Lord had said” (vs. 15).
Something similar happened with the plague of lice, which occurred next: everyone in Egypt was affected, yet pharaoh continued to stubbornly refuse.
Until this point, pharaoh’s court magicians were able to mimic God’s miracles in a small way. But this changed with the lice: “And the magicians [tried] with their enchantments to bring forth lice, but they could not: so there were lice upon man, and upon beast. Then the magicians said unto Pharaoh, This is the finger of God…” (vs. 18-19).
Even those in pharaoh’s court recognized God’s hand in what was occurring!
Next came swarms of flies. God further wanted to show His might. He made sure that none of the insects went into the land of Goshen where the majority of Israelites lived: “And the Lord did so; and there came a grievous swarm of flies into the house of Pharaoh, and into his servants’ houses, and into all the land of Egypt: the land was corrupted by reason of the swarm of flies” (vs. 24).
In chapter 9, a “grievous murrain” (disease) was sent upon the animals of the land. Yet God spared Israel. Then there was a plague of boils and then hail mixed with fire (probably started from lightning strikes).
With the plague of hail, God gave a warning to the Egyptians. Those who heeded saved their animals and servants.
Following this were swarms of locusts that ate the crops in the field and then a thick darkness that covered the land. Only Israel had light in their homes.
Finally, there was a plague of the firstborn. The eldest offspring of both man and beast were killed, while the Israelites were protected because they kept the Passover and followed God’s instructions.
At this time, pharaoh finally thrust the Hebrew slaves out. As Israel left, they demanded back wages from the years of bondage. In doing so, they plundered the nation: “And the children of Israel…borrowed [the original Hebrew means “demanded”] of the Egyptians jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment: and the Lord gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they lent unto them such things as they required. And they spoiled the Egyptians” (Ex. 12:35-36).
Many see the account of the Exodus and draw the conclusion that God is a barbaric monster—how could He kill all the firstborn?—yet this thought ignores the overall plan of the Creator.
I Timothy 2:4 shows He desires to have “all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” In II Peter 3:9, it states: “The Lord is…not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”
As a loving God, He has a plan for all of those who have perished throughout centuries and have not been offered salvation. For more, watch The World to Come™ with David C. Pack video broadcast What Happens When You Die?, it explains the inspiring truth of what God has in store for such individuals.
The Israelites traveled day and night led by God, who took the form of a pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night (Ex. 13:21-22). They were also supernaturally aided in their flight in other ways. Psalm 105:37 states: “He brought them forth also with silver and gold: and there was not one feeble person among their tribes.”
The original Hebrew means that no one “stumbled” or “tottered” as they left. (This would also answer the Jewish Encyclopedia’s question on how Israel could later cross the Red Sea in one night.)
After the freed Hebrew slaves left, pharaoh changed his mind and decided to follow after them. He mustered an army that included “all the chariots of Egypt” (Ex. 14:6-7) and personally led the chase.
By the time the Egyptians caught up to Israel, they were at the Red Sea. The Hebrew peoples feared they would die, but Moses assured them that God would protect them. He stated, “The Lord shall fight for you, and you shall hold your peace” (vs. 14).
As instructed by God, “…Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground: and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left” (vs. 21-22).
Some modern theories state that the sea receded because a giant earthquake caused a tsunami. Prior to a tsunami making landfall, the water first pulls back and reveals part of the ocean floor. It then returns as a wall of water from a single direction. Recall that Psalm 77 does record “the earth trembled and shook,” but it could not have been a tsunami. The Bible clearly states that water was on both “their right hand, and on their left” as they crossed.
The Egyptian army made chase: “And the Egyptians pursued, and went in after them to the midst of the sea, even all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen” (14:23).
While they were in the sea, God closed the pathway: “And the waters returned, and covered the chariots, and the horsemen, and all the host of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them; there remained not so much as one of them” (vs. 28).
Nowhere in the Bible does it say the Israelites were capable of mounting any sort of defense against the Egyptians at the Red Sea. Instead, God had to fight the battle for the freed slaves (vs. 14). Also, Josephus stated that the Hebrews had no weapons at all until the following day when the remnants of their enemy’s army washed ashore.
Exodus 14:30-31 summarizes this entire event: “Thus the Lord saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the sea shore. And Israel saw that great work which the Lord did upon the Egyptians: and the people feared the Lord, and believed the Lord, and His servant Moses.”
Throughout Exodus, God repeatedly explained His overall purpose: “that you may know that I am the Lord”—the Eternal God. This is not merely for God’s self-satisfaction, but rather so that mankind may obey His voice and reap the blessings of living His Way.
Read Psalm 77 again: “You are the God that does wonders: You have declared Your strength among the people…The voice of Your thunder was in the heaven: the lightnings lightened the world: the earth trembled and shook…You led Your people like a flock…” (vs. 14-20).
This same God of wonders is still capable of miraculous power today—both on a global scale and with individuals.
Bible prophecy shows that God will again powerfully intervene in world affairs as He did in Egypt. Scripture also states that God will protect and guide individuals who obey Him.
To understand God’s Plan for both the entire world and you, however, there is a requirement—you must do what God commands.
Recall the question at the beginning of this article: does it matter if the Exodus story actually happened as it appears in the Old Testament? Of course, the answer is yes.
But the requirement for obedience is the main underlying reason so many belittle Bible fact. If the events of the Exodus—and every other one recorded in God’s Word—were all true, then so would be what God commands as the only right way to live.
You can have a clearer understanding of God’s Plan for mankind and for you. To help achieve this, the publisher of this magazine, The Restored Church of God, freely offers literature covering every major biblical topic. Each book, booklet and article clearly explains scriptural truths and allows you to prove them from your own Bible.
Visit rcg.org to learn who and what is God, why you were born, what happens after death, the true plan of salvation, the real truth of prophesied events in our time, the purpose and meaning of God’s Law—and much more.
So what will it be? Faced with the facts of the Exodus story and the God of wonders, there are two options: you can trust and seek after His Way—or you can be like the hard-hearted pharaoh who refused to believe.
The choice is yours.