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In Exodus 14: 5 When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, the minds of Pharaoh and his officials were changed toward the people, and they said, “What have we done, letting Israel leave our service?” 6 So he had his chariot made ready, and took his army with him; 7 he took six hundred picked chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them. 8 The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt and he pursued the Israelites, who were going out boldly. 9 The Egyptians pursued them, all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, his chariot drivers and his army; they overtook them camped by the sea, by Pi-hahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon.

and in Exodus 12:37 The Israelites journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides children.

The following comment from: A Plain Account of Christian Faithfulness: Essays in Honor of David B. McEwan:

"All the chariots" did not include those stationed in Upper Egypt, nor even every chariot in Lower Egypt. It simply means every chariot Pharaoh could mobilize quickly in the northeastern Nile Delta, where this narrative is set. Six hundred chariots constituted a formidable force. Yet here, too, the Israelites would have had an insurmountable edge in forces-in-the-field. As nasty a fighting machine as the ancient chariot was against soldiers on foot, in this scenario each chariot would have faced one thousand Israelites. We may trust that Moses, a scion of Pharaoh's house, would have known how to deploy his overwhelming numbers so as to defeat even the best fighting machine of the day. Yet the appearance of Pharaoh and his six hundred chariots threw Israel into a panic?!

Other critics wonder the same...

Why were Beni Israel, with their numerous number, in panic from the army of the Pharaoh during the Exodus??

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    You can have the best general ever, if the people aren't trained, then you've got nothing. The ability to be resilient in the face of danger must be learned and practised.
    – magicker72
    Nov 15, 2021 at 17:47
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    I don't understand. You quote a source to prove the opposite of your question. The title of your question is “Why did Bnei Israel,with their numerous number, panic the army of the pharaoh,during the exodus?” I.e. Pharaoh's army is panicked You quote “Yet the appearance of Pharaoh and his six hundred chariots threw Israel into a panic?! “ I.e. Israel is panicked Then you ask again Why did Bnei Israel,with their numerous number, panic the army of the pharaoh I.e. Pharaoh's army is panicked Nov 15, 2021 at 17:50
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    I suppose the same could be asked about the 900 iron chariots of Sisra v. the 10000 men of Barak. Never underestimate the sheer force of a few hundred chariots.
    – Harel13
    Nov 15, 2021 at 17:54
  • @ Avrohom Yitzchok ..thank you..I updated the Question.
    – capri reds
    Nov 15, 2021 at 18:05
  • Any soldier could tell you that battle is terrifying. All the more so if you’re a completely untrained person without a weapon
    – ezra
    Nov 17, 2021 at 22:49

3 Answers 3

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While he does not point out the superior numbers of Israel, the Bekhor Shor does say as follows

“They were very scared.” because they had been subjected by the Egyptians for such a long time, they retained their fear of them.

The Chizkuni answers the question explicitly and in a similar way:

וייראו מאד, “They were very scared.” Why would 600000 male, able bodied, Israelites, be so scared of 5000 Egyptians? We had been told that they were all armed! Their fear was based on their slave mentality. Every slave is afraid of his master. These Israelites had not yet proven to themselves that they could fend for themselves.

So the answer is that the slave mentality of the Bnei Yisroel misled them.

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Adding to what @AvrohomYitzchok wrote, fear amongst the Israelites was probably a key part of Pharaoh's plan - but it wasn't the only part. It's true that chariots were a formidable force (see here, here, here and here for further information), but as the charioteers' strength was based on the number of arrows the archer had - that means that when they ran out of arrows, they were mostly useless. They could then jump out of the chariot and attack with swords or spears (as depicted here), but even 1200 or 1800 well-trained men would have difficulty against the few hundred thousand that would have survived the initial attack. Something that I don't think most realize is that there's a chance that the Israelites might have had a minimal amount of training - we find that they were able to actually go out and fight the Amalekites a short time later (Shemot 17:8-13).1 But even if they weren't trained at all, they were still armed - probably with Egyptian weapons.

The clincher, from what I can tell, is that the 600 hundred chariots were 'only' Pharaoh's elite fighting unit - but other units were part of the strike. As it says:

"He ordered his chariot and took his men with him; he took six hundred of his picked chariots, and the rest of the chariots of Egypt, with officers in all of them. (Shemot 14:6-7)

And:

"the Egyptians gave chase to them, and all the chariot horses of Pharaoh, his horsemen, and his warriors overtook them encamped by the sea, near Pi-hahiroth, before Baal-zephon." (ibid. 9)

Seemingly in this direction comes the following midrash:

Mechiltah D'Rashbi Shemot 14:7:

"ד"א ושלישים שלשה לכל אחד ואחד ויש אומרין שלשים לכל אחד ואחד ויש אומרין שלוש מאות לכל אחד ואחד: ד"א ושלישים על כלו לפי מרכבות הוציא עליהן חיילים"

Translation: "Another possibility, and shalishim [captains] three for every one and some say thirty for every one and some say three hundred for every one. Another possibility, and shalishim [captains] upon them, per the number of chariots he sent out the number of soldiers..."


1 Just a guess on how this would have been possible: They lived in Goshen, at the edge of Egypt, so it would make sense that they would have needed to know how to defend themselves from invaders or raiders.

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    excellent note Harel13.thanx
    – capri reds
    Nov 20, 2021 at 4:41
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The author you quoted seems to have overlooked the story of David and Absalom. It is very clear from context that a few thousand trained warriors are a better fighting force than an entire nation. To recap, Achitofel, who supported Absalom, told him to choose 12000 warriors to fight David. Chushai, who was trying to sabotage Absalom, told him to gather the entire nation. Absalom followed Chushai's advice and was defeated in battle.

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  • @Harel13 Fixed it.
    – N.T.
    Nov 22, 2021 at 18:01

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