How long did the Israelites sojourn in Egypt? The Bible is correct, they were there 430 years. In the Tanakh (Old Testament), it says “Now the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt, [was] four hundred and thirty years.” (Exodus 12:40) But, despite that clear statement about the duration of the sojourn, Bible scholars have been debating the length of the time the Israelites were in Egypt for almost as long as that sojourn lasted, with two views of its duration dominating the debate.
In the first view, those who hold to an early date for the Exodus occurring sometime around mid-1400s BCE say that the sojourn was 430 years in duration, and that the oppression of the Children of Israel lasted for 400 years. In the second view, those who hold to a late date for the Exodus occurring sometime around mid-1200s BCE say that the sojourn lasted for 215 years (some say 210 years), and that the 400 years of oppression includes the combined time the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (aka Israel) spent in Canaan and Egypt. Fortunately, there are two Scripture passages that together shed light on which of the two views reflects actual history, as follows:
Genesis 15:13 says “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.” In that verse, God says that the oppression of the seed of Abraham (i.e., the Children of Israel) would span a period of 400 years.
Then Psalm 105:6-25a says “O ye seed of Abraham his servant, ye children of Jacob his chosen. He is the Lord our God: his judgments are in all the earth. He hath remembered his covenant forever, the word which he commanded to a thousand generations. Which covenant he made with Abraham, and his oath unto Isaac; And confirmed the same unto Jacob for a law, and to Israel for an everlasting covenant: Saying, Unto thee will I give the land of Canaan, the lot of your inheritance: When they were but a few men in number; yea, very few, and strangers in it. When they went from one nation to another, from one kingdom to another people; He suffered no man to do them wrong: yea, he reproved kings for their sakes Saying, Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm. Moreover he called for a famine upon the land: he brake the whole staff of bread. He sent a man before them, even Joseph, who was sold for a servant: Whose feet they hurt with fetters: he was laid in iron: Until the time that his word came: the word of the Lord tried him. The king sent and loosed him; even the ruler of the people, and let him go free. He made him lord of his house, and ruler of all his substance: To bind his princes at his pleasure; and teach his senators wisdom. Israel also came into Egypt; and Jacob sojourned in the land of Ham. And he increased his people greatly; and made them stronger than their enemies. He turned their heart to hate his people …”
The latter part from the Psalms would seem to indicate that there was no oppression of the Patriarchs, including Jacob, by anyone during their time in Canaan or Egypt, and that the oppression started only after the Children of Israel had increased to be large in number in Egypt, something that happened after Jacob’s death. In that case, the 400 years of oppression could not have included the Patriarchs, and thus the entire 400 years of oppression must be applied to the time the Children of Israel sojourned in Egypt. This would mean that the 430 years specified in Exodus 12:40 would be the time between Jacob’s entrance into the land with his seed until the time of the Exodus.