Did it begin in Genesis 15 when God cut His covenant with Abram and His promise to make him a great nation, or did it begin at the entrance of Jacob into Egypt in Genesis 46?
If Israel’s sojourn began in Genesis 15, then the 430 years can be broken into two portions: the 215 years Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were in Canaan, and then 215 years the people of Israel were in Egypt until the time of the Exodus. On the other hand, if Israel’s sojourn began when Jacob and his family came to Egypt, then the 430 years only entails the time the people of Israel lived in Egypt.
TF wrote a post attempting to defend the theory that Israel was in Egypt for 215 years instead of 430. His main point with originally writing the post was to demonstrate the problems with Harold Camping’s loopy chronologies that lead him to set the date of Christ’s return for May of 2011 (hopefully the film version of the Hobbit will be released by then). In turn, I wrote a brief post explaining why I think TF’s argument does not hold up under scrutiny. There are several exegetical and historical factors that do not allow the 215 year theory to be workable as I will show here shortly. In response, TF posted even another lengthy article defending his 215 year theory that answered some of my challenges to his position.
And on top of his two articles, in the comment section under TF’s first post, a guy named Lambsfury has also come to the defense of the 215 year theory for Israel’s sojourn. Being from Arkansas, I have seen some furious lambs in my day, especially in the local church Easter plays, but he suggest my position is false teaching which is patently absurd seeing that it is the main position held by every orthodox Hebrew and OT scholar I have read and I know, and in fact have personally contacted to solicit their opinion.
With my response then, I will hit on the main talking points TF raises objecting to my view and explain why they are unsustainable for a 215 year theory for Israel’s sojourning in Egypt. The broad areas I wish to cover include: Genesis 15:13-16, Exodus 12:40, 41, Galatians 3:15-17, the subject of genealogies, and then some historical data concerning the chronology of Egypt as it crosses with Israel’s history. Because my discussion with the material is long, I will break up my response into two or three manageable posts.
With that, let me turn to the first two points in defense of a 430 year sojourn in Egypt.
I’ll begin with God’s specific prophecy to Abram in Genesis 15:13-16 in which God says Abram’s descendants will be oppressed in a land not their own for 400 years.
The relevant text reads:
13 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; 14 And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance. 15 And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age. 16 But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.
This is the first prophetic mention of the length of Israel’s sojourning in Egypt. The 215 year theory separates 215 years for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’s “sojourning” in the land of Canaan and 215 years for the nation of Israel sojourning in Egypt. However, just a brief, exegetical review of the four verses severely refutes the division of 430 into two parts.
1) Abram’s seed, or his descendants, will be “a stranger in a land that is not theirs.” Proponents of the 215 year theory suggest Abram’s seed are strangers in the land of Canaan as well as Egypt, because Israel had not possessed the land and did not do so until after the Exodus under Joshua’s leadership. For example, Genesis 37:1 states that Jacob was a stranger (literally, a “sojourner”) in the land of Canaan. But, if one considers the terms of the covenant God made with Abram in Genesis 17:8, He specifically states the land is as good as his already. It is considered an everlasting, or eternal, possession. So even though Abraham had not taken official possession of his land, it was in fact his land. (Ironically, TF’s discussion in his post on the land of Canaan is a good treatment defending premillennialism. I say “ironically” because I would imagine his devotion is to a non-premillennial eschatology. I digress…)
Now, before anyone charges I am arguing Clintonian style semantics, the text of Genesis 15:13-16 further specifies the land where Abram’s descendants will sojourn as we will see as I move along here in the text. The point being is that the land that is not theirs is not the yet-to-be fulfilled possession of Canaan itself. Israel sojourns in a land outside of Canaan.
2) Abram’s descendants will serve and be afflicted by one specific nation. The reader will note God mentions a few times that Abram’s descendants will not only sojourn in a land not theirs, but also serve the nation in whose land they sojourn, and that nation will in turn afflict them.
The 215 year theory suggests Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (including Joseph), were afflicted in Canaan, so the prophecy of service and affliction entails the life of those three men before Jacob went into Egypt. For instance, in Genesis 26 we read of Isaac going to dwell with the Philistines due to a famine in his area. God tells Isaac to stay and He would take care of him, but Isaac leaves anyways. When God prospers him in spite of his lack of trust in God’s promise to bless him regardless of the famine, Isaac comes into conflict with the Philistines who envied him and stopped up his wells (Gen. 26:14-16; see also 26:19, 20). This is understood as being afflicted. Other squabbles the three patriarchs had with local Canaanite tribal groups are cited as examples of the Children of Israel being afflicted and serving other nations.
But these personal run-ins with various tribal clans and city-state chieftains does not come close to fulfilling the terms of God’s prophesy in Genesis 15. The most obvious is verse 14 where God says, the nation whom they serve. The word “the nation” is a singular noun. It is one particular nation in view, not a series of individual families, tribes, and clans. There is only one nation in the Pentateuch that would fulfill the terms of this prophesy: Egypt. Israel is said they will serve that nation for 400 years, until the fourth generation.
Moreover, two further clarifying points ruins the 215 year theory. First, God says “that nation” will be judged.” No other group of people during the time before Jacob experienced the level of judgment Egypt did. There can be no doubt as to which nation God had in mind here. Then secondly, God states that after that nation is judged, Abram’s descendants will come out with great possessions. We see this fulfilled in Exodus 12:35, 36 when the Egyptians gave the people of Israel many articles of clothing, along with gold and silver. The text states that they plundered the Egyptians. When did this event take place? After the 430 years the Children of Israel lived in Egypt (Exodus 12:40).
3) The Amorites are separated from “the nation” which oppresses Israel. If the affliction of Abram’s seed also happened in Canaan before Jacob went into Egypt, there would be no need to distinguish “the Amorites” mentioned here from “that nation” which will oppress Israel. The term “Amorites” is a basic description of the people inhabiting the land of Canaan at that time. In other words, the Canaanites of the conquest. God declares that their iniquity was not yet full, meaning His judgment against their paganism was delayed until after the 430 years were complete. That judgment by God happened under Joshua and the conquest after the Exodus.
Exodus 12:40, 41
Now, let me move my attention to Exodus 12:40, 41. The text reads:
40 Now the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years. 41 And it came to pass at the end of the four hundred and thirty years, even the selfsame day it came to pass, that all the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt.
Exodus 12:40, 41 is probably the most devastating passage against the 215 year theory. It states quite clearly that the children of Israel dwelt in Egypt 430 years. After the end of the 430 years, they went out from the land of Egypt. Yet in spite of this clear, unambiguous passage as to the length of Israel’s sojourn in Egypt, TF believes there can be other ways to understand the passage. He writes:
With this reading, the sojourning is 430 years and the “dwelt in Egypt” modifies the children of Israel, though not necessarily their stay in Egypt. Thus, the text of the KJV is ambiguous as to whether the sojourning all took place in Egypt or not. Some (perhaps all!) the other versions phrase the verse such that all the 430 years are in Egypt. Mr. Butler is quite insistent that the only way to read this verse is as saying that the entire time of the sojourning was in Egypt, but when I’ve questioned him on the issue of translation of the text (i.e. whether the KJV’s translation is a reasonable translation) he does not seem to have any answer. …
Mr. Butler’s third argument relates to a counter-argument that I have not presented above. Very briefly, the counter-argument is that the LXX reading of Exodus 12:40-41 includes the phrase “and in the land of Canaan” into the middle of “who dwelt in Egypt.” This reading suggests at least the possibility that the original reading included the time in Canaan as well as that of Egypt. Alternatively, the reading suggests that there was an ancient marginal note that confirmed that the expression “in Egypt” shouldn’t be understood in the exhaustive sense that Mr. Butler contends. Thus, some ancient commentator likewise confirms the 215 year thesis.
Basically his response is three-fold as I read it. He says the idea of “dwelt in Egypt” is vague and doesn’t necessarily refer to Israel’s stay only in Egypt; the translation of the KJV suggests we can read “dwelt” as supportive of the 215 year theory; and he also favors a textual variant reading found in a few editions of the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation of the OT, which add the phrase and in the land of Canaan to verse 40.
Let me respond to each in turn:
First, the word “dwelt” cannot be understood to mean anything else than what it says: Israel dwelt, lived, had residence in, Egypt for 430 years. Contrary to TF’s claim, the word does mean their stay only in Egypt, especially as it reads here in Exodus 12:40.
Second, TF points out how other versions besides the KJV (try every major modern translation!) phrase the verse in such a way as to say Israel was in Egypt the entire 430 years. Well. There is reason for this: That’s because that’s what the passage is saying! His argument comes suspiciously close to how Dave Hunt claims Acts 13:48 should be translated “all who disposed themselves to eternal life, believed” contrary to all the rules of Greek grammar and the fact every English translation is against him, except the NWT. Besides, the KJV is not wrong with their translation; I have never argued as such. The English word “dwelt” can mean to reside in or be a resident, which is what the Hebrew means here in Exodus 12:40.
And then third, the addition to a few copies of the LXX of the phrase and in the land of Canaan seems to have gone past TF. If not, I don’t really see him interacting with this important variant. The addition is the main thing many of the older commentators like Gill appeal to in order to defend the 215 year theory. The point I made, and still make, is that this phrase is not found in any Hebrew manuscript. We can’t merely look past this as if the phrase is an important marginal note to the Hebrew text. It isn’t. The addition is only found in some translations of the Hebrew, like the LXX. This means the phrase was added to the various translations for one reason or another. The most obvious reason is because the translators saw what they thought was a difficulty reconciling the individual passages where the length of Israel’s sojourn is discussed, so they thought they were helping to clarify the text. The one thing I would add is TF’s appeal to the LXX reading of Exodus 12:40 comes dangerously close to the polemics of KJV-onlyists who attempt to argue that because 1 John 5:7,8 is found in some early Latin translations of 1 John, it was original to John’s epistle and should be added to the Greek text in spite of the fact no Greek text of reputation have the disputed verses.
With that, I’ll pick up my response in the next post…