(KJV) Genesis 15:12

12 And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him. 13 And he said unto Abram, 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; 14 And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance. 15 And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age. 16 But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full

In the above text God promises Abraham that his descendants will come back from captivity in the fourth generation.

If we start counting from Abraham who is given the promise Judah & his brothers are the fourth generation.

Judah & his brothers are not the ones that came out,but are the ones that actually went into Egypt.

So from whom is the fourth generation reckoned here?.

  • Would this answer your question ?
    – Lucian
    Dec 4 '17 at 5:43
  • @Lucian,i seem to get 225 years from entrance to exodus Dec 4 '17 at 5:56
  • Israel was for four generations in Egypt, which are mentioned in the linked answer.
    – Lucian
    Dec 4 '17 at 10:29

In the Old Testament the term generation can be taken as the period of time from a man's birth until the birth of his first offspring. (see TWOT - - Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament)

For Abraham this period of time would be 100 years; i.e. how old Abraham was at the time of the birth of Isaac.

Thus four generations (i.e. Abrahamic generations) would amount to 400 years. This is how Abraham would have viewed it as his life progressed. He would not have had any idea of the time span (generations) between later of his offspring.

That this is likely the proper understanding is that the time length of 400 years has already been introduced into the text back in verse 13 of Genesis chapter 15

It seems reasonably clear in the text that God was giving Abraham a clear word, which Abraham was intended to understand, of how long it would be until Abraham's seed would inherit the land promised to Abraham

  • Abraham's first offspring was Ishmael, not Isaac.
    – Nigel J
    Jan 28 '18 at 7:05
  • G 15:13 identifies those who entered Egypt as Abraham's promised "seed." Gen. 17 clearly eliminates Ishmael from being that promised seed. Verse 18 shows Abraham pleading: "And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael might live before thee!" Yet, in verse 18, "And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him." The "seed" is the critical issue here in @Phil's excellent answer. Isaac is the duly appointed "seed of the woman" and the "seed of Abraham". Jun 22 '20 at 17:25

I'm inclined to accept Phil's answer, but there is a problem with his answer; namely, if the "four generations" are to be understood as "four hundred years" then why is the bible not speaking of the "fifth generation" returning? since only after the four hundred years of sojourn in Egypt did the Israelites return to the land of Canaan, why speak of a fourth generation returning, when in fact they were still in Egyptian bondage?

I want to suggest that the four generations are to be taken literally. We can make this work only if we reckon the four generations from the time Abraham's seed was first born in the land of Egypt. So Jacob and Levi would not be considered part of the "four generations" since they were born prior to the migration to Egypt. Kehat then would be considered the first generation to be born in Egypt. If my theory is plausible then we have: Kehat - Amram - Moses - fourth generation which made it back to the land of Canaan. Keep in mind that not only did Moses die before entering Canaan, but the entire third generation (besides for Caleb and Joshua) was wiped out in the desert during the forty year wandering in the desert, thus the fourth generation was the first to actually enter the land of Canaan.

I'm aware that this raises new problems in regards to the "four hundred year" prophecy, since it's not possible to squeeze in four hundred years in a tight three (literal) generations lifespan. This has been dealt with somewhere else. It is not in my interest to get involved in this complex problem, but all I can say is that this does not in any way undermine the premise that the four generations are four literal generations, as common sense supports; if anything, we could say that the four hundred years is modeled after the four generations and thus should not be taken literally. The motif of punishing the fourth generation (in this case the Amorites) is repeated many times in the bible, and is even found in the ten commandments. Thus it is plausible that the four hundred years prophecy is built on that motif.

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