I do not understand why GOD prophesied to Abraham that his descendants would be 430 years in Egypt. Why? Is it because GOD is punishing him?
No, it was not as punishment for Abraham, but to protect his descendants that God had Jacob’s family move to Egypt. To understand just why this was necessary and how, even though they became slaves in Egypt, it was protection for them we need to look at some things in the Bible as well as some things in Egyptian history.
As Abraham’s family began to grow, both in numbers and in wealth, their place among the inhabitants of Canaan became troubled. For one example of this, read Genesis 34.
Here is the story of how one of the princes of Canaan, Hamor who was the son of Shechem of the city by that name, became attracted to the daughter of Jacob. To tell the story briefly, he raped her, but then wanted to make her his wife. When Shechem came to Jacob and his sons to ask for the girl, they said:
Make marriages with us. Give your daughters to us, and take our daughters for yourselves. You shall dwell with us, and the land shall be open to you. Dwell and trade in it, and get property in it. (Genesis 34:9-10)
If they had done this, it would not have been long before they would have become a part of the idolatrous people of Canaan – and God’s separation of Abraham to become the father of a great nation would have failed.
Jacob’s sons dealt deceitfully with Shechem by tricking him into submitting to circumcision – along with all the men of his city. Back in the city, Shechem told the people there what this would mean:
These men are at peace with us; let them dwell in the land and trade in it, for behold, the land is large enough for them. Let us take their daughters as wives, and let us give them our daughters. Only on this condition will the men agree to dwell with us to become one people – when every male among us is circumcised as they are circumcised. Will not their livestock, their property and all their beast be ours? Only let us agree with them, and they will dwell with us. (Genesis 34:21-23)
The men of the city agreed and were all circumcised. Then two of Jacob’s sons attacked them when they were in great pain from the circumcision and killed all the men of the city. They did this, they said, because Hamor had treated their sister as a prostitute. Jacob, however, saw what this meant. He said to his sons:
You have brought trouble on me by making me stink to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites. My numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household. (Genesis 34:30)
As this family grew, it was inevitable that they would come into conflict with the people of the land where they were living with one of two results: either they would adopt the ways of the those people, as did the family of Lot (Abraham’s nephew) when he moved into Sodom (see Genesis 19), or they would be involved in disputes over things like water rights, as was Isaac (see Genesis 26:17-22). In the first instance, they would lose their devotion to Jehovah; in the second, they would be attacked by the people of the land – and, as Jacob feared, be destroyed by them.
Even when Israel left Egypt after the 430 years and God gave them the land, He told them that they would get it only little by little. They were a nation, but with numbers too small to fill the land. It was not until the time of David, 400 years after they left Egypt, that they literally ruled over the entire land that God promised to Abraham.
Why Egypt? Why didn’t God just give them an enclave in Canaan where they could be safe and expand that area as they grew? Evidently God thought they needed a place where they could be isolated from the nations around them as they grew in numbers. Egypt fit the bill.
When Joseph brought Jacob’s family into Egypt and introduced them to Pharaoh, he told them to tell Pharaoh, “Your servants have been keepers of livestock from our youth even until now, both we and our fathers.” Why tell him this? He explained they needed to do this, “in order that you may dwell in the land of Goshen, for every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians” (Genesis 46:34). Goshen gave them a protected place to live relatively isolated from the Egyptians.
This prejudice against Hebrews by the Egyptians is also seen in Genesis 43:32. When Joseph’s brothers came the 2nd time to buy food, Joseph brought them into his own home before he made himself known to them. There, “They served [Joseph] by himself, and them by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, because the Egyptians could not eat with the Hebrews,for that is an abomination to the Egyptians.”
An interesting side light to this comes from Egyptian history. Prior to the time of Joseph, Egypt had been conquered by the Hyksos invaders, a people who ruled Egypt for about 200 years. (Some scholars even identify the Hyksos as Hebrews. In that case, the rule of Joseph would have resulted in the subjugation of the Egyptians to the Hebrews. There is no archeological support for this, but just how these mysterious Hyksos people became rulers of Egypt is not clear.) Thus (assuming the Hysos and the Israelites were not the same people), the Pharaoh who elevated Joseph to the throne was not a native Egyptian. He was one of the Hyksos invaders. These people were Semites, that is they were descended from Noah’s son, Shem. The Egyptians descended from Ham. Abraham and the Hebrews were also Semites. Perhaps that is one reason Jacob’s family received favored treatment in Egypt. It was not until “there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8) that the Egyptians made the Hebrews slaves. This was not just the son or grandson of the Pharaoh whom Joseph served. It was a return to the rule of the native Egyptians after they expelled the Hyksos invaders. That is one reason the Egyptians feared that the Hebrews would join enemies of Egypt if war should break out (see Exodus 1:9-10).
The result of this move to Egypt was that Jacob’s family was able to grow into a nation while in a protected environment. Yes, they spent some time in slavery – but God delivered them in a way that they never forgot. In fact, the Jews still remember the Exodus as God’s mighty deliverance of their nation as He made them into a true nation with their own land.