God’s promise and prophecy to Abraham found in Genesis 15:13-16 is astonishing. To Abraham, who at the time of his vision had no offspring, God had promised that his descendants would multiply to the extent that they would number as the stars in the heavens. He promised Abraham that the land of Canaan — in which he was a sojourner — would be his descendants’ possession. However, as the future unveiled before him, his blessing would be a mixed cup: there would be adversity through which his family must travel. Abraham’s descendants would go into a land not their own (Gen. 15:13). They would fall into slavery there and be mistreated by the nation in which they dwelt (Gen. 15:13). The nation that oppressed them would in turn be judged by God and Abraham’s seed would leave their land of bondage with great possession; God would discomfit the nation which had oppressed them. Then they would be given the land of Canaan which at the time of God’s promise was in the hands of the Amorites. The land would remain in their hand because “the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full” (Gen. 15:16). The time of duration before this would be fulfill would be about 400 years. It would be four generations from the time Abraham’s seed entered that strange land until they left it (Gen. 15:16).
When Jacob’s family entered Egypt, they did so in a favored position. Joseph was next to Pharaoh in authority (Gen. 41:4). And he was favorably inclined toward them, as he was to Joseph. They settled in the land of Goshen and fared well there. Their favored circumstances continued for many years. Joseph was about 40 years old when his family moved from Canaan to Egypt, and this favored condition would continue through Joseph’s life of 70 more years.
Joseph died at age 110 and “there arose a new king over Egypt, who knew not Joseph” (Exo. 1:6). There is uncertainty what is meant by this. We don’t know if it was a break in the native Egyptians or, as some surmise, that the Pharaoh of Joseph’s day was himself a foreigner whose dynasty was overthrown with the native ruling class returning to rule again. Whatever it was, Joseph’s family were strangers there and because they were rapidly multiplying, their increasing numbers aroused the suspicions and stoked the fears of the ruling class. Oppression took place and worsened because the rigorous labor the Israelites were forced to give did not lessen their multiplying. Finally, to stay their rapid increase, midwives were commanded to cast all male children into the river. Pain and suffering intensified. God’s prophecy to Abraham was fulfilled in the grievous slavery Israel suffered.
At this time Moses was born, for just as God’s hand of providence had sent Joseph to Egypt many years before to prepare for his family’s coming (Gen. 45:7), so His hand of providence is seen once more in the life of Moses. For every critical hour God raises up one to help His people. And it was a critical hour: “And the children of Israel signed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. And God saw the children of Israel, and God took knowledge of them” (Exo. 2:23-25).
Moses was the man of the hour. Moses had himself been prepared to be leader of his people, 40 years as Pharaoh’s grandson and 40 years in Midian as a shepherd. At length God sent Moses back to Egypt with a message to Pharoah:“Let my people go” (Exo. 5:1). Pharaoh was not willing and God brought judgment upon Egypt as God said, “I will judge that nation” (Gen. 15). The judgment was in the form of the ten plagues which were sent on Egypt through the hand of Moses and Aaron, and which plagues increased in intensity until the tenth which brought the death of all the firstborn males of Egypt (Exo. 11:4-6). The final, devastating judgment occurred when Pharaoh’s army pursued the Israelites into the Red Sea through which Israel had crossed. When Israel was safely on the other side and Pharaoh’s army in the middle of the sea, Moses stretched out his rod over the sea and the waters returned to their place again. “The horse and his rider hath he overthrown in the sea” (Exo. 15:1). Truly God had judged the nation. Coupled with Israel’s departure from Egypt was God’s command through Moses that every Israelite “borrow” gold, silver, and jewelry from the Egyptian neighbors. They did and Israel came from Egypt with great substance, just as God had told Abraham (Gen. 15:14). And from their entrance into Egypt until their departure, they had come out in the fourth generation (Gen. 15:16). Moses was the fourth generation from Levi who entered the land.
Yes, the prophecy was written by Moses long after God had made it, and near to the time of its fulfillment. But when Israel left Egypt they carried with them mute testimony that the prophecy was known by Israel on their entrance into Egypt, many years before the birth of Moses. Joseph, whom God sent there, commanded the children of Israel: “I die, but God will surely visit you and bring you up out of this land unto the land which he swore to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob” (Gen. 50:24). Joseph charged that they who returned to Canaan must carry his bones with them. And, so they did (Gen. 5:25; Exo. 13:19; Josh. 24:32).