After more than two centuries, God brought the nation of Israel out of Egypt and into the bleak wilderness of Sinai.
Ideally, the Hebrews should have gone directly into Canaan (150 miles to the northeast), which would have taken about a month. However, due to their lack of faith, they were forced to wander in the harsh desert for 40 years.
According to a census that was taken, there were 603,550 fighting men (Num. 1:46). Based upon this figure, scholars have estimated that the total number of Israelites would have been between 2 and 3 million people. The exodus was thus an enormous undertaking.
The following estimated statistics may alter your mental image of that ancient event.
- If the Israelites had crossed the Red Sea in double file, the column would have been 800 miles long, and the crossing would have taken about 35 days and nights.
- As it was, they went over in a single night. The column thus may have been about 5,000 abreast (or 3 miles wide) as they crossed the sea. The nightly camping space would have required an area of about 25 by 30 miles.
- This mighty throng would have needed about 1,500 tons of food per day. That is about the amount that two trains, each a mile long, could hold.
- Moreover, they would have required about a million gallons of water each day. That is the equivalent of a train of tank cars about 1,800 miles long.
These astounding figures have led critics to allege that the data presented in the book of Numbers regarding this multitude are much exaggerated. The claim is made that it would have taken miracles to sustain the Hebrews under these circumstances.
That is precisely what the Old Testament narrative affirms.
The Israelites could not have sustained their own lives. God supernaturally took care of them, providing them with manna, quail, and water.
More importantly, this vivid pictorial lesson of old speaks to you and me today, if we will listen. Though he provided special help with miracles to the children of Israel, today he provides aid and comfort through his Son (Hebrews 1:1-2).
It is by following his word that we are sustained: physically and spiritually. May we be wise enough to listen.
“And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deut. 8:3).