Israel’s Exodus from Egypt

One of the great scenes of Old Testament history is the exodus of Israel from Egyptian bondage. In this article, we wish to consider four aspects of this epochal event — the date of the exodus, the visitation of plagues upon Egypt, the passover, and the passage through the Red Sea.
By Wayne Jackson | Christian Courier

No narration available

As long as Joseph exercised regal authority in the land of Egypt, the Hebrew people flourished. But when a new king arose, who “knew not Joseph,” the lives of the Israelites became “bitter and hard” (Ex. 1:8,14). Eventually, Jehovah commissioned Moses to confront Pharaoh, the Egyptian king: “Thus saith Jehovah, the God of Israel, Let my people go” (Ex. 5:1).

Though the arrogant ruler resisted, the Lord’s will prevailed in that remarkable event known as “the exodus.” When the Israelites finally entered the promised land forty years later, the heathen tribes of Canaan were still trembling at the great deliverance of the Hebrews from Egypt (Josh. 2:9-11). In this article, we wish to consider four aspects of this epochal event —the date of the exodus, the visitation of plagues upon Egypt, the passover, and the passage through the Red Sea.

The Date

The date of the exodus is one of the key controversies of Old Testament study. Generally speaking, conservative scholars place the event in the 15th century B.C., while liberal writers contend that the departure from Egypt occurred some 200 years later. Most of those who argue for a late date are committed to the “documentary hypothesis” of the origin of the Pentateuch, i.e., that Moses did not produce these writings.

For those who accept the plain testimony of the Scriptures, the evidence for the early date is quite compelling:

First Kings 6:1 reveals that from the time of the exodus, to the first year of construction on Solomon’s temple (966 B.C.), was a period of 480 years.

“And it came to pass in the four hundred and eightieth year after the children of Israel were come out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month Ziv, which is the second month, that he began to build the house of Jehovah.”

This would place the exodus at 1446 B.C.

This harmonizes with the statement that during the days of Jephthah (c. 1100 B.C.), the Hebrews had been in Canaan for about three centuries.

“While Israel dwelt in Heshbon and its towns, and in Aroer and its towns, and in all the cities that are along by the side of the Arnon, three hundred years; wherefore did ye not recover them within that time?” (Jud. 11:26).

Then there is considerable archaeological evidence which corroborates the early date. One scholar has noted:

“All the accredited Palestinian artifactual evidence supports the literary account that the Conquest occurred at the time specifically dated by the biblical historians” (Waltke, 47).

For example, in 1896 William Petrie, the renowned Egyptologist, discovered a “Merenptah’s Victory Stele” (a stone slab with an inscription) at Thebes which indicated that “Israel” was already settled in Canaan early in the 13th century B.C. This points to a much earlier date for the exodus (Caiger, 112).

Moreover, recent studies on the artifacts taken from the excavation of Jericho, destroyed by the Hebrews after Israel’s forty-year sojourn in the wilderness (Josh. 6), appear to further corroborate a mid-15th century B.C. date for the exodus (see Wood, 44-58).

After a careful consideration of both the early and late-date views, professor John Rea concluded that: “the factual evidence can better be explained by the early date view; and to those who believe strongly in the inspiration of all Scripture, the statements in I Kings 6:1 (MT) and Judges 11:26 and supporting passages are conclusive for a date of the Exodus” (Pfeiffer, et al., 576).

Unfortunately some (e.g., John Willis of Abilene Christian University) have yielded to the liberal viewpoint (126-7).

The Plagues

According to the book of Exodus, when Pharaoh hardened his heart and refused to let the Israelites leave Egypt, God brought a series of devastating “plagues” upon the people of the Nile. The visitation of these judgments echoes down the corridors of Bible history (Psa. 78:43-51; 105:28-36; 106:21-22; Jer. 32:20-21; Neh. 9:10; Acts 7:36; Rev. 8:7-11, etc.).

Egypt was a land of thousands of gods, and the Israelite people were not unaffected by the idolatry of these polytheists. This is reflected in the worship of a golden calf at Sinai (Ex. 32:1-6), and later in Israel’s history as well (1 Kgs. 12:28-29).

The plagues were intended to be a “smiting blow” (Ex. 9:15; 12:13) of judgment against the “gods” of Egypt, as well as “signs” or “wonders” of divine intervention (Psa. 78:43; 105:27). Each of the plagues was designed to neutralize confidence in the false deities of Egypt.

For example, several gods were associated with the Nile River. When the water was thus turned to blood, the reputation of the river deities was destroyed. When the cattle were afflicted with disease, it was a blow to Apis, the bull god. The sun was darkened for three days; thus the light from Re and other sun gods was shut off.

The popular modernistic view that “a natural basis for the traditions of the plagues must be assumed” (Mihelic & Wright, 822) is totally without foundation and has been thoroughly refuted (see Davis, 84ff). The plagues came at the bidding of Moses and Aaron under Jehovah’s direction, not at the whims of nature (7:19; 9:22, etc.). The timing was crucial. Also, Israel was unaffected by the plagues.

The Passover

The tenth plague involved the death of first-born Egyptians (men and cattle), including Pharaoh’s son, who was alleged to be a “fullblooded” god by birth (Boyd, 107). According to Exodus 12, a year-old male lamb (or goat), without blemish, was to be slain on the 14th day of the first month of the Hebrew religious year, “between the evenings” (12:6).

In the first century, the lamb was killed between 3 and 5 p.m. (Josephus, Wars, VI.IX.3). None of its bones was to be broken (12:46). The blood was to be smeared on the doorposts and lintel of every Israelite home, and the Lord promised: “When I see the blood, I will pass over you” (12:13).

The passover lamb was a prophetic picture of the Lord Jesus and his atoning death. The Savior was introduced by John the Baptizer as “the lamb of God” (Jn. 1:29). Paul emphatically stated that “our passover” lamb is Christ (1 Cor. 5:7).

Jesus was “without blemish,” i.e., sinless (1 Pet. 1:19; 2:22), and during the crucifixion not a one of his bones was broken (Jn. 19:31-33). He died at 3 o’clock in the afternoon (Mt. 27:46), and his blood became a propitiation for sin (Rom. 3:25) — for all who access the application of it by obedience to his will (Heb. 5:9). We are cleansed by his blood (Heb. 9:14) when we receive the word (the gospel), and submit to immersion (Eph. 5:26).

Israel’s Baptism at the Red Sea

It surely was an awesome spectacle as some two million Hebrews made their way from the land of Goshen toward the Red Sea, with Pharaoh’s army in hot pursuit. When the Israelites reached the water, Moses, at God’s command, stretched out his rod over the sea.

By an amazing miracle, the waters parted and the multitude crossed on dry ground. When the Egyptians attempted to follow the Israelites, they were drowned as the walls of waters rushed back into their bed. In commenting upon this event, Moses wrote: “Thus Jehovah saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians” (Ex. 14:30).

The significance of this statement becomes more vivid when one compares it with a New Testament commentary regarding the incident. Paul observes that the Hebrews “were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Cor. 10:1-2).

There are at least two excellent points to be made from a consideration of these complementary contexts.

First, there is an illustration of the nature of baptism. Clearly this setting reveals that the term suggests an immersion. Walls of water stood on either side of the Israelites, and the cloud was over them. Hence, they went “through” the sea as they passed “under” the cloud. They were thus immersed in the cloud-sea combination.

Henry Alford, the famous scholar of the Church of England (a sect noted for sprinkling), observed that the Hebrews “entered by the act of such immersion into a solemn covenant with God” (1032; emphasis added).

C.F. Kling, a Lutheran, described the Israelites as being “submerged” in the cloud and water; and then they “emerged” again (196). Another Lutheran scholar declares that any attempt to suggest that the Israelites were “sprinkled by the sea, must be utterly discarded” (Olshausen, 308).

Second, the people were saved from the Egyptians on the day of their baptism, at which point they also entered into a new relationship with Moses. Similarly, one is made “free from sin” when he submits to that “form of teaching,” i.e., baptism, which replicates Christ’s burial and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-4,17; cf. Gal. 3:27).

Lenski suggested that Israel’s passage through the sea “typifies our deliverance from the bondage of sin and of death through Christ by means of Christian baptism” (391).

Kistemaker, a Baptist, acknowledges that “being baptized into Moses represents Israel’s redemption, much as being baptized into Christ entails the Christian’s incorporation into his fellowship” (323).

The question is: Can one enter heaven without being in fellowship with the Lord? The answer should be evident. This case thus harmonizes with other New Testament passages which affirm the essentiality of baptism in the divine plan of salvation.


The exodus from Egypt was truly a landmark event in Old Testament history. It teaches us much about God and his interest in humanity. May we profit from studying such matters — which were written “for our learning” (Rom. 15:4).

  • Alford, Henry (n.d.), The New Testament for English Readers (Chicago: Moody Press).
  • Boyd, Robert T. (1969), A Pictorial Guide to Biblical Archaeology (New York: Bonanza).
  • Caiger, Stephen L. (1936), Bible and Spade – An Introduction to Biblical Archaeology (London: Oxford University Press).
  • Davis, John J. (1971), Moses And The Gods Of Egypt (Grand Rapids: Baker).
  • Kistemaker, Simon J. (1993), 1st Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Baker).
  • Kling. C.F. (1874), “1st & 2nd Corinthians,” Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, John P. Lang, Ed. (New York: Scribner, Armstrong Co.).
  • Lenski, R.C.H. (1963), 1st & 2nd Corinthians (Minneapolis: Augsburg).
  • Mihelic, J.L., Wright, G.E. (1962), “Plagues In Exodus,” The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, George Buttrick, Ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press).
  • Olshausen, Hermann (1861), Biblical Commentary on the New Testament (New York: Sheldon & Co.), Vol. IV.
  • Pfeiffer, Charles, Vos, Howard, Rea, John, Eds. (1975), Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia (Chicago: Moody), Vol. I.
  • Waltke, Bruce K. (1972), Bibliotheca Sacra (January-March). See also: Unger, Merrill (1954), Archaeology and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), pp. 140-5; Archer, Gleason, (1964), A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody), pp. 215-16.
  • Willis, John T. (1979), “History of Old Testament Times, Part I,” The World and Literature of the Old Testament, John T. Willis, Ed. (Abilene, TX: ACU Press).
  • Wood, Bryan G. (1990), “Did the Israelites Conquer Jericho?”, Biblical Archaeology Review (March/April).