How long did the Israelites live in Egypt? Because of Genesis 15:13-14 and Exodus 12:40, most people would say 430 years. However, as is so common in the Bible, we need to go through much of the Old Testament and even into the New Testament to get the full answer to a question which is raised.
In the New Testament, Paul indicates 430 years in Egypt is not the case. Galatians 3:17 says it was 430 years from the time of the covenant with Abraham. Which is correct and how are these reconciled?
First, let’s review the pertinent verses and do the math:
“Brethren, I speak in the manner of men: Though it is only a man’s covenant, yet if it is confirmed, no one annuls or adds to it. Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ. And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect.” Galatians 3:15-17
In Genesis 15:16 God said to Abraham: But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.
This was stated at the time of the confirmation of the covenant which was originally made when Abraham first entered the Promised Land – “Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” Genesis 12:7.
Abraham was 75 years old at this time according to Chapter 12, verse 4.
Genesis 46:8-12 says – “Now these were the names of the children of Israel, Jacob and his sons, who went to Egypt: Reuben was Jacob’s firstborn. The sons of Reuben were Hanoch, Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi. The sons of Simeon were Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jachin, Zohar, and Shaul, the son of a Canaanite woman. The sons of Levi were Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. The sons of Judah were Er, Onan, Shelah, Perez, and Zerah (but Er and Onan died in the land of Canaan).”
Israel (Jacob) was the head of the first generation to go to Egypt.
Now three pertinent verses from Exodus 6:
“These are the names of the sons of Levi according to their generations: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. And the years of the life of Levi were one hundred and thirty-seven.” (6:16)
*Levi is the head of the second generation*
“And the sons of Kohath were Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel. And the years of the life of Kohath were one hundred and thirty-three.” (6:18)
*Kohath is the head of the third generation*
“Now Amram took for himself Jochebed, his father’s sister, as wife; and she bore him Aaron and Moses. And the years of the life of Amram were one hundred and thirty-seven.” (6:20)
*Amram is the head of the fourth generation*
Exodus 7:7 says – “And Moses was eighty years old and Aaron eighty-three years old when they spoke to Pharaoh.”
Exodus 12:40 says: “Now the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years.” (KJV)
Numbers 26:59 says: “The name of Amram’s wife was Jochebed the daughter of Levi, who was born to Levi in Egypt; and to Amram she bore Aaron and Moses and their sister Miriam.”
Before we give the actual account of what the Bible says which confirm the time spent in Egypt, let’s do a few suppositional calculations just to show that they support what the Bible says elsewhere. I’ve offset these in dashed lines in case you want to skip this part.
1 Chronicles 6:1-3 says: “The sons of Levi were Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. The sons of Kohath were Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel. The children of Amram were Aaron, Moses, and Miriam. And the sons of Aaron were Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar.”
Levi went to Egypt with his father Israel, but more importantly so did his son Kohath. Kohath lived to be 133 years old. His son Amram lived to be 137 years old. It says that Moses, the son of Amram, was 80 when he spoke to Pharoah and we know this is also the year he departed because they were in the wilderness 40 years and he was 120 when he died (Deuteronomy 34:7). 120 - 40 = 80.
The genealogy of Moses is confirmed in 1 Chronicles 6. As Kohath was already alive when Israel went to Egypt and he was the middle son who went, he must have been a minimum of 2 years old. He died at 133 years old. Supposing he had a child (Amram) at 20, the very longest time we can count for him is 111 years at the outside and probably less.
Amram was 137 when he died. If we suppose the same age for having a son (Aaron) for Amram, being 20, and then two more children (Moses and Miriam,) then supposing he happened to die the year Miriam was born, then the very longest time we can count for Amram is 113 years at the outside and probably less. Finally, add on Moses’ years at the Exodus – 80.
This means an absolute maximum of 304 years in Egypt and probably much less.
The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus gives the following chronicle:
“They left Egypt in the month 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. It was the eightieth year of the age of Moses, and of that of Aaron three more. They also carried out the bones of Joesph with them, as he had charged his sons to do. Josephus Antiquities, Book II, Chapter 15 verse 2.”
This shorter time-frame is also recorded in the Samaritan Pentateuch, and the Septuagint. It seems that the King James Version translators understood this difficulty and therefore placed commas in Exodus 12:40 (above) thereby offsetting the phrase “who dwelt in Egypt.”
However, after all this analysis, there’s no reason to feel the comment in Genesis 15:13, 14 is a contradiction:
Then He said to Abram: “Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions.”
It never says they would dwell in Egypt for 400 years. It says they will be in a land not theirs, and this was so. As is often the case, the New Testament book of Acts answers our questions by saying that Abraham never received an inheritance, not a foot of ground. We also know that neither did his son Isaac, nor his son Israel.
“Then he came out of the land of the Chaldeans and dwelt in Haran. And from there, when his father was dead, He moved him to this land in which you now dwell. And God gave him no inheritance in it, not even enough to set his foot on. But even when Abraham had no child, He promised to give it to him for a possession, and to his descendants after him. But God spoke in this way: that his descendants would dwell in a foreign land, and that they would bring them into bondage and oppress them four hundred years.” Acts 7:4-6
Therefore, after all this, we can see that the 400 years spoken to Abraham included the time in Canaan before going to Egypt.
The four hundred years were to elapse before the seed of Abraham would actually proceed to take possession of the land. This interval only began when the seed was born. This was at the birth of Isaac when Abraham was a hundred years of age and therefore thirty years after the call in Genesis 12.
The 400 years of affliction literally began when Ishmael began taunting Isaac after he was weaned. This is recorded in Genesis 21:8, 9 and would have been just about 30 years after the original covenant promised to Abraham recorded in Genesis 12. These 30 years are deducted from the 430 recorded in Exodus 12 and Galatians 3 and therefore complete the 400 years stated to Abraham in Genesis 15.
During this interval they were to be, “first, strangers in a land not theirs” for one hundred and ninety years; and then for the remaining two hundred and ten years in Egypt: at first, servants, with considerable privilege and position; and at last, afflicted slaves under hard bondage.
Useful application: By searching God’s Word, the Holy Bible, you can find untold mysteries waiting to be found. Then – once found – you can see how they fit into a much greater mystery. We can only scratch the very surface of God’s Word in 10,000 lifetimes. Therefore, spend less time in front of the TV and more time in His Word.
Life lesson: We’ve all spent some of our time in spiritual Egypt – the land of chaos and sin. However, Jesus Christ died to redeem us from this wicked land. Remember that the Israelites were brought out of Egypt by the mighty and outstretched hand of God, but they constantly turned their hearts away from this awesome demonstration of love and desired to return to Egypt. When the world calls you back to sin, pray for strength in the power of the Holy Spirit to be protected from such desires. Make every attempt to fix your eyes on Jesus; live for Him and thus bring honor to God the Father. If you have never committed your life to Jesus Christ, now is the time. No matter what your past life has been like, He has all the power of the eternal Godhead ready to redeem you and give you new life and new hope.
Let me know your discoveries too. Or just share a hello with me: