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What does it mean that “the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure” (Genesis 15:16)?

sin of the Amorites, Genesis 15:16

In Genesis 15, God confirms His unconditional covenant with Abram. God promises Abram a multitude of descendants who will inherit the land in which Abram sojourns. God then gives Abram a brief timeline of future events: “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there” (Genesis 15:13). And then, “In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure” (verse 16).

The prophecies of Genesis 15 deal with these basic events: Abram would have many descendants. Those descendants would one day be taken captive and treated harshly. After four hundred years, Abram’s descendants would return to Canaan. Their return would coincide with God’s judgment on the Amorites in Canaan. These prophecies were fulfilled when, after Joseph’s death, Pharaoh enslaved the Israelites (who were living in Egypt at the time), and then, four hundred years after Joseph, Moses brought the children of Israel out of Egypt to the borders of Canaan; Joshua then led the people into Canaan and conquered the land. Joshua’s conquest took place only after the sin of the Canaanites had “reached its full measure” (Genesis 15:16).

One thing Genesis 15:16 shows is the certainty of God’s judgment on the wicked. The Amorites and other Canaanites were exceedingly wicked (for a list of some of their sins, see Leviticus 18). During the time of Moses, God gave the reason for the Canaanites’ downfall: “The land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants” (Leviticus 18:25). God had predicted this all the way back in Abraham’s time. The Amorites were wicked, and Judgment Day was coming.

At the same time, Genesis 15:16 demonstrates God’s love, mercy, and above all His longsuffering and patience with sinful man. Rather than immediately wipe out the Amorites, God chose to wait for over four hundred years to bring judgment upon them. The enemies of God would be displaced as God settled His chosen people in the land He had promised them. Yet God’s enemies did not need to remain enemies. They were given ample time to turn from their wickedness, turn to God, and be forgiven. The Amorites had a chance to repent and be saved, just as the Assyrians in Nineveh did during in the time of Jonah.

The Amorites’ sin had not escaped God’s notice. He was keeping track of the measure of their sins, and, during Abraham’s time, it was not yet “full.” So the Amorites were warned that judgment was coming. It is sad that they did not take advantage of their time of grace. They wasted their four hundred years and continued to fill up the measure of their sin. Like most other pagan nations that Israel later encountered, the Amorites stubbornly continued in their sin until judgment finally befell them in God’s own time.

Because the Amorites finally filled up the measure of their sin, God brought Joshua and the children of Israel against them. God’s command was for the Israelites to “completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you” (Deuteronomy 20:17). The Amorites fought back, but God destroyed them before Israel and gave them the Amorites’ land (Joshua 24:8). The conquest of Canaan served the dual purpose of punishing the Amorites for their sin and giving the Israelites a land of their own.

A similar fate as befell the unrepentant Amorites awaits those who rebel against God today and reject His Son, Jesus Christ. All of us are sinners (Romans 3:23), and we have been warned that judgment is coming. Judgment Day is promised, but until that time we have the chance to repent and be saved. God in His love, mercy, and patience waits, withholding judgment to give us all a chance to believe and be reconciled to Him. “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

We dare not make the same mistake as the Amorites and spurn God’s grace. Jesus said, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’ Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’” (Luke 13:24–27).

As was the case in Abraham’s day we know that God’s judgment is coming. Unlike Abraham, we don’t have a timeline to give us an idea of when that day will be. All we know is that God’s judgment has not yet fallen, which means that God is patient and the sins of modern nations have not yet reached the full measure.

Make good use of this time of favor and blessing. Repent, trust in Christ, and be saved. “For he says, ‘In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.’ I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).

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Questions about Genesis

What does it mean that “the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure” (Genesis 15:16)?
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This page last updated: January 4, 2022