Whatever Happened to the Mixed Multitude?

Mount SinaiThe first prerequisite for receiving Torah is unity of the Jewish people. On the first day of Sivan, the Jews arrived at the mountain. The verse (Exodus 19:2) uses an unusual conjugation to describe their encampment. Rather than the plural form, here the entire camp is described in the singular. This emphasizes the need for unity at the giving of the Torah. (Rashi, Exodus 19:2)

-Rabbi Zave Rudman
“Chumash Themes #12: The Ten Commandments”

(Ex. 12:38), a class who accompanied the Israelites as they journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, the first stage of the Exodus. These were probably miscellaneous hangers-on to the Hebrews, whether Egyptians of the lower orders, or the remains of the Hyksos (see EGYPT ØT0001137; MOSES ØT0002602), as some think. The same thing happened on the return of the Jews from Babylon (Neh. 13:3), a “mixed multitude” accompanied them so far.

“Mixed multitude” definition

I don’t know what brought this to mind today, but the “mixed multitude” popped into my head. Probably because comments on several of my blog posts recently have mentioned conversion to Judaism, and that is the commonly held fate in religious Jewish opinion of this group of non-Jews who left Egypt with the Children of Israel (and possibly a similar group returned to Israel with the Hebrews at the end of the Babylonian exile).

But what happened to them? Where did they go?

I’ve been lamenting with Derek Leman lately over the loss of my “innocence” about the Bible. If scholars like Friedman are right, then the entire question may be moot because the Israelites and a group of Gentile “hangers on” may or may not have accompanied them on an exodus that may or may not be partly or completely fiction.

But setting that aside for the moment and assuming the events and people groups being described have some sort of basis in reality, I’ll go ahead and ask the question: what the heck happened to the “mixed multitude?”

The answer depends on your theology. I say that because how we interpret what the Bible is telling us is firmly rooted in what we believe about our religion.

Let’s look at Rabbi Rudman’s statement above. According to Jewish tradition, the group who accepted the Torah at Sinai were basically considered a single person; totally unified. But if that includes Hebrews and Gentiles, then their identities became fused into a single entity with no ability to differentiate. That can’t be literally true, because post-Sinai, individuals were identified as non-Jews.

Now an Israelite woman’s son, whose father was an Egyptian, went out among the people of Israel. And the Israelite woman’s son and a man of Israel fought in the camp, and the Israelite woman’s son blasphemed the Name, and cursed.

Leviticus 24:10-11 (ESV)

So national identity wasn’t obliterated after Sinai and it was recognized that the individual involved had an Israelite mother and an Egyptian father.

So were Hebrews and Gentiles fused in some other way? Midrash aside, is this even remotely likely?

Let’s take a look at some opinions:

In Exod 12:38, we read that when the Israelites left Egypt, a mixed multitude (עֵרֶב רַב) went up with them. Therefore, the question arises: Who were the mixed multitude? Interestingly, the word עֵרֶב is also attested to at the time of Nehemiah. In Neh 13:3 the term עֵרֶב is linked to Nehemiah’s reforms against intermarriages. In other texts, such as Jer 25:20; 50:37 and Ezek 30:5, the term עֵרֶב has the meaning “to take on a pledge” or “to give in pledge exchange.” In those instances, the term עֵרֶב appears in the context of war and those slain by the sword; thus, the term refers to mercenaries. A clue to the identity of the mixed multitude can also be found in Exod 13:18, where the text describes the Israelites at the time of the Exodus as חֲמֻשִׁים, a term which can have military implications. The existence of mercenaries in the ancient world is well known. They were part of David’s army and accepted as part of the Israelite nation. In this paper, we will show that the term עֵרֶב רַב in Exod 12:38 refers to mercenaries who intermarried with the Israelites and left armed with them at the time of the Exodus from Egypt.

-Shaul Bar
“Who Were The ‘Mixed Multitude’?”
Hebrew Studies (taken from the Abstract)
Vol. 49, (2008), pp. 27-39
Published by National Association of Professors in Hebrew (NAPH)
Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/27913875

many peopleThat defines the “mixed multitude” as an extremely specific group of people, in this case, mercenaries. But that might not be to everyone’s taste.

In typical fulfilment of the promise in Genesis 12:3, and no doubt induced by the signs and wonders of the Lord in Egypt to seek their good among the Israelites, a great crowd of mixed people (רב ערב) attached themselves to them, whom Israel could not shake off, although they afterwards became a snare to them (Numbers 11:4). ערב: lit., a mixture, ἐπίμικτος sc., λαός (lxx), a swarm of foreigners; called אספסף in Numbers 11:4, a medley, or crowd of people of different nations. According to Deuteronomy 29:10, they seem to have occupied a very low position among the Israelites, and to have furnished the nation of God with hewers of wood and drawers of water. – On Exodus 12:29, see Exodus 12:34.

Keil and Delitzsch Bible Commentary
referencing Exodus 12:38

That expands the identity of the “mixed multitude” from a single profession but still leaves us with a low view of this group of Gentiles who, according to this interpretation, would be nothing but trouble for the Israelites and ultimately provide the tribes with a “worker class” to perform menial labor.

Barnes’ Notes for the same verse say that they were “Probably remains of the old Semitic population, whether first brought into the district by the Hyksos or not is uncertain. As natural objects of suspicion and dislike to the Egyptians who had lately become masters of the country, they would be anxious to escape, the more especially after the calamities which preceded the Exodus.” Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible tells us “Some of these were Egyptians, and some of other nations that had resided in Egypt, and who, on various accounts, might choose to go along with the children of Israel; some through intermarriages with them, being loath to part with their relations, see Leviticus 20:10, others on account of religion, being proselytes of righteousness, and others through worldly interest, the land of Egypt being by the plagues a most desolate place; and such wonders being wrought for the children of Israel, they saw they were a people that were the favourites of heaven, and judged it safest and best and most for their interest to keep with them…”

We can’t be sure who this group of people were, but most (but not all) opinions I’ve found seem to believe they were the dregs of society, refugees who had no better place to go and nothing better to do. An uncertain future with the fleeing Israelites was better than remaining in slavery and suffering in Egypt.

Was this “rabble” raised up spiritually with the Hebrews at Sinai and became one with the covenant people of God?

We read famously in Exodus 12:38 about a mixed multitude which left Egypt with Israel. This probably reflects the idea that non-Israelite peoples left Egypt with Israel (other ideas have been suggested, but I am reading it this way). Many in the Gentile Back-to-Torah movements today (Hebrew Roots, One Law, Two House) refer often to this passage as a paradigm for their own relationship to the Jewish people. The assumption is: when Torah was given there were Gentiles present, they were included within the Torah commandments as non-Israelites, and this is a parallel to Gentile in our time who are in Messiah and who thus feel they too have been commanded to keep Torah. I wish to show in this article, referring to another aspect of the Jewish halakhah (rules of practice) for conversion, that the mixed multitude cannot be used in this manner. This mixed multitude should be regarded as joining Israel (going through conversion).

-Derek Leman
“Conversion 2: The Mixed Multitude”
Messianic Jewish Musings

mountain-morningThis is really the crux of my curiosity about this group, since they are often used, in certain minority Christian circles, as the justification for “Gentile/Christian obligation to Torah.” Leman’s opinion should be obvious to those who know his work or the general opinion of Messianic Judaism (as opposed to the various Hebrew Roots groups), so I don’t think you’ll have to guess about his conclusions.

I don’t believe the mixed multitude converted as such during the days of Moses, since the Children of Israel were tribal-based and one doesn’t convert to a tribe. Even after the Babylonian exile (see Cohen), the Israelites returned to their land as clan-based groups and as yet did not have a well-defined (or defined at all) concept of conversion (Conversion is a recognized process by the time we reach the Second Temple period). The closest I think we can come is that anyone who wanted to stay with the Israelites had to live like the Israelites, but they were still not members of a tribe or later, a clan. They were a group of “gerim” who lived alongside the Israelites but who didn’t become Israelites.

Leman continues:

So, let’s consider the mixed multitude which left Egypt with Israel. What happened to them? We do not hear about their continuing existence as a group of people. They did not remain Gentiles within Israel. They became Israelites (like Caleb did). They were absorbed into the people of Israel (exactly like modern converts are absorbed into the people of Israel). And they submitted to the same covenant ceremony as the Israelites (and as converts do today).

I suppose to a degree it seems as if I’m disagreeing with Leman, since he says the “mixed multitude” did, in a sense, convert and disappear into the tribes. Yes, they disappeared, but having no tribal identity, how did they manage it? Assuming the Gentiles living among Israel intermarried with various members of the tribes, their children, and grandchildren, and later descendants would have taken on tribal identity and then the Gentiles would have vanished. Presumably if a later group of Gentiles left Babylon with the Jewish clans, they too would have intermarried (or been subsequently evicted, see Ezra 10) and then their descendants would have adopted clan identification and their history as Gentiles would have been lost to history and time.

Can we use their example, Gentiles living alongside Jews and performing the same mitzvot, as a model for Christianity and Christian obligation to Torah today? I seriously doubt it. The social and organizational conditions that required the mixed multitude to take on a status very similar to widows and orphans who had to tribal inheritance to lands in Israel no longer exists. Jews have long since ceased to be a tribal people and Judaism no longer recognizes that process as a valid method of accepting non-Jews within their community. Instead, a formal conversion process is now in place.

Also, what about Jesus?

Oh yeah, remember him?

Yes, that was a tad snarky, but to deny that Jesus gives all people among the nations a covenant relationship with God (the process is complicated and frankly, not well-defined theologically), is to deny Jesus entirely.

The story of the mixed multitude, in any meaningful theological sense, is no longer relevant. This process is one that passed away because it is no longer necessary. That’s not the same as saying that Jewish obligation to the mitzvot has passed away, nor is it a supersessionistic pronouncement. The Messianic reality of Jesus just makes the status of the ancient gerim completely anachronistic for the modern Christian, and it has been so for at least 2,000 years, and probably for a good deal longer.

moshiach-ben-yosefI know I’ve been writing a lot about all this lately, and I will continue to do so (at least for tomorrow and the next day), but in elevating the status of the ancient ger as a role model and template for the modern Christian is to say we must strip ourselves of the blood of Jesus, so to speak, and undo everything that he has done for us. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul strongly discouraged the Gentile believers from converting formally to Judaism as a means of attaining righteousness before God. It was completely unnecessary for that purpose.

Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

Galatians 5:2-6 (ESV)

This is not to say that conversion to Judaism was forbidden in Paul’s eyes and it’s likely that some believers did convert. But in those days, there was no dissonance between being Jewish (born or converted) and discipleship under Yeshua (Jesus) as Messiah. Today, it’s problematic, since virtually any legitimate conversion process to Judaism requires the individual involved to renounce all other religious allegiances (specifically Christianity).

In many of my other blog posts, I say that remaining Gentile Christians and being drawn to the Torah is not a problem. We can indeed go beyond our obligations and voluntarily take on many of the mitzvot. It doesn’t make us Jews. It doesn’t make us Israelites. It makes us Christians who have solidarity with the Jewish people and who, alongside them, strive to encourage and support the return of the Jews to the Torah, to the Land, and to summon the Moshiach, may he come soon and in our days.

As for the mixed multitude…I hate to say it, but they’re old news. That dinosaurs once existed and were a necessary presence in their time and place doesn’t mean that they have relevancy in our modern world. A lot has changed since then.

Final note: This is my 700th blog post for Morning Meditations. If God is willing, they will continue for another 700 and beyond.

14 thoughts on “Whatever Happened to the Mixed Multitude?”

  1. You, son of man, take one stick, and write on it, For Yehudah, and for the children of Yisra’el his companions: then take another stick, and write on it, For Yosef, the stick of Efrayim, and [for] all the house of Yisra’el his companions: and join them for you one to another into one stick, that they may become one in your hand.
    When the children of your people shall speak to you, saying, Will you not show us what you mean by these? tell them, Thus says the YHWH Elohim: Behold, I will take the stick of Yosef, which is in the hand of Efrayim, and the tribes of Yisra’el his companions; and I will put them with it, [even] with the stick of Yehudah, and make them one stick, and they shall be one in my hand. Ezekiel 37.

    Another mixed multitude?

    I suppose I could paste in the entire chapter 2 of Ephesians, but it probably isn’t necessary.
    Joining together different people into one faith is the resultant work of Messiah Yeshua. But rather than remaining simply mixed together and separate, they become one in Him.

    Trying to separate His people after they become one in Him is not a good plan. But I’m sure that those who do such things are quite convinced that that is not what they are doing. And there is mercy for us all. Because we all need His mercy and His grace to help in time of need.

  2. I suppose it depends on how you define being “one in the Kingdom of God.” Does it mean a single, homogeneous identity, or different identities within a single context (man and woman, slave and free, Jew and Gentile). As far as Ephesians goes, being “one in Christ” doesn’t imply a single, fused identity, so a wife is still a female and a husband is still a male with all of the obvious biological and role differences intact.

    I’m not clear from your example, Russ. Are you suggesting that the “mixed multitude” is somehow “Yisra’el” while the Jews are “Yehudah,” or are you using that portion of scripture metaphorically (text-based communications are significantly limiting)?

    The primary point of my little missive is to illustrate that the “mixed multitude” of Gentiles who left Egypt with the Israelites eventually assimilated and disappeared into the tribes, never to be heard from again, and that their example can’t apply to how we see Gentiles being or not being obligated to the full number of Torah mitzvot.

  3. I’m a little surprised that you resorted to a straw man for the “one in Messiah” language in the new covenant writings.

    No, I used that text to illustrate the condition of the two houses when the regathering takes place. The stick of Yosef in the hand of Efrayim. Where is Efrayim when the whole house of Israel is being gathered? I don’t believe that the text is metaphorical at all. I believe that it is very literal.

    I also believe that the “mixed multitude” that accompanied Israel into the wilderness eventually blended in with the tribes and became just as indistinguishable from the native born as Efrayim would later become indistinguishable from the nations to which they were dispersed. Not all of course, so let’s not do the 100% thing. But the scriptural point is well made.

    Trying to understand the motives of the hearts of people who lived many thousands of years ago is a daunting task at best. Why did those “others” leave Egypt and follow the children of Israel into the wilderness? I certainly don’t know and I am not comfortable guessing.

    Yes, I agree, text based communications are difficult.

  4. And no, the text you chose does not demonstrate at all whatever obligation those who followed Israel had in regards to Torah observance.

    And since we are all now under a new covenant, what are the obligations and how they relate directly to Torah? Is there a difference? Does there need to be?

  5. First of all Russ, I didn’t think “being one in Messiah” was a straw man argument but rather an observation.

    As far as the new covenant goes, I assume you’re referring to Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36. I’ve explored that quite a bit but it still seems mysterious, and after nine blog posts on the topic, I still feel I haven’t scratched the surface of its implications. I did have a certain amount of success in grasping the Abrahamic covenant as it is applied to the Jewish people and the nations, but I’ve still got a long way to go.

    Is there a difference? Does there need to be?

    Depends on who you ask. Moses Christians and most Jews see that there is a difference, not in quality, but in type and function between these two groups. To the degree that Christianity and many other forces have historically tried to eliminate the Jewish people physically as well as their distinctiveness (by burning Torah scrolls, Talmud volumes, siddurim, and synagogues), by now, they tend to take it personally whenever anyone asks why they have to be different.

    The question then becomes, did God always intend the Jewish people to be distinct, even in some regard from the nations who He would also call to Himself through Messiah.

    Of course, this is a little off the beaten path from the topic of the Mixed Multitude, but given the purpose for which I wrote my missive, not too far off.

    I’ll have to re-read the relevant parts of Boaz’s book Twelve Gates. I recall the primary explanation for what happened to the “lost” ten tribes from the book, but my early morning memory (still working on my first cup of coffee) doesn’t recall Ezekiel 37.

  6. “It doesn’t make us Jews. It doesn’t make us Israelites.”

    James, a short time ago you said Yeshua was Jewish and would return Jewish and forever be an Israelite. I think so too. But, when he marries a gentile what does she become? I was wondering if King Soloman’s wives became Israelites. What about their children? Were the King of Israels wives subject to Torah no matter if they were born Israelites or Gentiles?

    We know his wives did not keep Torah and turned his heart away from G-d. Was this because he did not marry ladies like unto Ruth who took on the ways of the King?

    I know this may not seem directly relevant to the mixed multitude, but didn’t the King marry a mixed multitude and can we learn something from it? If the Gentiles, which are a mixed multitude, (though not the same mixed multitude that came out of Egypt) do not keep Torah…..will they turn the heart of Israel away from the Torah?

    Perhaps Yeshua is Jewish and will return Jewish and we “the bride” will be like Ruth and say “your people will be my people and your ways will be my ways”. Is that possible?

    This is what G-d said to me when he called me out of the world. “I change not, but you can change. If you want to be with me you must become like Yeshua”. So, I left the world to follow Yeshua. But, he is a Jew. Considering King Solomon, will the bride of Messiah become like the King or will she turn his heart away from G-d?

  7. There’s two ways of looking at this: One is that the marriage imagery is metaphorical. After all, the Jewish Messiah King isn’t literally going to marry every single man, woman, and child who are his covenant disciples, to “being married” breaks down at some point.

    Two is that by the time history reaches the events we see in Revelation 22 everything that we know now really will have passed away. I mean, I believe that there will be a Third Temple, but by Rev. 22 there is no Temple.

    Traditional Christianity tends to believe that the “old order” has already passed away and the new one is completely in place. What if everything is in motion and in the very, very slow process of passing away, but actually won’t until God once again dwells with humanity in Gan Eden? Then the distinctions problem at that far future point in time will no longer be an issue.

    I’m just saying it’s an issue now and probably will be for the foreseeable future as we understand it.

  8. ” After all, the Jewish Messiah King isn’t literally going to marry every single man, woman, and child who are his covenant disciples, to “being married” breaks down at some point.”

    So, you don’t believe Israel is “married to G-d” it is only a metaphor? But, what is marriage but a covenant, and isn’t marriage just a picture of the mystery of Messiah and his Bride?

    You have said in the past that G-d is in covenant through Abraham with every man, woman, and child of Israel. Why can’t the Jewish Messiah King be in covenant (marriage) with every single man, woman, and child in the Kingdom?

  9. My understanding it that “marriage” is metaphorical for both the covenant relationship and the intimacy God has with Israel. In my previous response, I was trying to be overly-literal and paint a picture of each individual person standing at the altar with Jesus getting married, which isn’t particularly what happened between Israel and God nor will happen between Jesus and the church.

    About the closest thing we come to seeing a “wedding ceremony” is when we see the Children of Israel standing at the foot of Sinai receiving the Torah. But that doesn’t mean that Moshe, Aaron, Miryam, or Joshua as individual human beings were literally “wives” to God their “husband” in the way that a man and woman are a husband and wife to each other. It’s an illustration of covenant closeness.

    As I recall (without looking it up…OK, I looked it up) the wedding of Christ and his “bride” the church has yet to take place (Revelation 19:7-9; 21:1-2). Maybe after that, what we think of as covenant obligation will change but to the best of my knowledge, it’s an event that hasn’t happened yet (although the Book of Revelation and when different events occur is highly debatable).

    This is also a problem of taking one slice of scripture and trying to make it mean a whole bunch of things. Can we use the “bride of Christ” imagery to tell us that all Christians are equally obligated to the Torah of Moses as the Jewish people?

    As I’ve said before, if you or anyone else wants to take on additional mitzvot beyond what is normally (in my opinion) required. there’s nothing stopping you at all as long as you (or anyone else) don’t run roughshod over Jewish identity so as to make Jewish covenant uniqueness meaningless.

    I’m going to try to write another “meditation” soon that leverages some information about Galatians I’ve just gained access to. Hopefully, that’ll make my point more clear. I know there’s a lot of ambiguity of opinion relative to Gentile Christians and the Torah and interestingly enough, that ambiguity may be deliberate on God’s part.

    We’ll see.

  10. Wow, yeah OK my comments (made prior to reading this) we’re undone pretty well. LOL, as to the depth & brevity of this, a lot to consider. I think I was doing OK till the comments exchange, my brain is hurting so I’m going to allow all of this to “pend” & sink in for a bit. Sometimes I wonder, do we need to seek & know all that we attempt to? I mean, yes… we should be in His Word regularly, but do we sometimes go to far? My best example of this is the 3 main “ism’s”, all 3 although being about “who” is saved, agree for the need of Jesus now, but sadly seem to make there “ism” seem “mandatory” when it indeed isn’t, even by their own admission when pushed. I personally love digging in and really enjoy the journey that your on, I encourage you to “keep up the good work”, while at the same time I wonder where & when do we say “His ways are not my ways, my ways are not His ways” and I will not “get” it all. I fear that we as humans are by our very (fallen) nature “need to know” types and are set on drawing a conclusion no matter what. As you said, our experience / opinion will play in to our ideas. I’ve done a couple of writings on how our own personal “lens” affects all that we process mentally, even when looking at others lives & situations, we draw our assessment(s) based on our own background, experience, & knowledge, which very well may be WAY off & different from the person whom we’re “analyzing”, this would be even more deeply / rooted & true as to spiritual & religious matters.

  11. Do we “need” to? Well, as far as serving God and other human beings, probably not. I mean, you could go along just fine feeding the hungry, comforting those in grief, and serving God and human beings and never, ever enter into these discussions and controversies. I suspect that there are many people special to God who do just that and who are not even tempted to visit the blogosphere.

    But it’s not as if these topics shouldn’t be discussed, if for no other reason, than the Christian and Messianic Jewish worlds do intersect and, if I’m write, they will continue to intersect, and we will each encounter each other in greater and more significant ways. If we Christians are to fulfill our special calling from God to the Jews, we must be aware of the specifics of our relationship to each other.

    To do that, we must not only study, but exchange information, and the latter can challenge long-held convictions and beliefs, and definitely move us out of our comfort zones.

    But who ever said serving God and trying to understand His purposes was supposed to be comfortable?

  12. Agreed, and note I wasn’t saying to ignore or neglect His Word, just are there times that maybe we seek more than is there. Do our motive & purpose matter? I’ve noted in some other discussions it’s often seemed driven by proving one wrong more than anything else. Seems often times these matters / discussions can become prideful (I’m not saying that is the case here), actually, quite the opposite, as I’d noted previously I like that you are open, learning, growing and that everything isn’t “set in concrete”. Yes there are those that are very works / deeds driven, sadly they are also often so in neglect of the Word that they draw their own beliefs based on feelings alone. I’m sure there are also those who just “do” and leave the rest alone.

  13. I’ve noted in some other discussions it’s often seemed driven by proving one wrong more than anything else.

    It’s the nature of the blogosphere.

    Do our motives matter? Well, yes and no. It’s great if our motives match what we know is right, but in the case (for example) of two people donating to a food bank, once cheerfully (the Lord loves a cheerful giver) and one grudgingly, the net result is that people get fed. That said, it is still better to conform our thoughts, feelings, and actions to the will of God.

  14. The early followers of Yeshua called themselves “the way”. Orthodox bibles translate them as: Ma’aminim HaMeshichiyim (believers Messianic). The term “Christian” meant “cretin” and was used initially by the Romans to demean. Gentile means pagan/heathen so there are zero pagan believers in Yeshua. It is my stance that we become a part of the family of Yeshua and are adopted into the tribe of Judah. The horde, the multitude became Beni Israel. Believers who follow Yeshua want to emulate him and follow the Torah out of obedience to Adonai. We who follow Yeshua are Beni Israel.

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