This morning’s message is titled “Out of Egypt”. We will study the departure of Israel from their home in Egypt and their flight to the shores of the Red Sea. This initial leg of the journey likely took from 7-10 days. Some have suggested exactly 7 days because that would correspond to the length of the Festival of Unleavened Bread which followed the Passover. We discussed these customs and their meanings in the sermon last week.
There have been many theories proposed by Bible historians and scholars as to the exact route that Moses and the children of God took during the exodus. I have examined several of these proposals closely and believe that the geographical, archaeological, and textual evidence supports a particular route. Therefore, for the sake of this series, I will present the exodus route that I believe to be the most accurate. If you dispute the locations that I give and adhere to a different theory - that’s fine with me. Ultimately, the directions and places along the exodus journey are not as important as the activity of God among the people as they traveled. Let’s not argue about the details and miss the bigger picture...
The first phase of the exodus took place in 3 stages. The people initially gathered at Sukkoth where they quickly organized themselves for the expedition ahead. From there the traveled along the desert road across the Wilderness of Egypt and camped in the region of Etham. Finally God instructed them to turn back or off the main road and led them south through the mountains to the beach at Pi Hahiroth. We will examine each of these phases of the journey briefly this morning.
I. ASSEMBLED IN SUKKOTH - Exodus 12:31-41
The night that the LORD passed over, after He had struck all of the firstborn sons of the Egyptians, the grieving Pharaoh summoned Moses to the palace. When he arrived, Pharaoh told him and the children of Israel to leave immediately as they had requested. He also asked that Moses say a blessing for him, finally acknowledging the powerful God of Israel.
The Egyptians urged Israel to leave hurriedly, for fear that another severe plague would possibly befall them. They freely gave the Hebrew slaves their silver, gold, and clothing in hopes that they would simply go. This likely had been taking place for some time before the Passover, as it doesn’t seem logical that such an event would happen all at once and during the night.
By dawn the children of God had quickly packed up what they could and set out from Rameses in the land of Goshen to Sukkoth. The Bible states that there were 600,000 men besides women and children. If you estimate an equal number of women as men and then add children for most of the couples this number easily rises to almost 2 million people. “Many other people” went with them also, including some Egyptians who identified closely with Israel. The fact that they prepared unleavened bread without yeast speaks to the speed at which they were moving.
While Moses and a large number of Hebrews lived in Rameses, others were spread throughout the nation. They all gathered at Sukkoth, which was a military base just beyond the eastern border of Egypt on the northern edge of the Gulf of Suez. This strategic location was the launching point of many Egyptian military campaigns. It was an ideal spot to assemble and prepare for the exodus journey. The fortifications there served to keep bedouins and other nomadic discontents from migrating into the Nile delta region. The name Sukkoth means “to block” or “stop the approach of” which is exactly what this city/fortress was designed to do.
From the time that the children of Israel migrated to Egypt during the reign of Joseph until the day that they departed under the leadership of Moses was exactly 430 years. Based upon other passages and fixed historical events, most Bible scholars date the exodus as having begun in 1446 BC. Therefore, according to this verse, the Hebrews originally came to Egypt in 1876 BC. This would place the story of Abraham, father of the Jews, around 2000 BC.
II. THE WAY OF THE WILDERNESS - Exodus 13:17-22
God had told Moses that after he came out of Egypt the people would worship Him at Mt. Sinai. This was in the land of Midian, where Moses had lived with his father-in-law for 40 years and had encountered the burning bush. Thus, the LORD did not lead the children of Israel north toward Canaan through the territory of the Philistines. Though this would have been the most direct route to take, God knew that the people were not yet ready for what He had in store. Therefore, he led them along the desert road toward the Red Sea.
This would have been a familiar route to Moses. As a young man he had murdered an Egyptian and fled from the clutches of Pharaoh. Most likely, he would have traveled along this very road across the Sinai Peninsula in order to get to Midian. Forty years later he and his brother Aaron probably used this very road to return to Egypt. Now Moses would travel this same way across the wilderness again, this time leading the entire congregation of Israel.
24 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” 25 And Joseph made the Israelites swear an oath and said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place.” - Genesis 50:24-25
Centuries earlier Joseph had requested that his remains be buried in the promised land. When God finally returned the children of Israel to Canaan they were to carry the bones of Joseph with them from Egypt so that they could be reburied in the land of his fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Thus, when Moses set out on the exodus journey he remembered the petition of Joseph, and they exhumed his remains and took them with them.
After leaving Sukkoth the Israelites traveled east across the Wilderness of Egypt, known today as the Sinai Peninsula, and camped in the region of Etham. God went before them leading the way with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. This suggests that they were traveling round the clock - even some after dark - trying to put as much distance between themselves and the Egyptians as possible.
III. TURN BACK TO PI HAHIROTH - Exodus 14:1-4
Unexpectedly God told Moses to turn off the main roadway and journey southward through mountainous terrain. There is a natural gorge called the Wadi Watir that winds its way through the mountains in this area and finally opens onto a large beach at Pi Hahiroth. Travelers along this road are enclosed by mountains on both sides and can only move forward or back. I believe that the children of Israel followed this route to the Red Sea.
Going down this wilderness roadway doesn’t seem very wise. This path dead ends at the western shore of the Gulf of Aqaba, trapping the traveler between the mountains and the sea with nowhere to go but back the way they came. Yet God purposely sent Israel along this road so that Pharaoh would believe that they were lost, confused, and enclosed in the desert. In a sense, God was baiting a trap for Pharaoh and his army.
But how would Pharaoh know where Moses and the Hebrews were? The name Migdol actually means “watchtower”. It refers to an Egyptian look-out point, where military scouts kept watch over the area and reported what they saw to their superiors. There were actually many such Migdol sites scattered across Egypt and the Sinai. One such watchtower was located near the beach at Pi Hahiroth. The scouts there would have reported the exact location of Moses and the children of Jacob, thereby informing Pharaoh of their whereabouts.
Across from their encampment at Pi Hahiroth, on the other side of the Red Sea in Arabia, stood Baal Zephon. This city and/or mountain was named after the Canaanite god of the sea who supposedly lived there. It was believed that Baal Zephon protected sailors and vessels by controlling the storms and maritime weather. Once again God would demonstrate His supremacy over all other pagan gods by parting the seas at the very site where another deity was believed to hold the authority…
As I stated at the outset, the location of many of these geographical sites is still widely disputed. That said, what we know for sure is that God was leading His children. The cloud by day and fire by night provided clear direction for them to follow. As we consider how this applies to God’s people today, we might wish that we had such visible indicators to follow. But I submit to you that we have an even better navigational system than they had. As we read and study the Bible it provides comprehensive direction for our lives. The map of God’s Word lights our path through the darkness of night and guides our steps during the brightness of day. We must stay in the Scripture constantly in order to keep on the right track!
Sometimes the LORD leads us in roundabout ways. The journey of our lives is never a direct route or a short road. Instead God often leads us the long way through the desert. On occasion He might even challenge us to turn in a direction that makes no sense to us at all and is completely opposite to where we intended to go. In these confusing times, we must trust His leadership and believe that His directions are always right. When we follow the LORD, we can be confident that He will bring us safely home.
We have a plaque on our wall at home that says “Life is a journey, not a destination!” I like that statement and believe that there is much truth to it. Sometimes we get so caught up in pursuing our own dreams or achieving our own goals that we forget to enjoy the wonders of life along the way. When we finally reach our destination and look back, we often have regrets about all the things that we’ve neglected and the choices that we’ve made. Perhaps we would be wise to follow the LORD down the long road, knowing that our lives can only be complete and satisfying when He leads the way.