Abram in Egypt

In a recent Bible Study we reached chapter 15 of Genesis. Ahead of making the wonderful covenant with him, God says to Abram:

12 Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him. 13 Then He said to Abram: “Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. 14 And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions. (NKJV)

Why does God warn him that his descendants would be enslaved in Egypt? Abram himself will die at a ‘good age’; such events would take place many years after his death. This whole chapter centres on Abram’s desire that the Lord would show him that the land would indeed be his. God may be saying “Look, the land is yours and your people's, but there will be a period of time when your folk will live elsewhere, for 400 years even, but don’t worry, they will recover it, and the promise shall be fulfilled”. It indicates God’s frankness and honesty with Abram. He might have also mentioned the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles which occurred even later, and the expulsion from AD132 at the time of Emperor Hadrian, but the Lord contented Himself with news of one exile on this occasion.

Might there be another reason for mentioning Egypt? The details here seem to parallel Abram’s own Egyptian trip in chapter 12. Like Jacob and co., he goes there at a time of famine. The sons of Israel dwelt there, but remained a separate people to such an extent that later pharaohs feared them. Soon after, they were enslaved. Abram of course was not, yet Sarai, who was earmarked for Pharoah’s harem, was certainly regarded as a piece of property to be traded and bartered by the menfolk. God punished Egypt with plagues on both occasions, and, when required to leave, they carried away much Egyptian treasure, which ends badly for both. The parallels are quite striking. Might the Israelite slavery in Egypt be a consequence of Abram’s own, faithless sojourn in that land? In verse 16, God says: “But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” This reminds me of Exodus 20:5: “For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me”.

In fact, the time spent in Egypt was indeed four generations, if people then typically lived till 100 (Abram was 100 years old when Isaac was born). I suspect the word dor (generation) simply referred to a century, yet I think it also bespeaks the period of God’s judgement. Though the sons of Amor would be judged four centuries after the migration to Egypt, the period of judgement on the sons of Abram would then be over. Because Abram went to Egypt for bread rather than trusting God’s provision at time of famine, the Lord sent them out of the Promised Land to Egypt for four generations, the period of his justice. Abram’s judgement was spent on his children, just as his faith and example are lavished on those who descend from him, both physically and spiritually.

Stepping out of God’s path always yields ill consequences, no matter how gracious the One whose will we seek to supplant with our own.

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