In Exodus 17 we meet the Israelites camped at Rephidim after leaving the wilderness of sin

Exodus 17:1 NASB

17 Then all the congregation of the sons of Israel journeyed by [a]stages from the wilderness of Sin, according to the [b]command of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim, and there was no water for the people to drink.

In Exodus 18 we are told that Jethro the father in law of Moses visited him while he was already camped at the mount of God

Exodus 18:5 NASB

5 Then Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, came with his sons and his wife to Moses [e]in the wilderness where he was camped, at the mount of God.

But it is only in the opening verses of Exodus 19 where we are told that Moses and the Israelites left Rephidim and came to the mount of God on the first day of the third month.

Exodus 19:1-2 NASB

In the third month after the sons of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, [a]on that very day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. 2 When they set out from Rephidim, they came to the wilderness of Sinai and camped in the wilderness; and there Israel camped in front of the mountain

Is there a chronological issue?.

  • 1
    It might be helpful if the down-voters were to, briefly, make a comment and explain the narrative for the OP.
    – Nigel J
    Sep 11, 2020 at 13:15
  • @NigelJThank you i don't understand the down vote Sep 11, 2020 at 13:26
  • I've counter-acted one of the votes for you. I have yet to look at the chapters and see if I am also confused.
    – Nigel J
    Sep 11, 2020 at 13:28
  • 1
    Would you consider Genesis 1:26-28 and 5:1-3 to also constitute a chronological issue, for instance ?
    – Lucian
    Sep 11, 2020 at 19:43
  • How is it fair to ask whether there's a chronological issue, without explaining upon what that might depend? Aug 26, 2022 at 23:09

2 Answers 2


There is no chronological issue, but there is a personal interlude with Jethro's visit to Moses.

In Chapter 17, they arrive at Rephidim and make camp there ("pitched in rephidim", KJV). All the verbs here are wayiqtol, also known as "narrative past tense". There are no translation issues.

While they are pitched at Rephidim, a bunch of stuff happens, as described in Chapters 17-18:

Chapter 17: action at Rephidim

  • complain about lack of water, Moses smites the rock
  • Then they were attacked by the Amalekites (this tends to happen immediately after they complain). Moses goes up with Aaron and Hur, to pray for victory.
  • Then Moses builds an altar to celebrate Joshua's defeat of the Amalekites

In Chapter 17, they are still at Rephidim. At some point they leave Rephidim and arrive at the mount.

Chapter 18: Jethro visits while they are at the mount.

  • Then Jethro's father in law arrives with Moses wife and two kids, greets Moses when the community is encamped by the mount, hears all the news and offers a burnt offering to the Lord

Here is the WBC commentary on the mount reference in which they conclude that this does not happen after the theophany in chapter 19:

“The mountain of God” at which Moses and Israel are camped and to which Jethro comes with Moses’ wife and sons is Sinai/Horeb, as the use of the same phrase at 3:1; 4:27; and 24:13 makes clear. Whatever the time of Jethro’s rendezvous, the place quite appropriately is the mountain of the supreme revelation of Yahweh’s Presence. If indeed this meeting took place after the theophany of chap. 19 and the covenant-making of chap. 24 (see Form/Structure/Setting) some more direct reference to those momentous events might be expected here. Durham, J. I. (1987). Exodus (Vol. 3, p. 243). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

  • Then Jethro suggests that Moses delegates some authority to lighten the load. Moses agrees and then Jethro departs.

Chapter 19: Theophany

Now Chapter 19 ends the interlude with Moses and his personal life, and focuses the attention back on the Israelite community, specifying exactly when Moses went up to the mount. As part of that intro, there is a parenthetical remark that by the way, they had already left Rephidim and arrived at the mount.

Ex 19.1-2 (LEB)

In the third month, when the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt, the same day came they into the wilderness of Sinai. For they were departed from Rephidim, and were come to the desert of Sinai, and had pitched in the wilderness; and there Israel camped before the mount.

What may be tripping you up is the parenthetical remark. Here is the WBC translation, with the paranthetical remark in bold

In the third month of the exodus of the sons of Israel from the land of Egypt, on the very day they came to the wilderness of Sinai—they had journeyed forth from Rephidim and come to the wilderness of Sinai, where they pitched camp: indeed, Israel had pitched camp in sight of the mountain— Moses went up towards God. Durham, J. I. (1987). Exodus (Vol. 3, p. 256). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.


Perhaps it is simply a matter of the verb tense used in Exodus 19.

The quoted NASB uses simple past tense, which tends to indicate a continuation of the present (from the point of view of when the events are happening).

But other translations word it differently:

  • KJV: For they were departed from Rephidim, and were come to the desert of Sinai, and had pitched in the wilderness; and there Israel camped before the mount.
  • NKJV: For they had departed from Rephidim, had come to the Wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness. So Israel camped there before the mountain.
  • WEB: For they were departed from Rephidim, and were come to the desert of Sinai, and had pitched in the wilderness;
  • HNV: When they had departed from Refidim, and had come to the wilderness of Sinai, they encamped in the wilderness; and there Yisra'el encamped before the mountain.

19:2 uses "were departed" or "had departed", which indicates something that happened in the past (from the point of view of when the events are happening). If that's true, then 19:1–2 is simply a flashback indicating how Israel had already moved from Rephidim to the mountain.

My knowledge of Hebrew isn't great, so I can't confirm that conclusion, but I can see that the verb tenses in that verse are different:

  • "departed", "came", and "camped" are qal imperfect verbs.
  • In the next verse, "And Moses went up unto God", the verb "went up" is a qal perfect verb.

Someone more knowledgeable than I can say whether this is a valid interpretation or nonsense.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.