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The Story of Patriarchs and Prophets

by Ellen G. White


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NOTE 3. PAGE 282. In Genesis 15:13 we read that the Lord said to Abraham, "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." This text raises the questions whether the 400 years refer to the time of affliction or sojourning, or both, and what the relation of the 400 years is to the 430 years of Exodus 12:40, 41, And Galatians 3:16, 17.

The statement in Exodus 12:40, that "the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years," gives the impression that the Israelites, from Jacob's entry into Egypt to the Exodus, actually spent 430 years in the country of the Nile. That this impression cannot be correct is obvious from Paul's inspired interpretation presented in Galatians 3:16, 17, where the 430 years are said to cover the period beginning when God made his covenant with Abraham until the law was promulgated at Sinai. Paul seems to refer to the first promise made by God to Abraham when he was called to leave Haran. Genesis 12:1-3. At that time the 430 years began, when Abraham was seventy-five years old (chapter 12:4), while the 400 years of the prophecy of Genesis 15:13 began thirty years later, when Abraham was 105 and his son Isaac five years old (chapter 21:5). At that time Ishmael, who "was born after the flesh persecuted him [Isaac] that was born after the spirit" (Galatians 4:29; Genesis 21:9-11), Beginning a time of affliction of Abraham's seed which intermittently would be continued until the time of the Exodus. Isaac had not only troubles with his half brother Ishmael, but also with the Philistines (Genesis 26:15, 20, 21); Jacob fled for his life from Esau (Genesis 27: 41-43), and later from Laban (Genesis 31:21), and then was again in jeopardy from Esau (Genesis 32:8); Joseph was sold into slavery by his brethren (Genesis 37:28), and the children of Israel were oppressed by the Egyptians for many decades (Exodus 1:14).

The time from Abraham's call to Jacob's entry into Egypt was 215 years, being the total of (1) twenty-five years lying between Abraham's call and the birth of Isaac (Genesis 12:4; 21:5), (2) sixty years lying [p. 760] between Isaac's birth and Jacob's birth (Genesis 25:26), and (3) the age of Jacob at the time of his migration into Egypt (Genesis 47:9). This leaves the remaining 215 years of the 430 as the actual time the Hebrews spent in Egypt. Hence the 430 years of Exodus 12:40 includes the sojourn of the patriarchs in Canaan as well as their stay in Egypt. Since in the time of Moses, Palestine was part of the Egyptian empire, it is not strange to find an author of that period including Canaan in the term "Egypt." The translators of the Septuagint, knowing that the 430 years included the sojourn of the patriarchs in Canaan, made this point clear in their rendering of this passage: "And the sojourning of the children of Israel, while they sojourned in the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan, was four hundred and thirty years." An additional corroboration of the interpretation of the 430 years given above is found in the prophecy that the fourth generation of those who had entered Egypt would leave it (Genesis 15:16), and its recorded fulfillment in Exodus 6:16-20.

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