Genesis 15:13: The Egyptians’ enslavement of the Israelites

This post is part of my biblical prophecy series.

Context and Prophecy

God appears to Abram in a vision and says

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. (Genesis 15:13)

Straightforward Interpretation

There is no detail in this prophecy concerning which land Abram’s descendants will be held captive in, or when the period of captivity will occur. The only obvious period of captivity that seems to fit the description is the Israelite’s time in Egypt. This is described in Exodus 12:41 as being 430 years long which, while not exactly as predicted in the prophecy, is pretty close. The prophecy therefore appears to be fulfilled, if not to the exact number of years.

Apologist Interpretation

The apologist interpretation is the same as the straightforward interpretation.


Self-contained fabrication. According to the Documentary Hypothesis of biblical scholarship, a single author known as the Yahwist is likely responsible for the chapters of Genesis describing Abraham and his descendants, and also most of the early chapters in Exodus describing the Israelites’ captivity in Egypt. Given that all this material was written by one person after the events in question, the 400 year prophecy is quite easily explained as being ex eventu.

This idea is further strengthened when one considers that the Priestly writer, another source in the Documentary Hypothesis, was primarily an editor, and therefore could quite easily have inserted the prophecy himself.

I must note, however, that given the lack of archaeological evidence for a several century long captivity of Israeli people in Egypt, it might be more reasonable to conclude that the prophecy is a self-contained fabrication, rather than an ex eventu prophecy of an actual event.

Importantly, many other prophecies made by God to Abram in the book of Genesis are susceptible to the same arguments as above.

Return to the prophecy index.


2 Responses to Genesis 15:13: The Egyptians’ enslavement of the Israelites

  1. joshleonard44 says:

    this is false. The Israelites were in Egypt 430 years. They went into Egypt under Joseph the first time and they weren’t oppressed until around Moses’ birth. This dream God gave to Abraham in Genesis 15;13 is referring to Judah being taken to the United States of America and the 400 year captivity they would go through.

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