Were the early Israelites really that Stupid?

Do you remember hearing the story of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt in Sunday School?  What a story!  Ten incredible plagues brought the mighty Pharaoh to his knees…but only briefly…then once again God hardened his heart, and off he goes in hot pursuit of his Hebrew slaves.  But what does the God of the Hebrews do?  He drowns the entire Egyptian army in the Red Sea!  What a fantastic sight to behold!  What an awesome display of the power of God!  If people living today could only see these mighty acts of God, everyone except maybe a few idiots would believe, repent, and obey Him!

Well, not those stubborn, hard-hearted Hebrews in the Book of Exodus!  They saw all these mind-blowing, spectacular miracles, but the minute they got a little thirsty in the desert sands of the Sinai, they started groaning and complaining that they were better off as slaves in Egypt than to die of thirst and hunger in the Sinai!  And this story repeats itself over and over:  God performs a fantastic miracle on the behalf of the Israelites, they grumble and complain, God punishes them for their disbelief with all sorts of horrific disasters, such as biting poisonous snakes, they finally repent, God performs another fantastic miracle on their behalf, they complain…and the cycle starts all over again.

Either these early Jews were downright stupid…or this is a silly, ancient, superstitious, bunch of baloney, written by some clever priest in Jerusalem in the seventh century BC as secular scholars allege, for the purpose of instilling fear into the ignorant believers of his day, that they damn-well better obey God (the priests) and the authorities God has placed over them (the King) or else He is going to do something really terrible to them too!


Moses and Aaron did just as the Lord commanded. In the sight of Pharaoh and of his officials he lifted up the staff and struck the water in the river, and all the water in the river was turned into blood, 21 and the fish in the river died. The river stank so that the Egyptians could not drink its water, and there was blood throughout the whole land of Egypt. 

At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the prisoner who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock. 30 Pharaoh arose in the night, he and all his officials and all the Egyptians; and there was a loud cry in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead. 31 Then he summoned Moses and Aaron in the night, and said, “Rise up, go away from my people, both you and the Israelites! Go, worship the Lord, as you said. 32 Take your flocks and your herds, as you said, and be gone. And bring a blessing on me too!”

'Death of the Pharoah's Firstborn', Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1872

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the waters may come back upon the Egyptians, on their chariots, and on their horsemen.” 27 And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and when the morning appeared, the sea returned to its full depth, while the Egyptians were fleeing into it. So the Lord overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea. 28 Then the waters returned and covered the chariots, the horsemen, and all the army of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them. Not so much as one of them remained. 29 But the children of Israel had walked on dry land in the midst of the sea, and the waters were a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.

God's Eye View of the Parting of the Red Sea

The whole congregation of the Israelites set out from Elim; and Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 

The Israelites said to them,

“If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”



4 thoughts on “Were the early Israelites really that Stupid?

  1. You say:
    “Either these early Jews were downright stupid…or this is a silly, ancient, superstitious, bunch of baloney.”
    The “this” is/are the ten plagues of Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea etc. If they had experienced such unique events to their great benefit, why would they not trust God for their ongoing security and comfort, once freedom was attained? A stupid person acts in an unintelligent or careless manner, and we’ve doubtless all done stupid things on occasion. It’s part of the human condition to act sometimes against our own best interests, to engage brain only after we’ve hastily spoken. Israel expected God would give them in the desert something at least comparable to their memory of the past: “We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick.” (Numbers 11: 5). Instead, God was training them through hardship to later fulfil his purposes, but they were very slow learners. “And the LORD said, I have pardoned according to thy word: . . . 22Because all those men which have seen my glory, and my miracles, which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have tempted me now these ten times, and have not hearkened to my voice; 23Surely they shall not see the land which I sware unto their fathers, neither shall any of them that provoked me see it: 24But my servant Caleb, because he had another spirit with him, and hath followed me fully, him will I bring into the land whereinto he went; and his seed shall possess it. (Num 14:30)


  2. My point is that the story is unbelievable. People who just saw God part the Red Sea from one side to the other, immediately start complaining about lack of water.

    There is an obvious pattern here:

    1. God performs a great act for the benefit of the Israelites.
    2. The Israelites quickly begun to complain and doubt God.
    3. God inflicts horrible punishment on the people.
    4. The people repent.
    5. God performs another great act to bless his people.

    For this pattern to occur two or three times is believable. But only complete idiots would fail to believe in the power of this god after two or three great miracles. So what is a better explanation for this tale?

    Someone writing years later wanted to tell a story that taught the uneducated, ignorant masses that they darn well better obey God (his King and his priests) or God is going to punish them with horrific disasters…just as he did to their stubborn ancestors.


  3. then once again God hardened his heart

    So much for that whole “free will” stuff, I suppose. Moreover, if the deity described in the Bible can run around hardening people's hearts, then who's to say he hasn't hardened the hearts of nonbelievers to fulfill some incomprehensible goal of his?

    Again, once you surrender to the fact that “God” can do as he pleases, when he pleases, and it doesn't need to make sense, the floodgates of insanity are then open. “God” could wake up one day and decide that we should all kill our second born to prove our devotion to him. Who are we to question “God”, right?

    Case-in-point: Appealing to authority, unquestioningly, is an intellectual cop-out.


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