During the last school holidays I went to see the film Dunkirk. I found it enjoyable without being anything special. One thing didn’t seem quite right to me. The actual evacuation in 1940 involved nearly four hundred thousand soldiers; to accomplish this, more than eight hundred boats crossed the English Channel. Watching the movie however I would have said that four thousand men were evacuated by eighty boats. The sheer scale of the operation wasn’t really captured on film.
This exodus reminded me of the biblical exodus for the same kind of reasons. When I think of the Hebrews departing Egypt and making their way through the wilderness, I have a mental picture of several thousand people. This has probably been fostered by another film – The Ten Commandments starring Charlton Heston as Moses. I haven’t seen it for years but I loved it as a child and watched it several times. Once again, the sheer volume of people involved has not been conveyed on film.
Ex 12:37, “Then the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides children.” Some commentators believe this is a poor translation and the total number was six hundred thousand, not just the men. Others however, believe that the men plus women and children would add up to well over two million. Although there is a vast difference, either way it is a lot of people – certainly more than what was presented in the movie. Liberal scholars have used these numbers to argue that the Bible is factually inaccurate. An exodus involving hundreds of thousands could not have taken place and furthermore there is no external evidence for it.
If the starting point however is an eternal, transcendent, omnipotent God, then all things are possible – whether it is the creation of the universe, raising the dead or taking a great multitude on a long and difficult journey. We may not consciously subscribe to liberal theology but if our view of God is shaped by fallen, sinful human rationale rather than scripture, we end up with a God who is small, restricted, and domesticated. This in turn shapes our faith, our prayers, and our worship. For good reason believers are exhorted to remember God’s mighty works such as the exodus – He did not deliver a few thousand, He delivered a nation. That same God provides for us, protects us, and will bring us into eternal glory. He is worthy of our trust and obedience.