God graciously waits for people to repent before He sends judgment — such is His kindness.
“They shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete” (Gen. 15:16).
- Genesis 15:14–16
We will examine verses 14–16 and the important lesson they teach us about God and His patience. Lest we ever think the Lord is too slow and ignores the troubles of His people, this passage can provide us with comfort and a deeper understanding of our Creator’s justice.
First, in verse 14 Yahweh asserts He will most certainly bring judgment on the nation that enslaves Israel. As is well known, the Lord did send many plagues upon Egypt, and the people of God left that country with many possessions (Ex. 7:14–12:42). Moses wrote Genesis for this redeemed people, and therefore this story gave the Israelites a firm hope that all of the promises to Abram would be realized. Leaving Egypt, judged just as the Lord promised in 15:14, they would have seen firsthand God’s Word being fulfilled and would be encouraged to expect His faithfulness in the future.
The Lord waited four hundred years to save the Israelites from Pharaoh and Egypt (Ex. 12:40). This is, of course, entirely in keeping with the word God spoke to Abram in Genesis 15:13 and with the promise that Canaan would be his only after the fourth generation (v. 16). Our Lord did not forget His people, He was merely waiting for the right time to avenge His servants. In this, we see that God may allow persecutors and oppressors to trample on His people for a long time; yet in the end, He certainly will deal with them.
God, who is longsuffering, desires His creation to give Him thanks and worship. The Amorites (the pagan citizens of Canaan), an idolatrous people, desired no such thing. Thus God waited to give the Promised Land to Israel until the iniquity of the Amorites was “complete” (v. 16). The Lord does not arbitrarily punish; He allows people to run themselves into hell, which makes His verdicts fitting. In Abram’s day, the Amorites had not yet become corrupt enough to lose Canaan, and so it does not go immediately to Abram. When it does, God uses His people Israel to carry out His sentence (see Joshua and Judges). Men can sin brazenly only for a short time; judgment will surely fall when their evil works are complete.
John Calvin writes of this passage: “The more graciously [God] waits for men, if, at length, instead of repenting they remain obstinate, the more severely does he avenge such great ingratitude.” God graciously waits for people to repent before He sends judgment — such is His kindness (Rom. 2:4). Let us not despair over our society’s wickedness, for the Lord will judge it in time. Likewise, let us never sin boldly, for He will not indefinitely suspend His discipline.
Passages for Further Study
- Lev. 18:24–30
- Joel 3:13
- Matt. 23:29–36
- 1 Thess. 2:14–16