Why do I love theology? First, God is fascinating. He is truth. And the study of him gives me great ideas for novels.
I also love theology because it’s more fun to dig than to write. The following is an email conversation between me and one of my like-minded girlfriends (this is what we do when we should be writing). The subject: How long was Israel in Egypt, anyway?
I have a problem with Galatians 3:16-17. Paul says that the Law came 430 years after God’s covenant with Abraham. But the 430 years didn’t start until Jacob’s family was in Egypt. So between Abraham and Jacob going to Egypt, there were a couple of generations. It seems like Paul’s error. On the other hand, it may be one of those instances of “rounding off.”
But these problems always just cause me to dig, and I always find the answers I’m seeking. Haven’t yet found a real error.
Oooooh, (hand waving), I studied this in depth when I was working on my books about Joseph and Moses. I never actually publicized what I found out, but there goes—the years started counting from Abraham, not Israel.
I found that in the Septuagint it says that 430 years passed from the time Abraham left Ur from the time Moses left Egypt. In other words, it was 430 years between the time God promised Israel a home and they actually arrived in Canaan to claim it. There was absolutely no way I could make Moses and Joseph fit with the Egyptian timeline unless I went with this; when I did, it fit perfectly. To start counting years when Israel went down messes things up—puts the Hebrews there too early or sends Moses out too late.
I have all kinds of facts to back this up—Joseph had to be 18th dynasty or later because the Hyksos (pre-18th dynasty) introduced horses, and the Bible says Pharaoh gave Joseph his chariot, and the Bible also says that the Hebrews built the city of Rameses, which makes Moses confront Ramses the Great. There are only about 200 or so years between the 18th dynasty and Ramses the Great.
Look at Gen. 15:13—God tells Abraham that his people will be strangers in a country not their own and will be enslaved and mistreated 400 years—they did NOT have a country of their own until Moses led them into Canaan. And they were enslaved in Egypt, and probably mistreated everywhere else, but most people assume that entire passage belongs to the Egyptian period. It really doesn’t. (If God tells you your descendants are going to be homeless for 400 years, wouldn’t you think the clock started at that moment?)
Now look at Exodus 12:40: “Now the length of time the Israelite people lived in Egypt was 430 years. At the end of the 430 years, to the very day, all the Lord’s divisions left Egypt.” BUT—the Masoretic Text, the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Septuagint substitute the phrase Egypt and Canaan for “Egypt.” So the Hebrews were without a home for 430 years, and this is what Paul was referring to.
Now it gets exciting—there’s no way there are 430 years between the place in the timeline where Joseph HAD to be and where Moses HAD to fall, unless you start counting with Abraham. But if you do, there’s a pharaoh in Moses’ time who mysteriously lost a first-born son, there’s a pharaoh in Joseph’s day who had mysterious dreams and was hung up on interpreting them . . . it’s really cool!
Here’s what one guy had to say, but I like my explanation better. Of course, I’m not prejudiced. LOL.
From Abraham’s call (Gen. 12) to Jacob’s arrival in Egypt (Gen. 46) is 215
years. (This may be computed as follows: Abraham was 75 years old when God
called him and 100 when Isaac was born, Gen. 12:4; 21:5. This gives us 25 years.
Isaac was 60 when Jacob was born, Gen. 25:26; and Jacob was 130 years old when he arrived in Egypt, Gen. 47:9. Thus, 25 + 60 + 130 = 215 years.) But Moses
tells us that Israel sojourned in Egypt 430 years (Ex. 12:40); so the total
number of years from Abraham’s call to the giving of the Law is 645 years, not
430. The length of the stay in Egypt is recorded also in Genesis 15:13 and Acts
7:6, where the round figure of 400 years is used.
(Angie here—but notice that Act. 7:6 is a repeat of God’s promise to Abraham that his descendants will be 1) strangers in a country not their own and 2) enslaved and mistreated 3) four hundred years. But God says he will punish the nation they serve as slaves (and notice he doesn’t say “and those who mistreat you,” though he certainly did punish the Canaanites . . .)
This stuff is fascinating, isn’t it? I could do this all day . . . when I ought to be working! But I’m convinced there’s an answer for every “seeming” contradiction, if we only dig deep enough to find it. The fun’s in the digging!
Yes, it’s very interesting! I really like your explanation. So am I getting it right? You think they were really only slaves in Egypt for around 200 years? I’m sticking this page in my Bible, so I’ll remember it when the question comes up again.
When I see stuff like this, I always KNOW that God knows something I don’t, and that I’m getting it wrong. What freedom inerrancy gives us to dig and study and puzzle.
Exactly. They were slaves in Egypt for 215 years. It’s the only way the historical Pharaohs fit with what we know from the Bible, and it’s wonderful that the Bible does back this up . . . if you consider the Septuagint AND what Paul said. And it’s so, so exciting.
Look at: (Ruth 4:19-22)
Hezron the father of Ram, HEZRON is on the list of those who went into Egypt
Ram the father of Amminadab,
 Amminadab the father of Nahshon,
Nahshon the father of Salmon, Nashon is on the list of those who came out of Egypt
 Salmon the father of Boaz,
Boaz the father of Obed,
 Obed the father of Jesse,
and Jesse the father of David.
Okay—Hezron (son of Judah) went INTO Egypt with Jacob. (Gen. 46:12)
Now look at (Exodus 6:23)
Aaron married Elisheba, daughter of Amminadab and sister of Nahshon, and she bore him Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar.
See what I mean? Aaron—MOSES’ BIG BROTHER—married a woman whose grandfather came into Egypt with Jacob! Plus, Nashon is one of the leaders of the people during the Exodus (Numbers 2:3). People weren’t living extra-long in those days, plus these generations had to overlap. We know Boaz and Jesse were well into the time Israel was living in Canaan. So this fits MUCH better with 200 years than with 430.
One more fascinating tidbit: Genesis 15:15 gives us a reason why the Hebrews remained so long in Egypt: “In the fourth generation,” God told Abraham, “your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”
Note that “the fourth generation” exactly matches the family names above.
God wanted to judge the Amorites (and he did, when the conquering Hebrews destroyed them), but he gave them plenty of time to fill the cup of his wrath, so to speak.
I have to get to work today!