It is easy to imagine that this word would suggest "by fifties" or, more generally, in large groups, or even "in an regimented way like an army," but on what grounds do so many English versions turn this into "equipped for battle,"armed," and "ready for battle"?
The basis for those translations is that that's what the word means. Au contraire, "fifties" is a tenuous-at-best translation that is grammatically unnatural and contextually unnecessary.
The only appearances of the word in this format, all of which clearly mean "armed" are:
Joshua 1:14, 4:12 (contextually draw from Numbers 32)
It's worth mentioning that other uses of a potentially related root can be found at:
Samuel II 2:23, 3:27, 4:6, 20:10
There is room to look for a connection to the root "five" (probably not "fifty" though, despite the fact that there are military titles referencing the leaders of "fifties" in the Tanakh). Gesenius presents such a connection but favours the similarity to other words in both Hebrew and other languages that have no connection. He has a lovely line where he laments that the "etymology ... has been long sought for".
Because the word "chamisjim" is translated by Google Translate as "fifty" it has exactly the same meaning as the Arabian word "chamsin", that is the modern name for the eastern desert storm over Sinaï. The number fifty refers to the period in days when that Chamsin can be expected each year. Assuming that in Biblical times that storm was also known under that name in Hebrew language, the road of the Exodus was indicated as "the road of the desert of Jam Suf and Chamisjim (or the Reed Sea and the Eastern Storm)". Because the Hebrew text has no dots or comma 's to separate the two sentences of Exodus 13 : 18 this looks like a correct translation, even if it does not fit to the traditional interpretation of this text.It indicates that the children of Israel traveled in eastern direction, not through the Red sea, but through Lake Bardawil at the Mediterranian coast.
Friedrich Weinrebb also tells chamushim must literally be translated as 'with five' or 'one fifth (1/5th). he suggest that Jewish oral traditions speaks of only 1/5 of all Israel exits Egypt en 4/5 of them staying there. he suggests that 80% thaught egypt was better than the desert and a unknown future.
this 1/5th is also the ratio which Joseph applies to save egypt from starvation. he puts aside 1/5th of all grain. ...
If the Israelite's were prepared for battle they must have had weapons. Unless we can establish that they had such, translating the word chamushim as battle may be erroneous unless the intention was to declare a spiritual war in that God intervened in the natural order and showed HIS power through the Israelites. As they were slaves we are to assume that they did not have weapons. There is the possibility though that they took weapons when they plundered the Egyptians. Did this plunder include weapons?
Exodus 12:35-36 The Israelites did as Moses instructed and asked the Egyptians for articles of silver and gold and for clothing. 36 The Lord had made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and they gave them what they asked for; so they plundered the Egyptians.
To be prepared for "Battle" one must have weapons, but it is not clear from the context here whether they did or not.
In Exodus 12:40 we read:
40 Now the length of time the Israelite people lived in Egypt was 430 years. 41 At the end of the 430 years, to the very day, all the Lord’s divisions left Egypt. 42 Because the Lord kept vigil that night to bring them out of Egypt, on this night all the Israelites are to keep vigil to honor the Lord for the generations to come.
The word divisions here in verse 40 may shed some light on the translation of Chamushim. Or it may not. Does the word divisions indicate a milatary type of state or is it just a reference to the nature of the company leaving Egypt i.e the families of the Israelites(the twelve tribes) and the others that went with them
There were about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children. 38*** Many other people went up with them***, and also large droves of livestock, both flocks and herds.
Again here we have a military type statement, "There were six hundred thousand men on foot", is this a statement of strength, then a statement of battle readiness! So, The Israelites went up out of Egypt ready for battle.
So we have a number of scriptures that together give the impression that the Israelites were set up for battle and were about to engage other nations in Battle. Indeed when we trace the wanderings of Israel in the wilderness we see that they were a battling nation.
The question then is, did the translators base their translation of this word 'chamushim' on what they understood of the whole context of Exodus and Israels mission or did they find justification for the word, battle, as an accurate translation from the context of this single verse, where this word in hebrew, 'chamushim', is in dispute, namely Exodus 13:18.
The language experts may shed some light for you and me.
Personally I believe from the context that the Israelites were armed. As well as Gold and other articles they plundered weapons and Armour. So they were armed and ready for therefore for battle. This taken with the fact that we know what transpired in the rest of their time in the wilderness, whereby they did concur nations and subdue peoples, compels us to believe that when the Israelites left Egypt they left ready for battle!
We could say also that the battle that ensued with Israel leaving Egypt was the battle of all battles for God did raise up a people His own people to declare the Law and will of God as preeminent in creation. It was the beginning of the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham, that his descendants would be as the stars of the heavens for number. In Egypt under slavery the Lord had built his weapon to destroy the evil one and at the exodus that weapon went forth to display the will and power of God Almighty. When the red sea parted God declared His sovereignty over all things. It was a battle cry from the Hight of Heaven to the depths of Earth when Israel stepped into the sea on dry land, they walked with God and any man that walks with God does make war in this World for He "Did not come to bring peace but a sword"
Matthew 10:34 New International Version (NIV) 34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.
So yes when Israel left Egypt they went out ready for battle