When is an Army Not an Army?

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Picture of army, ready for battle

I saw something in today’s Bible reading* that I’ve never seen before in all of the times I’ve read these chapters. God tells Moses to bring out the Hebrews “according to their military divisions”[1] in Exodus 6:26, 7:4, 12:17, 41, 51. I’ve never seen that terminology before. Why? Well, it comes down to Bible translations.

Compare these translations.

  • At the end of 430 years, on that very day, all the hosts of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt. Exodus 12:41 (ESV)
  • At the end of 430 years, on that same day, all the Lord’s military divisions went out from the land of Egypt. Exodus 12:41 (CSB)
  • And at the end of four hundred and thirty years, on this exact day, all of Yahweh’s divisions went out from the land of Egypt. Exodus 12:41 (LEB)
  • At the end of the 430 years, to the very day, God’s entire army left Egypt. Exodus 12:41 (The Message)
  • In fact, it was on the last day of the 430th year that all the Lord’s forces left the land. Exodus 12:41 (NLT)

Why would Moses use this military terminology to describe these shepherds-turned-bricklayers leaving the land of Egypt? It shows that God’s people were ready to follow God anywhere, fight anyone, and carry off the booty of the victory. (Exodus 12:35–37) It also shows that the battle is the Lord’s. (1 Samuel 17:47)

Without slinging a rock, without drawing a sword, without weapons of any kind, the mighty army of God left Egypt, taking the plunder of their battle with them. What a picture of God’s mighty hand!

“However, I know that the king of Egypt will not allow you to go, even under force from a strong hand. But when I stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all my miracles that I will perform in it, after that, he will let you go. And I will give these people such favor with the Egyptians that when you go, you will not go empty-handed. Each woman will ask her neighbor and any woman staying in her house for silver and gold jewelry, and clothing, and you will put them on your sons and daughters. So you will plunder the Egyptians.”
Exodus 3:19–22 (CSB)

[1] We’ll see this terminology again when we get to the Book of Numbers.


As a believer, you may feel a little uncomfortable with the language of war to describe the Christian life. But whether or not you choose to acknowledge it, we are in the midst of a cosmic battle of good vs. evil. (Spoiler alert: God wins! And it’s not even close! If we’re on God’s side, we win, too!)

But until we get to the end, there are battles to be fought and surrendered ground to be repossessed. Just look at Paul’s discussion of the spiritual war in 2 Corinthians 10:3–5 and Ephesians 6:10-20. We are to use spiritual weapons to gain spiritual victories. But as a friend has said, “You’ll never win a spiritual battle with a fleshly weapon.”

If you’ve been reading along with us this year, you may remember that Abram — a nomad, not a military commander — defeated four kings and their warriors with just a few hundred household servants. (Genesis 14:13–16) to save his nephew Lot and reclaim Lot’s family and possessions. After the dust settled, he gave a portion of the plundered items to the King of Salem, a priest of God.

Abram wasn’t a “mighty man”, but he was up to the task that God called him to. If you’re one of His, you’re up to the task, too!

The battle is the Lord’s.
The armor is His.
The weapons are His.
The victory is His.

Semper Armatus!
Always ready for battle!

* Chapters covered in today’s reading:
– Exodus 10
– Exodus 11
– Exodus 12
– Exodus 13

This devotional was originally published on February 6, 2021.

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