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The Israelites in Egypt -
How Long?

The Israelites were in Egypt for generations but the whole time was not spent in slavery. At first, it was a good life; in fact, far better that the drought conditions they escaped from in Canaan. But there are different ideas of how long they spent there and for how long they were enslaved. On the page about the duration of the Egyptian slavery it is mentioned that there are some problems with resolving all the details. One apparent problem comes from this verse:

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

The problem, of course, is that Abraham was not a child of Jacob but, rather, an ancestor. But then consider this verse:

"Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. 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." (Gal 3:16-17)

This passage again mentions the 430 years and is giving us the starting and ending points:

Israelites in Egypt

That very much helps to establish the duration of the time period but it still has the problem that Abraham was not a child of Jacob. But there is a clue a few verses later:

"... till the seed should come to whom the promise was made ..." (Gal 3:19)

This repetition of what was said in verse 16 ("... He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.) emphasizes that the seed to whom the promise was given was, in a special sense, Christ.

The promises were made to Abraham and his seed - Christ - and Christ can be regarded as the new Israel, the ultimate overcomer. So the promise was made to Christ of whom we are all spiritual children.

"Ye are the children of the LORD your God ..." (Deut 14:1)

"For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus." (Gal 3:26)

"That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed. For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sara shall have a son." (Rom 9:8-9)

Verse 9 of Romans 9 reinforces that the promise referred to is the one made to Abraham and it was from the giving of this promise that the 430 years extended to the time of the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai. And, of course, Jesus came before Abraham:

"Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am." (John 8:58)

Other Ideas
There have been proposals that generations were lost in the record and that there really was another approximately 200 years between Jacob moving to Egypt at age 130 and the Exodus. This idea of disbelieving the Biblical genealogy and adding 200+ years to the time between Jacob moving to Egypt and the Exodus runs into serious problems.

Firstly, with the clear specification that the 430 years was from the time of the promise to Abraham (at which time he left Haran and crossed the Euphrates River into what was a land controlled by and therefore considered a part of Egypt) until the law was given on Mt. Sinai. (Galatians 3:16-17)

And, secondly, there is a conflict with this verse:

"But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full." (Gen 15:16)

Here is what the generations looked like in relation to the time the Israelites were in Egypt:

Generation Relation to Egypt
Geneology of Two of the Tribes
Entered Egypt Judah Levi
Lived in Egypt Pharez (1 Chron 2:4) Kohath (Exo 6:16)
Lived in Egypt Hezron (1 Cron 2:5) Amram (Exo 6:18)
Left Egypt Caleb (1 Chron 2:18) Moses (Exo 6:20)

Adding another 200 years requires generations of more than a hundred years each. This is far from consistent with the genealogies even if there was a generation missing from the record of the Israelites. Egypt was not a good experience for them in the later years but their ancestry was very important to them and, I believe, we can depend on the Biblical record regarding the duration of the time the Israelites were in Egypt.  

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