How Long Was the Egyptian Bondage?

How Long Was the Egyptian Bondage?

Text: Exodus 12:30-41


I.         As Christians, we need to be prepared to make a defense - Jude 3; I Peter 3:15

            A.        People don’t want to follow God’s word, so they figure if they can cast doubt in one area, they can ignore the Bible in all areas.

            B.        One way is to point out what appears to be contradictions in the Bible.

            C.        In defending against a claim of a contradiction, you don’t necessarily have to prove beyond all doubt what the truth is. All that is really necessary is to show that there is a way that two different statements can exist and be simultaneously true.

                        1.         For example: How many angels were at Jesus’ tomb?

                                    a.         Matthew 28:2-3 - One

                                    b.         Mark 16:5 - One

                                    c.         Luke 24:4 - Two

                                    d.         John 20:12 - Two

                        2.         Where are they and when?

                                    a.         Matthew 28:2-3 - On the stone, outside the tomb before the women arrived

                                    b.         Mark 16:5 - One, inside, on the right side of the tomb

                                    c.         Luke 24:4 - Two inside

                                    d.         John 20:12 - Two, inside, one by the head and one by the foot.

                        3.         Is there an actual contradiction? No. Each account mentions details, but not all the details. To mention one doesn’t eliminate two unless you say “only one.” To mention one in one location doesn’t mean the angel can’t move later.

                        4.         We may not know all the details – there could have been three angels involved, for example. But it doesn’t matter because we see that the differences in the accounts can be resolved in at least one way.

II.        How long was the bondage?

            A.        Mentioned

                        1.         Genesis 15:13-14 - 400 years

                        2.         Exodus 12:40-41 - 430 years

                        3.         Acts 7:6 - 400 years

                        4.         Acts 13:17-19 - about 450 years

                        5.         Galatians 3:17 - 430 years later

            B.        Even with allowing rounding of the years, these are not the same numbers.

            C.        But notice that they don’t use the same starting and ending points

                        1.         Genesis 15:13-14 - no starting point, 400 years ends with them coming out with many possessions

                        2.         Exodus 12:40-41 - from entering Egypt, 430 years to the day, leave Egypt

                        3.         Acts 7:6 - no starting or ending point but says they were enslaved 400 years

                        4.         Acts 13:17-19 - from the start of their stay in Egypt, then 450 years later conquered Canaan.

                        5.         Galatians 3:17 - From the covenant being ratified it was 430 years to the giving of the law.

            D.        You will see time lines that list the Egyptian bondage as 215 years.

                        1.         They get this by taking Paul’s statement of 430 years

                        2.         Abraham receive the initial promise when he was 75 years old

                        3.         Isaac was born when Abraham was 100 years old. So subtract 25.

                        4.         He was 60 years old when Jacob was born (Genesis 25:26). So subtract 60.

                        5.         Jacob was 130 years old when he was presented to Pharaoh (Genesis 47:9). So subtract 130

                        6.         The 400 years of bondage?

                                    a.         Well, that would have started when Isaac was five. You remember, Ishmael was taunting Isaac and got tossed out. Ishmael is the son of Hagar, an Egyptian, so that must be what God meant by “afflicted,” “bondage,” and “oppression.

                                    b.         The “dwelling in a foreign land” part is ignored.

            E.        Notice, that Exodus 12:40-41 is very precise. Because of that precision, we ought to use it as the baseline

                        1.         Israel entered Egypt as free people. It was only later that the oppression began - Exodus 1:8

                        2.         Thus combining Genesis 15:13-4 and Acts 7:6 we conclude that it started 30 years after Egypt and 40 years before Joseph’s death.

                        3.         It probably started gradually.

            F.        Acts 13:17-19

                        1.         If we start with 400 years of slavery

                        2.         Add 1 year at Mt. Sinai - Numbers 1:1 (it was 13 months later)

                        3.         Add 40 years wandering in the Wilderness - Numbers 32:13

                        4.         That leaves about 9 years to conquer Canaan

                        5.         Even if we are off by a year or two, it is still about 450 years.

            G.        Which then leaves us Galatians 3:17

                        1.         Read it carefully and see that the start is when the covenant was confirmed or ratified – not when it was originally given.

                        2.         Even if we use the giving of the covenant as the starting point, the question is which giving?

                                    a.         Genesis 12 when Abram was 75

                                    b.         Genesis 15 when Abram was 89

                                    c.         Genesis 17 when Abraham was 99

                                    d.         Genesis 22:16-18 at some unspecified age when Isaac was offered.

                        3.         Looking at the ratifications or confirmations

                                    a.         Genesis 26:24 with Isaac

                                    b.         Genesis 28:14; 35:10-12; 46:2-4 with Jacob

                                    c.         The last ratification occurred just as Jacob was to enter Egypt

                                    d.         If this was the ratification Paul was speaking of, the 430 years to the day later Israel left Egypt (Exodus 12:40-41) and three months later received the law (Exodus 19:1).

                        4.         This makes Paul’s date consistent will the other passages.

III.       Objections

            A.        Genesis 15:16 - The Israelites would return to Canaan in the fourth generation

                        1.         The question is how long is a generation?

                        2.         Abraham lived 175 years - Genesis 25:7

                        3.         Isaac lived 180 years - Genesis 35:28

                        4.         Jacob lived 147 years - Genesis 47:28

                        5.         Joseph lived 110 years - Genesis 50:26

            B.        Moses’ lineage is stated - Exodus 6:16-20; Numbers 3:17-30; 26:57-59; I Chronicles 6:1-3; 23:6-13

                        1.         Exodus 6:16-20 gives us some dates

                                    a.         Levi lived 137 years

                                    b.         Kohath lived 133 years

                                    c.         Amram lived 137 years

                                    d.         The Moses born to Amram and Jochebed

                        2.         Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt at the age of 80 - Exodus 7:7

                        3.         We also know that Kohath was born prior to Israel’s entrance into Egypt - Genesis 46:11

                        4.         Even if we assume that Kohath was born the year they entered Egypt (not likely) and both Amram and Moses were born the year their fathers died (not likely), the maximum length of time in Egypt would be 350 years.

                                    a.         At least 80 years, and probably more are missing from the genealogy.

                        5.         The Hebrew concept of “son” is more general than ours

                                    a.         Jesus is a son of both Abraham and David - Matthew 1:1

                                    b.         Kings of Judah were sons of David - I Kings 15:3, 11; 22:50

                        6.         There are examples in the Bible where generations were skipped in lineages. This doesn’t prove that there was a skip in Moses’ lineage, but we can’t rule it out either.

                        7.         Another indication of missing generations:

                                    a.         Kohath’s family had 8,600 males 1 month and older at the first numbering - Numbers 3:27-28

                                    b.         2,750 men were between the ages of 30 and 50 - Numbers 4:34-36

                                    c.         Kohath had 4 sons, 12 grandsons, and at least 6 great-grandsons, which included Aaron and Moses’ children.

                                    d.         Since we know the generations of Moses and Aaron, that means Kohath’s other 10 grandsons would have had to have an average of 860 male descendants in each line.

                                    e.         If there were two additional generations, that would require an average of 29 males per generation

                                    f.         If there were three additional generations, that would require an average of 9 males per generation.

                                    g.         The numbers suggest that there were additional generations.

                        8.         Using Moses’ lineage to set an upper bound on the length of the Egyptian bondage, an assumption is made that there are no additional generations.

IV.      When we sort out all the facts multiple verses indicate that the Egyptian bondage was 400 years.

            A.        There are a few puzzles, but none that require a conclusion that there is a contradiction within the Bible.

            B.        Some search out any thread to disbelieve because believing leads to a need to change.

            C.        Rather than resisting improving yourself, why not submit to God?

Egyptian Bondage Timeline