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UCG IA Bible Insights Thursday, March 31 2022

Exit from Egypt - Part 2

The account of Israel's worship of a golden calf has been questioned by secular scholars, who note bull-worship was common in both Egypt and Canaan, but not calf-worship. However, in 1991 a statue of a silver calf was found in ancient Ashkelon, which was dated to more than 100 years before the Exodus. The Biblical Archaeology Review notes: "The Golden Calf worshiped at the foot of Mt. Sinai….may have resembled this statuette" (March-April 1991, p. 1).

Exit from Egypt - Part 2
Sunrise in the Sinai Peninsula.
by Mario Seiglie

The golden calf

When Aaron shouted to the people, "This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!" (Exodus 32:4), he knew how popular calf-worship was. Four centuries later, almost the same words were uttered by King Jeroboam when he made two golden calves and told the people, "Here are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt!" (1 Kings 12:28).

The eating of quails

The Israelites complained to God in the wilderness they had only manna to eat: "... 'Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish…the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now…there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes!' " (Numbers 11:4-6).

This complaint represents one of the 10 major murmurings of the Israelites against God and Moses (Numbers 14:22). God responded to their complaint the next day by sending quail into the Israelite camp to a depth of 12 inches (Numbers 11:18-20).

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia describes the migratory routes of the quails as follows: "The routes of migration run from southern Europe, along the eastern Mediterranean coast, through the Sinai Peninsula, to Arabia or West Africa. The quails travel southward in the late summer and northward in early spring (the time of the Israelite exodus from Egypt) . . . As recently as the early decades of the 20th century, migrating quails were killed by Egyptians at the rate of two million annually; in 1920 a kill of three million was recorded" (The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1988, Vol. 4, pp. 4-5).

The miracle of God was to bring these quails to the Israelite camp and deposit them in huge numbers in that precise location.

The false prophet

On their journey to the Promised Land, King Balak of the Moabites refused to let the Israelites pass peacefully and approached Balaam, a pagan prophet: “... Therefore please come at once, curse this people for me, for they are too mighty for me.…'" (Numbers 22:6).

In 1967 archeologists digging up the remains of Deir Alla, an ancient Ammonite city, found an inscription mentioning Balaam, the son of Beor. It was part of one of Balaam's prophecies, written in language similar to that recorded in Numbers. The beginning of the restored text reads: "Inscription of Balaam, son of Beor, the man who was a seer of the gods ….' "

Archeologist Andre Lemaire, who pieced together the incomplete script, wrote: ". . . The inscription from Deir Alla, dated to about the middle of the eighth century B.C…. is very likely the earliest extant example of a prophetic text. The principal personage in the Deir Alla text is the seer Balaam, son of Beor, well known to us from the stories in Numbers" (Biblical Archaeology Review, September-October 1985, p. 39).

The biblical account relates that God forced Balaam to prophesy of Israel's blessings and victories. "...'The utterance of Balaam the son of Beor… who hears the words of God…How lovely are your tents, O Jacob!...God brings him out of Egypt; he has strength like a wild ox; he shall consume the nations, his enemies; he shall break their bones and pierce them with arrows' " (Numbers 24:3-8).

Shortly after these events Balaam, greedy for money (2 Peter 2:15), helped the Moabites induce Israel to sin. Not surprisingly, he perished after the defeat of the Moabites and Midianites (Numbers 31:8).

Here we have another biblical figure who cannot be related to myth. Apparently what happened to this seer remained in the memory of the Ammonites and was recorded as part of their history.

The route from Egypt

Another source of scholarly controversy concerns the route the Israelites took to enter the Promised Land. "The Bible is very specific in its list of places…taken by the Israelites on their way to the Promised Land. Yet it is this very specificity that has made it vulnerable to criticism from some scholars. Many of the places in question, they say, did not exist when the Exodus is said to have occurred" (Biblical Archaeology Review, September-October 1994, p. 5).

Yet three lists showing the very route the Israelites took to enter Canaan have been found in Egyptian monuments. Charles Krahmalkov, a professor of ancient Near Eastern languages, speaks of the accuracy of the biblical account: "In short, the Biblical story of the invasion of Transjordan that set the stage for the conquest of all Palestine is told against a background that is historically accurate. The Israelite invasion route described in Numbers 33:45-50 was in fact an official, heavily trafficked Egyptian road . . ." (Biblical Archaeology Review, September-October 1994, p. 58).

Thus, archeology, notwithstanding scholarly criticism, confirms another part of biblical history.