In the book of Genesis, the Lord tells Abraham, “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; And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance.” Genesis 15:13–14
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 these verses. “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 15:15–16
Two major predictions help explain this 400-year waiting period. First, the 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. And the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand on foot that were men, beside children. And a mixed multitude went up also with them; and flocks, and herds, even very much cattle.” Gnesis 12:35-38
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 them 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. “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.” Psalm 103:8
Once the Israelites did return to the land promised to them, the Amorites were destroyed as the Lord predicted (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 great miracles such as the crossing of the Red Sea were all part of Israel’s time in Egypt.
God is omnipotent—He possesses all power. Whatever He wills comes to pass, and sometimes the way He does things tells us something about Him. The exodus from Egypt is the story of one of these times. The way God interacts with man to bring about the exodus of the Jews from Egypt shows us something about God.
The meaning and importance of the exodus from Egypt are encapsulated in the annual observance of Passover. The fact that God rescued His people from slavery and revealed His power is a recurring theme in Scripture, as the exodus is mentioned in many places (e.g., Deuteronomy 5:6; 1 Samuel 12:6; Psalm 77:20; 78:13; 105:26; Isaiah 63:11; Micah 6:4; Acts 7:36). Because of the exodus, the Israelites could always see themselves as redeemed by God, rescued from slavery, and blessed with God’s favor.