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(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?.

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  • Would this answer your question ?
    – Lucian
    Dec 4, 2017 at 5:43
  • @Lucian,i seem to get 225 years from entrance to exodus Dec 4, 2017 at 5:56
  • Israel was for four generations in Egypt, which are mentioned in the linked answer.
    – Lucian
    Dec 4, 2017 at 10:29

5 Answers 5

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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

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  • Abraham's first offspring was Ishmael, not Isaac.
    – Nigel J
    Jan 28, 2018 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, 2020 at 17:25
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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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I agree with Bach: "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"

The prophecy generally applies to those born in Egypt as a distinction of locale must be made for "return thither" to Canaan to be true.

Phil is correct - a generation is the time difference between the birth of the father to the birth of a son. Phil gave the example of Abraham and Isaac as 100 years as Abraham was 100 when Isaac was born. But 100 cannot be applied to every generation and assume 400 to be divided by 4 gives 4 generations. That is not what Scripture presents. Each generation is dynamic for example Isaac was 60 when Jacob was born. (and in longer analysis of Jacob serving Laban - Jacob 85 when Reuben was born.) Do we then suppose we ought to divide 400 by 60 or 85 then? No.

Although the 11 sons of Jacob had sons in Canaan already by the time Jacob entered Egypt and the fact that each son was a difference age when their sons or grandsons were born thus the generations do not line up across the 11+1 Tribes - generally there were 2 generations born in Egypt. The third died out in the Wilderness and the fourth enters Canaan "returns thither" with Joshua, Caleb and HP Eleazar.

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  • Great first post. Thanks for contributing and welcome to the site! Feb 22 at 0:43
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generation: Joseph - Jacob had twelve sons and these sons became the twelve tribes of Israel. Who would become the 4th generation descendant that would continue the line of faith after Jacob? 1 Chr 5:1-2 "Now the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel (for he was the firstborn, but because he defiled his father's bed, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph the son of Israel; so that he is not enrolled in the genealogy according to the birthright. Though Judah prevailed over his brothers, and from him came the leader, yet the birthright belonged to Joseph)"

The word "birthright" in Hebrew is "bakorah" which means "birthright, primogenithre." (Gen 25:31-34). This passage clearly testifies that the birthright which continues from Abraham to Isaac to Jacob now belongs to Joseph. Hebrews chapter 11 lists the "Hall of Faith." and verses 8 through 21 records the 3 generations of faith in Abraham. Isaac and Jacob. The next person in the list is Joseph and he is the only one of the twelve sons of Jacob that is recorded in Hebrews 11.

Hebrews 11:22 "By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the exodus of the sons of Israel, and gave orders concerning his bones."

The fulfillment of the "fourth generation" through the bones of Joseph The promise that "in the fourth generation they will return here" (Gen 15:16) is fulfilled through Joseph, the fourth-generation descendant after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. However, Joseph dies at the age of 110 in Egypt (Gen 50:26), so how can the prophecy that they will return in the fourth generation be fulfilled?

Joseph is put into a coffin in Egypt (276th year of the covenant of the torch)

Joseph requested that his corpse be embalmed and put into the coffin but not buried in Egypt so that it may remain with the children of Israel (Gen 50:24-25)

*The exodus of Joseph's bones (636th year of the covenant of the torch)

360 years after Joseph's last will and testament, the Israelites came out of Egypt. Moses, recalling the request of Joseph to his children, takes up Joseph's coffin (Exod 13:19). The Exodus was not simply the liberation of a people but God's fulfillment of the covenant of the torch.

*Joseph's bones are buried in Canaan (Shechem; 692nd year of the covenant of the torch)

After 40 years in the wilderness and 16 years in conquering Canaan, Joseph's bones are finally buried in Shechem of Canaan in the year 1390 BC (Josh 24:29-32). Just as his corpse had been mummified to prevent decay, his living faith did not deteriorate during the passage of several hundred years. Although Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are dead physically, God called them "the living" in acknowledgment of their living faith. Joseph was also physically dead but living in faith. As such, Joseph fulfilled God's covenant as the 4th generation of faith from Abraham. Joseph's bones were not dead, petrified pieces of debris but living signs affirming how the eternally living God is faithful to His covenants. God's Word will be fulfilled no matter how much time has passed. Moreover, the hope of heaven bestowed upon the saints of Jesus Christ will also be surely accomplished.

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This is my suggestion of counting the four generations in Genesis 15:16

Levi, son of Jacob migrate to Egypt at age 48 minimum. (explanation: By that time Jacob was 130, Joseph was 30 became Pharoah official, after 7 years abundant and 2 years famine, Joseph met Jacob, so Joseph was 39 by then. If Joseph borne on the 14th years in Harran, Levi was the 3rd son of Jacob should be older than Joseph 9 years assuming.

There were 70 people migrate to Egypt include Levi's son Kohath, Moses grandfather, so this generation didn't count.

1st generation count from Moses' father Amram

2nd generation was Moses

3rd generation all die in the 40 years of wandering

4th generation led by Joshua returned to Canaan.

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