A Study in Contradictions #1 (refer here for series and reference explanation)
When you sort the SAB contradictions list by name, as I have done, the third item on the list is a question of how many generations there are from Abraham to Moses. I feel like this is a good first topic because it clearly shows the way a lack of context and historical knowledge can make anything conflict.
The SAB quotes Genesis 15:16 as saying, “and they (meaning the descendants of Abraham) will come back here (to Canaan) in the fourth generation.” The SAB claims this means there are four generations between Abraham, to whom God was speaking here, and Moses, who physically brought the Israelites back to Canaan. The “conflict” given is in the genealogies given in Gen. 21:1-3, 25:21-26, 35:23, Exodus 6:16, 18 and 20.
The genealogy goes like this: Abraham fathered Isaac (Gen. 21:1-3), Isaac fathered Jacob (Gen. 25-21-26), Jacob had 12 sons, including Levi (Gen. 35:23), Levi had three sons, including Kohath (Exo. 6:16), Kohath had four sons, including Amram (Exo. 6:18), and Amram had two sons – Aaron and Moses (Exo. 6:20).
Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Levi, Kohath, Amram, Moses. Seven generations. The SAB is right.
But didn’t God tell Abraham his descendants would return to the land in four generations?
Yes, he did. This is where history comes in.
Abraham’s descendants – or at least the main family line of inheritors – lived in the land of Canaan for a long time after God gave that promise. They didn’t leave the land until the famine while Jospeh was in Egypt. (This would be the same generation as Levi, who was one of Joseph’s brothers.) It was then, in Genesis 46 and the surrounding chapters, that the remaining descendants of Abraham left the land of Canaan and went to live in Egypt.
Now, let’s go back to Gen. 15:16 really quick and back up to verse 13 and go through 16. “Then the Lord said to Abram (the name of Abraham, before he changed it), ‘Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs (Egypt) and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years (roughly four generations). But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for yourself, you dhall 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 complete.'”
Did you see that? “They shall come back here in the fourth generation…”. Not that this will happen IN four generations from when it was spoken, but that they shall return four generations after they left to go to Egypt.
The Israelites left Canaan and went to Egypt in the generation of Levi, as we saw in Gen. 46. From Levi to Moses is Levi, Kohath, Amram, Moses.
Genesis 15:16 and surrounding verses do not conflict with the given genealogies.