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Plowing through History from the Aleph to the Tav

Topics Biblical Interpretation

In a land not their own for 400 years

By Jeff A. Benner

And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years. (KJV, Genesis 15:13)

From the above passage, it is assumed by most that this means that Israel would be in the land of Egypt for four hundred years. However, this creates a problem as according to the Biblical text they were in the land of Egypt for only three generations (Levi - Kohath - Amram - Moses).

Note that the prophecy of Genesis 15:13 does not specifically say that his seed would be in "Egypt" for four hundred years, instead it says they will be in a land that does not belong to them. The land that Abram lived in was not his and technically, Abram's children would not have a land that belonged to them until they entered the land of Israel after the 40 years of wandering. How long did Abram's children live before entering the land of Israel?

If we call the year of Ishma'el's birth "0," as he is Abram's first seed, we can then use various passages to calculate how many years from then until Israel entered the land of Canaan.

Birth of Isaac: Abraham is 100 (Gen 17:17; 21:5) and Ishmael is 13 the year before Isaac's birth (Gen 17:25)

Birth of Jacob: Isaac is 60 (Gen 25:26)

Birth of Joseph: Jacob is 91 - Jacob was 130 when entering Egypt (Gen 47:9); Joseph was 30 when entering Pharoahs service (Gen 41:46); 7 years of plenty (Gen 41:53,54) and 2 years of famine when Jacob came to Egypt (Gen 45:6); Joseph was 39 (30+7+2) when Jacob entered Egypt; Jacob was 91 at birth of Joseph (130-39)

Birth of Levi: Jacob is 87 - Jacob is 91 at birth of Joseph who was born in the 14 year of service to Laban (Gen 30:25,26); Jacob is 77 when arrives at Labans (91-14); Jacob serves 7 years and recieves Leah (Gen 29:27) who bears Levi, her third son approximately 3 years after being with Jacob. Jacob is approximately 87 at birth of Levi (77+7+3).

The Children of Israel enter the land of Egypt 17 years before the death of Jacob (Gen 47:28) and when Levi is 87 years old.

Birth of Kohath: Levi is ~35 - Levi was younger than 40 when Kohath was born as Levi was 43 when he went to Egypt with his 3 sons (Gen 46:8,11); if this is correct Kohath would be 8 when entering Egypt.

Birth of Amram: Kohath is ~40 (an average generaton)

Birth of Moses: Amram is ~40 (an average generaton)

Israel leaves Egypt when Moses is 80 years old.

The children of Israel enter the land of Israel after the 40 years of wandering, which is 400 years after the birth of Ishma'el.

There is one verse that appears to contradict my above conclusions.

Now the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years. (KJV, Exodus 12:40)

From this we could conclude that Israel was in fact in Egypt for the entire 430 years (for the discrepency of 400 vs. 430 years, see How many came out of the exodus of Egypt). However, this reading comes from the Masoretic Hebrew text, but in the Greek Septuagint and the Samaritan Pentateuch it reads that they were in "Egypt and Canaan" for 430 years and it is very possible that "and Canaan" was accidentally omitted from the Masoretic text.

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