400 Years of Affliction, Persecution and Bondage
God said to Abram, "Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years."
When God said Abraham's seed would be strangers in the land and would be oppressed and enslaved four hundred years, did He mean approximately four hundred years? Or, did God mean exactly 400 years to the very day?
The Great Calling
Almost 1900 years before Christ, the patriarch Abram and his wife, Sarai, were called by God to follow Him. At the time, they lived in ancient Ur of Chaldees (modern Iraq) with their father, Terah. Historians consider that river delta land south of Babylon to be the cradle of civilization. Abram, however, was commanded by God to come out of idolatrous Babylon to a new land that he would be shown. He and his clan relocated to a place called Haran for a few years until his father died. Then, when Abram was 75 years old, the Lord spoke to him again:
Now the LORD had said to Abram, Get you out of your country, and from your kindred, and from your father's house, to a land that I will show you: and I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make they name great; and be thou a blessing; And I will bless them that bless you, and curse him that curses you: and in you shall all families of the earth be blessed. Genesis 12:1-3 (emphasis provided)
God said the seed of Abraham would be as the stars - an innumerable number of descendants forming a great nation in the land. God also promised Abram (Abraham) that through his seed, all families of the Earth would be blessed. This was the promise of the long awaited Messiah given to Adam in Genesis 3:15. All of these promises were made concerning Abraham's seed. This was a test of faith because Abraham had no offspring. To be barren in those days was shameful. Added to this, both he and Sarai (Sarah) were past the child-bearing age.
Abraham responded to God's call. He, his wife, his nephew, and all the host that accompanied him became sojourners in a strange land—the land of Canaan. All his years of sojourning, Abraham lived in expectation that God would fulfill His promises. He and his descendants were the seed of faith. By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise. for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. Hebrews 11:1-10 (click verse to hear)
Abraham desired to spread his roots deep into the soil of the eternal Canaan. He longed to be planted by the waters in the everlasting city of peace, the New Jerusalem, built atop 12 solid foundations of precious stone.
Keeping a Vow
After some years, a band of kings invaded nearby Sodom and took Abraham's nephew captive. In response, Abraham mustered the men in his train to rescue him, but before proceeding, he prayed to God for help. God heard his prayer, and the band of kings were utterly routed. Afterward, Abraham joined both the king of Sodom and the high king-priest of Salem in the King's Valley to repay his debt to God.
Despite this overwhelming victory, Abraham became worried that he would now be the object of endless strife and affliction. He feared that he would never have peace in that land again. Why had God brought him to that land? Where was his reward? Abraham did not possess the land. He was old, childless, and had no natural heir in whom to pass this promised birthright. So, how could God's promise of the messiah be fulfilled through him?
God understood Abraham's concerns and came to him in a vision. Together, they swore a vow using a ritual common in those days. By the rites of this oath, animals were cut into pieces, and both participants of the covenant walked through the carcass portions. The implication was that such should happen to whomever breaks the oath. When God swears an oath, we can expect that He will keep his word (See Genesis Chapter 15 on the column right).
Abraham's Seed - Born of Spirit by Faith
In the vision, God assured Abraham that he would be protected from affliction. God also reaffirmed that He would give the man an heir to continue the God line of priestly service. His seed, however, would endure affliction and eventual slavery. The persecution would last 400 years, but God solemnly promised Abraham that He would not forget the seed of faith and would miraculously deliver them at the end of the time prophecy. He further promised that this seed would return to the good land with great substance as a possession forever when all was fulfilled.
Sojourning in Canaan
Abraham and his seed had not been given possession of the land Canaan yet because the time allotted for repentance to the carnal Amorites who lived in that land was not full. God establishes times and seasons for every purpose—even times of probation for nations and individuals. God would honor the time allotted for the Amorites to be restored, but if they continued in their own destruction, He would root them out. God would not have His seed to mingle with idolators. So, in the meantime, the seed of Abraham must continue to sojourn.
There are two ways to sojourn in life. We can walk after the flesh working out our salvation and happiness by our own designs. This way always leads to bondage. Otherwise, we can walk after the Spirit allowing God to work miracles in our behalf through faith. This way always leads to freedom.
Preparing the Soil
As the years passed, Abraham and Sarah gradually allowed doubt to creep into their lives. When the Lord said Sarah would bear a child, both she and Abraham laughed incredulously. Before the promised land could be populated and secured, Sarah had to know God is well able to deliver the fulfillment of His word. Abraham still had to be convinced that God is a shield and buckler to righteous men and nations. Unbelief was delaying the miracle. Instead of trusting God without reservation, the couple stumbled, and they tried to accomplish God's promises by their own designs.
Upon the urging of Sarah, Abraham had a child, Ishmael, through Hagar (Agar), the Egyptian bondwoman. Sometimes, the mistakes of the fathers and mothers, by example, are visited upon the children unto the third and fourth generation. See Exodus 20:4-6 or second commandment. This error set in motion practices and a chain of events which brought affliction upon Abraham's seed, Isaac and the sons of Israel.
Finally, through the lessons of trials and tribulations, both Abraham and his wife fully realized that the Lord controls all matters. When God closed the wombs of the female slaves under Abimelech, Sarah was fully convinced that God can even control births and birthrates. See Genesis 20:1-18. See also Hebrews 11:8-16
Now, the way was prepared for God to multiply the seed of Abraham through Isaac and Israel as the stars of heaven. When Sarah delivered the child, she named him Laughter, and when the Israelites later settled in Egypt during the years of famine, their population growth was explosive. This intimidated the Egyptians very much (see Exodus 1:7-12).
In Abraham's vision, the Lord foretold that the Israelites would return to the promised land after four generations, but when did the 400 years begin? Did the time begin before or after Israel's sons entered Egypt? When we go to the book of Exodus, which describes the liberation of the children of Israel, we find the following:
Now the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years.
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 12:29-42. Click to hear.
This verse mentions 430 years and seems to indicate that the children of Israel had been in Egypt proper for exactly 430 years but makes no mention of the 400 years. The 430 years of sojourning began the day that Abraham was commanded to sojourn in Canaan. That was when God initially promised that I will bless them that bless you, and curse him that curses you. Pharaoh and the Egyptians had a taste of that curse.
That was also when God promised that all families of the Earth would be blessed. The Israelites thought the Ten Commandments law was the fulfillment of this promise to Abraham, but it was not the fulfillment. The law has always existed. Moses was given the stone tablets (see image) on Mt. Sinai fifty days after the exodus. The promise regarding this blessing was not fully realized until the ministry and sacrifice of Christ.
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 cancel, that it should make the promise of none effect. Galatians 3:16-17
400 Years Fulfilled
What about the 400 year promise? What else occurred on that "selfsame day" mentioned in the exodus account? Why does the Bible place so much emphasis on the precision of time? Because, this was the exact fulfillment of the promise given to Abraham concerning the 400 years of affliction, persecution, and slavery.
We know Abraham was seventy-five years old when God instructed him to leave Mesopotamia. Twenty-five years later, Sarah gave birth to Isaac. This was 405 years before the exodus. Sarah gave birth exactly on the appointed date God had promised to Abraham. So Sarah conceived and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the appointed time of which God had spoken to him. Genesis 21:2
Five years after his birth, Sarah weaned Isaac, and the young lad likely participated in his first sacrificial oblation during Abraham's feast. We may think it is unusual that a child would still have taken some nourishment from his mother at this age. Certainly, a strong bond existed between mother and child, but there is also a spiritual significance attached to weaning connected with instructional training; A birthright was at issue, and the heir of the birthright would eventually have assumed the responsibilities of priesthood for the clan. Ishmael was about the age of twenty years old. A choice must be made between Ishmael and Isaac as to who would be the heir of the promise.
Ishmael afflicted Isaac with mockery because the lad was advanced in age when he was weaned, and Isaac would have been just old enough to feel humiliation. Ishmael was the eldest son, but he walked after the flesh and not the Spirit. He did things his own way. Sadly, this young man had been connected with contempt, strife, and affliction since the day he was conceived. The Lord, however, sees all injustice and hears all affliction. The name Ishmael actually means God hears. Mercifully, God established a covenant with his mother as well. See Genesis 16:1-14. On the day of the feast, however, God confirmed the covenant of promise through Isaac and set him apart as the seed of faith and not works. This feast was exactly 400 years before the exodus to the very day.
The child grew and was weaned, and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. Now Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, mocking. Therefore she said to Abraham, "Drive out this maid and her son, for the son of this maid shall not be an heir with my son Isaac." The matter distressed Abraham greatly because of his son. But God said to Abraham, "Do not be distressed because of the lad and your maid; whatever Sarah tells you, listen to her, for through Isaac your descendants shall be named Genesis 21:8.
Ishmael's mocking of Isaac fostered an animus that has never been healed completely. Such persecution may seem mild enough, but the affliction did not stop at Abraham's feast. This feast marked the beginning of very troublesome times with the people of the land. The sons of Isaac also brought much affliction upon themselves. Remember, the real issue here is the war between flesh and spirit. The entire book of Genesis deals with the enmity between lust and trust. The malice between flesh and spirit continued with the two sons of Isaac and the 12 sons of Jacob as well, and not in a mild way. There were very few seasons of family unity and peace during these years. Finally, the affliction degraded into wholesale slavery. The next four books of the Bible deal with the solution to this problem in minute detail.
Abib 15: - End Malice - Open The Ears - Begin to Bear Fruit
Abraham's feast coincided with the Canaan barley festival which occurred near the full, harvest moon of Abib in the springtime. Green ears of corn were forming, and ears of barley were at an early stage of usefulness. Abib actually means green, young ears (see Strong's H24. The association of this month with the beginning of Isaac's training and the good seed is simple to understand. He that has ears to hear, let him hear. See Mark 4:11-23. Click to hear.
That very day marked the beginning of the 400 years of oppression. After the exodus, this same date became the Feast of Unleavened Bread which typified putting away malice, envy, and affliction. In fact, unleavened bread is called the bread of affliction (Deuteronomy 16:3). All leaven was to be cast out of the house. The feast pointed to the redemptive ministry of Christ from slavery to sin. About this time, Abraham planted a tamarisk tree at Beersheba, and there he called on the name of the LORD, the Everlasting God. Genesis 21:33
On the 15th of Aviv, that selfsame day, God brought out the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob from Egypt, 400 years after Abraham's feast.
If we follow the chronology, we see that besides Joseph, the Israelites were only in Lower Egypt for 215 years and were physical slaves just a portion of that time. The four generations mentioned by God are traced through the tribe of Levi who entered Egypt with the other sons of Israel during the years of famine. The time had come to begin training in God's laws of liberty. Joseph received the double portion of the birthright and was blessed by several generations in Egypt, but the priestly portion of the birthright was to be given to Levi. The four generations prophesied are as follows:
(1) Levi (2) Kohath (3) Amram and (4) Moses
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound. Isaiah 61:1.