One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the account of the Exodus from Egypt. It is such a rich and foundational story to all of scripture and contains some of the most import types and shadows of the Messiah. One such type and shadow is the Exodus event itself. The first Passover and the immediate liberation from slavery. I have taught on this subject elsewhere. But here I want to focus on the workings of the prophetic fulfillment of God’s 430-year promise made in Genesis 15:12-14.
As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions.
God promises great possessions and endless offspring. But, and this is a big but, Abrams offspring will be enslaved in a land not their own for 400 years. This kind of promise does not get a lot of publicity! But here it is, part of God’s prophetic plans for His people. Why?
The Promised Land
It is important to remember God’s covenant promises are deeply and inseparably connected to actual geographic territory the Hebrews will one-day posses as an inheritance. Now the covenant cut in Genesis 15 is not only about land. It is also spiritual and, one could argue correctly from an NT perspective, allegorically connected to the Church. That being said, we must remember that though the covenant is not only about land, it is never without the land.
If you divorce the covenant promise from the geographic land of Israel, you also divorce yourself from all Biblical authority. The Promised Land is foundational to the promise. Israel is not, and never will be, replaced. Understanding this geographic promise is important for grasping the power of the Exodus event and the prophetic timeline God is revealing.
Genesis 15 hinges on a critical promise that, even though Abram was called to leave his father’s house, one day his descendants would possess and dwell securely in a land of their own. But prior to dwelling securely in this land, they would wander through territory which does not belong to them. Here lie important comparisons and contrast: One day you will possess the land; and, for 400 years prior to that, you will not possess any land.
Notice the prophetic promise and 400-year countdown to great possessions is not directly connected to slavery in Egypt. Rather it is connected to a dispossessed state as contrasted with a coming inheritance. What we see is a 400 year period preceding the fulfillment of the promise.
430 Years in Egypt?
Scriptures tell us the promised 400 year period was completed as the Hebrews left Egypt. Exodus 12:40 says that “The time that the people of Israel lived in Egypt was 430 years. (ESV)” However… the period of actual slavery in Egypt was not 430 years. In fact, the Hebrews were not even in Egypt for 400 years, much less enslaved and oppressed!
Remember Joseph? We know his status in Egypt and it’s reasonable to conclude this status extended in some capacity to his family. So for some of the Hebrews stay in Egypt they were part of the highly favored and wealthy priestly upper class (Gen. 41:41-45); a favored tribe living under a royal official on the best real estate Egypt had to offer (Gen. 47:11).
These are critical pieces of information. Why? They illuminate God’s prophetic timetable for a covenant promise and frame our modern understanding of what went on in the hearts and minds of the Hebrews. Both during their years of slavery and the subsequent wandering in the wilderness.
But, you may say, the Bible clearly says in Ex. 12:40 that “The time that the people of Israel lived in Egypt was 430 years.” (ESV Translation) Pretty straight forward. Black and white almost. So you’re telling me that is NOT true? Well, it’s not exactly true. To resolve this apparent conflict we must do two things: 1) Study the Hebrew words in the verse and 2) use the rest of scripture to support our conclusion.
Predictably, confusion is introduced to this topic when Bible translations render a particular word slightly out of context. The offending word is found in Exodus 12:40. The ESV, NASB and many other translators, chose to render the Hebrew word mowshab – מוֹשָׁב to include an element of time. This was done, presumably, because of its close connection to the 430 years time frame in the same verse. But this is an example of adding ever-so-subtle meaning to words based on pre-suppositions.
The word mowshab is used 44 times in the OT. The term refers to a dwelling place or a location of dwelling, and originates from the root word for “a seat, a place for sitting”. Only once here in Exodus 12 does it appear to have an element of time. The actual word for “time” in Hebrew (yowm – יוֹם) is used 2,287 times and is conspicuously absent in the passage.
So then how ought we read this verse? The NKJV renders Exodus 12:40 as follows:
“Now the sojourn of the children of Israel who lived in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years.”
Note the subtle but important difference! The NKJV does not include the word “time”, probably because it’s not in the original Hebrew. Instead, the NKJV translates mowshab to sojourn. This is an excellent choice because it indicates the stay in Egypt is part of a temporary visit to land not owned by the Hebrews. This point is a critical component of God’s covenant promise.
What Exodus 12:40 is really saying is more like “The children of Israel, you know, the ones who lived in Egypt, they lived in a land that did not belong to them for 430 years.” Now that ambiguity introduced by one word in one verse is cleared up, we must move on to my claim that, in fact, the Hebrews were not in Egypt 430 years.
To The Very Day
The promise of great possessions and a land of your own includes a fixed amount of time. So it’s logical to ask, what triggers the “countdown” to the good stuff? If we discovered when the prophetic countdown began, wouldn’t we be able to sort out exactly how long the Hebrews were in Egypt? Is it even possible to know this, seeing as the text does not directly say? Well, thanks to 20/20 prophetic hindsight we can.
The key to unpacking why the Hebrews were not in Egypt 430 years is found in Exodus 12:41. Specifically the phrase “to the very day”. The very day? What day? You mean the Hebrews had been keeping track of one specific day for 430 years and that day was prophetically connected to freedom from slavery? Let’s try and use the Text to unpack the Text.
The Apostle Paul helps us do this in Galatians 3:17. There he says the law came “430 years afterward”. After what? The promises made to Abraham are the immediate context of Galatians 3. What promise? Verse 3:16b tells us it was a prophetic promise of the Messiah. According to Paul, God made a promise that is a type and a shadow of Messiah. And the law was given at Mt. Sinai 430 years after that promise. What, during the life of Abraham, was a powerful type and shadow of Messiah justifying us by faith?
His visit to the region of Moriah and the “sacrifice” of Isaac.
Faith Precedes the Law
You see, faith in God preceded the law by 430 years. Paul says that directly! Abraham demonstrates a powerful, sacrificial love of a father for his son. Incidentally, the first time the word “love” is used in the Bible is here in Genesis 22. Love is the story of a loving father who gives up his only son because he has been called. God deemed Abraham faithful and it is not hard to imagine why the Hebrews remembered this.
The Hebrews held on to Abraham’s powerful witness during their period of groaning. Waiting for their liberation and prophetic fulfillment can be painful. But “As numerous as the stars in the sky” is a big promise! But it’s a promise that only takes shape in Egypt when they begin to multiply greatly (Exodus 1:7). Ironically, God’s promise coming to pass is what causes Pharaoh to fear and enslave them. (Allegorically now: this is how the enemy works. Because God’s promises in your life start to take shape, he works overtime to shut you down.)
Genesis 22 provides us another reason why the 430 years “to the day” refers to the event Isaac event We read:
“[The Lord] said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” (Genesis 22:16-18 ESV)
God reaffirms the covenant cut with Abraham and extends it to his “only” son Isaac. (“only” is in parenthesis because Isaac wasn’t Abraham’s only son. He was, however, the only son born to the love relationship God had designed. This is a much larger and interesting topic!) It’s at this point that a messianic type and shadow are revealed and the covenant promise is ratified.
When Did Exodus Begin?
Now that we know the prophetic timeline ended 430 years after the event on Mt. Moriah, we can place this event in history. To do this we must first find the year the Exodus happened.
The book of 1 and 2 Kings chronicles detailed accounts of every ruler in Israel and Judah. It tells us King Zedekiah was the last king of Judah when Nebuchadnezzar invaded and destroyed Solomon’s Temple. History tells us the destruction happened in 586 BC.
1 Kings 6:1 also gives us a timeframe for the beginning of the building of the Temple. Solomon started the construction project in his 4th year as King. Using the 1 and 2 Kings chronologies, we know there were 384 years between Solomon’s coronation and the destruction of the temple.
The 1 Kings 6 passage also tells us that temple construction begins 480 years after the Exodus event. Combine these chronologies together and we have our year for the Exodus: 1446 BC.
Timelines For Hebrews in Egypt
Genesis gives us a 261-year record of the life of Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.
If we combine the Genesis years with our starting year for Exodus and insight of Mt. Moriah as the start of the countdown, So we can now fill in a rather concise timeline for the Hebrews to stay in Egypt. It is as follows.
1876 BC – Isaac “sacrificed” (guessing his age was 33)
1758 BC – Joseph Born (see detailed genealogy from Isaac to Joseph in Gen. 25-45)
1728 BC – Joseph appointed ruler of Egypt at 30 (Gen. 41:41)
1719 BC – Hebrews TO EGYPT in 2 yr of 7 yr famine (Gen. 47:9)
1648 BC – Joseph dies at 110 (Gen. 50:22)
Up to this point in 1648 BC, Pharaoh gave the Hebrews great favor, and they lived in luxury in the best parts of the land. It had been 228 years since “the day” and 71 of those years the whole Hebrew clan had lived in Egypt. We know, however, the favor enjoyed in Egypt went away quite abruptly.
Exodus 1:8 tells us a “new king arose the did not know Joseph”. A new Pharaoh began to enslave the Jews because he feared their numbers and rising up against the government. Assuming this had to be at least one generation (40 yrs) after Joseph died, we have a date for the beginning of slavery!
1608 BC – Pharoah enslaves the Hebrews
1526 BC – Moses is born
1446 BC – Exodus happens (80 yrs after Moses born – 40yrs in Egypt, 40 yrs in Midian. See Acts 7)
So the total time the Hebrews were in Egypt was only 273 years (+/- 10-15 depending on Isaacs age when “sacrificed”)The total time the Hebrews were oppressed and enslaved is a minimum of 162 years (+/- see above). That is only 4 generations (160 years) during a period when people routinely lived 120 years. It is quite plausible to conclude those old men leaving in the Exodus had fathers and grandfathers who told them stories of what Egypt was like before the darkness descended.