THE MARCHING ORDERS
But this is not all of this bit of Scripture, given for our instruction. That same night "at midnight Yahveh smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, and the firstborn of the cattle," of the Egyptians (Ex. xii, 29), though these same cattle had already been killed by each of several prior plagues: "all the cattle of Egypt died" of the murrain (Ex, ix, 6); then these dead cattle had boils (ix, 9); then they were all killed over again by the hail (ix, 25). As soon as this fatal decree of Yahveh was executed, that midnight, "Pharaoh rose up in the night [that same night] ... and he called for Moses and Aaron by night [that same night, after midnight], and said, Rise up, and get you forth from among my people, both ye and the children of Israel; and go, serve Yahveh as ye have said; and be gone" (xii, 31) -- "and bless me also" (xii, 32), he added, maybe ironically. As "the Egyptians were urgent upon the people, that they might send them out of the land in haste; for they said, We be all dead men" (xii, 33), haste became the order of the day, or rather of that same night.
As soon as the royal leave was thus granted to Moses, after midnight, he must at once get the marching orders to the scattered millions of Israel. These were in their respective homes throughout the land, dressed and ready, in "watchful waiting" for they knew not what as yet, since it could not be known what effect the massacre of the first-born would have upon the Pharaoh; and the people were under strict command: "And none of you shall go out of the door of his house until morning." But in some strange and unrevealed way, whether by miracle or telepathy, the divine command through Moses to all the millions of Israel went broadcast (the second time in one day) to borrow" all the clothes and jewelry they could, and to "spoil the Egyptians" (xii, 36); after which they should all mobilize immediately at the great city Rameses. So that self-same day, somehow, all the hosts of Israel, 2,414,200 of them, with "their dough before it was leavened, their kneading-troughs being bound up in their clothes upon their shoulders" (xii, 34), their plunder, their old and decrepit, their babes and sucklings, their sick and infirm, their women in confinement and childbirth (for in such a population there are scores of births every hour, and the inspired word tells us that "the Hebrew women are lively" in this) -- the whole mixed multitude, driving with them their "flocks and herds, even very much cattle, there was not an hoof left behind," at the divine command, began the world's greatest one-day feat.
First, from all Egypt, east, west, north, south, "the hosts of Yahveh" gathered at Rameses. Such a mobilization is without a single parallel in history, sacred or profane, since Noah's animals flocked from the four corners of the earth into his famous ark, for which they had a whole week. Arrived at Rameses somehow, behold, "even the selfsame day it came to pass, that all the hosts of Yahveh went out from the land of Egypt" (xii, 41). That there may be no doubt about it, the divine assurance is vouchsafed a second time in the same chapter: "And it came to pass the selfsame day, that Yahveh did bring the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt by their armies" (xii, 51); and they marched from Rameses across the desert sands to Succoth, which, according to the Bible maps, seems to be about thirty miles. But apparently this was not "out of the land of Egypt"; it was evidently yet in Egypt, on the western border of the Red Sea. For when Pharaoh and his army "pursued after the children of Israel" (Ex. xiv, 8), the children were still on the Egyptian side, and the miracle of the "parting of the waters" of the Red Sea had to be performed to enable the hosts of Yahveh to cross to the eastern or Arabian side of the Red Sea.
THE HOSTS ON THE MARCH
The hosts of Yahveh went not like a straggling rabble of fugitive slaves, hastening to escape, but proud in formal marching array, as armies march. If they marched in close order, as many as fifty abreast, with an interval of only one yard between their serried ranks, there would have been 48,284 ranks, which would form a column twenty-eight miles long! But the truth is even more remarkable, if the Bible is accurate on the point; for the Hebrew text says: "And the children of Israel went up by five in a rank out of the land of Egypt" (Ex. xiii, 18; see marginal note) -- which would make the column 280 miles long! Such a multitude, with all its encumbrances, could not possibly march through the desert sands very many miles a day -- say ten, fifteen, or twenty at the most. (The American army of chosen foot-troops marches only twelve to fifteen miles a day under average conditions.) Moreover, the front ranks must march the whole 28 (or 280) miles before the rear ranks could even start. So hardly half of the "hosts of Yahveh" could even get away that first day, even if they had started early. But they had first to gather at Rameses from all over Egypt -- several hundreds of miles in length -- and we know not how much of that wonderful day they occupied in the rendezvous; the whole host could not possibly reach Succoth, somewhere, according to the text, "Out of the land of Egypt," till the second or third day, or the next week, or the next month, even if they could all have mobilized at Rameses on that "selfsame day," as they are said to have done. How many interminable miles the column was stretched out by the millions of sheep and cattle, not marching in close battle array, of course, unless divinely inspired, we have no revelation, nor adequate data to compute.
What the millions of cattle fed upon in the prolonged hike to the Red Sea, across the desert sands, with scant vegetation, divine revelation does not tell. Nor were the children much better provided for; they had only a little unleavened dough on their shoulders, "because they were thrust out of Egypt, and could not tarry, neither had they prepared for themselves any victual" (Ex. xii, 39).
A remarkable circumstance may be noted here: these fugitive slaves are represented as having slaves of their own which they carried away with them. Their provident Yahveh, in his ordinance of the passover, the very first law he ever gave them, as they fled from slavery in Egypt, made provision for the observance of that pious ceremony by "every man's servant that is bought for money," after the bloody violence of circumcision had been perpetrated upon him (Ex. xii, 44).
THE HOSTS AFRAID OF WAR
Wonders such as these never cease in the providence of Yahveh to his Chosen People Israel; the relation of such wonders by the sacred writers is incessant. When the "hosts of Yahveh" got to Succoth, Yahveh was afraid for them, and "led them not through the way of the Philistines, although that was near; for Elohim said, Lest peradventure, the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt" (Ex. xiii, 17); although they were 603,550 armed warriors, and were being led expressly to the armed conquest and extermination of "seven nations greater and mightier" than all Israel! So "Elohim led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red Sea: and the Children of Israel went up harnessed [armed] out of the land of Egypt (xiii, 18).
Where did these fleeing slaves get their arms -- swords, spears, shields, bows and arrows, armor, for 603,550 soldiers? Slaves are not usually allowed to keep arms, nor to be so trained that on one day's sudden notice they can, presto, change from a horde of slaves to soldiers who march out "by their armies" full panoplied for war. And if they were armed soldiers going forth to conquest, under the personal command of their God, a notable "Man of war," why should they "repent if they see war," between other peoples, and wish in fright to return to slavery? Revelation is silent on these mysteries. And despite of all Yahveh's concern for his warriors "lest they see war," they had not been three months out of Egypt before they had war with the Amalekites at Rephidim, when Aaron and Hur had to hold up the hands of Moses all day before the Israelites could finally win the battle (Ex. xvii, 8-13).
THE RED SEA MASSACRE
Yahveh was not yet satisfied with plaguing the Egyptians and with showing off his terrible and holy wonders upon them. He had bloodily baited Pharaoh into letting his slaves go; half a dozen times Pharaoh in terror had "inclined to let the people go," but Yahveh had interfered and "hardened Pharaoh's heart that he should not let them go." And when the Israelites finally got away and Pharaoh was happily rid of them, Yahveh devised another wholesale destruction, to his own honor, and said: "I will harden Pharaoh's heart that he shall follow after them, and I will be honored upon Pharaoh, and upon all his host, that the Egyptians may know that I am Yahveh" (Ex. xiv, 4). The tragedy of the Red Sea and the death by drowning of the hosts of Pharaoh do not concern us now; but it is interesting to note that as soon as the valiant warriors, 603,550 strong, saw the hosts of Pharaoh, also very suddenly mustered, appear in pursuit, "they were sore afraid; and the children of Israel cried out unto Yahveh," and they cravenly said: "Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians; for it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness" (Ex. xiv, 10, 12) -- a different cry, this of 603,550 armed warriors of Yahveh, from that of one later patriot who fired his country's heart with the words: "I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!" And through their whole sacred history the people of Yahveh blubbered and wailed at every trial and in every time of danger, real or fancied.
THE CHILDREN WAIL FOR WATER
Only three days after this Red Sea massacre Yahveh's Chosen People got further into the wilderness of Shur, and "found no water" (Ex. xv, 22); whereupon they wailed again and started an insurrection; then moved on to Marah, the waters of which were so bitter they could not drink, and they wailed again, and cried: "What shall we drink?" (xv, 24). So Yahveh made the bitter waters sweet for his crying children, and brought them on to Elim, where there were twelve wells of water, and seventy palm trees; and the whole 2,414,200 Israelites, all their camp-followers, and their millions of cattle encamped there by the twelve wells under the seventy palm trees (xv, 27). This is the last natural water supply they saw until thirty-eight years later they happily encountered a well of Beer! (Num. xxi, 16). They were supplied miraculously with water only twice, or once with the phenomena recorded in two ways. The want of water is no metaphor in that "desert land," in that "waste howling wilderness," as it is often described, "that great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water" (Deut. viii, 15); the Children of Israel wail and cry: "Why have ye brought up the congregation of Yahveh into this wilderness, that we and our cattle should die [in] this evil place? ... neither is there any water to drink" (Num. xx, 4, 5).
SMITING THE ROCK FOR WATER
After leaving the twelve wells of Elim, the Israelites came into the wilderness of Sin, in the middle of the second month after the passover, and started a bread riot, which was quieted by the miracle of quails and daily manna (Ex. xvi). Then they marched on to Rephidim, and at once rioted because "there was no water for the people to drink," and they were about to stone Moses to death. Yahveh here came to the rescue, and told Moses to take his wondrous rod and "smite the rock in Horeb" and bring water from it; and Yahveh stood upon the rock to watch the performance. Moses smote the rock, the waters gushed out, and the people drank; and Moses "called the name of the place Meribah, because of the chiding of the children of Israel." This is related in Exodus xvii, and is said to have occurred in or near the wilderness of Sin, some three months (Ex. xvi, 1) after leaving Egypt, in 1491 B.C.
But in Numbers xx, under the marginal date 1453 B.C. (that is, 38 years later), the same or a very similar story is told again, but differently. For "then came the children of Israel into the desert of Zin [instead of Sin], in the first month," and stopped at Kadesh; and "there was no water for the congregation"; so they wailed and rioted again, because they and their cattle were like to die. This time Yahveh told Moses to take his rod and go with Aaron to a certain rock, and "speak ye to the rock" -- instead of using the rod to smite it. But Moses was annoyed this time, and he meekly yelled at the Israelites: "Hear now, ye rebels" (xx, 10), and instead of gently speaking to the rock, as Yahveh had commanded, he "lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice," and the waters gushed forth abundantly.
But now Yahveh was angry with Moses and Aaron, and he said to them: "Because ye have not believed me, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them"; and the sacred writer informs us: "This is the water of Meribah; because the children of Israel strove with Yahveh" (xx, 13). Here we have the desert of Sin and the desert of Zin, and two waters Meribah, but thirty-eight years apart, and each with entirely different circumstances; which was which let him unravel who is curious. In either event, so far as revealed, this is about all the water that the millions of Chosen and their millions of cattle had to drink in the terrible wilderness for almost forty years.
FOOD RIOTS -- HEAVENLY MANNA AND QUAILS
As for human food and cattle-feed, this mystery of the ages has never been satisfactorily solved by revelation or speculation. The children of Israel started out, as we have seen, with only a little unleavened dough, "neither had they prepared for themselves any victual" (Ex. xii, 39); and of course they carried no cattle- feed. One naturally wonders what they and their cattle had to eat until "on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departing out of Egypt" they reached the wilderness of Sin (Ex. xvi), Here was their first recorded food riot; the whole congregation rebelled, crying: "Would to God we had died by the hand of Yahveh in Egypt, when we did sit by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger" (xvi, 3)! It is curious that they should die with hunger when they had at least 2,414,200 sheep and "very much cattle" along with them. That the sheep alone, with nothing at all to eat or drink, throve and produced at least 241,420 male lambs every year of the forty years in the wilderness for the annual passover feast is another divine mystery. And it is truly a marvel, when the Chosen had started out with only a little dough on their shoulders, quickly consumed raw, and then for forty years were complaining and rioting because they had no bread to eat, where they ever got the tons of "fine flour" with which to make the famous "shewbread" for the altar of Yahveh, and the untold amounts of "unleavened bread" which they must eat in their feasts, and the "fine flour" they were required to offer with their countless sacrifices; to say nothing of the great quantities of oil accompanying them, or of the millions of animals and birds for the manifold and interminable sacrifices which they are said to have made all through the forty years in the wilderness. Amos questions (v, 25) and Jeremiah denies (vii, 22) flesh sacrifices in the wilderness. And as we shall soon see, the Aaron family were simply gorged with meat from these sacrifices, which they were under dire obligation to eat at all hazards.
However, when the Israelites started their food riot, Yahveh was merciful, and said he would "rain bread from heaven" (Ex. xvi, 4) for his children; but Moses misinterpreted or exaggerated the message, and reported to them: "Yahveh shall give you in the evening flesh to eat, and in the morning bread to the full" (xvi, 8). Yahveh graciously amended his promise to conform to the version which Moses had reported. And this is the way that Yahveh fulfilled his bounteous promises: that evening "quails came up, and covered the camp" (Ex. xvi, 13), and in the morning heavenly manna, which had very peculiar qualities, and tasted "like wafers made with honey" (Ex. xvi, 31) or else "the taste thereof was like the taste of fresh oil" (Num. xi, 8), but whether olive oil, castor oil, kerosene oil, hair oil, or oil of saints is not revealed. Anyhow the children of Israel didn't like it at all as a steady diet. This is all they had to eat however for forty years, as the quails were a special treat for one day only; we hear them at their next food riot longing for the leeks and onions and garlic of Egypt, and saying: "There is nothing at all, besides this manna" (Num. xi, 6); and again they said: "Our souls do loathe this light bread" (Num. xxi, 5); and, odd as it is, "they wept in the ears of Yahveh, saying, Who shall give us flesh to eat?" (Num. xi, 4).
Passing strange was this danger of starvation in the presence of several million sheep and cattle, unless, indeed, the poor beasts were so starved themselves as to be not fit to eat. And Moses explicitly had these cattle in mind; for when Yahveh promised him flesh for the children of Israel to eat, he reasoned thus with Yahveh: "The people, among whom I am, are six hundred thousand footmen; and thou hast said, I will give them flesh, that they may eat a whole month. Shall the flocks and the herds be slain for them, to suffice them? or shall all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, to suffice them?" (Num. xi, 21, 22) To starve to death under such circumstances! And "the anger of Yahveh was kindled greatly"; and he graciously promised: "Ye shall not eat one day, nor two days, nor five days, neither ten days, nor twenty days; But even a whole month, until it come out at your nostrils, and it be loathsome unto you" (Sum. xi, 19, 20)!
So, in his loving-kindness and bounteous providence, Yahveh provided a quail feast on prodigious scale; for "there went forth a wind from Yahveh, and brought quails from the sea" (perhaps flying-fish, for sea-quail are not known on the market, at least in these days); and note this: those quails fell and were stacked upon the face of the earth "as it were a day's journey round about the camp, and as it were two cubits high upon the face of the earth" (Num. xi, 31)! This simple inspired narrative, related in one Bible verse, and about which I never heard a single sermon in my life, is the most stupendous miracle of Divine bounty in all sacred history, peremptorily challenges our admiring attention.
1 of 4 parts:THE WONDERS OF THE EXODUS
2 of 4 parts:THE MARCHING ORDERS
3 of 4 parts:MIRACLE AND MATHEMATICS
4 of 4 parts:THE GREAT ENCAMPMENTS
RETURN TO THE WRITINGS OF:
RETURN TO:HARRINGTON SITES
Revealing the Spiritual duality of the Bible, for it serves neither God nor truth to try and rationalize irrational things the Bible has said of God.