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.’ (Genesis 15:12–13)
On the Mount of Olives, Jesus anticipated great tribulation for Israel and for His disciples. Believers will be “beaten in synagogues” and “stand before governors and kings” (Mark 13:9). In addition, brother will betray brother and children will have parents “put to death” (v. 12). Indeed, the Lord’s people will be hated for His sake (v. 13).
Nevertheless, Jesus will return to consummate His kingdom (vv. 32–37). He will come again to judge the living and the dead (Acts 10:34–42). Though the Olivet Discourse refers mainly to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 ad, we too can expect suffering (2 Tim. 3:12). Therefore, it should not surprise us that the covenant community is promised hardship in Genesis 15. We have already seen this implied in verse 11 where birds of prey, unclean creatures (Lev. 11:13–19), attempt to scavenge the clean animals Abram has prepared according to God’s command (Gen. 15:9–10; Lev. 1:10–17; 8:2; 11:1–3). This brings to mind the future assaults Israel would endure from unclean pagan empires throughout her history. Also, the “dreadful and great darkness” that fell upon Abram (Gen. 15:12) is strikingly similar to the darkness on the day in which Jesus suffered the greatest hardship of all on the cross (Matt. 27:45–50).
Genesis 15:13 affirms, in no uncertain terms, that Gods’ will includes hardship for the covenant nation. Abram’s progeny will have to endure slavery in a strange country (Egypt) for hundreds of years before the Lord will give them Canaan. The kingdom will surely be established, but not without suffering and death.
We know this kingdom will come because verses 14–16 look to the inheritance of the land. These verses gave Israel hope that their cries for help would not go forever unheard, even as they languished under Pharaoh’s heel (see also Ex. 2:23–25). Today, it may sometimes appear as if the Lord is ignoring our suffering. But this story reminds us that, as Matthew Henry writes, “God often keeps his people long in expectation of the comforts he intends for them, for the confirmation of their faith; but though the answers of prayer, and the performance of promises, come slowly, yet they come surely.”
Being a servant in the kingdom of God does not carry with it a life of ease. In His wisdom, the Lord has seen fit to exact His reign through weak disciples in whom His power is made perfect (2 Cor. 12:1–10). How are you suffering for Jesus? Are you being ridiculed for your commitment? Perhaps friends or family have spurned you on account of your faith. Be encouraged today that your suffering will not last forever and that God will one day vindicate you.
Passages for Further Study
Jer. 38:1–13, Matt. 16:21, Acts 14:19–23, 1 Peter 4:12–19
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