Biblical Principle #116: Israel was Enslaved in Egypt

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After Joseph died, the children of Israel were enslaved in Egypt.


After Joseph died, a new king came into power who did not know Joseph. GOD blessed the family of Israel mightily and they multiplied quickly in the territory of Goshen.

9 Then [Pharaoh] said to his nation, “Look, the race of the children of Israel is a great multitude and is stronger than we; 10 come, let us outwit them, lest they multiply, and it happen in the event of war that they also join our enemies and fight against us and so escape out of the land.” 11 Therefore he set taskmasters over them to afflict them in their works; and they built for Pharaoh strong cities —Pithom and Raamses and On, which is Heliopolis. 12 But the more they humbled them, the more they multiplied and grew; and the Egyptians greatly abhorred the children of Israel.

13 So the Egyptians tyrannized the children of Israel by force. 14 They made their lives bitter with hard labor—in mortar, in brick, and in all manner of service in the field. All their labor in which they made them serve was by violence.

Exodus 1:9-14 OSB

This Pharaoh ruled from a position of fear, which reveals a lot about his character.

GOD had revealed to Abraham many years prior that Abraham’s descendants would be enslaved in a foreign land:

13 Then He said to Abram, “Know for certain that your seed will be strangers in a land not their own, and will serve them; and they will afflict and humble them four hundred years. 14 Also, the nation they serve I will judge; and afterward, they shall come out with great possessions. 15 But as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace, buried in a good old age. 16 Then in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the sin of the Amorites is not yet filled up.”

Genesis 15:13-16 OSB

Four Hundred Year Timeline

The timeline of this four hundred years can be tricky, depending on which Bible we are reading. Here we run into another important textual difference between the Hebrew Masoretic Text (MT) and Greek Septuagint (LXX).

In Exodus 12, the Hebrew Masoretic Text reads:

40 Now the length of time the Israelite people lived in Egypt was 430 years.

Exodus 12:40 NIV

This starts the 400-year clock from when Joseph went to Egypt or when Jacob moved his family to Egypt to live. But there’s a problem with this. In Galatians 3, the apostle Paul contradicts this timeline, writing:

16 The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ. 17 What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise.

Galatians 3:16-17 NIV

Paul explicitly says that there were 430 years from the time GOD promised Abraham to when the Law of Moses was given.

Thankfully, the Septuagint clears this confusion for us:

40 Now the sojourn of the children of Israel who lived in Egypt and in the land of Canaan was four hundred and thirty years. 41 Then it came to pass at the end of the four hundred and thirty years that the entire army of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt by night.

Exodus 12:40-41 OSB

The phrase “and in the land of Canaanis missing from the Hebrew MT.

Here’s the timeline step-by-step:

 Years Since Event Text
0Abraham was 75 when GOD gave him the promises.Genesis 12:3-7
25Isaac was born when Abraham was 100 years old.Genesis 21:5
85Jacob was born when Isaac was 60 years old.Genesis 25:26
215Jacob dies at 130 years old. (This marks the halfway point.)Genesis 47:9
430 The children of Israel leave Egypt and the Law is given.Exodus 12:40 (LXX);
Galatians 3:16-17

(Shoutout to my dad for putting this timeline research together several years prior to this post.)

Therefore, the children of Israel were enslaved in Egypt for 215 years rather than 400, sounding far more consistent with the “fourth generation” statement of Genesis 15:16 (cited above).

This is another example of the importance of the accuracy of our Bible text and the superiority of the Septuagint over the Hebrew Masoretic Text.

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