Exodus - Did They Leave Morning or Night?



Question: Is there a contradiction for when the Israelites left Egypt? Exodus 12:22 instructs the Israelites to stay in their homes “until morning” of the 14th Abib. “But Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron at night and said, “Rise up, get out from among my people, both you and the sons of Israel”. The people of Egypt also “urged the Israelites to leave the land in haste” (Exodus 12:33). So did they leave at night or in the morning?  We read in Deuteronomy 16:1 Observe the month of Abib and celebrate the Passover of the LORD your God, because in the month of Abib he brought you out of Egypt by night.              

To add another problem to the mix, Numbers 33:3 says “And they departed from Rameses in the first month, on the fifteenth day of the first month; on the morrow after the passover the children of Israel went out with an high hand in the sight of all the Egyptians.           

So was it the night of the 14th Abib or the morning of the 14th Abib or the daytime of the 15th Abib?

Answer: The Hebrew and Mesopotamian day always started in the evening. The sunset was the end of the previous day. That makes sense because once the sun had set people knew the day was over and a new day was beginning. The new crescent moon marked the first day of the new month. So the 14th day of the first month (Abib) began in the evening. The Israelites ate the Passover lamb as their new day was beginning (in the evening). The Egyptian first born died that night. Pharaoh issued an order during that night for Moses and Aaron to take the people and leave. As soon as Pharaoh issued the order the people were no longer slaves and were free - the order was issued at night. So that’s what the Scripture means by saying they were brought out “at night.”             

At first light the people came out of their homes and began to move out, urged on by the Egyptian people, “All the Egyptians urged the people of Israel to get out of the land as quickly as possible, for they thought, "We will all die!" (Ex 12:33) Exodus chapter 12 makes it plain that the Passover takes place on the 14th Abib. The chapter finishes by saying “All the Israelites did just what the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron. And on that very day the Lord brought the Israelites out of Egypt by their divisions.”            

The Israelites reached the Egyptian border on the 15th Abib, (the next day), which means they crossed the borders of Egypt and held their hands high as they passed the Egyptian soldiers garrisoned at Pithom along the Wadi Tumilat. That is what Numbers 33:3 explains to us. Remember that early Hebrew writing did not have the punctuation that we are used to. So the Hebrew text reads like this:           

“And they departed from Rameses in the first month.” This is the end of the first phrase.          

The next phrase begins, “On the fifteenth day of the first month; (on the morrow after the Passover) the children of Israel went out with an high hand in the sight of all the Egyptians.               

The went out of the Egyptian borders on the 15th Abib. They started their journey on the early morning 14th Abib.                

Paul