“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
God knows everything that will happen, and He revealed part of the future to Abraham. God’s plan included sending the Jews to Egypt for four hundred years. As for why, some information is provided in the context of Genesis 15, “And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance. And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.” Genesis 15:14–16
Two major predictions help explain this 400-year waiting period.
First, one result of the Israelites’ leaving Egypt would be “great possessions.” In order to leave Egypt, they had to be there. God promised that their exit would mean great abundance for Israel. This was fulfilled in Exodus 12. When the Israelites left Egypt following the tenth plague, they were told to ask the Egyptians for items of value for their journey.
“And the children of Israel did according to the word of Moses; and they borrowed of the Egyptians jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment: And the Lord gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they lent unto them such things as they required. And they spoiled the Egyptians.” Exodus 12:35-36
Second, the Lord wanted to wait before giving the Promised Land to Israel because “the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” The Amorites worshiped other gods and participated in numerous other sins. God promised to remove the Amorites from the land where Israel would one day live. However, God had a certain time period in mind that included 400 years for Israel in Egypt. God is “slow to anger, and abounding in mercy” (Psalm 103:8). Once the Israelites returned to the land promised to them, the Amorites were destroyed as the Lord said (Numbers 21:31-32; Joshua 10:10; 11:8).
God could have chosen a different way or a different time frame for placing the Israelites in their Promised Land, but He chose a particular way to bring glory to Himself. The 400-year sojourn in Egypt included many examples of God’s wisdom and might. Joseph’s preservation of the Israelites during a famine, Moses’ rise to leadership, and God’s miracles such as the crossing of the Red Sea were all part of Israel’s time in Egypt.