18 March 2013

Crossing the Red Sea--a logistical nightmare

Last night we watched The Prince of Egypt. For whatever reason I'd never seen it all the way through the before. It's really good. I enjoyed it. It struck me though when they were crossing the Red Sea just how miraculous that is. One of the guys we were watching with made the comment that it had only recently hit him that the Israelites crossed on dry ground, not on muddy ground, or slightly damp ground, but dry ground. That's pretty amazing. That made me think for a minute. Sure I've always known it was dry ground, but I guess I'd never thought of it as actually being dry, I guess I'd always assumed that there were still puddles and stuff around. This kind of got me thinking and then it struck me how big the Red Sea is.

I've always read the story and kind of assumed that they crossed the sea and it took them just a few minutes or hours or something, but the Red Sea is huge. At its widest point its over 200 miles wide and at its narrowest its around 16 miles (I can't remember where I found that fact, but somewhere on the internet). Now I feel like it's pretty safe to assume that they didn't cross at the widest part, but they probably didn't cross at the narrowest part either.

Just as a comparison. According the National Oregon Trail Center a good day traveling for the pioneers was 18-20 miles. And I don't remember for sure, but I imagine that pioneer companies were probably 600 or so people, maybe more, but I don't think much more than a thousand (I found this chart, which seems to support my assumption pretty well).

Back to the Israelites. According to Exodus 12:37 the Israelites numbered 600,000 men on foot, (besides women, children, the elderly, etc.). So if you figure that all the men on foot were your adult aged men then they probably all had wives, and probably a couple kids. And then you include some elderly people and the Israelite nation could very easily be around 2 million people. That is so many people. That's like the population of Houston.

So, lets say the Israelites cross at a narrow-ish part of the Red Sea where it's about 50 miles across. Now if the pioneers were doing that it would probably take them a little less than 3 days (at the rate of 18 miles a day). But that's only 600 ish people. One Wikipedia estimate said that 2 million people marching 10 abreast would make a line 150 miles long (not including sheep and animals, etc). Suddenly this is sounding an awful lot like one of those horrid story problems from elementary school math.

I tried to figure out how long it would take, but I wouldn't be surprised  I'm pretty sure I didn't do it quite right, because really who is good story problems? But I think the first person who crossed the Red Sea would have been about 9 days ahead of the last person to cross (a line 150 miles long divided by 18 miles per day equals a little more than 8 days--so I rounded up). And then you account for the 3 days it took him to cross and we're looking at the better part of 2 weeks to cross the Red Sea. When it was parted. On dry land.

The whole thing kind of blows my mind. You read the account or listen to the story and you kind of think, ok that took like 20 minutes, or maybe the whole night (which is what The Prince of Egypt implies). But no, it seems very possible to me that they were camping in the Red Sea, for several weeks. It was a good reminder for me of the awesome power of Heavenly Father. He can do anything, even keep the Red Sea parted for two weeks.

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