God’s Wonderful Time Clock
"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." (Genesis 15:13)
"Now the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years." (Exodus 12:40)
400 years affliction
A right understanding means the combining of reverence and teachableness: the teachableness of a child. "The meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way." (Psalm 25:9)
In this spirit we approach the word of the Lord to Abraham: "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." Again we observe how a superficial reading may incline one to the thought that Israel was subject to Egypt for that amount of time. We readily discern a difference, however. Why not 430 years? Evidently we are called to think again! The same culminating point of time, as marked by the exodus, is referred to in connection with the 400 years. The next verse reads: "And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance." (Gen.15:13,14)
It is, therefore, clear that the end of the 430 years and the end of the 400 years are brought simultaneously to a close. The apostle Paul in Gal.3:16,17, as we have seen, makes the promise to Abraham as marking the start of the 430 years, therefore, the beginning of the 400 years affliction must have commenced thirty years later. In this connection the words of God are definite. "Know of a surety." Some kind of affliction must have occurred to Abraham’s rightful heir just as predicted. If we are able to see an accurate fulfilment, then our faith in the Divine providences associating this portion of chronology will become stabilised. Remembering that 25 years after the promise was made, Isaac was born, then persecution must have occurred to him when he was five years of age, at which time his half‑brother, Ishmael, was nineteen years of age.
We mention Ishmael because he was, in this case, the persecutor, which assumed the form of mocking, a word implying derision. It took place on the day that Isaac was weaned and during a great feast which had been arranged by Abraham. Now, for the benefit of those unfamiliar with the customs of the East, we may mention that it was the usual procedure to wean a child at about five years of age. Perhaps we cannot do better than to quote a few sentences from a work, entitled: Everyday life in the Holy Land, as follows: "It is no extraordinary thing for a mother to continue to give a ‘man‑child’ the breast till he is four or five years old, especially a first‑born. Indeed, boys of seven may sometimes be seen fed in this way. It is evident that the 400 years of affliction and bondage foretold as coming upon Abraham’s seed, start from the time when Isaac was weaned."
A Remarkable Significance!
Not only are these two features of time clarified—the 430 years and the 400 years–but we further see that the Lord was foreshadowing an event of supreme importance in the eyes of the Scriptural student. Referring to the picture, we learn that the taunts of Ishmael resulted in a complete severance of Hagar and her son from the house of Abraham (Gen.21:8‑13). Hingeing on this the apostle defines the immense differences existing between the freeborn children of God and those who were developed under the law covenant. It was the result of the Lord’s first advent which meant the casting away of fleshly Israel to give place to the House of Sons, who are otherwise termed the Church of the Living God. The apostle said: "Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now.Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free." Gal.4:28‑31.
We may enlarge upon the picture by viewing the Christian (Gospel) age as the weaning period of the Church’s history. They are weaned from things earthly to things heavenly. This is attended by a mockery, yea, even a persecution from some who deem themselves equally freeborn! Have they not, likewise, taken the name of God and Jesus to themselves? Meanwhile the Lord looks on and addresses words of comfort to his afflicted people, saying: "Your brethren that hated you, that cast you out for my name’s sake, said, Let the LORD be glorified: but He shall appear to your joy, and they shall be ashamed." (Isaiah 66:5)
From this and the general tenor of the Scriptural injunctions, we may settle it in our minds that everyone who makes a stand against a fellow Christian without a just cause, gives evidence that he is a persecutor in the sight of God. Such a one denotes–no matter what his professions and activities may be—that the Holy Spirit of Truth is no longer the prevailing factor. In contrast to this, the Lord’s true people are like children in the hands of loving parents. Realising their helplessness, they nestle closer and closer in the arms of the Saviour. And, even though they are called upon to make a valiant stand for what they believe is true, yet, under no circumstances do they yield to malice or nurture grievances. They patiently long for the blessing and recovery of all who profess to be on the Lord’s side, even though this is attended by disappointments which are grave and enduring. Howbeit, because they possess that spirit which makes for peace and unity, they abhor every non‑essential division and ostracism. It is for this reason that the apostles have drawn vivid contrasts between those who make true spiritual advancement and those who no longer produce the fruits of the spirit (Gal.5:15‑26; James 3). Thus we see how many things evolve from that simple incident of Ishmael’s mockery of Isaac!
Number of the elect foreshadowed!
Shall we now go deeper still with regard to the 400 years? The fact that this was declared in advance gives hint of some hidden meaning. Why 400 years? Why not more or less? While it does refer to an actual length of years, yet we bear in mind that it also stands as a symbol of affliction. "They shall afflict them 400 years." (Gen.15:13) Our attention is therefore drawn to that afflicted class whose faith is tried "so as by fire." We refer to Israel after the spirit: the elect, whose number is given as 144,000 (Rev.7:4; 14:1)
From this angle of viewing things it would appear that it was the Divine intention to foreshadow by the numerical itself, the actual number of his elect. Know therefore, that when 400 years is reduced to days, the result is 144,000 (400 x 360 = 144,000). Relative to these figures we have in mind the Scriptural method of reckoning, which was twelve months of thirty days each, which produces a total of 360 days in a year! The time periods associating the flood is one indication of its use. Five months are there stated to equal 150 days. See Gen 7:11; 8:3‑4.
To see these things fitting so precisely into the Divine arrangements enables us to enter into the apostle’s feelings when he exclaimed: "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!" (Romans 11:33)
The Dividing of Time!
The rhythm of God’s dealings will likewise establish our confidence that we have adopted the right lines of interpretation. These rhythms arise to the surface through the simple process of reasoning. Such conclusions are not at all strained, but they come in the course of direct reflection. They reveal a God of order; an order surpassing by far anything associating human ingenuity.
Having completely satisfied ourselves that the apostle was used of God to affirm to us the precise duration from the promise to Abraham to the exodus, and that the 430 years cannot possibly appertain to the actual time spent by Israel in Egypt, we are yet to learn just how long they were under the dominion of the Pharaohs. We find that the period is 215 years which we tabulate as follows. From the promise to Abraham to the birth of Isaac was 25 years. Jacob was born when Isaac was 60, and Jacob entered into Egypt at the age of 130 (Gen.12:4; 21:5; 25:26; 47:9). These three numericals.25 60 and 130, added together produce a total of 215 years, which is just half way across the foreordained 430 year period! We gather from this, a knowledge of God’s power over human life and activity, as well as an understanding appreciation of the rhythm of his dealings.
This is confirmed by means of the following chart.