As the Prince of Egypt he was powerless, but as the shepherd from Midian he brought forth a nation.
As the sun was setting Abram fell into a deep sleep and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and they will be enslaved and mistreated 400 years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves and afterward they will come out with great possessions. You however will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a good old age. In the 4th generation your descendants will come back here for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land from the River of Egypt (Wadi al Arish) to the great river, the Euphrates – the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites, and Jebusites.” (Gen. 15:12-16, 18-21).
As the story of Joseph ended, the family of Israel had been relocated into Egypt and given its finest land in return for the incredible services Joseph had performed in saving all Egypt, while vastly enriching Pharoah. So how did Egypt’s honored guests become despised slaves by the time Moses was born?
What Have You Done For Me Lately?
The explanation, Exodus 1:8-22, was summarized by Stephen as he reviewed Israel’s history before the Sanhedrin. “As the time came for God to fulfill his promise to Abraham the number of our people greatly increased. Then another king, who knew nothing about Joseph, became ruler of Egypt. He dealt treacherously with our people and oppressed our forefathers by forcing them to throw out their newborn babies so that they would die (Acts 7:17-19).”
400 years is a long time to remember anything, especially when Egyptian life spans were only about 35 years. Remember this, within one generation the children of Israel had forgotten all about the miracles associated with their arrival in the promised land, even though elaborate attempts were made to help them remember, and it had been one of their greatest victories (Judges 2:10). Over 10 Egyptian generations had passed and the family of Israel had become a people numbering in excess of 1 million. They were now a feared and hated minority. There’s also an indication from the Greek language of Acts 7 that this king was not from the same family as the Pharoah of Joseph’s time, and maybe not even Egyptian.
Into this environment Moses was born. By tradition, his mother had a vision that her baby boy would redeem his people. That’s why she went to such extremes to protect him from the edict that brought death to all Jewish infants. This extended even to floating him down the river to be retrieved by Pharoah’s daughter. And so Pharoah provided a home, education, and military training for the one who would ultimately bring about his downfall.
400 Years or 4 Generations, Which Is it?
Scoffers note the apparent conflict between 400 years and 4 generations in God’s promise to Abram. Read it carefully against the backdrop of ensuing passages and you’ll find that there were indeed 400 years from Abram to Moses and there were also 4 generations from Moses till the Israelites were finally settled in the promised land. The length of a generation is measured by the span of time from a man’s birth till the birth of his first son, in Biblical times about 40 years. Moses lived through 3 of these, being about 40 years old when he fled to Midian after killing an Egyptian soldier, 80 when he returned to confront Pharoah, and 120 when he died on Mt. Nebo. The generation of Israelites who crossed the Jordan and conquered the land were the 4th since the birth of Moses, those who left Egypt with him having all perished in the desert as a consequence of their disobedience (Deut. 1:35).
As for Moses killing an Egyptian for beating a Hebrew slave and then criticizing a fellow Hebrew for doing the same thing (Ex. 2:11-14), I believe Moses knew from his mother’s vision that he was Israel’s redeemer. This helps explain his behavior; acting in his own strength to begin their deliverance, and the slave’s retort, “Who made you ruler and judge over us?” God’s way was better but now His chosen one was a murderer and fugitive from the law. His grace abounds even in sin, so Moses found refuge in the desert while those in Egypt either died or forgot him.
When he returned the Prince of Egypt was a nobody shepherd from Midian, acting in the strength of the Lord. And though Pharoah called himself a god, Moses was now more than a match for him. While each of the 10 plagues was aimed at one of the gods of Egypt, the last one was reserved for the man who called himself god.
As for the 10 nations whose land God had promised to Abraham’s descendants, their sin was now complete. After 400 years of waiting in vain for them to repent and return to Him, the One who made them and loved them had run out of patience. Soon His armies would cross the Jordan and exact the punishment God always demands of those who refuse His grace and mercy (Deut. 18:9-13). Israel would fight the only war of aggression in their entire history, and receive the land He promised them as their everlasting reward.
And now you know the adult version.