The seed of Abraham was promised to be multiplied into “a great nation,” “a nation,” and “a multitude of nations.” Moreover it was to be multiplied “as the dust of the earth” uncountable in number even as the stars.
“And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing.” (Genesis 12:2)
“And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered.” (Genesis 13:16)
“And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.” (Genesis 15:5)
God promised that the branch of offspring through Ishmael would swell.
“And the angel of the Lord said unto her, I will multiply thy seed exceedingly, that it shall not be numbered for multitude.” (Genesis 16:10)
“And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed.” (Genesis 21:13)
Later at mount Moriah God pledged to Abraham uncountable offspring through Isaac.
“That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies.” (Genesis 22:17)
When Rebekah was sent to marry Isaac she was similarly blessed by her family.
“And they blessed Rebekah, and said unto her, Thou art our sister, be thou the mother of thousands of millions, and let thy seed possess the gate of those which hate them.”” (Genesis 24:60)
To Isaac, God promised multiplication of offspring.
“And I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give unto thy seed all these countries; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” (Genesis 22:17)
“And the Lord appeared unto him the same night, and said, I am the God of Abraham thy father: fear not, for I am with thee, and will bless thee, and multiply thy seed for my servant Abraham's sake.” (Genesis 26:24)
Isaac blessed Jacob before sending him away to get a suitable wife.
“And God Almighty bless thee, and make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, that thou mayest be a multitude of people; And give thee the blessing of Abraham, to thee, and to thy seed with thee; that thou mayest inherit the land wherein thou art a stranger, which God gave unto Abraham.” (Genesis 28:3-4)
On his way northward to Haran God spoke to Jacob and promised many offspring saying.
“And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” (Genesis 28:14)
Jacob rehearsed this when speaking unto God upon his return.
“And thou saidst, I will surely do thee good, and make thy seed as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.” (Genesis 32:12)
Later in Egypt, Jacob spoke to Joseph about the first born Manasseh and the younger brother Ephraim. When blessing his grandsons he said this about Ephraim, “his seed shall become a multitude of nations.”
“And his father refused, and said, I know it, my son, I know it: he [Manasseh] also shall become a people, and he also shall be great: but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations.” (Genesis 48:19)
In the wilderness journey, Moses reminded God of His promise toward Abraham.
“Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou swarest by thine own self, and saidst unto them, I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it for ever.” (Exodus 32:13)
In each of these, the promise of God was not physical skills or might, mental ingenuity or wisdom, political savvy or military might, material wealth or comfort, health or even a long life. It was always a promise of fruitfulness with their generational offspring increasing into a great multitude. So we read in Exodus 1:7, “And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them.”
The account in Psalm 105:23-24 expressed this somewhat differently saying, “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.” Many years later Solomon testified in prayer toward God to this very abundant increase in Israelites.
“And thy servant is in the midst of thy people which thou hast chosen, a great people, that cannot be numbered nor counted for multitude.” (1 Kings 3:8)
When Stephen was recounting God’s selection of saviors in Acts 7, he also spoke of this period in verse 17 saying, “But when the time of the promise drew nigh, which God had sworn to Abraham, the people grew and multiplied in Egypt.” This same increase of Israelites was what Apostle Paul spoke to his fellow Jews about in Acts 13 at Antioch in Pisidia while in the synagogue on the Sabbath day.
“The God of this people of Israel chose our fathers, and exalted the people when they dwelt as strangers in the land of Egypt, and with an high arm brought he them out of it. And about the time of forty years suffered he their manners in the wilderness. And when he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Chanaan, he divided their land to them by lot. And after that he gave unto them judges [all this time was] about the space of four hundred and fifty years, until Samuel the prophet.” (Acts 13:17-20)
When Apostle Paul said God had “exalted the people” he was rehearsing common knowledge about the rapid numerical population increase of Israelites in Egypt that was spoken about in Exodus 1:7 and Psalm 105:23-24. Remember too that Paul, when known as the fearsome unbelieving persecuting Saul, had heard the words of Stephen in Acts 7:17. Now Paul in this speech had emphasized again that God “exalted the people when they dwelt as strangers in the land of Egypt.” This exaltation was not to physical skills or might, mental ingenuity or wisdom, political savvy or military might, material wealth or comfort, health or even a long life.
This exaltation was unto a drastic population increase so much so that Exodus 1:7 said, “And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them.” The exaltation described was not any kind of attempt to get control over or assert authority in Egypt. The Israelite family of Jacob had come there to “sojourn” (Genesis 47:4) to survive the remaining famine during Joseph’s leadership in Egypt (Genesis 47:1-13).
God had said to go down into Egypt and God had directly promised to Jacob He would bring them out again (Genesis 46:1-6). While the Israelites remained in Egypt waiting upon God’s time there they simply obeyed Genesis 1:28 and 35:9-12, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth.” “And God said unto him [Jacob], I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins” in agreement with God’s previous promises to each of the fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
The Egyptian viewpoint
The statement of the new pharaoh, who was unacquainted with Joseph, the circumstances for entry into Egypt, the earlier covenant, and the manner of life of the Israelite people, was to deal shrewdly against this people.
“Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph. And he said unto his people, Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we: Come on, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and so get them up out of the land. (Exodus 1:8-10)
In Exodus 1:7 Moses had described the Israelites saying, “And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them.” This significant population increase was quite bothersome to the Egyptians. It was not the Israelite service to pharaoh by tending his livestock (Genesis 46:34), nor their willingness to work (Genesis 47:6), but it was their very real superiority in numbers that was threatening. That new pharaoh summed up the general Egyptian sentiment by saying those Israelites “are more and mightier than we” are (Exodus 1:9).
The Egyptians had grown soft while the Israelites were strong, vigorous workers, “therefore they did set over them [the Israelites] taskmasters to afflict them with their [own duties, obligations, and required] burdens” (verse 11). Remember how the Egyptians had much earlier sold their lands, livestock, and then themselves as servants to the pharaoh under Joseph’s leadership (Genesis 47:13-26). To facilitate feeding the people in Egypt during the five remaining years of famine Joseph had gathered all the people into cities (verse 21), “And as for the people, he removed them to cities from one end of the borders of Egypt even to the other end thereof.”
Thus the Egyptians, and any other Canaanite immigrants, were removed from their normal work of daily life throughout the land and clustered together. After the famine ended they were returned to the fields again, given seed for planting, and required to give back to pharaoh twenty percent of the crops for using his land. Plus pharaoh used this prodigious wealth and these acquired servants to carry out various building projects, many of which remain to this day.
When these people had been serving in the fields as laborers but no longer owners of the land and livestock and forced to build indulgent edifices it changed their disposition toward the Israelites and the Egyptian priests who were not made servants. The Israelites continued under special protection from Joseph with the earlier pharaoh’s approval (Genesis 47:1-12) and covenant between them. They remained, and benefited, under that provision as free people. No wonder then that the numerical ascendancy of the Israelites going from less than fifty percent to more than fifty percent of the population in Egypt was so bothersome to the Egyptians.
The new pharaoh reflected that disposition and changed the rules. He broke the covenant that the earlier pharaoh had made with Joseph, Jacob and his sons (Genesis 45:17-21; 47:1-6). That covenant had two simple parts, a duty from each party to the covenant: Pharaoh’s part in exchange for Jacob’s family’s part. Pharaoh would provide Goshen as a place to dwell and by extension the provisions and protection of Egypt to maintain the well-being of Jacob’s family. In exchange Jacob’s sons (and progeny) would provide care for pharaoh’s livestock.
Remember pharaoh had just purchased a vast amount of animals from his own people in exchange for food. These various kinds of animals needed tending. This had been the Israelites’ primary duty until they were made Egypt’s workmen in their affliction of bondage (Exodus 1:11).
The time period given
What Apostle Paul had expressed was this in Acts 13:17-20. Starting from the time of this threshold of transition from a minority of population unto a majority of population in Egypt, reaching across their departure under Moses, proceeding through the forty year wilderness journey, including the six years of conquering the land of Canaan along with the year of land division, continuing across the early period of the judges, and ending the year Samuel received his first message from God at age twelve was about 450 years.
The year of Samuel’s birth was carefully demonstrated in the book, “Rethinking Chronology from Abraham to Solomon by Applying Unused Texts.” Briefly presented, when Samuel had aged out of formal tabernacle service at age fifty (Numbers 4) he installed his two sons as helper judges (1 Samuel 8:1-2). They were shown to have been unfaithful by accepting bribes (1 Samuel 8:3). Because Samuel was so well known and faithful they were slow to bring charges against his sons. By the end of the year the elders had heard and confirmed these evil reports, met together, and concluded that they needed a king. So they approached Samuel and asked for a king to rule, lead, and arbitrate (1 Samuel 8:4-5). After this Samuel had inquired of the Lord and was directed to anoint Saul (1 Samuel 8:6-7). The text in 1 Samuel 9:15–10:1 occurred after about one year had passed so Samuel was at age fifty-one.
Resolving the year of Saul’s anointing
We know that Saul served for forty years as king by two methods (1 Samuel 14:49 with 2 Samuel 2:8-15; Acts 13:21). David served according to clear statements for seven and one-half years over Judah (2 Samuel 2:11; 5:5) and thirty-three years over all Israel (2 Samuel 5:5) for a total of forty and one-half years. And we know when Solomon lived and died from multiple kingdom’s records of events in their own history. Starting at Solomon’s death and going backward forty calendar years for his reign [39 whole years] (1 Kings 11:42), plus forty and one-half years for David’s reign, plus forty more years to the beginning of Saul’s reign (39 + 40.5 + 40 = 119.5) puts us with Samuel at age fifty-one in the year 1050 BC.
Samuel’s birth year was in 1101 BC which was 850 years from Abraham’s birth year. When God spoke to him during the night at the tabernacle (1 Samuel 3:3-15) was 1089 BC. About 450 years earlier from Samuel at age twelve was around 1539 BC (1101 BC - 12 + 450 = 1539 BC). This time period when the Israelites became more numerous than the Egyptians was about twelve years before that oppressing pharaoh arose and about 93 years before the Israelite exodus from Egypt.[Footnote 1] Thus that pharaoh (Exodus 1:8-11) was correct when he stated that they “are more and mightier than we” are (verse 9). After twelve more years of population growth it was visibly obvious!
Incorporating the numerous prior statements about the population growth of the Israelites made the best and fullest sense of Apostle Paul’s words that God had “exalted the people.” His words about 450 years encompassing the succeeding list of events that end with Samuel beginning as a prophet fit all of the facts quite well. Samuel’s ministry began when he transferred from a child of age eleven to a lad of age twelve. That has been the common age of the Jewish bar mitzvah when the son becomes responsible before the Lord for his own moral choices. [See: https://jewishmuseum.org.uk/schools/asset/life-cycle-bar-bat-mitzvah/]
This also agreed with Acts 13:21 when Paul added, “And afterward they desired a king: and God gave unto them Saul the son of Cis, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, by the space of forty years.” This “afterward” until Saul’s anointing was a period of 39 more years after Samuel was called at age twelve. Or we may count off 40 years from when Samuel described himself at age eleven in 1 Samuel 2:26, “And the child Samuel grew on, and was in favor both with the Lord, and also with men.” Both arrive at the same moment for the anointing of Saul as king over Israel.
Apostle Paul gave us under the Holy Spirit’s guidance an unusual way to verify the timing of the arrival of that pharaoh shortly after the Israelites passed over into the majority of the population of Egypt. The other method was carefully demonstrated in the book, “Rethinking Chronology from Abraham to Solomon by Applying Unused Texts.” The Holy Spirit was demonstrating, by way of Apostle Paul, another method to verify the internal coherence and intertwined integrity of the narrative of historical events laid out in Holy Scripture. It is up to us to accept, believe, teach, and act upon this record of God’s words and work as Truth.
Footnote 1: Note how often God reused the same numerical value in His narrative about Israel in Egypt. Joseph entered at age 17 and Jacob lived 17 years in Egypt. Joseph lived 93 years in Egypt (110 - 17 = 93) and the Israelite population transitioned from minority to majority in 1539 BC 93 years before their departure in 1446 BC. Samuel was age 12 when called to be a prophet of God and there were 12 years from 1539 BC until the pharaoh arose who knew not Joseph in 1527 BC. There were 144 years from Levi’s birth year in 1705BC to 80 years into the Israelite’s living in Egypt at 1561 BC. Moses was born in 1526 BC 80 years before the Israelite departure in 1446 BC. There was 144 years from Joseph’s death in 1590 BC unto the departure from Egypt. The number 144 comprises the first three digits of 1446 BC. There were 215 years from Abram entering Canaan until Jacob entered Egypt. The Israelites were 215 years in Egypt until the departure under Moses at age 80. Add 215 + 215 = 430, thus 430 years occurred from the covenant with Abram (Genesis 12:1, ratified upon entry to Canaan) until the law covenant was added (Galatians 3:17) about two months into the wilderness.