The Israelites in Egypt
In the first week of August 2017, I taught my course on Islam and the geopolitics of the Middle East to a group of 9 people in Seattle, WA. I taught the course in five days, eight hours a day. At one point on the fourth day in the course, there was some confusion in our discussion about the length of time that the Israelites were enslaved and in bondage in Egypt before the Exodus.
On the morning of the fifth day, the last day of the course, I had an encouraging thought: Why don’t I ask those gifted men and women in the class to help me figure out the answer, and I did. One of them sent me this link that provided me with a helpful distinction between the schematic vs. historical approaches in looking at the dates and durations.
Another person in my course sent me a link to another important and scholarly article. Both articles did not address adequately my burning question which had to do with the length of period of slavery and bondage before the Exodus. On the other hand, both articles helped me make sense of the different texts in the Scriptures regarding the length of periods from to the call of Abraham till Jacob and his family moved to Egypt, and from that time to the Exodus. Different texts in the Bible, as you will see in the article below, give different numbers of years.
The long article below, in very few sentences, tried to address my question regarding the time of slavery and bondage in Egypt, but the answer regarding that particular issue did not satisfy me.
In the last few chapters in Genesis at the time of Joseph, we find that the Israelites in Egypt were given land and allotments, while most of the Egyptians were losing their land, their livestock and were reduced to servitude or slavery to the Pharoah in a feudal system. So, the Israelites and the families of the Egyptian priests were experiencing a tale-wind advantage in contrast to the majority of the Egyptians who were experiencing a head-wind disadvantage in recovering from the great depression of the seven years of starvation. According to Exodus 1:6-11, two hundred and fifteen years after the arrival of Jacob and his family into Egypt: “Now Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died, but the Israelites were exceedingly fruitful; they multiplied greatly, increased in numbers and became so numerous that the land was filled with them. Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. "Look," he said to his people, "the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country." So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh.”
According to Exodus 1:11, the beginning of the real slavery came towards the end of the 215 years in Egypt or towards the end of the 430 years since the call to Abraham. Some people say that the bondage started with Abraham’s call and therefore it was 430 years long. Furthermore, Genesis 15:13 says: “Then the LORD said to him, ‘Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there.’” From what we see in Genesis’ final chapters and Exodus 1, were the Israelites enslaved and mistreated for four hundred years? How do we resolve this seeming paradox? They were estranged for about 430 years since Abraham’s call, but for how long were they enslaved and in bondage?
Here is the text of the second scholarly article in this blog and both articles are very much worth reading. The source of this article is: 2002 Apologetics Press, Inc. I think that the title should be changed to a title that truly describes the contents of the article. The title of the article should have been “How Long Was the Israelites’ Presence in Egypt”rather than what you see in the article below.
How Long Was the Israelites’ Egyptian Bondage?
by Kyle Butt, M.Div. Alden Bass Bert Thompson, Ph.D.
 In Galatians 3:17, the apostle Paul stated that the Law of Moses (which was given shortly after the Israelites’ exit from Egypt) came 430 years after God had made His covenant with Abraham. However, Moses stated in Exodus 12:40-41 that the children of Israel dwelt in Egypt 430 years. How can both passages be correct when it seems clear from a straightforward reading of biblical chronology that a minimum of 215 years passed between the time God made His covenant with Abraham and the time the Israelites (through Jacob) entered Egypt—thus making it appear that the Israelites had to have been in Egypt 645 years (215 + 430)?
 Additionally, information in 1 Chronicles 6:1, 1 Chronicles 23:6-13, and Exodus 6:16-20 allows for a maximum time period of 352 years. How, then, can it be stated that the Israelites were in Egypt 430 years?
 Furthermore, in Genesis 15:13 Moses explained that the Israelites would be “sojourners in a land that is not theirs” for “400 years,” and Stephen used the same figure in his speech in Acts 7:6 when he said that the Israelites would be brought “into bondage” and treated evil “for 400 years.” What is the truth of the matter? How, exactly, do all these passages fit together? How many years were the children of Israel in Egypt?
[i]The Exodus of the Hebrews from the hands of their cruel Egyptian taskmasters is one of the most triumphant stories in Old Testament history. This event was the beginning of Israel’s rise to power, and proved to the then-known world that the living God had chosen the descendants of Abraham as the people through whom He would bring the Messiah. The Exodus and its aftermath were so monumental, in fact, that it virtually overshadowed the history of the previous centuries.
But the exact length of the Israelites’ “sojourn” has been in the past, and remains today, a matter of some controversy. Certain biblical passages (e.g., Genesis 15:13 and Acts 7:6) seem to indicate a length of 400 years for the time period under consideration. Elsewhere (e.g., Exodus 12:40-41) the length of time appears to be 430 years. Still other information (e.g., 1 Chronicles 6:1, 1 Chronicles 23:6-13, and Exodus 6:16-20) places an upper limit of approximately 350 years on the time frame involved. In an article written more than thirty years ago (“The Duration of the Egyptian Bondage”), chronologist Harold W. Hoehner observed: “When one looks at the various passages of Scripture concerning the length of Israel’s bondage in Egypt, one immediately discovers that there are apparent disagreements in the biblical record” (1969, 126:306). In his discussion on Exodus 12:40-41, renowned commentator Adam Clarke noted: “The statement in this verse is allowed on all hands to be extremely difficult, and therefore the passage stands in especial need of illustration” (n.d., p. 358). Albert Barnes took the same position in regard to Acts 7:6 when he wrote in his commentary on that book: “Great perplexity has been experienced in explaining this passage, or reconciling it with other statements” (1949a, p. 121). Those “other statements” to which Barnes referred are the passages mentioned in the above questions. Can the “apparent disagreements” between these passages be resolved?
Yes, they can. However, some background information on each of these passages is required in order to understand the problems posed by the three questions above—and the solutions that we plan to propose.
First, we need to address the suggestion that there was a minimum of 215 years between God’s promise to Abraham and the entrance of the Israelites (through Jacob) into Egypt. Such a suggestion is correct. Various writers (e.g.: Barnes, 1949b, p. 343; Duncan, n.d., p. 4; Hoehner, 1969, 126:308-309; Mauro, n.d., pp. 26-27) have explained how the 215-year figure can be obtained quite readily from Scripture. By way of summary, the information appears as follows:
Later in this discussion, we will return to the problem of the alleged 430 years of Egyptian bondage supposedly having to be added to that 215-year period. But for the present, we would like to examine the problem of the limitation placed on the Egyptian sojourn by information found in such passages as 1 Chronicles 6:1, 1 Chronicles 23:6-13, and Exodus 6:16-20. Again, by way of summary, the information gleaned from these texts is as follows:
1. The text in Genesis 46:11 indicates that Kohath, the son of Levi and grandfather of Moses, apparently was born prior to Jacob moving to Egypt with his sons (Genesis 46:11). If he had just been born at the time, and if he sired his son Amram the last day of his life, then Amram could have been born no later than 134 years after the entrance into Egypt (rounding a 9-month pregnancy upward to a full year) because Kohath lived only 133 years (Exodus 6:18).
2. Amram (the father of Moses) lived 137 years (Exodus 6:20). If he had sired Moses the last day of his life, then Moses would have been born no more than 272 years after Jacob and his sons entered Egypt (133 +1 + 137 + 1 = 272).
3. Moses was 80 years old when Israel came out of Egypt (Exodus 7:7).
4. Add that 80 to the 272, and the total is a maximum of 352 years. As Barnes noted: “From the account which Moses has given of the lives of certain persons, it would seem clear that...the whole time thus mentioned, including the time in which the father lived after his son, was only three hundred and fifty years” (1949a, p. 121, emp. in orig.). Thus the suggestion that these passages “allow for a maximum time period of 352 years” also is correct.
5. Additional information that delimits the number of years of the sojourn can be derived from a source completely independent of Kohath—Moses’ mother, Jochebed. The Bible mentions her twice, the first instance being Exodus 6:20: “And Amram took him Jochebed his father’s sister to wife; and she bare him Aaron and Moses: and the years of the life of Amram were a hundred and thirty and seven years.” Jochebed is named a second time in Numbers 26:59: “And the name of Amram’s wife was Jochebed, the daughter of Levi, who was born to Levi in Egypt: and she bare unto Amram Aaron and Moses, and Miriam their sister.”
Clearly, Jochebed (who was born in Egypt) was the daughter of Levi, the sister of Kohath. With this information before us, let’s “crunch the numbers.” Eleven of Jacob’s sons were born within a sevenyear period. Remember that as a bachelor, Jacob worked seven years for Laban in order to “pay” for Rachel, but was tricked by Laban into marrying Leah. Then, he worked for seven more years in order to marry Rachel. At the end of this second seven years, he asked to depart from Laban with all of the children who had been born to him and his wives (Genesis 30:25). With Levi being the third son of Jacob/Leah (allowing approximately one year for the births of Reuben, Simeon, and Levi), he could have been only about four years older than Joseph, who was born near the end of the seven-year period. As Joseph was 39 when Jacob came into Egypt (he was 30 when he appeared before Pharaoh [Genesis 41:46], plus seven years of plenty, plus one more year before the famine was realized), Levi could not have been more than 44 or 45 when he came into Egypt. Levi lived in Egypt for 93 years (age at his death was 137 [Exodus 6:16], minus 44 [his age when he went into Egypt], which equals 93). If Levi had conceived Jochebed on the very last day of his life, then Jochebed would have had to given birth to Moses when she was 257 years old in order to get a period of 430 years for the sojourn in Egypt (93 years that Levi lived in Egypt, plus Moses’ 80 years (Exodus 7:7) when he arrived to deliver the children of Israel—93+80+257=430). Recalling the fact that Sarah was only 90 when the miraculous birth of Isaac occurred, it makes little sense to suggest that Jochebed gave birth to Moses when she was almost three times as old as Sarah! Furthermore, we know that life spans were far shorter than 257 by this time, and that the 430-year sojourn does not (and cannot) fit with the genealogies—either through Kohath or through Jochebed.
Where, then, do the figures of 430 years and 400 years fit into all of this? Were the Israelites in Egypt 645 years? Or 430 years? Or 400 years? Or 215 years?
As we attempt to provide the answers to such questions, let us point out that no one has stepped forward to suggest that the Israelites were in Egypt for 645 years. Such a view is indefensible in light of the biblical evidence, including (but not necessarily limited to) the scripturally imposed time limit mentioned above of 352 years. There are, however, two major viewpoints regarding the specific length of Israel’s sojourn. The first suggests that the Israelites actually lived in Egypt for 430 years. This view has been adopted by Archer (1994, pp. 205-212), Keil and Delitzsch (1974, 2:29), Kitchen (1966, pp. 53-56), and Unger (1954, pp. 106,150), among others. Yet, as David Rohl observed in his book, Pharaohs and Kings: A Biblical Quest:
In most commentaries or popular books on the Old Testament you will read that the Israelite Sojourn in the land of Egypt lasted four hundred and thirty years. However, this figure is by no means certain. In fact, there is clear evidence that the period of the Sojourn was no more than two hundred fifteen years (1995, p. 329).
Dr. Rohl is correct on both counts. The idea which suggests that the Israelites spent 430 years in Egypt is presented in “most commentaries or popular books on the Old Testament.” Nevertheless, there is “clear evidence” that the Israelites were in Egypt for only 215 years, not 430.
[We will deal with the matter of the “400 years” of Genesis 15:13 and Acts 7:6 at a later point in this article, since it turns out 8/10/2017 Apologetics Press - How Long Was the Israelites’ Egyptian Bondage? http://apologeticspress.org/apPubPage.aspx?pub=1&issue=519&article=494 to be a separate issue altogether.]
This, then, is the second major view regarding the length of the sojourn, and has been adopted by such scholars as Barnes (n.d., p. 121), Clarke (n.d., 1:358), Henry (n.d., 1:322), Mauro (n.d., pp. 31-32), Rohl (1995, pp. 329-332), and Thiele (1963, pp. 166-167), among others. But why—in light of what appear to be clear statements of Scripture that assign a period of 430 years to the sojourn—do such writers suggest that the sojourn actually was half of that? An explanation is in order.
There is only one passage in the Old Testament that suggests a sojourn of 430 years—Exodus 12:40- 41:
Now the time that the children of Israel dwelt in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years. And it came to pass at the end of four hundred and thirty years, even the selfsame day it came to pass, that all the hosts of Jehovah went out from the land of Egypt.
Those who suggest that the sojourn lasted only 215 years believe—because numerous facts seem to demand it—that the time period of “the sojourning of the children of Israel” begins with the call of Abraham and God’s promise to him (Genesis 12:1-3), and ends with the Exodus. In other words, the fathers (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) sojourned in Canaan for 215 years, and their descendants lived in Egyptian bondage for an additional 215 years. The total, then, is the 430-year figure of Exodus 12:40- 41 (and Galatians 3:17). In his commentary on Acts, Albert Barnes put it this way: “The question then is, how can these accounts be reconciled? The only satisfactory way is by supposing that the four hundred and thirty years includes the whole time from the calling of Abraham to the departure from Egypt”(1949a, p. 121, emp. added). In addressing the text of Acts 7:6 in his commentary on that inspired book, H. Leo Boles remarked: “Paul says that the law came four hundred thirty years after the promise (Gal. 3:17); so that the four hundred years of Ex. 12:40 probably included the patriarchs’ residence in Canaan (Genesis 15:13,14; Exodus 3:12)” [1941, p. 104, emp. added]. In his commentary on Galatians, Barnes wrote: “The exact time here referred to was probably when Abraham was called, and when the promise was first made to him. Assuming that as the time referred to, it is not difficult to make out the period of four hundred and thirty years” (1949b, p. 343).
But why is it “not difficult”? And what do we mean by our statement that some scholars believe the sojourn lasted only 215 years because “numerous facts” seem to demand it? What are those “numerous facts”? How can the 215-year figure be defended?
First, it must be admitted forthrightly, in light of the information given above, that there is a maximum of 352 years available for the sojourn in Egypt, whatever that sojourn might encompass. There simply is no way around that fact.
Second, Paul, in his epistle to the Galatians, reviewed the time element associated with the covenant between God and Abraham (given in Genesis 15) when he wrote:
Now to Abraham were the promises spoken, and to his seed. He saith not, “And to seeds,” as of many; but as of one, “And to thy seed,” which is Christ. Now this I say: A covenant confirmed beforehand by God, the law—which came four hundred and thirty years after—doth not disannul, so as to make the promise of none effect (3:16-17).
In discussing Paul’s observation, Philip Mauro wrote: “Here we see that the 430 years began with God’s promise to Abram, made at the time he entered into Canaan at the age of 75 (Gen. 12:1-4) and ended with the giving of the law, which was the same year as the Exodus” (n.d., p. 27). As we have shown above, it can be documented quite easily from Scripture that the time from Abraham’s call to Jacob’s entrance into Egypt was 215 years. Rohl therefore concluded:
Various passages in the book of Genesis have led scholars to determine that the period from Abraham’s descent to Jacob’s arrival in the Land of Goshen was two hundred and fifteen years and so the Sojourn in Egypt (from Jacob’s arrival to the Exodus) lasted around the same length of time—in other words, circa two hundred and fifteen years (1995, p. 331, parenthetical item in orig.).
If the time period between Abraham’s call and the giving of the law (which occurred roughly three months after the Exodus) was 430 years (and Paul specifically remarked that it was), and if 215 of those years had passed before the Israelites went into Egypt (the time period from Abraham’s call to Jacob’s entrance into the land of the Nile), then that would leave only 215 years remaining for the Israelites’ sojourn in Egypt—which is exactly the time frame we believe the evidence supports.
Third, in Genesis 15:16 it was prophesied that the Israelites would return to Palestine during the lifetime of the “fourth generation”—which they did, according to Exodus 6:16-20, Numbers 3:17-19, Numbers 26:57-59, 1 Chronicles 6:1-3, and 1 Chronicles 23:6,12-13 (Jacob-Levi-Kohath-AmramMoses). As Hoehner (who does not even agree with the 215-year view) admitted: “To fit four 8/10/2017 Apologetics Press - How Long Was the Israelites’ Egyptian Bondage? 4/7 generations into a 215-year period is much more reasonable than a 430- year span” (1969, 126:309; see also Duncan, n.d.).
Fourth, secular research likewise has concluded that the Israelites remained in the land of the pharaohs for 215 years. David Rohl, a respected Egyptologist, is convinced that this is the proper interpretation of the facts. In his book, Pharaohs and Kings, he undertook the challenge of reassessing the century-old Egyptian chronology so that it could accommodate more accurately several new archaeological discoveries. According to his research, Israel went down into Egypt c. 1662 B.C., and was delivered by God through Moses c. 1447 B.C.—a span of 215 years (1995, pp. 329-332).
Fifth, there are other important historical and/or textual considerations that need to be investigated in this matter. For example, in Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus wrote that the Israelites “left Egypt in the month of Xanthicus, on the fifteenth day of the lunar month; four hundred and thirty years after our forefather Abraham came into Canaan, but two hundred and fifteen years only after Jacob removed into Egypt” (II. 15.2). Rohl observed in this regard:
Now, according to the statements of Josephus himself, he had access to very old documents formerly housed in the Temple of Jerusalem from which to draw his account of early Israelite history. Josephus lived in the first century A.D. and so his writings are dated hundreds of years before the Masoretic text of the Tanakh (Hebrew Old Testament) was completed in the fourth century A.D. If his source documents were genuine, then the information he gives for the duration of the Sojourn derives from a much earlier period than that employed by the Masoretes when they made their version of the history of Israel and a further several centuries before the earliest extant copy of the Masoretic text (1995, p. 331).
In the Masoretic text of the Old Testament (to which Rohl referred, and on which the biblical quotations given above have been based), Exodus 12:40 reads as follows: “The time that the children of Israel dwelt in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years.” Two other highly reliable biblical texts, however, strongly suggest that this translation is incorrect due to a critical omission. In both the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament), Exodus 12:40 reads as follows: “Now the sojourning of the children of Israel and of their fathers, which they sojourned in the land of Canaan AND in the land of Egypt was 430 years” (see Clarke, n.d., pp. 358- 359, emp. in orig.). William Whiston, who translated the works of Flavius Josephus into English, included a footnote at the bottom of the page accompanying Josephus’ comment (quoted above in regard to the Israelites’ 215-year stay in Egypt). Whiston wrote:
Why our Masorete copy so groundlessly abridges this account in Exod. xii,40 as to ascribe 430 years to the sole peregrination [travel by foot—AB/BT/KB] of the Israelites in Egypt when it is clear even by that Masorete chronology elsewhere, as well as from the express text itself, in the Samaritan, Septuagint, and Josephus, that they sojourned in Egypt but half that time—and that by consequence the other half of their peregrination was in the land of Canaan, before they came into Egypt—is hard to say (1974, 2:171).
Rohl suggested, however, that it really is not hard to say. In fact, he said:
It is fairly easy to see what happened in the interval between Josephus’ day and that of the Masoretes. During the process of copying down the original scrolls over the intervening centuries, a section of text something on the lines of “and in the land of Canaan” had fallen out (or had been edited out). This is confirmed by the Greek rendition of the Old Testament (the Septuagint or LXX) which retains the original, full version of the passage (1995, p. 331).
In his commentary on the Pentateuch, Adam Clarke discussed this at length:
...the Samaritan Pentateuch, by preserving the two passages, they and their fathers and in the land of Canaan, which are lost out of the present copies of the Hebrew text, has rescued this passage from all obscurity and contradiction. It may be necessary to observe that the Alexandrian copy of the Septuagint has the same reading as that in the Samaritan. The Samaritan Pentateuch is allowed by many learned men to exhibit the most correct copy of the five books of Moses; and the Alexandrian copy of the Septuagint must also be allowed to be one of the most authentic as well as most ancient copies of this version which we possess (n.d., pp. 358-359, emp. in orig.).
Rohl wrote in agreement:
The Septuagint was first written down in the time of Ptolemy I during the third century B.C. and the earliest surviving manuscript is again much older than the earliest surviving Masoretic copy. The Samaritan version of the first five books of the Old Testament (the Pentateuch) is also considerably more ancient than the Masoretic scriptures and it too retains the longer rendition 8/10/2017 Apologetics Press - How Long Was the Israelites’ Egyptian Bondage? 5/7 of the passage on the length of the Sojourn. Thus, three out of four sources for the book of Exodus state that the four-hundred-and-thirty-year interval represents the whole period from Abraham’s descent into Canaan all the way down to the Exodus of Moses and the Israelites from Egypt (1995, p. 331).
If Josephus, the Samaritan Pentateuch, and the Septuagint are correct (and there is good evidence to indicate that they are) in stating that “the sojourning of the children of Israel and of their fathers, which they sojourned in the land of Canaan AND in the land of Egypt was 430 years,” then the alleged contradiction between Exodus 12:40-41 and Galatians 3:17 evaporates into thin air, and the 215-year figure for the Israelites’ sojourn in Egypt can be accepted quite easily as both credible and scriptural.
But where do the “400 years” of Genesis 15:13 and Acts 7:6 fit into this scheme? As God spoke to Abraham in Genesis 15 while the patriarch was dwelling among the terebinth trees at Hebron, the Lord said: “Know of a surety that thy seed shall be sojourners in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years.” Here, God was permitting His faithful servant— through words spoken approximately two centuries prior to Israel’s entrance into Egypt—to peek into the future of his descendants. Add to that the words of Stephen (in Acts 7:6) when he said, looking back on Israel’s history: “And God spake on this wise, that his seed should sojourn in a strange land, and that they should bring them into bondage, and treat them ill, four hundred years.” What is the meaning of these particular passages?
Some writers (e.g., Barnes, 1949a, p. 121; Boles, 1941, p. 104) have suggested that the 400- year figure represents merely a “rounding off” of the 430-year figure given in Genesis 15:13. But we think there is a much better explanation, and suggest that there is a fundamental distinction between the 430-year figure and the 400-year figure.
Notice that in Stephen’s speech he specifically stated that Abraham’s “seed should sojourn in a strange land.” In his book, The Wonders of Bible Chronology, Philip Mauro wrote:
But, in addition to this period of 430 years, there is another of 400 years, which also ended at the Exodus.... The period of 430 years includes the sojourn of Abram and Sarah. That of 400, however, begins with the experience of Abraham’s “seed.” This refers, of course, to Isaac in the first place; for in Isaac the promised “seed” was to be “ called”; but the era is not that of the birth of Isaac, but that when he was acknowledged the “seed” and the “heir” by the casting out of Hagar and Ishmael. That took place at the time of the “great feast” which Abraham made the day Isaac was weaned (Gen. 21:8-10). This is an important event in the annals of God’s people, because of its deep spiritual significance, as appears by the reference to it in Galatians 4:29,30.
From the foregoing Scriptures we are able to arrive at the date when Isaac was weaned and Ishmael was cast out (whereby Isaac became the acknowledged “seed” and “heir”). For there is a difference of thirty years between the two periods. But we have already found that there were twenty-five years from the call of Abraham (and God’s “ covenant” with him) to the birth of Isaac. Hence, deducting 25 from 30 gives us 5 years as the age of Isaac when Ishmael was cast out. There is no need to give at greater length the proofs concerning the 400-year period (n.d., pp. 27, 28, emp. in orig.).
As Hoehner wrote: “In conclusion, the 430 years went from Abraham’s call to the Exodus. The first 215 years was their sojourn in Palestine and the last 215 years in Egypt. The 400 years was from the weaning of Isaac to the time of the Exodus” (1969, 126:309). Our point exactly!
Some may ask, though, how the 215-year figure for the Israelites’ time in Egypt can be squared with statements such as those in Genesis 15:13 and Acts 7:6, which seem to indicate that the Hebrews would be “sojourners in a strange land that is not theirs” where their enemies would “bring them into bondage” and “treat them ill”? In his commentary on Galatians, David Lipscomb addressed this point.
The law was given by Moses four hundred and thirty years after this promise was made to Abraham (Ex. 12:40). Many interpret this to mean that they sojourned in Egypt four hundred and thirty years. But they dwelt in tents and had no permanent habitation during their sojourn in Canaan and Egypt and in the wilderness from the call in Ur until the entrance into Canaan after the Egyptian bondage (n.d., p. 231, emp. added).
Or, as Mauro stated: “This period of ‘sojourning’ of the people of God is reckoned from Abraham’s entrance into Canaan, for then they (Abram and Sarah, the beginnings of the family) became strangers and pilgrims (Heb. 11:8-13)” [n.d., p. 27, parenthetical item in orig.]. In Exodus 6:4, Canaan is referred to as “the land in which they dwelt as sojourners.” While it certainly is true that they were slaves in Egypt for a considerable period of time (215 years), their oppression actually began much earlier, and 8/10/2017 Apologetics Press - How Long Was the Israelites’ Egyptian Bondage? 6/7 lasted much longer, than just those 215 years. In fact, it would be accurate to say that the oppression began as early as Ishmael, who was half Egyptian and who mocked Isaac, the son of promise (Genesis 21:9). In Galatians 4:29, Paul discussed Ishmael’s ill treatment of Isaac when he penned these words: “He that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit.” That “persecution” obviously continued, as is evident from the fact that Egyptians felt it was a great abomination to eat with Hebrews (Genesis 43:32)—even until the time that Joseph came to power in their country. Later, of course, the persecution culminated in the attempted destruction by Pharaoh of the Hebrew male babies during Moses’ infancy (Exodus 1:15-22). Thus, the “sojourning” and “ill treatment” did not occur only during Egyptian captivity, but actually had commenced much earlier.
Critics of the 215-year view, however, have suggested that the second 215-year period (i.e., the time spent in Egypt) would not allow for the population explosion that obviously occurred while the Hebrews were captives. Less than 100 went down into Egypt, and yet by the time they left, they numbered more than 2 million (based on the figures in Numbers 1:46; cf. Archer, 1982, pp. 378-379). However, C.G. Ozanne, in his volume, The First 7,000 Years, has shed some light on this criticism.
Of course, the standard objection to this interpretation is the census totals of male Levites in Numbers 3. In this chapter the total number of Kohath’s male descendants “from a month old and upward” is given as 8600 (v. 28), these being divided between his four sons, Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel. Assuming that the total number is to be divided evenly between the four sons, Amram must have had some 2150 male descendants within a few months of the Exodus. At first sight this figure may seem well-nigh impossible. When, however, it is broken down, it begins to assume more reasonable proportions. Thus, supposing that Amram was born fifty-five years after the descent into Egypt and that forty years constitute a generation, it is only necessary to allocate seven males to a family to arrive at a figure considerably in excess of the desired 2150. On this reckoning Moses would have had 7 brothers (for he himself may be ignored for the purposes of this calculation), 49 nephews, 343 great-nephews and 2401 greatgreat-nephews within the allotted span. A total of 2800 is thus obtained, of which the vast majority would still have been alive to see the exodus from Egypt. Bearing in mind the greatly extended period of childbearing (Jochebed was about 70 at the birth of Moses), the practice of polygamy (which enabled Jacob to have eleven sons in seven years), and above all the astonishing fertility of the Israelite women on which the Bible lays special emphasis (cf. Gen. 46.3; Exod. 1.7,12,19; Deut. 26.5), the rate of increase here suggested should not necessarily be thought incredible (1970, pp. 22-23).
Thus, when all of the biblical information is considered, it is apparent that there is no contradiction between Exodus 12:40-41 and Galatians 3:17. Nor is there any problem in regard to Genesis 15:13 and Acts 7:6. As the late Bobby Duncan said when he ended his study of these matters, “Isn’t it amazing how the Bible clarifies the Bible?” (n.d., p. 4). Amazing indeed!
Archer, Gleason (1982), Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).
Archer, Gleason L. (1994), A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago, IL: Moody).
Barnes, Albert (1949a reprint), Barnes’ Notes—Acts (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Barnes, Albert (1949b reprint), Barnes’ Notes—II Corinthians and Galatians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Boles, H. Leo (1941), Commentary on Acts of the Apostles (Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate).
Clarke, Adam (no date), Clarke’s Commentary on the Old Testament—Volume I: Genesis to Deuteronomy (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury).
Duncan, Bobby (no date), “The God of the Fourth Generation” (Adamsville, AL: Adamsville Church of Christ).
Henry, Matthew (no date), Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible—Volume I: Genesis to Deuteronomy (McLean, VA: MacDonald).
Hoehner, Harold W. (1969), “The Duration of the Egyptian Bondage,” Bibliotheca Sacra, 126:306-316, October.
Keil, C.F. and F. Delitzsch (1974 reprint), Commentary on the Old Testament—The Pentateuch (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
Kitchen, Kenneth A. (1966), Ancient Orient and Old Testament (London: Tyndale). 8/10/2017 Apologetics Press - How Long Was the Israelites’ Egyptian Bondage? https://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=6&article=796 7/7
Lipscomb, David (no date), Commentary on Second Corinthians and Galatians (Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate).
Mauro, Philip (no date), The Wonders of Bible Chronology (Swengel, PA: Reiner).
Ozanne, C.G. (1970), The First 7,000 Years (New York: Exposition Press).
Rohl, David M. (1995), Pharaohs and Kings: A Biblical Quest (New York: Crown).
Thiele, Edwin (1963), “Chronology, Old Testament,” Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary, ed. Merrill C. Tenney (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).
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Whiston, William, trans. (1974 reprint), The Complete Works of Flavius Josephus (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
[i] A friend of mine came up with this summary outline and his conclusions from the article above.
1. Galatians 3:17 makes it clear that the clock on the 430 years started, not with the entry into Egypt, but with the covenant promise to Abraham. “The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God…”
2. If the calculations are correct, 215 years from the promise to entering Egypt and 215 years from entering Egypt to the Exodus, then the 430 years is reached. These calculations seem to be supported by: 1) the Samaritan Pentateuch, 2) The Septuagint and 3) The Alexandrian copy of the Septuagint: “…sojourn in Canaan and Egypt.” This phrase was dropped from the later Massoretic text. (Josephus)
Further support to consider is the calculation of Rohl, a respected Egyptologist:
Israel entered Egypt in about 1612 BC
Moses let them out in 1447 BC
3. Genesis 15:13 “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated 400 years.” How long were they enslaved in Egypt? Was it for 400 years or shortly before the Exodus? If it is shortly before the Exodus as we see in Exodus 1:6-11, then how do we understand in Galatians 15:13 the phrase: “… they will be enslaved and mistreated 400 years.” The difficult word in this phrase is the word “enslaved.”
The focus word in these passages seems to be “strangers”, not “slavery.”
4. On the issue of 400 years vs. 430 years:
25 years from the promise to Abraham to the birth of Isaac.
5 years old when he was declared the heir and Ishmael along with Hagar were cast out.
So how do we weigh the evidence provided by Archer, Keil & Delitzch et. al for 430 years in Egypt compare with evidence provided by Rohl and others for the 215 and 215 years periods. It looks like Rohl, is right because of Galatians 3:17.