Exodus: the setting

What do we know from history about the exodus?

Please don’t believe everything you find in the Internet about the exodus. There are some outlandish claims. Some claim to have found the ark of the covenant, Noah’s ark, and everything in between. Some claim to have evidence of the exodus in the wrong time period. The truth is that there is no indisputable archaeological evidence to corroborate the narrative of the exodus.

When?

Most scholars date the exodus around 1260 BC, during the time of Rameses II (1290–1213). Some prefer an earlier date — around 1440 BC, under Thutmosis III (1490–1436). The period from 1550–1069 is called the New Kingdom in Egypt’s history. It covers Dynasties 18–20. The great pyramids were built long before this time.

Where?

Israel left Egypt for Canaan, but we’re unsure of the route. The northern part of the Red Sea has two arms:

  • Gulf of Suez (near Egypt, Suez Canal today);
  • Gulf of Aqaba (north eastern arm, pointing towards the Dead Sea).

The Nile Delta is very different to 3,300 years ago, but Israel probably crossed the Red Sea near the northern end of the Gulf of Suez. They travelled to Mount Sinai, which is somewhere in the Sinai Peninsula (the triangle between the two gulfs and the Mediterranean). At least 20 different sites have been proposed for Mount Sinai. The map shows the traditional site, Jebel Mûsā (Mountain of Moses).

Why?

Exodus is the birth of God’s nation. But the Torah does not begin with Israel. Genesis claims that the whole earth belongs under God’s reign. The promise to the patriarchs was that God would establish a nation under his sovereign governance, so the blessing of God’s reign could be restored to the nations. Israel was therefore established as the nation that represented God’s reign, his representative kingdom to the nations of the earth.

We already saw how Genesis sets up this kingdom-of-God story:

  • God delegated to humans authority to rule over his creation, but not authority to rule over each other.
  • Humans were meant to be under God’s rule (the kingdom of God). But when people don’t submit to God, human rule is the only viable alternative: anarchy produced the unsustainable violence that precipitated the flood.
  • After the flood, God made a covenant with Noah and his sons that he would never give up ruling humanity, no matter how difficult we were to manage.
  • He permitted the nations to have rulers, but not to take over the whole earth. So how would God bring the nations back under his rule?
  • His plan was to establish a nation of his own, a nation under divine rule, a nation called to show the nations what they were missing.
  • God repeated this promise to the following generations: to Isaac, and Jacob (also called Israel). In subsequent generations, the 12 sons of Jacob became the 12 tribes of Israel.
  • Even though the brothers sold Joseph into slavery, the most powerful nation in the whole region (Egypt) received divine guidance through Joseph. The promise to Abraham was partially fulfilled, and many lives were saved (Genesis 47:25; 50:20).
  • Israel’s family lives in Goshen (north-east Egypt).

As Genesis concludes, Joseph is bringing the blessing of Abraham to the nations. But that very blessing finds them displaced — living in Goshen (north-east Egypt). Will the rulers of the nations hand control back to the God of Israel? Or will they seek to enslave God’s people under their own power? That’s the question Exodus addresses.

That’s the question we’ll address in our next post, on Exodus 1.
[Map from Standard Bible Atlas (Cincinnati: Standard Publishing, 2006), 7.]

Author: Allen Browne

Seeking to understand Jesus in the terms he chose to describe himself: son of man (his identity), and kingdom of God (his mission). Discipleship Trainer • Riverview Church

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