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Growth Of A Nation

"These are the names of the sons of Israel [see Children of Jacob] who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. All the offspring of Jacob were seventy persons; Joseph was already in Egypt." (Exodus 1:1-5 RSV)

The Nile River And so Jacob, whose name God had changed to Israel, entered Egypt. All of the Israelites that existed in the world at the time were in that small group. They would remain there for 430 years (Exodus 12:40-41) until the Exodus.

Despite their eventual hardships, the Israelites had large families and grew very numerous:

"But the descendants of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong; so that the land was filled with them." (Exodus 1:7 RSV).

Although there is no record of the precise number that left Egypt in the Exodus, a military census taken not long after listed the number of men 20 years of age and older who could serve in the army as 603,550 (Exodus 38:26). From that number, the total Israelite population of that time has been estimated at approximately 2 to 3 million.

How can a small group become a nation of millions in just over 4 centuries? A simple bit of arithmetic shows that it was easily possible. If the average Israelite family consisted of 4 children by the time the parents were 27 years old (the Bible record shows that families then were actually much larger), that would provide for a doubling of the population every 27 years (2 children to replace the parents, and 2 children to account for population growth). 430 years divided by 27 years is about 15 generations during the time Israel was in Egypt.

Beginning with the original 70 people, growth of the Israelite nation using our factors above would have been:

  • 140 people after 27 years
  • 280 people after 54 years
  • 560 people after 81 years
  • 1,120 people after 108 years
  • 2,240 people after 135 years
  • 4,480 people after 162 years
  • 8,960 people after 189 years
  • 17,920 people after 216 years
  • 35,840 people after 243 years
  • 71,680 people after 270 years
  • 143,360 people after 297 years
  • 286,720 people after 324 years
  • 573,440 people after 351 years
  • 1,146,880 people after 378 years
  • 2,293,760 people after 405 years

The example is of course a rough estimate, but it does prove the point that the Israelites could easily have increased to a great number in the given time.

Fact Finder: What route did the Israelites take during their time in the wilderness?
See Wilderness Journey

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