II. Background

II. Background

Since Exodus does not report the name of the pharaoh of the Exodus nor give any other information concerning date, it is not possible to date the Exodus with certainty. Using biblical figures and working backward from the date of Solomon's death (the first biblical event that can be tied into our dating system—ca. 930 b.c.), a date of 1440 b.c. was arrived at. However, archaeologists in the earlier part of this century argued that evidence supported a later date—ca. 1290. Recently several parts of that evidence have been challenged so that the whole issue is undergoing rethinking at this time. Many of a more conservative bent are returning to the earlier date, while a more radical position increasingly doubts there was an exodus at all. Such a conclusion asks us to believe that the great edifice of Hebrew faith was built upon a wholly imaginary foundation.

One of the interpretive controversies regarding the Exodus concerns the number of people involved. Ex 12:37, in agreement with Nu 1:46, asserts that there were about 600,000 fighting men, which would factor out to a total group of about 2.5 million people. Without discounting the miracles of food and water, the logistics of transporting this number of people and the indications that the entire populations of Egypt and Canaan were not this large at this time suggest that these numbers are not intended to be taken literally. Several tentative explanations have been offered, but none has gained universal acceptance. In any case, it is plain that a very large number of people was involved and that we need more information about the use of numbers in ancient times.

In recent years it has been recognized that the biblical covenant shares certain similarities in structure with one type of ancient Near Eastern treaty. This treaty was between a great king and a subject people. Several features of this treaty form made it useful for what God was seeking to teach Israel.

It begins with a historical prologue explaining what has happened to cause this king and this people to enter into a covenant; it is because of what God has done in coming to us in our time and space that relationship with him is possible. The king commits himself to protect and care for this people in recognition of their dependence on him; God, unlike the idols, binds himself to his people. The people are to abide by the king's demands in view of, and in support of, their relationship with the king; obedience does not produce relationship with God, it is in response to, and maintenance of, an already existing relationship. The treaties almost always demand recognition of one king alone; there is only one God for Israel. The treaties are sealed with the most solemn blessings and curses; to live in obedient relation to God is life and health, to refuse to do so is destruction.

Thus it appears that, at God's direction, Moses took the general form of these political treaties and adapted it to the uniquely religious purposes of God.