When God commanded the Israelites to move from Egypt to the Promised Land, their journey became one of the largest migrations in the Bible and human history. Yes, God brought a great crowd of people out of Egypt. But what exactly is the size of the Exodus?
Number of Israelites That Left Egypt
According to Exodus 12:37, the number of Israelites that left Egypt was 600,000. However, this number does not include women and children because women and children were not counted in Bible time. If we factor in the women and children, the number could easily hit a million or more. Such an estimate would make sense considering that Israel had lived in Egypt for 430 years where they had flourished albeit in slavery.
We know from the account of Moses in Exodus chapter 1 that Pharoah was threatened by the alarming rate at which the Israelites were increasing. He even came up with a plan to reduce their numbers by instructing the midwives to kill any Hebrew baby that was a boy and only save the girls at the point of birth. However, the midwives secretly kept all the Hebrew Baibles alive.
The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. 1:17.
Even though the Bible does not say it, it would not be hard to imagine that Pharoah found another way to deal with the male population among the Hebrews. If this is the case, then it would be safe to assume that the females were either the same in number or at least more than the males.
How Large Was the Population of Israelites Before the Exodus
To trace the exact number of Israelites that would have left Egypt, we must first determine how many there were in that particular country before the Exodus. According to Genesis 46:27, Joseph and his family of 70 immigrated to Egypt.
And the sons of Joseph, who were born to him in Egypt, were two. All the persons of the house of Jacob who came into Egypt were seventy. Genesis 46:27
The Bible further points out that the Israelites lived in Egypt for 430 years, and their number grew rapidly, filling the land with them. The Israelites became so numerous that the Egyptian king saw them as a threat (Exodus 1:7-10). So the king decided to oppress them, enslave them, and kill the newborn baby boys as a way to reduce the Israelite’s number. However, the Israelites’ population increased in number.
Scholars estimate 1446 BC as the date of the Exodus. Furthermore, ancient civilizations, including Egypt, conducted censuses for various purposes such as taxation, military campaigns, and labor allocation. In those censuses, especially during the nation kingdom, slaves owned in every household were also counted. The population of Egypt during this time is estimated to be between 2.5–4 million.
With this in mind, it becomes believable that the king of Egypt would be afraid of 600,000 mighty and strong Israelite men. According to the Torah, a mixed multitude (erev rav) went up with them out of Egypt. This includes the Egyptians who supported and joined the Israelites. There were also other people who were related to the Israelites through intermarriage. So the total number of People in the Exodus from Egypt could have been more than 600,000.
Was Israel a Large or a Small Population?
Two years after leaving Egypt, Moses took a census of the people of Israel, which points to a large population aged 20 years and above. The total number from that census is slightly higher than 600,000, which can account for an increase in population in the last two years and the exclusion of levities from the census in the wilderness of Sinai (Numbers 1:45 -46).
While there were tribes or nations with many citizens, there are also various scriptures pointing to Israel having a large population. Apart from the King of Egypt pointing to how numerous the Israelites were, Moab was also afraid of the people of Israel due to their large number. In fact, he used the phrase “they cover the face of the earth (Numbers 22: 3-5).
Since the Bible only mentions 600,000 Israelites, it’s possible that the women, children, and other people from intermarriages, as well as Egyptians who supported and followed the Israelites all combined, would have resulted in a much larger population of the Exodus.
However, scriptures such as Deuteronomy 7:7 explain that the people of Israel were not that many, which might imply that they were not in millions. And because they were not many, they were afraid of dying in the wilderness when attacked and even contemplated going back to Egypt, where they might be safer (Numbers 14:3-4).
The Israelites being a smaller community is also pointed out in Exodus 23:29-30 where God explains that He will allow the Israelites to possess the land after they have increased.
Besides, it’s safe to believe the number given in the Bible because it’s mentioned three more times: Exodus 38:26 and Numbers 1:46; 2:32; 26:51). The number 600,000 in these three cases is associated with the counting of the Israelite men eligible for military service. On the other hand, the 600,000 figure in the context of the Exodus refers to the number of Israelite men of fighting age (20 years and older) who left Egypt under the leadership of Moses.
In both cases, the numbers are significant, and the use of the same number in these counts might be a literary or symbolic choice. Besides, the precise population of Israel during the Exodus doesn’t play a crucial role in doctrinal or theological aspects. The focus is on the spiritual significance rather than numerical details.
On the question of how many Israelites left Egypt, the Bible gives a specific number: 600,000. However, the Bible makes it clear that this number was only of the males and it did not include the women and the children. The Bible also mentions that the males that were counted were those above 20 years old. So, we may not know the exact number of all the Israelites who left Egypt but we have a ballpark figure – they were at least 600,000.