430 Years From When to Sinai?

Beni Hasan depiction of Semitic migrants entering Egypt. Dated to be around 1700 BC

When Jacob (aka, Israel) hears that his son is alive and well in Egypt, he packs up his things and starts heading south to see his son. At the border of Egypt, he pauses to make a sacrifice.

[+] So Israel took his journey with all that he had and came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. And God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “Here am I.” Then he said, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.” (Gen 46:1-4)

For reasons that can only appeal to a nerd, the timing of God’s promise to Jacob is fascinating. Keep your mental thumb there while we flip to Exod 12 and read something interesting:

[+] The time that the people of Israel lived in Egypt was 430 years. At the end of 430 years, on that very day, all the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt. (Exod 12:40-41)

So we conclude that the Israelites were in Egypt for 430 years. To the day! And for this very reason, all your Bible timelines and Sunday School handouts will dutifully say that the Children of Israel were in Egypt for 430 years.

(Nerd Tip: Since Exodus says “on that very day”, that means Jacob left Canaan for Egypt on the 14 day of Abib, aka Passover day, 430 years prior to Passover being established in Exod 12. It’s neither here nor there, but it was a full moon, since Passover always/only happens on a full moon.)

But the plot thickens

Flip over to Gal 3, where we read about God’s promises to Abraham … and something that gives us pause:

[+] Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise. (Gal 3:16-18)

Now why would Paul say that the Mosaic Law (given at Mt. Sinai in 1446BC, a couple months after the Exodus) came 430 years after the promise to Abraham? Exodus clearly says the Children of Israel were in Egypt for 430 years, so if we add a couple hundred more years from Jacob to Abraham, that means it’s ~650 years from Abraham to the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai?!? Somebody’s math ain’t right!

Bible nerds will jump forward with a ready answer: “Don’t cha know: The NT authors frequently quoted from the Greek Septuagint and not the Hebrew OT.” And sure enough, here’s what we find in the Greek Septuagint Exod 12:40

[+] 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. (Exod 12:40 LXXe)

Boom! Problem solved! Paul is using the Septuagint, saying that the time from Abraham entering Canaan till the Exodus was 430 years. (Which, btw, agrees with the Samaritan Pentateuch as well as the Jewish Talmuds. In fact, the ancient rabbis say that Abraham received his promise on Abib 14, the same day he made his sacrifice in Gen 15, the day that would be called ‘Passover’ 430 years later)

So waitasec – if it’s 430 years from Abraham to Moses, why do so many Bible handbooks and Sunday School Bible timelines show that Israel was in Egypt 430 years?

Well, it turns out that many scholars think the years in the Septuagint can’t be trusted (do the math on the genealogies in Gen 5 and Gen 11 in the Septuagint an you’ll soon see why). So does that mean Paul was wrong in the NT when he said it was 430 years from the promises of Abraham to the Law?

Welllllll…. not necessarily!

Turns out that if you want to insist that Exod 12:40 teaches us that the Israelites were in Egypt for 430 years (as most modern Bibles read), you still have an out because of the way Paul worded Gal 3:16: “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring.”

  • One way to read that sentence is to say that Paul is talking about just the first promise to Abraham in Gen 12 (or 15).
  • Another way to read that sentence is to say that Paul is talking about the one promise being made again and again to Abraham and his offspring – namely, the other patriarchs: Isaac and Jacob.

Could this latter explanation work? Let’s check:

  • The first time God makes the promise is when Abe was 75 in Gen 12. It’s repeated to Abe in Gen 15 (with the covenant sacrifice) and again in Gen 17
  • God repeats the same promise to Isaac in Gen 26
  • The last time we see the promise repeated is to Jacob in Gen 46, as Jacob is on his way to Egypt, at the southern border of Canaan, the very night before Jacob migrates to Egypt

So by that calculation, you still end up with “the promises made to Abraham and his offspring … are 430 years before the Law”

Weird, huh.

But let’s get back to the Septuagint for a sec…

Here’s one more weirdness: if you go with the Septuagint’s version and believe that it’s 430 years from Abraham’s promise/sacrifice to the Exodus (as I do), just for fun, let’s do the math on the life events of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to calculate how long the Children of Israel were in Egypt.

   Abraham is 75 when he first gets the promise:    0
   Abraham is 100 when Isaac is born:              25
   Isaac is 60 when Jacob is born:                 85
   Jacob is 130 when he meets Pharaoh:            215

So the time from Abe’s first promise to Jacob going to Egypt is 215. Subtract that from 430 years, and you have .. 215 years for the Israelites’ duration in Egypt.

What are the odds that exactly 1/2 the 430 years is spent in Canaan and 1/2 the 430 years is spent in Egypt? Now that’s what I call weird.

Either Moses is spit-balling with the numbers for Abe, Isaac and Jacob and getting them to line up in a cute pattern (why would he care??), or God doesn’t mind a little mathematical symmetry in His story.

I’ve looked at a few Mandelbrot fractals. I’m going with the latter.

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>




Let\'s see if you\'re really a human: *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.