They Left At Night
My attention has been drawn to Deuteronomy 16.1, where Moses states that God brought the Children of Israel out of Egypt at night. This led to my examining again Exodus 12.22, which I refer to in Insight 13, and where Moses instructs the Children of Israel not to leave their dwellings “until morning”. Until now I have equated “morning” with “dawn” or “daybreak”.
Perhaps that is wrong, and perhaps “morning” simply means “after midnight”- how common are expressions like: “I haven’t slept since one o’clock this morning.” Significantly, the text in Exodus 12.22 does not use such words as “daybreak” or “dawn”.
Significantly too, God tells Moses and Aaron that the people are to slaughter a lamb at dusk, and eat it that night with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, and “with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet and your staff in your hand and ye shall eat it in haste.” (Exodus 12.8-11)
The impression the text creates is that they were to be ready to leave Egypt soon after eating, but, of course, after the slaying of the firstborn at midnight. That they had to leave in a hurry, and that they left while it was still night, is strikingly consistent with Exodus 12.31-34 which states that
My own researches have led me to Numbers 33.3 where it is stated that “on the day after the Passover offering the Children of Israel went out with a high hand in the sight of all the Egyptians”. The Passover offering occurred at dusk on the 14th of Nissan (Exodus 12.6), and the next day, the 15th of Nissan, commences on the night following that dusk in accordance with Jewish Law. It follows that Numbers 33.3 is consistent with their having left Egypt at night. If that is so the full moon would have enabled their leaving to occur “in the sight of all the Egyptians”.
If the verse is conveying that the going out occurred in daylight, we have an apparent contradiction between Numbers 33.3 and Deuteronomy 16.1. I believe that the contradiction can easily be resolved, and that the verses, properly understood, tell a credible story.
It must have taken a few hours for the large expedition involved to be collected and moved out of Egypt; hence it follows that, although they commenced leaving at night, they were, when daylight dawned, still “in the sight of all the Egyptians”. It follows that the apparent contradiction between Numbers 33.3 and Deuteronomy 16.1 dissolves on a proper consideration of the facts.
It follows too that the cumulative effect of Exodus 12.22, Numbers 33.3 and Deuteronomy 16.1 may be that the Children of Israel commenced their journey at night, but were still in Egypt at daybreak.
If that is so, or if, of course, they left Egypt entirely at night, the full moon on the night of the 15th of Nissan becomes all the more necessary; apart from packing and gathering their flocks and herds, they had to deal with the Egyptians, requesting of them “jewels of silver and jewels of gold and raiment.” (Exodus 12.35) And, of course, three million people with all they had, had to leave Egypt, and they surely needed light to do so.
This makes the new moon on the 15th of Nissan all the more necessary, and the account of the Five Books all the more credible.
The interpretations I have applied here are consistent, I believe, with South African law on the interpretation of documentary texts: in Swart v Cape Fabrix 1979(1) SA 195 (A) South Africa’s then highest court stated that it would be wrong to view words in isolation, but that words had to be viewed in the context of the document concerned as a whole; this was affirmed in the Supreme Court of Appeal judgment of Natal Joint Municipal Pension Fund v Endumeni Municipality 2012(4) SA 593(SCA) at 609B, in which case, at 609D-F, Wallis JA also stated that “(m)ost words can bear several different meanings or shades of meaning and to try to ascertain their meaning in the abstract, divorced from the broad context of their use, is an unhelpful exercise”.