Wednesday, December 14, 2016

How did Moses feed 3 million people?

Here's a logistical problem for you: 

There's a meme that goes around from time to time about how Moses could have planned to take care of roughly three million people who left Egypt in one night. The meme makes some interesting points but gets some of the math wrong.

First, they had to be fed.

According to a quartermaster of the Army during the Civil war, men carried an eight day supply of food that weighed 24 pounds…three pounds per day. On that basis, Moses would have needed a minimum of 4,500 tons of food each day. How much food is that?

According to rail car manufacturer GATX, a typical freight car has a capacity of 143 tons. To transport 4,500 tons would require a train 32 cars long.

Every day. 

Since their food wasn't pemmican or k-rations or MREs they would also have needed firewood to cook the food.  This would take a minimum of 8,000 tons of wood - another 56 freight cars, just for one day.

One more not-so-minor detail: water.

GATX has a product called the TankTrain System.  According to their website,

“A string of interconnected tank cars with flexible hoses, the TankTrain System can quickly load and unload large volumes of liquid. At a rate of 3,000 gallons per minute, that's 1 1/2 hours to load a 5-car string. A 90-car train can load in less than five hours.”  

That works out to a capacity of 900,000 gallons.  To provide enough water for two gallons per person, about six million gallons per day - which would be the bare minimum for drinking and bathing - would have required seven 90-car trains! 

Six million gallons - that's the daily output of The Water Department of Iowa City, Iowa. And they have only 62,000 customers.

But wait: The Israelites would have needed far more than that…they must have had millions of thirsty animals traveling with them. Figure three times as much water at the very least. That is not the kind of flow of water you get from a spigot, or even from a fire hydrant. That is the equivalent of a good-sized trout-fishing stream, such as the Frying Pan river in Colorado.

What about getting across the Red Sea in one night?

Let’s assume that people standing, ready to march, can be spaced 3 feet apart. If the red sea only opened to a narrow path, so that they had to walk two abreast, the line would have been about 850 miles long. At 3 miles an hour, with no stumbling or any confusion at all, it would have required nearly 12 days and nights for all to pass through.
To pass through in less than 8 hours we need to multiply our files… if they walked 100 abreast, spaced at 3 feet horizontally and vertically, a 300 foot opening would have allowed them all to pass a given point in about 6 hours; seems sufficient, but it’s not. They weren’t simply passing a point, they all had to cross several miles of the seabed of the gulf of Suez, along with their animals.  The book Insight on the Scriptures says:
‘The channel may have been a kilometer or more in width. Though in fairly close marching formation, such a group, along with what wagons they had, their baggage, and their cattle, even when rather closely ranked, would occupy an area of perhaps 3 square miles or more. It appears, therefore, that the sea-opening allowed the Israelites to cross on a fairly wide front. If there was about a 1 mile front, then the depth of the Israelite column would probably be about 3 miles or more. If it was about a 1.5 mile front, the depth might be about 2 miles or more. It would take such a column several hours to get into the seabed and travel across it. While they did not go in panic, but maintained their battle formation, they would no doubt move with considerable haste.’
To put that in perspective, look at this picture of the parade when a sports team won their championship. The turn-out was estimated to have been nearly a million, a small portion of which is shown here.

Crossing the Jordan 40 years later would have required a similarly gargantuan operation.

Another problem: Camping space.  At Little Big Horn, 10,000 Sioux made a camp that took up a little over half of one square mile.  At that rate, the three million in the Israelite encampment would have spread out over nearly 150 square miles! But estimates of camp size have been made by many commentators, are unreliable, and vary widely. My wife and I live in a humble 720 square foot two-bedroom home that is sufficient for us, but would be crowded by one more person, at least by today’s standards. Imagine a small three-bedroom home of 1000 square feet with ten people in it. But even if we use that figure – 100 square feet per person – three million people would take up over 55 square miles! If you cram people into half that space, not forgetting space for pathways, animals, and the tabernacle, they could - possibly - have fit into a square mobile city approximately six miles by six miles.

And they moved camp 40 times during the next 40 years.

Moses had been raised in the upper echelons of Egyptian society. His education was the best available at that time. He would have been familiar with the logistical problems of organizing large numbers of people. We can assume, for example, that he grew up listening to discussions of the problems of getting 10,000 employees to show up for work on a pyramid, quarry or field each day, provide them all with tools, a noon meal and enough water to prevent heatstroke. But did his training prepare him for the task of moving an entire nation? 

Absolutely not! Quite the opposite, in fact. All his training would have told him that such a task was physically impossible. This is why Paul said, "By faith he left Egypt." (Hebrews 11:27)

Now, if you believe the Bible, do you think God has any problem taking care of all your needs?

Feel free to leave a comment.
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 Bill K. Underwood is a freelance columnist and author of several books, including three novels - The Minotaur Medallion, Unbroken, and the best-selling Resurrection Day. All are available at You can help support this site by purchasing a book.


  1. Give one something to really think about.And couldn't happen as it did without Jehovah at the helm.

  2. I thought you were showing how ridiculous the story is
    but then you seem to suggest that you believe it! Of course, none of the characters in the bible existed. It's just mythology set in a real landscape - a bit like batman and robin or spiderman.