From Abram (Genesis 12) to the death of Moses (Deuteronomy 32 [actually recorded in ch. 34]), there are approximately 480 years. This is how I arrived at this time period:
- Abram left Haran to go to Canaan when he was 75 (Gen 12:4).
- Ten Years Later: After travelling through Canaan and down to Egypt and back to Canaan, God made a covenant with Abram (Genesis 15:12-18).1 This must have been shortly before Ishmael was conceived, because in Genesis 15:2 Abram tells God that Eliezer was his heir. Therefore, at the making of this covenant, Abram must have been approximately 85. (Ishmael was 13 when Abraham was 99. Take 13 and 9 months from 99 = approx. 85yo)
- Four Hundred and Thirty Years Later: Exodus 12:40-41 (KJV): “Now the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years. And it came to pass at the end of the four hundred and thirty years, even the selfsame day it came to pass, that all the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt.” We see in these verses that the sojourning of the children of Israel was 430 years,2 and then they left Egypt.
- Forty Years Later: The children of Israel wandered in the wilderness for forty years (Deuteronomy 29:5). At the end of forty years, Moses died as recorded in Deuteronomy 32.
- Add up 10 years + 430 years + 40 years = 480 years.
A few explanations
Paul confirms the time period of 430 years mentioned above. The sojourning was measured from the time God made a covenant with Abram to the time that they exited Egypt and were given the Law through Moses. See Paul’s comments in Galatians 3:16-17:
Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. … This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void.
There are two covenants God made with Abraham. The first in Genesis 15:18 (mentioned above) and the second in Genesis 17:4. These were separated by approximately 14 years, so if the covenant Paul refers to in Gal. 3:17 is the 2nd covenant, this time period between Gen. 12 and Deut. 32 would be approximately 494 years.
1. ‘Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for yourself, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates”‘
2. A note of explanation to the 3rd point above: It seems to me that translators of modern versions have mistranslated Exodus 12:40-41. I’ve used the King James Version in quoting Ex 12:40-41, as it gives a literal translation. If you look carefully at the words (see below), you can see that the children of Israel’s sojourning was four hundred and thirty years, NOT the time they were in Egypt, as modern translations say. Ex. 12:40-41 from KJV with Strongs numbers:
Exo 12:40 Now the sojourningH4186 of the childrenH1121 of Israel,H3478 whoH834 dweltH3427 in Egypt,H4714 was fourH702 hundredH3967 and thirtyH7970 years.H8141
Exo 12:41 And it came to passH1961 at the endH4480 H7093 of the fourH702 hundredH3967 and thirtyH7970 years,H8141 even the selfsameH2088 H6106 dayH3117 it came to pass,H1961 that allH3605 the hostsH6635 of the LORDH3068 went outH3318 from the landH4480 H776 of Egypt.H4714
It seems to me, that the phrase in Ex. 12:40 “who dwelt in Egypt” refers to Israel, not to the sojourning. This is confirmed by Galatians 3:16-17 where Paul states that the law was given 430 years after the covenant made with Abraham.