How long did it take for Israel to cross the Red Sea?


by Shawn Brasseaux

“How long did Moses and the millions of Israelites stand at the Red Sea with his rod stretched out until the waters backed up and they walked across on dry land? Was it hours, days, or how long was it? Was it instantly? Are there any Scriptures to back up your answer please? Thank you so much.”

Thank you for your question. It took some studying but I believe I have some Scriptural insight. I can tell you that it was certainly not days. The Bible does indicate a rough estimation of how many hours. Let me show you how we can use verses to approximate the time.

Remember, it was nighttime when the Jews left Egypt after Passover and during Unleavened Bread. God told Israel that He would smite Egypt’s firstborn at “midnight” (Exodus 12:29). Pharaoh called Moses and Aaron in the night, shortly after the firstborn were slain, giving Israel permission to leave Egypt (verse 31). Israel left Egypt sometime after midnight. Exodus 12:42,51: “[42] It is a night to be much observed unto the LORD for bringing them out from the land of Egypt: this is that night of the LORD to be observed of all the children of Israel in their generations…. [51] And it came to pass the selfsame day, that the LORD did bring the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt by their armies.”

Now, Exodus 14:20: “And it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel; and it was a cloud and darkness to them, but it gave light by night to these: so that the one came not near the other all the night.” It was still nighttime when the Egyptian armies tried to attack Israel on the banks of the Red Sea. “[21] And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. [22] And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground: and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left. [23] And the Egyptians pursued, and went in after them to the midst of the sea, even all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen.”

The Bible says that God drove the waters back “all that night.” This seems to be some hours’ passage of time: “[24] And it came to pass, that in the morning watch the LORD looked unto the host of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and of the cloud, and troubled the host of the Egyptians, [25] And took off their chariot wheels, that they drave them heavily: so that the Egyptians said, Let us flee from the face of Israel; for the LORD fighteth for them against the Egyptians. [26] And the LORD said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand over the sea, that the waters may come again upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen. [27] And Moses stretched forth his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to his strength when the morning appeared; and the Egyptians fled against it; and the LORD overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea.”

Verse 24 says that by “the morning watch” (“the last portion of the night”), the Egyptian armies are still trying to reach the Red Sea and attack Israel. By the “morning,” the sea had returned to its normal state and covered the Egyptian armies.

The waters went back instantly I am sure, as God’s miracles are instant in Scripture (Matthew 8:3; Mark 1:32; Mark 10:52; Luke 4:39; Luke 18:43; John 5:9; Acts 9:18; et cetera), but it evidently took several hours for all of the Jews to cross the Red Sea. It was during this time period of hours that God sustained these walls of water. The waters went back instantly after God held them.

True, we do not know how many Jews there were who walked side-by-side across the Red Sea. What we can surmise is that the opening and the closing of the Red Sea happened within the time-span of one night, and thus not days. Exodus 12:29 (“midnight,” Israel told to leave Egypt) and Exodus 14:27 (“morning appeared,” Red Sea covered Egyptians) would give us an estimation of less than six hours, for the Jews to enter the Red Sea and safely pass through to the other shore.

Also see:
» Why did God kill the Egyptians’ firstborn sons?
» What is the “great cloud of witnesses” of Hebrews 12:1?
» Are Christians obligated to observe Passover?