“Know of a surety that thy seed shall be sojourners in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; … And in the fourth generation they shall come hither again; for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet full” (Genesis 15:13-16, ASV).
That’s what God said to Abraham. Why do four hundred years pass before Abraham’s descendants inherit the Promised Land?
Because God loved the people of the land, even knowing someday the inhabitants of the land would reach a degree of evil they would have to be removed. Just as there was no place for Nazi Germany in the modern world, the peoples of Canaan likewise would reach a level of evil that could not be tolerated to continue.
There is a lesson in God’s longsuffering and loving kindness toward the people of Canaan seen in this 400-year period. The people of Canaan were allowed to live, love, and raise their families and enjoy the bounty of the land. But the time would come when the wickedness of the people would bring God’s justice against them and they would have to be removed.
In the Prophets, particularly in the Minor Prophets, we see God demonstrating his loving-kindness and longsuffering toward Israel and Judah, allowing long periods of time to go by before bringing devastating punishment down on their evil. Evil that had been seen in the land before.
God had warned the Hebrews in Leviticus, “Ye therefore … shall not do any of these abominations; … (for all these abominations have the men of the land done, that were before you, and the land is defiled); that the land vomit not you out also, when ye defile it, as it vomited out the nation that was before you. For whosoever shall do any of these abominations, even the souls that do them shall be cut off from among their people. Therefore … practise not any of these abominable customs, which were practised before you, and that ye defile not yourselves therein: I am Jehovah your God” (Leviticus 18:26-30).
In Israel and Judah, justice, mercy, and righteousness became lost concepts, and the people had turned from the worship of God to syncretic worship of both God and the pagan deities. Israel and Judah practiced the same evils the people whom they had replaced had practiced. In copying the wickedness of those God had driven from the land, they earned the same judgment and God removed them as well, Israel by Assyria and later, Judah by Babylon. It would have been unjust for God to not punish them after destroying the Canaanites for the same sins. And still – like the 400-year period of loving-kindness demonstrated toward the nations of the Promised Land – God gave Israel and Judah centuries to repent and turn back to him.
The removal of the nations of Canaan was neither genocide nor ethnic cleansing.
“Speak not …For my righteousness Jehovah hath brought me in to possess this land; whereas for the wickedness of these nations Jehovah doth drive them out from before thee. Not for thy righteousness, … dost thou go in to possess their land; but for the wickedness of these nations Jehovah thy God doth drive them out from before thee…” (Deuteronomy 9:4-5)
It was justice being served against the injustice and immorality of the peoples of the land, same as would come against Israel and Judah centuries later. And if our nation continues down the path of increasing injustice, immorality and paganism… what shall God do with us?