HOW LONG DID THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL DWELL IN EGYPT?

By

L S. Webley

BIWF Quarterly Note, Brisbane, Australia

 

ALL the students of the Bible know that in the early period of their history, the children of Israel dwelt in the land of Egypt for a number of years. But how long did they stay in Egypt? Some say 400 years, and quote Genesis 15:13 in support of their claim; this verse reads:

"And He (God) 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" - Genesis 15:13

Others say, 430 years and quote Exodus 12, which reads:

"Now the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt, was 430 years" - Exodus 12:40

Others again say that Israel was in Egypt for 215 years only.

Now, which of these opinions is correct? We suggest 215 years, and submit the following evidence in support.

1. THE COMPANION BIBLE

Dr Bullinger, in his Companion Bible has a chart in his Appendix No. 50. In his chart, Dr Bullinger records the chief events of every year from the date of Adam's expulsion from the Garden of Eden, which he states was 4004 B.C., right up to the time of the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70 A.D. This chart reveals that Israel was in Egypt for 215 years.

Further, in his note on Exodus 12:40 (page 90) he says: "Sojourning. Commenced with Genesis 12:21. Quite a different subject from the dwelling in Egypt. See Appendix 50 III." He also states further that on the phrase, "Who dwelt in Egypt, is a form of parenthesis used to further define the People, and connect the two parts of their history."

With regard to the period "Four hundred and thirty years" (Exodus 12:40) Dr Bullinger writes: There are two reckonings of the sojourning; one starting from the "promise" to Abraham, Genesis 12:1. Galatians 3:17- 430years; the other starting from the recognition of his "seed" (Isaac), Genesis 21:12. See Acts 7:6 and Genesis 15:13 - 400 years".

"This dwelling in Egypt was only 215 years (See Appendix 50); and is to be distinguished from the 'sojourning', which was another 215 years" (Companion Bible.page 90).

In the introduction of his Appendix 50, in paragraph 9 on page 41, Dr Bullinger writes: "In the charts themselves the terminus a quo is the creation of Adam". (We suggest this should be the date Adam was expelled from the Garden - the date of the 'Formation' of Adam is unknown) while the terminus ad quem is the Crucifixion ... the unit of measurement is the number of years given as the lifetime of Adam, viz. 930" (Genesis 5:5).

"Commencing with this, and taking each link as it follows, the chain is seen to extend in perfect sequence until it ends with the 'cutting off of the Messiah' at the close of the sixty-ninth of the seventy-sevens of Daniel 9:25, 26 - in A.D. 29. That is 4033 years from the Creation" .

"Sojourning and dwelling". In "sojourning" the children of Israel had to wait 430 years before they could inherit the land promised by God by Covenant to Abraham. The dwelling in Egypt was part of the sojourning period.

2. THE GREAT PYRAMID. ITS DIVINE MESSAGE.

In his great work, "The Great Pyramid, Its Divine Message", Mr David Davidson refers to the 430 years from the call of Abram to the Exodus (Galatians 3:17). He states that "this gives an interval of 215 years from the call of Abram to the entry of Jacob and his sons into Egypt" (Page 293, para. 321). Galatians 3:17 referred to above reads:

"And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul that it should make the promise of none effect"

In the same work, on page 440, para. 421, Mr Davidson states:

"The call of Abram, 1916 B.C. Exodus of Israel from Egypt 1486 B.C. This gives an interval of 430 years".

Note: Mr Davidson's datings differ from Dr. Bullinger's by approximately four or five years. Dr Bullinger dates the call of Abram as 1921, when he states the "sojourning" began, and the Exodus in 1491. Still 430 years apart.

3. JOSEPHUS, ANTIQUITIES

In Josephus Antiquities II.XV.2, the footnotes No.2 reads:

"Why our Masorete copy so groundlessly abridges this account in Exodus 12:40, as to ascribe 430 years to the sole peregrinations of the Israelites in Egypt- when it is clear, even by the Masorete chronology elsewhere as well as from the express text itself in the Samaritan, Septuagint, and Josephus, that they sojourned in Egypt but half that time and that in consequence, the other half of their peregrinations was in the land of Canaan before they came into Egypt - is hard to say".

4. YOUNG'S ANALYTICAL CONCORDANCE

This Concordance, on the subject "Adam", states that Adam was formed and placed in the Garden of Eden, 4004 B.C. On page 8 of this same work, under the subject "Abraham", we read: Born 1996 B.C., died 1821 B.C. And on page 670 it says of Moses: "Born 1571 B.C., died 1451 B.C." Dr.Bullinger agrees with these dates.

Abram was called by God when he was 75 years old. That would be in the year 1921 B.C. Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt when he was 80 years old. That would be in the year 1491 B.C. The number of years between 1921and 1491 is exactly 430. If these figures be correct, and we suggest they are, then it is impossible for Israel to have been in Egypt for even 300 years. Dr Bullinger states that Jacob went down into Egypt in the years 1706 B.C. This is just 215 years before the Exodus in 1491.

5. THE AFFLICTION

An interesting point arises here. How long were the Children of Israel afflicted in Egypt? We know that the term "children of Israel" cannot apply to Abraham, Isaac, or even Jacob himself. Therefore the affliction concerned the descendants of Jacob alone. Now the children of Israel were in Egypt between the time Jacob and his sons went down into Egypt and the time of the Exodus 215 years. Jacob went down into Egypt in 1706 B.C.during the second year of the famine. The Exodus took place in 1491 B.C.exactly 215 years later. Bishop Usher's datings agree with Dr Bullinger's but Mr Davidson's datings are five years later, namely 1701 and 1486 respectively, but 215 years apart nevertheless.

It is apparent therefore, that the affliction was during this period of 215 years, and at the latter end of it. The affliction could not possibly have lasted 430 years.

There is no mention in the Bible of Jacob being afflicted in Egypt nor even Joseph. It was not until that Pharaoh arose "that knew not Joseph" that the affliction began. Can we find this date? We believe we can.

As Joseph was not afflicted, then the trouble must have started some time after the death of Joseph. At the age of 30 years Joseph appeared before the Pharaoh, just prior to the beginning of the seven years of plenty:

"And Joseph was thirty years old when he stood before Pharaoh. king of Egypt" - Genesis 41:46.

That would be in the year 1715 B.C. (Dr Bullinger says this was the year Joseph interpreted Pharaoh's dream).

Joseph lived 110 years.

"So Joseph died being a hundred and ten years old" - Genesis 50:26.

This would be in the year 1635 B.C. Dr. Bullinger states that there is a gap of 64 years from the death of Joseph to the birth of Moses in 1571 B.C.

From the Book of Exodus chapter I, it would appear that the affliction started about the time of the birth of Moses. We read:

"Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph. And he said unto his people, Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we: Come on, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and so get them up out of the land. Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Raamses. But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew. And they were grieved because of the children of Israel. And the Egyptians made the children of Israel to serve with rigour. And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in mortar, and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field: all their service, wherein they made them serve, was with rigour" - Exodus 1:8-14.

We suggest that this was the start of the affliction. And it was at this time that Moses was born. Eighty years later - 1491- Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt into Sinai on their way to the "Promised Land". From these facts, it is obvious the affliction was apparently only 80 years in duration, and nowhere near 430 years.

We must be careful not to place a too rigid interpretation on the wording of that portion of Genesis 15:13, which contains the statement about the seed of Abram,being afflicted four hundred years. On this point, Dr Bullinger, in his Companion Bible, seems to have the clue. He states that the phrases "and shall serve them" and "shall afflict them", are "figures of speech (Epitrechon), sentences not complete in themselves, but thrown in as an explanatory remark, a form of parenthesis." If these sentences were placed between brackets, the meaning would be clear. In Genesis 15:13, God is telling Abram that his seed would not inherit the land for 400 years, and that in that period, for a time, his seed would become servants of another power, and later would be afflicted.

In Exodus 12:40, we suggest that the phrase "who dwelt in Egypt", simply distinguishes or defines the people referred to, and has no connection with time at all. Note that the phrase comes between commas. The verse would read: "Now, the sojourning of the children of Israel (who for some time dwelt in Egypt), was 430 years." It is a fact that they did not inherit the Promised Land until 430 years after the Promise was given to Abram. The seed of Abram lived in the Land of Promise without inheritance for 215 years, prior to their going down into Egypt in 1706 B.C.

If the affliction started shortly after the death of Joseph, and it lasted 430 years (Genesis 15:13) then Israel must have been in Egypt about 565 years. This figure is found by adding the supposed 430 years of affliction to the number of years from Jacob's entry into Egypt in 1706, and the birth of Moses in 1571, a total of 135 years. The Exodus took place in 1296 B.C. The dates 1141 and 1296 for the Exodus are obviously wrong. The Book of Kings tells us that Solomon started to build the temple 480 years after the Exodus.

"And it came to pass in the four hundred and eightieth year after the children of Israel were come out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon's reign over Israel, in the month Zif, which is the second month, that he began to build the House of the Lord" - I Kings 6:1.

If the Exodus really took place in 1491, the building of the temple began about 1011 B.C.

Those Bible students who doubt that Israel dwelt in Egypt for 215 years only, say that in that time it would not have been possible for them to increase in number from 70 (Genesis 46:27), to probably well over two million. (This figure is obtained by multiplying by three the number 603,550, the number of males capable of going to war, and over 20 years of age, mentioned in Numbers 1:46, three months after the Exodus. There must have been an equal number of females in that age group, and probably an equal number of young people under 20. In addition there would be those males unable to go to war and the old and infirm).

When we look at this great increase in numbers, we find that the Israel population increased at the rate of approximately 6% per annum, and that the population doubled itself about every fifteen years. This increase was quite possible for we read in Exodus I:

"And the children of Israel were fruitful and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty, and the land was filled with them" - Exodus 1:7

As mentioned above, the Pharaoh that arose which knew not Joseph said:

"The people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we" - Exodus 1:9.

Then later in verse 12 we read:

"But the more they (the Egyptians) afflicted them (Israelites), the more they multiplied and grew" - Exodus 1:9

So it appears that the Scripture account of the great increase in numbers of the children of Israel over the period of 215 years in Egypt is correct. It is quite possible they did increase even to three million, as some suggest.

From the evidence submitted above it seems we are justified in maintaining that the children of Israel dwelt in the land of Egypt in the early part of their history for a period of 215 years, and not four hundred odd years.

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