Parting Seas and Manna in the Desert1. How long did the plagues of Egypt last?
2. How many men were in the Exodus?
3. Did any Egyptians travel with the Israelites?
4. What did the pillar of cloud and pillar of fire look like?
5. How many bodies of water ran dry for the Israelites?
6. Why might the Red Sea be the Reedy Lake?
7. Where did the Red Sea crossing take place?
8. Where did Moses make bitter water sweet?
9. What did the Israelites eat and drink in the desert?
10. What did Mount Sinai look and sound like?
The plagues of Egypt began with the red river in late summer and continued through to March or April of the next year, when the Exodus took place. Hailstorms would have left the desert with water and abundant plants, making this the only time of year such a large group of people could travel with their flocks. The Bible “counts” the people, giving a total of 603,550 men (Num 1:19-21)—so many they would easily outnumber any other army of the time though the Bible also says they weren’t a large nation (Deut 7:7, Ex 23:20). Since ancient Hebrew used the same word for thousand and troop, a better interpretation of the numbers may be 5,550 men in 598 groups—a nation of around 20,000 people, not dissimilar from the size of other tribes at the time. The tribe included at least one Egyptian, Bithiah (1 Chron 4:17-18,) who was probably Moses’ foster-mother.
Since Moses fled Egypt to Midian earlier, it seems reasonable to guess the Israelites followed a similar path. The pillar of cloud and fire (Ex 13:20-22) could even be interpreted as outbursts from volcanic eruptions. When the Bible says the cloud switched from front to back of the tribe (14:19), they may have been marching away from the mountain temporarily, corresponding well with the most likely geography of their route. Some historians suggest the Red Sea crossing (13:18) took place on a reedy marsh, since ancient Hebrew says Reed Sea, not Red Sea. Others locate it on the Gulf of Suez, giving the Israelites access to the Sinai peninsula. A third option is the Gulf of Aqaba, seven days journey from Rameses. There the sea was both reedy and coral-red. Egyptian chariots chasing the Israelites would have taken a northern route while footsoldiers marched down the pass, leaving the tribe trapped (Ex 14:9) between two armies and the sea. Then a perfectly timed east wind (14:21), as described in the Bible, could have dried the sea with a river bore. Later, a mudslide dried the River Jordan (Joshua 3:16) allowing another dry crossing.
In Midian, they probably passed close by Madian, Moses’ old home. His father-in-law Jethro later caught up with the tribe near Mount Sinai, bringing the family (who presumably stayed behind, Ex 18:2) and offering advice to Moses on how to govern the people. The wells at Madian are usually sweet, but the same storm that dried the sea might have fouled them, necessitating Moses’ inspired use of charcoal (15:25) and the name Marah. It’s possible to trace a likely route (see the Miracles of Exodus by Colin J Humphreys) from there to an Arabian volcano that might be Mount Sinai. Of course, other routes lead to the modern Mount Sinai. Some advantages of the Arabian route are: Arabian traditions about Moses; hills and oases corresponding to Bible descriptions and place names; a desert where quail migrate, a manna-like substance is deposited on the ground, and dewfall provides plentiful drinking water (16:13-16); a mountain where water can be drawn from porous rock by striking it (17:8); a plain surrounding the volcano, large and well-watered enough for a tribe of 20,000; land that belonged to the Amalekites who fought the Israelites (17:8); land that didn’t belong to the Egyptians, who stopped chasing them.
The Biblical mountain exhibits many characteristics of a volcano, besides being a holy mountain: fire (Deut 4:11, Ex 19:18), explosions and thunder (Ex 19:16), trumpets (a lesser-known but equally valid volcanic phenomenon, Ex 19:19), lightning (Ex 19:16), earthquakes (19:18), smoke and clouds (19:16,18), and lava (Judges 5:5), all occurring at precisely the right time, by God’s command.